Thursday, June 02, 2011

Apologies Accepted (and Required)

A few months ago, Harold Camping, an engineer turned Evangelical preacher, predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011, between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. Hundreds of thousands of people believed him. Since you’re reading this now, it is safe to say that Camping was wrong.

The question is, why hasn’t he admitted it?

Why hasn’t he apologized?

And it's not just Harold Camping I’m worried about. We have a tremendous dearth of apologies in this country and we rarely learn from our mistakes.

They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. However, our problem is not that we have forgotten the lessons of the Roman Empire and the blunders which heralded its decline (although we probably should take a look at that stuff). Our problem is that we have forgotten the blunders of last year, last week, or even yesterday.

If we had any memory at all we would demand apologies from those who have led us into one blunder after another, but for some reason we don’t do that.

Remember all those financial analysts who said the economy was stronger than ever in 2007?

They must’ve all been fired, right?


They’re on CNBC pulling down big salaries and making new predictions every single day.

Remember those politicians and pundits who predicted the Iraq war would be done in a few months and cost minimal lives? They apologized right? They went to the house of every soldier who lost a leg or an arm and promised to do better in the future.

Didn’t they?

Or perhaps the more important question is, “Did you?”

When you fucked up, when you argued for the wrong side, when you passionately espoused a belief which in hindsight turned out to be flawed or false, did you admit it and maybe even apologize to those who had it right?

Anyone who’s read this blog knows I’m not a religious person so if the rapture had happened it’s a pretty good bet I would’ve been left behind to suffer through the earthquakes, hurricanes and tortures of the antichrist. If that had happened, you can bet your ass I would’ve apologized. In fact, I probably would’ve gotten down on my knees and begged for forgiveness.

While I’m at it, I might as well mention a few things I have gotten wrong. I thought the cold war would go on forever. I thought Israel would be unable to resist getting involved in the first Gulf war. I was certain John Kerry would win the 2004 election and that Adam Lambert would be the American Idol (I’m still pissed off by at least one of those). I thought Obama would honor his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo. I’m even currently rethinking my stance on nuclear power, but that’s a topic for another blog.

That’s just a sample of the mistakes I’ve made (my wife could probably tell you a lot more).

I apologize and promise to do better in the future but I don’t want you to let me off the hook. I want you to remember my mistakes and put them up there on the scales when you weigh my ideas.

Unfortunately, that’s not how Americans work. We don’t listen to the advice of the guy with the best track record. We listen to the guy with the loudest voice and often the scariest predictions. It’s charisma that wins the day and those charismatic folks depend on you forgetting the bullshit they said yesterday, particularly if it was in direct contradiction to the bullshit they are saying today.

Need an example?

When protestors took to the streets during the Bush administration, the right said it was un-American to protest a sitting president during a time of war. The left defended the protestors as the best evidence of democracy. Now that a Democrat is in office, it’s the left that is complaining about the Tea Party movement and the right that is talking about free speech.

These folks need to pick a lane and if they don’t, we need to hold them up to the inconstancies of their statements.

Wouldn’t it be great if every time a pundit or politician made a statement on TV the network was legally required to display his “batting average” right below his face?

While we’re at it, let’s throw a consistency graphic up on the screen which will flash every time they switch positions for political expediency. You see, I don’t want a candidate who is pro-choice in the primary and pro-life in the general. I want to know what my candidate actually believes.

If Keith Olberman or Bill O’Reilly attacks a politician for something, then they should go after all politicians guilty of that crime, not simply those who oppose their particular ideology.

And while we’re cluttering up our new HD TV with graphics for “batting average” and “consistency”, why don’t we add one for bias? Let’s find out who is paying the bills for these guys. We know when we see a movie star plugging his movie on Letterman that he’s trying to sell tickets, but what about the climate “scientist” who is employed by the coal industry or the guy from the milk industry talking about what we should eat?

We should know who is paying the bills and who stands to make millions from what they tell us.

Harold Camping’s organization, Family Radio, raised millions of dollars from his end of the world predictions. Those are incredible profits for something that turned out to be bullshit but they pale in comparison to the profits the energy companies are making while they deny the validity of climate change.

Will they apologize if the predictions of cataclysmic (some might even say apocalyptic) climate change actually occur?

Of course, we’re never going to get those apologies and it’s not in the network’s best interests to undermine their pundits' credibility.

We’re the ones who have to keep them honest. We’re the ones who have to stop flocking to the story of the day and remember the bold statements of yesterday. We’re the ones who have to keep track of the predictions, the inconsistencies and the biases.

And when those folks fuck up, when they send us to war, blindly increase the debt, send the economy into the toilet, ignore the warning signs in the environment or simply lie to us in order to get elected one more time, we are the ones who have to hold them accountable.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we should take a minute and check out our own batting average, consistency and bias. When we screw up, do we admit it and apologize or deny it and move on? Do we form our opinions based on our affiliations or based on our carefully considered values? Are we supporting those tax cuts, incentives, or minimum wage increases because we genuinely believe they are good for the community, the nation and the world or simply because they are good for us?

If we don’t.... it’s not the politicians, pundits, and Harold Campings of the world who need to apologize.

It’s us.

(By the way, if you noticed that this Blog is better spelled and punctuated than the others, all the credit goes to Wendy Cooper. thanks Wendy!!)


Blogger Parvenue said...

Hmmm.Here's my issue-you knew there would be one-I'm not sure one needs to apologize for having an opinion about something that may or may not occur...why and to whom would you need to apologize to someone about the outcome of Idol? You had nothing to do with that outcome, did you?

In legal circles, there is a concept of "justifiable reliance", meaning that you may be liable (and if plaintiff's lawyer has anything to say about it, for more than just an apology) if someone is damaged for taking an action based on your assertion, but only if that reliance is justifiable- that it made sense for someone to rely. I guess you would say someone who sold their house and quit their job in anticipation of the Rapture is owed an apology, if you can assert believing Camping's opinion made any kind of sense.

On the other hand (there usually is another hand) Obama's failure to close Gitmo was more than an opinion; it was an assertion of an intention to do something that he has not done. I guess an apology would be appropriate but not for not doing what he said, but for not fully realizing that he was not capable of doing it...he thought (opinion) that he would be able to ( I presume), but he was mistaken..

2:57 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Grat comments, as always and you are not alone. Several people have told me that they don't feel that apologies are necessary for many of the things I mentioned in this blog.

I think much of the problem stems from my writing more than anything else. (for which I obviously apologize)

The title of the blog was about apologies but then I went on to talk about other things like Batting average, consistency and bias.

I think this muddled my point a bit, so let me clarify.

No, I don't think I should have to apologize for not picking the right American Idol. However, I also think I should remember my bad pick the next time I start making predictions and so should you.

No, I don't think one should have to apologize for one's opinions. However, if you call someone, stupid, naive, cowardly or un-American (all things I was called during arguments about the Iraq war) and you turn out to be wrong, apologies are in order. Not simply because you were both rude and wrong but also because if you don't you will, in all likelihood repeat the same mistakes next time.

Most importantly, I believe apologies are definitely in order, if you get on TV and strongly express opinions which turn out to be poorly conceived, disingenuous, self serving or criminally destructive.

Of course, the real point of my blog (and this is where my poor writing comes in) was that we need to think critically about the inconsistencies, mistakes and biases of the world's opinion makers while at the same time taking a long careful look at our own intellectual flaws.

10:21 AM  

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