Friday, September 11, 2009

Belated Apology for Alan Turing

The British Prime Minister has issued a belated, posthumous apology to Alan Turing for the inhumane treatment he received due to the apparently awful crime he committed by being gay. I have mixed feelings about how much such an apology helps, because although I'm glad Turing is getting some of his due with this, to me this still feels very much like 'too little, too late'. I wanted to sign the petition to support this, but it was only open to UK citizens.


Justin said...

I'm quite pleased to see this. I think it does help - the simple argument is better late than never. More seriously, I think it helps with incentives. The relevant UK officials from the '50s are long dead by now, but with this public apology they're now minor historical figures, and not the kind that are remembered in a good way. Drawing attention to past misbehavior like this warns current and future officials that even if they get away with something in their lifetime, they can still be vilified (even in a rather small and obscure way) by history. One hopes that will help make future misbehavior less likely. (And I wish I could think of a better word than "misbehavior" for conduct that is morally wrong but perfectly legal)

Mason said...

I think perhaps that I have my cynical hat on today. :)

I hope you're right, but with those kinds of people, wouldn't something like this be like water off a duck's back? Most people tend to forget about such gestures once they're no longer in the news. I do agree that they should be done anyway, but I'm not convinced that anything preventative actually happens in practice.

In terms of thinking up a word, isn't this usually the type of thing where one would name the word after somebody else (cf. "jeterate")?

Justin said...

It's a good hat!

By definition it's hard to show that official X chose not to do morally reprehensible action Y because of concern about how history would view him 50 years later. And some (the Bush regime, most prominently) are blatantly unconcerned about such legacy effects anyway. But there's no harm trying, even if we probably can't know for certain whether incentives like this actually work.

Just looked it up - jeterate is a nice word. :-)

Lemming said...

IIRC, from reading about the petition when it first went up, the goal was more about public education than actually getting an apology in the first place. That is, make more people aware, and any official response would just be icing on the cake. Well, it's a lot of icing on that cake, because now the news reaches that much further, and a handful more people get to hear about it. Most who hear about it probably won't be swayed one way or another, but maybe there are a few fence-sitters getting bumped in the right direction.

Ultimately it doesn't matter *why* said politician released said statement. It still helps, regardless of his motives.

That, and I thought it was very tastefully and appropriately written.

Mason said...

Justin: So what eponymous word should we be using here? Any suggestions?

Justin said...

No good suggestions - it's hard to think of someone who isn't loaded with extraneous context. My best shot would be "taneying" after Chief Justice Taney of Dred Scott infamy. But even that carries a connotation of racial motivation, whereas we're aiming for something very general.