The Old Apology Routine

CommentarySo Peter Dutton inaugurates his new career as Australian opposition leader with a couple of apologies. First, it’s not a great start. One thing I learned as a teacher is that apologies are rarely spontaneous (“I’m sorry I got caught” is what they really mean), and something I’ve discovered in recent years, as the Woke cultural epidemic spreads, is that apologies are never accepted. If you apologise, you admit some kind of fault that is never forgiven and will continue ever after to be weaponised against you. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t feel sorry for our mistakes and duly admit them to those we may have hurt, but nowadays, we don’t expect mercy in politics. You can be certain that this same stuff will be used against Dutton at the next election—if he stays the distance. Let’s look at those apologies. The first was to do with his quip about the rising water levels “lapping at our feet.” Youngsters nowadays have a dread of catastrophic climate change, and people who are frightened usually suffer some pretty drastic curtailment of their sense of humour. Most of us can laugh at the occasional dark joke (think of all that self-mockery the Jewish do so well: “Dear God, couldn’t you find some other Chosen People for a change?”), but the reality is that many can’t laugh anymore. The youth of today have been seriously frightened by talk of existential threats. You can’t blame them for being scared. But you can blame those who’ve contributed to the terror and ignored or censored more moderate advice. OK, so let’s accept that he offended. Should he apologise? Humour is a subtle thing, an exclusively human trait that arises from the contrast between reality and appearance. It thrives on anomaly and absurdity, the proud man slipping on a banana skin, or the soldier in the trenches making fun of his silly officers. Humour is not something to be ashamed of, because it helps ease life’s tensions. Animals can’t actually laugh. If humans don’t believe in objective reality there’s nothing for them to laugh at either. Don’t play the apology game, Mr Dutton: be a man, admit you thought it funny, tell us why. Having done so you can, of course, use “the sorry word” if you’ve caused some kind of offence, but a formal retraction will do no good to you or to anybody else. For example, I haven’t been able to find out whether there’s any truth in the story that environmental activist Tim Flannery bought himself a beachside house at Bilgola, but if it’s true that would indeed be funny! What I can readily discover, however, like anybody else who uses google, is that seafront land is more than keeping its value in every real estate market in the world, and that those who can afford to buy it show no apparent hesitation. It’s still seen as a rock-solid investment. Incidentally, the territory of the Maldives has actually increased in recent years (that information is available on their own government website). Are they reclaiming land from the sea, or have they just built on another storey? No doubt I am being irresponsibly flippant and should apologise myself, but I won’t: young people today are seriously afraid, but many of those who should lead and advise them wisely are revealing in the conduct of their lives a deep hypocrisy. Follow the money: several of the Pacific nations are hammering Australians for our irresponsibility on climate change, yet they’re currying favour with China. If you’re really worried about rising CO2 emissions, wouldn’t you direct your anger first at the main emitters? Dutton’s second apology was to do with “Sorry Day.” This is probably a harder one to deal with, because there are some raw emotions in the very diverse aboriginal community. Nobody, but nobody, questions that the aboriginal tribes had their lands taken from them by early European settlers, and that this process was relatively fast and often exceedingly cruel. An Aboriginal flag waves in front of the giant television screen as thousands gather in Melbourne’s Federation Square, Australia, on Feb. 13, 2008 to listen to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver a historic apology in parliament to the Aboriginal people for injustices committed over two centuries of white settlement. (William West/AFP via Getty Images) But here’s where ignorance of history (an ignorance growing profounder every year in Australian schools and universities) has disastrous consequences. Those with no or little history are blind to the lamentable truth that no human race has clean hands. Stealing other people’s land, enslaving populations, and amassing wealth at the expense of the poor have been universal human practices since time immemorial. It is a common affectation to claim that all human beings are basically good, but are subject to corruption by “systems.” This is an easy cop-out. There are so many possible scapegoats: capitalism, communism, Christianity, Islam have all been blamed for corrupting the minds of their adherents, and inducing th

The Old Apology Routine

Commentary

So Peter Dutton inaugurates his new career as Australian opposition leader with a couple of apologies. First, it’s not a great start.

One thing I learned as a teacher is that apologies are rarely spontaneous (“I’m sorry I got caught” is what they really mean), and something I’ve discovered in recent years, as the Woke cultural epidemic spreads, is that apologies are never accepted. If you apologise, you admit some kind of fault that is never forgiven and will continue ever after to be weaponised against you.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t feel sorry for our mistakes and duly admit them to those we may have hurt, but nowadays, we don’t expect mercy in politics. You can be certain that this same stuff will be used against Dutton at the next election—if he stays the distance.

Let’s look at those apologies.

The first was to do with his quip about the rising water levels “lapping at our feet.” Youngsters nowadays have a dread of catastrophic climate change, and people who are frightened usually suffer some pretty drastic curtailment of their sense of humour.

Most of us can laugh at the occasional dark joke (think of all that self-mockery the Jewish do so well: “Dear God, couldn’t you find some other Chosen People for a change?”), but the reality is that many can’t laugh anymore. The youth of today have been seriously frightened by talk of existential threats.

You can’t blame them for being scared. But you can blame those who’ve contributed to the terror and ignored or censored more moderate advice.

OK, so let’s accept that he offended. Should he apologise? Humour is a subtle thing, an exclusively human trait that arises from the contrast between reality and appearance. It thrives on anomaly and absurdity, the proud man slipping on a banana skin, or the soldier in the trenches making fun of his silly officers.

Humour is not something to be ashamed of, because it helps ease life’s tensions. Animals can’t actually laugh. If humans don’t believe in objective reality there’s nothing for them to laugh at either.

Don’t play the apology game, Mr Dutton: be a man, admit you thought it funny, tell us why. Having done so you can, of course, use “the sorry word” if you’ve caused some kind of offence, but a formal retraction will do no good to you or to anybody else.

For example, I haven’t been able to find out whether there’s any truth in the story that environmental activist Tim Flannery bought himself a beachside house at Bilgola, but if it’s true that would indeed be funny! What I can readily discover, however, like anybody else who uses google, is that seafront land is more than keeping its value in every real estate market in the world, and that those who can afford to buy it show no apparent hesitation. It’s still seen as a rock-solid investment.

Incidentally, the territory of the Maldives has actually increased in recent years (that information is available on their own government website). Are they reclaiming land from the sea, or have they just built on another storey?

No doubt I am being irresponsibly flippant and should apologise myself, but I won’t: young people today are seriously afraid, but many of those who should lead and advise them wisely are revealing in the conduct of their lives a deep hypocrisy.

Follow the money: several of the Pacific nations are hammering Australians for our irresponsibility on climate change, yet they’re currying favour with China. If you’re really worried about rising CO2 emissions, wouldn’t you direct your anger first at the main emitters?

Dutton’s second apology was to do with “Sorry Day.” This is probably a harder one to deal with, because there are some raw emotions in the very diverse aboriginal community. Nobody, but nobody, questions that the aboriginal tribes had their lands taken from them by early European settlers, and that this process was relatively fast and often exceedingly cruel.

Epoch Times Photo
An Aboriginal flag waves in front of the giant television screen as thousands gather in Melbourne’s Federation Square, Australia, on Feb. 13, 2008 to listen to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver a historic apology in parliament to the Aboriginal people for injustices committed over two centuries of white settlement. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

But here’s where ignorance of history (an ignorance growing profounder every year in Australian schools and universities) has disastrous consequences. Those with no or little history are blind to the lamentable truth that no human race has clean hands. Stealing other people’s land, enslaving populations, and amassing wealth at the expense of the poor have been universal human practices since time immemorial.

It is a common affectation to claim that all human beings are basically good, but are subject to corruption by “systems.” This is an easy cop-out.

There are so many possible scapegoats: capitalism, communism, Christianity, Islam have all been blamed for corrupting the minds of their adherents, and inducing them to commit terrible deeds foreign to their supposedly true natures. This is a convenient lie. It makes us feel better about ourselves. It allows us to shift all blame to the shoulders of others.

We can buy electric cars, save whales, turn off our air-cons, avoid unnecessary travel (although I note attendance at climate conferences doesn’t count, it would seem), go to gyms, restrict our diets to plant-based food (though not of course for our dogs and cats), practise transcendental meditation, and join the Greens. We’re meeting our commitments. We have freed ourselves from the corrupting influence of conservative ideas. We are inclusive!

Read the literature and study the language behind the “Sorry Day” phenomenon. Those of us who cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge in our tens of thousands are not really apologising for our own personal actions, but for the actions of our tribe. We’re ashamed of being “white,” or being European.

By identifying with the oppressed and distancing ourselves from the actions of previous generations whose life stories we don’t even come close to understanding, we’re feeling good about ourselves and asserting our own virtue.

Speaking for myself, I feel deeply upset about the overwhelming situation of what happened to Indigenous people in Australia, but not sorry.

Because sorry has become a vacuous word, a sort of tool of good manners, that doesn’t adequately describe the reality of the loss.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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David Daintree is director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies in Tasmania, Australia. He has a background in Classics and teaches Late and Medieval Latin. Daintree was a visiting professor at the universities of Siena and Venice, and a visiting scholar at the University of Manitoba. He served as President of Campion College from 2008 to 2012. In 2017, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.