I wonder what it means, though, that we’re not even going though the motions of contrition on anyone’s part anymore.
Personally, I think it means that our most cherished institutions are in the process of extinction. The elites running these institutions, occupiers of very privileged positions at the top of our socio-economic pyramid, are not even bothering to maintain the values that are supposed to underlie their legitimacy. They are letting their myths come apart, tattered sails torn asunder by winds from all directions. It means a great number of things: arrogance, sociopathy, but most of all – the end of their particular dynasty.
The myth of the competent elite
All throughout industrial society we have a myth of the “competent elite” that separates our society from the “feudal dictators” of yore. The myth tells us, in the Bad Old Days, people were above you in society because of who their parents were. You gave your labor to provide for their luxury for no other reason other than threat of force if you did not comply. So continues the myth, in the Good Old Days of Today people may be above you in society, but this is because they are competent, deserving of their wealth, and doing more for society as a whole than some lesser deserving, less competent person might.
We have, on the whole, gone out of our way to protect this myth. The Japanese, most famously, mixed their bushido culture into this set of beliefs, and will occasionally jump off buildings by way of apology for a failure to meet the levels of competence expected in modern organizations.They at the very least resign in shame after a rigorous period of sumimasen public apology.
A Chinese colleague told me recently, “Had a Chinese CEO led any bank to what all of your banks did in concert, his bonus package would have been a bullet to the temple.”
Even the French, originators of recognizable terms such as aristocratie, dauphin and buffoon, as well as inventors of white powdery wigs for rich folk, even they are careful to maintain appearances. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son Jean Sarkozy was suggested as the head of EPAD, the economic region of La Défense just west of Paris, the French went into revolt. The President’s son was only 23 years old, still in college, and this would be roughly like putting him in charge of economic development of all Manhattan, with a billion dollars of budget a year at his disposal. The public forced father and son to reconsider such an audacious proposal. The French don’t always receive competence from their bureaucrats, but with their belief in elite schools like Polytechnique and ENA, they sure expect it – and reject any return to hereditary aristocracy. (Any more than they already have, of course.)
America: where it’s OK to not say sorry
Which brings us to America. We have a sociopathic trend of apologizing for nothing, even when it hurts millions of people.
Has a single Wall Street CEO apologized for causing chaos?
Has any supporter of the war in Iraq come forth to apologize for leading the country on a misguided, terribly managed bloodbath based on laughably false intelligence?
Has George Lucas personally begged forgiveness for Jar Jar Binks, and that terrible whiny scene of Darth Vader going, “PADMEEEEEEEEE…PADMEEEEEE?”
Has anyone from Penn State apologized for creating a culture that allowed child rape to flourish in its football program – without griping about Paterno’s statue or their goddamn past football record?
You don’t even get ashamed silence from these cretins – you get bailed-out Wall Street CEOs complaining about Obama’s socialism, new hedge funds from guys like Corzine, pretensions of victimhood from college football fans.
I think that you hold your values dear when you are looking at the future. Your systems work, your institutions are in tact, and personal pride cannot get in the way of a functional future.
When you aren’t looking at the future, because deep inside you know that you belong to an obsolete dynasty, then you throw caution to the wind. Why apologize? I should get mine. Let the others apologize. Because there is no tomorrow.