Horror! Fury! Rapture! All blended. Righteous indignation is a deliciously complex emotion in which conflicting feelings dance a kind of intimate tango together.
Tenderised to all emotions by these weird and alarming times (my federal capital city, like much of Australia is locked down as COVID-19 besieges us) I enjoyed a terrific pandemic-amplified rush of indignation one morning last weekend. (I'd compare that rush to an orgasm but this is a family column and so I'll keep that adult thought to myself.)
Out walking, I came across a bevy of sinners engaging in a forbidden, orgiastic activity of almost unimaginable depravity.
Yes, they were playing tennis!
On tennis courts behind a local high school, a dozen debauchees (their naked faces shamelessly maskless) were playing hit-and-giggle doubles tennis together, in defiance of the chief minister's specific forbidding of any tennis (or golf) until he decreed otherwise. As I write there are, in obedience to our chief minister, padlocks on the gates of compliant Canberra tennis clubs, including my own.
And so last Saturday watching the debauchees playing, transfixed by this pornographic spectacle, my iPhone fingers twitched with the temptation to iDob them in.
To dob, or not to dob? That is the question so many Australians are required to ask these days as we are alert to those sinners (let us call them the M&Ms, the mingling and the maskless) we see transgressing the emergency public health rules of lockdown.
But dobbery is a fraught, complex matter. A stimulating recent edition of ABC Radio National's Minefield devoted an analytical hour to the pandemic-pressing personal and ethical complexities of dobbing and of refraining from dobbing.
I didn't dob in the tennis debauchees, and really only thought of doing so for a fleeting nanosecond. Readers, if like me you are finding yourselves dob-reluctant, why is it so?
Surely for a start there is an underlying social prohibition, perhaps even with a uniquely Australian edge to it, against dobbing. For many (a majority?) of us this is a tall hurdle to be cleared before one can even think of dobbing.
And can there ever be such a thing as fully defensible, virtuous dobbing? If there can be then does its virtuousness depend on how egregious the sins of the dobbed-in sinners are?
Some of us who might not hesitate to dob in a neighbour we know is being violent towards defenceless others in his home, who might with glee blow a whistle to shame a rorting politician, are more likely to hesitate about dobbing in public health compliance sinner-yahoo M&Ms whose sins may with luck do no harm to others.
And yet what if, in a time of public health emergency with the virus still spreading among us and when the M&Ms' irresponsibility may do great harm to others, our refusal to report them is a kind of moral cowardice, even of wicked complicity in their misdeeds? What to think? What to do?
This is an area of seething uncertainties when if we have such a companion we should be asking hard questions of our inner ethicist. Properly consulted she will challenge us to ask ourselves what it is we expect any dobbings we do to actually achieve. What if, she might probe, your dobbings make things worse, stoking in the dobbed a counter-productive resentment?
And what if, she persists, (seriously shirtfronting me now) your impulse to dob is less an altruistic concern for your community's health safety than glee at the masturbatory thrill of righteous indignation (common in dobbers) you so eloquently and insightfully describe in this column's opening sentences?
Yes, she may well be right. Some of my personal reluctance to dob has to do with my realisation that my dob appetites come from my worst side. My inner dobber (part of a beast I have known for 75 years) is such a prig, such a wowser. He can be obnoxiously self-righteous, infuriatingly holier-than-thou, smugly judgmental.
He is often appalling me lately. Whenever I see sinning M&Ms (for example my tennis scofflaws, or maskless shoppers bustling into my local supermarket) he temporarily possesses me. At his indignation's malignant command I fleetingly feel that the offending M&Ms I've caught deserve to be figuratively tasered with the electroshocks of social disapproval and of law-and-order's punishments.
But then, so far, the better, good-bloke me, my Doctor Jekyll, hurries to crash tackle my Mr Hyde and send that fiend on his way, for now.