Abusing Alan Turing

The centennial of Alan Turing’s birth brings us the news that Alan Turing probably did not commit suicide by eating a poisoned apple, was not depressed at the time of his death, and that the hormone treatments intended to suppress his homosexual urges had been discontinued a year before he died. I am not in the least surprised by any of this; in fact I have been half-expecting such inversions ever since I began noticing, twenty years or so ago, the increasing mythologization of Turing’s life.

This centennial seems a good time to consider how we re-invent – and sometimes abuse – the great figures of our past to suit the needs of the present. When biography turns into a packaged morality play, it is always wise to suspect that the actual facts and complexities of the subject’s life are being lost. When that morality play satisfies obvious propaganda needs for political or cultural factions in the present, we should be even more suspicious. And when certain recurring mythological themes – such as holy martyrdom – develop increasing prominence in interpretation of the subject’s life over time, it’s a red flag signalling that contact with the facts and the subject is probably being lost.

Over the last couple of decades I have watched this process take hold of and transform our cultural memory of what Turing’s life was about. I titled this essay “Abusing Alan Turing” because I think the process has twisted that narrative into a shape Turing himself would have found belittling and barely recognizable. I do not think the man who wrote “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” would have wanted to be remembered as a holy victim, with the defining event of his life being a suicide invented by future partisans. It is worth examining how we came to this pass.

I see several reasons for the mythologization of Alan Turing. The most benign one – of which Turing might have approved – is that computer science has been scrambling to achieve the kind of respectability and professional status long afforded to fields like medicine and the law. One of the characteristics of such professions is that they have hero-myths about great figures in their past who can be seen as foundational or exemplary. Doctors have Hippocrates; lawyers have Thomas More. Each profession seems to need to develop its own exemplars, and the young field of computer science has sought its own.

If this were all that was going on around Turing, though, it wouldn’t be necessary to distort his life. Turing’s intellectual work really did make him a worthy exemplar of the field by about any standard one could conceive. It is instructive to compare him with Ada Lovelace, whose reputation as “the first programmer” is undeserved, resting on a common but severe misrepresentation of the facts.

Ada Lovelace has been falsely mythologized as the first programmer because she was a woman. In a present struggling with issues of sexual equality, her femaleness has served propaganda purposes too obvious to need rehearsing. Turing’s homosexuality, too, has become a sort of marker or talking point in today’s culture wars. The difference is Ada Lovelace was a figure of little consequence in her own time who would probably enjoy her enhanced modern reputation if she could experience it. Turing, on the other hand, is increasingly diminished by the uses we now put him to.

It is not just that the common account of Turing’s death is probably false, it’s that even if it were true it would risk submerging the man’s staggering accomplishments in political correctness and tawdry cliche. Yes, yes, repression, anti-gay prejudice, I know all right-thinking people are supposed to be horrified by such things – but the man who (more than any other single person) cracked the Enigma code and unified computer programming with mathematical logic deserves to to be remembered for those things, not for the accident of his sexual preferences or a myth of final martyrdom later forcibly grafted onto his life.

But the queasiest thing about the myths of Turing-the-exemplar and Turing-the-victim is how they’ve become intertwined. It says no good thing about the year 2012 that Turing’s supposed marginalization by the society of his time has become in many popular accounts a perverse credential for his greatness. In fact he was not marginalized at all – he was a prominent Cambridge don and a hero of his country.who had been awarded the Order of the British Empire. Rather than confront Turing’s homosexuality, the British authorities from the arresting constable on up tried to look the other way and gave every easy out they could; Turing, through some combination of carelessness and self-destructiveness, took none of them.

More: behind much of today’s hagiography there seems to lurk a sort of perverse insistence that if Turing hadn’t been gay and a suicide he would be less apt for veneration, as a founder of computer science or anything else. In what is now made of Turing’s life we see an implicit claim that virtue can only be found in the outsider, the failure, the martyr, the victim of oppression. That is perhaps the most important reason (beyond respect for the man himself) to remember that Alan Turing was none of these things.

320 thoughts on “Abusing Alan Turing

  1. Another thing that never gets mentioned is that it was not like there was some general witch hunt in Britain trying to forcefully “out” and force-treat gay people. It was more after Turning went to the police and filled in a report against his gay lover for robbing his apartment, some overly eager policeman thought it is an easy case of killing two birds with one stone.

  2. From the link you mentioned (though: using Wikipedia as primary source?), it looks like Ada Lovelace was first documentation writer (which is also very important task), isn’t it ;-PPPP?

  3. >Rather than confront Turing’s homosexuality, the British authorities from the arresting constable on up tried to look the other way and gave every easy out they could; Turing, through some combination of carelessness and self-destructiveness, took none of them.

    Maybe he was just tired of hiding it?

  4. “Rather than confront Turing’s homosexuality, the British authorities from the arresting constable on up tried to look the other way and gave every easy out they could; Turing, through some combination of carelessness and self-destructiveness, took none of them.”

    I don’t think it was overt; Turing did what he did because he was just tired of living in the closet, and subconciously wanted to strike back at his society for their attitudes. “I helped save the nation, they gave me a medal, yet they’ll punish me for the way I was born.”

  5. LS: That is a very 2012 (or even 1975) interpretation for events in the 1950s. Note that a number of the man’s contemporaries who had the same preferences (Arthur Clarke most prominent among them) managed to find their way through society even with the then-present social norms.

    One thing to take away from this: Scandals live longer than achievements in the shaping of a legacy; what you did LAST is what gets remembered most. This is something that most every politician at the state level has learned and what every political handler on the national level dreads.

  6. I found the alternative account fascinating, showing a Turing who was delightfully — if carelessly — odd in ways that had nothing to do with whom he chose to shag, a bit like Sherlock Holmes with the home-grown completely unprofessional science experiments.

    That said, it is still an objectively monstrous policy to criminalize an uncommon but natural sexual inclination and to force those so inclined to choose between jail and forced hormone treatments. I’m reminded of the misguided people who attempt to chemically castrate their autistic children under the rubric that their brains are “too male” or somesuch.

  7. > The centennial of Alan Turing’s birth brings us the news that Alan Turing probably did not commit suicide by eating a poisoned apple, was not depressed at the time of his death, and that the hormone treatments intended to suppress his homosexual urges had been discontinued a year before he died.

    If I’m to describe this to other people, it’d be helpful to have a decent citation or two.

  8. >LS: That is a very 2012 (or even 1975) interpretation for events in the 1950s. Note that a number of the man’s contemporaries who had the same preferences (Arthur Clarke most prominent among them) managed to find their way through society even with the then-present social norms.

    I agree. A homosexual Cambridge don wouldn’t have been a particularly outre or marginalized figure even in the Britain of 1900, let alone the Britain of 1950.

  9. More than a bit of “Beyond Good and Evil” in this piece, don’t you think?

  10. Whether intentional or not, he killed himself according to that article;)

  11. I agree. Turing was more interesting for his work than for his homosexuality. And I often have the sense that people do not celebrate straightforward success, accomplishment, and happiness enough. The people who do great things and feel just fine are just as praiseworthy as tortured, tragic figures.

  12. It may not have been self-destructiveness that caused Turing to avoid taking the ‘easy’ way out. He may simply have been the sort of person who valued truth above all things, and insisted on telling the truth. A lot of great thinkers are like that; it’s one of the reasons they get that way. Though of course it does sometimes lands them in trouble in their dealings with others.

  13. > [...] a suicide invented by future partisans.

    My understanding is that an inquest shortly after his death ruled it a suicide, which makes this characterization incorrect – it may have been *used* by future partisans, and they may have been overly trusting of it because it fit their narrative, but that’s not the same thing as invention.

  14. >myth of final martyrdom later forcibly grafted onto his life.

    I agree with your general point, but I think the ‘grafted’ is wrong here: Turing was officially proclaimed a suicide by a contemporary inquest, not by some 60’s counter-culture leaning hippie hacker.

    On the contrary, it would not be far-fetched to assume that what made ‘suicide’ the default interpretation of his death was indeed his homosexuality. The BBC article you link to quotes the coroner in the case as saying: “In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next.”

    THat was the standard thinking about gays for many decades: if you do not ‘cure’ them, they will die a tragic death. The same has happened to many Jewish public figures – how can an intellectual Jew _not_ be a suicidal neurotic? A recent, well-known case in Italy is the death of Primo Levi, immediately described as ‘suicide’ even if he left no note behind …

  15. >He may simply have been the sort of person who valued truth above all things, and insisted on telling the truth.

    Curious that he waited until he was 40 to do it, then. One would expect him to have outed himself decades sooner.

  16. Are you suggesting he should have hidden away in the closet to keep some police officers happy? Lived as a second-class citizen and never reported any crimes he was the victim of?

  17. @Kevin Cantu: I do not see no such suggestion in this post.
    This post does not talk at all about whether Alan Turing was right or wrong, careless or not in outing himself. It talks about the relatively minor significance of this particular episode for Turing’s legacy and that it probably not be the kind of legacy Turing would have wanted to be remembered for.

  18. Sarah, you are correct that it’s difficult now to celebrate achievement openly. It is much easier to do so under the cover of tragic personal circumstances, membership in oppressed groups, some type of status as a victim, etc.

    Howard Hughes is a perfect example. He has two strikes against him: he inherited a fortune and he dared to achieve great things. But he has debilitating mental illness in his favor! It’s been said (I forget where I read this, it’s not my observation) that Scorsese’s _The Aviator_ could only get away with presenting Hughes in somewhat-heroic light because of this mitigating factor.

  19. >I agree with your general point, but I think the ‘grafted’ is wrong here

    Even given that the verdict of suicide and mental instability was contemporary, this doesn’t make the myth of martyrdom any less a later projection. The meaning of “a nutter who offed himself” is different from the meaning of “a homosexual oppressed by heteronormative society offed himself”. I am highly doubtful that Turing ever saw himself in such victimological terms – there’s no trace of such an attitude in his writings or the stories told by his contemporaries.

    A “man of his type” – it’s not even clear to me that the coroner was necessarily referring to Turing’s homosexuality here, nor if he was that he didn’t have it entangled with ideas about what eccentric, stuttering Oxbridge dons and intellectuals in general were like. When I was living in England, fifteen years after Turing’s death, it was still pretty common in the British working- and lower-middle-classes to conflate ponciness with intellectualism. It may still be.

  20. The BBC article about Copeland’s research makes it reasonable to call into question the narrative of Turing being driven to suicide by his persecution for being a homosexual. It does not, however, persuade me that his death was anything other than a suicide. The coroner found four ounces of cyanide in Turing’s stomach. That seems very difficult to explain as an accident.

  21. Kevin,

    It’s one of the terrible, and I think less-understood, consequences of criminalizing victim-less behaviors: it puts you outside of the law. If your drug dealer gives you short weight, what are you supposed to do about it?

  22. So Ada Lovelace is the first published programmer, and Charles Babbage is supposedly the first programmer? But if she made the table in note G, then how can we be sure she is not the first programmer? Her sketches speaks for themselves, do they not? They describe all that we consider part of modern programming, variables, subroutines, and iteration.

  23. > In what is now made of Turing’s life we see an implicit claim that virtue can only be found in the [...] the victim of oppression. [...] Alan Turing was none of these things.

    In what universe do you have to live where having to choose between jail and chemical castration isn’t oppression?

  24. In contrast, this article (from the day before esr’s cite, and part of the same week-long series from the BBC honoring Turing) seems to propagate the same “misunderstood gay rebel” memes.

    One wonders if it is merely a consequence of that   author’s particular agenda.

  25. Rather than confront Turing’s homosexuality, the British authorities from the arresting constable on up tried to look the other way and gave every easy out they could; Turing, through some combination of carelessness and self-destructiveness, took none of them.

    This shabby projection reminds me of the various advices offered to Prof. Gates when he was arrested for insufficient deference to armed cretins while black in his own home. Sniveling liberal wankers might be fine living like that, but men are not. While a man might set aside his self-respect while working on more important tasks, eventually such tasks are either complete or unsalvageable. At that point either the bullshit or the tolerance for it stops. If you haven’t been there, don’t act like you have, and attempt to distract us with coulda-shoulda-wouldas.

    I would agree with the basic point that Turing should be remembered for his greatness rather than his society’s shallowness. From a historical standpoint, that will certainly be the case eventually. In future societies blessed with more flexible norms, Turing’s death will be a paragraph and his orientation a footnote. That isn’t the case for us, and as one would expect it says more about us than about Turing.

  26. @ Eiki Martinson:

    If your drug dealer gives you short weight, what are you supposed to do about it?

    Why, you grab your nine, go round up your posse, and you bust a cap in that mutherf***er’s ass. And for good measure, you whack his whole gang, too. Gotta teach them a lesson.

    Hence, the violence of Detroit. Or Mexico.

  27. >In what universe do you have to live where having to choose between jail and chemical castration isn’t oppression?

    But Turing wasn’t limited to those choices – the system that ‘oppressed’ him valued him greatly and was actively trying to keep him out of that kind of trouble. Think instead of duckspeaking!

  28. “Note that a number of the man’s contemporaries who had the same preferences (Arthur Clarke most prominent among them) managed to find their way through society even with the then-present social norms.”

    Clarke left the country to go diddle little Sri Lankan boys… cough, cough, I mean for Sir Lanka’s fine scuba diving. Clarke “managed” his way in 50s England by completely leaving it.

  29. “In what is now made of Turing’s life we see an implicit claim that virtue can only be found in the outsider, the failure, the martyr, the victim of oppression. That is perhaps the most important reason (beyond respect for the man himself) to remember that Alan Turing was none of these things.”

    This closing sentence almost sinks the rest of the essay, which is very good and raises points worth considering.

    How can it possibly be claimed that Turing was not a “victim of oppression?” He was subjected to chemical treatments because of his sexuality. That… isn’t oppression?

  30. @John Booty I think it just means he didn’t define himself as a victim, or participate in the “culture of victimhood” (which was coined much later).

  31. “But Turing wasn’t limited to those choices – the system that ‘oppressed’ him valued him greatly and was actively trying to keep him out of that kind of trouble. Think instead of duckspeaking!”

    Oppression that can be avoided is still oppression. Call it “avoidable oppression” or “potentially-avoidable oppression” if you like, but come on.

    If a cop stands outside your front door and threatens to beat you, but it’s possible to avoid him by using your back door, surely that’s oppression no matter how avoidable?

    Being forced to hide part of one’s identity represents a diminishing of one’s freedom. I understand your point that many were willing to “look the other way” due to his status, accomplishments, and vocation. However, when one’s freedom depends on others’ mercy and willingness to look the other way, that’s pretty much the definition of oppression.

  32. > But Turing wasn’t limited to those choices – the system that ‘oppressed’ him
    > valued him greatly and was actively trying to keep him out of that kind of trouble.
    So it’s okay to chemically castrate homosexuals as long as they’re on their third strike, and you really don’t want to? Just because he was stoic about it, doesn’t make it right.

  33. I’m still chewing over “objectively monstrous ” … which is a coinage of Princess Bride proportions.

  34. >That… isn’t oppression?

    No, not when it took wilfully self-destructive behavior to put Turing in that dock when the system was trying its damnedest to keep him out of it.

    Many people seem to miss the full point of the fact that the police and prosecutors strenuously resisted taking official notice of Turing’s proclivities. They weren’t waiting to pounce on a hapless gay; Turing walked himself unto that position. The man had a top-secret clearance; it isn’t possible that MI5 didn’t know he was homosexual, especially since by contemporary standards there were ex ante reasons for them to suspect it when he was being vetted for war work.

  35. @sep332

    Yes, I think that’s the intended message. Based on a lot of the evidence, Turing didn’t seem to define himself as a victim. (Of course, it’s also possible that’s simply the image he wished to project for professional reasons or as a statement of defiance. We don’t know.)

    However, you don’t have to have some sort of victim mentality in order to *be* a victim. I would never define myself as a victim, although (like most people on Earth) I’ve certainly been the victim of various things: illness, loss, crime, etc.

    In contrast to ESR’s closing statement above, Turing was certainly a victim of oppression, even if he didn’t define himself as a victim.

  36. So it’s okay to chemically castrate homosexuals as long as they’re on their third strike, and you really don’t want to? Just because he was stoic about it, doesn’t make it right.

    Nobody said that was “right”. Nobody in their right mind would, either.

    Now: Try reading what people actually say, rather than reading whatever you need them to have said to give you a good excuse to poutrage.

  37. >Just because he was stoic about it, doesn’t make it right.

    Nobody is claiming it was “right”. But there is no indication that Turing saw himself as a “victim of oppression”, so why should we?

  38. > But Turing wasn’t limited to those choices – the system that ‘oppressed’ him valued him greatly and was actively trying to keep him out of that kind of trouble.
    In order to get out of “that kind of trouble,” he has to deny his identity as a gay man. That option is no less oppression, as he is unable to live freely as a homosexual.

  39. > No, not when it took wilfully self-destructive behavior
    > to put Turing in that dock when the system was trying
    > its damnedest to keep him out of it.

    No, Eric. That’s oppression.

    You can certainly argue that Turing was given special treatment (seems factually and objectively true) or was foolish or self-destructive (problematic, but true from some perspectives) but that’s orthogonal to whether or not he punished by the state for his sexual identity.

    Your line of thinking would seem to suggest that 1960s-era civil rights marchers weren’t victims of oppression either. After all, they could have chosen to stay home instead of marching. Had they done so, they would have avoided being beaten and firehosed by police.

  40. “Curious that he until he was 40 to do it, then. One would expect him to have outed himself decades sooner.”

    Midlife crisis…yet another mental pressure point…might have been the final straw.

  41. I wonder if you are over analyzing this Eric. It seems to me that Alan Turing is famous for the gay poison apple thing more because “gay” or “suicide” is something the general public can understand, whereas Entscheidungsproblem, no so much.

    Of course whenever there is such a Disney phenomenon as a poison apple, one has to question the veracity, or at least the motivations of the perpetrators of the mythology. Nonetheless, if you stopped fifty people in the street, how many would know who Donald Knuth, Niklaus Wirth or John von Neumann were? Not many I suspect, and they are surely comparable.

    Which of course is not to deny that Turing’s contribution to the foundations of modern technology are of spectacular importance. But people understand what they understand, and without the apple story Turing’s real contributions would probably be no less obscure to most than they are today.

    And in a sense, the story, true or not, does have a lesson of value to tell. I often wonder what the deal was during the war. You can’t get more sensitive than code breaking, and in that environment I would have though that the spooks would not want a gay person working on it. Even today in the US military I think gay would be a major barrier to entry in many sensitive fields, and this was Britain in the 1940s. But you never know. With Blunt, Burgess and Mclean, I guess I might misunderstand that political environment of the time.

  42. REPL:

    In order to get out of “that kind of trouble,” he has to deny his identity as a gay man. That option is no less oppression

    You’re assuming that Turing saw “gay man” as part of his identity. What indications do we have of this?

    A better question: What did “gay identity” even mean in the 1950s, if it existed? Let’s not try and read our current ideas of that into his situation at the time.

  43. > But there is no indication that Turing saw himself as
    > a “victim of oppression”, so why should we?

    Because it’s factually true that he was oppressed because of his sexuality.

    His stoicism and refusal to view himself as a victim is admirable! I think we all agree that it’s a credit to a great man and his legacy.

  44. @Jessica Boxer He didn’t have to renounce it completely, just officially. Not having been “oppressed” in the same way I don’t even know if that’s a huge deal? After all there are lots of sexual behaviors that are illegal in public, sure it’s a hassle to some people but it’s not exactly persecution. I mean it’s not like gay people were completely “hidden” at that time.

  45. >In order to get out of “that kind of trouble,” he has to deny his identity as a gay man. That option is no less oppression, as he is unable to live freely as a homosexual.

    See, this is you projecting present preoccupations onto the past. It’s not clear that Turing even had an “identity as a gay man”, much less that he fussed over it in the obsessive, self-dramatized way modern gays have been taught to.

    I rather doubt it, actually. If you’d been able to get Turing to describe himself completely honestly, words like “mathematician”, “thinker”, and “intellectual” would probably come out first, with “homosexual” way down the list and probably not of great relative importance. I say this in part because I’ve known people like that – it is good to bear in mind that I’ve lived in Great Britain and attended a British public school (though that latter was in Rome).

  46. but the man who (more than any other single person) cracked the Enigma code and unified computer programming with mathematical logic deserves to to be remembered for those things, not for the accident of his sexual preferences or a myth of final martyrdom later forcibly grafted onto his life.

    This. It’s truly sad that more people aren’t awed by the man’s accomplishments, not the incidentals of his personal life. The man’s accomplishments are the stuff of legend without the surrounding mythos of the persecuted martyr, whether factual or not.

  47. >Your line of thinking would seem to suggest that 1960s-era civil rights marchers weren’t victims of oppression either.

    Doesn’t follow. The civil rights marchers were asserting themselves against behaviors that were unquestionably oppressive – segregated lunch counters and so forth. The system around them was actively defending Jim Crow laws, and deployed violence to quash them. Turing wasn’t in that situation or anything even nearly parallel to it.

    >punished by the state for his sexual identity.

    Sloppy thinking. Turing was punished for behavior, not for asserting a homosexual “identity” that it is doubtful he even conceptualized in today’s terms. This was not a man acting in political solidarity with fellow gays; he didn’t perform any public gesture of defiance or symbolism, he just…fucked up.

  48. It seems you and Copeland are performing your own form of hagiography to me.

  49. I would agree with the basic point that Turing should be remembered for his greatness rather than his society’s shallowness. From a historical standpoint, that will certainly be the case eventually. In future societies blessed with more flexible norms, Turing’s death will be a paragraph and his orientation a footnote. That isn’t the case for us, and as one would expect it says more about us than about Turing.

    Agreed. The use of Turing’s example to flog a political issue will last for as long as there is a perceived need to flog that issue.

    What Turing gave civilization will last forever.

    It seems to me that Alan Turing is famous for the gay poison apple thing more because “gay” or “suicide” is something the general public can understand, whereas Entscheidungsproblem, no so much.

    If I had to single out one thing Turing was “famous for”, it’d be the Turing test. William Gibson used to like to bandy his name about while being blissfully ignorant of the Entscheidungsproblem, computability theory, the implications of UTMs, etc. In particular Gibson’s grimdark society of the future had a “Turing Registry” under which all Turing-test-passing AIs had to be registered, so they can be monitored and prevented from taking over the world.

    But the reasons you state are dead-on: computability is hard, but the scary possibility of computers at least as smart as us is something everyone can understand viscerally.

  50. I’m not sure this applies to Turing specifically, but I take issue with the “own damn fault” theory of blame.

    That’s when, if party A attacks party B, we blame B for having insufficiently protected himself from the risk of an attack by A.

    “If you didn’t want to get sent to the Gulag, you shouldn’t have said something bad about Stalin in public. It’s your Own Damn Fault.”

    “If you didn’t want to get raped/mugged, you shouldn’t have been out after dark. It’s your Own Damn Fault.”

    “If you didn’t want to get attacked by terrorists, your country shouldn’t have done things that exacerbate the terrorists’ grievances. It’s your Own Damn Fault.”

    “If you didn’t want to get bullied, you shouldn’t have been a weird kid. It’s your Own Damn Fault.”

    People make these kinds of arguments when the aggressor seems like an abstract monster, a violent force of nature — something beyond the reach of exhortation. They take the aggressor’s nature as a given, and think of it as the victim’s responsibility to hide, or be more pleasant to the aggressor, to avoid attack. The problem with this attitude is that it never inflicts any consequences on the aggressor, so you’ll always get more aggression. “Don’t do anything to make the bullies mad” is no kind of a long-term strategy.

  51. Being forced to hide part of one’s identity represents a diminishing of one’s freedom.

    I have some pretty strong philosophical and religious views that could potentially jeopardize my employment status where I to talk about them with my employer or co-workers. So I must keep them to myself. Does that make me oppressed? No, of course it doesn’t.

    Bull. Everyone has secrets that they can’t share because of societal standards. Everyone. And yes, reasonable people can disagree whether any given societal standard is wrong. Even absent oppressive laws, societies would develop unwritten standards that all their neighbors are expected to adhere to, at least in public.

    Frankly, I don’t care about other peoples’ sex lives, nor do I wish to broadcast details about mine. Gay, straight, furry, whatever — I don’t care. None of my damn business. Does that make me oppressive for wanting to live in a society that really doesn’t talk about the lurid details about who’s shagging who?

  52. > Because it’s factually true that he was oppressed because of his sexuality.
    > His stoicism and refusal to view himself as a victim is admirable

    This mindset strikes me as problematic.

    Look at the word ‘oppressed’. It’s usually considered to have negative connotations, and the common implication is that it’s both unfair and that it should be reversed or compensated; oppressed serves as the antonym of free!

    Let’s say that I’m a high-functioning autistic. Many aspects of life may be more difficult for me than for other people, but some aspects of the world simply open themselves up to me.

    Now let’s say that I get in some form of trouble (perhaps I lose my job, or perhaps I get arrested, or perhaps I represent myself at a trial and lose everything) due to an escalation of misunderstandings easily explained by sub-par social skills. This is an easily conceivable outcome for a high-functioning autistic.

    If you would offer the same social status to people with autism as you would to people who are homosexual, would you say I were oppressed? (This is presuming that overt aspects of autism may generally be hidden. In the case of high-functioning autistic folks, this is true.)

    I don’t believe I would feel very oppressed. I don’t feel I require any more quarter than any other man, save for what my own efforts may bring me. To declare me ‘oppressed’, you imply that I’m incapable of achieving a fair end for myself, and so you would like to see that fair ends are achieved *for* me.

    In my real experience, when people seek to grant me fair ends, they believe they know what ends I should achieve, and they actively crimp and prevent me from achieving my ends on my own. (The nanny state is much like a smothering mother; it tries to keep you where it thinks you should be, and you’re stuck protesting with “Mom! It’s OK! I know how to get to the corner store by myself!”)

  53. >The system around them was actively defending Jim Crow laws, and deployed violence to quash them. Turing wasn’t in that situation or anything even nearly parallel to it.

    I suspect he found himself in such a situation after his own conviction – in the Britain of the 50’s that must have been quite an ordeal, something a person without a network of solid friends might not have been able to survive.

    I’m thinking of John Gielgud, the great actor, a national celebrity, arrested for indencency in 1953 (IIRC), he almost retired from the shame, convinced that his carrer was finished, and did not go back to Hollywood for years, as he would not have been given a visa.

    It was an extroardinarily hypocritical system, true, but it could also be very, very cruel …

  54. > This was not a man acting in political solidarity with fellow gays;
    > he didn’t perform any public gesture of defiance or symbolism,
    > he just…fucked up.
    Am I missing some part of his life history here? Where was the fuckup?

  55. ‘Nobody is claiming it was “right”. But there is no indication that Turing saw himself as a “victim of oppression”, so why should we?’

    I see Turing as a victim of oppression because he was forcibly given chemical castration agents by the state, which is oppression in any way I look at it. I’m not sure why it matters if he considered himself a victim — that realization is not required for oppression to happen.

    ‘More: behind much of today’s hagiography there seems to lurk a sort of perverse insistence that if Turing hadn’t been gay and a suicide he would be less apt for veneration, as a founder of computer science or anything else. In what is now made of Turing’s life we see an implicit claim that virtue can only be found in the outsider, the failure, the martyr, the victim of oppression.’

    Is there some reason Turing cannot be venerated for his accomplishments and also at the same time have been a victim of oppression? It seems to me that your own bias against “political correctness” and the “culture war” is the reason you see acknowledgement of Turing’s oppression as somehow lessening his value as a historically significant figure.

  56. > People make these kinds of arguments when the aggressor seems like an abstract monster, a violent force of nature — something beyond the reach of exhortation.
    >They take the aggressor’s nature as a given, and think of it as the victim’s responsibility to hide, or be more pleasant to the aggressor, to avoid attack.
    >The problem with this attitude is that it never inflicts any consequences on the aggressor, so you’ll always get more aggression.
    >“Don’t do anything to make the bullies mad” is no kind of a long-term strategy.

    My father always told me to never start a fight, but always to finish it. I usually failed on both fronts, but I did come away wiser, regardless:

    1) Don’t taunt bullies.
    2) Don’t do things when you should know better.
    3) OK, you did it, and got your butt kicked. Now you know better.
    4) Pick your battles.

    Maneuvering around and away from conflict is an incredibly important life skill. You can’t afford to fight every battle you might foresee, so it’s important to avoid the confrontations you don’t want to spend the time fighting.

    As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to add two more elements to that list:
    5) Don’t fight others’ battles for them. Fight them for you.
    6) That hurt, didn’t it? Now learn to recognize when others’ battles really are yours.

  57. Sarah,

    I’m not sure this applies to Turing specifically, but I take issue with the “own damn fault” theory of blame.

    “Blame” encompasses two very different concepts. We’ll roll with your rape example. It could mean one of two things:

    1) The victim is morally responsible for her rape because she passed out drunk at a party.

    2) She could have avoided it by not being passed out drunk at a party.

    They might seem similar, but they are very different things. 2) does not lay “blame” at the feet of anyone; indeed, one can agree with 2) while thinking that the rapist must always the one who is morally and legally responsible for rape. In the case of gay people, we can agree that (bringing it forward to the modern day) that regimes like Saudi Arabia treat them in a really, really terrible way that needs to be changed, while still believing that carrying a Pride Flag through Riyadh is also a really shitty idea if they value their safety.

  58. > I’m still chewing over “objectively monstrous ” … which is a coinage of Princess Bride proportions.

    Depends on if you believe there to be an objective/absolute morality.

  59. > “homosexual” way down the list and probably not of great relative importance

    I’m not sure why this matters. To boil it down to the simplest possible parts, Turing was:
    a) Homosexual
    b) Unable to *freely* engage in homosexual relations
    And thus oppressed. Whether a) wasn’t important to his identity is entirely beside the point.

  60. @ Lewis: well, yeah.
    As an individual, you’re going to want to protect yourself in the short term by being pragmatic and not doing stuff that gets you attacked. But in the long term, groups of people should figure out some way to hold aggressors accountable. That’s why we have laws to punish criminals, for instance.

    And when one individual does something dumb and gets attacked, it seems like better long-term strategy for the rest of us to say “Let’s punish the aggressors so this doesn’t happen again,” than to say “What a dummy, he/she deserved it.” Aggressors notice when there are no negative consequences to their actions. Sooner or later, it won’t just be a few dummies here and there who get hurt — it’ll be some of the people who thought of themselves as “smart.”

  61. Pingback: The Alan Turing buffet | imagine27

  62. >I’m not sure this applies to Turing specifically, but I take issue with the “own damn fault” theory of blame.

    I don’t think it does apply.

    I agree with your general point, but what Turing did wasn’t like insulting Stalin. He wasn’t that kind of implicit threat to the legitimacy of the system either before or after he outed himself. Not in the way that, for example, anti-segregation marchers in the American South were.

    >“If you didn’t want to get bullied, you shouldn’t have been a weird kid. It’s your Own Damn Fault.”

    I have previously argued that, while this is a bad microtheory, there is a very similar-sounding one that isn’t bogus. “If you don’t want to be bullied, you shouldn’t deliberately other yourself.” Think carefully about the difference between “being weird” and “deliberately othering yourself”. It encapsulates Turing’s error pretty neatly.

  63. Imagine what further, more amazing ideas he would have given the world if he’d been able to work productively for another few decades without any risk of chemical mutilations and prison time. It is really our loss.

  64. >Am I missing some part of his life history here? Where was the fuckup?

    Putting on the police record the fact that the man who had burgled his house was his homosexual lover qualifies, I think, as a serious – and utterly pointless – fuckup.

  65. >b) Unable to *freely* engage in homosexual relations

    Oh, bullshit. I am unable to wander around “freely” boffing every woman who might like to get it on with me on a public street. This doesn’t make me oppressed.

    Before you protest that this a ridiculous analogy, how do you know I don’t have a secret identity as a streetosexual? Maybe all my self, all my passion, is given in my heart of hearts to fantasies about public fornication. Exercise: explain why streetosexuals are not valorized by the bien pensants of our culture in the same way homosexuals are.

  66. >magine what further, more amazing ideas he would have given the world if he’d been able to work productively for another few decades without any risk of chemical mutilations and prison time. It is really our loss.

    Quite so. But how is this relevant?

  67. > Oh, bullshit. I am unable to wander around “freely” boffing every woman who might like to get it on with me on a public street. This doesn’t make me oppressed.
    I was hoping that you were interested in arguing in good faith and recognized the obvious implication of “unable to *freely* engage in homosexual relations [in the same manner as heterosexuals].”

    I’m disappointed that isn’t the case.

  68. Sarah,

    And when one individual does something dumb and gets attacked, it seems like better long-term strategy for the rest of us to say “Let’s punish the aggressors so this doesn’t happen again,” than to say “What a dummy, he/she deserved it.” Aggressors notice when there are no negative consequences to their actions. Sooner or later, it won’t just be a few dummies here and there who get hurt — it’ll be some of the people who thought of themselves as “smart.”

    Then I don’t think we actually disagree: I believe that there should be negative consequences for aggressors. But if l get my arse kicked and laptop stolen if I pull the latter out at midnight in a bad part of a dodgy housing estate in South London to check my email, everyone I know would tell me “well, what the fuck did you expect?” if I try to claim the role of Holy Victim in the matter while the people who beat and mugged me would still be considered evil if they were caught. (It’s different for Turing, because there’s no indication he thought he deserved some special status as a victim of persecution; other people have claimed that for him.)

  69. Also, I realised I used the phrase “Holy Victim” without even seeing that earlier piece by ESR, linked in a previous comment, in which he uses the same phrase. How does that work?

  70. Any time one has to draw increasingly fine lines between one’s own view and the numerous monstrous counterexamples offered by the commentariat, one ought to reconsider that view before he gets down to Planck scale. A good way not to tie oneself in moral knots like this is to not project one’s own values, goals, and preferences onto a barely contemporaneous man one never met and knows only through the hearsay of unreliable witnesses.

    Objectively, Turing made an aspect of his identity a matter of public record. Objectively, he was harmed in retaliation for that. The fact that he wasn’t stoned to death, sold into slavery, or badmouthed by free software enthusiasts might diminish that harm in a relative sense, but it doesn’t mean he wasn’t harmed. Biographers operate within the proper scope of their field when they observe that harm.

  71. >I was hoping that you were interested in arguing in good faith and recognized the obvious implication of “unable to *freely* engage in homosexual relations [in the same manner as heterosexuals].”

    But I do recognize that. Now I want you to explain how this constitutes “oppression” without making society’s condemnation of my deep-seated streetosexual urges also “oppressive”.

    If you think there’s a trap waiting for you here, you’re right. And if you think I’m making fun of you, you’re also right.

  72. Yeah, *one* alternative theory presented. It must be true! Never mind the contemporary police investigation, never mind all the data.

    Why stop there? We never landed on the moon! Raised levels of carbon dioxide does not affect the climate! It’s true because I some guy thinks it on the Internet!

    Look, I’m not saying I have any knowledge of Turing’s death. But cherry picking one guy’s interpretation despite that it doesn’t measure up to all available data we’ve got because you want reality to align with some batshit local politic theory you care about pretty much a dictionary definition of “stupid”. (Or at least it should have been, had our dictionary not been hijacked by some stupid guy with an agenda.)

  73. Michael Moi: “Depends on if you believe there to be an objective/absolute morality.”

    I don’t. There is a morality – mine obviously – which I strongly believe is the “best” but its a subjective best, not an objective one. The idea that there is an “objective” morality is both laughable if one thinks about it (create a falsifiable statement about morality) and frightening. I don’t want there to be an “objective” morality. Because its a belief in “objective morality” that allows one the justification for forcing others to comply.

  74. >esr, I always knew you were turned on by Botts Dots.

    Yeah, right. Totally. They, like, give me raging erections.

    Er..what’s a Botts Dot?

  75. >Oh, bullshit. I am unable to wander around “freely” boffing every woman who might like to get it on with me on a public street. This doesn’t make me oppressed.

    Making a false comparison of homosexuality to some other sexual proclivity in an effort to marginalize it, seems to be a defining “partisan” trait. In this case; comparing it to rape? Do you have Rick Santorum’s people ghost writing for you?

  76. @esr

    >Putting on the police record the fact that the man who had burgled his house was his homosexual lover qualifies

    Unpleasant consequences aside, it really makes me laugh that he did this. Plays into the socially-naive, absent-minded Oxbridge don stereotype beautifully.

    If you’re going to walk into a door, you might as well run full-speed straight at it.

  77. >Putting on the police record the fact that the man who had burgled
    > his house was his homosexual lover qualifies, I think, as a serious
    > – and utterly pointless – fuckup.
    It’s certainly not what I’d have done given the circumstances, but in a just society one ought to be able to mention stuff like that in a police station without being prosecuted. I don’t think he did anything “wrong.”

    Note: I’m not saying one should have the right to shove your sex life in people’s faces. Some things are best left private. But chemical castration is in no way a proportionate response.

  78. >I don’t think he did anything “wrong.”

    I don’t think he did either. So what? It’s not uncommon for people to be killed by their own stupidity when they’ve done nothing morally “wrong”, and neither is it “oppression”.

    Now, if Alan Turing had marched into the forecourt of Windsor Palace waving a big sign with a gay-rights slogan on it, and been clubbed to the ground by the Household Guard, I’d grant you “oppression”. Think about the difference between these cases.

  79. Responsibility is not additive. If you could have prevented something from being done to you by acting differently, then you are responsible for it happening to you. If someone did it to you against your will, they are also responsible for it happening to you. More generally, responsibility is how avoidable a particular result was, depending on a party’s actions; everyone participating is responsible to the extent that they could have prevented/avoided the result by acting otherwise. The extent of Party A’s responsibility has no relevance to the extent of Party B’s responsibility.

  80. Oh, bullshit. I am unable to wander around “freely” boffing every woman who might like to get it on with me on a public street. This doesn’t make me oppressed.

    Before you protest that this a ridiculous analogy, how do you know I don’t have a secret identity as a streetosexual? Maybe all my self, all my passion, is given in my heart of hearts to fantasies about public fornication. Exercise: explain why streetosexuals are not valorized by the bien pensants of our culture in the same way homosexuals are.

    This is pretty dippy, even by your standards.

    1. The whole reason we have rules against public fornication is that we deem it disturbing or harmful to passersby (especially children), thus it fails Mill’s harm test and is not a protected liberty. There is no reasonable objection along these lines in the case of homosexuality.

    2. In actual fact, homosexuals are routinely vilified and even physically attacked, often to death, even in supposedly enlightened places like Britain. That is one of the major mechanisms by which this kind of oppression works, and this is why homosexuals do not fully have the liberty to kiss and hold hands in public while heterosexuals (and ‘streetosexuals’) actually do.

    I could go on, at length. But,

  81. @Bennett

    >The whole reason we have rules against public fornication is that we deem it disturbing or harmful to passersby (especially children)

    Public fornication is no more ‘harmful’ than somebody standing on a soapbox shouting to the public ideas that they might find ‘disturbing’.

  82. I don’t know why I unthinkingly followed your lead in using the word ‘fornication’. It’s not just fornication, but public sex in general that you are opposed to.

  83. @Tom, I happen to agree with you – I’m just explaining why we have the rule. I think probably the balance of public opinion is (or at least has historically been) against us.

  84. @Bennett

    Isn’t the point of Mill, though, that mere weight of public opinion is not enough to justify preventing an individual from engaging in some behaviour that is not harmful to others?

  85. No, that would be a misreading of Mill. He thought you should be able to do whatever you like so long as you’re not harming anyone; however, the question of whether or not your behaviour is harmful is certainly not up to you, and in some cases there is no objective fact of the matter, so we default to the democratic option of establishing these things using courts and public laws.

    The majority opinion has been that homosexuals are engaged in wrongful behaviour, however this opinion has no basis in any factual claim.

    The majority opinion has also been that public lewd acts are harmful, which has its basis in the factual claim that these acts do indeed harm people (either by offense, or by mental disturbance, whatever you like).

    Given that ‘harm’ is necessarily a normative construct, especially when it comes to things like mental suffering or disturbance, the only way to settle the facts of those matters is by an appeal to what most people think. Mill was explicitly for this line of reasoning, as you can see in his famous ‘poetry or pushpin’ passage.

  86. @Bennett

    The truth is that Mill is inconsistent.

    However, he explicitly distinguishes between mere offensiveness on the one hand, and real harm on the other. By ‘harm’, Mill meant ‘harm to our interests’. Mere offense is not warrant to interfere with a person’s liberty.

    Would Mill claim that offense taken by a Muslim who has seen a copy of the Koran burned constitutes harm? Of course not.

    Causing offense is not harm. Public sex may be offensive, but it does not harm anybody.

  87. @esr
    >I don’t think he did either. So what? It’s not uncommon for people to be killed by their own stupidity when they’ve done nothing morally “wrong”, and neither is it “oppression”.

    Sure, but there is a huge difference between failing to act wisely in regard to the laws of physics, and failing to act wisely in regard to the behavior of immoral people.

    Physics is amoral and so we cannot complain about its moral failures. Just watch out for the falling rock. People though have some duty to act morally, so we have every right to complain about their moral failures. Nonetheless, we should still watch out for the falling rock of their immoral actions.

    Which isn’t to say one should not be wise in the face of immorality, but complaining about immorality, and perhaps even risking its vicissitudes is, mostly speaking, the source of the downfall of most such immoralities.

    And let there be no mistake, threatening criminal sanction for what you do in the privacy of your bedroom, or having the audacity to talk about it, is immorality writ large.

    Sex in public is an offense against public order, not an immoral behavior. It is no different than using or right to free speech as a justification of capriciously using a loud megaphone on a public street. Such a restriction is reasonable. No-one is saying you can’t fuck all the little bunnies you want, just, as the saying goes, get a room.

  88. @esr

    > …there is a very similar-sounding one that isn’t bogus. “If you
    > don’t want to be bullied, you shouldn’t deliberately other yourself.”
    > Think carefully about the difference between “being weird” and
    > “deliberately othering yourself”. It encapsulates Turing’s error
    > pretty neatly.

    After reading that article, it’s easy to see how your views on Turing coalesced.

    While I’d never read that article before, I’m 36 and for the most part I’ve lived my life according to the advice you offered there. I’d much rather *be* subversive than *look* subversive. Needless displays of skin-deep “rebellion” often completely defeat whatever subversive goals you’re attempting to achieve. I often think about what a tactical error it is when people do otherwise.

    However, your conclusion is still lacking. You seem to be driving towards proving that Turing committed a tactical error. Considering the result, he almost certainly did choose unwisely. (Whether or not some tactical errors are worth consciously committing is another matter entirely, and an even more subjective one)

    Nonetheless, a failure to evade oppression doesn’t disprove the existence of the oppression itself. If anything, it proves the existence of the oppression.

    Or is your argument more like, “The oppression existed. But he chose not to evade it. Therefore, even though the oppression was real, he encountered it of his own volition, and is therefore not a ‘victim of oppression’?”

    If so, I think that’s a crummy approach to life. Caveat emptor and lasseiz-faire over all, I suppose. It’s always the victim’s fault, because almost inevitably the victim could have done something. Get shot during a robbery? Too bad; you could have warn bulletproof underwear.

    I prefer a moral code in which we hold people responsible for their transgressions against others, where your tactical error does not excuse my oppressive, violent, or otherwise transgressive behavior.

  89. > Sex in public is an offense against public order, not an immoral
    > behavior. It is no different than using or right to free speech as a
    > justification of capriciously using a loud megaphone on a public
    > street. Such a restriction is reasonable. No-one is saying you can’t
    > fuck all the little bunnies you want, just, as the saying goes, get
    > a room.

    Agreed, agreed, and agreed. When one involves others in one’s sexual activity (even at the level of observer) against their will, that’s sexual assault. That’s why others’ freedom to not be involved in ESR’s theoretical streetosexualism (laugh) trumps ESR’s freedom to be a streetosexual.

    This highlights the problem with anarchy. (ESR self-identifies as “anarcho-capitalist.”) In anarchist fantasy-land, everybody is free to do nearly anything they want. Most of the rest of us chose the more pragmatic approach of recognizing that “my freedoms end where your freedoms begin.”

    Does that involve a lot of pragmatism, cultural relativism (in some societies, public sex is no problem at all) and maybe even some arbitrary distinctions? Sure. I still prefer that to the anarchist approach which espouses “freedom” but usually winds up as “the strong survive and the meek have no freedoms at all.”

  90. At least anarchists in the past occasionally pretended to disagree with the dominant strains of status quo political thought. It doesn’t get more dominant status quo than the easy virtue of giving fags a hard time in 1950s Britain.

    Anarchism, as I’d like to imagine it, is opposition to arbitrary authority. You don’t see much of that around here.

  91. While Turing was the prime British creative leader in breaking Enigma, it is proper to give the Polish Cipher Bureau credit for the early work. They broke the pre-Naval Enigma. The Navel version had an additional wheel.

    Turing did invent the Bombe, which was used to break the Enigma cipher in mass volumes.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptanalysis_of_the_Enigma

  92. >Nonetheless, a failure to evade oppression doesn’t disprove the existence of the oppression itself. If anything, it proves the existence of the oppression.

    Right. If I walk onto a scaffold, stick my head in a noose and scream “Hang me!”, and they do, I suppose that also “proves the existence of the oppression”…because it’s barbarous to hang people. But it empties the term “oppression” of meaning to use it this way.

  93. > Now, if Alan Turing had marched into the forecourt of Windsor
    > Palace waving a big sign with a gay-rights slogan on it, and
    > been clubbed to the ground by the Household Guard, I’d grant you “oppression”.
    >Think about the difference between these cases.

    There are two differences I can think of. One is the obvious difference of scale. The other is that in your scenario, Turing is out to make a statement and exercise his free speech. In the police-station scenario, he merely let it slip carelessly, rather than endangering himself for the sake of a cause.

    In spite of all this, I maintain that the blame attaches to “system” rather than to Turing himself.

  94. >Causing offense is not harm. Public sex may be offensive, but it does not harm anybody.

    That’s right. In fact, there is no actual Millsian test of “harm” by which you can condemn streetosexuality but not homosexuality; I knew this in advance because it’s how I designed this koan. It’s the trap I set for the hapless REPL, and which Bennett (who is a bit brighter) promptly fell into. Jessica is normally pretty sharp about these things, but her “participating as an observer” is just a fancy-dancing way to try smuggling “giving offense” back into the discussion and won’t stand much scrutiny. Which is all pretty well-traveled territory for anybody who has studied moral philosophy. These are not new arguments.

    There isn’t any principled way to deny that ESR-the-hypothetical-streetosexual is oppressed by being unable to freely engage in public sex but affirm that Alan Turing was oppressed by being unable to freely engage in gay sex. Not without accepting that condemnation of lots of your neighbors going ick is a normative metric. But the second you accept that, you’ve lost any principled basis for objecting when a society stigmatizes homosexuality.

    Actually, you’ve lost a great deal more than that. Which is why my next blog post may be about Sir James Napier. Gold star to anyone who correctly anticipates why.

  95. > Right. If I walk onto a scaffold, stick my head in a noose and
    > scream “Hang me!”, and they do, I suppose that also “proves
    > the existence of the oppression”…because it’s barbarous to
    > hang people. But it empties the term “oppression” of meaning
    > to use it this way.

    That analogy isn’t relevant to Turing’s life.

    1. Oppression is systematic by definition. Oppression occurs if a cop, with the backing of the state, punches me in the face for no reason. It’s not oppression (though it is wrong) if an individual punches me in the face for no reason.

    2. Unlike putting one’s head in a noose and explicitly imploring others to kill one’s self, there is absolutely no intrinsic connection between expressing one’s sexuality and inviting physical harm. (Such a connection *did* exist in England, and was surely known to Turing, but that was an unjust, barbarous, oppressive construct of the system.)

  96. The whole reason we have rules against public fornication is that we deem it disturbing or harmful to passersby (especially children), thus it fails Mill’s harm test and is not a protected liberty. There is no reasonable objection along these lines in the case of homosexuality.

    *Snerk*. Really? You really think society at large in the time of Alan Turing thought “homosexuality wasn’t disturbing or harmful to passersby (especially children)”?

    I mean God(or at least the pope) says it’s wrong and everything and if we condone guys kissing in public well the kids might get the idea that it’s right and that’s a threat to the sanctity of marriage. Forget Turing’s time, you can find towns that think that way TODAY!

  97. SPQR: “I don’t. There is a morality – mine obviously – which I strongly believe is the “best” but its a subjective best, not an objective one. The idea that there is an “objective” morality is both laughable if one thinks about it (create a falsifiable statement about morality) and frightening. I don’t want there to be an “objective” morality. Because its a belief in “objective morality” that allows one the justification for forcing others to comply.”

    How can you
    A) Believe that morality is subjective, and not
    B) accept that for someone else, their morality may appear to them to be objective? Particularly, how can that not be OK?

    In short, if one believes in subjective morality, one must also believe that someone else’s morality may appear to them to be subjective. To me, that’s the paradox of subjective morality. (Not that I have any strong feelings on the nature of morality one way or the other.)

    Regardless, your idea of subjective morality is exactly as dangerous as an idea of *objective* morality; you take the subjective independence of morals as a given, and elevate it to the status of fact, posit or axiom. In doing so, you’ve given the *idea* of subjective morality objective status. And since you’ve granted it objective status, you’ve made it just as dangerous as any other objective morality.

    It’s exactly this process by which doctrines of enforced fairness and tolerance come about. I’m not saying fairness and tolerance are necessarily bad things, but making them enforced principles restricts individuals from being able to make their own sanity checks before, e.g. hiring the shifty-eyed guy who looks like he’s suffering from a meth withdrawal.

  98. > Jessica is normally pretty sharp about these things, but her “participating
    > as an observer” is just a fancy-dancing way to try smuggling “giving
    > offense” back into the discussion and won’t stand much scrutiny.

    I was the one who brought up (unwilling) participating-as-an-observer when it comes to somebody’s hypothetical streetosexual ways; I don’t think Jessica did.

    It’s a pretty established fact that being exposed to sexual material causes physiological changes in most if not all observers, almost certainly because so many of our mental and physical processes revolve around sex. (ref: Any experiment ever that involves hooking subjects up while they view sexual material — this is pretty basic, objective stuff)

    That’s why it’s not okay to have sex in the middle of the street, and why it’s not okay to masturbate in front of strangers on the train.

    It’s not even necessarily a “taking offense” thing. Suppose I’m highly aroused by streetosexuals and train-masturbators. I should be able to go to work without being sexually aroused against my will. Or, you know, sexually *anything* against my will.

    Anyway, yeah, that “trap” was obvious and not particularly clever or relevant.

    I mean, I get it. It’s a slippery slope from banning actual displays of public sex (because it might offend somebody) to banning mentions of one’s private sexual practices (because they might offend somebody).

    But it’s also a slippery slope from allowing displays of public sex (because it’s hypothetical ESR’s freedom!) to allowing one to masturbate in front of strangers in a train (maybe I’m a trainosexual!) to allowing one to perform sexual acts in front of children in a schoolyard (maybe somebody else is a schoolyardosexual!)

    It’s one big ol’ slippery slope. Probably because you streetosexuals had sex all over it.

  99. >That’s why it’s not okay to have sex in the middle of the street, and why it’s not okay to masturbate in front of strangers on the train.

    Is it OK for homosexual men to kiss in public?

    Yes, this is a trick question. Under the premises you’ve set up, both possible answers end up destroying your position.

  100. >Sati, right?

    Well done. Enjoy your popcorn while I mess with people slower on the uptake than you are.

  101. Anyway, what a useless analogy. Yes, if we want *anything at all* to be prohibited, we have to draw some arbitrary lines on some continuums of behavior and no there is not always a rigorous proof available and yes this is probably why some folks throw their hands in the air and go capitalist-anarchist. Fair enough.

    The issue here is (or should be, or at least was) ESR’s original and laughable statement that Turing wasn’t oppressed.

    Sure, the government chemically castrated him because he was gay (and perhaps foolish.) But hey, no oppression there!

    I mean, really.

    That was a thing that he actually said. In public, where people can read it.

  102. > In fact, there is no actual Millsian test of “harm” by which you can
    > condemn streetosexuality but not homosexuality;
    Let’s assume that streetosexuality goes beyond just “exhibitionism” and instead involves a physical repulsion for sex in any other setting. Let’s further assume that it is, like homosexuality, inborn, and that it has existed going back to prehistory.

    We immediately react with horror to streetosexuality, because it’s an unusual sexual orientation *which we’ve never heard of before.* But if we *had* heard of it; if it had existed as long as our species or longer, we’d be more familiar with it and less likely to *try* to justify condemning it. Our insistence about “protecting” children from exposure to sex would seem even more silly than it does now.

    If we go by Wikipedia’s statistics, roughly 3.5% of Americans identify as homosexual or bisexual. It’s a reasonable assumption that the actual number of homosexuals/bisexuals is much higher, but let’s be conservative and say that 5% of the population is born gay/bi. If 5% of the population was indeed born streetosexual, they could quite reasonably expect to be accommodated.

    I reckon the resulting society would be superior to our own.

    But as it is, the true number of streetosexuals is probably a fraction of a percent. That falls below my “not society’s problem” threshold.

  103. > Is it OK for homosexual men to kiss in public?
    > Yes, this is a trick question. Under the premises you’ve set up,
    > both possible answers end up destroying your position.

    Don’t confuse “disagrees with you” with “slow on the uptake.”

    I understand your point; it’s quite clear.

    Answering your question either way involves the drawing of some arbitrary lines and yes, restricting some freedoms in favor of others.

    Unlike you, I don’t that as “destroying” my position. I view it as a necessary and pragmatic compromise.

    Permitting any act whatsoever – whether it’s heterosexual hand-holding, gay men kissing, a woman daring to bare her ankles under her Victorian dress, or full-on explicit streetosexualism – will offend or otherwise affect somebody. And prohibiting any act whatsoever curtails somebody’s freedoms as well: the freedoms of those hand-holders, gay kissers, ankle-barers, and streetosexuals.

    That’s just where we differ. Anarchy essentially throws its hands up and says we’d be better off having as few laws as possible, if any. Others feel that a less-principled, more pragmatic approach is better.

  104. I’m not sure which of the following was a more profound realization.

    #1. Reading “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” around 2000 or so, spending over a decade admiring ESR’s pragmatism in the face of RMS’s (admirable, but often counterproductive) idealism, and suddenly finding myself chastising ESR for a lack of pragmatism with regards to a tangential matter.

    #2. Realizing I just added the word “streetosexual” to my spell-checker’s dictionary.

  105. esr writes: “Er..what’s a Botts Dot?

    A true streetosexual would recognize the reflective disks epoxied to the center of the street. Sheesh.

  106. “Regardless, your idea of subjective morality is exactly as dangerous as an idea of *objective* morality; you take the subjective independence of morals as a given, and elevate it to the status of fact, posit or axiom. In doing so, you’ve given the *idea* of subjective morality objective status. And since you’ve granted it objective status, you’ve made it just as dangerous as any other objective morality.

    Really, Michael, this sophistry made sense to you as you wrote it? Because it makes sense on this side of the screen. There is all this nonsense about what I’m doing that I’m not doing. All these words you try to stuff in my mouth, that don’t fit. And when you are done, its not making any sense frankly.

  107. Completely OT (other than “Abusing”) but requires we get this fixed ASAP

    The white-hat hacker community needs to fix a major problem. It’s called “SWATting”. If you don’t know what it is, here’s as good a place as any to start.

    Cliff’s Notes version is that left-anarchist skr1p7 k1dd13z use VOIP or disposable-SIM cell phone w/GPS spoofed, to place a 911 call spoofing their target, and then say something like “I just shot my wife, and I’m going to shoot some more people”. So the police send out the SWAT team, and hilarity ensues. I don’t know if anyone’s been killed by this crap yet, but it’s statistically inevitable that it will happen, because one of these SWAT teams will fail to announce that they’re cops before someone at the target residence realizes what’s going on and responds to an armed invasion of his home by defending himself with deadly force. Either a resident will kill a cop, a cop will kill a resident, or even more likely, both.

    I am embarrassed as a tech geek that it is even possible to do this. I don’t claim to understand all of the protocols involved in 911 calls, but there ought to be some technical fix that flags location information from cell phones and VOIP and alerts 911 operators that the information in question cannot be trusted. There has to be a way that the non-leftist tech community can step up to the plate here.

  108. The amoralist position (because all morality is subjective and socially defined):

    Discard normative ought; for clear reasoning only accept oughts that include the basis of judgment. If you want X, then you ought do Y. Normative ought uses sloppy thinking and “understood” reasons to defraud and coerce its victims.

    There would be a lot less moralizing if everyone had to say why they were opposed to a particular act when they criticized it.

  109. About protective camouflage:

    There was a time when it was broadly considered a gay person’s responsibility to “pass” well enough to avoid getting beaten up on the street. Quentin Crisp’s autobiography, “The Naked Civil Servant,” talks about this. As an openly effeminate gay man, he got condemnation from other gay men for being too obvious. His “friends” told him that he deserved all the trouble he got. And, in a way, they were right; out of some combination of perverseness and defiance, he invited assaults that he could have avoided.

    But his story is more or less triumphant. He was proud of his choice not to acquiesce out of fear. He fought a homosexuality-related arrest in court — and won. And he lived to see his style of self-expression become accepted and safe.

    If you want greater tolerance (for any kind of underdog) somebody has to be a Quentin Crisp type: willing to stick his neck out and take the consequences. If everybody hides, then everybody has to *keep* hiding — and the unwise and unlucky, those who can’t hide well enough, get hurt. (Sounds like Turing was an unwise or unlucky type.) If society hates you for something you think is worth defending, then sooner or later you’re going to have to defend it in public.

  110. In what is now made of Turing’s life we see an implicit claim that virtue can only be found in the outsider, the failure, the martyr, the victim of oppression.

    Coincidentally, I’m currently rereading _The Fountainhead_.

  111. In any case, the interesting question to me has always been, who do we universally condemn today that we’ll be abjectly begging forgiveness from fifty years from now? Will Tom O’Carroll be getting a personal apology from the PM of that time? He seems like he’s being pretty thoroughly oppressed for a natural tendency. Or maybe it will be Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh, either of whom are decent candidates for a new John Brown, given the right political shifts.

  112. Answering your question either way involves the drawing of some arbitrary lines

    If our society is within its rights to declare streetosexuality illegal then 1950s Britain is within its rights to declare homosexuality illegal.

    If 1950s Britain is to be considered oppressive because it declares homosexuality illegal then our society today should be equally declared oppressive because it declares streetosexuality illegal.

    The only argument that you can try to use to differentiate these cases is that 1950s Britain is to be considered oppressive because our societies mores in 2012 say that homosexuality should not be illegal. And frankly i’ve always found this position to be faintly rediculous. One cannot condemn a historical culture just because they didn’t think the way we do right now.

    Otherwise i’m going to go down as saying that every culture is oppressive because it declares something to be illegal that it’s successor’s disagree with.

  113. edit: s/”The only argument you can try to use “/”The only argument i can think of”/

  114. > If 1950s Britain is to be considered oppressive
    > because it declares homosexuality illegal then
    > our society today should be equally declared
    > oppressive because it declares streetosexuality illegal.

    That’s not really what we’re discussing, though.

    The question is whether or not Turing’s “chemical castration” and other punishments at the hand of the state constitute oppression.

    > The only argument that you can try to use to differentiate
    > these cases is that 1950s Britain is to be considered
    > oppressive because our societies mores in 2012 say that
    > homosexuality should not be illegal.

    Are you sure that’s what you want to say? Really?

    One situation involves the mere prohibition of an activity whereas the other situation involved prohibition as well as mandatory hormone injections and other heinous acts.

    So, just to confirm, you’re really saying that’s a meaningless detail? Because you said, right there in public, that there was only one difference between the two situations. And chemical castration wasn’t it.

    Listen — anytime you consider forced castration of a human being at the hands of the state to be some kind of implementation detail not worth considering, that’s probably a “check yourself” moment.

    So, anyway.

    There are other differences. Having a sex party in the middle of the street (this is “streetosexualism” and not “secludedforestclearingsexualism”) is *clearly* much more invasive to others than simply stating that one engages in homosexual acts in private.

    To claim that they’re both equivalent because they’re both “sexual things that might offend somebody, somewhere” is as laughable as claiming that slapping somebody on the back is the same thing as attacking them with a chainsaw because they’re both “things that can hurt.”

    And hey, farting in math class is the same as nuking a city. Because they like, derive from the same base class in the minds of people who really desperately want the messiness of reality to map to the reassuringly black-and-white sorts of constructs they learned in computer science.

  115. I am obviously not aware of what kind of backwater you all live, but in my daily newspaper his centenary was marked by two full broadsheet pages of his achievements.

    His suicide was only one of a dozen entries. And that was not described as martyrdom, but to denounce a cruel legal system.

    In the end, it were the courts that forced him to chose between jail time and a crippling hormone treatment. The laws were wrong and cruel, and they were applied as such.

    The fact that Socrates could have avoided his death penalty if he just would flee Athens does not make this death penalty and execution any less legal murder. In the same way, the fact that Turing could have avoided all of this if he had just hidden away better does not make his treatment any more justified.

    Nothing in the “celebrations” of Turing *I* saw treated him as a kind of martyr. There was only compassion for his suffering and regret over what might have been achieved had he lived.

    And I have strong reservations about attempts to redo a coroner’s job 60 years later without any of the material evidence. It is not that the people around Turing denounced the coroner’s verdict as complete fiction.

    Maybe you are simply projecting your own local political views and foes onto 1950/1960s UK?

  116. > Now, if Alan Turing had marched into the forecourt of Windsor Palace waving a big sign with a gay-rights slogan on it, and been clubbed to the ground by the Household Guard, I’d grant you “oppression”. Think about the difference between these cases.

    i do not know of any convincing explanation of why he said to the police that he was gay (but
    I have not read the most recent biography of Turing). This remains a mistery – and AFAIK it was not preceded by any other similar self-destructing behaviour on Turing’s part.

  117. > His suicide was only one of a dozen entries. And that was not described as martyrdom, but to denounce a cruel legal system. In the end, it were the courts that forced him to chose between jail time and a crippling hormone treatment. The laws were wrong and cruel, and they were applied as such.

    indeed. Do not know about the IT world, or the US, but outside of it, and in Europe, Turing is considered another victim of British hypocrisy, not a gay martir, very much like Oscar Wilde.

    It’s also relevant that in the 50’s Britain was basically alone (at least in Europe) in appliying the laws against sodomy/indecency, and applying them so harshly. I quoted the John Gielgud case above beacuse it happened right before Turing’s case (IIRC), it was a massive public scandal — and was met with indignation and ridicule outside the UK.

  118. Right. If I walk onto a scaffold, stick my head in a noose and scream “Hang me!”, and they do, I suppose that also “proves the existence of the oppression”…because it’s barbarous to hang people. But it empties the term “oppression” of meaning to use it this way.

    So I guess you think walking onto a scaffold and sticking your head in a noose is about morally equivalent with refusing to pretend to be heterosexual? Dippy, like I said before.

    It should not be the case that admitting to the police that you’re gay imposes the same risk as sticking your head in a noose and asking to be killed. If society is constructed that way, it puts a strong compulsion on gay people to conceal and lie about things that they ought to be able to express freely. That’s why we say Turing was oppressed – because expressing your identity in a way that is visible to others is an important liberty, whereas sticking your head in a noose and asking to be killed is clearly not one.

    This is really elementary civics, and your failure to think these things through is depressing beyond belief.

    You might wonder why I visit this blog, given that I disagree with almost everything you write. The answer is that when I was a teenager, I got one of those (printed, bound) copies of the jargon file. Now, I know you didn’t write the jargon file, but there is a lot of your writing in there, and it seemed to me incredibly inspiring and sharp. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it had a major influence on the course of my life. And you wrote some sharp, inspiring things after that, notably the Cathedral and the Bazaar, of course. And then you went on to write some things that had some good ideas but started to show a worrying lack of self-insight, like “Sex Tips for Geeks” and “Surprised by wealth”. And then you entered this decline where you wrote things like “Oderim, dum metuant” and this little number; columns which are completely convinced of their own insight, erudition and wit, but which are basically just the most obvious, ignorant reactionary drivel. And I keep hoping for a reversal in the trend, that’s why I read this blog. Now, I’m not sure exactly what’s going wrong, but I have three hypotheses:

    1) You are suffering from early-onset dementia.
    2) You have Lyme disease.
    3) You have been surrounded by yes-men for 15 years and have lost sight of your own limitations.

    You can have 1) and 2) ruled out by a doctor, which is my humble recommendation.

  119. Reading threads like this always reminds me of Eric’s avowed status as a propagandist.

    That, and how thin the line is between a pseudo-libertarianism that claims one’s freedom is not harmed if you Just Fit In to avoid prosecution for one’s sexual proclivities and the Santorum-esque conservatives who just come right out and say they don’t like gay people.

  120. >Unlike you, I don’t that as “destroying” my position. I view it as a necessary and pragmatic compromise.

    So, according to your own definition of oppression, it’s OK to oppress a minority, provided they have substantially less social power than homosexuals? That’s your “pragmatic compromise”?

  121. >That, and how thin the line is between a pseudo-libertarianism that claims one’s freedom is not harmed if you Just Fit In to avoid prosecution for one’s sexual proclivities

    I think this topic does an excellent job of smoking out stupid ideological attachments that shut down peoples’ ability to think. The above claim is a case in point.

    Go on, point out where I claimed that “one’s freedom is not harmed if you Just Fit In to avoid prosecution for one’s sexual proclivities”. This is not a claim I have actually made or would make, for the excellent reason that I don’t believe it.

    But I think I see what’s going on here. You, and others, are conflating two distinct propositions. One: “Homosexuals were oppressed as a class in Britain in the 1950s”. Two: “Alan Turing was individually a victim of oppression, rather than a retrospective Darwin Award nominee.” You’re also equating any sort of “harm” to freedom with “oppression”.

    Check your premises.

  122. >So I guess you think walking onto a scaffold and sticking your head in a noose is about morally equivalent with refusing to pretend to be heterosexual?

    No, that was a deliberately even more exaggerated case of Darwin Award behavior intended to make a point that isn’t quite as clear from what happened to Alan Turing.

    >It should not be the case that admitting to the police that you’re gay imposes the same risk as sticking your head in a noose and asking to be killed.

    If you imagine that I disagree with this, or that I think the statute under which Turing was convicted wasn’t cruel and wrong, it’s not my brain that is malfunctioning in this conversation.

  123. @esr
    The basic premises of the original post was that Turing was made a martyr for the gay movement, or any other movement.

    I have no idea where you get that martyrdom stuff. You did not give us any references for it. I never have seen him described as a martyr. But, just like Oscar Wilde, as a sad victim of persecution for his sexual preferences. An example of what society can lose from hypocrisy.

    What I have seen and read (eg, recently in “The Information”, James Gleick ) was about a man whom we should revel as a great mind who gave us beautiful mathematics and theories on a wide range of subjects, and a deep understanding of computers before they even existed. A man who on top of that played an important role in saving Britain from the Nazis in WWII.

    The tragedy was that the people whom he helped saving from invasion were willing to abuse him out of pure hypocrisy.

    That is not about martyrdom, but about an utter lack of gratitude and a mountain of hypocrisy of the British people.

  124. @ esr

    Unless “fuckup” means something other than “mistake”, when you say:

    > Putting on the police record the fact that the man who had burgled his house was his homosexual lover qualifies, I think, as a serious – and utterly pointless – fuckup.

    how are you not saying that (in your view) Turing should have not placed the fact of his homosexuality on the official record (i.e. he should have just fitted in and gone quietly into the night) and thereby have avoided prosecution?

  125. > Putting on the police record the fact that the man who had burgled his house was his homosexual lover qualifies, I think, as a serious – and utterly pointless – fuckup.

    If you know who burgled your home, your relation with the burglar is important, even crucial, information in solving and prosecuting the crime.

    Not telling that to the police would make it very difficult to get a successful prosecution.

  126. @John Booty

    >In anarchist fantasy-land, everybody is free to do nearly anything they want.

    Actually in ‘anarchist fantasy-land’ it’s quite easy to deal with this situation. The street or public square will be owned by a person or people. If those people think that it would be cost-effective to ban public-sex on their property, and they want to do so, they are perfectly at liberty to do it. If somebody starts having sex in the street then that person can simply be kicked out.

    >Yes, if we want *anything at all* to be prohibited, we have to draw some arbitrary lines on some continuums of behavior

    Actually there is exactly one non-arbitrary way of doing so: making laws on the free market.

  127. >how are you not saying that (in your view) Turing should have not placed the fact of his homosexuality on the official record (i.e. he should have just fitted in and gone quietly into the night) and thereby have avoided prosecution?

    I think that’s exactly what he should have done. There is a right way and a right time to make a stand against oppression – it’s the way and the time that is actually effective rather than a stupid waste of your life. Turing had a responsibility to his own cause (assuming he thought he had a cause, which I consider highly doubtful) not to spend himself uselessly. He fucked that up.

    I doubt it ever entered Turing’s head to crusade on behalf of his fellow homosexuals – his mind doesn’t seem to have worked that way, and all the talk here about his “identity” as a gay man is just piffle that’s projecting a post-Stonewall-riot politicized gay-lib sensibility onto him, utterly inappropriately. But if he had had that as a goal, he had plenty of social power to do it effectively. Don of Cambridge! Fellow of the Royal Society! Order of the British Empire! He could have given speeches, written books, demanded and gotten a respectful hearing.

    With all those options, outing himself to a policeman when he didn’t have to was an act of such staggering, self-destructive idiocy that dignifying the consequences by tagging him a “victim of oppression” is an insult to and a mockery of people who really are oppressed – people who don’t have choices, don’t have social power, don’t have the “system” scrambling to protect them. Undoubtedly many homosexuals in Great Britain in the 1950s were oppressed, but Turing? No. Using “oppressed” so loosely empties it of its proper meaning,

    Looking back over this thread, I think part of the reason I’ve been catching a lot of flak and silly projections about what I believe is that a lot of you don’t take the term and concept of “oppression” very seriously; you throw it around much too loosely. This is a bad mistake, for the same reasons I’ve previously argued that “torture” and “genocide” are words we must be very careful with.

  128. > So, according to your own definition of oppression,
    > it’s OK to oppress a minority, provided they have substantially
    > less social power than homosexuals? That’s your “pragmatic
    > compromise”?

    Absolutely. The right of one person to have sex in extremely public places (or masturbate on trains, or expose one’s self to a crowded playground, etc) does not trump the rights of the many others who’d be affected by such a thing.

    Public sex is, as I said earlier, *far* more invasive than stating that one is gay. If you don’t like reading Alan Turing’s statements on police depositions, it’s pretty easy to stop reading Alan Turing’s statements on police depositions. It’s more difficult to avoid (snort) streetosexuals, although if we’re talking about me personally I’d probably enjoy the show.

    Let me ask you a question.

    In your worldview, can the rights of the many *ever* outweigh the rights of an individual? Is it okay for somebody to falsely shout “fire!” in a crowded movie theater, causing scores of others to be injured in the resulting stampede, because it would be wrong to limit that person’s freedom of speech?

    Is it morally okay for somebody with H1N1 flu (perhaps an h1n1sexual?) to continue working in the cafeteria of a nursery school or elder care facility, causing severe illness or death to multiple others, because that person has the freedom to work?

    The simple fact is, some freedoms are not mutually compatible with other freedoms. Your hypothetical freedom to be hypothetically arsonsexual is simply not compatible with my nonhypothetical freedom to not have my home burnt down. We have to make some choices, ie, “your freedoms end where mine begin.”

  129. > Actually in ‘anarchist fantasy-land’ it’s quite easy to deal with this
    > situation. The street or public square will be owned by a person or
    > people. If those people think that it would be cost-effective to ban
    > public-sex on their property, and they want to do so, they are perfectly
    > at liberty to do it.

    Does this not return us to the days when only property owners had rights? I guess it depends on whether you feel human beings have intrinsic rights, unrelated to how much property they’re managed to inherit or acquire.

    It seems clear to me (though it’s admittedly not a perfect system) that the fairest thing to do is to have both public spaces (whose use is decided by popular vote) and private spaces (whose use is almost entirely up to the owner.)

  130. Here’s another example.

    Until 2008 we had blasphemy laws (specific to Christianity) on the books here in the UK. Let’s rewind time to 2007 for this scenario.

    There hasn’t been a blasphemy prosecution since 1977. Before that there hadn’t been one since 1921. The result of that case was a public scandal, even in 1921.

    Effectively the blasphemy law is on of those quaint anachronistic things from another time that we just haven’t bothered repealing because it doesn’t seem worth the trouble. But, in theory, it is still on the books and enforceable.

    Now imagine that I read the law carefully and determine what I would have to do to be fragrantly in violation of it. Further imagine that I track down the most crazy, Bible-bashing Christian fundamentalist in England who would take deep offence at blasphemy, and then I commit the act in front of him.

    Now imagine that I hire for him – at my own expense – the best barristers money can buy so that he can prosecute me. I stand in my own defence without anybody representing me.

    When it comes to the trial I cheerfully admit to everything I have done.

    I am sent to prison.

    Have I been ‘oppressed’ as a non-believer? Is England some sort of hyper-religious society that persecutes mercilessly anybody who isn’t a Christian?

    No, of course not.

    Was it right that I was sent to prison? No, of course not. It is crazy that blasphemy would be considered a crime.

    This is an extremely exaggerated version of what happened to Turing. I’m not saying that Britain in the 50s was as tolerant of gays as Britain in the 2000s was of non-believers.

  131. >Absolutely. The right of one person to have sex in extremely public places (or masturbate on trains, or expose one’s self to a crowded playground, etc) does not trump the rights of the many others who’d be affected by such a thing.

    But lots of people (who aren’t me) think that homosexuality, even tolerated private homosexuality, “affects” other people and society in a very corrosive way. (Even I have to admit that, given AIDS and the greater ease with which anal sex transmits STDs relative to vaginal sex, they have at least an epidemiological point.) They could argue that the right of many people not to be affected by the negative externalities of gay sex trumps the right of few individuals to engage in it. Within your premises, you have no principled defense against this argument.

    >In your worldview, can the rights of the many *ever* outweigh the rights of an individual?

    No. Not ever. Your problem cases can all be resolved in unsurprising ways using a calculus of infringement on the rights of individuals (there’s a good analogy with the way that effects that look like like group selection emerge from germ-line selfishness in evolutionary theory). There is no “many” – or, rather, it is irrelevant in this kind of discussion. I won’t pursue this analysis here because it would rathole the thread further, but I will mark it as a topic for a future post.

  132. @esr
    “>In your worldview, can the rights of the many *ever* outweigh the rights of an individual?
    No. Not ever.”

    Person 1 owns all the water, legally and literally. Person 2-2,000,000 are dying for thirst, have famines etc because person 1 does not want to give them access to water.

    There has not been a population of people in the entire history of the world that would not have dealt with the “rights” of person 1 in a drastic manner unless person 1 was able to command enough armed personnel to enforce his “rights” (which he needed to give water and food).

    In the latter case, this is simply “might is right”.

  133. >Nobody is claiming it was “right”. But there is no indication that Turing saw himself as a “victim of oppression”, so why should we?

    There is no indication that the people who oppressed Turing saw themselves as homophobic, so why should we? Because they were.

  134. > “homosexual” way down the list and probably not of great relative importance

    Think of all the straight people who lecture you about how family is so much more important than work, and that you should lead a balanced life, and that how getting married and having children is the most important thing they ever did. Who are you to say that Turing wouldn’t have valued whatever family he could have, just that much? He certainly wasn’t free to write about it, so the fact that there is no written record of his opinion on that matter doesn’t mean having a family didn’t matter to him.

  135. @winter:

     > Putting on the police record the fact that the man who had burgled his house was his homosexual lover qualifies, I think, as a serious — and utterly pointless — fuckup.

    If you know who burgled your home, your relation with the burglar is important, even crucial, information in solving and prosecuting the crime.

    Not telling that to the police would make it very difficult to get a successful prosecution.

    @esr:

     > how are you not saying that (in your view) Turing should have not placed the fact of his homosexuality on the official record (i.e. he should have just fitted in and gone quietly into the night) and thereby have avoided prosecution?

    I think that’s exactly what he should have done. There is a right way and a right time to make a stand against oppression — it’s the way and the time that is actually effective rather than a stupid waste of your life. Turing had a responsibility to his own cause (assuming he thought he had a cause, which I consider highly doubtful) not to spend himself uselessly. He fucked that up.

    Eric,

    Winter raises a valid and important point here. I suspect (but cannot prove, since I cannot possibly know what the mindset of Turing was at the time) that in an effort to give the police the most useful information he could, Turing, knowing that he was putting himself at risk, told them about his relationship with the alleged burglar (e.g., to explain why there was no forced entry, or how the suspect knew where concealed valuables were, etc.). Having started with this, his “truth-tropism” did not permit him to back down from his revealed position.

    Like I said in response to Eiki Martinson earlier, he should have just brushed the police investigation off, grabbed his nine, and performed some “street justice”. ;-}

    (Yes, I’m well aware that personal firearms are even more tightly regulated in the UK than consensual sexual behavior. And I further suspect that Turing wasn’t a proponent of that kind of activity, either. This latter suspicion is of course also without proof.)

  136. >Oh, bullshit. I am unable to wander around “freely” boffing every woman who might like to get it on with me on a public street. This doesn’t make me oppressed.

    >Before you protest that this a ridiculous analogy, how do you know I don’t have a secret identity as a streetosexual? Maybe all my self, all my passion, is given in my heart of hearts to fantasies about public fornication. Exercise: explain why streetosexuals are not valorized by the bien pensants of our culture in the same way homosexuals are.

    We’ve known each for a long time, since the early 80’s. Now you’re really becoming unhinged about this, Eric. And that’s in comparison to how you’ve always been. And that’s really saying something.

  137. > With all those options, outing himself to a policeman when he didn’t have to was an act of such staggering, self-destructive idiocy that dignifying the consequences by tagging him a “victim of oppression” is an insult to and a mockery of people who really are oppressed

    sorry for the repetition – but is there any evidence (from him or his friends) as to why he did so? At least as usually told, his behavior is indeed utterly irresponsible, Eric has a point here.

  138. >There is no indication that the people who oppressed Turing saw themselves as homophobic, so why should we? Because they were.

    Were they? This is an assumption on your part. You need to be careful about projecting today’s politico-sexual categories on to the past; often (even as recently as the 1950s) they don’t fit well.

    If we can believe period sources the enforcement of (what had been) outmoded anti-homosexuality statutes in the 1950s probably had more to do with the Cold War than “homophobia”. The Soviets were already known to have been recruiting spies through networks of homosexuals at British universities. In 1952 in Great Britain, associating homosexuality with treason and present danger wasn’t crazy.

  139. > The Soviets were already known to have been recruiting spies through networks of homosexuals at British universities. In 1952 in Great Britain, associating homosexuality with treason and present danger wasn’t crazy.

    As I understand it, such recruitment worked via blackmail, so you’ve ultimately got a circular argument. If people weren’t homophobic, they wouldn’t be vulnerable to blackmail (on that particular basis in any case)

  140. The narrative built up around Alan Turing is reminiscent of that built up around Galileo. The people who ran the Roman church really didn’t care whether the earth rotated around the sun or vice versa; they were more interested in politics. The church would have been happy for him to present his ideas in a manner which did not challenge the authority of the church. The extent of his persecution has been exaggerated by those with an axe to grind.

  141. “Undoubtedly many homosexuals in Great Britain in the 1950s were oppressed, but Turing? No. Using “oppressed” so loosely empties it of its proper meaning,”

    Maybe that’s why he told them. Oppression is something that happens to other people, so he assumed that the shield of his high social position would protect him from any consequences of telling the police why this person had had access to his house. And if so, maybe he was right to some extent – his actual punishment handed down by the court was far lighter than what is advocated by extreme social conservatives today.

  142. >> In your worldview, can the rights of the many *ever* outweigh the rights of an individual?
    > No. Not ever.

    In your worldview, what should happen when individuals’ rights (or wishes) conflict with one another?

  143. >As I understand it, such recruitment worked via blackmail,

    No, it wasn’t that simple, and nobody thought it was that simple even at the time. Consider the Cambridge Five – contemporaries of Turing; he probably knew some of them, and plausibly might have been sexually involved with one or more. Burgess and Blunt (homosexual) didn’t blackmail Philby (heterosexual) into working with them.

    You need to bear in mind that Britons of the time believed homosexuality was a choice, a form of moral turpitude encouraged by an infectious counter-culture that was depraved on many levels (including political) and that could draw in heterosexuals as well. The idea that this depraved counterculture was being used by the Soviets came naturally to them.

    I could write a lot more about this; I’ve studied the mechanisms of Soviet subversion closely. But that’s for another post and another thread.

  144. It seems to me that there’s also a failure of imagination here, too. I don’t think it was a choice between “come out of the closet in a police report” and “the police won’t be able to do anything”. There’s also the option of “he was a close personal friend/colleague with whom I worked with closely and he had a key to my apartment; sadly, after a major argument it seems we are no longer friends and he may have taken things too far by abusing my trust in him”.

    The idea that you’d give somebody you trust a key to your house (if for no reason other than to water your plants when you are out of town) isn’t that far-fetched. Letting a colleague stay at your place while “looking for another apartment” also would have been easy enough to say. And, in the right frame of mind, the truth (though clearly not the whole truth).

    As for Eric’s Street-o-sexual preferences, the one argument that I can come up against it is as a public health hazard, much like public urination or defecation. Interestingly, though, we don’t ban bleeding in public or sneezing in public, probably because they usually can’t be controlled (and bleeding is self-limiting, anyways). So, for those health hazards which can be controlled, they are restricted. I mean, oppressed.

  145. >Maybe that’s why he told them. Oppression is something that happens to other people, so he assumed that the shield of his high social position would protect him from any consequences of telling the police why this person had had access to his house. And if so, maybe he was right to some extent

    Congratulations. That’s the most interesting, original, and responsive-to-reality thought any of my commenters have dropped on this thread.

  146. >It seems to me that there’s also a failure of imagination here, too. I don’t think it was a choice between “come out of the closet in a police report” and “the police won’t be able to do anything”. There’s also the option of “he was a close personal friend/colleague with whom I worked with closely and he had a key to my apartment; sadly, after a major argument it seems we are no longer friends and he may have taken things too far by abusing my trust in him”.

    Good, I was hoping somebody other than me would point this out.

    I wasn’t surprised by this failure of imagination. There’s been an awful lot of politically-correct knee-jerking in this thread – people not thinking outside their preconceptions because they think those preconceptions are signifiers of virtue. Expecting imagination from people in that kind of rut would be overoptimistic.

  147. Right, because after suffering a traumatic crime (not the most traumatic crime ever, but if you’ve ever had your home burgled, it’s quite upsetting) it’s definitely incumbent upon the *victim* to creatively and compellingly lie to the authorities if he doesn’t want to be thrown in jail or chemically castrated.

    > Expecting imagination from people in that kind of rut would be overoptimistic.

    Because if anybody is, you know, in a mental rut and lacking imagination, it’s the guy who cracked the Enigma machine.

    Perhaps he thought ahead; even if Turing told the police a lie (“he’s just a friend/roommate/boarder/colleague/etc”) then it’s quite possible that his partner might out him anyway (“No, it wasn’t burglary. I’m his lover and I live there and he gave me those valuables as a gift…”) at which point the differing stories would, at the very least, throw Turing’s credibility into doubt.

    Clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, today we know that telling the bald truth didn’t work for Turing. That’s not really disputable.

  148. >Is England some sort of hyper-religious society that persecutes mercilessly anybody who isn’t a Christian? No, of course not.

    You are under-estimating the social and personal price to be paid for an indecency conviction in those years. In a nutshell, your social, professional, and public life was finished, and if you did not have family and friends to support you, your personal life was finished as well, and that was true even if you did not go to jail.

    the social privileges Eric talks about might not have made Turing any safer under that system, on the contrary, British hypocritical mores demand that the best pay a higher price for their ‘moral failings’. I too know it from experience: i worked for two years in Cambridge, and saw the same attitude applied to drugs: “sniff whatever you want, but if you get caught, forget about getting a degree from us”. That makes a difference in your life, doesn’t it?

  149. >the social privileges Eric talks about might not have made Turing any safer under that system

    We don’t have to ask this as a hypothetical. We know from the record that Turing’s status did shield him, at least in part.

  150. >It seems to me that there’s also a failure of imagination here, too. I don’t think it was a choice between “come out of the closet in a police report” and “the police won’t be able to do anything”. There’s also the option of “he was a close personal friend/colleague with whom I worked with closely and he had a key to my apartment; sadly, after a major argument it seems we are no longer friends and he may have taken things too far by abusing my trust in him”.

    this is not very convincing: how do you go from “close personal friend” to a conviction for indecency? in order for such charges to be brought aaginst him, he must have said a lot more.

    The only hypothesis I could think of is that, out of a sheer desire for revenge, he wanted to bring down his partner with him, he wanted him accused of something more than burglary …

  151. I think the Occam’s-razor explanation of Turing’s behavior is that he was a bit of an Aspie, and Aspies are compulsive truth-tellers. He was the victim of a crime, so he went to the police, because that is what one does when one witnesses a crime. When the police inquired as to the circumstances of the crime, he gave the most truthful, complete answer that he could provide, because that is what Aspies do when asked a question. I don’t think deliberate self-destructiveness, martyrdom, belief that he would be shielded by his status, or any of the other myriad motivations posited in this thread are at all necessary to assume. (Though, as Eric is fond of saying, all interesting behavior is overdetermined)

  152. > The only hypothesis I could think of is that, out of a sheer desire for revenge, he wanted to bring down his partner with him, he wanted him accused of something more than burglary …

    Too much speculation. Turing brought a complaint and told the policeman more than he should. People make errors of judgement and mistakes. Policemen are trained to get the people in front of them to tell them more than they should. They are also trained to spot illegal activities.

    Attempts to read more into Turing’s behavior than a simple misjudgement of the situation or a slip of the tongue is trying to read the mind of a man who is now dead for 60 years.

    And I still do not get this whole “martyr” thing.

    @esr
    “You need to bear in mind that Britons of the time believed homosexuality was a choice, a form of moral turpitude encouraged by an infectious counter-culture that was depraved on many levels (including political) and that could draw in heterosexuals as well.”

    That is framing 1950s UK morals into a 21st century USA religious debate. Whether or not homosexuality was a choice or not was irrelevant for the morals of that time. It was preventable illegal behavior, so you should prevent it. As federico wrote, the rest of Europe considered the UK treatment of homosexuals as barbarous.

    Btw, Sado-Masochism between consenting adults is still illegal in the UK. And it is indeed punished:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/law-report-prosecution-of-sadomasochists-necessary-in-a-democracy-1280548.html

  153. >That is framing 1950s UK morals into a 21st century USA religious debate.

    I’m not responsible for the fact that consensus thinking about homosexuality in Britain of the 1950s resembled what American religious conservatives believe today. I lived there ten years after Turing’s time and I can report those beliefs as observed. On indirect evidence, I don’t think they began to change until the 1970s.

  154. @esr:
    > but her “participating as an observer” is just a fancy-dancing way to try smuggling “giving offense” back into the discussion and won’t stand much scrutiny.

    Just to be clear, I fancy danced nothing of the sort, I believe you are referring to a comment someone made in response to me. As to fancy dancing in general, we will have to wait and see how all that pans out when I finally organize the geeks with groove event next year.

    Nonetheless, I continue to disagree with you. In fact the reason I disagree with you is very similar to the reason why someone else unfairly criticized you, or at least your anarchist beliefs.

    Freedom does not mean either the right to break legitimate rules, or a denial of the right to make rules. In an anarchist society there would still be rules, they would just be privately generated. In a non anarchist society there is such a thing as public property, and the public has a legitimate right to make rules about how that public property can be used. For sure, there must be pressure to minimize these rules to maximize freedom, but unrestricted freedom on the Interstate highway system is not really all that good an idea.

    Whether you like the concept of public property or not, the fact is that all property has an owner, and that owner has a legitimate right to make rules. Those we have elected to control that property need to be bound down by the shackles of constitutions, interfering courts, the press and lawyers, etc., nonetheless, we all mostly all agree that we’d prefer you keep you pants zipped when we are trying to eat lunch.

    The difference between the streetosexual and the homosexual is that the first demands the right to use other people’s property for their own use, whereas the homosexual simply wants you to stay out of his private business conducted in the property that he controls.

    A comparison might be made with smoking pot. From my perspective if you do it in your basement, it is none of my, or anybody else’s business. If you do it when driving on a public highway, it becomes the business of the people who are charged with ensuring the safety of the roads.

  155. @esr
    I was not in the UK around that time, so I ser no reason to contest your account.

  156. >The difference between the streetosexual and the homosexual is that the first demands the right to use other people’s property for their own use, whereas the homosexual simply wants you to stay out of his private business conducted in the property that he controls.

    Well, this is at least a coherent argument. Mistaken, but coherent.

    Now suppose I were to organize streetosexual-liberation events in public parks – gigantic public orgies that do not impinge on private property but whose sexual, expressive and political purpose is to be seen in the act of frenzied naked humping. Explain to me how this is ethically different from a gay-pride march? Not a staid “respectable” one but the sort of happening one sees in the wilder reaches of Berkeley, with epic scrotal inflation and giant fluorescent dildos and so forth.

    You have two problems to overcome here. One is that by situating my hypothetical in a public park, I’ve removed the “other people’s property” issue. I’m making exactly the same demand for tolerance of my expressive, artistic, and educational purposes that gay-pride events do. The second is that gay-pride events falsify – by their very intention – your premise that homosexuality (or, at least, homosexuality as constructed by the gay liberation movement) is a private matter.

    Remember the purpose of my thought experiment. I began it by objecting to the claim that homosexuals are oppressed because they are unable to freely engage in homosexual acts. We may still hold they are oppressed by, say, fag-bashers or people who inject them with stilbestrols – but pointing out that they’re unable to futter each other ad libitum simply doesn’t make the oppression test. (I can’t have all the cheesecake I desire, either. And while I’m at it, I want a pony.)

    I proposed streetosexualism as a reduction to absurdity of that silly claim. And my question still stands. If you don’t think it’s “oppressive” to thwart my streetosexual desires, why was it “oppressive” to thwart Alan Turing’s homosexual ones – or, specifically, to prosecute him for “public indecency”? What consequential test does homosexuality pass that streetosexualism fails? Are we back to “because the neighbors go ick”?

  157. As to fancy dancing in general, we will have to wait and see how all that pans out when I finally organize the geeks with groove event next year.

    Are you serious?

    If you are, I strongly recommend inviting Knut Yrvin — breakdancer, Qt developer, and Norske Talenter contestant.

  158. >Were they? This is an assumption on your part. You need to be careful about projecting today’s politico-sexual categories on to the past; often (even as recently as the 1950s) they don’t fit well.

    >If we can believe period sources the enforcement of (what had been) outmoded anti-homosexuality statutes in the 1950s probably had more to do with the Cold War than “homophobia”. The Soviets were already known to have been recruiting spies through networks of homosexuals at British universities. In 1952 in Great Britain, associating homosexuality with treason and present danger wasn’t crazy.

    Don’t pretend that you don’t understand what I mean by homophobia, or understand cause and effect. The fact that homosexuality was associated with treason was because it was an extremely homophobic society, so homosexuality was something you could blackmail people about.

  159. And also you’re missing the point of my argument, and trying to derail it.

    You wrote:

    >Nobody is claiming it was “right”. But there is no indication that Turing saw himself as a “victim of oppression”, so why should we?

    As I and others have pointed out, it’s not necessary for him to mentally model himself as a victim of oppression, in order for him to be a victim of oppression. And the other point is that you don’t know how he mentally modeled himself. He was certainly not free to write about that.

  160. The difference between the streetosexual and the homosexual is that the first demands the right to use other people’s property for their own use, whereas the homosexual simply wants you to stay out of his private business conducted in the property that he controls.

    “It’s none of my or anyone else’s business whom you bed” is not quite true. Sex has a public component: namely, the pair bond. Pair bonds are not only public, they are advertised by everything from simple gestures like holding hands to expensive jewelry and elaborate rituals, institutionalized in the form of marriage, tracked assiduously by observers in media such as celebrity tabloids, and understood by all but the smallest of children (usually looking to mom and pop as the primordial example). They are key determiners of trivial questions like the content of the movies you watch, and of big questions like who else is covered by your health insurance, who gets to visit you when you are sick, and who gets all your stuff when you die. To legitimize couple A’s bond and grant them all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, while criminalizing couple B’s bond and denying those self-same rights, simply because couple B is composed of two men or two women, is rank discrimination and heinous bigotry.

    So when the OP stated that Turing was oppressed because he wasn’t able to freely practice his homosexual behavior, this is what was meant: Turing couldn’t make public his homosexual bonds in the same way a heterosexual can. And that to me is a systematic denial of human rights. In the United States it is (or should be) a First Amendment issue: any law that interferes with a person’s right to engage in pair-bonding behavior with a consenting adult partner (or many partners!) of their choice is a violation of the right to peaceably assemble. It don’t get much more peaceable than love, folks.

  161. @ John Booty @ 11:41am,

    Let’s imagine I smoked pot routinely. Let’s further imagine that I have just been burglarized. Let’s say I invite the police in to examine my home (now a crime scene), and the police find a pile of drugs and paraphranalia sitting in plain view on the dining room table, after I had had amble opportunity and time to have them secreted elsewhere. I get arrested.

    Would you, as someone reading of the case in a newspaper, be more inclined to think “What terrible oppression!” or “What a bloody *moron*!” What if I were a well known and widely respected public personage like Carl Sagan, or Michael Phelps? (I am assuming here that Turing was as well aware of the law in Britain as an American drug user would be today.)

    While both the law in Britain and the relevant laws in America are oppressive, I think there’s a point in certain situations where the “What an idiot!” factor overwhelms the “oppressive law” factor.

    On a separate note, your repeated appeals to “pragmatism” simply hand-wave away the actual issue. Pragmatic by what standards? Practicality in service of what goal?

  162. >he fact that homosexuality was associated with treason was because it was an extremely homophobic society, so homosexuality was something you could blackmail people about.

    Bzzt! Thank you for playing, I already explained why this facile notion of circularity doesn’t hold up.

  163. >And also you’re missing the point of my argument, and trying to derail it.

    Oh, thank you. For that word, “derail”. It has become so strongly associated with close-mindedness and impacted layers of victimological bullshit that I always feel a little glow of pride and accomplishment when someone flings it at me.

  164. What if I have no problem with streetosexuality or publicparkosexuality? Into what logical trap do I fall in that case? Am I still allowed to disapprove of slavery, the Holocaust, and the FSF?

    By the way, pretending that Turing would have approved of streetosexuality is nothing more than projecting your own values onto a historical figure, whom you never knew and who did not share your particular educational traumas.

  165. >So when the OP stated that Turing was oppressed because he wasn’t able to freely practice his homosexual behavior, this is what was meant: Turing couldn’t make public his homosexual bonds in the same way a heterosexual can.

    In the OP, I denied that Turing-the-individual could be considered a victim of oppression. I have since explained why: “oppression” is properly used to describe the situation of people who don’t have choices, don’t have social power, and don’t have the system scrambling to protect them. Who don’t have…uh, what’s the thought-ending PC jargon for it? Ah yes: privilege.

  166. “Bzzt! Thank you for playing, I already explained why this facile notion of circularity doesn’t hold up”

    Er, no. What you “explained” was this:

    “You need to bear in mind that Britons of the time believed homosexuality was a choice, a form of moral turpitude encouraged by an infectious counter-culture that was depraved on many levels (including political) and that could draw in heterosexuals as well”

    Regardless of whether it was actually _believed_ at the time, it wasn’t and isn’t actually _true_ – you’ve managed to actually paint the government in a worse light than if they were making pragmatic evaluations of who is a blackmail risk. And just because you can name _some_ spies who were homosexual who were not blackmailed, doesn’t mean that any above-noise (they would be the noise – even if they weren’t gay, they’d still be left-wing academics.) correlation isn’t due to blackmail.

  167. >What if I have no problem with streetosexuality or publicparkosexuality? Into what logical trap do I fall in that case?

    None at all. You can consistently hold that either streetosexuals or homosexuals are both “oppressed” by being unable to “freely” exercise their preference, or that both groups are perverts who can be normatively suppressed. What you can’t do is consistently hold that homosexuals are oppressed by normative pressure against their preferences but streetosexuals or not. That is, unless you come up with a Millsian consequential test – a theory of harm – that distinguishes the two. Good luck; I designed this question to be difficult, because the difficulty is the actual point of instruction.

    >By the way, pretending that Turing would have approved of streetosexuality

    Um. Is anyone actually doing this? Certainly not me – there’s no way it’s necessary to any of my arguments.

  168. I also can’t possibly imagine how you think Philby supports your claim. The others, yes, but he’s the counterexample that proves that “left-wing academic” is the far more relevant correlation.

  169. > Well, this is at least a coherent argument. Mistaken, but coherent.

    Ah damned with faint praise indeed.

    > [how is a big public orgy different than an extreme gay pride parade?]

    I don’t think they are categorically different, more just a matter of degrees. I think there is a legitimate case to be made for demanding that some of that extreme stuff in the gay pride parade be toned down in a public place.

    But Turing was not engaging in a gay pride parade, he mentioned that he had a partner of the same sex in an official document. That is categorically different.

    But the whole thing is just part of the general problem of public spaces. The nature of public spaces demand that governments must make judgements on right morals, and the relative value of activities, because it is a scares resource, managed by that very government. That is always a slippery slope. One approach is to fraction the public space. Where I live there are dog parks, and there are model airplane parks, and there are jogging tracks and picnic areas. In some places (not here in the Midwest of course!!) there are nude beaches. Here we have public space customized to the needs of sizable minorities (called “voting blocks”.)

    If you can get enough of your streetosexuals together, perhaps you can carve out a fucking section in the local park. If you do, let me know, I think I’ll come watch :-)

    > What consequential test does homosexuality pass that streetosexualism fails? Are we back to “because the neighbors go ick”?

    Actually, yes we are. It is the nature of public spaces that the government has to impose morality and value judgments. We need to demand that they err strongly on the side of lassiez faire, but it is not unreasonable to demand that public spaces be used in the way a large majority of the people who pay for them want. And if you don’t like those restrictions do it at your own place.

  170. >Actually, yes we are. It is the nature of public spaces that the government has to impose morality and value judgments. We need to demand that they err strongly on the side of lassiez faire, but it is not unreasonable to demand that public spaces be used in the way a large majority of the people who pay for them want. And if you don’t like those restrictions do it at your own place.

    Actually, I don’t think this fits. If the neighbors are all extreme social conservatives, then they can, after all, object to gay (or interracial, or unmarried) couples holding hands. So coming back to “because the neighbors go ick” fails to distinguish any of those things, and therefore does not pass ESR’s criterion (unless you do think all of those things should be able to be banned from public parks… in which case, what is a public park?)

  171. this is starting to remind me of one of those frustrating intellectual property arguments where half the posters are talking about the law as it is and other other half about their own moral principles….

  172. A public park is one thing, but how about a public street? These _must_ exist for property rights to exist, you have to be able to get from point A in California to point B in New York without anyone being able to bar you from passing or charge a fee (since in the latter case a second private party is collecting rent from you to exercise your property rights, so your rights are not really property rights)

  173. (sorry for the above, it’s a half constructed argument about how some public spaces shouldn’t be solely controlled by the local community because they’re a global resource, and I seem to have misplaced the other half)

  174. >Regardless of whether it was actually _believed_ at the time, it wasn’t and isn’t actually _true_ – you’ve managed to actually paint the government in a worse light than if they were making pragmatic evaluations of who is a blackmail risk

    Indeed I have. So what? The intent of the explanation was that you can’t just write off the Cold War spasm of legal sanctions against homosexuals as “homophobia”, that there was something else going on. It doesn’t matter whether the model I describe was “true”; what matters is that it was believed. That it motivated behavior.

    *snrk* “Homophobia”. That’s another one of those words that has almost no meaning besides “Political correctness requires you to stop thinking now.” Much like “derail”. I’d suggest we kick around “privilege” next, but it’s been done here already.

    >The others, yes, but [Philby's] the counterexample that proves that “left-wing academic” is the far more relevant correlation

    Um, correlation to what? Who the Soviets could pick up and use? If so I completely agree with you – our left-wing academics are still running on Soviet memetic programming twenty years after the Evil Empire fell. But I wasn’t describing my beliefs; I was describing the beliefs that caused sober Britons in the 1950s to regard homosexuals as a threat.

  175. @esr
    What is the relevance of all this stuff about Turing being opressed as a homosexual?

    He was a victim of a brutal treatment for a victimless crime. And both the prosecution and punishment were hypocritic. People are genuinly ashamed about it in modern UK.

    If there is anyone who abuses Turing for his political goals, it is you.

  176. Random832 on Tuesday, June 26 2012 at 3:25 pm said:
    > Actually, I don’t think this fits. If the neighbors are all extreme social conservatives, then they can, after all, object to gay (or interracial, or unmarried) couples holding hands.

    Yes they can, for sure. If I were opposed to homosexuality, would I have a legitimate right to object, and even prevent two lesbians from making out in my front room? I think I do. Public property is much less tightly held than private property, and, as I mentioned already, the rules should be as loose as possible. But those conservatives do pay for the park, so have some legitimate right to ask that their values be respected.

    It isn’t by any means a black and white thing (no pun intended), and the lesbians pay for the park too. But it is always a compromise when something is owned by more than one person. You married folks must know that, I’d have thought.

  177. Random832
    > A public park is one thing, but how about a public street?

    Would you advocate my right to get brutally drunk, high on cocaine, and then get in my Ferrari and drive down your street a 150mph, when your kids were playing in the front yard?

    If you think I shouldn’t be allowed to do that, you have conceded the basic point that public spaces should have rules. And now, to misquote Churchill, we are just negotiating the price.

  178. > What consequential test does homosexuality pass that streetosexualism fails?

    Homosexuality does not force me as a non-consenting observer to be exposed to excessive quantities of unwanted sexual stimulation. Streetosexuality does.

  179. >But Turing was not engaging in a gay pride parade, he mentioned that he had a partner of the same sex in an official document. That is categorically different.

    I was expecting this reply, because you’re intelligent. Now…is it different? Remember what he was prosecuted for: “public indecency”.

    Public indecency. The category of offense says that Turing was not prosecuted for private homosexuality. He was prosecuted for putting the law, and constructively society, in a position where it was required to notice – to observe indecency.

    The difference between this and the basis under which we ban or prosecute certain conduct at gay-pride parades (sex on the floats, etc.) is…not much difference. Now, you can protest if you like that such disclosures to LEOs should be considered private. And today maybe they would be. But here’s some free advice: if you’re ever in that situation, don’t count on it.

  180. >Homosexuality does not force me as a non-consenting observer to be exposed to excessive quantities of unwanted sexual stimulation. Streetosexuality does.

    Avert thine eyes. Nobody forced you to look in that direction.

    Note: This is exactly parallel to a current slogan “If a gay man is threatening your marriage, stop sleeping with him!”

  181. “what matters is that it was believed. That it motivated behavior.”

    And all of the proposed motivations and the resulting behaviors separately amount to… fine, dammit, “discrimination against homosexuals” (twelve syllables; if you don’t like ‘homophobia’ then coin me a new word, o great lexicographer)

    And it most certainly IS circular. Well, actually, I suppose it’s only half circular, since you refuse to complete the circle. Your claim, remember, was “associating homosexuality with treason and present danger wasn’t crazy.” On its face, this is simply an assertion that the correlation actually existed. You have provided no theory other than blackmail to cause the correlation to exist – and the existence of such… unfounded negative beliefs (eight syllables, omitting whom about) conveniently provides a mechanism for blackmail to work.

    So these unfounded negative beliefs you describe not only motivated behavior, they were also indirectly motivated _by_ that same behavior [since the beliefs created blackmail vulnerability, which made a correlation to espionage a reality, which, as you said before, reinforced the negative beliefs]. Beliefs -> blackmail -> espionage -> beliefs. That’s circularity, spelled out in full.

  182. >If you think I shouldn’t be allowed to do that, you have conceded the basic point that public spaces should have rules.

    Jessica, please note that I haven’t disputed this, and then carry on educating Random832. I think he’s worth your time.

  183. “If you think I shouldn’t be allowed to do that, you have conceded the basic point that public spaces should have rules. And now, to misquote Churchill, we are just negotiating the price.”

    No, we’re negotiating *who sets* the price. I rejected “local community”, because public roads are a global resource. I can’t ban Ferrari’s, I can fund a road that doesn’t go near my front yard where one may drive 150 mph, and a consensus that driving drunk and high could probably be found in areas far larger than a local community.

  184. er… ” a consensus that driving drunk and high >>>should be banned [or restricted to areas designated for the purpose*]<<< could probably be found in areas far larger than a local community."

    *I'm not entirely convinced there isn't a market for drunk demolition derby as an extreme sport, if the safety issues can be solved with specially constructed cars.

  185. >What is the relevance of all this stuff about Turing being opressed as a homosexual?

    Back at the beginning of the thread, some people got their knickers in a twist because I described Turing as not being a victim of oppression. They’re confused about what “oppression” means; thus the extensive digging around the concept.

    >He was a victim of a brutal treatment for a victimless crime.

    That is true. Though it wasn’t considered victimless at the time.

    >And both the prosecution and punishment were hypocritic

    If you mean “hypocritical”, that is false, or at least highly debatable.

  186. Actually, “gross indecency” – just because we don’t commonly hear of a charge of “indecency” other than public indecency today doesn’t mean they didn’t have it in 1952.

  187. For sure, the only time to call the police is when one is required by law to do so, and has a reasonable expectation that she’ll be caught if she violates that requirement. Calling the cops because your dirtbag ex stole some clothes and furniture? Is that worth getting handcuffed? Getting the shit beat out of you? Going to jail? Getting tazed? Having the rest of your property seized? Having the rest of your property destroyed? Having your dog shot? Having your kid taken away? Having your kid shot? Getting shot yourself?

    Of course you can’t really avoid any of that by avoiding the police, because after all someone within several blocks of your home might call them instead, and they aren’t very good at reading house numbers. So, for your neighbors’ sake, don’t call the police.

    I guess Turing wouldn’t have had to worry about all of that, but that’s progress for you!

  188. And the point is, in a world with no whatever-you-want-to-call-it, the Cambridge Five might still be spies, _because they were communists_, and that doesn’t actually contribute to “associating homosexuality with treason and present danger wasn’t crazy”. Blackmail victims who would _not_ otherwise become spies would not.

  189. >Avert thine eyes. Nobody forced you to look in that direction.

    >Note: This is exactly parallel to a current slogan “If a gay man is threatening your marriage, stop sleeping with him!”

    There is a least one difference. My ability to avert my eyes (a conscious decision) is slower than my automatic sexual stimulation (an unconscious process).

  190. @Random832
    > No, we’re negotiating *who sets* the price.

    Negotiating the price, and negotiating who sets the price are transitively identical.

    > I rejected “local community”, because public roads are a global resource.

    So you say local community is too small a group to set the standards on long distance roads? What about short roads? But more to the point, what about gay people holding hands in the local public play park paid for by the taxes of the 90% of local residents who are Mormons or Muslims?

    I always thought that he who pays the piper calls the tune. If everyone is tossing coins in the hat the piper has to try to find the common ground that will satisfy all of his audience.

    The problem is public spaces are inherently difficult to manage. Ironically, it is far easier to privatize long distance roads than all those little roads. So in a sense if any roads should be subject to “community standards” it is little local roads. Which is to say, I think I believe exactly the opposite of what you do.

  191. > What you can’t do is consistently hold that homosexuals are oppressed by normative pressure against their preferences but streetosexuals or not. That is, unless you come up with a Millsian consequential test – a theory of harm – that distinguishes the two.

    maybe it’s just my european perspective, but I never thought about the abolition of anti-sodomy laws as having anything to do with the millsian notion of harm.

    In Italy, most people have always considered such laws as a (bigoted) emanation of the church – and rightly so. I suspect that that was also the case in protestant countries — did any public discussion ever take place about the degree of ‘harm’ inflected to society before ‘deciding’ to punish homosexual acts?

    On the contrary, the abolition of such laws is seen here as an issue of natural rights: some people are born that way, want to integrate into the rest of society, build families etc. From this point of view homosexuality and streetsexuality are different, as streetsexuality has not yet proved to be a deep-seated sexual orientation that is compatible with our views and laws about the family etc.

  192. >amount to…fine, dammit, “discrimination against homosexuals”

    I see you’ve failed to keep up with bien-pensant thinking. That’s not what “homophobia” is supposed to mean. It’s not supposed to mean discrimination against homosexuals, but rather irrational fear of homosexuals – especially fear produced by loathing of one’s own putative homosexual impulses. In practice, the word has become nearly as traduced and empty as “racist”. Or “derail”. Or “privilege”. It’s one of those items of left-wing duckspeak that mainly serve to inform you how much of the speaker’s critical faculties have shut down.

    >Well, actually, I suppose it’s only half circular, since you refuse to complete the circle.

    I don’t think you’re stupid, so I guess I must have been unclear. You are quite right that there was some circularity in the Cold War fear of homosexuals. My point is that it wasn’t all circular – there was a rational basis for it outside of homophobia. To understand why legal persecution of homosexuals became intense at that time, you need to know that Soviets really did recruit through networks of homosexuals, and sexual blackmail wasn’t the only or even the most important tool they used. Thus Kim Philby as an important example.

    Sorry, but reacting with “Well, if only homosexuals had been less closeted and vulnerable to blackmail” just shows you’re not thinking. Even if some forward-looking Whitehall mandarin had thought “OK, let’s social-engineer for more tolerance so the Soviets won’t be able to blackmail the gays”, there would have been a serious problem with timescale. They had to deal with the present danger – they were facing Stalin armed with nukes, for Goddess’s sake. They had a great and quite justified fear of Soviet infiltrators and proxies – elements of the British Labor Party were involved in plans for a violent Soviet-backed coup against the British government as late as 1973.

    Under the circumstances, it is possible to affirm both that Turing’s hormone injections were barbaric by modern standards and that the government treated him with remarkable gentleness and restraint, considering what they believed and the pressures they were under. Remember that Turing wasn’t just some rent-boy in a Cheapside brothel; he was part of the milieu that had produced the Cambridge Five, socially and perhaps sexually close to them. Potentially an extremely dangerous agent.

  193. There has to be a way that the non-leftist tech community can step up to the plate here.

    I don’t see anything about this alleged SWATting outside of the right-wing blogospheric circlejerk.

    Even if it is true, supporting the effective nullification of the fourth amendment, and the incarceration and torture of persons, including American citizens, without trial, and then getting butthurt when Anonymous doxes you and prank-sends SWAT teams to your home is the height of hypocrisy.

  194. >did any public discussion ever take place about the degree of ‘harm’ inflected to society before ‘deciding’ to punish homosexual acts?

    No. But in English-speaking countries Millsian arguments have been central to every effort to abolish them. That form of argument is now so central to our legal and philosophical tradition that even religious conservatives opposing abolition are now effectively required to argue in Millsian terms.

  195. esr on Tuesday, June 26 2012 at 3:50 pm said:
    > Remember what he was prosecuted for: “public indecency”.

    Right, but it is a matter of degree, isn’t it. I certainly don’t think that gay pride marches should be banned, on the contrary, I think they are a lot of fun. But I think that parents have a legitimate concern that the participants should observe some modicum of decency.

    To claim that what he did was legitimately “public indecency” doesn’t pass the laugh test. Of course, I fully understand that you don’t think it does too. I completely get that you are arguing from the perspective of 1950s British society. But just because that was the prevailing view doesn’t make it right.

    Oh, look at that, I just fell into your trap. I think I just argued myself into the point where my other thread of argument is the same point you are making. Well, that is embarrassing…

    So, quickly moving on hoping no-one will notice, let me take a different track. For something to count as public you have to pass at least some level of public-ness. If you streetosexuals are running behind the bushes for your lil bit o’ slap n’ tickle (to stay in the English idiom) that you are good to go. A couple of sentences in a dusty police report that one is required to file truthfully to get justice for oneself hardly counts as public except in a technical sense.

  196. >I don’t see anything about this alleged SWATting outside of the right-wing blogospheric circlejerk.

    Google tells me that CNN ran a story on it on 6 June, and ABC another one on 10 June.

  197. > No. But in English-speaking countries Millsian arguments have been central to every effort to abolish them. That form of argument is now so central to our legal and philosophical tradition that even religious conservatives opposing abolition are now effectively required to argue in Millsian terms.

    aha. May I ask whether you think this is the most useful way to think through the moral questions related to laws about sexual behaviour? from here, this discussion about whether other hypothetical sexual orientations are harmless in millsian terms seems rather academic.

    More to the point, it seems to fall in the same trap you denonce in your post about the harms from closed-source software: it forgets the practical issues these laws are supposed to regulate.

  198. >May I ask whether you think this is the most useful way to think through the moral questions related to laws about sexual behaviour?

    I don’t know of a better one. Actually I don’t know of a better frame than consequentialism for arguing any ethical question.

    >it forgets the practical issues these laws are supposed to regulate.

    Sorry, I’m not following your argument here. Explain?

  199. Jeff Read writes: “Even if it is true, supporting the effective nullification of the fourth amendment, and the incarceration and torture of persons, including American citizens, without trial, and then getting butthurt when Anonymous doxes you and prank-sends SWAT teams to your home is the height of hypocrisy.

    Read, your claim is offensively stupid. None of the persons who have been victims of these incidents have advocated the “nullification” of the Fourth Amendment, nor torture of anyone. And the idea that even if they did, that you think their speech is justification for being the victim of a dangerous crime is equally offensive and stupid.

  200. “I see you’ve failed to keep up with bien-pensant thinking.” – who is more to blame for those shifts in meaning – those who keep up with it and abandon the words, or those who don’t and use the words as they are commonly understood to mean?

    “Even if some forward-looking Whitehall mandarin had thought” – whoa, back up. That’s not what I said at all. Clearly they had some hard choices with facts on the ground – that doesn’t change that part of the root cause – as regards homosexuals – is public discrimination and unjustified negative beliefs about them.

    That there was no way to change it – not in the 50s, not in the 30s, and probably not in the 20th century at all, doesn’t change that it all ties back to something that itself has no rational basis.

    And I still just don’t get how Philby fits in as an example. That wasn’t a “network of homosexuals”, it was a network of left-wing academics, and he’s proof, unless there’s something huge I’m missing here.

    > Sorry, I’m not following your argument here. Explain?

    Seconded. What _is_ a practical issue absent a theory of harm?

  201. >>May I ask whether you think this is the most useful way to think through the moral questions related to laws about sexual behaviour?

    > I don’t know of a better one. Actually I don’t know of a better frame than consequentialism for arguing any ethical question.

    well, as a chomskyan linguist I would argue in favour of an ethical system based on our own innate ethics. Such an ethical system would take into account our intuitions about ethical questions. For instance, it could answer your question about streetsexuality by arguing that our human nature provides us with a well-defined notion of ‘private space’ and that it also confines sexual acts to that space. From this it would follow that private homo-sexual activities are ok, but street-sexuality and gay pride parades are not.

    that is only a hypothetical scenario, of course, and I know the study of innate ethical principles (if any) is still far from being relevant to the discussion about many specific ethical questions.

    >>it forgets the practical issues these laws are supposed to regulate.
    > Sorry, I’m not following your argument here. Explain?

    I just meant that the reasons why (today) there are laws about sexual behaviour and sexual orientation stem from practical questions: can two gays marry? can they adopt children? can they teach children? can they join the military? etc. etc. etc. The social ramifications of not punishing homosexual beahviour are vast, and I do not see how these questions can be fruitfully discussed in millsian terms without actual detailed knowledge of the possible consequences. For instance, we still do not know for sure whether to have two gay parents is harmful for a child. How do you evaluate harm objectively in these cases?

  202. @Surah

    > Let’s imagine I smoked pot routinely. Let’s further imagine that I
    > have just been burglarized. Let’s say I invite the police in to
    > examine my home (now a crime scene), and the police find a pile
    > of drugs and paraphranalia sitting in plain view on the dining room
    > table, after I had had amble opportunity and time to have them
    > secreted elsewhere. I get arrested.

    The two situations are really similar, but also dissimilar enough that I don’t think they can be directly compared.

    1. Personally, I think pot should be legal. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and buying it sometimes funds organized crime groups that do bad things. So its morality more of a grey area than a person’s private sex life.
    2. In Turing’s case, his relationship to the burglar was directly relevant to the crime, unlike your hypothetical pile of drugs.
    3. I don’t know about the England that Turing lived in but on whole, obscenity laws are enforced in a much less consistent manner than situations where cops find a pile of illegal drugs. Turing may have had a reasonable (though wrong) assumption that he was unlikely to be prosecuted, whereas in your hypothetical situation it’s difficult to believe you *wouldn’t* be prosecuted.

    But to get to the root of what you’re asking…

    > I think there’s a point in certain situations where the “What an idiot!”
    > factor overwhelms the “oppressive law” factor.

    The “What an idiot!” factor is often very justified, but it never excuses morally reprehensible behavior on another’s part. If I leave my car unlocked and you steal it, I was foolish, but you’re still a car thief.

  203. > On a separate note, your repeated appeals to “pragmatism” simply
    > hand-wave away the actual issue.

    My repeated appeals to pragmatism are an acknowledgement that, as ESR has hammered away at, there’s no ideologically pure “line in the sand” between publicly announcing that one is a homosexual (an act that is sure to offend some people) and having sex in public (an act that is sure to offend some people). My belief is that it’s worth pragmatically and democratically drawing some of those lines.

    > Pragmatic by what standards? Practicality in service of what goal?

    In service of the goal of the most good for the most people. In other words, we should (as a society) determine what intrinsic human rights a person has, and decide when a person’s actions infringe on another person’s rights.

  204. >doesn’t change that it all ties back to something that itself has no rational basis.

    I was with you until you said “all”.

    >That wasn’t a “network of homosexuals”, it was a network of left-wing academics, and he’s proof, unless there’s something huge I’m missing here.

    Oh, perhaps I see why you’re confused. OK, try this on: the British believed, probably correctly given other lines of evidence, that the Soviets specifically used networks of homosexuals for recruiting. Both of spies and of agents of influence. And not just of other homosexuals but of heterosexuals as well. The Cambridge ring was a case in point; KGB scout Arnold Deutsch seems to have recruited the homosexuals Blunt and Burgess first, then at a later stage Blunt recruited other homosexuals and then straights. The ring (both the famous Five and lesser spies associated with them) expanded from a core of homosexuals – none of whom, I should note, were blackmailed.

    When you say that you see a ring of left-wing academics, you’re making two errors. First, it isn’t dispositive what you see, 60 years after the fact. Second, you ignore the near-certainty that MI5 regarded “left wing academic” and “homosexual” as both jointly and separately predictive of the likelihood that Soviets had turned someone. If that was their model, it was correct!

    I brought up Kim Philby to dispose of the silly idea that gay susceptibility to blackmail was the root of the problem (and thus that a more enlightened attitude would have helped). Dude, you don’t recruit key agents with blackmail; blackmail victims are too unstable. Blackmail is what you use on disposable pawns.

  205. Nicholas Fine on Monday, June 25 2012 at 4:10 pm said:
    > I see Turing as a victim of oppression because he was forcibly given chemical castration agents by the state, which is oppression in any way I look at it.

    Yes, but for a middle class gentleman in 1950s England, or 1900s England, such oppression was easy to avoid, and difficult to encounter. That Turing suffered it reflects determined self destructiveness, rather than determined persecution.

  206. One thing that doesn’t seem to occur to anyone: is it possible that Turing was not gay, in the sense that we usually mean it? I realize that it’s PC nowadays to get borderline violent whenever anyone even suggests that so much as one person who follows a gay lifestyle is anything other than a member of the Third Sex. Here in the real world, however, there are plenty of lonely eccentrics who dabble in homosexuality due to the difficulty of finding female companionship. (John Forbes Nash, Jr., was an example).

    It may stretch some of the minds here to the breaking point, but what if Turing were simply a nerd who couldn’t get laid by females?

  207. Here in the real world, however, there are plenty of lonely eccentrics who dabble in homosexuality due to the difficulty of finding female companionship. (John Forbes Nash, Jr., was an example).

    The slang for this is “jailhouse gay”. Quite a few furries qualify.

    It is difficult to imagine a man of Turing’s standing and appearance being absolutely starved of female companionship should he desire it, but you’re right that we are overlooking a salient possibility: maybe Turing was bisexual.

  208. Pingback: DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Alan Turing: The Man and the Myth

  209. @Jeff Read

    >It is difficult to imagine a man of Turing’s standing and appearance being absolutely starved of female companionship should he desire it

    Yeah. He’s a good-looking genius who broke the Nazi’s codes and helped win the war. This guy is really going to struggle.

  210. @esr: I’m unable to find references to Turing being charged with “public indecency” – all of the references that I’ve been able to find have shown it to be “gross indecency”, which didn’t require a public commission.

    If the charge had truly been “public indecency”, it would have been trivial enough to defend against that charge in court that even Matthew Washington (of Washington v. Alaimo fame) would have been able to succeed pro se.

  211. >It is difficult to imagine a man of Turing’s standing and appearance being absolutely starved of female companionship should he desire it, but you’re right that we are overlooking a salient possibility: maybe Turing was bisexual.

    I agree that if Turing wanted women he could have had them. Good-looking Cambridgean with an OBE would have been a chick magnet for upper-class women of the period.

    Yes, he might have been bisexual. But if so the het side seems to have been unacted-on – no marriage, no record or rumor of girlfriends.

  212. >I would argue in favour of an ethical system based on our own innate ethics

    I’ve studied evolutionary psychology pretty closely, so I’m in sympathy with this program. There are two problems with it in context with the current discussion. One is that, as you note, we don’t actually know very much about innate ethics yet. We know one or two important things; possibly the single most important thing, so far, is that human beings are neurologically wired to perform cheater detection in reciprocal-contract situations. But we don’t know enough, yet, to be confident about much else.

    The other problem is that with one major known exception, studying innate ethics doesn’t lead to conclusions very different from a Millsian analysis. It would be surprising if matters were otherwise; because what can our ethical responses be other an evolved strategy for harm reduction? The exception is that we seem to have a class of responses to filth versus purity that don’t fit a Millsian account very well. Understanding this is an active research area.

    >I do not see how these questions can be fruitfully discussed in millsian terms without actual detailed knowledge of the possible consequences

    We don’t have enough knowledge, indeed. But the reflex in English-speaking cultures other than India (the European Anglosphere) is to do Millsian analysis on the basis of the incomplete information we have, and be prepared to adjust it rapidly as better knowledge becomes available. I have lived outside the Anglosphere (including in what I guess to be your home country, Italy) and understand that the latter part – treating ethical conclusions as provisional – is something non-Anglophones have more trouble with.

  213. >Victim of Prejudice … Which of these is not like the others? Unbelievable.

    I trust this will satisfy Winter’s desire to know where the “martyrdom” stuff comes from.

  214. >I’m unable to find references to Turing being charged with “public indecency” – all of the references that I’ve been able to find have shown it to be “gross indecency”, which didn’t require a public commission.

    I’ve checked too and it appears you’re right. I think Jessica has dropped the line of argument that led to that; up to her if she wants to reopen it.

  215. I really can’t believe that Eric (or anyone) is defending that Turing wasn’t a victim of oppression. I think it’s more of an intellectual athletics exercise for him at this point.

    Alan Turing was chemically castrated for mentioning that he was homosexual in a police burglary report. How is that not being oppressed?

    Whether he was careless, made a strategic mistake or was left alone for a while before is completely irrelevant. You shouldn’t be prosecuted for doing your own business in private. I was hoping libertarians understood this. Granted this is seeing things from the past in the light of current morals but can we really do anything else? Is anyone going to justify slavery or ritual sacrifice with cultural relativism?

    What about proportionality of punishment? Even if we consider homosexuality illegal like shoplifting, wouldn’t we consider oppression and injustice to chop shoplifter’s hands for a minor theft?

    I don’t know, however you spin this I think it’s completely ridiculous to defend it and I don’t understand why some of you cornered yourselves into that. I agree that Turing’s accomplishments should shadow outraged emotional narratives about his death but the truth is he was *also* a victim of oppressive laws and injustice.

    As a personal note, I knew and admired the man before knowing about how he died or even that he was gay. I would even say that’s the case for most computer scientists. Outside of that, not many people know about him (same as all other scientists except Einstein?) so I’m not even sure this is an issue.

  216. holygrail, congratulations on your great skill in missing ESR’s point entirely.

  217. Well I did gloss over the main point of his argument, but that’s because I mostly agree with it so no discussion needed.

    On the other hand Eric (and others) in the tangential discussion in the comments seems to be defending that it was kind of Turing’s fault to reveal his homosexuality and therefore it’s not opression because if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have been punished. I don’t think that holds any water and I don’t see the need to corner yourself into that fight for the main argument to still be valid.

    Turing was a victim of injustice? yes. Should we remember the great scientist and make his death a side note? yes, too.

  218. >I’ve checked too and it appears you’re right. I think Jessica has dropped the line of argument that led to that; up to her if she wants to reopen it.

    I don’t find the distinction all that compelling to be honest. I wouldn’t regard it as public were it merely a mention in some boring, technically public document. Heck, even if he went around bragging about it. If he was boffing his boyfriend on the public court house steps, or down by the duck pond there might be a legitimate complaint.

    Regardless of what his putative crime, the idea of chemical castration simply because of his personal preferences is outrageous. It is an interesting and important point regarding the streetosexual thing too. If Eric was burning up the Karma Sutra on the streets, the worst he could expect was a nasty fine and a little bit of highway garbage collection. No way he is getting some progesterone shots. More than likely, he’d be getting offers from a few porno companies to celebrate his notoriety, though I’m sure he would claim it was more to do with his impressive technique. :-)

    But the difference is relevant, don’t you think — depo for Alan, garbage bag for Eric. Says something about the perception of the putative crimes.

  219. >therefore it’s not opression because if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have been punished.

    No. That’s not what I’m saying anyway. My main position is that “oppression” isn’t a term that can or should be used of someone with Turing’s range of choices, social power, and degree of support from the system around him. Especially when Turing apparently refused the “victim of oppression” role and never thought of himself that way.

  220. > No. That’s not what I’m saying anyway. My main position is that “oppression” isn’t a term that can or should be used of someone with Turing’s range of choices, social power, and degree of support from the system around him. Especially when Turing apparently refused the “victim of oppression” role and never thought of himself that way.

    I hope we are not arguing semantics here. If we are not, I disagree. Whether he considered himself a victim or not is irrelevant (same way as there’s victimism from people who aren’t victims).

    I think his range of choices, etc. is purely circumstancial and very speculative to argue. What if the police report he filled was a completely normal thing to do but he eventually just got in the way of a police leutenant who was vindictive, bitter and homophobic and wanted to hurt him, going out of his way with whatever he could find (and would have been something else otherwise)? Would that change things?

    I think the law was oppresive to people who were minding their own business and that the punishment was completely disproportionate to the act. Regardless of the details of Turing’s situation or perception, he was hit by that and it was unjust.

    By the way, opression to people to high status is a common thing. Just look at the good old USSR or satellite states. Great and famous writers and thinkers could be suddenly jailed, tortured or killed if they made certain mistakes. It was oppression then as it is now. When things turn, your past situation doesn’t matter. I think that’s what happened to Turing too.

  221. @esr
    “My main position is that “oppression” isn’t a term that can or should be used of someone with Turing’s range of choices, social power, and degree of support from the system around him.”

    My word of choice would be “persecuted”.

    Turing was persecuted for having had a relation with a man. Or if you want, for admitting it. There was no other reason he was so badly abused and he would never have been if he had not admitted he was a homosexual.

    And the “public” in “public indecency” was not about doing it in public. At least not in his case.

  222. @Winter

    Judging from some of those moves, I’d say it actually performs a lot worse than an average human. Pretty bad stuff! ;)

    But of course it’s still an incredible achievement, considering Turing wrote it without a computer.

    Anybody have a link to Turing’s original ‘code’ for this? I’d be fascinated to see what sort of notation he used, and how the program was written.

  223. @Tom
    “Judging from some of those moves, I’d say it actually performs a lot worse than an average human. Pretty bad stuff! ;)”

    Compared to me, the program is a brilliant chess master. I think it would beat me in 16 moves.

  224. LS and others:

    >I don’t think it was overt; Turing did what he did because he was just tired of living in the closet, and subconciously wanted to strike back at his society for their attitudes. “I helped save the nation, they gave me a medal, yet they’ll punish me for the way I was born.”

    I think what a lot of people ignore here that Turing had so much prestige and social standing that if he decided to really fight the law, civil disobedience, start a gay-rights movement, he could have done so. He could have easily gained press publicity etc. Consider, for example, a press-exposed hunger strike, for instance, like Gandhi in 1943. Gandhi actually provided a clear example of the non-violent publicity-fueled resistance that would have been his logical strategy if he chose to fight it out. He was by no means doomed to fight it out alone and without publicity, and of course he was smart enough to know that the only way to make a difference in such a fight is through publicity. Hence we can conclude he did not really want to fight it. My guess is more like: self-destructive, self-punishment tendencies due to a feeling of guilt/shame.

  225. The question is whether or not Turing’s “chemical castration” and other punishments at the hand of the state constitute oppression.

    I can’t find evidence of it (searching for Chemical Castration and Britain gives 20 solid results talking about Turing), however it wouldn’t surprise me if a public fornicator would be treated to the same result. But even rejecting that proposition, the medical science at the time felt that they were treating a mental illness. Are we oppressing a felon who, having plead insanity to a charge of GBH, is kept on a strict regimen of mood-altering drugs? Also bear in mind that we still use chemical castration today.

    There’s an interesting thought in my head (that i don’t claim is unique) that says “when does it stop being ‘the will of the people’ and start being oppression”.

  226. Turing was persecuted for having had a relation with a man

    He was prosecuted of an act he had to have known was illegal and, having been found guilty, was given a choice of either imprisonment or chemical castration, where he chose the latter. Naturally, being a convicted felon, his security clearance was revoked (standard procedure even today) and thus he couldn’t work on his pet project anymore.

    If he was convicted of “gross indecency” after a surprise raid(bonus points if its from a whispering campaign), yeah maybe you’d have a point.
    If he was convicted of “gross indecency” for talking about how homosexuals are people too and should have the same rights as anyone else… sure.
    If he was convicted of spitting on the sidewalk until they found out he was gay at which point they forced chemical castration on him, that’s a possibility.

    By focusing on the chemical castration, you’re effectively arguing that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. OK, i can agree with that. But so what? Punishment rarely fits the crime and in fact punishment as “paying for your crime” is actually a relatively new(or probably more accurately, reborn courtesy of christianity) concept. The original goal was the rehabilitation of the convicted, which was the entire point of the chemical castration.

  227. @JonCB
    “He was prosecuted of an act he had to have known was illegal and, having been found guilty, was given a choice of either imprisonment or chemical castration, where he chose the latter. ”

    Persecution is almost always legal. People who are persecuted have in the majority of cases broken the law: They ate pork, drank alcohol, converted to a different religion, had an extramarital affair, shook hands with someone of the opposite sex etc.

    The whole point of persecution is that is is legal.

  228. Jess: This shabby projection reminds me of the various advices
    offered to Prof. Gates when he was arrested for insufficient deference
    to armed cretins while black in his own home.

    In this universe, a conscientious policeman saw someone breaking into
    a house, and did the right thing. Gates should have been grateful
    that the police were doing their job and protecting his house from
    burglars; I suppose you and he would rather the policeman had walked
    past and minded his own business. My guess is that if Cambridge
    police ever see someone breaking into that house again, that’s exactly
    what they will do, and when Gates reports the burglary they’ll act
    surprised that the nice gentleman they saw jimmying the window turned
    out not to have any business there.

  229. There’s one important question which no one has really asked yet, but which would make this whole discussion a lot clearer: Eric, what exactly *is* your definition of oppression?

  230. The whole point of persecution is that is is legal.

    I think that is at best a subjective point.

    Case in point, lets assume that 1950s Britain is instead a foreign country in today’s age. IANAL, but under the 9th Circuits asylum laws (available here) i doubt Alan Turing would have qualified for Asylum as “[W]here there is evidence of legitimate prosecutorial purpose, foreign authorities enjoy much latitude in vigorously enforcing their laws.” At best you might squeak by under the “pretextual prosecution” exception, however you would have to show that “the punishment is sufficiently serious or disproportionate” and the argument that if it’s so disproportionate, why does the US do it to its own citizens would at least make it touch and go.

    But you raise an interesting point. If i was living in Tehran and I let slip that i was burgled while busy desecrating the Koran… yeah I wouldn’t call that oppression. I would call that getting the shit kicked out of me for being a fucking moron.

  231. @Milhouse you have explained why the police officer showed up (well, near enough – it was actually a report from a neighbor*, but it’s not really a significant difference). There’s no injustice in him showing up. That doesn’t explain the arrest.

    It seems like both people had an equal failure to look at it from the other’s perspective, but I think the police officer’s obligation to act professional (and therefore not hand out arbitrary punishments for disrespecting him) is greater than Gates’ obligation to be patient in the situation he found himself in.

    *I’m reminded a bit of James A Donald’s claims in the posts about the Trayvon Martin case – that in any neighborhood of any size everyone magically knows everyone and people only ever challenge strangers and not fellow residents – not so much, here.

  232. @JonCB
    “But you raise an interesting point. If i was living in Tehran and I let slip that i was burgled while busy desecrating the Koran… yeah I wouldn’t call that oppression.”

    Homosexuals get hanged in Iran.

  233. Yeah what Random832 said. The officer in question knew shortly after arriving that Gates is the proper resident of that home, as did the many other officers who arrived around the same time and the crowd of locals that the police activity inspired. Had Gates used a more “respectful” tone, the officer would have been on his way, thinking “well that black Harvard asshole earns a great deal more money and admiration than I do but I just made him bow down and let me rifle through all of his stuff so that’s OK I guess I don’t feel so pathetic that I have to shoot anyone’s dog to distract myself today…”

    If Gates had been falsely accused of a crime somewhere outside the comfortable cocoon of Cambridge, he probably would have attempted to placate the cop. However, this happened in his own home. The officer, after he knew Gates had done nothing wrong in his own home, refused to just fucking leave. He remained to escalate the situation, as if his duty were to fuck with innocent citizens rather than serve them. And this was after Gates had returned from a long journey to some already-frustrating circumstances. As a man, I can see how that would grate on one’s sensibilities. I can see why one wouldn’t feel like bojangling for an asshole cop for a couple of hours.

    Of course I may be projecting, but at least I’m projecting with some sympathy for the victim and some clue about how police operate, unlike Millhouse up there. The parallels with the OP are pretty obvious at this point.

  234. @ESR: Actually, you’ve lost a great deal more than that. Which is why my next blog post may be about Sir James Napier. Gold star to anyone who correctly anticipates why.

    I was trying to figure out why when I realized that Sarah had already answered.

    (Snarky answer: are you sure you didn’t mean John Napier? Logarithms can produce squick factor among the unfamiliar…)

  235. > You can’t get more sensitive than code breaking, and in that environment I would have thought that the spooks would not want a gay person working on it.

    Priorities change real quick when there are bombs falling on your head.
    I’m sure they were completely indifferent to who worked on it so long as that person had a good chance of cracking it. Even streetsexuals would have been welcome. :)

  236. Turing was unquestionably the greatest of the cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park.

    However, he did not “break Enigma”.

    That was done by Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski in 1932. It only took him a few months, and no one ever suggested his ability was comparable to Turing. But his work was the basis of all subsequent attacks against Enigma.

    Turing broke Enigma keys: most importantly, the TRITON key adopted for U-boat traffic in 1942. TRITON was unbroken for 10 months – the worst 10 months of the Battle of the Atlantic, when the Allies lost 1,400 ships.

    It required Turing’s genius to break it. (And the bravery of two British sailors who salvaged key Enigma documents from an abandoned U-boat – seconds before it foundered with them still on-board.)

    Turing’s work wasn’t necessary to defeat Nazi Germany. But without it, the war in Europe could have lasted much longer and taken millions more lives.

  237. The officer, after he knew Gates had done nothing wrong in his own home, refused to just fucking leave. He remained to escalate the situation, as if his duty were to fuck with innocent citizens rather than serve them.

    Sounds like Cambridge police…

  238. Gates broke the first rule of dealing with the police.

    The police know three classes of people: 1) police, 2) citizens, and 3) scum. They only consider the first group to be human beings.

    You don’t want to put yourself in category 3.

  239. And don’t be so quick to cast stones at our primitive forebearers. You should be proud if you had sinned in some of the ways they did.

  240. I always just thought of it as a tragedy, not political because Turing was an inchoate gay rights activist, but because someone who was still doing really damned important work died because of stupid bigotry. And damn it, that is tragic.

    esr: In practice, the word has become nearly as traduced and empty as “racist”. Or “derail”. Or “privilege”. It’s one of those items of left-wing duckspeak that mainly serve to inform you how much of the speaker’s critical faculties have shut down.

    I’m reminded of a fellow who absolutely refused to read an article (it was on ‘predator theory’-type research into rape; I’ve linked you to some work on the topic) because it had the words “trigger warning” somewhere on it. There’s never anyone quite so politically correct as people who vocally abhor political correctness.

    federico: For instance, we still do not know for sure whether to have two gay parents is harmful for a child.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “for sure” (are you familiar with how science works?), but there’s plenty of, for instance, longitudinal study that seems to imply that being raised by two women is better for you than being raised by a man and a woman. (I think this is a confounding effect–children that parents had to jump through hoops to get tend not to be abused. Stepchildren are at a high risk of abuse, but adopted children in general are at a lower risk than children raised by their biological parents.) There’s also some more standard research on, for instance, gay adoption compared to heterosexual adoption.

    Are you sure you’re not looking for an arbitrarily high level of evidence here?

  241. >I’m reminded a fellow who absolutely refused to read an article (it was on ‘predator theory’-type research into rape; I’ve linked you to some work on the topic) because it had the words “trigger warning”

    I don’t believe “trigger warning” has been emptied of meaning yet. But that may just mean I haven’t been keeping up.

  242. @grendelkhan

    >federico: For instance, we still do not know for sure whether to have two gay parents is harmful for a child.
    >Are you sure you’re not looking for an arbitrarily high level of evidence here?

    And, anyway, since there is absolutely no reason to think that being raised by gay parents would be harmful, the level of evidence we demand should be pretty low.

    We don’t have much evidence that having parents with blonde hair isn’t harmful. Or that having one parent 15 years older than the other isn’t harmful. Or having parents who are lawyers isn’t harmful.
    But we don’t demand such evidence because there is no reason to think those things are harmful in the first place.

    Nor do we have any reason to think that gay parents are harmful.

  243. >Doesn’t follow. The civil rights marchers were asserting themselves against behaviors that were >unquestionably oppressive – segregated lunch counters and so forth.

    Is there any way in which laws banning homosexual activity are not unquestionably oppressive?

  244. I like to imagine the son of two gay parents, staging his teenage rebellion against them by flaunting his heterosexuality at them every chance he gets….

    “No dad! I DON’T need moisturizer!”

  245. >federico: For instance, we still do not know for sure whether to have two gay parents is harmful for a child.

    Yes we do. It is not harmful.

    We have had gay marriage for a decade. For decades more, gay couples have raised children. And there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that that is harmful.

    Actually, we have children with 4 gay parents (2 of each kind), and that is not harmful either.

  246. SPQY: “Really, Michael, this sophistry made sense to you as you wrote it? Because it makes sense on this side of the screen. There is all this nonsense about what I’m doing that I’m not doing. All these words you try to stuff in my mouth, that don’t fit. And when you are done, its not making any sense frankly.”

    Mm. I just realized I had some kind of typo/thinko back there. Find this paragraph:

    “In short, if one believes in subjective morality, one must also believe that someone else’s morality may appear to them to be subjective. To me, that’s the paradox of subjective morality. (Not that I have any strong feelings on the nature of morality one way or the other.)”

    And rewrite it thusly:

    “In short, if one believes in subjective morality, one must also believe that someone else’s morality may appear to them to be objective. To me, that’s the paradox of subjective morality. (Not that I have any strong feelings on the nature of morality one way or the other.)”

    It doesn’t affect the substance of the remainder of that comment, though, which I still hold to be true. You find the term “objectively monstrous” to be a silly concept, because you hold that the concept of an objective morality is incorrect. I hold that such a holding is to make a declaration about morality in general (or a meta-morality, if you like, but meta statements have consequences for the non-meta, so it holds), which necessitates an assumption that there’s “morality in general” to make statements of–in effect, an objective morality.

    And that’s the crux of it. In order to make a statement about which kinds of moralities may or may not be valid, you must (at least implicitly) make a statement about an objective morality.

  247. ESR,

    >There isn’t any principled way to deny that ESR-the-hypothetical-streetosexual is oppressed by being unable to freely engage in public sex but affirm that Alan Turing was oppressed by being unable to freely engage in gay sex

    There is one – the difference between public street (collectively owned) vs. private bedroom (privately owned).

  248. >The other problem is that with one major known exception, studying innate ethics doesn’t lead to conclusions very different from a Millsian analysis.

    It does. There seems to be a clear correlation between being a dominance-seeking person and being an ambitious and couragous person. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, these kind of very ambitious and succesful people tend to be very dominant. The net result is that if you want to a society that values ambition and courage, you need to have a society that accepts dominance-seeking macho behavior, and it means you have to put up with some extent with certain groups being marginalized and oppressed.

  249. @Shenpen

    >The net result is that if you want to a society that values ambition and courage, you need to have a society that accepts dominance-seeking macho behavior

    There’s a big difference between tolerating macho behaviour (which our society obviously does) and enacting non-Millian state legislation. Neither Steve Jobs nor Henry Ford ever forced anybody to do anything by creating state-backed laws, or in fact in any other way. Their personalities may have been dominance-seeking (as you put it), and they may have been incredibly charismatic leaders who could convince people to do what they wanted, but none of that has anything to do with Mill.

  250. esr on Tuesday, June 26 2012 at 9:59 pm said:
    > The other problem is that with one major known exception, studying innate ethics doesn’t lead to conclusions very different from a Millsian analysis. It would be surprising if matters were otherwise; because what can our ethical responses be other an evolved strategy for harm reduction?

    A Millsian analysis gives us utilitarian ethics – which are not in our nature. We are not utilitarians. Show me a man who would hold a child’s face in the fire to end malaria, and I will show you a man who will hold a child’s face in the fire and entirely forget he was planning to end malaria.

    Innate, evolved, ethics, the ethics selected for by Darwinism, is egoistic ethics, something like Aristotlian ethics, Randian ethics, and pagan ethics, the ethics of Xenophon. The virtuous man, as Xenophon understood virtue, is loyal to kin, friends, and allies, he keeps his word. For strangers, he returns good for good, and evil for evil, and otherwise lets them be.

    Xenophon acknowledged he had an obligation to refrain from robbing, raping, and massacring innocents who happened to be in the path of the ten thousand – but if those people were part of a group that obstructed the passage of the ten thousand, or refused to allow members of their group to sell them food and supplies, then all things were permissible. If they made themselves enemies, even if only by blocking trade, then all was fair.

  251. let me try this again: @Jessica Boxer “We need to demand that they err strongly on the side of lassiez faire, but it is not unreasonable to demand that public spaces be used in the way a large majority of the people who pay for them want”

    Yes, it is. They should be used in the way that _everyone_ who pays for them want. Not a large majority, not a narrow majority – if the majority were all that matters, why shouldn’t two wolves and a sheep vote on what to have for dinner? If a park decides certain people aren’t welcome, then it can return their money. This may be an argument that parks should not be managed by the government or funded from taxes at all.

    @James A Donald “A Millsian analysis gives us utilitarian ethics – which are not in our nature.” – no, it doesn’t, actually… this is a common mistake, though, and one I am not convinced ESR has not made. Utilitarianism doesn’t provide a complete system – it doesn’t provide any guidance for deciding what utility _is_. You need a deontological notion of what is and is not “harm”.

    This is probably where this particular example runs into conflict as well – social conservatives believe it is harmful per se for children not to have a “normal” [i.e. heterosexual] relationship modeled for them by their parents, and/or not to have two parents demonstrating each of the two traditional gender roles.

  252. [quote]
    Now suppose I were to organize streetosexual-liberation events in public parks – gigantic public orgies that do not impinge on private property but whose sexual, expressive and political purpose is to be seen in the act of frenzied naked humping. Explain to me how this is ethically different from a gay-pride march? Not a staid “respectable” one but the sort of happening one sees in the wilder reaches of Berkeley, with epic scrotal inflation and giant fluorescent dildos and so forth.
    [/quote]

    To see what Mr. Raymond means by this websearch “zombietime folsom street fair”.

    SERIOUSLY not safe for work.

  253. Eric, tell me about “derail”. Somehow I’ve missed this piece of “duckspeak”. What special meaning has PC-language attached to it? I’ve barely caught up with “up-twinkle”.

  254. From the other side of the pond, both PC and anti-PC are pure comedy.

  255. re: “trigger warning.” Just spend some time around social justice circles or Tumblr. which is a place especially inundated with it, and you’ll see how quickly the term is being stripped of meaning. The way those idiots prattle on, they’d have anything and everything labeled with a “trigger warning” for fear of someone, somewhere getting upset about something. And they get rather violently vocal about it, too, in that weenie leftist way that makes the blood boil.

  256. The officer, after he knew Gates had done nothing wrong in his own home, refused to just fucking leave.

    What the @#%^ are you talking about? TTo the best of my knowledge, as soon as he determined this he did leave, and it was Gates who prolonged the encounter by shouting abuse at him and creating a public disturbance.

  257. I had to google “trigger warning” because I had never even heard the term until just now. I still have no idea what “derail” means in PC-world.

  258. >Eric, tell me about “derail”

    Oh, this is a good one. I wish I could point you at “Derailing for Dummies”, but the site has gone down. I found a partial reconstruction here. Read it and be amazed. I think it intends to be intentional parody directed at certain kinds of counter-arguments against victimological duckspeak, but it reads even more effectively as an unintentional lampoon of the kind of victimology it thinks it’s defending. Except I’m not entirely certain the second level was unintentional – I wonder if the person who wrote it wasn’t covertly laughing at the people whose side he/she overtly purports to be on. I really cannot tell how deep this rabbit-hole goes.

    The original meaning of “derail” that it’s riffing on is to pull a thread off-topic. Apparently, some time back, lefties started using the term in a marked sense to describe various sorts of what they consider stereotyped and invalid objections to the complaints of the oppressed; the overt level of parody in Derailing for Dummies fits this agenda.

    If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll be able to predict exactly how and how rapidly the term degraded. By the time I encountered it, it signified any attempt to interfere with the operation of a kafkatrap. Now it seems to just mean “I have been marinating in left-wing cant and I dislike your argument.”

  259. jsk: Just spend some time around social justice circles or Tumblr. which is a place especially inundated with it, and you’ll see how quickly the term is being stripped of meaning.

    Try as I might, I can’t really see trigger warnings as particularly harmful. It looks like people being polite to each other–there are things that a lot of people (or at least a lot of people in the audience for people who use trigger warnings) would rather not read or see, and it’s helpful to let them know when an article contains something. It’s not like people are actually avoiding writing anything because of the idea.

    esr: I wish I could point you at “Derailing for Dummies”, but the site has gone down.

    Are you sure? I can see it over here.

    By the time I encountered ["derailing"], it signified any attempt to interfere with the operation of a kafkatrap.

    Hey, if you’re still using “kafkatrap”, does the Archibishop of Sydney saying that atheists actually hate God discredit his archdiocese, Anglicanism, Christianity, religion in general, or what?

  260. @grendelkhan
    > Try as I might, I can’t really see trigger warnings as particularly harmful. It
    > looks like people being polite to each other

    The warnings aren’t the problem, the hyper-zealous insistence on their use is. When you have people demanding the use of trigger warnings on nearly every topic of contention, no matter how mundane, the utility of the term vanishes. It becomes meaningless. They’ve at the same time managed to conflate the very real effects of trauma with just having hurt feelings or getting everyday upset, and that is both lazy and harmful.

  261. jsk: When you have people demanding the use of trigger warnings on nearly every topic of contention, no matter how mundane, the utility of the term vanishes.

    Maybe I’ve seen them used differently than you have. They just look like little synopses of what people might find upsetting in an upcoming post. I suppose it would lose utility if it looked like “trigger warning! this post contains the subjects lemons, cats, allergies, skyscrapers, rape, woodcarving, seltzer water, USB 3.0 and polyethylene”, except way longer, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that. Is there an example that really bothered you that you can point me toward?

  262. Off topic, but if this story is right, the Supreme Court has apparently decided it’s time to finish off the economy.

  263. Just spend some time around social justice circles or Tumblr. which is a place especially inundated with it, and you’ll see how quickly the term is being stripped of meaning. The way those idiots prattle on, they’d have anything and everything labeled with a “trigger warning” for fear of someone, somewhere getting upset about something.

    So? What is no big deal to you may be profoundly upsetting to someone else. It seems like you haven’t spent too much time around victims of rape or other abuse; if you did, you’d know the slightest thing can set them off on a bad PTSD trip.

    Obviously we can’t account for all of these but we can do something to warn about the biggies (e.g., graphic depictions of rape or domestic violence) to allow former victims to make informed choices about what to read/watch.

    Oh, and by the way, virtually all video games come with a trigger warning now (against epileptic seizures, not PTSD episodes).

  264. Hey, if you’re still using “kafkatrap”, does the Archibishop of Sydney saying that atheists actually hate God discredit his archdiocese, Anglicanism, Christianity, religion in general, or what?

    To folks like Eric and myself, Christianity is already so thoroughly discredited that arguing about how much damage to its case things like this cause is like (if you will pardon the expression) arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  265. @Jeff Read
    Despite your regular attempts to prove otherwise, I know you’re not that dumb. Try “reading.”

    @grendelkhan
    Again, I’m not talking about the warnings themselves. I’m talking about the people who berate others and insist, almost violently, upon their inclusion on whatever is their cause du jour, no matter how mundane, and in so doing cause “trigger warning” to become less and less meaningful by deflating what it means to be “triggered.”

  266. @Random:
    > Yes, it is. They should be used in the way that _everyone_ who pays for them want.

    If you can find something that “everyone” agrees on, then I’d be shocked. Good god man, I hear there are some people who disagree with the self evident truth that green pepper, mushroom and onion pizza is the best choice. However, for those deluded fools I can only offer my sympathy.

    > Not a large majority, not a narrow majority – if the majority were all that matters,

    I very carefully did not advocate majoritarianism.

    > why shouldn’t two wolves and a sheep vote on what to have for dinner?

    Right, but if there are 100 wolves and just one sheep, it might be time for the sheep to move down the road to Sheepsville. But this is a silly argument. I am not by any means an advocate of majoritarianism, however, when people agree to enter into a compact to share some resources, each person doesn’t get all that they want. Like I said, marriage is a good example (not that I am or have ever been married, but I met a person who was once…) From what I hear you don’t always get what you want, but the benefit of the compact outweighs that loss.

    Make the case if you like that public property is a bad idea. But it seems to me that in a free society people should be allowed to enter in to those compacts. And if you choose to live in a town with that kind of thing, you take the good with the bad. At the local level, really I don’t see this as a problem because you really do have a choice. It becomes a major problem when it gets sucked up to the feds, and you don’t have any choice any more. Good bye American healthcare exceptionalism.

    > If a park decides certain people aren’t welcome, then it can return their money.

    That is not the way public funding works. You aren’t buying a separable group of line items, you are buying a package deal. I don’t watch the DIsney channel on cable, but I still pay for it.

  267. I think I agree with you in general, Jessica, concerning use of public facilities. However, the 100-1 vote you imagine never occurs. What happens instead is some authoritarian busybody is convinced e.g. that frisbees are a menace and then pushes through a rule that no one can play ultimate in the park anymore. I can see why a half-acre park downtown in the city has to be strictly divided into dog and no-dog zones. The larger the park, the greater diversity in its users, and the lower use it sees, however, the fewer rules should obtain. We should err on the side of fewer rules. If some sensitive soul sees something at the park that disturbs him, he should leave and come back later.

    You do realize that in most parkland in this country, it’s no problem to shoot your guns, at targets or at critters? I’m very glad that the USFS, BLM, etc. are not run by (metaphorical) wolves.

    PS. cable channel bundling sucks, and would not exist in a competitive market

  268. >insist, almost violently, upon their inclusion on whatever is their cause du jour, no matter how mundane, and in so doing cause “trigger warning” to become less and less meaningful by deflating what it means to be “triggered.”

    Sigh. I guess I haven’t been keeping up. This is the exact decay mode I would have expected; I’m sorry to learn it’s gone so far.

    Those of you who think I ought to readily sign on to “oppression” as a description of Turing’s situation ought to think again. This kind of devaluation – and, sooner or later, the loss of language to describe actual evil – is exactly what I’m concerned about.

  269. @Millhouse: TTo the best of my knowledge, as soon as he determined this he did leave, and it was Gates who prolonged the encounter by shouting abuse at him and creating a public disturbance.

    Don’t be such a bootlicking copfan. Since Prof. Gates was in his home when he was arrested for yelling at a cop who hadn’t left despite numerous requests over the course of an hour, it is logically impossible that any disturbance was “public”. Those who are paying attention in this country know that “public disturbance” is a discretionary charge cops use to “punish” those who don’t “respect” their authoritay. Typically there is some coded notation on the report to tell the prosecutor whether just dropping somebody in jail is punishment enough or whether the cop was offended enough to lie to a judge about the incident.

  270. > However, the 100-1 vote you imagine never occurs.

    I don’t recall proposing that ratio. However, I agree with your general point — if you want good service from public facilities, you are going to be disappointed. You can go live out of incorporated areas, you won’t have to pay for it there, and you won’t get the service. It is nice to have a choice, don’t you think?

    > You do realize that in most parkland in this country, it’s no problem to shoot your guns,

    Yes, indeed. I also realize that 1/3 of the land in the United States is owned by the feds, and is consequently a gigantic resource that is run with the efficiency of the Senate. What an appalling waste.

    > PS. cable channel bundling sucks, and would not exist in a competitive market

    It is going away with such things as netflix. However, aside from these newer technologies, I think you are basically wrong. Buying individual channels pre on demand movies had a gigantic transaction cost that makes bundling cheaper.

  271. @Jess
    +1

    One of my first menial jobs as a high school student was mopping floors and lawn-care for a nursing home. Many of the patients there were suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and/or the simple crankiness that comes with being old. The staff who cared for these people had to have have thick skin. The patients constantly berated them with racial slurs, accused them of abuse and neglect, and called them every name in the book, often at the top of their lungs. Some of them were physically abusive and required several staff members to be present for every single task.

    The staff never took any of this personally. Sometimes patients needed to be put in restraints to keep them from falling out out of their chairs but I’ve never seen the staff restrain them to “show them who’s in control”. Instead the staff would quietly feed them, wash them, dress them, wipe their bums, and put them to bed, all the while letting the insults and comments roll off of them like water off a duck. They got it. It was their job to care for (to serve) these people and the attitudes of the cared-for didn’t change that.

    If the Cambridge cops had taken the same professional approach to seeing after Mr Gates, however belligerent he was being to them, make sure he was the owner of the property, apologized for any inconvenience, and left in a timely manner, then the professor from Harvard would have had to find someone else to use as bait for making his point. Instead, they let their egos get in the way and fell right into the trap he set for them.

    Was he a jerk? Maybem but the Cambridge police get paid well enough and should be trained well enough to be able to tell the difference between a wound up curmudgeon like Gates and a criminal in need of being arrested.

  272. “trigger warning! this post contains the subjects lemons, cats, allergies, skyscrapers, rape, woodcarving, seltzer water, USB 3.0 and polyethylene”

    Now you’ve gotten me really curious about that hypothetical post. :)

  273. ess on Thursday, June 28 2012 at 4:06 pm said:
    > Don’t be such a bootlicking copfan. Since Prof. Gates was in his home when he was arrested for yelling at a cop who hadn’t left despite numerous requests over the course of an hour, it is logically impossible that any disturbance was “public”.

    Gates was not in his home when he was arrested.

    In Gates account, he was arrested on his front porch, outside his front door, after following the cop out his door. On the police account, he was arrested in the street, after following the cop into the street.

    Further, anyone who says it was unreasonable for the police to arrest Gates for following a cop while yelling at that cop, will also say it was perfectly reasonable for Trayvon Martin to attack Zimmerman for quietly following Trayvon Martin at a great distance, and/or a horribly threatening act of aggression for Zimmerman to quietly follow Trayvon Martin at a considerable distance, which horrid menacing threat justifies Trayvon Martin acting in self defense.

  274. Those of you who think I ought to readily sign on to “oppression” as a description of Turing’s situation ought to think again. This kind of devaluation – and, sooner or later, the loss of language to describe actual evil – is exactly what I’m concerned about.

    Silly Eric! Don’t you realise that there are only two kinds of words, and consequently only two meanings: ‘hurrah’ and ‘boo’? Turing was persecutedTuring was oppressed… they’re all boo words, so what, as the young people apparently say, evs. (See also “fascist”).

    Similarly, you’ve averred that the sentence I am against the horror of therdiglob is meaningless, which it is only until we can agree that therdiglob is a boo word (as I think we must. We don’t need no stinkin’ therdiglob).

    This strange delusion of yours that each word should have a meaning all of its own is no doubt causing a profound irritation and disorder of your brain, which, as you are but human, was only designed (praise the Lord) to handle two of them. The only solution is a lobotomy, after which you will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable citizen. Thank Heaven for science!

  275. @Phil R
    “Turing was persecuted… Turing was oppressed… they’re all boo words, so what, as the young people apparently say, evs.”

    Please, explain to a non-native speaker like me why “persecute” is not the correct word to describe what happened to Alan Turing?

    As compared to the following dictionary definitions:

    persecute [?p??s??kju?t]
    vb (tr)
    1. to oppress, harass, or maltreat, esp because of race, religion, etc.
    2. to bother persistently
    [from Old French persecuter, back formation from persecuteur, from Late Latin persec?tor pursuer, from persequ? to take vengeance upon]

    Definition of PERSECUTE
    transitive verb
    1: to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief

    persecution
    Persecution is harassment or bad treatment based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. (noun)

    When people are treated badly and harassed because of their religious beliefs, this is an example of religious persecution.

    Verb Base (persecute)
    1. Cause to suffer; “Jews were persecuted in the former Soviet Union”.[Wordnet].
    2. To pursue in a manner to injure, grieve, or afflict; to beset with cruelty or malignity; to harass; especially, to afflict, harass, punish, or put to death, for adherence to a particular religious creed or mode of worship.[Websters].
    3. To harass with importunity; to pursue with persistent solicitations; to annoy.[Websters].
    4. Base verb from the following inflections: persecuting, persecuted, persecutes, persecutor, persecutors, persecutingly and persecutedly.[Eve - graph theoretic]

  276. @Winter:

    First, be careful not to confuse the words “persecution” and “prosecution”, since they’re so similar and in practice often describe the same acts. It don’t see anywhere that you have here, but it’s an easy trap that many natives get caught in.

    I disagree that persecution is always “legal”; it is frequently either written into the law or permissible by private individuals under the law, but there are countless examples of persecution that has been carried on in violation of the de jure law but with the ignorance or complicity of government officials. Furthermore, the usual English usage distinguishes persecution from censure or stronger consequences resulting from some act deemed unacceptable; for example, one does not usually speak of persecuting murderers, and using the term “persecution” when referring to government action is typically reserved for when the action is perceived to be unequally or arbitrarily applied (such as bribery laws in much of the world).

    Given this context, I think that many people would accept applying the term to the treatment of communist homosexuals in mid-century Britain; the laws (as previously noted) tended not to be enforced against “respectable” individuals except as a pretext. In Turing’s particular case, however, it does appear that officials tried to look the other way for as long as they could plausibly do so.

    The term “oppression” is a different beast entirely. You can discount its dictionary definition for any use since 1970 or so; it’s become a catch-all accusation/excuse for any circumstances that a person thinks are “unfair”, including circumstances that are a direct foreseeable result of his own choices. (A notorious current example is the “human-interest” subjects who keep getting trotted out by sky-is-falling media stories where it turns out that the unemployed college graduate majored in a subject with blatantly poor job prospects and then didn’t bother applying anywhere because they just knew they wouldn’t get jobs.)

  277. Since I’m finally jumping into the thread:

    The original meaning of “derail” that it’s riffing on is to pull a thread off-topic. Apparently, some time back, lefties started using the term in a marked sense to describe various sorts of what they consider stereotyped and invalid objections to the complaints of the oppressed; the overt level of parody in Derailing for Dummies fits this agenda.

    I find it interesting that nobody’s commented on the blatant implication of the (particularly political) use of the word “derail” in the first place: That there’s already a predetermined path that a “discussion” should take to a predetermined conclusion, and anyone who interferes is being wantonly destructive for some nefarious reason or other.

  278. @Winter:

    Please, explain to a non-native speaker like me why “persecute” is not the correct word to describe what happened to Alan Turing?

    I’d like to, except I happen to agree with you that it is. In fact, I found your approach of “OK, oppress is the wrong word, so let’s find a better one” to be laudably sane and constructive. The attitude I was satirising was that of “ESR says my boo word of choice for what happened to Turing is wrong, so he must approve of what happened to Turing,” a conclusion that only makes sense if you have no colour depth for shades of meaning beyond ‘hurrah’ and ‘boo.’

  279. @Christopher Smith
    Thanks for the explanation. I think the word that corresponds to persecution in my native language would apply to such arbitrary application of the law when it was found convenient.

    But then, the translation of “oppression” in my native language still means what the English was supposed to mean decades ago.

  280. James A Donald “In Gates account, he was arrested on his front porch, outside his front door, after following the cop out his door. On the police account, he was arrested in the street, after following the cop into the street.”

    That doesn’t change that “disorderly conduct” is code for “disrespecting a cop”. And anyway, his front porch is part of his home.

    As for “will also say it was perfectly reasonable for Trayvon Martin to attack Zimmerman for quietly following Trayvon Martin at a great distance” – regardless of if you believe he did nothing more than quietly follow at a great distance, that is certainly not the account believed by the people you are referring to, so you are being disingenuous by saying so. Nevermind the generalization – surely you can find an real live person who has commented on record in both incidents; while you’re at it see if you can find what actual alleged actions they believe were justified or not (it doesn’t matter if they’re right about what happened, what matters is what actions they feel are justified on each person’s part. I strongly suspect you are mistaken.)

  281. Er. SPQR, I typo’d your name in my last response to you, in case you’re using text-search to see if there are any more replies. Look for “SPQY”

  282. Off topic, but if this story is right, the Supreme Court has apparently decided it’s time to finish off the economy.

    It’s not the Supreme Court’s job to worry about the economy. All it must do is decide whether Congress had the right to do what it did, not whether it was wise to do so. And if Congress was ambiguous in what it did, and there is a plausible way to read the law that will make it valid, then it must adopt that reading. The Court ruled 5-4 that Congress has no power to require people to buy insurance. Four of those five thought that this was clearly what Congress had done, and therefore there was no choice but to strike it down. Roberts thought it’s possible to read the law as not requiring anything, but merely imposing a tax on people who choose not to; if he found that reading plausible, he was obligated to vote as he did.

  283. Since Prof. Gates was in his home when he was arrested for yelling at a cop who hadn’t left despite numerous requests over the course of an hour, it is logically impossible that any disturbance was “public”.

    I notice that you’ve dropped your claim that the cop didn’t leave as soon as he had determined that Gates was not a burglar.

    As for your latest contention, Gates was on his property but not inside his house. He was in public, causing a disturbance by yelling abuse at the cop who had done nothing wrong. Yes, it’s a discretionary charge; the cop could have decided to let it go and not arrest him, but I don’t see a single reason why he should have done so. Just because Gates is famous and has powerful friends?! That’s a practical reason, not a moral or legal one.

  284. BPSouther, when you sign up to deal with mental patients and other incompetent people, you expect them to misbehave, and you understand that they’re unfortunately not responsible for what they do. Ditto for babysitters; you can’t take offense when a 2-year-old hits you, because they’re not yet capable of understanding that they shouldn’t. Cops dealing with adults who are presumed responsible for their behaviour do not have the same expectation, and nor should they. Gates was a jerk, but so long as he stayed within the law they couldn’t do anything about it; the moment he broke the law, they had an excuse to arrest him and teach him a lesson, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t have.

  285. Dr. Gates made the mistake of trying to impress a police sergeant. It can’t be done. I remember an internet comment someone made at the time:

    Gates: “I’m Professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.!”

    Sgt: “So?”

    …and that’s when the steam started coming out of Dr. Gates’ ears.

  286. That doesn’t change that “disorderly conduct” is code for “disrespecting a cop”. And anyway, his front porch is part of his home.

    It’s part of his home, but it’s also in public, and he has no right to create a disorder there. Yelling abuse at a cop in private is not an offense, and however much he’d like to arrest you he can’t; doing so in public is an offense, so he has a legitimate excuse to arrest you.

  287. Ironically, just last night I accused someone of derailing a thread. But I didn’t mean it in this PC sense, of which I was unaware until just now. The sub-thread was about whether, if the 0bamacare “penalty” is really a tax, what kind of tax it is. This guy kept arguing that it isn’t a tax, which is a valid position to take, but not in that context.

  288. @Milhouse “He was in public, causing a disturbance by yelling abuse at the cop who had done nothing wrong.”

    “A disturbance” seems like a phrase that has been similarly emptied of meaning as the PC stuff that some people have been arguing about here. Who was disturbed? By what objective standard? What is the theory of harm by which yelling at a police officer in public should be outlawed?

    “doing so in public is an offense, so he has a legitimate excuse to arrest you.” That’s not clearly true. Some commentators at the time did suggest that Massachussetts law does not actually recognize verbal abuse (aside: this isn’t a PC term?) alone as criminal “disorderly conduct”, and that he would probably not have been convicted if the charge had not been dropped. Now, it was a highly politicized case and it’s easy to imagine political reasons for saying so… but it’s not at all obvious why it _should_ be an offense, in a free society, to say mean things to someone who is in a position of authority over you.

    “But I didn’t mean it in this PC sense, of which I was unaware until just now” – er, how exactly is the sense in which you meant it actually different?

    [as for the healthcare thing... if outlawing marijuana is a legitimate use of the taxation power, I can't imagine what isn't.]

  289. “This kind of devaluation – and, sooner or later, the loss of language to describe actual evil – is exactly what I’m concerned about.”

    See: “racist”, which now means nothing more than “disagree with the Left”.

    If I’m a raaaaacist because I disagree with certain policies of the current Administration, then what word do we have for the people who honestly believe that the President and Attorney General’s melanin levels make them sub-human, and therefore human rights don’t apply?

  290. I have a relative who was given a hard time by the police in somewhat the same fashion as Professor Gates. They tried nailing him with “assault with a deadly weapon” charges. Didn’t stick. So they tried catching him on “disturbing the peace” charges. Those didn’t stick either. The point being, if the cops want to nail someone, they’ll make something up to nail him for.

    There’s something Stanford Prison-like about the police’s relationship to the citizenry in modern-day Murka, wherein the police, ingrained with the meme that their job is to bust crooks, will make a crook out of anybody so they have somebody to bust. Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe anyone who tells me that the number of photons you reflect has nothing to do with how criminal the police assume you to be.

    And this is why you. Don’t. Talk. To cops.

    Mister Rogers was wrong: the policeman is NOT your friend. He’ll book you and lock you up in an instant if it means filling his quota, or otherwise continued justification of his existence as a “peacekeeper”.

  291. And this is why you. Don’t. Talk. To cops.

    Mister Rogers was wrong: the policeman is NOT your friend. He’ll book you and lock you up in an instant if it means filling his quota, or otherwise continued justification of his existence as a “peacekeeper”.

    After 9/11, various yahoos said “They hate our freedoms.” This may be true – I don’t know, but I still believe that the yahoos are yahoos. (In the context of the last two sentences, this is not a tautology.)

    It seems that the USA is well along the path to being a serious police state. I am not sure about the situation in Canada… I haven’t really dealt with cops (other than at “Check Stops” to find DUIs – a police-state-like practice), but the cameras at practically every controlled intersection are ominous. The fact that almost no one objects to the cameras is even more ominous.

    I am not sure who is to blame or how this sort of thing can be changed in the big picture. If the majority of citizens don’t really care…

    But from a personal point of view, the solution is “keep a low profile – don’t draw the attention of cops” – they, effectively, hate our freedoms.

  292. Holy shit ESR. This piece is 200-proof reaction (or counter-revolution ;)) with zero caveats! I’m impressed. Yes I needed this dose today after the Supreme Court decision got me downing a few Scotches.

  293. >I am not sure who is to blame or how this sort of thing can be changed in the big picture. If the >majority of citizens don’t really care…

    Police have a high stress job. They are for the most part normal, healthy, decent people like the rest of us. The demands of the job require a certain amount of swagger and hardheadedness. In many of the situations that they have to deal with every day, showing any sign of weakness or pliability is an invitation for the situation to escalate out of control; it’s not always easy to know when you’re in one of those situations.

    The ones who can cope with that environment and maintain a professional attitude deserve our respect and gratitude. Occasionally you get bad apples that need to be weeded out. More often an otherwise good or even great cop will have an off moment where the stress of the job, or the lack of sleep that also comes with the job will make them a little over sensitive and cause them to behave in a less than professional manner.

    I think Gates was pushing that cop’s buttons on purpose. It probably wasn’t premeditated, he too was as the end of his rope. He was just getting home from a flight from China and couldn’t get into his house. Any of us who’ve had a long, over sea’s flight knows what that can do to ones patience. On another night, he probably would have been a lot more polite and might have stood down to deescalate the situation but instead decided to draw the line and make his point, even if it involved personal sacrifice on his part (being arrested, whether the charges stick or not is a huge inconvenience and risk). He chose to engage in civil disobedience by being rude and belligerent to a cop who was, initially anyway, just doing his job. In doing so, he put the ball in the cop’s (Crowley’s) court.

    Crowly (who is probably and excellent cop), at that point, could have remained professional, made sure that Gates was the owner of the house and then left (with the sounds of a belligerent cranky old man buzzing in his ears). Instead, he fell hook, line, and sinker into the trap by letting his ego get the best of him and acting to “show Gates who was in control”. He, and the department then had to explain to the national media why he arrested a Harvard professor with no criminal record and an impeccable reputation on charges of public disturbance, on his own property.

    In the end, I think Crowley was made into a better cop for having been through the whole situation and, at least for a time, the entire Cambridge (and Boston area) PDs were a lot more aware of citizen’s rights and the nature of the power that they’ve been given to wield by the population that pays them to protect them. And everyone involved got to have a beer with the president. :)

    Sometimes, what it takes is for people with a bit of celebrity and a squeaky clean reputation to stand up and take some risks to remind the people who have been given power who gave it to them and what it is for.

  294. Random832 on Friday, June 29 2012 at 8:22 am said:
    > As for “will also say it was perfectly reasonable for Trayvon Martin to attack Zimmerman for quietly following Trayvon Martin at a great distance” – regardless of if you believe he did nothing more than quietly follow at a great distance, that is certainly not the account believed by the people you are referring to

    Everyone who asserts that Zimmerman attacked Trayvon Martin and denies that Trayvon Martin chimped out on Zimmerman, presents as evidence for that proposition, not evidence and arguments for that Zimmerman attacked Trayvon Martin, but instead evidence and arguments that it was perfectly reasonable for Trayvon Martin to chimp out on Zimmerman. Everyone, every single person, who denies that Traytvon Martin chimped out on Zimmerman, also asserts that it was a great and threatening wrong for Zimmerman to follow Martin at a distance, a grave and great threat necessitating self defense, whereas it was no wrong at all for Gates to follow right behind Sgt. James Crowley screaming threats and abuse at him.

    Further, we now have the physical evidence, which is that Trayvon Martin’s autopsy shows no one laid a finger on him, that there is not a mark upon him except for the bullet hole, whereas Zimmerman looked like he lost an argument with a lawn mower – which physical evidence did not alter anyone’s position in the slightest, revealing that everyone already knew perfectly well what the physical evidence was going to show. No one who argued that Zimmerman was in the wrong presented arguments and evidence that would be refuted by the fact that he made no effort to fight back against the larger and stronger Martin Trayvon by non lethal means, showing that they already knew. The arguments they used show that they never believed what they pro formal claimed to believe, as did their total lack of reaction to the physical evidence.

    Everyone knew from the very beginning that Trayvon Martin chimped out on Zimmerman, knew simply because Trayvon Martin is black and Zimmerman is mestizo, and those that deny that they knew are lying, as is shown by the fact that they still deny that they now know. They deny that they knew because it is “racist” to know what they knew.

  295. @ BPSouther

    Yeah… I agree… And the fact is, any time I have dealt with cops in Calgary, they have been decent folks. I just hate the damn cameras and don’t understand why no one seems to care.

  296. Eric, do you have evidence that viewing Alan Turing’s death as being the result of persecution has actually done the gay rights movement any harm? They’ve gotten the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and made a good bit of progress on gay marriage.

  297. >Eric, do you have evidence that viewing Alan Turing’s death as being the result of persecution has actually done the gay rights movement any harm?

    I don’t know whether it has done them any harm or not. Nor would I care if they had – any harm they took from obscuring Turing’s real accomplishments behind a myth of gay martyrdom would be deserved.

    Unfortunately (for the rest of us) they probably haven’t taken any harm, so the tactic of retconning people into gay martyrs (despite the fact that they deserve to be remembered in more truthful and better ways) will probably continue.

  298. “A disturbance” seems like a phrase that has been similarly emptied of meaning as the PC stuff that some people have been arguing about here. Who was disturbed?

    Onlookers.

    By what objective standard? What is the theory of harm by which yelling at a police officer in public should be outlawed?

    The offense isn’t yelling at a police officer, it’s yelling in general, in public, in a way that creates a disturbance. “Public disturbance” is an ordinary word that we all know; I take it to have its ordinary meaning. “Frightening the horses.” It’s a low-level “quality of life” harm suffered by all passersby who have to endure it.

    “doing so in public is an offense, so he has a legitimate excuse to arrest you.” That’s not clearly true.

    “Clearly”?! Why is this clear to you? The law against creating a public disturbance is still on the books, and hasn’t been struck down by any court I’m aware of, and the ordinary person knows what it is and that he shouldn’t do it. Therefore while the cop didn’t have to arrest Gates, it seems clear to me that he had a legitimate excuse to do so. His motive might have been personal offense, but what’s wrong with that? So long as he’s acting within the law, what difference does it make what his motive is?

    Some commentators at the time did suggest that Massachussetts law does not actually recognize verbal abuse (aside: this isn’t a PC term?) alone as criminal “disorderly conduct”,

    Commenters can suggest whatever they like. I don’t have to believe them. It seems strange to me that creating a public disturbance would not be illegal.

    it’s not at all obvious why it _should_ be an offense, in a free society, to say mean things to someone who is in a position of authority over you.

    Again, where do you get the idea that the offense has anything to do with positions of authority?

    “But I didn’t mean it in this PC sense, of which I was unaware until just now” – er, how exactly is the sense in which you meant it actually different?

    I meant it in the ordinary everyday sense. He was trying to steer the conversation off topic. When the topic is a point in astrological theory, e.g. “If your birth horoscope determines your future then what happens if you were gestated in a uterine replicator?”, it is not helpful to say “nothing happens because astrology is bunk”. Or if the question is “If the Jacobite claim to the throne is valid, who is the current True Sovereign”, it is not helpful to say “nobody, because Parliament deposed the Stuarts”.

  299. Crowly (who is probably and excellent cop), at that point, could have remained professional, made sure that Gates was the owner of the house and then left (with the sounds of a belligerent cranky old man buzzing in his ears).

    To the best of my knowledge, he did. Gates followed him on to the porch and proceeded to create a public disturbance, thus giving Crowly a legitimate excuse to arrest him. I don’t see why Crowly should have passed up the opportunity, just because Gates is a celebrity.

  300. Phil R. said:
    > Silly Eric! Don’t you realise that there are only two kinds of
    > words, and consequently only two meanings: ‘hurrah’ and
    > ‘boo’? …This strange delusion of yours that each word should
    > have a meaning all of its own…

    The problem is not that Eric wants words to have meanings all their own. The problem is that Eric wants words to have meanings all Eric’s own.

    As ESR said:
    > My main position is that “oppression” isn’t a term that can
    > or should be used of someone with Turing’s range of choices,
    > social power, and degree of support from the system around him.

    The problem is, there’s no accepted definition of oppression with a special escape clause that says, “It’s not oppression if the victim of oppression blundered, had other privileges, or could have otherwise avoided the oppression somehow.”

    I mean, obviously Eric wants “oppression” to mean that. Okay. Well, I’ll redefine some words too. I want “unicorn” to be the new word for bread. Would you like your sandwich on rye, wheat, or white unicorns?

    Wheeeee! This is fun!

  301. >“It’s not oppression if the victim of oppression blundered, had other privileges, or could have otherwise avoided the oppression somehow.”

    That’s a parody. What gives the term “oppression” its weight and importance is not simply the use of force, but the sense that the victim of oppression is powerless to resist. I think it’s important to respect this for the same reasons we ought not to use the words “torture” or “genocide” in loose and sloppy ways. When we abuse these words, we throw away the power to name and confront actual evils.

  302. > we ought not to use the words “torture” or “genocide” in
    > loose and sloppy ways. When we abuse these words,
    > we throw away the power to name and confront actual evils.”

    Well-said, and very important.

    This is crucial to my view too, though obviously we disagree. I think it cheapens concepts like “freedom from oppression” when we decide that somebody didn’t experience oppression simply because they had other privileges and could have avoided the oppressive act.

    In case it was lost during this discussion, I do want to say that I realize and respect that you’re not defending the law that Turing was found to have violated, nor his punishment. You’re merely (among other, larger points you made) maintaining that because of Turing’s privilege and status, his treatment cannot be considered “oppression.”

  303. @James A Donald “but instead evidence and arguments that it was perfectly reasonable”

    Evidence and arguments that include, whether you like it or not, the suggestion that Zimmerman may have done quite a lot more than follow quietly at a distance. You cannot ignore that people don’t agree with your facts, even if you claim (and hell even if you’re right) that your facts are right and theirs are wrong.

  304. Read, your claim is offensively stupid. None of the persons who have been victims of these incidents have advocated the “nullification” of the Fourth Amendment, nor torture of anyone.

    Patterico supported the waterboarding of terrorists. Waterboarding is torture. Therefore, Patterico supported torture.

    Patterico also blogged in support of the NSA’s warrantless wiretap program.

    Oh, and nice scare quotes around “nullification”. Don’t believe that the Fourth Amendment has been nullified? Comes now news that the NSA has dox on everyone. EVERYONE. We both know this can’t end at a good place. We both know that there will be innocents caught up in this dragnet, harassed by the feds, their lives ruined.

    What Anonymous did was wrong, but supporting the same actions from the government in the name of fighting terrists, and then complaining when it happens to you because of punk kids from the internet, is — again — the height of hypocrisy.

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