The Notpology

By skepticlawyer

Apologising for something one does not think is wrong is not very nice. Apart from anything else, it is insincere. I have done it several times in my life, once publicly. The public apology was not a success for anyone concerned (me or those who disliked me), and I have long since retracted it.

Sometimes people get around this problem with a verbal slight of hand, although the trick only works in certain situations: they apologise for causing offence. I don’t like ‘I’m sorry for your offence’ apologies either, in large part because I don’t like the thought of pandering to the perpetually offended. If someone is offended, as a general rule, it is his problem, not mine. People who want a genuine apology for their hurt feelings sometimes use the neologism ‘notpology’ to describe the ‘I’m-sorry-for-your-offence’ verbal tic, and while I don’t agree with them, I can see why it irritates. Most people have an intuitive sense that tricks should be saved for parlour games and magic shows. If an apology is to have any meaning, it should at least be genuine.

Closely related to apologising for something one does not think is wrong or apologising for causing offence is apologising for something one did not do, which is why I have always thought apologies for slavery, or for Aboriginal child removal, or for mistreating servicemen, or whatever, are just so much hot air. It is even worse when they have to be couched in phrases padded with dull legalese in order to avoid admitting liability and thus enlivening the possibility of compensation claims.

In this last, it appears that I am definitively on the outer, at least in Australia. It is clear from his public statements that Tony Abbott agrees with Kevin Rudd’s apology, despite the rest of his comments contributing to much angst on Australia Day. As far as I’m aware, the only people who care about the misuse of the word ‘sorry’ are grammar nerds like me, and a certain sort of minority conservative or classical liberal. An aside: I was going to say ‘grammar Nazi’, but a friend of mine over here who also spent roughly 10 years learning Latin prefers ‘grammar ninja’, which does sound a bit less vicious while retaining a strong sense of linguistic feistiness. You have been warned.

That said, sometimes an incident comes along that illustrates the absurdity of apologising for something one did not do. Last week, that incident was the discovery that prominent atheist Richard Dawkins’s family fortune (what’s left of it; inheritance tax has taken its toll over the years) was obtained thanks to his ancestors’ participation in the slave trade, at least at the investment end:

One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.

The Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.

Over Norton Park, inherited by Richard Dawkins’s father, remains in the family, with the campaigner as a shareholder and director of the associated business.

It goes on, at least allowing Dawkins to score a good Biblical hit on his interlocutor:

Professor Dawkins, the atheist evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene, claimed associating him with his slave-owning ancestors was “a smear tactic”.

“One of the most disagreeable verses of the Bible – amid strong competition – says the sins of the father shall be visited on the children until the third or fourth generation,” he said.

The family’s association with Jamaica began when William Dawkins, a direct ancestor of the former Oxford University professor, arrived on the island. He began relatively humbly, as an overseer, probably supervising slaves, before receiving 1,775 acres of land between 1669 and 1682.

His son Richard became a leading member of Jamaican society, serving as a colonel in the local militia.

One history records that when Richard died in 1701 he left “personal property valued at £6,659 in Jamaica currency, [including] 143 negroes ‘young and old’ valued at £2,784.”

Richard’s son Henry Dawkins (1698-1744) – another direct ancestor of the campaigner – married Elizabeth Pennant, thus forming an alliance with another one of Jamaica’s most powerful planter families.

In Richard Dawkins’ own account of his dealings with a very bad mannered journalist during a very ill-tempered interview (Dawkins was trying to prepare a lecture, and the scribe wouldn’t take no for an answer), this was suggested:

His next volley was the suggestion that I should make financial reparation for the sins of my ancestors.

Reparation to whom? Should I make a pilgrimage to Jamaica and seek out the descendants of the slaves whom my ancestors wronged? But why the descendants of people who were oppressed by my ancestors 300 years ago rather than to people who are oppressed today? It’s that “sins of the fathers” fallacy all over again, taken a good couple of generations further than even Yahweh had in mind

Once the hit piece was published, there followed a journalistic pile-on, and across the political spectrum, too. First cab off the rank goes to the pornishly-named Camilla Long in The Times, who among other things spends time complaining about Richard Dawkins’s haircut. Then there’s the Daily Mail (with plenty of commentary on land values, too, as one would expect from that august publication), to be followed at last (not quite a late scratching) by a lefty in the Independent. There were some other bits and bobs along the way. In addition to the Telegraph journalist’s call for reparations, various of the anti-racist and black history groups that populate this Sceptred Isle have joined in the demand — admittedly, however, only after being contacted by muckracking journalists. I doubt they would have said anything of their own volition. A clear case of ‘being played for a sucker’, methinks.

Now I do not always agree with Dawkins’ approach and I thought his ‘arrest the pope’ idea a remarkably silly one, but in this case he has been grossly smeared. I expect this sort of pious apologism from lefties and a certain sort of wet liberal (UK version), so I am actually more enraged by the behaviour of Conservatives and classical liberals on point. These are people who have consistently (and often very lucidly) made exactly the same arguments I made above on the modern fashion for notpologies to ‘victim’ groups. Here is Charles Moore, former editor of the very newspaper responsible for serving Dawkins with a reparations demand:

Why does Tony Blair say that he feels “deep sorrow” about the slave trade before the 200th anniversary of its abolition falls next year?

This form of words is very characteristic of how modern politicians deal with tricky situations. There is no reason for Mr Blair to say sorry. He is not responsible for the slave trade in any way, and by half-suggesting that he is, he surrenders to unreason and creates difficulties for his successors.

Take a comparison. Anti-semites have claimed for hundreds of years that the Jews inherit the guilt for the death of Jesus. Suppose the Chief Rabbi were to proclaim his “deep sorrow” for the Crucifixion. Such sorrow is a reasonable feeling for anyone to have, but the effect of the Chief Rabbi saying it would be to give legitimacy to the blood libel.

But the Prime Minister will have been advised that, if he did not put the word “sorrow” in somewhere, headlines would have said, “I’m not sorry for slave trade, says Blair”. So he found a formula that involved a bit of a grovel, but nothing that would make him pay “reparations”, as some pressure groups demand. It is ignominious, but perhaps, the blame-game being what it is, understandable.

Moore’s piece is well worth a read, because it catches in its attention to historical detail the reasons why Kevin Rudd did not speak for me when he apologised to the Aborigines, and why I will have no truck with any other collective apologies that attempt to include me.

In the 19th century, my ancestors were scattered throughout Europe. Most of them, however, were in Ireland and Scotland. The Irish ones (and we have this documented in our family history) were going through this particular example of historical nastiness, while the Scottish ones were dealing with this (tangentially related) event. Do I get a gold star for winning (or at least placing) in the Oppression Olympics now? (That’s a joke, by the way, albeit a bitter one.) Charles Moore’s piece includes this lovely little detail from the uglier recesses of Scots law:

And people should not imagine that such things were solely the result of prejudice against blacks (though blacks had by far the worst experience). In Scotland, there was a special rule that allowed employers to own colliers and salters for life, so special that colliers and salters were explicitly excluded from the introduction of habeas corpus in Scotland in 1701, and did not get full freedom until 1799. I am surprised Arthur Scargill isn’t trying to get reparations for their descendants.

I can add to Moore’s account the information that Scotland, consistent with its Roman legal origins, retained the damnatio ad minam (condemnation to the mines) of Roman law until very late. This meant that black slaves were freed in Scotland some time before white colliers and salters, or persons condemned to those trades in Scottish courts. There are examples of the metal slave collars the colliers and salters wore preserved in the National Museum of Scotland. This in the country that — at the same time — was producing the best of the Enlightenment and laying the foundations for modern medicine.

Memo to Conservatives, especially religious conservatives: if you dislike Richard Dawkins because you dislike his ideas, then perhaps you had better start arguing against those ideas, rather than engaging in a personal smear campaign that would actually do credit to your political opponents. Many people — mainly lefties but some others too, like Tony Abbott — accept the validity of apologising for something one did not do. A smaller group accepts the validity of reparations for things like slavery. Thing is, if you do not accept arguments in favour of historical apologism or reparations, then demanding one or both from Richard Dawkins doesn’t make him look like a dick, not at all.

It makes you look like a dick; it really does.


  1. kvd
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Why need there be ‘sorry’ or ‘regret’ when a perfectly simple acknowledgement of past injustice would suffice. “It happened, get over it, make what you can of life now” Or even Mr Abbott’s more succinct “Sh-t happens” which is one of the few times in his career where he actually seemed to understand what was happening around him, and his role (or non-role) in the causing of it.

    “Regrets” – geez LE thanks for the earworm. I shall be trying to cut the soundtrack of that dreadful dirge out of my brain for at least 24 hours…

  2. kvd
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink


  3. Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    What about the formulaic “I’m sorry for your loss”?

    And I suppose you’d have even more troubles where the apologiser was not perpetrator, but the person apologised to was unaffected by the events concerned.

    Perhaps “I’m sorry” to someone who thinks “god wills it” is a valid reason for anything is being derogatory about a belief system.

  4. Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately it’s the perfectly sensible ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ that gets ruled out thanks to our currently overlawyered state. The word ‘loss’ can be read as legally significant – LE has had personal experience of this with regard to a car accident, and anyone who has encountered plaintiff law — even tangentially — knows the dangers of admitting (however obliquely) liability.

  5. Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Hmm. I think the word “sorry” is at fault here; we all have various meanings for the word, some are apologetic, some are just the feeling of feeling sorry *for* someone (which goes fine with Rudd’s Aboriginal ‘sorry’ on my behalf), then there’s the subject of the sorry (victim vs. my own actions). All of this seems to be using “sorry” to mean whatever they want.

    I am sorry for the way Aboriginals were treated in Australia, and I’m still sorry for how they are treated, in fact it makes me hopping mad and full of bile by the way the Aboriginals are declared as “a problem”. I’m happy to apologize for what I don’t do about it now. I am hence sorry I don’t do enough to fix the situation.

    There seems to be level agreement that we should be judged on what we do. But I posit that what we *don’t* do is something that needs better scrutiny, especially in terms of “sorry.”

    In other words: I’m not apologizing just because I’m feeling sorry, nor is saying that I feel sorry an apology or admission of guilt unless it is presented as such. “I feel sorry for that death” is different from “I feel sorry for that death, I shouldn’t have done it..”

    My wife tells me empathy is a good thing, and I agree, and we shouldn’t let semantic gurgling get in the way of that.

  6. Ripples
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I am inclined towards the idea of regretting something happened rather than taking on the personal aspect of responsibility with a sorry.

    On the Dawkins matter I am confident that should we do an examination of the genealogy of the average person there would be something that we could all be sorry about.

    As much as I detest floodgate arguments I find I am forced to consider one. At what point do we stop. As a white middle class male I enjoy a preferential position in society. I regret that women, minorities and just about everyone else have suffered in the past and still do to enforce that preference.

    Do I have a duty to apologise and make reparations for every person whose rights and opportunities were down trodden so as to allow my privilege? I know it is a bit of fallacious argument but I can’t help but picture the multitude of women who came before and are out there today who are impeded by the preference of the white middle class male.

    So I regret the things that put the system in place and I work towards changing that system. I think the world would benefit from people working to make a better future rather than stone slinging about the past.

    As we talk law here on occasion I hereby sentence the human species to a period of good behaviour for the rest of their natural lives and such sentence shall be passed on by the sins of the father fallacy (only use I can find for the fallacy).

    The species is further sentenced to undertake community service in any manner they are able that acts towards improving the world for everyone in it.

  7. Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I’ve always felt that an ‘apology’ needed to be related to culpability in some way. I’ve also generally used the term ‘regret’ in references to action (or lack of action) taken by the individual expressing regret; I’m not sure you can regret something you did not do in the first place. That said expressing sympathy for others is certainly something important; and I don’t think there’s much wrong with expressing sorrow over tragedies of the past either.

    I think Dawkins is right to criticise the idea of inherited guilt (and the obvious and poor attempt to smear him). It’s always seemed to be a method of controlling others through constructing a form of moral indebtedness – “Look at all this guilt you have; you must do what I say if you are to be free of it!“. The guilt by association approach of progressive politics is equally distasteful. The idea that someone’s race or gender (or other immutable characteristic) implies some form of inherent guilt for past wrongs, or that one is culpable for the actions of others because of some indirect benefit, seem to be based on the same flawed reasoning.

    There is some merit in official apologies though. I can see an argument for why the government ought to apologise for past wrongs, not so much on behalf of the current people of the country, but on behalf of the government as an abstract entity in itself. We hold governments responsible for any number of things (debt, treaties, etc) that extend well beyond the lifespans of many of the people they govern.

    As for restoring the harm done by the wrongs of history, I agree with the notion that playing Oppression Olympics is doomed to causing more disagreement, conflict, and ultimately harm. Attempting to unravel the twists and turns of fate throughout history in an attempt to apply blame for actions taken long ago is an impossible task. Much better I think, to simply accept that life is often unfair, to acknowledge that outcomes will not necessarily match what is deserved, and to work towards substantive equality in a way that doesn’t seek to blame or unfairly burden particular segments of society with the wrongs of the past.

  8. Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    [email protected],

    They managed to fix that here in Queensland at least.

  9. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    [email protected]

    that playing Oppression Olympics is doomed to causing more disagreement, conflict, and ultimately harm.

    Nicely put 🙂

    On apologies, I can testify from personal experience there is no apology quite like that from a narcissist: grandiose, insincere, involving no action by them and followed by analysis of why there wouldn’t have been a problem if I had had the “correct” emotional response to his behaviour. Delivered by email.

    It was just giving himself permission to feel better about himself (and requiring me to cooperate by accepting my own emotional inadequacy). But, once you understand that, with a narcissist, their convenience is their reality principle, it all just follows.

  10. Ripples
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo @ 10

    Reasons I like this blog is the comments can be as thought provoking as the posts.

    I am awarding my vote for internets of the day to Lorenzo for making me so very intrigued by the idea of the narcissist apology. I would have considered such a thing a near impossibility given the narcissistic worldview. My but that would be an uber-notappology.

    I have experienced the narcissist in action manipulating a scenario to highlight the inadequacies of others as reason for the narcissist not achieving a goal (as is an essential requirement of the narcissist to support and underpin their narcissistic worldview.) and the level of manipulation of perception still makes my head spin.

  11. Mel
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I have a foot in both camps on this issue. I find the “my black armband is bigger than your burqa” antics of some left wing elements nauseating but no more so than the “still not sorry” conservative populism of Andrew Bolt.

    Normal social graces require that we sometimes tell little white lies to avoid offending others or say sorry for things that were not really our fault. We all do this in our personal lives and I don’t see why national leaders shouldn’t do it also, but with great care and suitable restraint. But there has to be a limit to this touchy-feeliness, for example I reserve the right to fall about laughing when someone who is three-quarters white and has lived all his/ her life in the ‘burbs claims to be a dispossessed Koori/Noongar/Murri/ etc…

    For the record, I think the Charles Moore article SL cites approvingly is distasteful. I can’t see anything wrong with Blair expressing “deep sorrow” about the UK’s history regarding slavery, notwithstanding the fact that slavery was a common practice elsewhere as well. Moore is every bit as grubby and calculating as the conservatives in Germany, Turkey and Japan who are “still not sorry” for the slaughters Jews, Armenians and PoWs respectively. Grow up and don’t be such a social dick, dude.

  12. Adrien
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    As much as I think Kevin Rudd’s apology a Balmain balm and an exercise in grandiosity, a question occurs: does the repudiation of collective apologies render meaningless the regret expressed by the German government over the Holocaust? Honest question.

  13. derrida derider
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I for one don’t usually like to see people I’m talking to upset. And if I was a politician I wouldn’t like seeing punters upset because I wont get their votes. So “I’m sorry you’re upset” and its cognates are often perfectly sincere.

    Even when insincere it is commonly a harmless social courtesy – like saying “God Bless You” when someone sneezes, when you don’t actually believe in either God or blessings.

    Its more compicated with disadvantaged groups whose disadvantage arises from their history. The subtext to politicians’ “sorry” stuff is NOT “I blame myself for what my ancestors did to your ancestors” but “I’m sorry you have been put at a disadvantage by history and will try and do something about it”. Which is a bit of an illogical way to express this sentiment, but only an autistic person insists on strict logic in social communication.

    In all, I don’t think it does much harm and may do a little good.

  14. Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Speaking in regard to the ‘Sorry’ speech to Indigenous Australians, there are a few more issues.

    Firstly, the apology was not just for the wanton invasion of Australia by the Brits, but more specifically, for the Stolen Generation policies, which had effect as recently as 40 years ago.

    Secondly, I interpreted the apology as coming from ‘the Government of Australia,’ not from Mr Rudd personally. The symbolism inherant in that apology meant so much to Australians on an emotive level.

    On a personal level, I agree entirely with your comment that one should not be ‘sorry’ for something you didn’t do. More appropriate would be to say that I, personally, am sorry that the events occured. Because truly, I am. I feel that Australians as a nation should feel strongly about this issue, and should regret that it occured. This negates a notpology by not assuming blame, and it negates the ‘I’m sorry you were offended.’

    On that note, there are times when I truly am sorry that someone was offended by something I said. In that case, I will make that sort of notpology.

    Finally, I differentiate between an apology, and saying you are sorry. An apology does assume some blame, whereas saying you are sorry expresses a feeling/opinion.

  15. Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Thanks 🙂

    Narcissism is not a black-and-white thing: folk are complicated, it can come in levels. But yes, it made me savagely angry, so did not work as an apology at any level–except for him, of course.

  16. kvd
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Well I’d like to read maybe Pirra’s take on the Sorry we all, I think, genuinely acknowledged a few years back. I’m really wondering how that has translated to practical outcomes, rather than just a tempory feeling of “feel good”.

    You can’t innoculate with a sorry-needle; can’t improve education with a sorry-book; can’t feed or shelter with a sorry. It may have been some sort of ruling off of past events for some people, but I can’t see that we’ve much moved on from there in any practical way as yet.

    And that’s what I’m really, despondently, sorry about – because surely that is actually within our control?

  17. fxh
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    If you can be proud of what your grandfather (or someone else’s) did at Gallipoli then it follows you can be just as easily ashamed of what your great grandfather (or someone else’s) did to Aborigines.

    It was Dawkins who converted me – from an atheist to an agnostic.

    He is ignorant and arrogant and rude. Perhaps the K Rudd of non believers.

  18. Carl Youngblood
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    To the extent we are the willing beneficiaries of power structures that were built through unjust means, we are collectively guilty.

    But the proper response to such guilt is not to attempt the fools errand of making some hopelessly inadequate quid-pro-quo reparations. Since such injustices are far beyond our capabilities of accurately measuring and correcting, our resources would be better spent seeking to overcome those injustices that are still pervasive today, in hopes of leaving a slightly better world for our posterity.

  19. Movius
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins only rubs people the wrong way because he is more worried by people treating fictional gods as reality than by the Catholic church’s involvement in the worldwide conspiracy of the lizard people.

    That and his disgusting hatred of elevators or something.

    I also viewed Rudd’s apology as being on behalf of the government not him personally. At least thats what I thought Howard should have done in the first place.

  20. Mel
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    LE @9:

    “That’s my whole worry with symbolic gestures…that they make people think the issue is “fixed” when it’s not really, and it has to be followed up by concrete action.”

    I think what is most important is what genuine members of the aggrieved group think.

    A couple of other apologies that have been made recently in Oz and that seem very reasonable to me are:

    1/ the Victorian Government’s apology to unmarried women who were tricked or forced to give their babies up for adoption up until the early 1970s
    2/ the RCC’s apology for the sexual, emotional and physical abuse against children in the institutions it ran, and
    3/ the Australian Government’s apology to British child migrants who were maltreated upon their arrival in Australia.

    IIRC, many members of the abused groups wept openly with joy when they witnessed these apologies even though the persons delivering the apologies were representatives of the institutional offenders rather than the actual perpetrators. A reptile like SL’s new pinup boy, Charles Moore, might find this despicable but I think anyone with a healthy level of emotional intelligence and maturity would find it heart-warming.

  21. Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Mel, you’re getting over-excited again. Moore is not my new pin-up boy; he wrote a good piece on why notpologies are not much use, setting out his reasons. This argument was (and is) the ‘party line’ of the Telegraph. He just put it well. And he was editor for a good long stint – best to start at the top.

    His newspaper then goes and makes the same demands of Richard Dawkins that it has always argued were improper when visited upon, say, Tony Blair or other political and community leaders.

    This was coupled with an obtuse refusal to engage Dawkins’s arguments and a deliberate switch to ‘smear’. Now, as a general rule, it is a good idea to try for consistency in one’s arguments. This refusal to do so with one particular opponent is hypocritical in the extreme. I am surprised that only desipis seems to appreciate that, and am struck by the usually sensible fxh’s nastiness.

    Maybe this is because Dawkins is a lightening rod for many people’s odd psychological projections, I don’t know. I do know that a determined encounter with persons who played the Oppression Olympics fast and hard greatly lessoned my view of them. It is at the core of my dislike for ‘victimology’ now.

    I think the concept of collective guilt is risible nonsense; I recognize that this is a minority view, but thought none-the-less that it is worth articulating with some care in light of such flagrant hypocrisy from a newspaper I used to respect (and which I have recommended on this blog)

  22. Movius
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Re: collective guilt and the Bible. There is a school of thought that the story of Barabbas (“Son of the father”), first name Yeshua/Jesus, was originally about Jews rioting and demanding the release of the more famous Jesus, the son of the father.

    Non-evil Jews being unacceptable to certain early Christians, a second “Barabbas” was invented to fit in a story about the Jews betraying Jesus.

    That or it’s some leftover gnostic weirdness about how Jesus wasn’t actually crucified.

  23. Mel
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    SL @25:

    “I think the concept of collective guilt is risible nonsense; I recognize that this is a minority view, but thought none-the-less that it is worth articulating with some care in light of such flagrant hypocrisy from … ”

    Yet you are more than happy to say that some Sufi Muslims shouldn’t build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero because of the actions of some Sunni Muslims. Ain’t this hypocrisy?

  24. Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    Yet you are more than happy to say that some Sufi Muslims shouldn’t build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero because of the actions of some Sunni Muslims. Ain’t this hypocrisy?

    They cannot be prevented from so building (yet), although Santorum is heading towards the Republican nomination apace and once wonders what he will do to the First Amendment were he to be elected.

    My objection to that mosque, by that organisation, is that it is part of the ‘Sharia Compliance Project’. I would object equally as strongly were it to be built in rural Texas; religion I have no problem with; religious pretensions to law I have a large problem with. Sharia is not law. It is codified barbarity as well as economically illiterate to the nth degree. Any contract concluded under its terms would be per se void ab initio on grounds of duress (hence the very grey status of Sharia in Britain, despite the Archbishop of Canterbury’s wet suggestions to the contrary).

    I am just waiting for some large Islamic banking deal to be litigated in the SCUK with a bench of Law Lords sitting there dealing with the possibility that the parol evidence rule doesn’t apply… unless you’re a woman. Yes, I will be buying popcorn, but I’ll be eating it with a pretty sour expression on my face.

    Not Sharia, not in my (or any developed country’s) back yard. One law for all.

  25. Patrick
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    They cannot be prevented from so building (yet), although Santorum is heading towards the Republican nomination apace and once wonders what he will do to the First Amendment were he to be elected.

    Disappointing to see SL play stupid-knee-jerk-what-will-they-do-to-my-constitution freakout game.

    What does the President have to do to amend the US Constitution, do you think? (hint, article 5, and something about two-thirds of both houses of the Congress….!!!!)

    Also Santorum isn’t going anywhere fast.

    I agree with the rest of your comment 😉

  26. Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    @Adrien @13, The German response to the Holocaust is a fascinating study in and of itself. I spent two months in Germany on exchange, and I was fascinated by how the Germans dealt with the guilt.

    Firstly, they have a very limited outward display of nationalism. It is considered crude to display a German flag, for example. Contrast that to Canadians or Americans, who fly their flags whenever they get a chance.

    They are taught about it in school, but my understanding is that it is considered ‘history’. As in; Stolen Generation is still somewhat ‘current,’ but the Australian invasion is ‘history.’

    Germans, as a whole, have an outward display of cultural non-agression, perhaps in response to the actions of their predecessors. I would love to study more closely the responses of modern German governments.

    @ Mel @ 27; This is another issue that has gone beyond rational argument and has become an emotive battle of extremes.

    I don’t think that most rational people would object to a place of worship of any faith in any place. The placement of this structure is unfortunate because of the deep emotional investment Americans have with the WTC, however the actual problems have been blown way out of proportion. The mosque was planned for 2 blocks away. How far away is too close?

    That being said, I know nothing more than the fact that an ‘Islamic learning centre’ was planned for a location 2 blocks from the WTC, and that some Americans were getting het up about it. I don’t know anything about their affiliations or beliefs.

  27. Iblys
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Why do you have a problem with Kevin Rudd, as Prime Minister of Australia, head of the Executive Government of Australia and member of the Commonwealth legislature, apologising in that capacity for ills wrought by those institutions? The stolen generation was a crime perpetrated by the Australian Government, the federal legislature and executive. As the representative of those institutions, it was absolutely appropriate that Rudd apologised.

  28. thefrollickingmole
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    There is a very good antidote for the narccissim of applying modern morals to past times.

    Try this site.

    Its a convinient antidote to thinking almost any treatment of one group by another was unusual.

    1788, get your head around a handful of what was going on.
    Jan 18 On this day in history the first elements of the First Fleet carrying 736 convicts from England to Australia arrives at Botany Bay to setup a penal colony
    Feb 09 On this day in history austria declares war on Russia
    Apr 15 England, Netherlands & Prussia sign peace treaty on this day in history.
    May 09 English parliament accepts abolishing of slave trade on this day in history
    Aug 22 British create the settlement of Sierra Leone, Africa, for freed slaves on this day in history.
    Dec 19 Chinese troops occupy capital Thang Long Vietnam on this day in history.

    Thats one year, there is far more in the timeline.
    We are living in one of the most peaceful and luxurious times mankind has ever known, and we dare to judge the hardscrabble past?

    Pure vanity.
    Eg: Aboriginal children were taken from familes. A bad thing.
    But it was ordinary for this to happen to unwed mothers and destitute parents regaurdless of race.
    Our moral preening needs to seperate the “that was the norm for those days” to realise the past really is a different country.

  29. Aimee
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    On Dawkins’ quote re the sins of the father being visited on the children until the third or fourth generation. Firstly, I note that where this occurs in the 10 commandments (Exodus 20, and the recapitulation in Deuteronomy 5), the second half of the sentence reads “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”. So God’s stated intention of permitting 3-4 generations of consequences of sin is intended as a contrast with 1000 generations of blessing for obedience. This statement re 3-4 generations has always seemed to reflect reality as I experience it – your parents (and grandparents and great-grandparents) evil choices continue to impact on your life and your outlook, sometimes in complex ways. It ain’t fair, but that’s how the world works – you inherit the good with the bad.

    Secondly, the related legal sections of Deuteronomy make it quite clear that in their legal system the Jews were only supposed to punish each person for their own sin: “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.” (Deut 24:16).

  30. Adrien
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    What’s a Balmain balm?

    It’s a special organic cosmetic used to cover up blemishes, favoured by the chattering classes in the leafy inner suburbs where it’s sold at stores that are like The Body Shop before they sold out and went corporate.

  31. Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    Why do you have a problem with Kevin Rudd, as Prime Minister of Australia, head of the Executive Government of Australia and member of the Commonwealth legislature, apologising in that capacity for ills wrought by those institutions? The stolen generation was a crime perpetrated by the Australian Government, the federal legislature and executive. As the representative of those institutions, it was absolutely appropriate that Rudd apologised.

    Actually, it was mostly a State matter. The Commonwealth had no jurisdiction outside the Northern Territory. Also, as [email protected] notes, the general propensity to take children from mothers was much higher back then.

  32. Mel
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    You’ve done a great deal of special pleading for your own (homosexual) minority in the blogospshere, for instance, by making an exception to your anti-Statist Hayekian common law principles to argue that the State should step in and legalise gay marriage yet you invariably bare your fangs to other historically oppressed minorities.


    Crabs in a bucket. So often it really does come down to crabs in a bucket.

  33. Posted February 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    What’s a Balmain balm?

    It’s a special organic cosmetic used to cover up blemishes, favoured by the chattering classes in the leafy inner suburbs where it’s sold at stores that are like The Body Shop before they sold out and went corporate.

    In Queensland we call it Pollyfilla…

  34. Adrien
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    DEM – Pollyfilla has practical applications, the Balmain Balms are not allowed to be practical. They must strictly be completely useless and comprehensible only to an elect few. It’s actually an arts project that has funding from the People’s Republic of Marrickville.

  35. Adrien
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    The reason Dawkins offends people is because he does not see why people might believe in it, and regards it as a harmful fairy story which impedes rationality.

    I think he offended people for the same reason that his opponents (like Ann Coulter) do. He speaks from a position of absolute moral authority viz The Right Thing To Believe.

    He believes that his beliefs are metaphysically superior because they are based on science. Apart from the fact that being an atheist is not strictly speaking the scientific view, he misses the point. It is not that people believe in gods that is the problem it is when they believe that their beliefs gift them with authority over others that it becomes so.

  36. Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    [email protected] Actually, my position is equal protection of the law.

    (And the notion of the common law as “anti-Statist” is risible.)

    The taking of indigenous children, precisely because it was spread over 7 different jurisdictions across many decades, was a messy and inconsistent business. The notion that it was all wicked and evil racism is, on the evidence, as much nonsense as the notion that everything was just fine.

  37. Mel
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    [email protected]:

    “The notion that it was all wicked and evil racism is, on the evidence, as much nonsense as the notion that everything was just fine.”

    I agree with that but I do take exception to your self-serving homosexual exceptionalism.

    “And the notion of the common law as “anti-Statist” is risible.”

    I was trying to use the dim language favoured by the Catallaxy libertarians. My mistake. Obviously the judiciary is part of the State so maybe some other “anti” would be more appropriate. How about “anti-sovereign”? Or “anti-executive”?

    But generally speaking you do concur with Hayek’s (misdirected) common law fetishism, do you not?

  38. Posted February 25, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Some ramblings.

    “You naughty little boy!!! Look at whats been broken! ”
    ‘Im sorry ma, really I am.’
    “You are not, because you’ll do it again”

    The magic word sorry. It absolves all sins, until of course, like my mother she saw past it and knew it wouldn’t change my behaviour.

    Actions speak louder than words, we are told, yet at the same time people clamour for words rather than actions. Personally I think that admitting and claiming responsibility for something is far more important than apologising for it. Once responsibility is recognised, is it not more useful to attempt some remedy than to simpy say sorry, even if the remedy is only to learn from past behaviour.

    1. Acting. Recognising and claiming responsibility for an action. Apologising to a directly slighted individual.

    2. Being responsible for the actions of a person acting as in (1).

    3. Either person (1) or (2) making apology to the ‘directly slighted individuals’ immediate heirs if the slighting should result in their death.

    4. Either ancestors or decendants making apologies to ‘directly slighted individuals’ because of the inability of the actor in (1) or (2) to recognise or admit responsibilty.

    Each of these numbers is one step away from the perpretation of the original act. One less association with the real responsbility. Apologies become cheaper and less sincere at each step until you get to step 10 or so which involves the inheritor of the original actors emplyers position, potentially their political opponents, apologising to the decendents of those slighted, even if no evidence suggests to link them to the original action.

  39. Adrien
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Oh you put it so well, Adrien.

    Thanks. 🙂

  40. Adrien
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Actions speak louder than words

    They also cost more which is why words are always preferred when dealing with aboriginal affairs.

  41. Posted February 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    A @ 46 There is much waste in Aboriginal affairs and not much in theway of an attempt to make life better.
    To retwist the old anology, too many Government programs give out fish, when they should be teaching to fish.

  42. Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] The point of equal protection of the law is that it is not self-serving anything. One of the notable things about bigotry is how the same patterns repeat: Jew-hatred and queer-hatred, for example, are striking in how even the same accusations are repeated.

    Common law is a magnificent human achievement: comparison with other legal systems is enough to establish that. Roman law is its only serious competitor.

    That being said, it is not surprising that accelerating levels of social change have led to more reliance on statute law. Modern states fairly clearly over-supply regulation and under-supply adjudication services*, but some increase in use of statute law seems to have been damn-near inevitable.

    *When common law was developing, each village had a judicial officer–i.e., there was one judicial officer per 300-500 people. I estimate that Victoria has roughly one judicial officer per 20,000 people. Even given modern communication and transport, the expense and delays strongly imply that adjudication services are under-supplied. That a medieval peasant had more access to adjudication services (if far less legal standing and rights) than a contemporary citizen is not a mark in favour of modern states.

  43. Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    On indigenous issues, I strongly object to made-up history, since it gets in the way of understanding and therefore doing better. The notion that the state was “evil” and only needs to be “made good” for things to be fine is a noxious fairy tale.

    The state is, all too often, a crude and blundering instrument. And there is no area of public policy where it has been, and remains, more of a blundering instrument than indigenous policy. Indigenous issues are genuinely difficult: which no doubt accounts for the desire for history-as-simple-fairy-tale. But it is a noxious desire: no more so when objecting to pointing out the historical complexities, because it then becomes an enemy of understanding and so an enemy of doing better.

One Trackback

  1. […] hazards of secondhand smoke and were ultimately forced to admit your error in a sort of “notpology” in which you retreated to the excuse that you were dealing with the evidence as it existed […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *