Let’s apologize for the universe
I saw this:
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LONDON, England (CNN)—British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued a posthumous apology for the “appalling” treatment of Alan Turing, the British code-breaker who was chemically castrated for being gay.
Here in the U.S. we are apologizing for slavery.
I was wondering if at VFR we could enumerate from history all the things for which we should apologize. We could start all the way at the beginning: I will apologize for God having created man in the first place. Oh wait a minute, I think he sort of did that himself:
“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth.”
Good for him, I’m feeling the same way these days…
Philip M. writes:
We already have community organisers and diversity co-ordinators. It’s getting to the point where we are going to need a full time apologiser.
Oh, sillly me. There’s already an Archbishop of Canterbury. Maybe God invented foreigners to give us someone to aplogise to?
“If your right eye offends thee, apologise to it”
Ken Hechtman writes:
I have to disagree here. “The universe” didn’t inject Alan Turing with estrogen until he grew breasts. The British government did it. And you shouldn’t need to approve of homosexuality to think that’s a pretty extreme thing to do.
My title was intended as a comment on Ben’s general point about Western society apologizing for everything, apologizing for its existence, and about God in Genesis “repenting that he had created man.” I’m not familiar with the Turing case; I’ll have to read up on it. If something terrible was done to him and I appeared to making light of that, I obviously don’t stand by that.
At the same time, without knowing anything about Turing, when I see yet another national apology coming from leftist Western leaders who are already in full bore campaign to destroy our civilization, there’s a natural first reaction to the very notion of the apology, not to the particulars of the case.
Turing was a leader in the development of the computer and cryptanalysis which was so important in the war. He’s considered one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century. Wikipedia has a lot on his scientific work.
But here is Wikipedia’s account of what happened to Turing in 1952:
Conviction for gross indecency
What was done to Turing is appalling.
In January 1952 Turing picked up 19-year-old Arnold Murray outside a cinema in Manchester. After a lunch date, Turing invited Murray to spend the weekend with him at his house, an invitation which Murray accepted although he did not show up. The pair met again in Manchester the following Monday, when Murray agreed to accompany Turing to the latter’s house. A few weeks later Murray visited Turing’s house again, and apparently spent the night there.
After Murray helped an accomplice to break into his house, Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and so both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the same crime that Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than fifty years earlier.
Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted chemical castration via oestrogen hormone injections, which lasted for a year. One of the known side effects of these hormone injections was the development of breasts, known as gynecomastia, something which plagued Turing for the rest of his life. Turing’s conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for GCHQ. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents, possibly due to the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, as with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work.
On 8 June 1954, Turing’s cleaner found him dead; the previous day, he had died of cyanide poisoning, apparently from a cyanide-laced apple he left half-eaten beside his bed. The apple itself was never tested for contamination with cyanide, but a post-mortem established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. Most believe that his death was intentional, and the death was ruled a suicide. He was cremated at Woking crematorium on 12 June 1954.
But is an apology by the prime minister of Great Britain 57 years after the event appropriate? I say no. First, how can a person, even a head of government, apologize for something done by other people in the past? Yes, a government leader can state that things done by the government in the past were wrong. But an “apology” is inappropriate, over the top, and a repellant combination of preening and groveling in which the morally superior apologizer grovels on behalf of his own country, dragging down his own country. If government leaders had to issue a public apology for every wrong ever done by their government, there’d be no end to it, all Western governments and countries would be seen as illegitimate (which the libertarians and the left would love).
Enough with apologies. If something done by your government in the past was wrong, you bring out the facts, and you say your country doesn’t do that kind of thing any more. You don’t apologize. Only a leader who despises his country would do that.
And to repeat, an apology, when it comes from anyone other than the party who committed the objectionable act, is an absurdity.
James P. writes (his comment was sent before my exchange with Ken Hechtman was posted):
It would be one thing if Turing was wrongly convicted, but Turing was definitely guilty of breaking the law as it then existed, and the government applied the penalty prescribed by the law is it was then written, so what exactly is there to apologize for? It appears that in the liberal worldview, not merely all present law, but all past law must conform to modern standards of “social justice.” The idea that the law consists of a meaningful set of rules that we can apply to determine which acts are legal and which are illegal is completely obsolete, even in retrospect. If the rules as stated are (or at any time ever were) “unfair” or make a designated victim group feel bad, then they should be set aside.
All that aside, of course, an apology to a dead man for the actions of other dead men is utterly meaningless.
James’s statement may be better than mine. I still left open the idea of a current leader calling the previous laws of his country wrong. While that’s not as bad as an apology, it still contains the elements of national groveling which is not true and which has the effect of delegitimizing the country. The country’s laws in the past were its laws. They were properly passed by legislatures which believed in the correctness of what they were doing. If we now believe that those laws were wrong, we change them. We don’t grovel. Unless we’re talking about laws that were of a criminal nature, involving mass killings or things of that nature, I see no reason for a national leader to condemn the previous laws of his country. The only apology the current crop of apologizing presidents and prime ministers should make is for their own apologies.
If it is right and appropriate for the prime minister of Great Britain to apologize for a cruel medical treatment imposed on a homosexual law violator in 1952, then it’s right and appropriate for the prime minister to apologize for every wrongful act ever committed by the government of Britain and England throughout the centuries. In the Middle Ages, political criminals were executed by the inconceivably barbaric method of hanging the prisoner until he was almost dead, then cutting open his abdomen and pulling out his intestines, and then having four horses pull the body of the prisoner into four pieces. Should Gordon “The Undead” Brown apologize for all such past executions? What about the executions by burning of Protestant and Catholic martyrs in the 16th century? What about—oh, there’s no end to it. Further, we can’t have some collective apology covering all past victims. No, each victim in the past must receive his or her own express statement of apology and contrition from the PM.
Again, by the same logic that supposedly necessitated an apology in the case of Turing, an apology is necessary for every act of cruelty and oppression Britain and England has ever committed against individuals. But of course the apologizing culture is not interested in all acts of oppression; it’s interested in acts of oppression against today’s favored victim groups, such as homosexuals.
Wait—I failed to mention Britain’s horrendous oppressions of the Irish over the centuries. But perhaps Britain has already paid sufficiently for that, by letting the Irish immigrate en mass into Britain and gain power in British politics.
Ken Hechtman writes:
I haven’t really decided what I think about this business of official government apologies.
On the one hand, I’m fine with the idea that when a new government comes in, especially in a peaceful and legal transition, it automatically inherits all the liabilities of the previous government in the same way that it inherits all the assets. And that extends to moral assets and liabilities as well. If Gordon Brown wants to take vicarious credit for VE Day, he also has to take vicarious responsibility for Alan Turning.
On the other hand, it does seem a bit pointless to issue an open-ended series of official apologies that aren’t part of a once-and-for-all settlement and don’t clean the slate forever. Two examples:
My grandfather was offered Holocaust compensation money three times. He never took it. The way he understood it, if he took the money, he’d have to acknowledge that the Polish government had made everything right and he had no more business holding a grudge. And he wasn’t ready to do that. But he wasn’t public about it, much less political. Since there wasn’t anything that would make it right, he didn’t demand anything. The only public gesture he ever made was that he left Poland and came to live here.
Recently, the Prime Minister of Canada issued an official apology to Indians who were beaten and tortured and raped in the residential school system 50 years ago. My Mohawk friends are mounting a public campaign denouncing the apology as insufficient and the Assembly of First Nations as sellouts for accepting it. So I had to ask them “If Stephen Harper’s apology didn’t satisfy you, what would? What do you want? A better-worded apology? More compensation money? Criminal prosecutions of the last surviving priests and nuns? What would get you to drop this as a live political issue?” And they didn’t know. They hadn’t thought about it.
Mr. Hechtman, who is on the left, has just revealed a fundamental weakness of the left that conservatives consistently fail to see and to exploit. The left makes some demand on society, expresses some grievance about some injustice. The conservatives never ask the left:
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 11, 2009 02:15 PM | Send
WHAT DO YOU SEEK? WHAT IS YOUR BOTTOM LINE? WHAT WOULD BE THE STATE OF SOCIETY IN WHICH YOU FELT THAT SOCIETY WAS NOT BEING UNJUST?
If conservatives would ask liberals this question, they would find that the liberals either have no bottom line, as in the above case, or that their notion of a just society was utopian and could never be attained. Which means that the liberals will keep denying the legitimacy of society forever. Which further means that that no point in society trying to satisfy the liberal demands, because there is no end to them.
Conservatives never get this. They keep dealing with each discreet demand or grievance from liberals, and never see the overall shape and direction of liberalism, which is to keep denying the society’s moral legitimacy forever, leading ultimately to the society’s self-extinction.