There I was with zillions of unkind others really enjoying my deliciously unkind reactions to the sufferings of the insufferable Prince Andrew, when up pops spoilsport Professor Charlie Huenemann, with his killjoy essay, How To Be Kind.
Huenemann's conscience-pricking piece has just been shimmeringly posted on Three Quarks Daily, the mind-nourishing blog of new ideas. Huenemannis a professor of philosophy at Utah State University.
Huenemann's piece doesn't mention Prince Andrew but in addressing what unusually unkind times we are living in he, the luxuriantly-bearded prof is inadvertently addressing the cruel pleasure zillions of are taking in Prince Andrew's humiliations.
Already half-aware of the indecency of the joy given me by the prince's now famous BBC TV "trainwreck" interview, I was watching it again (the interview is on YouTube) and enjoying it immensely when my hatchet-faced conscience bustled into my study. Standing at my shoulder she (for a man's conscience is always female) accused that for royalty-despising socialist-republican people like me to watch the prince bringing disgrace upon himself and his whole grotesque family was the same thing as watching pornography.
"You are watching unkindness-porn," she hissed, and left the room with a judgmental swish of her severe and moralising skirts, leaving me alone with a perversion (indulgence of my unkind thoughts) she has warned me will one day make me go blind.
Lots of the unseemly joy given everyone by the prince's interview is given by his daft decision to be interviewed in the first place. How dumb was that?
The pornographic power of the prince's trainwreck interview is deepened by the fact that it was his royal hubris that made him do it. The poltroon had so many delusional tickets on himself that he thought that, interviewed, his sheer wonderfulness (in the interview he pointed, pompously, to "my tendency to be too honourable") would shine through, leaving the world's commoners awed and impressed.
It is all eerily reminiscent of the hubris of awful governor-general Peter Hollingworth in imagining, in 2002, that by having the ABC devote an edition of Australian Story to an interview with him, the sunlight of his radiant Christian personality would banish all the black clouds of scandal gathering about him. Instead, as with the prince, the flawed GG's public testimony broadcast more of his true awfulness to a wider world and made things irretrievably worse, his resignation more necessary.
Professor Huenemann's piece is in part a tutorial suggesting ways in which we can tutor ourselves to try to react kindly to people we instinctively want to rage and scoff at. We've no room here to fully discuss his suggested techniques (readers should Google them) but they involve the self-cultivation of patience and empathy.
But I do pass on his insightful diagnosis that we may be in special need of some kindliness-kindling techniques, now, because we are living in uniquely unkind times. He is surely right about that. With a shock of recognition I see it in my once kindly self, the cold unkindness of our times explaining in part why one has been so quick to revel in the prince's pain and so slow to feel any pity for him.
"Kindness seems to be in short supply," Huenemann grieves.
"Little wonder," he goes on, cataloguing how our news media and our entertainments increasingly gratify and sculpt our unkind sides.
"And," he muses, pointing to the modernity of the trend, "our online interactions are perhaps where kindness is hardest to find."
"Anyone who has found themselves battling others in a comment thread knows that replies are fast and furious, with no time being spent to empathise patiently with anyone else. The stakes are too high! Kumquat999 is denying climate change! and is probably an anti-vaxxer! and if we let that stupid remark go unpunished, we fail in our fight for Truth! So we feel we have no time to be patient, and we have no empathy for that idiot. And Kumquat999 feels the same [about us]."
In pursuit of our more kindly sides he invites us to practise a simple exercise in empathy, perhaps the next time we are exasperated by and angry with people and their behaviour, speculating about what is "animating" them, asking ourselves "What might have been going on in their day? What might they be going through?"
With a shock of shame I realised that, only having used the prince's interview as pornography, it had never occurred to me to wonder what was animating him, what he might be going through.
I have sent the prime minister the link to the professor's piece, hoping it might encourage him, the prime minister, to stop and think what our Julian Assange might be going through.
Meanwhile, just as soon as I have finished this column (co-authored by my conscience) and sent it on its way I will watch the BBC interview again, this time kindly searching the smug veneer of the prince's unattractive face for any etched signs of pitiable true regret, sincere shame.