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Friday, 14 December 2012

Alan Turing - Pardon

 People, we are talking about the English Language!

I’ve cited this example before, forgive me. Sunday Times readers were asked to say whether marital infidelity was a “sin” or a “temptation”. I really thought that this was the lowest we could possibly have sunk in our national debate on things moral.

In words which a five-year-old could understand: a temptation means an inclination to sin. I know that wanting to take my sister’s teddy bear is a temptation; taking it is a sin. The Sunday Times was being morally illiterate to pose the question thus.

We continue to sink.

Clarification: sins and crimes are not the same thing; but the same terminology, regrettably, appears.
With respect to sin, the word “pardon” has a very clear meaning. I did something bad. I can only be pardoned if my good intention (or, perhaps my good action) outweighs my bad action. I did something bad. Somehow it got cancelled by my intention or my action. In Catholic theology, I may be pardoned because my bad action was cancelled by God’s Grace – He took my bad action and cancelled it. It was still a bad action.

With respect to law, the word “pardon” has got badly muddied.

What does it mean? You didn't do what you were accused of (and punished for?) So, the legal system betrayed you. The judges got it wrong. But there is a meta-legal system implicitly in operation. Perhaps you did do something which was “wrong”; it was against the law. But, then the law changed its mind, what you did was against the law, at the time. We decided, the law decided, that doing what you did should not be illegal – we changed the law. Pardon? How so? Did we decide that your intentions (or even the effects of your actions) were innocent in view of our new legal view?

Alan Turing is a national hero. He helped us to defeat the Nazis. You and I might think that we owe him a huge debt – I do! He was a queer; he was prosecuted for it. He committed suicide as a result.

Nowadays being queer is not only not a crime – there is no societal reprobation attached thereto. How can Turing’s supporters possibly want him to be “pardoned”? Pardoned for what? The “offence” for which he suffered is no longer an offence. In legal terms, it is surely grounds for disallowing all anti-gay prosecutions, back to infinity. So, it is ridiculous to suppose that Turing needs a pardon. In legal terms, surely, everyone ever prosecuted under anti-gay legislation gets not a “pardon” but a total dismissal of all charges.

Do I think that Turing’s sexuality is what I espouse for my grandchildren?: I don’t. He suffered unnecessarily. Being beastly to people is bad news.

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