I haven’t posted much lately, so I thought I’d take you on a tour of a recent stream-of-consciousness of mine.
It was Thanksgiving, recently, and I started thinking about what to be thankful for, and to whom. Then, I thought about whether it made sense for an atheist, like myself, to celebrate Thanksgiving, since most people thought of it as an occasion to thank God. I decided that it was appropriate, and that I was thankful for The Enlightenment, and for the ideas of political liberty that have helped to free so many of us from all sorts of tyranny, and for the explosive growth of knowledge and wealth and happiness that civil and economic liberty have enabled. I was thankful that people in many places in the world (like China) that have recently been severely oppressed are now starting to experience the fruits of liberty as well.
Then, I thought about what sorts of things people were expected to express thanks for. It seems that we say we’re thankful for things that we are not responsible for. You don’t often hear people saying that they’re thankful for things that they have created or cultivated through their own hard work; i.e., for things that they’ve earned. It seems to only be appropriate to express thanks for things that others have done, or for random luck.
Then, I thought about the flip-side (sort of) of expressing thanks: apologizing. When people demand an apology, they won’t be satisfied by someone just saying “I’m sorry” about the fact of their unhappiness. They are expected to be sorry that they screwed up, made poor choices that caused the unhappiness.
So, we’re supposed to be happy (thankful) about things that we didn’t do, and sad (sorry) about things that we did do. That seems pretty twisted and unhealthy to me.
Then, I started thinking about famous examples of people apologizing, and remembered how strange I always found the lyrics to the John Denver song: “I’m Sorry.” Especially this line (the first time in the song that he says “I’m Sorry”):
I’m sorry for the way things are in China.
That’s bizarre! If he was trying to win points with his girlfriend for a romantic apology, he just undercut it by making it clear that when he says “I’m sorry” he can mean that he’s sad about a circumstance that he may have had absolutely no part in causing. That’s not what she wants to know. And, some of his other examples are of this sort (I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be, I’m sorry for myself cause you’re not here with me). But, then, he equivocates and starts being sorry for things that he is responsible for (I’m sorry for all the lies
I told you, I’m sorry for the things I didn’t say, I’m sorry if I took some things for granted, I’m sorry for the chains I put on you).
So, when he finally repeats:
But more than anything else, I’m sorry for myself for living without you.
We can’t be sure whether he’s taking responsibility or not (I think we’re supposed to believe he is).