[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

Amy Gahran has a good post up about apologies and why they’re necessary.

The post was sparked by Amy Alkon‘s advice column about cheating, entitled “Along Came Polyamory.” Understandably, many polyamorous folk were miffed at the equation of the concepts. (It’s hard enough figuring out who’s okay with the concept without it being confused with unethical behavior.) But rather than apologize for causing offense, Ms. Alkon decided to take the offensive, complaining that those who had a problem just didn’t understand her irony, and basically just being a big bully.

Coincidentally enough, I had just discovered Ms. Alkon’s anti-feminist screed “Victims Gone Wild” the other day. She seems to be one of those “postfeminists” in the vein of ifeminists or IWF that figure that since they’re privileged, anyone who complains that they’re not is just adopting a “victim mentality,” and that feminism is unnecessary because of what someone said Dworkin or Mackinnon said a couple decades ago.

Ms. Gahran’s post, though, could have been sparked by any of the non-apologies of late (Ann Althouse, Harlan Ellison, and so on all the metaphorical way back to “she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”) Why is it so hard for people to apologize for offending people? It can be done.

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11 thoughts on “Apolygys

  1. Apparently a requirement for being a “non-vanilla” advice columnist is an inability to take criticism without lashing out with ad hominem attacks.

  2. Yes, I find that people’s fear of being seen as wrong impedes apologies. It’s as if they believe that if they admit to erring in one respect, that automatically means everything else they’ve ever done is horribly wrong, and so they fight tooth and nail to bludgeon other people with the idea that they have done everything perfectly when it is clearly not the case.

    I don’t find myself offended by Alkon’s misuse of “polyamory,” but in observing the way she consistently lashes out at and insults those who sought to point out said misuse instead of considering the criticism, I find myself disgusted, though doubtlessly those tactics were partly chosen to align with the “sassy, no-bullshit” attitude persona she has crafted — at least, I hope so. Getting rid of bullshit is absolutely an important thing to do, and it is entirely possible to do it without…well, acting in a way that one should have grown out of before leaving high school.

    The bottom line is that the willingness to accept criticism and the ability to make apologies are qualities possessed only by those who are interested in self-improvement.

  3. I apologize when I’m wrong, but not when I’m bullied by a woman who 1. Doesn’t understand irony, and 2. Doesn’t understand that the very Wiki link she sent me to proves I’m right. Where’s the ad hominem in that?

    If you want to see ad hominem attacks, visit my blog and see all the posts by polyamorists saying I look like a man.

    Amy Gahran is wrong, and she’s done about the worst PR job for polyamorists imaginable. I’m not an enemy of polyamory. In fact, I regularly recomment “The Ethical Slut,” and just helped two poly friends save their relationship. I know my stuff on the topic. Let’s just say Gahran could’ve picked a better person to try to kick around.

    The first exposure some people will have to polyamory will, unfortunately, be the rudest comments I’ve ever had posted on my blog — by polyamorists. Not all, but most, of the polyamorists.

    Look at the column, don’t just look at the brouhaha. I’ve explained it over and over again on two entries on my site. Here:


    And here:


    Incidentally, I call myself an “Elizabeth Cady Stanton feminist.” I think women should have the vote, and make the same money as men for the same job (not for taking off four hours earlier to pick up the kiddies, though). What I don’t think women should have is SPECIAL treatment. Where’s the unfairness in that?

    Oh, and here, I’ll just post the paragraph in question. Which part of it, exactly, did I get wrong?

    No, humans aren’t naturally monogamous — which is why people say relationships “take work” while you never hear anybody talking about what a coal mine an affair can be. There are “sexually open relationships,” but none other than the late Nena O’Neill, coauthor of Open Marriage, admitted to me that few couples can make a go of them. Of course, without an explicit agreement for, let’s say, a feel-up free-for-all, you don’t have a sexually open anything, just a partner who’s cheating.

  4. It’s not even an intelligent pun. 🙁


    Of course, without an explicit agreement for, let’s say, a feel-up free-for-all, you don’t have a sexually open anything, just a partner who’s cheating.

    doesn’t really count as

    being precise about stating what polyamory is and isn’t, and I feel I stated it rather clearly.

    Saying something like, “Now, there are some relationships that are sexually open in which all persons involved have knowledge of and consent to multiple intimate relationships; these are called polyamorous. However, since your boyfriend doesn’t seem to care whether you know or consent to his behaviour, he’s not polyamorous: just a regular ol’ cheater” would have been “precisely stating” what polyamory is and isn’t.


    The headline in question: “Along Came Polyamory.” It wasn’t consenting polyamory, but the guy was groping a whole bunch of women; ie, he was forcing polyamory on his girlfriend without asking for her consent. To explain further: Along came polyamory without her consent…well, how fun for her.

    If it isn’t “consenting polyamory” — then it ISN’T polyamory. PERIOD. Polyamory requires consent by definition! She’s not just non-ironic — she’s ignorant to boot. Fabulous.

    Moreover, if she thinks that the “ethical” part of polyamory is simply “consent” — she needs to read Easton’s book a lot more closely.

    Argh. Count me among the pissed off polyamorists.

  5. Sara: Friendly reminder; ad-homs aren’t tolerated on this blog. Criticizing Alkon’s words/rhetoric/position is fine, but calling her “ignorant” is not.

  6. Amy: In terms of ad homs, here are the ones I was able to find just in your public response to Amy Gahran.

    1: “Thin-skinned”

    According to this thin-skinned “polyamorous” blogger chick, I’m supposed to be “haunted.” (I’m working on it, really I am!)

    Calling her “thin-skinned” is attacking her for finding offense in your post. Even if you take her commentary on your response as throwing the first punch, that still doesn’t negate your attack. Not to mention that you use “chick” here in a clearly derogatory fashion — to present her as childish/young and therefore not someone who deserves being listened to.

    2: “Poor dear” just needs the traffic

    Poor dear, most of her posts have zero comments. I guess she needs the traffic. Let’s all help her out.

    You paint Gahran as a pathetic loser who has pursued this for her own selfish reasons; namely to draw attention to her blog. Your language is condescending as well, calling her “poor dear” and then asking your readership to “help her out” by giving her what you present her as needing/wanting. Instead of addressing the subject — Gahran’s diagreement — you attack her personally through the apparent lack of popularity of her blog.

    3: Getting one’s “panties in a wad”

    In response to a comment on her blog from Howard Owens, who really didn’t understand why she was getting her polyamorous panties in such a wad…

    Here again, you use language to dismiss her personally and paint her as foolish. Here as above with “thin-skinned polyamorous chick” you’re using her polyamory as a point of ridicule and in this case you’re using a gendered slur (“panties in a wad”) in order to show your readership that she’s just some silly woman. This has nothing to do with her argument, and everything to do with attacking her character.

    5: Humourless woman

    Guess what: If you don’t have a sense of humor…don’t read my column.

    If you know anything about feminism, you should understand why this is an ad hom and a pretty low one at that (though not as low as the “panties” one, which, as a self-identified feminist you should also know why it’s not good to use it — here’s a hint: if you’re against “special treatment” that benefits women, you should also be against “special treatment” that hurts them, like gendered slurs).

    None of the above examples had anything to do with the argument that Gahran presented, nor do they serve any purpose other than to discredit her character and attempt to make you appear better — smarter, more rational, more right — than her. They are all pretty clearly ad hominem attacks.

    There’s more in your comment that is deserving of address, but this comment is already pretty massive and I’ve had a long day and I just want to go play some Sims 2, so I’ll leave it off for now.

  7. It’s not even an intelligent pun. 🙁

    Sara: To be fair, neither is the title of my post. I had to resort to one of those cutesy juxtapositions that doesn’t actually mean anything, and that I’ve mocked headline writers for in the past.

    Amy Alkon: I don’t have nearly as much issue with the content of the post – honestly, there have been much, much worse – as much as the attitude that you have the privilege to decide whether someone *should* be offended.

  8. Ignorant simply means that a person doesn’t know something, not that they are stupid. It’s factual not an ad-hom in this case, since Sara is pointing out that Amy apparently doesn’t know the definition of polyamory, she is ignorant on that. I understand that the word ignorant is used interchangeably with dumb or stupid and you may have believed it was being used in that way.

    One of the biggest problems I see on liberal blogs is that many of the bloggers are college educated and see themselves as sensitive well liked people. Therefore they find it hard to believe that they were racist/sexist, it’s not something a bright sensitive popular person does. That’s why so many of them backpedal and make excuses about meaning well instead of offering a real apology for what actually happened. Some also equate being wrong with being a bad person, my father in law was one of these. He could NEVER apologize or admit he was wrong about anything. It was very funny sometimes. One time he was driving out to camp and forgot about a sharp turn in the road and went off into the ditch. Instead of admitting he forgot, he said that someone came and changed the road since he was last there. LOL

  9. Sara: No worries! I can definitely understand your frustration, and I do agree that the term “consenting polyamory” is an oxymoron, and to use it without a clearly ironic context does display ignorance on the matter of polyamory.


    I understand that the word ignorant is used interchangeably with dumb or stupid and you may have believed it was being used in that way.

    Yeah, that’s basically what I reacted to. I don’t think that Sara was out to attack Alkon, but in the context it referred to Alkon as a person rather than her views. It may be nitpicky, but I’d rather be nitpicky on the side of non-offense than to let things slide that may constitute ad homs.

    Some also equate being wrong with being a bad person, my father in law was one of these.

    Oh I hear you on that one! I know I’ve done it in the past — so don’t think I’m on some high horse here — but I’ve had some serious problems with some liberal/pro-feminist/whatever “friends” lately (I use the term in quotes because they proved themselves not to be my friends by their actions). I could never call them on their treatment of me because then they’d turn it into this whole me calling them a “bad person” or whatever when I was talking about something they did or said to me.

    What I’ve decided is that screwing up doesn’t make you a bad person, but refusing to cop to it out of fear that you’ll be seen or feel like a bad person does. Especially when your unexamined behaviour continues to hurt people and you react in an angry/defensive manner when that’s pointed out to you.

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