I, my neighbour Zelda, and Wayne Dobbs Jr form a society for listening together to the music of Townes Van Zandt. We call it the Cambridge Townes Van Zandt Appreciation Society. In an open vote of all three CTVZAS members Wayne Dobbs Jr is elected president of the society for one year. As president Wayne takes a call in his first week in office from someone in Gonville and Caius College who wants to join, and he (Wayne) responds in a needlessly rude and insulting manner. A few days later he resigns the CTVZAS presidency and leaves the society, this for reasons unconnected with his rudeness, but on account of he's decided suddenly to return to New Zealand, where he was born.
After Wayne's departure, Zelda and I apologize to the person in Gonville and Caius who was treated so disobligingly by Wayne. We apologize on behalf of the CTVZAS, not wanting its reputation to be sullied by such misconduct, and feeling anyway that an apology was owed although neither Zelda nor I did anything wrong, personally, to the unfortunate member of Gonville and Caius.
This brief tale is by way of explaining why Jeremy Paxman ought to think again if he really believes what he says in saying:
You should apologise for things that you have done, that you recognise that perhaps you shouldn't have done or regret. But apologising for things that your great, great, great, great-grandfather or grandmother did, seems to me a complete exercise in moral vacuousness.
I have argued for this before, but it bears repeating since the denial of it is so common: there are human collectivities as well as human individuals - families, clubs, societies, firms, trade unions, countries, nations, libraries, universities, parliaments, banks, reading groups, media organizations and churches. A single member of one of these collectivities can apologize for an act of the collective, as carried out by someone else, one of its officers or representatives or just plain members. There's no reason for presuming he or she should never do so; though it is, of course, a valid question whether an apology is due and would be sincere. But it can be unproblematically both.