Friday, September 11, 2009

PM Apologies for treatment of Turing

Whilst, as the PM says, no apology can turn back the clock, by admitting that he was badly treated and that no help and support was given him when he desperately needed it, a line has been drawn and many will recognise that much valued progress has been made recognising and accepting those within the workplace who are different in terms of sexuality. Lets not forget there is still in some areas a climate of misunderstanding and fear. To break that both sides need to honestly talk to each other without fear and with sensitivity in mind and hopefully today we are one step closer to that.


Carl Gardner, Head of Legal said...

I'm an admirer of Alan Turing and of course think he was treated appallingly. I say that just to ward off any suggestion my view on the apology reflects some secret homophobia.

I'm against all these apologies - the slave trade, all that. I think it makes no sense whatever to apologise for things you didn't do, to people they weren't done to. Alan Turing isn't around to hear any apology - it's just meaningless.

But I think the "anti-apology" argument hasn't been very well put so far. Let me try to do better.

The very heart of my objection to an apology is precisely to the phrase you've used about "drawing a line". What does that mean? That we can now forget about Alan Turing? That we can now feel okay, or more okay, about how he died? That we are now relieved of any guilt and some stain has been cleansed? If not, then what was the point of it? "Drawing a line" means nothing. If so, then the apology was actively wrong and selfish - an exercise in conscience-salving for ourselves, with no real social benefit or commitment to memorialise Alan Turing.

The truth is, nothing can change what was done to Alan Turing. If you think the old law on homosexuality was wrong, then you're bound to feel regret and perhaps guilt and shame about what happened to him, and others. Those feelings cannot and should not be expunged or purged. The right thing to do as a response is to support gay rights now - and other oppressed minorities whose position might be analogous in our times - and help educate others by memorialising Alan Turing suitably - a statue somewhere, or an IT research institute, or just funding Bletchley Park properly. I'm not saying any of those things should make us feel better about the past - of course not - but they would at least demonstrate in an ongoing way the way we feel about Alan Turing now. All those would of course require some money, work and commitment from people, rather than just a few words.

To gain a bit of feelgood for ourselves, and relieving our awkward guilt, by getting Gordon to mouth a cost-free, effort-free "apology" that no child in the future will ever see, read or hear about - I think that's a really small moral response to this, to be honest. And if we think for a moment of large-scale crimes like the slave trade or the Holocaust, it becomes obvious, surely, that any sort of apology is just so below the level of the event that's it's offensive, even.

That's why I'm against "apologies" like this.

One last thought: whether it's true or not, the legend that the Apple logo refers to to Turing is a far better memorial to the man than anything Gordon said.

Paul Burgin said...

I get your point and feel that perhaps we are arguing some of the same things from different angles.
For example when I say "drawing the line", I mean that we must work to prevent homophobia in the workplace wherever we see it. By recognising what happened and that by officially declaring it to have been wrong may help a great deal in that.