David Cameron’s comments on Raoul Moat seem to spring from an extraordinarily old-fashioned perspective on criminal justice, which might be summarised as “hate the sinner, hate the sin.” He said:
“It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.”
But of course there will be sympathy for Moat. It’s not as though there’s a finite supply of sympathy that requires parcelling out to the most deserving.
Plus—as philosophers from Christ to Zizek have pointed out—it is extremely difficult to condemn when one has had a chance to sympathise with the “enemy.” In this case, ample opportunity was furnished by the media coverage of the manhunt. “He was sensitive – perhaps too sensitive,” said his brother. And before (perhaps preliminary to) the shootings, Moat’s own Facebook messages were philosophical: “Mate this ones a hard knock. Its that whole rebuilding life from scratch thing. Iaint 21 anymore”.
Cameron’s speech is categorical, which makes nonsense of it as a moral instruction: nobody can be told how to feel. But at least it’s clear and authoritative—the loss of nuance is the price to be paid for that.
Is it worth it? It might be.