Alan Turing was perhaps one of the greatest minds the human race has ever known. He transformed the way we think of systems, and is often referred to as the father of computer science. But even now, in death, he is helping us to analyze a different kind of system, the system of human governance.
Alan Turing was convicted of the crime of being a homosexual. The punishment for that crime led to his taking his own life. Many now understand how egregious such conviction was, and have worked hard to change the laws around homosexuality. We are witness to one of the great advances in human rights as the system of democratic pluralism is leading the way in recognizing the fundamental right to the free expression of sexual orientation.
Human institutions make mistakes. Recently, the Queen of England granted Turing a Royal Pardon. I’m glad to see this action taken. There are many acts that our Government has taken, much more horrific even than this, for which we have yet to make amends.
Most important is to learn the core lessons of such mistakes, and to implement changes to the system of government to avoid similar mistakes going forward. Alan Turing is a hero; we honor his sacrifice by learning and applying the lessons.
“Nearly 60 years after his death, Alan Turing, the British mathematician regarded as one of the central figures in the development of the computer, received a formal pardon from Queen Elizabeth II on Monday for his conviction in 1952 on charges of homosexuality, at the time a criminal offense in Britain.” New York Times
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other … – Rainer Maria Rilke
Note from Timothy: As a child in the mormon religion, it was drilled into me that absent that faith, life would be meaningless. Again and again I was told that only the eternity of life, immortality, would imbue the existence of this life, my life, with importance. That only the hope of heaven could assuage the pain of death and loss. For many years, I accepted this notion, simply because everyone I knew and loved told me it was so.
Later, however, upon leaving my religion, I found a different formulation of value. I found that the lack of certainty in my own immortality gave increase to the value of each day, each new friend, and each new experience. I had found that my joy had been amplified.
As I look back upon that time, as I have fewer and fewer conversations with those who are still within the faith of my childhood, it strikes me that they have yet to allow themselves to mourn for the losses that have and will occur in their lives; and absent that mourning, they are unable to accept anew and fully the emergence of new beauty, new love, new truth. By refusing to let that which we love perish, we miss the opportunity to experience it as it is, in its true nature. And in this way, we lose the value of everything. Freud had found the same idea.
Not long ago I went on a summer walk through a smiling countryside in the company of a taciturn friend and of a young but already famous poet. The poet admired the beauty of the scene around us but felt no joy in it. He was disturbed by the thought that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty and splendour that men have created or may create. All that he would otherwise have loved and admired seemed to him to be shorn of its worth by the transience which was its doom.
This is an amazing conversation; perhaps the pinnacle of modern sexual morality presented by seasoned voices of reason.
“The death penalty is a human system created by human beings, run by human beings. That means there is human error built into it. A human system is not capable of perfection. Government does nothing flawlessly. Government cannot flawlessly kill people. If you give government the power to kill people, you are giving government the power to make mistakes killing people, and government will make those mistakes. You couldn’t stop Troy Davis’ execution by just protesting Troy Davis’ execution. The only way to stop Troy Davis’ execution is to stop all executions.” – Lawrence O’Donnell
George Lakoff suggests that Obama’s April 13, 2011 speech provides a solid guide for how to talk about progressive issues:
“Last week, on April 13, 2011, President Obama gave all Democrats and all progressives a remarkable gift. Most of them barely noticed. They looked at the President’s speech as if it were only about budgetary details. But the speech went well beyond the budget. It went to the heart of progressive thought and the nature of American democracy, and it gave all progressives a model of how to think and talk about every issue.”
I’ve recently been working through George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics” and am persuaded that his research is vital to the future of rational politics.
Take the time to watch the speech, and then let’s discuss in more detail.