Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.


Apologies are fascinating things. Where did the idea of an apology come from, and what function has evolution given it?

In the case of two people who know each other, an apology is a quick way to lower emotions and get on the path to better relations. Interestingly, an insincere apology works as well as a genuine one, as long as the recipient can't tell the difference. I don't know what percent of apologies across the globe are fraudulent, but I'd guess it's a big number.

A sincere apology would take this form:

1.      I made a mistake.

2.      I didn't mean to hurt you.

3.      I won't do it again.

Realistically, most people think they have good reasons for doing what they do, even when the outcomes are unfortunate. When you think you didn't make a mistake, you can't honestly say that something similar won't happen again. The only truth in most fake apologies is that no harm was intended. And even then, the intent might have been to poke some fun, but things got out of hand. In other words, many apologies are lies that have utility for everyone involved.

An interesting variation on the personal apology is the demanded public apology. That happens when a public figure says something unusually offensive, or is taken out of context, and some portion of the public gets hopping mad. The offended person or group demands an apology! In that situation, what is the purpose of an apology?

The Limbaugh/Fluke situation is a good illustration. As far as I can tell, no one was injured by Limbaugh's "slut" accusations because everyone understood it to be an absurd analogy, albeit an insulting one. No matter how influential you imagine Rush Limbaugh to be, it's not likely anyone changed his or her opinion about the several billion people who engage in recreational sex. Nor can I imagine that Fluke cared enough about Limbaugh's opinion to be psychologically wounded by it. My best guess is that privately she thought it was amusing, and it was useful to highlight the issue she cared about. I might be generalizing too much from myself, but I'd feel good all day if Rush Limbaugh insulted me by name.

Some have argued that women in general were the targets of Limbaugh's "slut" insult, and that this was a clear case of misogyny that needed to be nipped in the bud. If that's the case, what is the function of the demanded apology? As we can see, no one accepted the apology, and it didn't help Limbaugh in any way.

Obviously Limbaugh hoped his apology would help him retain advertisers, and listeners. His goals are clear. But what is the benefit to the recipients of the apology? No one would expect Limbaugh's apology to make anyone feel different. Perhaps Limbaugh's apology is nothing more than a reminder to the world that coarse language has no place in public debate.

My hypothesis is that apologies are a way for humans to determine their status in society. A king and queen never apologize for their actions because they don't need to. But the server at your local restaurant apologizes even when he knows the customer is in the wrong, because the server has a lower status than his boss, who in turn has a lower status than the customers. When you're trying to determine the status of people, apologies are reliable markers.

In the Limbaugh/Fluke situation, society is asking Limbaugh to acknowledge that despite his many listeners, and despite his alleged influence on politics, his status is lower than that of the 3.5 billion women on the planet. Limbaugh's apology clarified his status, like a submissive dog lowering his head when a more dominant dog comes near. We humans have evolved in a way that makes us want to fight when our status is threatened. Limbaugh's "slut" comment was a full frontal assault on the status of women in society. And Limbaugh's apology was a form of symbolic surrender, and an acceptance of his lower status. I think someday Limbaugh's apology might be seen by historians as signaling the end of the conservative movement's supremacy in American politics.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  -18
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Mar 22, 2012
The idea of public humiliation as amusing requires the self-confidence of a mediocre cartoonist who became a millionaire that has a following of people who care what he says about random crap three or so times a week. And not that of a young (relatively) girl still in the process of psychologically forming her adult identity.
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 8, 2012
There are some actions where an apology can't undo what people think about you. If some guy named Mush Dimbulb were caught beating a puppy with a 2x4 to prove some point there are no words from him that could make you think Mush was not a psychopath.

Then Mush's friend Nitt Somney doesn't condemn Mush's actions but says, "That's not how I would have handled that puppy" you have to think Nitt is a big wuss.

On the other hand if Mush were to take on Mike Tyson with a 2x4 that would be more courageous than beating a puppy.
Mar 8, 2012
The rules of the playground indeed.

An apology is an effort to disarm conflict. It is an act of submission or contrition either to the offended party, or to 'moral' authorities who determine what actions are and are not acceptable.

In the case of Limbaugh, the directed offense (and name calling is always a dirrected offense, whether you beleive it will injure or not) was at a single person. While I doubt any injury was taken (Ms. Fluke likely has thicker skin than that). Many more were offended incidentally.

Also, many others (moral authorities) decided that the actions of Mr. Limbaugh were outside the limits of accepable behaviour - for anyone, not just a public figure. Whether an individual agrees or not is besides the point. Rush Limbaugh obviously thought it was within appropriate behaviour, as does Scott here, Bill Maher, and many of Limbaughs listeners. Through his actions, Limbaugh challenged the moral authority of those who disagreed with him.

But the thing about challenging authority, of any kind, is that when the small dog challenges the authority of the big dog. The big dog may choose to ignore it, or it may choose to put the small dog in its place. The apology is a tail between the legs, admitting the authority of the big dog. The big dog then has the choice of accepting the submission, or teaching the little dog a lesson. This happens most often when the small dog used to be the big dog, and is having trouble !$%*!$%*! to the new order.
Mar 8, 2012
I think the dominance thing is right on the mark, as far as apologies goes. It's generally an acknowledgment that you don't have the authority to say or do certain things.

In the fluke thing, though, the whole !$%*!$ and "prostitute" issue is pretty specific in my mind. I've never been much of a "women's rights" kind of person, but I've seen these terms -- and the ideas behind them -- to be pretty unfair.

Culturally, women are discouraged from enjoying and exploring their sexuality. If a woman and a man are virtually identical except for gender, and they have sex, the woman gets shamed and the man gets respect.

Further, one could argue that a woman's physical disadvantages are somewhat offset by her sexual power. Denying a woman her sexual advantages puts her in a perpetually weaker position in our society.
Mar 8, 2012
Apologizing doesn't necessarily denote social status. There is a school of thought that says whenever you have a conflict with another person, the first thing you should do is apologize -- not because you are wrong, but because it puts the other person in a more receptive mood for your ideas. That may sound cynical, and I guess it is in a way, but that doesn't mean you can't be sincere about it.

Apologizing is a powerful tool in conflict resolution. Traditionally, people try to "win" an argument by putting themselves in a dominant position over the other person. But if you *willingly* subordinate yourself, it actually puts you in a pretty strong position, because the other person then either has to acknowledge what you've done or risk looking petty and small themselves. It takes away their ability to pick on you personally, and focuses the debate on the real subject matter, which is presumably what you want, if you believe your position will stand up to the facts.

Limbaugh brings it on himself. By attacking people personally, he makes it OK for others to do the same to him. He probably doesn't care because resolving liberal/conservative conflicts is very pointedly NOT his goal, just as it isn't for Michael Moore -- both of them would be out of a job if it actually happened that the two sides learned to get along.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 8, 2012
What amuses and annoys me is some governement apologies....especially when whjatevert it is being apologized for happened so long ago everybody involved is dead.

People who didn't do it are apologizing to people who didn't have it done to.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 8, 2012
Smith25, allowing and enabling people to kill one another isn't killing people, no matter how irresponsible it might have been. Neither is backing sanctions recommended by the UN on a nation like Saddam's Iraq. You're redefining the verb "to kill" in such a way that borders on libel. Nobody has to apologize for that kind offensiveness, which speaks volumes about who has power and who doesn't.
Mar 7, 2012
I always like the "I'm sorry if my comments may have offended you." apology.
By including "if" and "may" it adds 2 qualifications to the apology. It makes it clear that I'm only sorry if you were actually offended. If you weren't offended I don't care (and I don't have to be sorry. And even if I were sincere, it's really your fault for taking offense. Suck it.
Mar 7, 2012
>>I think someday Limbaugh's apology might be seen by historians as signaling the end of the conservative movement's supremacy in American politics.

Disagree. Limbaugh is a master entertainer who has zero influence on politics. Both his listeners and opponents know this. Fiscal conservatism (the belief that the government spends too much money) will be alive and well despite this.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 7, 2012
First of all Therion, the US doesn't bother trying to keep track of the number of civilians its killed because it would be depressingly high. Not including the deaths from years of sanctions that only hurt the poor and the depleted uranium poisoning that will continue killing for a long time, the direct assault and the violence unleashed because the US disbanded the local military that kept groups from killing each other and was unable to provide security in its place killed over a million according to the prestigious British-based Opinion Research Business. So he's not being libelous even if that number is off by a factor of 5.

Anywho, I feel bad for conservatives if this is their unofficial leader which sucks because I am one. A traditional one anyway. I believe in conserving resources and the environment, I believe in slow, manageable change that doesn't destroy societal structures the way that something like a sudden change to free-trade does, I'm extremely religious and belief we are transcendentally accountable for our actions, I believe in people taking care of those in their lives, I believe in government intervention when it makes sense.

Strangely, the terms conservative and liberal have reversed meaning in the last 50 or so years except on the point of religion. Liberals were originally for minimal government, free-trade, inalienable individual rights, and a separation of church and state. Conservatives liked to maintain the status quo and minimize change to only when necessary.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 7, 2012
For all of you women shouting, "hands off my uterus!" and "it's my body," I want to see you at the next pro drug legalization event with me, or else you're all giant hypocrites.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 7, 2012
It's really funny, since Limbaugh never even said that she was a !$%*!$ for wanting to have lots of sex. He said that she was a !$%*!$ purely because she wanted the government to "pay her to have sex." It was a ham handed analogy, but it wasn't really what people are making out to be, that Limbaugh is anti woman, anti sex, puritanical, etc. Remember, this issue is about mandating birth control, not whether or not women should be allowed to have sex, or obtain birth control.

The left's "war on women" is basically just like the right's "war on religion." Another reason that I don't watch television news anymore. Nothing but hysteria about crap that shouldn't be taking up 2 seconds of our time.
Mar 7, 2012
My God, you continue to amaze me. You have a post that, while I don't agree with all of it, is a reasoned and reasonable statement of conjecture. Until it suddenly drops off the face of the Earth with that last sentence: "I think someday Limbaugh's apology might be seen by historians as signaling the end of the conservative movement's supremacy in American politics."

Please show me the logic that tells me how the rest of your post in any way supports that conclusion or how the sentence even makes sense. Where do you see the "conservative movement," whatever the heck THAT is, ever having political supremacy? Have you not noticed that for the past fifty or sixty years, the amount of time that Republicans (assuming they're more conservative than Democrats, which is not always the case - just compare Arlen Spector to Joe Lieberman, for example) have controlled both houses of Congress totals about three years? Until the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, Republicans hadn't controlled the House of Representatives for forty years! Would you show me anyone, anywhere who, with a straight face, could say that the federal government has been moving to the right for the past 60 years? Where the heck have you been?

By the way, I know Senator Lieberman is an Independent now, but that's only because he was defeated in the Democrat primary and had to change his affiliation. The point still stands.

It's true that 40% of US citizens consider themselves to be conservative, while only around 20% consider themselves to be liberal, but that isn't reflected in the makeup of Congress. The liberals in America since FDR have been working to take over education, the media and politics, and they've done a pretty darn good job of it. So where's this conservative supremacy you're talking about?

Conservatism does seem to be on the upswing, however. Look at the rise of the Tea Party, and the effect it had on the 2010 Congressional elections. I don't see how you think that the left, bashing Limbaugh and trying to make his comments into something they aren't, or coming up with an emotional BS phrase like "war on women," is going to somehow derail the conservative movement. We see what the left says all the time and are never called upon - Bill Maher and his "dumb t*at" and "c*nt" comments about Sarah Palin; Montel Williams saying that he hoped Michelle Bachman would "slit her wrists;" Ed Shultz calling Laura Ingraham the same thing Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke. On that last point, when Laura Ingraham went on "The View" and mentioned what Shultz had called her, they laughed it off. But with Rush Limbaugh, they came unglued.

This post wasn't bad, but the conclusion you drew from it, with all due respect, is by far the most ridiculous statement you've ever come up with, and that's saying something. It is wrong on all counts - not only with its conclusion, but also with its premise. And it's going to take a lot more than two words spoken by Rush Limbaugh to turn that around.

I know you can do better than this.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 7, 2012
Perhaps Scott is right about apologies in the public arena marking social status. I think people who never apologize for anything are more likely to have a low status in life than a high one, but there are several examples of people with high statuses who take that approach.

Privately, apologies can be very powerful and accrue respect to those who make them properly. A proper apology is sincere and unconditional. When possible, it's accompanied by a gesture or proposal to ease the pain or damage.

Because proper apologies are unconditional, they cannot be demanded. In a public case, I'm not even sure it's possible to make a proper apology because the conditions are so obvious. Has there been a generally accepted public apology? I can't think of one. In a private relationship, the aggrieved party may demand an apology as a way of further neutralizing the would-be apologist but at a potential cost of forever worsening that relationship.
Mar 7, 2012
I don't see how his apology was much different than the one he "had" to make over his joke about pretending to identify a photo of then 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton as the Clinton's family dog. He lost a couple of advertisers, but lost no influence whatsoever with his audience (if anything the opposite) and therefore more advertisers signed on in the long run.

Same with this one. Yeah, he's lost more advertisers and gotten more flack. But he hasn't lost either of his main audience demographics -- both the ones like Jim David Adkisson who Limbaugh can get so riled up they shoot people in churches, and the ones like my plumber contractor friend who just thinks Limbaugh's a funnier version of Stephen Colbert, will continue tuning in to see what he'll say next.

I mean, yeah, there are some bigger differences this time. He was piling on and/or goading on a whole convulsion of penalties on the majority of heterosexual women who... um... engage in activities one would imagine <em>most</em> heterosexual male partners actually don't much object to. Such as consensual but non-reproductive intercourse in committed though not always life-long relationships. (Side note: did you see in the paper this morning that the Afghanistan equivalent of Rush Limbaugh's ideal government says women can no longer carry 50-pound-plus stacks of firewood through the streets... unless they're escorted by a male companion. Same idea, different culture.)

And another difference is that even some of his subordinates in the Senate, the House leadership, and the Presidential primary campaign are so outraged they're now asking him if he could use Vaseline instead of letting him ream them out dry.

But otherwise? No.

When Limbaugh says he regrets only his choice of words to describe Fluke, and when the likely Republican Presidential candidate says only that he wouldn't have used those words to describe Fluke either, then...

Ok, if it was just a matter of wording, what words for !$%*!$% "prostitute," and "post sex tapes" does Limbaugh think might have been more genteel? And would Romney and his ilk really been placated if instead Limbaugh had said "fallen woman," "lady of the night," and "visually document her [alleged and/or pulled by Limbaugh straight out of his ass, remember] boudoir indiscretions?"


Look, Scott. Based on your disclaimer paragraph it looks like you think Limbaugh's just suffering the same "feminist backlash" you ran into last year. Don't kid yourself. You surprised people because it was inconsistent with a lot of other stuff you say, do, and think, and so they reacted strongly in sort of the same way they'd have reacted if you'd blown your nose on someone else's shirt. In other words the big fuss was over you being out of character, not in it.

Limbaugh on the other hand was calculatedly trying to raise the bar on how you can or can't entertain yourself either by kicking people while they're down or else knocking them down and then having fun kicking them. The only thing he's sorry for is that he miscalculated. If he'd succeeded he'd have basked in the success for a while and then tried to crank it up yet another notch.

That's a whole 'nother order of business. You're not a bully. He's nothing but. You don't encourage other people to be bullies. Encouraging bullying is his stock in trade. You were upset because you felt (possibly correctly) that you were misinterpreted. There's no evidence whatsoever that Limbaugh didn't mean every word he said, over and over, either in the three days he was crapping all over a random stranger or at any other time going back to his days as a minor league drive-time DJ somewhere in Kentucky.

His apology won't wash because it's inconsistent with everything he says he believes in and stands for.

In other words I think it's a mistake for you to think you're both "victims" of the same "p.c." sensibilities. It's not true. You were indeed (fairly or unfairly) a victim of the "p.c." patrol. Limbaugh's stock in trade is being evil (ok, or being funny about pretending to be evil) and encouraging other people to be evil (ok, or being funny pretending to encourage evil.) There are more than pajama "p.c." patrols out for Limbaugh.

+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 7, 2012

There is no need to get agitated. Rush Limbaugh's apology may be right if he is not sure of the Fluke's !$%*!$%*!$% He probably took her activism on face value.

I don't see how his apology represents the desires of 3.5 billion women on earth. May be a few dodgy and insecure women in some parts of the world. But surely not the whole lot.

Rush Limbaugh is not the President of the United States. I am sure the apology will not make it to the history books.

(Even in the case of the President, when he had a bit of fun during office hours, we don't think he apologized for the actual act. He said sorry for misleading his audience - even that was not worth remembering once the truth was known. Actually, a lot of forgiving christians envy him more for the power he enjoyed.)


If we believe Honorable Rush Limbaugh, the Fluke expects to payment for getting laid. She is masking that behind a good cause.

I feel her campaign for healthcare covering contraceptives may create the grounds for a Norwegian law where the government is forced to adopt all the rabbits born in every street, and eventually free the women to go on with their industry.


Neither Rush Limabaugh's rhetoric nor the Fluke's reaction are surprising.

I think her cause is ridiculous.

+16 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 7, 2012
The most offensive thing about this is the number of brain cycles I've wasted thinking about Rush Limbaugh at all.
Mar 7, 2012
" I think someday Limbaugh's apology might be seen by historians as signaling the end of the conservative movement's supremacy in American politics. " -- I doubt Limbaugh idiotic idea that women who take contraception have sex A LOT and thus are !$%*! has anything to do with being conservative. Nor him apologizing has anything with the conservative moment situation in America.
Mar 7, 2012
Limbaugh's apology was intended to allow his sponsors to say "He apologized" when confronted with supporting the mysogynist. This type of apology is very common, but can't be nearly so transparent to be effective.
Mar 7, 2012
Yes, that's interesting: it shows who has the power and who doesn't. Michael Moore isn't forced to apologize for the various ridiculous remarks he's made. Some of the comments of him and his ilk are profoundly offensive, such as that Americans have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq. This is blood libel, yet nobody is being forced to apologize.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the European Union is about to bring out mandatory "quotas" which ensure that there's at least 50% of women in all company boadrooms.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog