No Apologies

“The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on my list.”  —not very old proverb

     I actually wrote this essay almost a year ago when I was living at a monastery in upper Burma, with the same dumb introductory quote, and then my computer died a dishonorable death and the document wasn’t backed up…so here I am writing the whole damned thing over again. Fortunately the crude outline that I worked from was backed up, along with the dumb quote.

     As some of you may already know, one lesson from Buddhist philosophy that I have taken to heart in life is this: If you are going to entertain moral scruples with regard to some act, you should entertain them BEFORE you do the deed, not after. Moral scruples BEFORE you do a deed may prevent you from doing something wrong or foolish. On the other hand, remorse of conscience, after the deed is already done, is an unskillful mental state, or “bad karma,” and mostly just makes things worse than they already are. It is best to let go of the past, and not wish it were otherwise or stew over it, and to live as fully in the present moment as one can manage. If you fall down, get back up, brush yourself off, and continue moving forwards. I have known lots of people who spend inordinate amounts of time stewing and fretting over events in their (increasingly) distant past, when it would be much more conducive to their happiness and wellbeing just to let it go and get on with their lives. Wallowing in regret over past events, when taken to an extreme, can really ruin a person’s life, and ultimately it is self-inflicted.

     It’s kind of interesting (to me anyway) that practically the only past events that I feel twinges of regret over are events that occurred before I learned the aforementioned wise lesson of Buddhist philosophy. Apparently the regret has become an emotional part of the memory itself. It may well be that I also have some sort of innate resistance or partial immunity to remorse—like maybe I’m just a wee bit sociopathic. (I may as well point out here that not all sociopaths are serial killers. Many sociopathic types are law-abiding citizens, even successful ones, like shark business executives, lawyers, and military officers. I’ve read that quite a few successful surgeons also have sociopathic personalities. Being ruthless can be helpful even for saints, though of course I’m not a saint. I have also read that libertarians in general tend to be more cold, lacking in compassion, and ruthless in their mental actions, which helps to explain why there are so few female libertarians.)

     Another aspect of my personality that may be slightly sociopathic is that I am relatively indifferent to apologies. I really don’t give a damn if someone is sorry that they did something wrong, to me or to anyone else. In fact I would usually prefer that they not be sorry. Consider the following scenario. Long ago I had a girlfriend who was continually picking fights with me over really trivial issues. She realized she was doing this and would apologize afterwards, sometimes in tears, because she knew that she was in effect sabotaging our relationship. (She apparently learned from her parents, as a child, that an integral part of male/female relationships is chronic bickering.) The thing is, though, that I didn’t give a damn if she was sorry afterwards. I would much prefer (and I told her this) that I would rather that she not feel regret at all and just stop doing it than to keep doing it over and over again and feeling sorry after every time. If you make a mistake, learn from that mistake and stop doing it. Don’t keep making the same mistake and apologizing after every freaking time. As I’ve already said, feeling sorrow or regret afterwards is “bad karma” anyway and mostly just makes things worse. If it helps you to stop doing whatever it is, then at least there’s that; but otherwise just forget it.

     Even so, apologizing and expressing deep remorse has evidently become an integral part of mainstream culture, especially lately. In fact it has become a veritable fashion trend. The way it works is that someone does something or says something that offends enough people, or enough important ones, or at least seems to offend them because they act offended, so that the person is demanded to make a public apology. The culprit usually goes ahead and grovels publicly because he or she actually believes that he or she did something wrong, or that the people really are offended and that that obliges the culprit to express regret, or else the culprit is simply afraid of having his or her reputation and/or career destroyed by a social media outrage mob. After the sinner confesses and repents of his or her social sins, then the person may be forgiven—although that depends on a number of complicated factors, including where they stand on political issues. The farther to the right, the less likely they are to be forgiven, no matter how abjectly they debase themselves in their apologies.

     It used to be said that Japan had a guilt-based culture. Whether that is still true, or ever really was true, I can’t say; but it does appear that the ultraliberal elitist left of the USA have become very guilt-based in their outlook on life. So-called white guilt, or remorse over being white and having a mysterious innate, hereditary sin called “white privilege,” has replaced the original sin of Christianity as the fall from Grace for which the people must atone. (It is interesting that, according to recent studies, white liberals are the only major population group in the world that are positively biased against their own ethnicity.) Also, of course, a sense of guilt has been exploited as a political tool for the new left, much as it has been in Communist China—insisting on the guilt of ideological nonconformists and weaponizing compelled apologies have become a standard political strategy for people who supposedly harbor enlightened, compassionate, progressive values. By pressuring someone to make a public apology for some perceived thoughtcrime or sin against political correctness, at the very least enemy heretics are induced to grovel before the world, which puts them on the defensive and usually lowers their prestige. A Twitter mob’s successful attempt at forcing a public apology can even inspire some of their more spineless opponents to retreat from their “offensive” position and officially renounce it. And afterwards the mob can even refuse to accept the apology, which if done strategically can make the enemy look even worse, and which can then encourage the mob to pursue the attack with renewed fervor, until the enemy is destroyed.

     The fact that the humiliation of an apologizing opponent often can result in even more compassionate progressives piling on and increasing the attack reminds me of Jack London’s classic novel The Call of the Wild. According to the story, when two sled dogs would fight, the other dogs would surround them and watch in silence…until one of the two dogs went down, at which point the others would immediately join in and tear the loser to pieces. This literal dogpiling doesn’t speak well of the ethics of malamute sled dogs in the arctic, or of temperate-zone ultraliberal progressives.

     The key point to remember is that, with regard to sled dogs or progressives, going on the defensive, or simply being ruined, emboldens them. I suppose sled dogs are not particularly cowardly, but many if not most postmodern leftists certainly are. And even if the apology doesn’t increase the attack, it is seen as a victory for the mob and a loss for the one who apologizes, and for what he or she represents.

     Consider the case of Milo Yiannopoulos. Just a few years ago Milo was one of the most politically influential people in the English-speaking world, a major cultural force on the side of the anti-SJW right, and an important advocate of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump in America. The activist left hated him with a vehement hysterical hatred (as did some on the radical right), despite the fact (for some on the right, because of the fact) that he is openly, flamboyantly homosexual. That in itself, along with the left’s attitudes towards people like Kanye West and Candace Owens, indicates that the new left’s compassionate advocacy of “marginalized victim groups” is a sham; the new left’s compassionate advocacy is solely for those who conform to the new left—but I digress. So then one fine day during an interview, Mr. Yiannopoulos made some very callous remarks about having been sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a boy: in short, he said that he liked it. This resulted in an outrage mob demanding his apology for speaking so flippantly and dismissively about child molestation (despite the fact that he was the one molested as a child)…and because of the near-universal political sensitivity on the subject, I presume, the pathetic sap actually apologized publicly. Not only did he apologize, but he did so even with a hint of groveling about it all—which of course was seen as a major social victory by the left over one of the right’s most successful provocateurs, and which also caused the libertarian right to fall away from him as from pestilence. His show of humility was seen as flat-out humiliation, his reputation and fame were effectively derailed, and he fell from grace immediately thereafter. He has been striving to make a comeback ever since, but his day is apparently done.

     By contrast there is my own case, which occurred back in 2013 on a much smaller scale than the Milo debacle. As some of you may know, I became romantically, and to some degree physically, involved with a young American woman (not so involved as to commit a pārājika offense and excommunicate myself, which is to say that we didn’t actually “do it”), and I freely admitted to this in a post entitled “Let This Be a Lesson” on the old blog. Although making the public confession and stating that I had no intention of committing such a monastic transgression again, I expressed no remorse over my past actions—and although Buddhist dogma asserts that remorse is foolish and wrong, many Buddhists were outraged that I didn’t feel it. Just claiming that I had learned my lesson wasn’t good enough for some: they apparently wanted my sorrowful repentance, complete with tears, ashes, and sackcloth. But I sincerely didn’t give a damn about what they wanted, and besides, an apology would have been dishonest considering that I really wasn’t sorry. There were a few people who almost certainly were eager to use the situation as a convenient excuse for publicly washing their hands of me, and for retroactively justifying never having supported me from the beginning, and it was pretty obvious to me that, even if I had made a blubbering (and insincere) obligatory apology the situation wouldn’t have ended much differently. But it was interesting how most of the outrage came not from my naughty behavior, but from my refusal to pretend that I was sorry about it. I wan’t playing by the rules of a neurotic society. I call bullshit on the bogus rules of clown world, and so should you, if you can get away with that.

     Anyway, the golden lesson to be learned from all of this is this: NEVER APOLOGIZE on demand, especially to supposedly outraged leftists. If you really have done something wrong, or have really hurt someone, then sure, acknowledge the mistake, own it, preferably without groveling (unless maybe you’re sleeping with that person and have some steamy romance going on in which such dramatic scenes have an honored place). At the very least learn from your mistakes, and resolve to try to do better in future; don’t lie and say you’re sorry if you’re really not sorry, because, of course, that’s hypocritical and dishonest (utterly regardless of how polite or politically correct such lies may be). Maybe at most you could offer up some apology like, “I am sorry that you’re upset, but I really can’t apologize for what I said because I sincerely consider it to be true.” (Another lesson of Buddhist ethics: If someone is upset, it’s their own doing, their own volitional act—the very fact that two people can hear the very same words and only one of them gets upset is a demonstration of this.) Or maybe: “I promise I won’t do it again”—in which case you are obligated to keep your word and not do it again, whatever it is.  But whatever you do, don’t do exactly what your enemies want you to do, because that’s just stupid.


  1. "It used to be said that Japan had a guilt-based culture."

    I don't think so. In Ruth Benedict's _The Chrysanthemum and the Sword_, the primary source for the anthropological distinction between guilt-based and shame-based cultures, Japan is regarded as a very pure example of the latter.


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