We live in a society awash in apologies, most of them forced.
As Bill Maher notes in a New York Times op-ed Thursday, we Americans have in the past year heard dozens of public apologies from dozens of disparate public figures, including Tracy Morgan for anti-gay comments, Gilbert Gottfried for insensitive remarks following the Japan tsunami and the Super Bowl producers for M.I.A.’s middle finger.
There are so many that sometimes the alleged offensives slip through the cracks — did you know that the Republican Jewish Coalition is angry at Obama advisor David Axelrod for describing Mitt Romney’s advertising campaign as a “Mittzkrieg?” I didn’t, but apparently they want him to apologize.
But all these apologies or calls for apologies amount to nothing, Maher writes, just as Newt Gingrich’s demand that President Obama apologize for Robert De Niro’s first lady joke amounts to nothing. “If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise at all,” he says in the op-ed, called “Please Stop Apologizing.”
Instead of constantly bitching and moaning, Maher wants Americans to learn how to move on with their lives.
Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.
If that doesn’t work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth.
He goes on to say that if we live in a country where people can’t speak their mind, “we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.”
Maher is certainly right on the money when it comes to false, often fabricated outrage. Both the right and the left, and often the media, myself included, get swept up in the scandal of the moment and make a mountain of a mole hill. It’s ridiculous. But Maher’s argument could have gone one step further beyond the first amendment angle — “When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?” — to the core of why these apologies are so completely and utterly pointless. Not only because they are often forced, and therefore insincere, but because often times the opposing sides simply don’t agree on the moral or social issues at hand. Take, for instance, Rush Limbaugh’s apology for calling Sandra Fluke a “slut.”
“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices,” he said, but only after offering this disclaimer: “I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.” As philosopher Nick Smith wrote in his essay “The Categorical Apology”: “It matters why [the offender] apologizes.”
“We want an apology from a person who agrees with our sense of right and wrong, not from a machine or animal mimicking moral agency.” And that’s precisely what so many in our society do, and what so many in our society demand, clearly unaware that the action’s reaction is a dud.