Saturday, August 05, 2006

Who should apologize, to whom, and when?

This is one that I imagine there will be as many opinions as there are people.

I was recently asked by a third party, to apologize for expressing opposition to US policies to someone who had been harmed by those policies.

In my view, that did not make any sense, so I did not do it. I said I was very sorry that US policies were harming so many people, which is my sincere opinion and sentiment.

As part of this same incident (BooMan Tribune is the website involved), there was a perception that a troubled individual, the same one, in fact, to whom I had been asked to apologize, may have also been asked to apologize, I am speculating for manner of expression issues, and the individual did so.

I believe that some other individuals may also have been asked to apologize, again, I speculate for manner of expression issues, and I do not know how many did so or did not.

While I could not, in good conscience, apologize for my opposition to US policies to a victim of those policies, I did apologize to the site owner for having posted on his site in the first place.

Now here are my views on all that. I already stated my view regarding apologizng for opposing US policies, but why did I apologize for my presence on the site?

Simply put, it is not a site on which it is appropriate for me to participate, and truth be told, I continued to participate there even though I was aware that it was not appropriate.

So in addition to apologizing to the site's owner, for my inappropriate presence, I also apologized to myself, for failing to comply with my own personal standards of internet activity.

If the troubled individual was indeed asked to apologize to anyone in particular or to any who might read it, I do not believe that was appropriate. In my opinion, troubled individuals should not be asked to apologize. I would consider it appropriate to issue a general apology to any troubled individual to whom I have responded or directed remarks, not realizing that they were troubled, or prior to such a realization.

If anyone else was asked to apologize for manner of expression issues, or any other reason, that is, in my view, a freedom of speech issue. Anyone is free to ask anyone else to apologize, post a link to a photo of a bunch of red grapes, or compose a haiku. And recipient of such a request is free to comply or decline.

Manner of expression is, in my view, a question of personal standards and preferences. For example, I do not respond to personal or "ad hom" remarks, other than to inform the individual that my internet activities do not include that particular behavior.

However, many people do enjoy exchanges of that sort, and it is entirely up to the participants and the site's owner whether he or she wishes to censor or forbid that or any other text.

Site owners, even in the case of US sites, are not bound by the first amendment of the US constitution, any more than any American is bound by that amendment in his or her home. Nor are site owners, or homeowners, or renters in the US required by any law or statute to be fair or impartial regarding any rules or standards of behavior they may have about who or what they will or will not allow in their home or on their website, nor are they required to have any such rules or standards of behavior.

Nor are they required to make sense. Therefore, I believe that the site owner has every right to ask anyone to apologize for any or no reason, regardless of my own opinion about what would be appropriate or not for me.

And that is the basis of my view on apologies. Each person has the option of apologizing or not if he or she believes it would be appropriate to apologize, for any or no reason, to whomever they choose, at any time.

They key is what the individual believes, their own standards of behavior and courtesy, if any, and what degree of compliance, if any, they wish to impose upon themselves.

So that is my view on the question of apologies, troubled individuals, free speech, freedom of association, and personal standards.

What are your views? Is this rant inflammatory enough to please our tour visitors, if any?

Fellow Rantstarters, feel free to post any and all rants on top of this one for the pleasure and delight of our possible guests!


dove said...

I fear that this is more of a disconnected rant on the subject of apologies than a response per se but I'll inflict it on you anyway. Without apology ;)

I'm not a fan of the 'everybody was equally wrong and therefore everybody should apologise to everybody' school of resolving political conflict. Mostly I think that it is a handy way of obscuring and leaving unchallenged the inequalities and injustices that lead to political conflict in the first place.

Which isn't to say that there aren't times when it is appropriate to stay one's hand. And which also isn't to say that I don't think there are places where reconciliation and mediation are appropriate. But I don't think those processes have much in common with 'let's all say we're sorry and have a group hug.' There tends to be a bit more pain involved in reconciliation than a group hug requires, not least because reconciliation involves a transformation of power relations.

I also don't think there's much point in apologising unless one understands what one is apologising for and is actually sorry for it: "I don't know what I did wrong but I'm sorry that I did it" doesn't inspire much confidence about future behaviour.
Nor does that favourite staple of the classroom: "I'm saying sorry because I was told to but I'm not really sorry at all, so there!"

Both online and offline, most -- though not all -- of the apologies I've seen from members of dominant groups to (members of) smaller dissenting groups have been examples of the former: "I don't know what I did wrong (and I don't really care to find out) but here's a generalised apology along with a strong expectation of reciprocation and by the way if you don't accept the apology, you are a doo-doo head."

Were I to apologise (so far as I know I wasn't asked to do so recently, though I think various people expressed themselves angered and hurt by things I've said, which is not surprising), it would an example of the second type -- the 'I'm saying I'm sorry because I was told to but I'm not really sorry at all so there!' variety. And although blueneck quite rightly described me as childish a while back, I am not that childish ;) .

Though I will say this: it may be hubris on my part, but I think some of the things I said in the last Alex piece brought to a head conflicts that had been bubbling along for a while. Though I did not fully anticipate what I take to have been its consequences, I don't regret writing it. But I also don't think it made people's online involvement easier, including yours DTF. Anyway, I suppose I'm saying is that I hope the various things I've said on this subject, there and elsewhere haven't -- I don't know, constrained your choices, tied your hands, that sort of thing.

DuctapeFatwa said...

I think my rant on the subject of apologies was much more disconnected than yours, but that's OK, I don't think you should apologize. :)

I am inclined to agree with you that pro forma apologies, or apologies issued by A to B, as a favor to C, are somewhat meaningless, and to the flavors you mentioned, I will add the "I don't think I did anything for which I should have to apologize for, but here, let me apologize anyway as a favor to whatsisname, and/or so that you and whatsisname will both shut up.

The idea of you apologizing to anyone for anything you have written is absurd. On the contrary, if you hit a nerve, the nerve owner should thank you, it may do them some good to reflect on their Alexhood. Yet this is precisely the kind of apology one sees constantly, online and off. People apologizing for having expressed their opinion, and I was aware that my participation at BT was inappropriate long before you wrote anything about Alex at all. It did not constrain me at all, I remain to this day, most gloriously unconstrained. ;)

catnip said...

Well, you all know how I feel about the latest apology. I was clear when I said that actions will speak louder than words. And they did. So excuse me (blogger powers that be) for sticking to my principles when it comes to deciding whether or not I will accept an apology. In that particular case, my intuition was correct.

BTW, there's a blog dedicated to apologies.

dove said...

Good. May you remain so DTF. I am glad to know that ductape is not being put to inappropriate use in your vicinity. ;)

(On a tangent I have an idea for beta meta. I think we could do with an Agony Ancestor column -- sort of like an Agony Aunt -- to whom we can confess our blogging woes, peeves, ettiquette bemusals and snafus, for the amusement, delight and benefit of our fellow bloggers, in return receiving sound and sage ancestral advice regarding the resolution of aforementioned blogging woes, peeves, ettiquette bemusals and snafus, also for the amusement, delight and benefit of our fellow bloggers. Yes? No? What do you think? I think it could be kind of fun.)

DuctapeFatwa said...

I am honored, but what I most want for this place is that it NOT be about me, but about you, and anyone else who would like to be a Rantstarter.

What I want to see is more OTHER people starting rants. I can rant in the comments. :D

Nanette said...

I'm a comment ranter too!

brinn5deep said...

dove -- what you said is so right on vis a vis the "group hug" phenomenon. I tmight feel good at the time, but it solves exactly NOTHING in the long run (which is 4-6 weeks, by mt experience in the cycle of blog blow-ups)...

I find myself tired of that conflict "resolution" methos myself and it is becoming more and more superficial to me -- not in the underlying feelings/intentions of some proponents of the method, but in it's ebabling of avoidence of larger/deeper conflicts that absolutely must be taken head-on.

I love this place already!! This feels good!