I’m Sorry (For What Somebody Else Did)

There are two related tendencies in the West which are as puzzling as they are troubling. One is the habit of claiming victim status. Ben Wattenberg once called this “The Victim Dictum”. It goes like this: “Every Problem Can Be Assigned To a Hostile Outside Agent”. That is, we are all victims – victims of society, of a bad upbringing, of our environment, of our government, etc. And thus apologies are needed, along with reparations, entitlements, privileges, etc. All of which beats taking any personal responsibility for our own shortcomings and choices.

The other tendency is the annoying habit of the West to make apologies for all sorts of things, and to say sorry to various “victims” of long ago. Thus there are calls to apologise to indigenous peoples, to past war victims, to various historic episodes of injustice and oppression, and so on.

And often the call is not just for an apology, but for some sort of compensation or payback. The West is not only made to feel guilty for all these supposed sins and outrages, but it must somehow atone for these sins as well. It must make due compensation.

But such reparations for, and corrections of, past wrongs seem to me to be problematic, to say the least. Part of it has to do with the issue of responsibility. For example, if my great, great, great, great, great grandfather stole your great, great, great, great, great grandfather’s bicycle, am I somehow responsible for this? Moreover, should I make reparations to you based on this wrong of long-ago? Do I owe you a bike?

That the West must be made to feel guilty for just about everything – including it seems someone’s burnt toast for breakfast or someone’s punctured tire – is of course part of the Political Correctness brigade’s assault on the West. It is part of getting back at Dead White Males for all the evil they have committed since the dawn of time.

So there is now a whole industry which has sprung up which does its best to persuade all Westerners – especially white males – that they are responsible for all misfortunes, wrongs and calamities in life, and they must forever engage in acts of penance and contrition. We Westerners are not only all guilty, but we must be fully reminded of our guilt and shame on a daily basis.

So saying sorry has now become a full time job for many in the West. And the list of grievances is of course never ending. Apologise for something today and we will discover another dozen things to say sorry about tomorrow. Like our public service, this is a life-long job, because the roster of imagined wrongs will be perpetuated ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

English Commentator Theodore Dalrymple has just written a brilliant piece on all this. He refers to this “pattern of political breast-beating” as “the False Apology Syndrome”. He provides a number of key examples here. Consider the whole issue of the Crusades, for example, and all the Western brow-beating that has sprung up because of this. He says:

“It is not exactly a new discovery that the Crusaders often, perhaps usually or even always, behaved very badly. It is not in the nature of invading armies to behave well, even when discipline is strong, morale is high, and control of the foot soldiers is firm; it is no secret that these conditions did not exist during the Crusades, to put it rather mildly. They were, however, rather a long time ago. The Crusades were an attempt to recover for Christendom what had been lost by force, with all the accompanying massacre, pillage, and oppression that the use of force in those days implied. No one, I think, expects an apology from present-day Arabs for the imperialism of their ancestors, either as a matter of moral duty or political likelihood. We are all born into the world as we find it, after all; we are not responsible for what went before us.”

Official apologies for faraway events, says Dalrymple, “have bad effects on both those who give them and those who receive them. The effect on the givers is the creation of a state of spiritual pride. Insofar as the person offering the apology is doing what no one has done before him, he is likely to consider himself the moral superior of his predecessors. He alone has had the moral insight and courage to apologize. On the other hand, he knows full well that he has absolutely no personal moral responsibility for whatever it is that he is apologizing for. In other words, his apology brings him all kudos and no pain.”

Consider also the effect on the recipients of such apologies: “Let us take the demand for an apology for the Atlantic slave trade as an example. I doubt whether anyone could be found nowadays who would mount a moral defense of that trade. That it was hideous and cruel beyond all description hardly needs saying, and what does not need saying should not be said, at least not often, for otherwise the lady doth protest too much. The demand for an apology supposes that there is a clearly definable person, or group of persons, who can be held responsible for the trade, or at the very least to have been the beneficiaries of it. In other words, the world can be neatly divided into historical oppressed and oppressor, victim and perpetrator.”

But this is not the case: “Most historical situations and their consequences are more complex and ambiguous than this simple schema would suggest, and the slave trade is no exception. For medical reasons having to do with relative immunity to malaria, if for no others, the supply of slaves depended crucially on the co-operation of African suppliers who captured slaves for sale. No apology from their descendents is required. The trade was abolished almost entirely through the efforts of white abolitionists. However discontented with their lot present-day American descendents of slaves may be, they are much better off than they would have been had their ancestors not been brought to America. Are they morally obliged, then, to offer up thanks to the slave traders who brought their ancestors to America? Thus the demand for an apology for the Atlantic slave trade is a demand that people with no personal responsibility for it apologize to people who have suffered no personal wrong from it. From the point of view of morality, this is a very strange demand.”

All this has to do with guilt, or in this case, misplaced and misdirected guilt: “The False Apology Syndrome flourishes wherever there has been a shift in the traditional locus of moral concern. At one time, a man probably felt most morally responsible for his own actions. He was adjudged (and judged himself) good or bad by how he conducted himself toward those in his immediate circle. From its center rippled circles of ever-decreasing moral concern, of which he was also increasingly ignorant. Now, however, it is the other way round. Under the influence of the media of mass communication and the spread of sociological ways of thinking, a man is most likely to judge himself and others by the opinions he and they hold on political, social, and economic questions that are far distant from his immediate circle. A man may be an irresponsible father, but that is more than compensated for by his deep concern about global warming, or foreign policy, or the food situation in Africa.”

Yes, it is always easier to write out a cheque for some stranger in Africa than to actually be reconciled with your next-door neighbour. Dalrymple concludes, “Guilt, by its very nature, ought to be connected to responsibility; it ought, moreover, to be in proportion to the wrongdoing that is its occasion. To assume a guilt greater than the responsibility warrants is actually a form of grandiosity or self-aggrandisement. The psychological mechanism seems to be something like this: ‘I feel very guilty, therefore I must be very important’.”

Quite right. We live in a very mixed up society. On the one hand, people everywhere feel guilty (for the simple reason that they are guilty, as in the Judeo-Christian version of events). Yet we want to deny guilt – at least in terms of personal responsibility – and talk instead about mere guilt feelings, and how to remove them. But on the other hand, we are told we must feel guilt about all sorts of things which we have nothing to do with, or at least very little. So we absolve ourselves of personal guilt for personal sins, while making up imaginary sins to feel quite guilty about. No wonder we have an army of counselors and psychologists busy at work. Such twisted moralism should keep the shrinks gainfully employed for quite some time.


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12 Replies to “I’m Sorry (For What Somebody Else Did)”

  1. Thanks Bill,

    The army of councellors and psychologists are busy Bill, trying to have their own influence and their own solutions. Sadly, most people actually listen to what they say – note the whole ‘self esteem’ issue.

    Only problem is they are trying to find physical answers to spiritual problems. They can keep trying to fill themselves up with prescription drugs or keep trying to atone for their guilt by passing it on somehow, but it will all come to nought.

    There is only one Saviour.

    Jeremy Peet

  2. Bill,

    I want an apology and compensation from the British Government for the cruel and barbaric persecution and suppression of my Irish forebears and the forfeiture of Irish lands over some 700 years prior to 1921.

    I want the British Prime Minister and every Member of his Government and surviving Members of all previous British Governments, and including all members of the Royal Family, to e-mail every Irishman and all those of Irish descent dispersed in countries around the world to apologize and to promise compensation.

    Personally I demand the Lakes District in Northern England and Balmoral Castle in Scotland as my personal compensation package together with a healthy generous life-long stipend from the British Government for me and my descendants. I am also seeking seeking the same from the Governments of Denmark, Norway, France and other countries for the invasion of Ireland by the Danes, Vikings, Saxons, and Normans prior to the British conquest.

    From the French I am demanding the city of Paris and the best vineyards as compensation and from Denmark…………etc etc.

    From the Australian Aboriginal I demand an apology and compensation for the practice of burning; turning lush wet forests into dry grasslands making Australia the driest continent. In their case the apology can be made via message stick rather than e-mail. For me compensation will consist of Ayers Rock and the rainforests of the Qld-NSW border ranges.

    Now who else? Have I forgotten someone?

    John FG McMahon

  3. Hi Bill,

    It strikes me that the culture of victimhood can be understood as one more aspect of the atheistic / evolutionary world view being put into practice.

    The link is based on the evolutionary demand for a strict determinism to all of life (or if not determinism then a playing out through quantum uncertainty of every aspect of reality which is completely beyond our control). The clear implication is that people are not really responsible for their actions, and as far as consciousness exists, it is as though we are strapped into our bodies as passive observers. Hedonism is therefore the only “good” left.

    As you helpfully point out, when it comes to the issuing of apologies for real or imagined wrongs there are perceived benefits to the feelings of both the “oppressor” (moral superiority, importance, absolution of real personal guilt) and the “victim” (public recognition that personal failings are someone else’s fault). To hedonists it is therefore a win-win situation and enthusiastically adopted.

    Unfortunately world views and actions based solely upon feelings mean that Truth becomes irrelevant and it is all the harder to reach these people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps a way through the fog is to point out that feeling good in this world is only possible because of God’s original very good creation – and won’t be possible in hell.

    Mansel Rogerson, Melbourne

  4. I’m with John McMahon. Can we make it a class action perhaps?

    Kev Downes

  5. May I be allowed to comment on Jeremy Peet’s comment about “The army of counsellors and psychologists.”

    Though Mr Peet has a point there, I have to say it is rather unfair to generalise the point and make it seem as if all counsellors and psychologists are a bunch of baddies. If we as Christians follow this line of fallacious reasoning, then we are no different from the atheists who say that all Christians are religious bigots.

    Like Mr Peet, I am very much against the idea of apologising for some wrong committed by some people in the distant past, and I’m against psychologist making silly suggestions about how parents should bring up their children.

    We need to be reminded that counselling and psychology, like nursing and education, originally belonged to the Christians. It’s just that we allowed the secular to take over. You may ask how is psychology related to Christianity? If we were to study the life of Jesus carefully, we cant fail to notice that He was an expert in the science of applied psychology. Secondly, let us not make the mistake of thinking that Sigmund Freud was the father of psychology, because the Creator of the brain is the only Father of psychology. We allowed the secular to hijack psychology when we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Perhaps many of us need to do a little bit more into the meaning of “self-esteem” before we make unjustified comments about how “sadly, most people actually listen to what they say.” Maybe Mr Peet would like to go into the streets with me one night while my friends and I minister to the homeless people, drug addicts, and the abused. Maybe then he would tell these people “Listen to these counsellors.” Maybe Mr Peet has never had an experience of the pain of having to bury someone he tried to help, but wouldn’t listen and instead jumped in front of a train?

    Yes, Mr. Peet. I’m one of these baddie “counselling psychologists” who spend years getting a degree and then for most of my life, with a bunch of other similarly qualified baddies, try to stop kids who are ready to kill themselves to “actually listen”. And guess what? We never get paid too.

    May I also add that this is not an attempt at getting an apology, but just to let people know that not all counsellors and psychologists are rotten people.

    Eddie Sim

  6. Hi John,

    And I’ll take Dublin for the Irish Raids on the Western Coast of England.

    Just imagine where all of this could end up….

    Personally I wouldn’ tell the Spanish of this idea. They may want compensation for the Murders of the Spanish Armada survivers on the West Coast of Ireland.

    Timothy Coombe

  7. Hi Eddie,

    I know most of the time pschologists have the best intentions but they start from the wrong perspective. The majority of pschologists are taught to get people to balance their guilt: I only did wrong because someone did this wrong to me, instead of learning to forgive and to ask for fogiveness (for your own wrongs not for your ancestors wrongs). I am sure that many psychologists do much good but they have also done much harm.

    Your sincerely,

    Timothy Coombe

  8. Hi Timothy,

    I appreciate your point, but why just pick on the psychologists? I am not denying that there are many psychologists who did more damage than good, but what about doctors, politicians, the clergy and just about everyone else who’s able to think and talk? Just read some of the articles that Bill wrote in the past about church leaders and you’ll see how much damage they have done. Study deep into some of the prominent people whose contributions have had negative impacts on the world, and you’ll see that most are not psychologist.

    You are again generalising when you said that the majority of psychologist are taught get people to balance their guilt. This is a totally wrong perception about psychologists – even the secular ones. It is true that there are those who adopt the “feel good under all circumstances” method, but it’s a minority rather than the majority. Can we say that the majority of priests are child abusers just because a few of them are? Can we also say that the majority of Christians are hypocrites because a few of us are? What about the small number of teaches who sexually abused their students?

    Maybe you are not aware that there are Christian counsellors and psychologists, and in fact there is a Christian Counsellors Association in Australia whose members are qualified from recognised Bible Colleges.

    Let us not put down a profession, or any group of people for that matter, simply because there are a few rotten apples in the basket. Instead let each and every one of us look for the plank in our own eyes before we dive into the blame game

    I love you, Brother
    Eddie Sim

  9. If the point was regarding: “I’m Sorry (For What Somebody Else Did)” did Jesus not say just that, when he gave himself for the sins of all mankind? Are we not to become more like Jesus? If churches were more active in looking after the local community we may find that the army of councellors and psychologists would be out of a job. For the sake of my own self esteem I just wanted to apologise to each of you, who in some way have been confronted by the comments other people have made in the blog. Personally I seek an “I’m Sorry” from the descendants of Eve and compensation, LOTS of COMPENSATION.

    God Bless us all.
    Grahame Mitchell

  10. A short guilt-trip anecdote from the mid-1990s: Compulsory Cross-Cultural Training for public servants in Alice Springs. Part-Indigenous trainer (from Sydney) makes the claim that Australia was stolen from his ancestors, and that all misery that followed has been the fault of Whitey [Europeans] and therefore apologies and compensation are necessary. Many tears fall from his cheeks as he blames every ‘trainee’ for all historical indigenous misery.
    Nobody made any offer to apologise due to the arm-twisting performance. {After all you can only give/offer an apology; if it is extracted by force, it is no apology at all, but can only be a false statement (a lie) to appease the aggressor.}
    You could have heard a pin drop when a very recent (only weeks) migrant asked the trainer whether he thought she should apologise for something no-one in her family had committed? The response was, yes, as you are guilty by association (as being an invader!) if not by ancestry or heritage.
    She then in turn started crying and said she refused to be responsible for other people’s actions and asked whether the whole thing was a con for money.
    Training session finished with a bad taste in everyone’s mouth from the bitter pill that was being rammed down our throats ‘to make us feel better’.


    BTW there are some very good Christian psychologists and counsellors with a strong Biblical worldview, even in Alice Springs!

    Mike Evans

  11. As a bloke of UK ancestry I want an apology from the Italians (and compensation too). The trauma they caused my ancestors and culture via their Roman Army’s invasion of Britain in AD43. My ancestors would have been living in an advanced civilisation had that invasion not occurred.

    BTW Any chance of a class action against Adam and Eve’s decendents ? Their fondness for fruit caused me to live in a world of sin and suffering.

    Doug Holland

  12. I have always considered these situations (though I can’t generalise; I don’t have knowledge of every single apology-call) to be a call for empathy rather than a call for admittance of guilt, which seems perfectly sensible to me.

    When a friend suffers bereavement, one sends one’s condolences–often a card that says, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I personally would feel negligent as a friend if I didn’t express sorrow and empathy in a situation such as this.

    Likewise, when, for instance, Kevin Rudd said sorry to our indigenous people, I felt he was sending condolences on behalf of the nation. When one is grieving, knowing one has support and empathy from friends and family (and in this case, one’s nation) is a very helpful part of the healing process.

    I don’t feel responsible for what my ancestors may have done or neglected to do; however, I am happy to be active in helping or supporting those who’ve been wronged–regardless of who did the wronging in the first place.

    Ruby Carlson

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