A few days ago, PZ had a post about Louis C.K.’s apology. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t impressed at all. I commented to the effect that there’s a simple test when it comes to the quality of an apology: who is it about? In Louis C.K.’s case, his apology is all about him. That was bad enough, but as it was going to be all about him, he missed some pertinent bits, like all the denials over the years, and the cover-ups. Basically, it amounted to a “poor, pitiful me” in my eyes.
It is actually possible to sincerely apologize and do it well, and Leah Fessler, Annalisa Merelli, and Sari Zeidler show Louis C.K. just how that’s done.
…However, Louis C.K.’s “apology” devolves into an attempt to paint himself as suffering and worthy of sympathy. He says that until the Times report, he did not realize the full extent of the harm he caused women by taking out his penis and masturbating in front of them. He also tries to reduce his culpability by noting that, at the time of his actions, he thought simply asking if it was OK to masturbate in front of women was enough to guarantee consent.
What’s more, Louis C.K. does not mention his attempts to cover up his actions, nor his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the accusations that have been made several times before.
He does, however, make sure to note how “admired” he was, and is, both by the women he harassed, and the comedy industry at large. In fact, he repeats it four times in his statement.
We took it upon ourselves to edit Louis C.K.’s “apology” in order to make it a real apology. This is how we believe it should read:
The edited version is a fine apology, it’s a pity it didn’t come from Louis C.K. You can read the whole thing here.
Apologies are a funny thing. On one hand everybody wronged somebody somewhere sometime during the course of their life, and once something is done, it cannot be undone and the only recourse to try and make amends is to apologize. That is why we learn children to apologize when they do wrong.
On the other hand, since apology does not undo or repair anything, it in itself is not enough and its immediate and unconditional acceptance should therefore not be taken for granted.
An apology, good one or bad one, is in itself worthless. It only has value if it stems from understanding, empathy, sincere desire to do better and is followed by a marked improvement in action(s). Yet there is huge peer pressure on those who have been wronged to accept apologies unconditionally, immediately and forever, otherwise they are being accused of not taking the high ground, holding a grudge, being vindictive, unreasonable etc. (been there, seen that).
Society would not function if everyone holds an infinite grudge for every tiny transgression that has ever happened to them, but it also cannot function if the only consequence for bad action is having to sa “I am sorry” and the slate is blank again.
In this particular case, the transgressions are so big, that an apology, no matter how good, cannot ever be anything more than a baby step in the right direction.
I agree, one hundred percent.
Raucous Indignation says
I have always taught my children (and I think they taught me) that an apology isn’t “real” unless you change they way you behave. “Sorry” isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. An apology doesn’t mean anything unless it is accompanied by a genuine attempt to make amends and never offend in the same way again. My children are much better at this than their father, I think.
Then you did well. And yes, you’re right. A ‘sorry’ with no effort behind it is empty words.
Raucous Indignation says
I hope so, Caine.