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?