Tuesday, November 14, 2017

You Know You're Wrong

He could have confirmed that he harassed women, that he is sorry, and that he did it even though he knew at the time that it was wrong.
Wasted Reckonings
The article is subtitled, "What do we really want out of public apologies from alleged sexual harassers?" But I suspect that it could be applied to any form of apology for anything. Because I think that Ms. Waldman puts her finger on the one thing that people often want from those who they feel have transgressed against them - an admission of willful wrongdoing that reinforces the idea that whatever expectation was violated was, in fact, the way things were supposed to be. And in this, it becomes a reinforcement of the idea that good and bad, right and wrong, are objective and fixed qualities that everyone knows - and that everyone knows to obey.

I think that it may be especially important in situations like (but not perhaps limited to) sexual harassment and assault, where the survivors often spend a good deal of time wondering if they had done something wrong, but I suspect that this reaffirmation of a singular truth (and that we understand what it is) would be welcomed in any number of other circumstances.

From my own point of view, it's a difficult thing to obtain because people don't do things that they understand are wrong when they are doing them. They may understand that their behavior isn't acceptable or appreciated, but I don't think that the understand it to be ethically out-of-bounds. As much as I can't fathom what would possess someone like Louis C.K. to masturbate in front of a woman who would rather that he didn't, I do suspect that, at the time, he had some sort of sincerely-held justification for that action.

Ms. Waldman notes that, "Apologies are supposedly about acknowledging our mistakes, but in practice they can permit us to disown them." But is doing something that one understands to be wrong when you are doing it really a mistake? Perhaps in the broader theological sense, it can be ascribed to "error," but in everyday parlance a mistake is something that's done out of ignorance, carelessness, misperception et cetera. An act of deliberate wrongdoing is not a "mistake" in that sense.

And perhaps that's the fundamental problem; the difficulty of speaking to an action, or a group of actions, in two different ways that are at odds with one another at the same time. Acknowledging a mistake is a different beast than acknowledging a deliberate misdeed. And I think that society treats them differently. There is a tendency to ascribe mistakes to to a given figure when a person wants to forgive them. But when someone wanted to close the door to forgiveness for a figure, they tend to ascribe deliberate, and malicious, wrongdoing. You see this all the time in politics, where partisan divides tend to make the differences is reactions stark, but it's present in any number of other facets of society.

Regardless of how reasonable one might find such an admission, the expectation that someone will openly call themselves out as a bad person strikes me as a bit much to expect. But that's never stopped anyone before, and so I doubt it will now.

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