The Corruption of Apology

True apologies are precious. They’re a secular process of remediation, drawing on moral intuitions shared by many religious traditions. They encourage membership in one’s moral community because they are fundamentally relational: They heal the bond between wrongdoer and wronged. By temporarily humbling the perpetrator and vindicating the victim, they pave the way for both sides to make up. 

Apologies presuppose that there is some sort of moral community that shares a sense of right and wrong to which both the wronged and the wrongdoer belong. By apologizing, the wrongdoer embraces the norm that he violated. By doing that personally, ideally face to face, he works to heal his wounded relationships. And so he invites his victims to forgive, release their resentment, and move on. 

We all depend on apologies and forgiveness to go on living with one another. Husbands and wives admit their faults and patch up their differences. Kids on playgrounds say they’re sorry and then get back to recess. Coworkers talk through misunderstandings. As Hannah Arendt argued in The Human Condition, we wrong one another every day, and we learn to forgive constantly so that we can start afresh. The alternative is trapping ourselves in endless cycles of vengeance. 

Stephanos Bibas, “The Corruption of Apology.” July 27, 2022

What I found interesting about this commentary was how it explicitly lays out what is necessary for an apology to have meaning, i.e.:

  1. A shared norm that was violated.
  2. A person who violated the norm and a person effected by the violation.
  3. Discussion and acknowledgment to observe the norm in the future.

A shared norm implies membership in a community, or at least a relationship between two people. Of course, some norms are universal, or nearly so. Murder, stealing, lying and so forth are generally disapproved of. However, the norms may be different between members of a community and The Other, or outsiders. However, a morality that has double-standards, one for the in-group and one for the out-group, is a dubious morality. Yet, they exist and are common.

The enumeration is interesting. It really cuts to the heart of a common class of problems in our modern world. The article focuses on the fact that norms are in dispute in different communities, but I think there are more interesting aspects of this problem.

Some people are toxic. They have no regard for norms. They will not acknowledge that they have harmed anyone. They will not discuss it beyond making excuses, like those you see in A Narcissist’s Prayer. You will never get a real apology from such a person.

The other side of it, that the article does discuss, is that our online environments pretend to community, but they aren’t actual communities. We have “friends” that aren’t really our friends. There are people trying to enforce norms without community and often on behalf of others. It turns it more into blood sport, where we are allies promoting the agenda of different teams.

For example, I believe in equal rights for women. I would like to see structures of institutional racism broken down. I think we should broaden our acceptance of the various sexualities between consenting adults. I think there are serious problems of class than need to be addressed, and we need greater opportunities for success for people living in poverty. But, as a white, male, heteronormative person that is not living in poverty, what are my responsibilities to forward those various agendas?

Is a country a community? A state? A city? Or even a neighborhood? And when I think about the communities and norms I subscribe to, does believing in a norm make a community? It can. You can forge a community based on a shared norm or values. But, you need both. If you want to promote values – or norms, it needs to be done in the context of a community. You cannot impose them from outside. And, even a community is not enough, you need to promote them in relationship with other people that you know. Values that abstract out real people, with real flaws, aren’t much of a value, just as getting people to apologize, not to some person, but to the world, isn’t a real apology.

Persuasive Maps

“This is a collection of “persuasive” cartography: more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs – to send a message – rather than to communicate geographic information. The collection reflects a variety of persuasive tools , including allegorical, satirical and pictorial mapping; selective inclusion; unusual use of projections, color, graphics and text; and intentional deception. Maps in the collection address a wide range of messages: religious, political, military, commercial, moral and social.”

h/t Open Culture.

The New Age of Bullshit

A definition and a theory of bullshit, which Frankfurt broadened into a book length treatment, is a very helpful place to go to make sense of our modern social environment.

“Bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but rather only cares whether or not their listener is persuaded.”

What is advertising, if not bullshit? Truth is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is whether an ad gets the audience to buy the product. “Good” advertising is about creating stories, packaging them into a “brand”, and getting people to identify with that brand.

Advertising is at the center of most of the technology platforms of the feudal internet. Increase your followers, your likes, your comments, and you too could make a living creating “content” that attracts followers, likes and comments. The feudal internet uses your “content” to sell products and to the small degree you aid this endeavor, you can get a kickback on the profits. The variations are infinite: Instagram accounts with product placements, blogs with sponsors, and so forth and so on. But, in the end, it is all the same.

Advertising is an insidious influence. Not only is it bullshit. It pulls people into thinking and living lives that are bullshit. Even reactions to the consumerist vision of our society are steeped in bullshit.

Consider “New Age” religious and spiritual beliefs. They are new beliefs that are sold like a product. I recently came across the website, Ascension Glossary, which has a Where Can I Start? page, that advocates educating yourself about Mind Control:

Mind Control is used to form socially acceptable belief systems and shape value systems to which are used to control the masses to enslave themselves on planet earth. God, Religious Violence, gender issues, financial and debt enslavement, Consumptive Modeling, Misogyny and sexuality are the most mind controlled and manipulated belief systems promoted by the NAA and their human Power Elite to continue their enslavement and vampirism of humanity and planetary resources.”

They are talking about bullshit. So, they’ve at least identified the problem.

But, it’s not just the dominate narrative that is riddled with mind control and false beliefs. We must also “Discern False New Age Channeling or Modalities or Presumed Authority that want to take your Power or Manipulate through Lower Emotional States. Avoid New Age Material Hijacked with Vampirism or Cult mentality.”

In other words, don’t replace mainstream bullshit with other bullshit. Pretty sound advice. Of course, the problem here is that it is hard not to review the material of Ascension Glossary and not come to the conclusion that the ideas and techniques recommended are also a form of bullshit. Truth, lies and cockamamy ideas about extra-terrestrial global minds and guardians are not an obvious improvement over the mainstream narrative.

May I suggest, if you feel the need to believe in New Age bullshit, that you randomly generate some beliefs using a computer algorithm using New Age tropes and choose a few ideas that appeal to you.

New Age Bullshit Generator

Example output:

  • The goal of ultra-sentient particles is to plant the seeds of purpose rather than discontinuity.
  • This life is nothing short of an unfolding paradigm shift of high-frequency fulfillment. By awakening, we heal.
  • The biosphere is approaching a tipping point.
  • Who are we? Where on the great story will we be re-energized? We are at a crossroads of potentiality and bondage. Humankind has nothing to lose.
  • We must develop ourselves and heal others. We must learn how to lead infinite lives in the face of selfishness. It is in invocation that we are re-energized.
  • Curiosity requires exploration. Consciousness consists of sonar energy of quantum energy. “Quantum” means a refining of the karmic. We exist as electromagnetic resonance.
  • You and I are travellers of the dreamscape.
  • Have you found your journey? If you have never experienced this paradigm shift inherent in nature, it can be difficult to exist. Indigo Child, look within and strengthen yourself.
  • Throughout history, humans have been interacting with the quantum matrix via electromagnetic resonance. Reality has always been beaming with adventurers whose auras are opened by intuition. Our conversations with other lifeforms have led to an evolving of ultra-cosmic consciousness.