Apologies, Etc

A meta-note about my walkback of a couple days ago, and feel free to ignore this if like most people all this “me talking about me” crap I’ve done recently has begun to bore you:

1. I’m aware some people think I “caved” by apologizing, but to quote my own damn self on this, like I care. Look, this is pretty simple: I made a statement that I thought based on my own data was accurate. Other people pointed out that my data were incomplete. I took the information they gave me, added it with my own data, and came up with a different result. Having done so, I retracted my original statement and made a new one. It was not only the correct thing to do, it was positively Hegelian. And that makes me warm inside.

2. Now, there’s the additional, non-Hegelian issue that people some folks were pissed off about my original statement, and that when I revised my belief about the overall value of the discussion, I also apologized to the folks to whom I gave offense with my original opinion. In the minds of some folks, this means I cowered to the politically correct, or whatever. Well, no. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who reads me over any period of time that I simply don’t give a crap what anyone else thinks about me, if I am confident of my position. I happily offend people I feel need some good, clean offending, and in general my response to their anger at the offense I give is to grade it on its creativity.

(Yes, this means I’m occasionally a dick. This is not news. Take it as read.)

But I am sometimes (and some would argue, frequently) wrong, and when one is wrong, the gracious and human and correct thing to do is to apologize for giving offense, particularly when one, as I am, is often less than totally concerned about giving offense in the first place. In this particular case, there were folks who had a good and clear reason to be offended; I had a good and clear reason to apologize.

3. It’s not hard to apologize, incidentally. I have a big fat ego, but I like to believe that ego isn’t invested in having to win, which big egos often are; it’s invested in being correct. The correct thing to do here was to say I was wrong and to say I had thoughtlessly offended people, for which I apologize. Because I was, and I had, so I did.

To be clear, big ego or not, theoretical willingness to apologize nor not, I screw up as often as anyone, and I can be stubborn to change my position because my position is shiny and pretty and full of win and it loves me like a rock. But per the above graph, I try to remind myself (or have others remind me) that if my position is so damn great, it should be able to handle being challenged. I’m not perfect at this, but I do work at it.

4. I’m aware that now that I have apologized, there are people suggesting that other folks who said mean things about me on the internets should also apologize. Dudes: When I think I need an apology, I’ll ask for it. If you don’t see me ask for an apology, you should assume I’m of the opinion I don’t need one. I’m a big boy and can even dress myself, when I feel like dressing myself at all. If you’re going around trying to collect on apologies I haven’t asked for, the people you’re demanding them from are perfectly entitled to tell you to go screw.

And that pretty much covers all the apology meta, I think.

82 Comments on “Apologies, Etc”

  1. As someone who has fallen into the “conciliatory” and “needs to be more aggressive” category my entire life, I gotta say this is what I have always found most fascinating about you.

    I wish I had some of it myself, although I don’t see that happening.

  2. Yuck. I mean, I understood what you said, but the idea of you not dressing yourself sometimes…yuck. I wish I could turn off my imagination. Sigh.

  3. If people are mad at you for apologizing, and you apologizing for apologizing, then other people will just accuse you of caving to the people who were mad at you for caving. And that way lies madness.

  4. Tara Maya:

    True. I already have so many people who have announced they will never again buy my books. Why add to the number. Over this, anyway.

  5. Mr. Scalzi, strutting around in a bathrobe! I’ll get the vapors! Where did I put that fainting couch?

  6. I’ve been following the last number of Whatever entries on this subject with some interest. And I would like to add the following, respectfully, to the dialogue:


    Seriously, it’s like watching a film with a reel missing! All of a sudden one of the cool characters vanished and no one else is saying what happened; they just look morose, yet determined. And maybe if it was a better movie I could ask the manager for another ticket, but it’s not, so I’d rather ask my friend sitting next to me, who saw the whole thing last week.

    I’ll right, I’ll pipe down. Just eat your popcorn.

  7. My experience in Internet debate is that people back themselves into corners, then stay there. I’m always grateful when somebody I respect says “Hey, I fell face-forward into the guacamole dip. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

  8. John@9

    Working in the non-profit world you often hear “I’m never giving to you guys EVER AGAIN!!”

    Generally, you find that they have NEVER given. I suspect it is often true of those who say they won’t buy your books any more.

    My response to that has always been some polite version of “meh”.

  9. My response is generally less polite.

    I don’t worry about the people who declaim they will never buy my books ever again. The potential universe of book buyers is vast. I’ll find new readers.

  10. Being magnanimous is a good quality in any person and it should be recognized as such. Although my internet service has been much like the economy the last few days, I’ve tried to keep up with the commentary and at times have found myself weary with some of the back and forth nature of it. Perhaps that was because I was catching intermittent glimpses of an ongoing discussion which had its gestation in another place. Nonetheless, I think what you’ve done is a good thing and you should be commended for it.

  11. John, I always knew your ego was big enough to handle this. *g*

    People forget that a big ego means, among other things, being able to admit to mistakes with dignity, without unrealistic expectations of others, without the need for acceptance outside of one’s self.

    Your ego was always big enough and strong enough. I am not surprised.

  12. I’m glad you have the tenacity to “say it correct” as the priest in The Laramie Project puts it. Because sometimes it’s not enough to shrug and say “whatever.” Even if it’s your title.

  13. Damn right you’ll find new readers. I’ve already hooked three people on your books in the last year, one of whom has already read more of your books than I have!

    Anyway, I think you need to reach into your vault of awesome 80s music and post something horrifically awesome. That ought to placate the masses. :)

  14. JEANNE:

    Well, to be clear, that “Whatever” of the title is the “About going to talk about –” whatever, not the “Like I give a shit about –” whatever.

  15. So, you’re human and big enough, not only, to consider other people’s view points and criticisms, but also, admit when you’re in error and apologize. I find those admirable qualities. The explanations contained in those posts did not indicate, to me, “cowering or caving in” to the “politically correct”.

  16. I still have no real idea what’s been going on. But let’s face it, if it’s not about your wife or kids, the pets, upcoming books, or bacon, it tends to go over my head.

    And even then. Except for the bacon.

  17. This post is made of win, and is my favorite on the subject so far. I plan to bookmark it and refer to it often when my fully expandable ego bumps into something and takes a bruising.

  18. It’s not hard for some people to apologize, but when it’s meant, and done in a real way, it’s classy, and provides a good example. I’ll try and learn from that.

  19. Yup, we humans tend to have opinions, we do. And sometimes we’re full of baloney. What I don’t quite understand is why this needs explaining to anybody…

  20. I never understood the whole, “I disagree with you so I won’t buy your books” thing.

    “I think you’re a blithering idiot so I won’t buy your books,” — okay, sure.

    “You killed off my favorite character so I won’t buy the sequel unless you promise to bring him back to life, perhaps through cloning, perhaps through time travel to a parallel universe, I leave that to your discretion,” — of course, I often feel like *this*.

    But I read books by people who’s politics irk me all the time. Otherwise I would miss out on delightful reads like Stalin’s Letters to Molotov. C’mon, that book was frickin’ awesome.

  21. Mac@5: You might try approaching it as an exercise in acting or roleplaying. I do this with a lot of tough stuff. “Here’s the theatrical version of me, played by {someone suitably cool or invented to be sufficiently uber}. How do they handle it? With the confidence and clarity I wish for.” I know it sounds goofy, but it genuinely does help me.

  22. Speaking of apologies, in your last book you have Zoe say “there are colonists from ten separate worlds. That’s a hundred different possible idiotic teenage boy fight situations”, which is obviously WRONG, as basic combinatorics clearly demonstrate.

    Your unacknowledged male privilege brought you to reinforce the common stereotype that girls aren’t good at math, so apologize immediately, you instrument of Teh Patriarchy.


  23. My personal take on it is there was a discussion going on with a low signal to noise ratio, and you expressed annoyance at the noise, which led to people pointing out the noise, particularly MAM, which changed the ratio, which increased the value of the discussion.

    I also think apologies are good. They’re particularly good for the ego. I like to keep my ego in check, so I apologize a lot, which I like to think means I have a much healthier ego than other people. Sorry if that sounds egotistical.

  24. I find it a hugely telling point of our times – and the massive advances that we’ve failed to make in communications – that this is now on it’s fourth or fifth iteration and STILL people are getting their undergarment of choice in a knot. It’s a bit worrying really.

    I think I may have to buy jellybabies to comfort myself.

  25. John, you called me a ‘sexist pig’ at “John and Mary Show You Their Shorts” is San Francisco a couple months ago. I never got over it; I stay up late at night thinking about it. That scathing comment, in real life even, …ouch. I think I may need an apology, so I can move on with my life.

    Actually, I’m fine. Only the first sentence is true. Even though I am not really a sexist pig, it makes for a better story that you called me one. If anything, I’m a ‘sexy pig’.

    And that’s why bacon loves Scalzi! (Did I get that right?)

  26. @30 Bruce: Y’know, I actually like that idea a lot, thank you! (More than the scenario where my friends keep trying to throw me into Toastmasters’. Public speaking…. brrrrrr…)

  27. I’m a big boy and can even dress myself, when I feel like dressing myself at all.

    I have only one thing to say about this whole thing.

    John, when you don’t feel like dressing yourself?

    Please do anyway. Think of the children.

  28. The most important thing to come from all of this is that you have a very cool new subtitle for Whatever. :)

  29. It’s always interesting to me to listen to people’s reactions to when someone (anyone, not just a celebrity of any color) apologizes.

    Honestly, I think your stated reasons for apologizing are very mature and it takes character to face your regular blog readership (and the Intertubes) and admit you were wrong. I know you didn’t do it for us and I know you might not care but my (already high) opinion of you has definitely gone up.

  30. I don’t think you owe anyone an apology, however, for getting pissed that your website was used to score points during the discussion, which is what you were originally angry about anyways.

  31. @31 Giacomo, you’re assuming that the number of ‘stupid reasons teenaged boys get into fights’ maps one-to-one with ‘number of 2-planet-of-origin combinations for those teenaged boys’. Zoe, being good at math, recognized that the relationship isn’t one-to-one, and made her best order-of-magnitude estimate on the scope of the problem

    I guess the pure mathematicians might bitch, but the real number* can go into the paper later. :-)

    * Or the list of simplifications with a number that sounds interesting.

  32. So what you are saying is, you are human, you misused your mega groovy author super-power, you then did the honorable thing, and now people should let it be?

  33. Fathercrow #45 –

    I think John was speaking to all the people who were all “OMG John you should NOT have apologized at all! You are demeaning yourself!”

    He was not telling people to let it be (indeed, he acknowledged that they can, and not unreasonable so, still be angry at him), unlike others in this dialogue.

    And indeed, he’s not letting it be, and is continuing the dialogue with posts written by, not himself, but by someone with much more experience, a Sri Lankan author.

  34. I don’t think you owe anyone an apology, however, for getting pissed that your website was used to score points during the discussion, which is what you were originally angry about anyways.

    He’s apologizing for throwing out the baby. He’s not apologizing for chucking the dirty bathwater.

  35. “My personal take on it is there was a discussion going on with a low signal to noise ratio, and you expressed annoyance at the noise, which led to people pointing out the noise, particularly MAM, which changed the ratio, which increased the value of the discussion.”

    Grrrr. It’s this kind of dismissive attitude which got people (including me!) so pissed off at Mr Scalzi in the first place.

    There have been *lots* and *lots* of thoughtful posts every bit as eloquent and easy to read as Mary Anne’s made throughout Race Fail, and from the beginning. The only difference with hers is that she’s posting on a megablog where people who *don’t* normally concern themselves with such issues, will see it.

    The discussion isn’t ‘noisy’ (or stupid, or trivial, or ‘screeching’) because it’s going on somewhere you don’t normally look. And that was the whole point of what people were trying to say to Mr Scalzi after his first post, and what he seemed to have got, at least in part. So while he’s right to be proud of hosting Mary Anne’s writings on the subject, it would be really gracious of everyone to realise he’s only catching up to where an awful lot of people in this, has already been.

    Not to negate the real healing value of his apology, which I admire to the same level as my anger at his original post (and dude, I was *very* angry) but trying to make out that the great Scalzi has descended from the clouds and *saved* everyone from a pointless discussion, is….

    Well, grrrr.

    I could link you at least two dozen thoughtful posts by People of Colour which I consider essential reading, but will restrict myself to two:


    I have a selection of others in the summary post of mine Mary Anne linked to, which in turned barely scratches the surface of the worthwhile reading you could do to understand how racism affected fans and writers of SF/F.

    Mr Scalzi, I already said this on my blog but repeat it here:
    “People are demanding I apologise to John Scalzi now he’s apologised. Well no, I won’t be. I wasn’t wrong to be angry, I’m not sorry I was angry, and forcing me to apologise for something I was neither wrong about or am sorry for, is meaningless. Scalzi said he went out of his way to poke people, and he doesn’t expect them not to be mad at him, which is only as it should be. You guys are just sore because you think your hero ‘lost’ by being ‘made’ to apologise. You need to realise that Scalzi won by showing he had the ability to understand his mistakes and learn from them.”

    I never saw your apology as ‘giving in’ to anything. I saw it as a mark of a mature person, willing to adjust to new information. I think you understand you have more learning to do, as have we all. But how that’s somehow a failure or capitulation, escapes me.

    @Sheila 27 – exactly.

  36. Ann Somerville:

    I did notice you felt a pang of regret for the “wombat” comment, however. Please know it’s one my favorite bits of invective thrown at me EVAR.

  37. “I’m a big boy and can even dress myself, when I feel like dressing myself at all. “

    Don’t get all bent out of shape about undressed Scalzi, people. What he meant is he can dress himself when he feels like having dressing on his salad. Like, you know, bacon ranch dressing.

  38. Ann @48, sorry if my tone was dismissive. I saw none of the lead-in, just the aftermath, and when I went to look back over the path of the imbroglio, pretty much all I saw was the noise, not the signal. Then people like yourself took the trouble to point out the good stuff, which I had previously been unwilling to dig for (I almost wrote “unable to see”, but that’s not really accurate) because of a whole lot of ugliness.

    I never said that it was pointless, just that the flamewar that erupted made it very difficult and very unpleasant to get to the good stuff. Thanks for helping to salvage the good stuff.

  39. “Thanks for helping to salvage the good stuff.”

    Matt, please. I wrote a very expurgated version for clueless white people. I salvaged nothing. Almost everything listed at Rydra Wong’s linkspam:

    Is worth looking at, especially the earlier stuff (the later posts are swamped by ‘me too’ posts.)

    This is not a subject that admits of a superficial reading. Either dive in and read it all, or be honest and say you don’t want to. It’s *complicated*. And complicated things take effort to understand. Doesn’t make it not worthwhile.

    Another good post:

  40. wombatist == muskrat love?

    you know, I have no fricken idea what a wombat even looks like.


  41. Mr. Scalzi,
    this post has served as an excellent example of how somebody with white privilege can gracefully disown the privilege. I’m bookmarking it as such and as a reminder to myself (I too am a white straight guy with too much book-learnin’).

    The hardest part of disowning privilege is acknowledging that it’s there; but that’s what makes it privilege. And you’ve done a real Bodhi moment here: “I don’t have to be right yesterday. I want to be right with my people *now*.”

    bravo. You’re my hero.

  42. Well-said, sir. I was exasperated by your initial post, but have been increasingly impressed with your posts on the subject since. Thank you.

  43. I also have no idea what has been going on (although I can hazard a good guess based on some of the summaries).

    It’s something about race, arguments, and apologising.

    I have the feeling that I ought to take more notice of these things but am far too busy dodging the flak to even dare take part in these sorts of exchanges. (I’m apparently a racist sexist bastard by default, no matter what I do or say. I still can’t get my head round this and have given up commenting on the subjects of sexism and racism completely).

    Last time I apologised for getting a (minor) fact wrong on a discussion forum, well, let’s just say some people might let me forget about it around about 2050.

    Apparently making a mistake and apologising is a venal sin far less forgivable than spit-roasting and eating kittems on live television. Making a mistake and not bothering to acknowledge or admit to it means it’ll be forgotten within a week. I discovered this the hard way and still don’t understand the way this works, but it seems to happen all the time.

    This sort of crap reminds me why I keep my realworld identity entirely seperate to my online identity.

  44. I imagine little groups of objectivists and childfree people, rubbing their hands together and saying “any day now, he will be apologizing to us . . . .”

  45. Fock, man, it’s a bit of a sad situation when you feel you have to apologise for apologising…


  46. Andy, if you have no idea what’s been going on, then why come into make a post to a) admit that and b) rant?

  47. @ mythago in 71: Amen. What has been so infuriating about this is the sheer number of people who start off by saying “I haven’t been following this, but I’m going to comment anyway.”

    Apparently it is easier to have an opinion when you don’t know what the topic really is. Unfortunately, the people who seem to be doing this the most are people entrenched in their racist views. People who don’t want to even remotely see what the actual points are or — heaven forbid — learn something or re-evaluate themselves.

    It’s kinda hard to wrap one’s head around an idea when one’s head is so far up one’s…

  48. I have a big fat ego, but I like to believe that ego isn’t invested in having to win, which big egos often are; it’s invested in being correct. : A few tons of yes, here. If more people with big fat egos thought like this, we’d all be better off.

    Dudes: When I think I need an apology, I’ll ask for it. If you don’t see me ask for an apology, you should assume I’m of the opinion I don’t need one. On the other hand, some people may feel the need to offer an apology to you for their own karmic reasons, not to mention wanting to repair any damage to their relationship with you…

    “We have met the meta, and he is us.”

  49. @71 and @72

    Reread my post. All of it. Especially the bit about apologising on the internet.

    Although I had not been following the original racefail argument I have had direct experience of the result of apologising on the internet and wrote a little about that.

    Call me crazy, but on a thread entitled “Apologies” relating to making apologies on the internet I had the crazy notion that my own experiences of apologising on the internet in paragraphs 4-6 might be relevant.

    Paragraphs 1-3 were perhaps not completely relevant to the immediate subject and could have been left out, but I was trying to do this thing called “setting the background”.

    And then I get two total who not only proclaim that I had no right to have an opinion on the subject I did know about, but also imply I’m “entrenched in my racist views” to boot.

    Which kind of demonstrates my point with not only a serving of irony in spades but with an exrta side order of irony with a double ironic topping.

    Gotta love the interwebs…………..

  50. @ #74:

    Paragraphs 1-3 were perhaps not completely relevant to the immediate subject and could have been left out, but I was trying to do this thing called “setting the background”.

    Which does beg the question that if you have no interest in finding out the background and history of this particular discussion and all the has preceded it, why then would you assume in any way that the background of your particular past experience is relative to my commenting on *your* comment.

    Which was rather the point I was making, yes?

    So, please forgive me for making a broad statement and drawing a conclusion about you and your past frakas. You see, I have no idea what has been going on with you in the past (although I can hazard a good guess based on your summary), but I’m still going to comment and draw conclusions.

    See how that works?

  51. “Call me crazy, but on a thread entitled “Apologies” relating to making apologies on the internet I had the crazy notion that my own experiences of apologising on the internet in paragraphs 4-6 might be relevant.”

    Okay, you’re crazy (you did say we could!)

    The thing is, all apologies are not created equal. Mr Scalzi got his right – he acknowledged exactly where he’d gone wrong, in a way which showed he understood why people were upset, accepted blame for his own mistakes, and went about doing something concrete to remedy those mistakes. That was a Good Apology. (Another example might be Kevin Rudd’s apology to the indigineous people of Australia, except he didn’t follow it up with concrete action. An apology which is all noise and no action, is useless.)

    It’s also a very rare example, as most people don’t know how to apologise, and since they see Bad Apologies offered. As Miley Cyrus did when she made fun of Asians.

    Now I only know of you what I’ve seen here, and while my gut tells me you probably acted a particular way, statistically, you are more likely to have screwed it up than otherwise, because most people *do*. So in your mind, you offered what was a perfectly acceptable response and apology for whatever you said or did, but to the people you offended, it may have come across very differently. I’m sure you’ve been on the other end of a Bad Apology – utilities, authorities, schools, politicians all offer them – and I’m sure you’ve been exasperated by them. You may think you *didn’t* apologise like that. Without knowing exactly what you said, I can’t be sure. But Bad Apologies are the things which keep arguments angry and boiling, and of course they’re not accepted.

    As for your experience being instructive – no, sorry, it simply isn’t. *You* should learn from Scalzi. He did it right, and there are many people involved in RaceFail who need to follow his example. Not least of all a couple of writers who keep ‘apologising’, retracting their words, or negating them by their actions, who have created the expectation of bad faith to the point where apologies alone are treated with suspicion.

    All I saw in your posts was that Scalzi had made a mistake by apologising. And he hasn’t. Not in any way. Not saying there isn’t more to do, and I think he knows that, as we all do, but the apology is in no way a capitulation, a loss, or a failure.

  52. Fixed.

    Also, regarding apologies, when one apologizes one accepts that some people may not accept the apology, or may assume the apology is in bad faith. One does not apologize for others, even if others benefit from it. One apologizes because it’s what one expects of one’s self.

  53. @ John Scalzi. Exactly. The least convincing apologies – like Ms Cyrus’ – are those issued because someone has been forced to do so. If there’s no genuine regret, the person hearing it will know that in a New York minute.

    [thanks for fixing my html. You’d never know I do this stuff for a living, would you.]

  54. And then I get two total who not only proclaim that I had no right to have an opinion on the subject I did know about, but also imply I’m “entrenched in my racist views” to boot.

    Welcome to RaceFail.

  55. @75 and @76

    Hmmm – OK, I can see a number of things here and they the potential to slide off in various gnarley directions that I’m reluctant to persue further on what is John’s blog and emphatically not my soapbox!

    Paul – the difficulty with that argument is that what constitues sufficient background in order to contribute to a discussion? I like John’s books – but since I have no standing within the publishing industry or book trade it could be argued my opinion is worthless and should not be offered. I’m not sure that would be a good thing (especially when I say things like ‘Buy Scalzi’s books, they’re great!’).

    Obviously I thought I had sufficent background knowledge to comment here, others disagreed. But who is the arbiter of whether someone can comment or not? (OK, here it is ultimately Mr. Scalzi, it’s his space. But you aren’t John)

    Ann – I take your point, but it’s a tad tangential to what I was trying to get across. That’s almost certainly my fault. The main thrust of my comment was supposed to be that no matter how trivial the issue or gracious the apology there will always be people who will drag the past up beyond all reason. The comment was supposed to be relevant and general rather than specific and instructive and certainly not critical of anyone specifically.

    Your reply is well made and understood though :)

    My comment could have been more pithy, better phrased and all-round better worded to avoid misunderstandings. Unfortunately, the only way I know of practicing making pithy, well-phrased and better worded comments is by trying in the big web outside.

    The trouble with the medium is that even the tiniest failure will attract a wholly disproportionate level of scorn and vitriol – which creates upset on all sides (see the posts above for an example), which again is relevant to the original maelstrom.

    With that I’ll shut up before I say something that justly merits the Rubber Mallet of Doom or mires myself still further.


  56. To Andy @ 74: {commenters here} also imply I’m “entrenched in my racist views” to boot.

    The correlation of white people who say “Well, apparently I’m a racist no matter what I do” to white people who are actually entrenched in their racist views is almost 1:1.

    You may be the exception, of course. Those commenters were apparently just playing the odds.

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