The kind of antics that would make you look like a borderline psychopath at a restaurant, a bar, or in someone’s living room make you look like a hero on Twitter. …
An apology is a kind of magic word, in that its utterance does not merely exonerate you, it actually helps to construct the social world around us. If every time you say “I’m sorry,” you’re saying, in effect, “Please accept me as the kind of person who recognizes that the norm I just violated is legitimate,” you can see how helpful that would be when you’ve just invented a new norm and are trying to bake it into our shared social reality. It’s like inventing a new religion and having people line up to pledge fealty to the god whose name you just made up.
Today, on the political left, we’re making up new norms all the time: calling people “Latinx,” announcing our pronouns, capitalizing “Black.” A year or two ago, none of us had ever heard of “deadnaming.” Today it’s the digital equivalent of pissing on someone’s grave.
You can already see which norms are in the process of cohering today, in real time: erasing any metaphorical references to physical or mental disabilities (“lame,” “crazy,” etc.) from our vocabularies; acknowledging “stolen lands” before every meeting; recognizing people’s declared mental disorders as identity markers conferring upon them special accommodations and sympathies; narrowing our definition of consent to sex to exclude adults who are significantly younger than their partners, or who are employed in a less powerful position within the same industry, or who belong to an identity category purportedly lower on the power continuum.
Every time someone is compelled to apologize for violating such a norm, that norm is soldered more firmly into the structure of our collective consciousness as an accepted part of the new moral order.
A year ago, almost nobody capitalized “black” in reference to “Black people.” Today, it’s part of the style guide of most major news outlets. In a year, you’ll probably be called a racist if you don’t do it in your personal communications. Each one of those steps was and will be accompanied by countless call-outs and apologies.