On not accepting apologies

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 12:36 PM

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"I'm sorry," my father said, "for your childhood. What do you want from me, anyway? What will get you to drop all this?"

It took me until my thirties, but I don't feel in the slightest bit guilty any more that my first response was to tell him to fuck off and die. It is completely possible to care for someone, but know that they will not stop hurting you and that the best course is avoidance and rejection of even overtures which seem friendly.

My family does not understand why I won't just forget the whole thing and let them settle into the feeling of being a happy family. The feeling, mind, not the actual state of being happy. They seem to believe that I am both choosing to be angry (cue "you were meant to be happy/your obsession is unhealthy") and that I have no cause to stay angry (cue "it's been 17 years".)

It's been four years since the last time my parents showed up to the hospital, where I was because that throat tickle I'd had for four days turned out to be a rather serious case of strep, to get excited because I might die. It's been not quite two years since the last time my father gave an improptu speech in the waiting room of the local university hospital's cancer unit, where I was with my daughter. My daughter was in surgery for a biopsy of her brain; the cancer she has is not too serious (pilocytic astrocytoma) and is currently in remission. My father objected to hearing me discuss what I dislike about libertarianism and lectured the waiting room and my best friend, there for moral support, on my stupidity (also on Saint Rand and that he believes gay people are all pedophiles.) Because it's likely a question in someone's mind, she's on his insurance. I can tolerate being insulted so that she gets excellent medical care.

It's been about a month since he reminded me that we have souls and that any research, like the research I'm interested in, which changes the body or mind robs people of their souls. It's been a week since the last time he gave a speech to me about how awesome he is, now that he realizes other people's lives don't revolve around his needs. It might be in some ways sweet of him to try to get my attention with something he thinks will make me relent of my disapproval.

Except that it is again about him and his awesomeness, and not about communicating with me. These are things he does not notice; they are normal to him. In fact, if I do bring them to his attention, he asserts that I prompted them. I offended him, and all that follows is simply a response to his offense. Besides, he says, I apologized.

One of the great mysteries of my father's mentality, and of the larger public's view of apologies, is that irrespective of the actions involved, if the phrase "I'm sorry" occurs in public, the slate is understood to be cleared. The phrase is magic, equaling out any action, no matter how small or large. Many people, like my family, believe that staying wary of someone after they have offended you is something verging on the pathological (some of it is that same asinine "gospel of positive thinking" bullshit.)

After all, don't we want to be nice? Don't we believe that being nice to people makes them more inclined to be nice to us?

It does not. Here's the thing about power dynamics: the person in a position to exercise their will over another is not typically motivated to be kind because niceness. In fact, many times they will view that exercise of power (like my father's understanding of his reactions to offense) as natural, and their behavior as the just response to someone getting out of their proper social place.

For instance, knowing to be quiet about their atheism if they meet in groups, so as not to offend any Christians. After all, the fact that they exist is, itself, offensive, and Christians can't be helped from responding in offense to what an atheist might have to say about them.

If atheists want to be accepted, they should just learn to be nicer to people who could be allies (if atheists were politer, less offensively atheists.) Or, eventually, just not atheists, since being an atheist is, itself, offensive the way my being a woman is, in itself, offensive to my father.

Choosing not to accept an apology as an atheist, or as a woman (in my case, with my father) is so offensive that it is apparently the equivalent of unfair punishment.

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