The Australian scapegoat reflex

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Bob Ellis considers the cases of Lindy Chamberlain and Craig Thomson — and wonders why Australians are so willing to witch-hunt.

By legendary man of letters, Bob Ellis.

Like the recent goading of Craig Thomson, the hounding of Lindy Chamberlain seems a medieval witch-hunt now. That she left a barbecue to slit her baby’s throat in a station wagon and came back smiling to the barbecue minutes later was believed by millions of Australians for decades — though she had no conceivable motive to do it, and she denied she had done it even after she was offered twenty years less in the slammer if she said she had done it. Preferring prison to a lie, she stuck with her story. Because it was true.

No conceivable motive. No previous pattern of suspicious behaviour. She had not hurt or threatened her other children — and when she had a subsequent baby it was not snatched from her breast by wary pre-emptive authorities lest she murder it also. They knew she could be trusted; and they also knew she was guilty of murder, and gave her twenty years for it; of course they did; of course they did. Discuss.

It was just that some Australians thought she looked like a cold unrepentant murderous bitch, and she was like me, a cradle Seventh Day Adventist, and we were crazy people, a cult, an Abrahamic child-sacrificing desert cult, and the Murdoch press liked the money it made from the big lies it told (‘Azaria’ meant ‘sacrifice in the wilderness’; Azaria was mentally disabled; her brother did it; Michael was called on by God to arrange it; and so on), and from the months and years of the ‘developments’ in the ‘ongoing investigations’ of what was, at its heart, a non-story: a child attacked by a savage animal, a savage dog, a pit-bull terrier story, once removed.

No conceivable motive. No conceivable motive whatsoever. And a dog-like creature glimpsed in the dark.

And there was no conceivable motive, either, with Craig. That he would arrange three fucks he didn’t turn up for, a psysiological impossibility, and pay for these non-events with a union credit card whose money-trail would destroy his political aspirations, goes beyond all credibility. And yet it was believed.

And millions of Australians believed it, and like tens of thousands of the witch-hunters of Lindy, they still do. Though he had no motive to do it and no previous record of reckless womanising or whoring, or even reckless spending, and there were alibis for three of the nights, they believed it anyway; some, like Tony Abbott, so thoroughly that he called his vote ‘tainted’ and scarpered from the chamber lest he see it used.

Why is this? Why does it happen? Is there a persecution gland, a scapegoat reflex in humans, as there is without doubt a god-worship reflex? Could be.

What is most worrying is the expunging of all analysis of the concept of motive, the willed forgetting, as it were, of all of the investigative deductions of Rumpole, Poirot, Miss Marples and Holmes. Why would Craig do it? Why would he choose Elena, of all people, to do it with? Why would he risk all for an hour or two with that drab soggy Kiwi? Why?

Motive used to be a big part of detective stories. But in the Murdoch Age, by a wave of the wand, it is no longer required. Why would Strauss-Kahn risk the French Presidency by raping a big strapping black girl twice his size in the mouth — a physical impossibility? No motive; he did it, that’s all; he’s a Socialist; a Leftist; a suitable case for Murdochist bogey-making; he found a way to do it; they’re Socialists, they’re like that. Of course they are.

Of course they are.

It’s as mindless as bear-baiting or bull-fighting or eating Christ on Sundays, but Murdoch likes to encourage it; he likes his readership stupid and this is a way to ensure they stay that way.

It’s worrying that Murdoch tries this nonsense on. But it’s even more worrying that fourteen million Australians go along with forgeries as dumb as this one, that a man hires a whore and then flies to Perth to avoid her caresses and pays her eight hundred dollars for her absence with a union card that will end his career.

Have we lost all capacity for thinking connectedly? Are we so distracted we accept any rubbish that is yelled at us with confidence by Paul Murray or Bill O’Reilly or Andrew Bolt?

Or Tony Abbott?

Looks like it.

And it’s a worry.

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