Imitation of the Human

Culture, Justice

Gordon Brown offered an apology to Alan Turing in 2009. If there’s a certain temporosemantic incoherence in the notion of apologizing to a dead man, then it at least accords with the broad moral norms of repentance and absolution. There’s nothing to be done about the injustice now, but England feels very badly about it. Inadequate, yes, but there’s an appealing modesty to the gesture; it isn’t glib, and it doesn’t gall. There could never be a truly adequate act of contrition, and insufficiency should generally be hemmed in by a wide zone of humility. Apology identifies the correct object of culpability. The government that offered it did wrong. It can’t really do right, but there’s a degree of straightforward sincerity to it all.

Well, shit, the only thing that might have redeemed the Queen’s Christmastime pardon of Turing would have been if she’d addressed it, “From one queen to another.” Obviously there’s an ancient form to these documents, but if there is gross indecency here, it’s in the idea that the figurehead Queen of England, in the form of a hopped-up ecclesiastical potentate, could have the sheer temerity to extend her “Grace and Mercy” in the service of absolving a man who never did anything wrong to begin with. Politeness is always lost on the aristocracy, despite its self-sealed belief to the contrary, but the language and timing here is absurdly rude.

As either a Jew or a non-believer—take your pick—I find the idea of an actual divine representative, a heavenly elect here on earth, to be pretty hilariously idolatrous, though I am willing to give your various Popes and Patriarchs a degree of laisser prier tolerance, but is there a more preposterous representative of Grace on this earth than the Queen of England, a less likely vessel, a more absurd pretender to the seat? Turing doesn’t require your pardon, Lizzy; rather you, his. Some sort of majestic retroactive vacation of the indecency law in its entirety would have been less tone deaf, less insulting, and less presumptuous.

I suppose it’s asking too much to suggest this goofy Wettinian drag show comport itself to the standards of decency expected of its audience, but I, for one, as a gay man, am awfully tired of the self-congratulatory attitude of lousy beneficence as these monarchs and judges and legislators haul themselves toward the glory of delivering their approbation. The proper attitude of the British state to its victims, of whom Turing was just one of the more prominent, is shame. Would it kill ya to show a little?

3 thoughts on “Imitation of the Human

  1. Imagine that, I was thinking about shame just yesterday, more precisely the emotions that cause blushing, namely shame and embarrassment. The reason the feeling of shame is absent in these holy representatives is because shame, as distinct from embarrassment and guilt, attacks the sense of self. To feel ashamed is to experience a divided self. This is unacceptable for obvious reasons. United they stand. Tepid remorse is acknowledged, apology delivered, self-forgiveness accomplished.

  2. Those occupied by power have no real ability to distinguish compassion from persuasion, nor empathy from control, nor honesty from command — that is, unless they are actively, genuinely resisting that power; and the greatness that we ascribe to leadership is almost entirely contingent upon this characteristic of resistance, even if we don’t always describe it that way. We’re willing to overlook an awful lot in order to believe that the dignitaries among us are with us and not out to reupholster their boots with the skin of our souls. How many people have faith in a benevolent God because the Queen Mother sometimes carries her own purse? Let’s say the number is 14 million.

    I’m worried that some of those 14 million people won’t have heard the pardons and apologies about the torture and murder of Alan Turing in the spirit that such was offered. I’m worried that some of them will have instead heard a slow hiss, like gas escaping from a distended fruit, and imagined a creeping reptilian somnolescence that distinguishes almost nothing but food and not-food trying to extinguish the sun of all humanity. A flutter of panic, a day’s worth of effort to block it out, go to bed and try again tomorrow.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the gestures of apology and pardon are not for Turing but for the system of discipline that tortured and murdered him: the disciplinarians of that system are meant to feel a bit better about all the torture and murder they are still doing, if by different means. And let’s be honest, in this light it’s neither apology nor pardon (for torture and murder) so much as congratulations — congratulations that such momentum can be maintained, even with all these bumps in the road. Aren’t the British a truly great people? Isn’t empire so much more a matter of mind than place?

    Personally I think I would have felt a little more convinced about all of this apologizing and pardoning business if some reciprocity was evidenced. What if Gordon Brown voluntarily started a regimen of hormones designed to alter his sexual identity? This would have made a statement, wouldn’t it. And what if the Queen Mother were to select one of the Crown’s jewels and order that it be crushed to dust by pneumatic hammer. Wouldn’t that have been queer.

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