There Are Apologies And Then There Are Apologies

Commentary, Culture Wars, Maxwell DeGroat

One thing that can be said about the Prime Minister’s apology to the LGBTQ2+ community  is that it’s truly astonishing that no other national political figure beat him to it.

In 2008, his predecessor was first out of the gate with an apology for Indian residential schools. Similarly, the British government issued thousands of pardons to gay and bisexual men in January, 2017. Yet, Canadians have hardly been spared from hearing endless variations on the former theme over the past decade.  

The British apology does little good for the likes of Alan Turing or Oscar Wilde. In 2016, Lord Sharkey, the sponsor of the two unsuccessful British “Turing Bills,” admitted that at least three-quarters of the pardons issued automatically under Westminster’s Policing and Crime Act of 2017 would be posthumous.

On September 11th, 2015, journalist Megan McArdle published an article on the increasing scramble for victim status overtaking the United States. Her piece summarizes a paper from the journal Comparative Sociology on “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” explaining how Western societies shifted from honor cultures, in which offenses are taken very seriously and usually avenged by the one slighted, to dignity cultures, in which personal revenge is discouraged and justice is outsourced to the law.  

The sudden uproar over ‘microaggressions’ in post-Protestant societies marks a transition from dignity culture to a victim culture, in which people are encouraged to  claim victim status, because victimhood is now a prerequisite for getting redress.

McArdle points out this new ‘victim culture’ lacks the social conventions and safety mechanisms such as rituals to constrain the violence, formalities, and extended opportunities for apology that once all assisted honor cultures to survive.  

“Unless victim culture can find similar stopping mechanisms,”McArdle writes, “it will collapse into the bloodless version of the endless blood-feuds that made us seek alternatives to honor cultures in the first place.”

Currently, there is no evidence of any ‘stopping mechanism’. Instead, we are seeing artificial dodges by individuals to avoid extending victim status to once-favoured groups, and increasing tensions as former outgroups contest their respective levels of victimhood.  

Aggressive appeals to victimhood over Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, and the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission are being challenged at the Supreme Courts of both Canada and the United States, where they may only be stopped by the remnants of classical liberalism embedded in our respective constitutional orders.

For now, this cohort is mostly confined to university campuses. But, every “Human Rights” or ‘Truth and Reconciliation” commission (or Parliamentary apology) represents an effort by government to bring the victim mindset to the wider world.

The ‘victim culture’ is a product of the overextension and collapse of liberalism, which, as Patrick J. Deneen writes in his upcoming book, is an “anti-culture,” a “comprehensive effort to displace cultural forms as the ground condition of…liberty.”  These displaced cultural forms include all of the ‘stopping mechanisms’ that the victim culture needs to be sustainable.

Ultimately, we may be sorrier for all the apologies than the sins they fail to absolve.