Joined: Oct. 2006
With respect to the conduct of Gelato-whats-his name:
I do believe that people can raise their level of awareness about their own injurious conduct, and that at times remorse prompted by one's own impulsive behavior is the most potent stimulus of all for that kind of change. I have behaved impulsively in ways that betray prejudices of which I was only half-aware (considerable research shows that we all have them, our idealized conceptions of ourselves notwithstanding) only to become aware, typically with considerable chagrin and remorse, that I had behaved stupidly and hurtfully. Deep change sometimes follows such events. Consciousness raising, we used to call it, an apt term.
To some extent, this appears to have happened to his young man, and fairly quickly. His conduct arose somewhat situationally and emotionally - which is how prejudices of which we are only semi-aware, or haven't really thought through, are often elicited. I read his retraction of his conduct and his subsequent apology as completely sincere - as good as it gets, really (this from the guy who coined the term "notpology.") A major disanalogy between this man's conduct and that of other perpetrators of heinous forms of discrimination and exploitation mentioned above, such as directed against black Americans through much of U.S. history, is that the latter clung stubbornly and often violently to their conduct and privilege and had to be forcibly dislodged.
A major function of an apology in the context of an ongoing relationship is to repair a breach in that relationship caused by bad conduct. "I recognize my conduct was wrong and feel remorse as a result of that conduct. Please forgive me." Accepting an apology is a second step in the repair of that relationship. But some conduct is too egregious to forgive. Other conduct leaves the basis for continuing the relationship as before permanently damaged (most often at the level of trust) even given an apology and acceptance of same.
Of course, there really is no prior relationship to repair in the instance of these internet exchanges, so the impact of bad conduct and the function of apologies and acceptance of same typically has a more generalized, rhetorical and public purpose. Given that, PZ finds this young man's conduct too egregious to forgive. But in doing so PZ promotes (demotes?) Gelato to synecdoche - he is not just a guy who displayed a moment of emotional conduct which he quickly retracted and regretted, but rather became Intolerant Religious Zealotry itself.
The problem with this, for me, is that individual people can experience the sort of remorse and consciousness raising I describe above, as did this person, but synedoches cannot. That's a distinction that has become lost in this flurry. Of course, it is PZ's prerogative to use the event to press a larger point - it is one of the axes he grinds - and there was certainly no prior relationship there to repair. Is this content, or tone? Whichever, I don't see his choice as particularly helpful or constructive or even apt, in this instance, as it dismisses out of hand the personal movement I see displayed in the apology. That's a shame, IMHO, as we need more such movement, not less.
Myth: Something that never was true, and always will be.
"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
- David Foster Wallace