The general feeling seems to be that distinguishing between degrees of morally repugnant conduct will lead to some sort of blanket pardon of all such conduct; that to understand is always to forgive. Such concern is understandable, but misplaced — it flattens and obfuscates, rather than clarifies.
This aversion to suspending moral judgment is a new development in cultural life. We were once gripped by “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote’s imaginative inhabiting of two convicted murderers, or by “The Executioner’s Song,” Norman Mailer’s empathetic telling of the story of Gary Gilmore, who asked to be executed after he was convicted of killing two men.
These were considered bold, even controversial, at the time, but no one pretended that Capote or Mailer were trying to make excuses for their subjects. Readers and critics understood them as efforts to expand and deepen our awareness of the forces, both inside and outside a person, that shape a human life. It’s hard to imagine a similar work being produced in today’s climate.
Lee Siegel, Whatever Happened to Moral Rigor?