Yes, YES, YEEEEESSSS!!! This is the fulcrum of the problem. Bullies choose their targets according to how the victims react. The ones that cry get it the worst. And they reinforce the confidence of the bully and make them seem that much more fearsome to everyone else. The spell is broken when someone finally calls the bully's bluff and shows everyone that they can only hurt you so much, if at all, and that their nose can be bloodied, too.

Public apologies, even insincere ones, used to serve a purpose in society. They were a signal of acknowledgement, of consideration, of a willingness to engage and understand. To apologize meant that the recipient of the apology was not being ignored, that the bond between public and public figure was being recognized, and little more. It was even understood that the apologizer might not have felt that they actually did anything wrong, yet the fact that they were nonetheless willing to offer a simple verbal concession meant something. That was enough to make something possibly dishonest worthwhile, contingent upon the expectation of an unequivocal acceptance of the apology.

That expectation has vanished. Now, one can reliably expect an apology to be roundly spurned and declared insufficient. It no longer exists to strengthen social bonds - it is a signal of surrender to a perceived social authority, and a plea for mercy that will almost certainly be denied.

Thus, we must accept that the justification for those little white lies of contrition is no more. Apologies should be given, but only when they are truly warranted. And by that, I mean more than the simple fact of being wrong. I can acknowledge a mistake without needing to apologize for it - being wrong isn't a sin. An apology should only be given in the case where expected terms of social trust have been violated, and when the putative offender can reasonably be expected to have known better. "My mistake" can suffice in a lot of situations that now seem to require a nauseatingly self-abasing essay.

Expand full comment

"It no longer exists to strengthen social bonds - it is a signal of surrender to a perceived social authority, and a plea for mercy that will almost certainly be denied."

More even - it's a recognition of a claimed social authority as a *valid* social authority. And as you say in bully analogy, that recognition is contagious, we being the social creatures we are.

Expand full comment

We have, of course, been seeing this since at least #Metoo. Trial in the public square, the judge, jury, and executioners all of a piece. Noting that is not the same as giving sexual predators or stilted power dynamics a pass.

Still, it's one thing when it affects the famous who have a cadre of presumably experienced handlers and advisors who can at least help them through it, though that's no guarantee of wise counsel.

It's another thing when it comes for the everyman. Which it has. And it's everywhere.

Very recently I witnessed a horrifying example of this dynamic play out in the so-called historic costuming community. I say "so-called" because tangential relations in the digital age, even when accompanied by some in-person gatherings, hardly rise to the true standards of a community. But I digress...sort of.

I wasn't involved in this controversy at all. Just witnessed on Instagram that incomplete portion of my take that will always be our lot in the vagaries of the digital field.

What happened was this: Eager to connect in person after pandemic isolation, some 18th century reenactor/cosplayers planned an open-to-all get together in Colonial Williamsburg. They put out the word on various sites saying anyone was welcome to join them. From there they decided to make a private Facebook group (that anyone was free to ask to join), in which to consolidate their planning.

They set a date for their meet-up: June 19th.

When the time arrived they did as they always do, they put on the dog. They donned fine silks, powdered their wigs or piled up their hair, pulled out the fans, tied up the garters, buckled up the shoes, and put together a feast for picnicking on the grounds.

And like lambs to the e-slaughter they went back in time not knowing the multiple unforgivable transgressions they had unwittingly unleashed.

Soon it came to pass that other historic-costuming related persons, both at Colonial Williamsburg and online, CW workers and ordinary folk, were livid at the cosplayers. Boy did the corsets come off for the bare-knuckled cyber brawl that ensued.

For DAYS via Instagram a cluster-mob of ladies with their mob caps in a twist accused the cosplaying group of "dressing up as enslavers" while "eating oranges" a widely known colonial-era import food supplied from the Caribbean by enslaved workers of the time. Possibly worse for the accusers was that this wanton Bacchanalia happened on Juneteenth.

On top of that, some official Colonial Williamsburg programming on Juneteenth actually happened that day and it was decided by the Mad IG Mobcappers that this gathering of CW fans and cosplayers acted in grave and essentially irredeemable disrespect to the historians and reenactors bringing that weekend's Juneteenth celebrations alive.

Nevermind that the getaway had been planned for months in advance, far before Juneteenth went from an inarguably obscure cultural holiday to an admittedly long-overdue national holiday.

Never mind too that the accusers were alternately miffed at the cosplay gathering itself and also at the perception that as people of color (or allies of BIPOC) they weren't actively included in a way that went beyond the generalized online call for anyone to join the cosplayers' fun.

In some ways it appears that the outsized anger, injured feelings, and fomenting disgust didn't occur because of the actual Colonial Williamsburg gathering, or its timing, but that the anger was boiling over in advance of it, and then when the event occured the digital mob pounced.

Many in the "historical costuming community" came out with multi-post sliders, IG stories, reels, and other posts detailing the silk-and-ostrich-feather-crimes of these gaudy orange-eaters. They weren't allowed to be mere colonial-era people but were presumed to be dressed "as enslavers." The cosplayers' enjoyment of each other's company and the world they crafted together was seen as a direct repudiation of the Juneteenth event and therefore was deemed to be dripping with white privilege, racism, and a generalized blind boorishness for which nothing short of scapegoating into the desert would suffice.

People of Color brought out the vengeance and a fierce cyber smackdown. Allies of BIPOC piled on, virtue signalling at once their disgust and their own personal distance from such lowlife sorts. No presumption of innocence could be found. No measure of compassion was admitted, even from a place of indignation that still allowed "forgive them father for they know not what they do" (were it to have been a true social crime in the first place).

And I firmly believe it wasn't. It was some cosplayers cosplaying and some backbiters backbiting. I do tangentially know the cosplayers from that "community" and racism, indifference, hostility, goading, or wishing to portray enslavers are not even remotely a part of these people's lives.

It was ugly.

And as for the presumed guilty? On queue they went on the personal flagellation tour, each one outdoing the last with their admissions of guilt, lack of thought, failure to be aware of certain things, bad timing, and overall shittiness as human beings who need to "take some time off from social media to think about what they have done."

Tempest in a teapot doesn't begin to describe the nothingburger of this social media meltdown.

When I discussed it with my husband (this not being my first observation of the metaphorically extrajudicial mob swarm-cyberbullying) we agreed that in tenor it has all the signs of the Maoist struggle sessions.

Bullying SJWs and others bettray a rapacious appetite for absolute scapegoating, that is, for exile — humiliation and apologies will never be enough. You're on Elba.

And I say this as someone who is largely on the Left.

That doesn't mean that America doesn't need to grow in a fuller telling of our history — Black history is American history and we're all the richer for examining it, including figures then and now, famous and ordinary.

It also doesn't mean that socio-emotional growth and greater cultural appreciation isn't needed in America. It is. We're emotionally impoverished in myriad ways and we even border on factional collective delusion.

That said, cyber-swarming over perceived transgressions with the added factor that the alleged perpetrator's "intentions" or "non-intentions" are deemed absolutely immaterial (only the perceived sufferer has any power in these situations) makes clear that we're about as far from social cohesion as is humanely possible.

And that's jumped the shark.

It's time for a new way forward. A mature society cannot atone for its past ills by victimizing a new generation in the name of diversity, equality, and inclusion. And no group can be free from criticism when their bullying methods, absolutist demands, or hyperpersonal issues stand in contradiction to their claim to equalizing aims.

Discerning minds hunger for a way out of this freakshow.

Expand full comment

On this very topic, my poem “Apology in Seven Tongues”: https://www.thesatirist.com/poems/apology-in-seven-tongues.html

Expand full comment

Well, that is brilliant.

Expand full comment

Thank you!

Expand full comment

Fucking gorgeous. Loved it.

Expand full comment

Why, thank you!

Expand full comment

That's really good. It takes seven unapologetic verses to get to the bottom of the event. Thank you for posting the link to your poem. I value having read it.

Expand full comment

Thank you for reading and commenting, and for the phrase “seven unapologetic verses,” which I will probably quote at some point.

Expand full comment

The Satirist website is looking kind of dubious right now- I went back to re-read your poem and got a security warning on my computer.

Expand full comment

It should be fine now—I heard back from the editor that the certificate was renewed recently snd that it should work when you refresh the page. I tried it just now, and it worked on my end.

Expand full comment

Thank you for letting me know. I will notify the editor.

Expand full comment

"If ... Miranda and Moreno truly concluded that the critics were right ... their apologies are praiseworthy. But given the flimsy nature of the accusations ...."

Apologizing in response to specious criticism is hardly praiseworthy, even if the apology is sincere.

Expand full comment

Someone please explain to me again why social media is a social good?

Expand full comment

Well, plenty of things are good in moderation but harmful to excess. The question is how to curb the excess.

Expand full comment

How to curb the excess without making everything worse.

Expand full comment

Because that unarguably has been part of its history?

Expand full comment

I certainly agree with the sentiment here, but the essay raised a question for me: What constitutes a mob today? The numbers of the masses in Maoist China were enormous by any measure, and had a clear governmental mandate about what was viewed as correct ideology.

But I've never been convinced that mobs in today's connected world have either of those factors in their favor -- numbers or authoritative guidance. With respect to Twitter, if 80% of tweets come from 10% of its users, as I've read, that would be a small mob by Maoist standards. Nor does Twitter have a unified government behind it, though the top users do seem to observe some uniform ideology, mostly of the progressive left. Facebook and other platforms may be larger in numbers, but they are less coherent in their political alignment.

Something similar but even more extreme is true of the union example of PG Vogt at Gimlet Media. Only 12.1 % of American workers are in unions; and in the private sector, they comprise only about 6.3%. While the ideology is more rigid and formulated -- and thus closer to a Maoist directive -- any union-organized mob on the internet is not going to be too large.

In both cases, the terror that Mao was able to deploy comes, on the internet, only from the perception that the forces are larger than they are. That so many people take them so seriously is a function mostly of a terror that may, in most cases, be overstated or poorly understood.

Apostates who are highly public, like Lin Manuel Miranda, are far more subject to the invisible forces of the progressive mob dynamic, and their example is what drives, I would expect, the fears of less public individuals. And I would not underestimate the corrosive effect of these public shamings. But in support of the author's thesis, I think it's important to consider whether those of us who are not generally in the public eye might have a bit more leeway to avoid apologizing to an ideological god that we may not pray to, and doubt is so prominent in the real world.

Expand full comment

I retired seven years ago, so I'm unsure of my ground here, but isn't there a substantial risk, for those incurring the wrath of social-media mobs for transgressing the strictures of political correctness, of becoming white elephants in the eyes of current and potential employers with consequent impairment of career prospects? If so, isn't that a compelling motive for conformity?

Expand full comment