Amy Bishop, the trigger-happy professor who killed three of her colleagues in the Biology Department and seriously injured three others is sorry for what happened. Her lawyer claims that she has no recollection of these very recent events but she’s sorry nonetheless. It’s not clear whether Amy remembers killing her brother twenty-five years ago, or threatening other people with her shotgun, or being a suspect for sending a pipe bomb to the Harvard professor who didn’t like her Ph.D. thesis. Tiger Woods is also sorry, very very sorry judging from the number of times he repeated that word in his press conference apologia. Tiger didn’t kill three people but he performed a type of identity theft, pretending to be wholesome Tiger while all along he was prowling, jungle Tiger, swinging on and off the golf course. Bernie Kerik, New York’s former top cop is - yes- he’s sorry too, for stealing money, lying to the president and the public about his job qualifications and behaving in a manner unbecoming to an officer of the LAW.
Oddly, Hiram Monserrate is not sorry this week - he’s angry that his colleagues have expelled him from the state senate even though he didn’t get convicted of a felony for slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken bottle and dragging her by the hair to a hospital far from his own neighborhood. According to Hiram’s punctilious lawyers, there’s no written rule that covers this exact contingency - therefore, the senate acted illegally in denying the voters their elected candidate for office. And Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee isn’t sorry either, for failing to pay his taxes for several years and forgetting that he owned a luxury villa in the Caribbean and occupied several rent-controlled apartments in New York City. Never mind that Ways & Means is the chief tax-writing committee of Congress and that we might expect its chairman to be familiar with the ways and means of his own taxes before he legislates all of ours. In all these cases, whether one says sorry or not is decidedly irrelevant.
America’s obsession with public apologies needs to be retired. The word sorry itself has become so shopworn that it should now be reserved only for spilling water and stepping on toes. When the same word applies to cheating on your wife and being a serial killer, all meaning has been lost. Since there is no way to tell whether remorse is real or lip-service, it should be eliminated from considerations in legal proceedings and reserved for private confessions or self-serving rationalizations. Just as the press is forbidden to publish the names of rape victims, it should be forbidden to publicize the insulting and trivializing apologies of murderers, arsonists, felonious politicians and all the other sorry people who inhabit the pages and screens of our media.
Sadly, our therapized national temperament has created this hothouse environment where people who behave very badly are thought to need rehabilitation instead of forced accountability, i.e. punishment. By saying sorry, wrongdoers shift the emphasis from their conduct to their feelings; by listening to their apologies, we become complicit in allowing maudlin meanderings to replace adult responsibility. We become the judges of dubious, subjective intentions instead of the arbiters of objective deeds and their consequences. The correct public response to criminal apologies is - frankly, we don’t give a damn. As for Tiger Woods, we’d be smarter people if we paid attention to professional athletes only at their games.
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