There’s a routine now. Get called out, whether for good reason or not, whether for something new or ancient, whether for something true or false, and watch the insipid gnats swarm, fearful that they might miss the chance to prove their virtue and because they so adore a chance to part of the gang. Half the time, they aren’t quite sure why they’re swarming, condemning, shaming, but nobody wants to miss the chance to condemn. It’s the new national past time.
The next step in the routine is that the target of this condemnation, bows their head and apologizes. As Seth Moskowitz argues at Arc Digital, it’s one thing if the target of the mob agrees with the criticism and apologizes because he recognizes that he was wrong. It happens that people make mistakes. And when one does, an apology and recognition of a mistake is what a normal reasonable person does.
It doesn’t matter where the denunciations come from—left or right, allies or adversaries. If you face public criticism, you should first seriously contemplate if you have, in fact, done something wrong. If so, go ahead and apologize. Acknowledging mistakes is a sign of maturity and can be healing.
What’s critical about this obvious insight is that the decision as to whether the target was wrong belongs to the target, not the mob. Maybe the mob has a point. Maybe not. Certainly the mob believes it does or it wouldn’t be attacking. but the mob has no mind. If the criticism comes from someone whose opinion you respect, there’s good reason to give it some serious thought. It doesn’t mean you have to change your opinion, but it’s certainly worth considering. But the mob? Why would anyone care what some random idiot on social media calls you? And if you wouldn’t care what they feel individually, it’s of no greater worth if it’s a thousand, a million, amorphous fools.
And yet, the routine is to apologize, not because the shrieking fools matter, or are right, but to quiet the screaming and pacify the mob. Moskowitz says that if you have nothing to apologize for, as far as you’re concerned, don’t do it.
Defend yourself against the mob—and if that is asking too much, log off and let the critics tweet into the void.
Moskowitz uses the examples of Lin-Manual Miranda for the outrage that his “In The Heights” didn’t include enough dark-skinned Hispanics, and the follow-up attack on Rita Moreno, of all people, for defending Miranda, both of these extraordinarily talented and accomplished people ended up begging for mercy from mobs who couldn’t hold a candle to their contributions to art and diversity.
The night after Miranda apologized, the actress Rita Moreno, who is Puerto Rican, appeared on Stephen Colbert’s talk show and argued that he needn’t say sorry. “I’m simply saying, can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone? […] They’re really attacking the wrong person.” But the mob immediately came for her, and the day after the “Colbert” appearance, Moreno tweeted an apology for defending Miranda. It started with the self-flagellation that has become so familiar: “I’m incredibly disappointed with myself …”
To give such a forceful statement on the nation’s most-watched late-night talk show, it’s fair to assume that Moreno must have understood the “colorism” debate and given her position serious consideration. Why, then, was she so quick to flip-flop, retract her statement, and atone? Occam’s Razor would tell us that her apology, like Miranda’s, was simply a capitulation to avoid the internet’s wrath.
That the apologies didn’t issue because they believed they had committed some grievous sin against the woke, but because these were celebrities whose futures and careers depended on popularity and acceptance, seems painfully obvious. For some, perhaps with the right politics, skin color or genitalia, a swift apology is enough to quell the outrage. For most, it’s merely the beginning of the end, the confession of sin followed by the punishment of banishment from woke society. A lot of people still love the work of Miranda and Moreno. Others, they can live without, and a future without some hated coder, professor or, dare I say it, lawyer, won’t make the mob lose a moment’s sleep.
And this routine has, unsurprisingly, increasingly filtered its way into criminal law. The police set up a controlled call to a target where he’s accused of false or exaggerated wrongs with the expectation that rather than deny the lies, he will apologize for the accusations as a matter of course, not because they happened but because that’s the response demanded of the accused. Then, boom, the cops have a confession. Even if no crime was committed, his confession, his apology for the perception that he committed some sin, sunk him.
Moskowitz distinguishes the sincere confession, where the target agrees that what he did was wrong, from the insincere, the apology issued to end the denunciation and, maybe, get a lighter sentence than permanent banishment from society.
To stop the cycle of insincere apologies, more people need to follow Marshall’s lead and defend themselves in the face of public humiliation.
If we continue to censor unpopular opinions and censure those who hold them, we will be giving up the knowledge-building endeavor of constructive debate and open discourse. Instead, we should use liberalism’s greatest tools—logic, evidence, and persuasion—to sort fact from fiction and to challenge ideas we oppose.
So if the mob comes for you, ask yourself whether you have, in fact, done something wrong. If so, go ahead and apologize. But if not, be brave and stand your ground.
While some of us aren’t dependent on the approval of a thousand insipid little shits, whether for our living, our “popularity” or our self-esteem, many are. Even more importantly, the viciousness of the swarm often extends beyond their target to harming friends and family. Love, peace and tolerance aren’t what they used to be. If they need to harm someone’s children to make their father bow to their will, the unduly passionate will see it as the cost of “justice.”
As long as people feed the power of the mob by acquiescing to their demands, by apologizing when you don’t believe you’ve done anything to apologize for, the power of denunciation will persist and grow. And ironically, it’s not as if your apology will “redeem” you to the mob anyway, but just confirm that they were right to destroy you and salt the earth upon which you stand.
The only way to stop the swarm of insipid little shits is to refuse to give a damn and give them what they so desperately want, control over someone more important than them. If you did nothing wrong, don’t bend to their will, don’t beg for mercy. Maybe you’ll shrug. Maybe you’ll fight back. Maybe you’ll just shake your head and walk away. But whatever you do, don’t apologize if you do not believe you have anything to apologize for.