Is Genius an excuse to be allowed to break the law with impunity?
A petition for the UK government to pardon computer pioneer Alan Turing for his criminal conviction for homosexuality has attracted more than 6,000 signatures. The latest e-petition is different from the successful petition two years ago calling on the British Government asking to apologise for its persecution of Alan Turing …
I guess you're an equal opportunities persecutor.
Or a religious zealot, I can't quite decide.
the "it's the law excuse"
A variation of the Nuremberg defence. An excuse to abdicate all rational thought processes to somebody else’s prejudices, is it because it is also in a 2,400 year old book of myths and legends?
Just because something 'is the law" doesn’t mean it is right, how many oppressive regimes around the world have abused human rights because '"it's the law"...
Spoken like a good, loyal subject. You would make a wonderful stooge for a tyrant.
... the UK was a democracy (of sorts) at the time those laws were enacted. At the time, nobody seemed to think them "unfair" or "unjust". So, yes, it WAS the law.
Attitudes have clearly changed since then, but *at the time*, people were still being casually racist and homophobic (among many other things), and very few considered such actions immoral, unethical, or in any way wrong. If the public had felt otherwise, the relevant laws would have been changed accordingly, as, indeed, they have been over the intervening years. One reason for these changes is improved education: by banishing ignorance on a subject, you make it more approachable and understandable, eliminating (or greatly reducing) the innate fear our species has of the different.
Societies, cultures and mores change, producing changes in the laws. It's likely some of our own laws will be considered unethical and barbaric in 50 years' time, so don't be so quick to condemn your ancestors for only doing what *they* believed in. The UK is not run by tyrants and dictators: those leaders are *elected*. You get the government you deserve.
If it is considered "right" today to pardon Turing for breaking the laws of his time, it cannot be considered equally "right" to condemn his contemporaries who also broke the exact same laws. This really does need to be an all-or-nothing affair. To pardon Turing alone would arguably be a far greater wrong than not pardoning any homosexuals who were caught by the laws of that period.
Perhaps we should convict and burn witches.... ...and idiots.
Is Genius an excuse to be allowed to break the law with impunity?
No, obviously not, even if the law is unjust. Turing did not break the law with impunity, and nobody in this forum has suggested that he should have that right.
It's a little depressing that AC was marked down 32 points just for posing this rhetorical question. He was promting discussion with question, not saying he wanted to personally castrate Turing. It seems that our less intelligent commentators want to castrate AC just for speaking, while at the same time making attractive remarks about freedom of speech and democracy.
While the initial comment is certainly open to interpretation, the AC isn't likely to be mistaken for Cicero by leaving that question and nothing else.
I didnt know he was "forced to undergo so-called 'organo-therapy' - chemical castration" - Barbaric
was this standard for homosexuals? or was his offence worse?
" being a homo with intent" or something?
"going equipeed for homosexuality" ?
the mind boggles
The organo-therapy did literally ‘boggle’ his mind, organo-therapy which is just large doses of the female hormone estrogen intended to reduce sex drive, had severe negative effects on Turing, he became impotent, his breasts grew larger and the treatment caused depression and a feeling of despair.
I suspect that Turing’s "crime" was not that he was a homosexual, but that he showed no remorse for his "crimes".
He had a choice
But not a good one.
Take the hormones or go to prison for his 'crime' - and I think we can all guess what the consequences of that would have been.
and all the others . . .
Now we live in the enlightened future and we all know that being a homo is cool , and more to the point legal , shouldnt there be pardons for ALL homosexuals convicted of that law?
> shouldnt there be pardons for ALL homosexuals convicted of that law?
Probably, but the argument that pardoning Turing is injurious to all the others is bogus. A pardon for Turing would have enormous symbolic value. A "Sorry Day" style of apology to all the others would be even better, of course, and a pardon for all would be even better than that. But then you'd get into pardoning all those executed at Tyburn for trivial thefts, etc., and there is no end to it.
Talk about too little too late ...
Poor hounded bastard killed himself in 1954. What are all these apologies supposed to achieve? They effectively murdered a towering intellect who, if he had lived, would have changed modern science even more radically than he did.
Instead they hounded him to an early death and persecuted his memory for decades.
Saying "sorry" nearly sixty years later won't make it right no matter how often you repeat it. We all know the disgraceful manner in which he was treated. But does the stupidity end? No. What annoys me is that stuff like this is still going on!
For example, Gary McKinnon certainly is no Turing, but his treatment is almost the same in the scale of its ridiculous awfulness. OK, so he isn't being chemically castrated but he may as well be. Same goes for Bradley Manning and all those people held throughout the world today on nothing more than a whim and denied their right to justice and due process.
This constant apologising for other (dead) people's actions decades after the event is nothing more than crude posturing and seeking absolution through paying lip-service. And to appear 'popular' and 'enlightened' and 'democratic'.
Just change the petition to pardon all people criminally convicted of being gay
I expect that will be the end result of this petition. JGC isn't the only one to see that pardonning only Turing would be unjust, the savvy politicos will spot the out that is a blanket pardon for all.
Turing was a great man and it is right and appropriate that he was given an apology for prosecution. Britain repaid his heroism with apalling and cowadly treatment.
But I am not in favour of him steadily being changed into an icon for gay rights. While there might be nothing wrong with that in itself, we do not remember him not because he was gay, or because he commited suicide, or because he was a competative athelete. Those facts are noteable, but we remember Alan Turing because he was a brilliant engineer, scientist, codebreaker, and a hero who shaped the course of history for the betterment of others. That's why we have those statues and museum exhibits: as a "thank you".
"Is Genius an excuse to be allowed to break the law with impunity?"
I think the whole point is not that AT should be allowed to break the law, but rather that the law was ridiculouse, petty, barbaric etc. AT highlights the extreme injustice of the law due to the great contribution he made in helping defeat the nasties. His thanks was to be treated in a way that would have been far more compatible with the beliefs of those nasties than our supposed "Free" democracy.
Thanks to El Reg for bring this to my attention.
Signed and sent to friends.
Apologising for what other people did in the past?
Making sure our children and our peers _never forget_ man's inhumanity to man through the ages?
I won't be signing the e-petition, but I have made sure my kids were exposed to Schindler's List, Roots and Holocaust. And there's a much-thumbed copy of Alan Turing: The Enigma on the bookshelf if they feel up to it.
He should be exonerated.
A "pardon" is to forgive a crime. Turing did nothing that required forgiveness. While Turing was convicted for breaking the law of the time, it has been shown that that law was unjust.
Therefore, IMHO, he, and other convicted of the same offence, should be exonerated, not merely pardoned.
When someone has been convicted of a crime and is later found to be innocent, they are pardoned. That's *how* you exonerate them. That's just the way the system works.
If you think about it, it's semantically accurate as well as legally accurate. "Exonerate" would mean "he didn't do it", which nobody (as far as I've seen) actually claims. "Pardon" means "we don't care whether he did it or not, he's still a Good Bloke", which is much closer to the truth.
Either everyone who suffered under these laws gets a pardon, or no-one. Alan was special, a genius, but that doesn't make his suffering any better or worse than the others who were treated in such an appalling way by these laws.
We mustn't forget what happened and to single out one person seems, to me at least, to suggest that everyone else deserved what they got.
I wish we wouldn't...
Not withstanding Turin's massive contribution during his short life time nor the tragic circumstances of its ending; I'm not convinced a pardon is the right thing to do.
As awful as the law was at the time, he did break it. He wasn't forced to break the law nor did he do so for noble reasons. Indeed, he was more a victim of the times (the reds under the bed paranoia) than any malicious prosecution... or state persecution. Its also fair to say that the choice of punishment was his as he could have accepted a less barbaric alternative term in prison.
I think the apology was correct and I applaud the changes in the law which will allow men like Turin to strike out their convictions - which actually makes a pardon unnecessary. I think we can best honour Turin if we remember him for his contributions rather than his crime.
"Its also fair to say that the choice of punishment was his as he could have accepted a less barbaric alternative term in prison."
You, sir, don't know what the hell you're talking about. Go read up on what happens to gay men in prison before you type things like this.
And you Sir/Miss, don't realise that I'm immensely very well read on the subject and in need of no further education from you.
I said 'less barbaric' for perfectly valid reasons... Firstly, I'm quite sure that prison wasn't exactly a happy place for any 1950's male homosexual but for most the experience was far removed from the 'Hollywood' stereotype many might erroneously imagine. Turing himself wasn't afraid of prison, likening it -- in his own words -- to school. But he did wish to continue with his academic research and so avoid incarceration. Unfortunately Turin, either on bad advice or by uncharacteristic miscalculation, perhaps didn't realise that his chances of being imprisoned were slight. Only a small number of homosexuals were being jailed at the time and often for 6 months or less, rather than the maximum 2 years prescribed. Indeed his co-accused received a simple conditional discharge.
The point I was trying to make though, is that far too many seem to imply that Turin should be pardoned less for the crime or with respect of his great contributions to the war effort etc but more for the imposition of the punishment. Its worth then highlighting that the punishment in this case wasn't so much imposed but chosen (which hopefully I've addressed).
And I agree it is a horrible punishment.
While some might excuse 'chemical castration' in those less enlightened times many will be horrified to learn that its still used today.... in the USA, in Asia, in Australia, in Europe (Russia and Poland having just enacted laws to impose it forcibly) and in the dear old United Kingdom. Okay, today its more likely to be used on paedophiles and rapists... its the same mob mentality, just a different bogeyman. I think therefore we should park both the pitchfolks and the pardons and ask ourselves what it is we're asking for? As for Alan's suicide; my own feeling is that this was a result of his family, friends and colleagues distancing themselves from him after the court case rather than any 'side effect' of the punishment. Others might disagree?
To be clear, I'm absolutely in awe of Alan Turin's achievements. There are few that could deny his contribution to our nations survival in time of war nor his continued impact in our modern computerised lives. As a gay man I can also appreciate his small but important step in making my own personal life easier too. I rather fancy that he knew the world was changing and that society's acceptance of homosexuality was imminent. Sadly he perhaps misjudged the timing. Sure, he was flamboyant and a little reckless in his private life. I believe he would have attracted unwelcome attention to himself eventually.... there's a suspicion he may already have done so but until the official files are opened we'll never know. Certainly with hindsight he shouldn't have been prosecuted and if he'd been less casual about his relationship at the time then maybe it would have been brushed under the carpet. I guess like many geniuses, he had a self-destructive (and naive) streak?
Like I said in the above post, the best way we can honour Alan is to ensure the forthcoming legislation is passed which will enable those still living with this stain on their records to have it removed.
Signed it a few weeks ago
at the request of a friend.
Seemed sensible enough at the time but looking back I'd like to have known about the other side of the argument at the time. I don't suppose it'd have stopped me signing but I agree that he should be exonerated rather than pardoned (I hadn't really considered the difference before).
I don't necessarily see a single pardon / exoneration as a bad thing as it makes it far easier for pressure to be brought to bear on the Home Secretary to pardon (etc) everyone else. After all once it is issued for him it makes it very hard not to grant the same to anyone else without his genius.
Thanks for that article - interesting reading.
Punish those responsible
All of this is just words. I have a more active suggestion: round up all those people responsible for this persecution and send them to prison for six months. Or inject them with hormones, or maybe just halve their pensions.
We're not talking about ancient history here - we're talking about pre-1967; there are still some cases of WWII criminals being found, and that's two decades earlier. Perhaps the judge (or jury) who convicted Turing are dead now, but plenty of more junior people from later cases will certainly still be alive.
Great idea, except for the bit where "those responsible for this persecution" were enforcing laws enacted by a democratic government.
So what you're calling for is the mass imprisonment of everyone in the UK who's old enough to have voted before 1967.
> what you're calling for is the mass imprisonment of everyone in the
> UK who's old enough to have voted before 1967.
I doubt that there was much difference in the policies between the parties on this; it wouldn't have been something that crossed the minds of many people in the polling booths. So I'd focus on those who actually did something active, like giving the injections.
Solving the insoluble
It's not possible to undo the injustices of our forebears, but what we can do is learn from them and ensure that they are ever repeated. Alan Turing's treatment was inhumane, unjust and ended with the tragic waste of his life. His sentence can not be revoked, not can we stop it driving him to suicide. Honour his life by remembering what drove him to his death and stop it happening again, don't waste effort tying to change the unchangeable.
what no-one has considered is that he was convicted of "gross-indecency". Was this charge exclusively leveled at gays, or was it a catch all for unacceptable behaviour of the time? This has implications for the pardon all convicted of this crime argument, as the charge might have been used to prosecute genuinely reprehensible behaviour as well.
Personally I don't think he should be pardoned or exonerated. Not because I think he (and others in the same situation) didn't deserve better, but because it's too late to do anything for him now, and Britain should not shy away from or try to 'tidy up' its history, especially the more shameful parts. What we need to remember is that casual/socially accepted hatred or ignorance destroyed a great man and did untold damage to scientific progress - and this is just the big visible example of the damage done to society.
Acknowledge we were wrong, recognise that the situation is somewhat better but not perfect today, and strive to do better still in the future.
Think it through, please ....
There's a bit more to this than meets the eye.
Yes, of course Turing was brilliant and made a dramatic contribution to the war effort and to computer science.
However, like many other brilliant people, he was a seriously flawed character.
His homosexuality came to light as the result of a break-in to his house conducted by an associate of a homosexual lover who then proceeded to threaten Turing. Turing complained to the police that he was being threatened or blackmailed in relation to the robbery which they were investigating and it's in the course of that police investigation that the nature of his relationship with the lover emerged.
Clearly an individual with such high-level security clearance being blackmailed was a national security risk on a major scale and the fact that he expressed no regret about the situation which he had allowed to take place exacerbated the situation and gave every reason to believe that if he were allowed to continue with security clearance for GCHQ and similar work there could be a repetition of the problem. The outcome of the legal case in relation to the lover of criminal intent was a conditional discharge. In Turing's case, his choice was probation on condition of supervised oestrogen treatment to reduce his libido.
Now, whatever Turing may or may not have been, he wasn't intellectually thick. And it certainly can't have been beyond him to ascertain the probable feminising results of such treatment, both to his body -- development of breasts -- and to his mind.
It's a sad case -- but what to me it illustrates is that a brilliant individual whose mathematical skills made a major contribution to the world in his particular area of expertise behaved in a grossly-ill-advised way with a criminal who was prepared to blackmail him and thereby placed himself in a situation in which there was no practical option to the government of the day but to withdraw his security clearance. The fact that his grossly-bad judgement with regard to the individual with whom he had such an extremely-close relationship was tied in to his homosexuality was what led to the charges against him being on that basis, but consorting with dubious persons of any criminal nature would have led to his security clearance being withdrawn in any case.
Like it or not, no matter how much he'd contributed in the past,Turing was a security risk. Even if his relationship with Murray had not been related to his homosexuality, and if neither of them had been homosexuals, the fact of the matter was that his "friend" had knowingly provided the lead for a criminal associate to burgle Turing and that was the underlying issue.
Turing was brilliant intellectually, but fatally flawed in his judgement with regard to human relationships. How ironic that one who contributed so much to the security of the nation should have behaved in a way that placed that very security at risk and that he should have shown no remorse at so doing!
so lets do the right thing
cancel this petition, create a new one for pardoning all of them. Though it'd be nice to name any legislation after Turing in his honor.
Just please don't turn this into a cash-grab payday of a multigenerational demand for "reparations" because someone's great grandfather was involved and it somehow means only money will make his great grandson "whole" again.