“Never say sorry, it’s a sign of weakness” – John Wayne
We’ve all said and done things that we might regret – words spoken in anger or bitterness, juvenile attempts to shock, beliefs that we might have once had through ignorance and cultural upbringing that we no longer subscribe to. To err is human, after all, and if we can predict one thing, it is that everyone is going to fuck up at some point or other.
This is especially true in the highly sensitive times that we live in now, where the thing that was acceptable yesterday becomes verboten today and where the culturally powerful elites will make declarations of the correct terminology to use to describe anyone, with the former terms and phrases – until that point the culturally approved versions – suddenly become hate speech. Invariably, not everyone will be immediately aware of these changes, and so people can be tripped up by those who are more ideologically pure and amoral than them, demonised because of clumsy or simply old-fashioned phrasing – and to hell with context or intent.
No one who claims to be offended over anything will ever accept an apology. Apologies are always dismissed as being too insincere, too late, too little. For them, this is about destroying lives, careers and reputations – they furiously express their outrage and demand that the offender retracts, but when someone does apologise, it’s never enough. The apology won’t be accepted, because no one wants to forgive – the apology, often a self-flagellating, desperate promise to conform, take time out for self-reflection and “do better” that has the feel of a show-trial confession, is simply part of the offender’s punishment and the warped pleasure that we see people taking in this humiliation shows just what it is really about – the powerful flexing their muscles and consolidating their authority. The moment you apologise for having the ‘wrong’ opinion, you hand power to the mob.
Much of this is about ousting the old guard – look at how the young and ambitious have systematically gone after their older colleagues in various institutions, pouncing on mistakes, deliberately misinterpreting situations, elevating rumour to fact and raking over years-old comments for evidence of wrongthink. Like the wrong tweet, read the wrong book, fail to adequately support the right cause or simply understand that the world is a more complex and difficult place than people would like it to be, and you too can be X’d from history.
It’s a curious thing that as much as the self-righteous like to take down their ideological enemies, they seem to take the most pleasure in eating their own. Or maybe it’s not so curious if you see this as being primarily about power – those who oppose you are less of a direct threat than your fellow travellers. It’s the ideologically pure who will be the biggest threat to your career advancement, so taking them down is almost a survival instinct. Ambitious go-getters have always stabbed their rivals in the back – the only difference now is that people are doing it while claiming that it is they who are the actual victims, appropriating oppression even as they use their media platforms, private education, trust-fund security and high profile to destroy others.
Those who have been shamed are often so desperate to atone for their sins that they become even more zealous than their accusers in seeking out transgression and thought crime. It’s a sad reflection on tribal desperation that even being monstered and bullied by those who you see as ideological soulmates doesn’t make some people question the witch finding zeal and tunnel vision of cultural purity, and instead, they believe that if they are even more hate-driven and vitriolic towards other transgressors, their own faux pas will be forgotten or forgiven. It’s like an online Stockholm Syndrome, where the victims joining the victimisers, hoping that if they point the finger at others, no one will remember their own shame.
No one side has the monopoly here – public shaming for thinking, saying or liking the wrong thing seems to be a game that both sides of the political divide are happy to engage in. Right now, it is the Left who are in the ascendency when it comes to setting agendas and demonising anyone who disagrees – but that hasn’t always been the case and might not be in the future. The Right has their own taboos and are only too happy to pull their weight if they think they can to silence, shame and cancel.
For those who base their entire identity on their point in the socio-political spectrum, the need to claw your way back into the tribe is perhaps understandable; even animal pack leaders will cling to their tribes after being dethroned, pathetic and toothless figures that are tolerated because they no longer pose a threat. For them, the humiliating apologies, the time outs where they submit to condescending lectures in reeducation camps, the fall from grace – it’s all worth it just to still belong. This is true even if you are only paying lip-service; like the Communist sympathisers of McCarthy-era America, people working in the entertainment world and academia have to toe the line, and those who have non-conformist views on anything probably live in fear of the one slip-up that might reveal the truth about their socio-political leanings. Like the wrong tweet, follow the wrong person, question the wrong sacred cow and you will be exposed – and unless you are successful or shameless enough to shrug it off, then your career will die the death of a thousand cuts. Perhaps for these people, the humiliation of having to weepingly beg for forgiveness from the angry mob is better than finding out that agents won’t represent you, publishers won’t touch you and festivals are no longer interested in your band. The fear of the phone stopping ringing is not an unjustified one.
But for everyone else, what is the point of apologising to people who despise everything about you? Why beg forgiveness from people who will never forgive you? It’s rather like when politicians and newspapers bend over backwards to appease people who would never, ever vote for/read them – people who believe that they are inherently the scum of the earth? At least social justice media has a consistency: prove their claims to be wrong and they simply double down on them, their interpretation of reality – ‘my truth’ – overriding actual facts. As we’ve seen time and time again, if enough people tell a lie for long enough, it becomes established as the truth – especially if it is something that people want to believe, and especially if the lie is told about someone or something that they fervently want to crush underfoot.
The point, ultimately, is this: apologies are a waste of time. Have the good grace to admit if you were wrong. Elaborate if people are misinterpreting your comments (deliberately or otherwise). If you must, say ‘sorry’ if you sincerely mean it. But if the mob comes after you for something you said in good faith and that represents your honest opinion, and you then recant and deny within days, then you are simply enabling and empowering the worst people in the world. And it will never be enough to placate the slavering hordes- because as much as they demand it, an honest and heartfelt apology is actually the last thing that they want.
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