Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Turning's century

Alan Turing would have turned 100 this year and the intertubes are loaded with tributes to him.  Unfortunately, while most articles pay attention to his invaluable services during the war and his contributions to computer science, there is also an obligatory tendency to refer to him not as a great man, but as a great homosexual.  Worse than that; as some sort of "gay martyr".  Indeed, the real irony of the man is that the very conviction for gross indecency that ruined his life is probably the main reason he's getting so much publicity today while the men who built Colossus remain in relative obscurity.  It's rather sad that the memory of this great man should be held in subservience to identity politics.

Case in point is this absurd plaque resting at the foot of Turing's statue at Bletchley Park.  "Victim of prejudice"?  Hardly.  Turing was convicted of gross indecency and he did lose his security clearance.  However, his conviction was entirely in accordance with the law and the revocation of his clearance was standard procedure since clearances weren't issued to people seen as at risk of blackmail.  The only "victim" status that Turing could reasonably be awarded is that he was the victim of misplaced compassion.  Rather than the court finding him guilty of a minor criminal act and punishing him, it took the "enlightened" view that he wasn't a criminal, but an unfortunate with a condition in need of a cure, so they gave him the option of oestrogen injections, which may (or may not) have contributed to his suicide.

When judges take it upon themselves to act like doctors and come to regard criminals as patients, justice is ill served.

Update: Suicide? Maybe not, but that doesn't serve a "martyr" narrative.  Let's stop this nonsense and remember Turing as a great man, not a sacrificial lamb to identity politics.


eon said...

By comparison, T.E. Lawrence is remembered for his service to the Empire as an officer and a gentleman, rather than for his, um, sexual activities. Mainly because in spite of apparently sharing Turing's "orientation", he comported himself as an officer and a gentleman at all times.

The moral is that it isn't a matter of what you "are", it is a matter of how you behave.

And I am, perhaps unfortunately, old enough to remember when self-control was not considered a vice, and "doing your own thing" had not yet become construed as some sort of virtue that trumped everything else.

(You probably don't want to know what I would define as "letting it all hang out" personally, even though it has very little to do with, ahem, Sierra Echo X-Ray.)



apostate630 said...

Sir, your erudition and wit is second to none. Tales Of Future Past is one of my favorite sites. So is this one.But I have no patience at all with many of your posts, and with this one in particular.

Alan Turing was hounded into suicide because he was queer.

Deal. With. It.


STSWB5SG1FAN said...

I believe the annotation on the plaque was quite correct. Mr Turing was a victim of the prejudicial laws and moors of his time. A law can be held to be legal and still not be morally right (see Jim Crow, Southern US, 1900-1960s).

David said...

Persecuted? Hounded? By whom? Why?