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Moral Maze

Moral Maze

Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze

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The Morality of Masculinity

The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard has provoked widespread anger, fear, solidarity and soul-searching. While some may see elements of a moral panic, how are we to deal with the uncomfortable truth that, despite progress in so many areas of life, the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse, sexual assault and violent pornography is perpetrated by men against women? Is there something intrinsically wicked about men? That?s a very stark question, which invites deeper exploration. For some, the problem starts with the very idea of ?masculinity?, which they regard as a social construct; a self-perpetuating myth; a set of harmful descriptors about how men should behave. Others believe that ?masculine? and ?feminine? are not arbitrary categories, that they usefully describe fundamental biological differences, and that to view the male propensity for violence solely as a ?masculine? problem wrongly demonises all men. Assuming there are ?toxic? aspects of masculinity, how should we deal with them? For some, it starts at birth with the compartmentalising of boys and girls into the clothes they should wear and the toys they should play with. The inherent misogyny behind this social-conditioning, they argue, pressurises many teenage boys into not displaying so-called ?feminine? traits. Is it time to re-define masculinity or scrap it altogether? Others warn against the dissolution of gender binaries and believe it is possible to celebrate male strength and competitiveness without encouraging pathological behaviour. While others argue that we need to address the relationship poverty that cuts through society: from the absence of paternal role models in the home to educating public school boys about consent. With Madeleine Kearns, Dr Lucy Nicholas, Tom Ross-Williams and Dr Andrew Smiler. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2021-03-18
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Conditions on living in a post-vaccine world

The Covid vaccine has given us a ?roadmap? out of the lockdown but it also provides us with a whole new set of moral conundrums. The virus will likely be with us forever, so the question becomes: how will we live with it in the medium and long-term? We?ve all accepted conditions on our daily lives, with the view that they would be temporary, but should we have to get used to them? Downing Street says the idea of a "Covid passport" app is still under review. Should we make the ability to travel, socialise in public or even go to school and work conditional on having been vaccinated? Those in favour, say it?s a pragmatic route to normal life in a world of vaccine hesitancy. Others base their argument on the principles of safety and fairness: there is a good reason to treat people with immunity differently if they are not a risk to others. The 200,000+ people who signed a recent online petition urging the government not to introduce vaccine passports are worried about their impact on civil liberties and social cohesion. Sam Grant from the human rights organisation Liberty said they would, "create a two-tier society where some people can access support and freedoms, while others are shut out - with the most marginalised among us hardest hit." For many, conditionality is an issue of trust, fairness and proportionality; it is part of the give and take of the responsibilities and rights of citizens. In welfare, for example, they believe people should demonstrate their commitment to finding work in order to receive benefit payments. For others, conditionality undermines social cohesion, because it comes with an implicit sense of blaming victims. Rather than further stigmatising people by attaching conditions to their daily lives, they believe we need to understand better why they are not pursuing a particular course of action. What, if any, conditions should be applied to living in a post-vaccine world? With Silkie Carlo, Matthew Oakley, Prof Julian Savulescu and Dr Beth Watts. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2021-03-04
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Free Speech at Universities

The government has announced a series of proposals to ?strengthen free speech and academic freedom at universities in England?, with a ?free speech champion? investigating potential infringements on campuses. The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned of a ?chilling effect? where students and staff feel they cannot express themselves freely. Many believe these measures are a welcome legal intervention following claims of increasing numbers of individuals being silenced, no-platformed or sacked. Critics, however, say the threat to free speech on campuses is grossly exaggerated and the government is cynically stirring up a culture war to distract from its own failings in tackling Covid. Moreover, they claim these proposals actively undermine free speech because they are just another way of controlling what is 'acceptable' speech, the impact of which is to discipline those who are defending others from racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Students have a right to physical safety and to expect not to be subjected to hatred, but some worry about a ?concept creep? in which the definition of hate speech has widened to include any opinions that go against the prevailing orthodoxy. Academics? own experiences are mixed: some say they feel no pressure of censorship, others believe their colleagues are in denial about the regression of academic freedom. Universities have long been seen as places of intellectual danger, where people go to be shocked and changed. Is this idea in retreat? Or are universities still the vibrant and stimulating places they always were, with a generation of students who are merely less tolerant of intolerance? With Jonathan Haidt, Zamzam Ibrahim, Prof Eric Kaufmanm and Prof Dr Alison Scott-Baumann. Producer: Dan Tierney
2021-03-02
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Personal Responsibility

We?d probably all be able to give the government a score out of ten for its handling of the pandemic ? but how many of us have even thought of subjecting ourselves to the same level of scrutiny? From illegal raves, house parties and large family weddings to the everyday decisions not to wear a mask or socially distance, how much should the public take a share of the responsibility for the spread of the virus? The author and commentator Matthew Syed claims that personal responsibility is ?in retreat?. Citing a new drug to tackle obesity by hijacking the brain?s appetite-regulating system ? while evidently good news ? he cautions against the pernicious effects of easy fixes on human character and our sense of self. When a homeless person dies on the streets, many will view that tragedy as a ?failure of the system?, and it would be unpopular to suggest the cause lies, even in small part, with the individual. Yet, individual autonomy is today?s sacred creed and it?s argued that with rights come responsibilities. Others believe there is a flaw in that logic because, as the pandemic has shown, we don?t all have the same resources or enjoy the freedom to pursue our lives as we would choose; that we are all products of our social background and no choice is made in a vacuum. What has our response to the pandemic revealed about the value we place in personal responsibility compared to other countries and cultures? Have we made too much or too little of the idea? And what does this tell us about how we should be tackling all kinds of social issues? Does an emphasis on free will, choice and responsibility help us to understand them better, or can it obscure what?s really going on? With Prof Sally Bloomfield, Dr Alexander Brown, Dr Deepti Gurdasani and Prof Sir Michael Marmot. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2021-02-18
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The ?Age of Impunity?

?America is back?, said President Joe Biden, ushering in a new era of US foreign policy. There is a lot in his in-tray. Having announced an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, he faces a coup in Myanmar, Russia?s election meddling and the ?very credible case? of genocide against the Uighurs in China. There has been a sense for some time that liberal democracy is in retreat, politically, morally and perhaps also militarily. The result, according to some, is that we have become toothless in holding aggressive actors and rogue regimes to account. David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, has described this as the ?Age of Impunity?, where ?war crimes go unpunished? and ?militaries, militias, and mercenaries in conflicts around the world believe they can get away with anything?. Others might argue we have short memories, and the last century is full of tyrants we neglected to confront, atrocities we failed to prevent and conflicts we made worse through our morally-motivated interventions. If the US is resetting the global democratic order, recommitting to alliances and international agreements, what should be its guiding principles? Is there a place for morality in global affairs, or has it always been about realpolitik and enlightened self-interest? As a nation and as a group of nations, is it time to assert strong moral values on the global stage, whatever the consequences, or is it better to be pragmatic and honest about the problems we can and can?t solve? With David Miliband, Dr Joseph Nye, Prof Adrian Pabst and Prof Patrick Porter. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2021-02-10
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Christmas 2020

The ethical calculation families across the UK have to make about seeing loved ones this Christmas could have far-reaching and potentially fatal consequences. The government has laid down the rules, but the moral choices lie between the gaps. Those who urge caution, even a postponement of Christmas, say it?s about taking personal responsibility to make everyone safe, and that it would be wrong to let our guard down now that the vaccine ?cavalry? is just over the other side of the hill. The other side of the argument is that, at the end of a terrible year, we deserve something to celebrate with family and friends, even if that means taking greater risks for a limited period of time. Do we have a right to Christmas? At what price? What is certain is that Christmas this year won?t be business as usual. So perhaps it is an opportunity to re-evaluate how and why we celebrate it? Some believe the pressure to conform to Christmas as we know it is psychologically bad for us. They are critical, sometimes for religious reasons, of what they see as months of build-up, driven by consumerism, all for a couple of days of rampant excess and dashed expectations, putting a strain on relationships. Is this a moment to reflect on the things that really matter; empathy for others over individualistic materialism? Others resist the call to simplify Christmas or to go back to its ?original meaning?. Since time immemorial, Northern European cultures have celebrated a mid-winter festival, and before the Victorians re-invented Christmas, the season has always been somewhat raucous. Many think it should be a time of joyful celebration in the middle of dark nights and dark times; a gesture of companionship and welcome in modern, multi-cultural and multi-faith Britain. With Prof Linda Bauld, Ronald Hutton, Laura Perrins and Dr Steve Taylor. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-12-02
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The Morality of Vaccination

It?s hard to remember what normal life feels like, but for the first time since the start of the pandemic, there are reasons to be optimistic about when we might return to it. It looks increasingly likely that by the New Year at least one highly-effective Covid vaccine will be available. Despite this promising news, any new vaccines will be rationed, cost money and carry some degree of risk. This prompts a number of ethical and moral considerations. For some, this as a matter of global justice; they believe it would be immoral and counterproductive to distribute a vaccine on the basis of whichever countries have the biggest pockets. Others think it?s perfectly reasonable for any state to prioritise the health of its own citizens, particularly the vulnerable. There are those who have concerns about the speed of the vaccine trials, and believe that if we?re going to inoculate billions of people, many of whom are asymptomatic or unaffected, we?ve got to make sure we?re not cutting corners and causing harm. While, for others, normal rules shouldn?t apply during a crisis, and the faster you can get the vaccines out, the better. And what about those who refuse a Covid jab? There have been calls for emergency laws to stamp out anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories online. Last year, NHS chief Simon Stevens warned that large numbers of parents rejecting vaccines for their children was a "growing public health time bomb". Is there a moral case for compulsory vaccination? Or is it an unjustifiable infringement on civil liberties and parental rights? With Prof Helen Bedford, Matthew Lynn, Dr Julian Sheather and Prof Tom Solomon. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-11-30
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Defence versus Foreign Aid

The Chancellor?s spending review this week has thrown up competing moral visions for Britain?s place in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world. On the one hand, there will be a boost in defence spending on drones and cyberwarfare; on the other, speculation about the UK?s foreign aid commitment has prompted ex-prime ministers, charities and religious leaders to speak out against any proposed cuts to the aid budget. Symbolically, if not practically, defence spending and overseas aid are seen to be in competition since they are both projections of global Britain. If so, how can we assess their competing moral worth? Is using taxpayers? money for defence any morally better or worse than for foreign aid? One worldview contends that prioritising investment in defence is jingoistic and problematic, while funding international development is benign and benevolent. Others, meanwhile, consider there to be a greater moral obligation towards those closer to home in response to changing threats from malicious regimes, and question whether the distribution of public funds in the form of overseas aid is incorruptible. Or are the two sectors inextricably linked? Some see international development almost as a branch of national security, exercising soft power and helping to shore up unstable states, while others point out the role of the armed forces in peacekeeping, delivering humanitarian aid and combatting the drugs trade. Both military personnel and aid charities are guided by a moral code and, in both cases, include individuals who have fallen short of that code. When it comes to the daily motivations of human beings on the ground, is the ethos of the armed forces any different to the ethos of international aid workers? With Dr Sabina Alkire, Ian Birrell, Prof Michael Clarke and Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-11-26
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Democratic Legitimacy

Donald Trump is refusing to concede the US election, making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and planning rallies across the country to build support for the legal fights ahead. The ?leader of the free world? is having a wobble and it is a testing time for democracy. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to unify a country that has become so polarised that even the choice about whether or not to wear a mask during a pandemic is seen as political. What do the deep divisions, and even the denial of the outcome of the vote, mean for the democratic legitimacy of the office of the president? Many of Mr Biden?s followers believe there is now a moral imperative for all Americans, regardless of their politics, to support him in his attempt to unite the states of America. Many Trump voters, however, say they feel not just forgotten, but despised by the opposition, and see the appeal to unity as another way of telling large swathes of the electorate to ?get with the programme? or to ?see the error of their ways?. Democratic legitimacy can be a slippery concept. Many have argued that there is no such thing as the ?will of the people?, or even, depending on voter turnout, the will of most people. As Brexit trade talks resume this week, there are still those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the referendum and believe the concerns voiced in the last four years about the social, political and economic impact of leaving the EU change the democratic, and moral, equation. Their opponents denounce them as democracy deniers. How long after a democratic decision is made are we compelled to be loyal to it? While we can all be pious about democratic legitimacy, can we also be guilty of playing fast and loose with it when it suits us? With Prof Matthew Goodwin, Dr Jan Halper-Hayes, Prof Allan Lichtman and Prof Bo Rothstein. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-11-11
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The Morality of Mortality

The Prime Minister said the second lockdown in England was necessary to avoid the "medical and moral disaster" of the NHS being overwhelmed. In starker terms: many people will die if nothing is done, and not just of Covid-19. Depending on one?s perspective, the government?s strategy has either been too concerned, or not concerned enough, with the avoidance of death above all else. What has the crisis revealed about our attitude to our own mortality and how we value human life? Some are accused of being too blasé about the fact that many who died in the first wave of the pandemic either had ?underlying conditions? or, more bluntly, would have died soon anyway. Others, who believe the second lockdown should have been sooner and more severe, are accused of giving in to fear ? as one lady quipped in a TV vox pop: ?I?m 83 and I don?t give a sod?. Nevertheless, the coronavirus has made many people face death far earlier than they were expecting. People have died alone and their loved ones have grieved for them in isolation. For some, the pandemic has highlighted how inadequate we are at confronting death more generally. Medical progress has given us longer and healthier lives yet there are many who believe that we have focused too much on prolonging life rather than making the time we have left meaningful. We also live in an age when some think the prospect of ?defeating death? is in touching distance. Is death the ultimate taboo in our culture? If we can?t medicalise our way out of it, how can we live ? and die ? well? With Prof Michael Hauskeller, Kathryn Mannix, Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy and Prof Ellen Townsend. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-11-04
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Celebrity Power

Marcus Rashford?s campaign for free meals for vulnerable children during school holidays has received widespread support from both the public and the media, with some describing Rashford as rising from sportsman to statesman, the noble quest of a celebrity footballer taking on the might of the Government. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen but it demonstrates the growing power of the celebrity. Advertisers and charities alike have long understood the power of associating celebrities with a product or a cause. They can guarantee visibility and familiarity and their likeability, attractiveness and success are known to influence the way many think and act regardless of whether the celebrities themselves know much about the cause they are championing. But when it comes to public policy should politicians be held to ransom by the power and influence of celebrities? Shouldn?t it be up to Government how it spends its money not the celebrities who are not accountable for their actions? Yet the relationship between politics and celebrities are becoming increasingly blurred. Celebrities are often asked to endorse political campaigns. In America, the history of politics is populated by celebrities themselves achieving political success from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump to name but a few. Some would argue this has reduced political success to whether you like or dislike a politician not on well-rehearsed political arguments or ideologies. Others would argue that it degrades the moral status of government and is a danger to democracy. So who has the moral authority ? the politician or the celebrity? With Paul Cullen, Dr Mark Harvey, Prof Natasha Lindstaedt and Brendan O?Neill. Producer: Amanda Hancox
2020-10-28
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Global Capitalism and the ?Lost Generation?

By November, 1 million young people in the UK will be unemployed, according to a report out this week from the newly-launched Alliance for Full Employment. It has the backing of the former Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown, who warned of a ?lost Covid generation? of young people with no prospects and nothing to do. The cost, he says, is more than just a financial one: ?It destroys self-worth; it hurts family life; it shatters communities?. So what should our moral obligation be to this generation? A parallel has been drawn with the post-war period which saw the birth of the Welfare State. While there is widespread support for short-term financial help, there are those who caution against what they see as writing off an entire generation as ?lost?, or institutionalising state dependency; they believe that the pandemic has merely accelerated inevitable economic change from which a brighter future can emerge. There are many young people who don?t share that optimism, and point to how the Covid crisis has exposed pre-existing health and wealth inequalities, which, for them, raises bigger questions about the morality of global capitalism. This is the moment, they argue, to change capitalism so that it focuses on what humans really want and need, and to actively promote the things we value beyond financial success and economic usefulness. Capitalism?s supporters, however, see our quality of life as being intrinsically bound up with markets and economic growth. For them the moral response to Covid is to kick start the consumer boom and allow people the freedom to make money unconstrained. Is it time for a radical challenge to unbridled capitalism for sake of the young, or is the ?invisible hand? still the best way to get a leg up? With Grace Blakeley, Ian Goldin, Daniel Pryor and Jamie Whyte. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-10-22
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The Moral Authority of Organised Religion

A damning report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse describes a culture of deference in the Church of England which meant that perpetrators were allowed to hide and, when exposed, were often given more support than their victims. This was a scandal in which the ?moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach?. This pattern of behaviour and cover-up is shocking but depressingly familiar. Following decades of such revelations, there is a growing belief that Britain?s churches have lost all moral credibility as a result of their repeated inability to practice what they preach and get their house in order. Others point out that, while reparations are needed, all institutions ? whether religious or secular ? are made up of human beings who are capable of terrible crimes, and that the good done by organised religion in tackling poverty, comforting the bereaved and showing strong leadership on some of the key moral issues of the day, should not be overlooked. Whether or not such institutions still command moral authority, formal religious affiliation is nevertheless in decline. Is this to be welcomed or lamented? For many people, rules-based religion has had its day. They see the churches as being out of step on many progressive issues like gender equality and same-sex marriage; they look elsewhere for sources of morality, or they see morality, faith and spirituality as subjective and personal. Others, meanwhile, still see religious institutions as the bedrock of a cohesive society; an inherited, shared source or moral and spiritual guidance, spanning centuries. They caution against the jettisoning of absolute moral rules and view the belief that we all have our own ?truths? and ways of knowing as deeply unhealthy. With Dr Ed Condon, Rt Rev Philip North, Prof Francesca Stavrokopoulou and Rev Stephen Trott. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-10-14
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Lived Experience

Donald Trump claims to have a better understanding of coronavirus following his own diagnosis and treatment. In a video message he said, "I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn't the let's read the books school. I get it and I understand it.? There are those who believe that directly experiencing a social issue makes for better, more empathic, political decision-making. Critics of the President?s handling of the crisis, however, would argue that it should not have taken a threat to his own health for him to ?get it?, and that empathy is something you?ve either got or you haven?t. This has wider implications; ?lived experience? is a central tenet of social justice. It has become an established part of the way we interact, debate and reason in the public square. Is there something irreplaceable about experiencing what others merely intellectualise about? Should lived experience play a greater role in policy-making? It is often argued that someone?s opinion lacks legitimacy if they have not been directly affected by the issue at hand ? whether poverty, racism or disability ? and that it is often through emotional human stories that these issues can be truly tackled. Others believe that while subjective experience can illuminate a problem, it can also cloud moral judgment and should not be presented at the expense of objective evidence. Moreover, the idea that only certain people are allowed to opine about particular subjects, some say, is potentially divisive and dangerous. To what extent should the lived experience of a person give them moral authority? With Alan Johnson, Prof. Jonathan Portes, Ash Sarkar and Prof. Sharon Wright. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-10-08
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Moral Lessons for a Post-Covid World

The past five months have turned our lives upside down. In the early days of the lockdown, idealists saw the pandemic as an opportunity for moral improvement; they thought it would reinforce our shared values and confirm our common humanity. As it has turned out, Covid-19 has not been the great leveller they were hoping for. You could argue that, on the contrary, it has taken our social inequalities and made them worse, adding a greater danger of death to the burden already borne by the most disadvantaged. It has escalated the culture wars and eroded our collective trust in authority and in each other. Optimists still see opportunities for a better world, as long as we draw the right lessons from this unsettling experience. It may have things to teach us about the right balance between social responsibility and individual freedom, between amateurism and expertise, between community rootedness and global collaboration, or between the nation?s wellbeing and the health of its economy. In this 30th birthday edition of the Moral Maze, each of our four panellists will propose one moral principle, relevant to the crisis, that they believe would serve us well in a post-Covid world. With Lord Andrew Adonis, Professor Linda Bauld, Ross Clark and Geoff Norcott. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-08-05
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The Death of the City?

Our normally bustling cities have been eerily quiet for months. It?s reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic horror film, ?28 Days Later?. The lockdown is proving costly; Westminster Abbey has lost more than £12 million in revenue this year and is set to lay off one in five of its staff. Theatre bosses say they must reopen without social distancing in time for Christmas or face oblivion. Restrictions are beginning to ease but for many cafes, pubs, shops, clubs and restaurants, the pandemic could be terminal. Museums, galleries, churches and office developments will struggle to justify their continued existence; should they be bailed out by the taxpayer? Perhaps each of us has a moral duty to head uptown on a shopping spree, take in a show and dine out? Yet this is about more than jobs and tourism; it raises bigger questions about the value we put on cities. If a ghost town is sad, a dead city is surely a tragedy. Since ancient Athens, cities, for many, have been the cultural jewels in civilisation?s crown, creative cauldrons of multicultural mingling and springboards to success. Others cite London, for example, as a social, cultural and economic drain on the life of our country. They believe that declining big cities give us an opportunity to revive towns, to end the suburban commuter crawl, beef up provincial culture, restore lost industries, embrace home-working and cut carbon emissions. Are big cities an unquestionable moral good, worth preserving in their current state? Or, in the new post-Covid world, is there a better way of organising the way we live? With Richard Burge, Paul Chatterton, Tom Cheesewright and Dr Jonathan Rowson. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-07-29
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The Morality of the British Empire

Campaigners are calling for an 'empire-neutral' public honour to reward front-line coronavirus workers in the Queen?s birthday honours list this autumn. It?s thought that some nominees will refuse to accept the traditional Order of the British Empire (OBE). The Black Lives Matter protests have sharpened the debate about our colonial past. Oxford professor Nigel Biggar has suggested that academics now put their careers at risk if they say anything positive about the British Empire. It?s an important moment for education, but the issue has become toxic. There?s general agreement that most British citizens have for too long been ignorant of the dark and shameful parts of their history. But was the Empire, as many passionately contest, predominantly a system of racism, slavery and exploitation? Other historians - while not disputing the violence and cruelty that disfigured the imperial project - point to the advances in health, education, the rule of law and economic prosperity that it brought to many parts of the world. How should we weigh up the transgressions and the triumphs of the past? Is it helpful to mark the Empire on a moral balance sheet with ?shame? and ?pride? columns? Does the obsession with viewing Britain?s history as either glorious or heinous stoke present-day hostility between identity groups? Or, since many British citizens are children of empire and their ancestry is woven into our collective tapestry, should we all focus instead on learning more about our shared past, warts and all? With Professor Nigel Biggar, Dr Nadine El-Enany, Janan Ganesh and Professor Alan Lester. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-07-22
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How and why we educate

Universities are counting the cost of COVID-19. They?ve lost revenue from international students, they?re struggling for investment and some of them are finding it hard to meet their pension commitments. As many as 13 of them may no longer be financially viable, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The question of whether or not cash-strapped universities should be bailed out is moral as well as financial. It summons conflicting arguments about the social value of these institutions and the role they have in wider education. In the 1970s and 1980s between 8% and 19% of school-leavers went on to higher education; today it?s 50%. Should we be proud that at least half our young adults are engaged in self-directed learning? Some say yes, it?s a moral achievement and well worth holding on to. Others observe that whereas we may now have more graduates than ever, never before have their qualifications been worth so little. How we view universities has implications for schools, where hitting grade targets is the de facto measure of success. The pandemic has exposed the weakness of this approach, according to its critics, because it relies too heavily on testing as an end in itself. While some decry the lockdown as a disaster for a ?lost generation? of young people, others see it as a once-in-a generation opportunity to re-think not just how we?re educating our children but what education should be aiming to achieve. With Nick Hillman, Sir Anthony Seldon, Niamh Sweeney and Tim Worstall. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-07-15
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Gambling

Years of soft-touch regulation and the universal adoption of smartphones have created a ?perfect storm of addictive 24/7 gambling?, making ?the lives of two million people miserable? ? according to a House of Lords Select Committee report looking into the betting industry. Its 66 recommendations include a ban on ?loot boxes? in video games, which can often be bought for real money and offer a randomised reward; many see this as a dangerous gateway to gambling for children. It wants to ease the industry out of sports sponsorship; half the Premier League football clubs are currently supported by betting companies. It wants new taxes on gambling with the money used to fund addiction clinics. What, if any, is the moral equivalence between problem gambling and other forms of addiction to recreational activities like drinking and smoking? If it?s a public health issue rather than a matter of individual free choice, how heavily should gambling be restricted? Perhaps, because gambling addiction can often have a wider social impact, hurting families and friends as well as the addicts themselves, it should be compared to drug abuse. If that?s reasonable, why not just treat gambling like any class A drug and make it illegal? Gambling enthusiasts and libertarians see it as a leisure activity which offers harmless fun to the vast majority of punters. They believe there is nothing intrinsically immoral about the industry, although most admit that betting companies do have a duty of care to vulnerable clients. Are problem gamblers the hapless victims of a heartless racket or does that rob them of moral agency and free them of personal responsibility? Is problem gambling a disease, a moral failing or just the downside of freedom? With Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Brigid Simmonds, Christopher Snowdon and Matt Zarb-Cousin. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-07-08
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?Groupthink?

Major changes in the Civil Service are needed to tackle metropolitan ?groupthink? in government, according to Michael Gove. Sceptics are worried about the impact of all this on the political neutrality of our administrators. Beyond the walls of Whitehall, there are those in Britain who believe that ?groupthink? has become pestilential. The word was coined in the 1970s by social psychologist Irving Janis. It has come to refer to people who are passionate about a particular view of the world and who treat those who don?t share their values with contempt, or even hostility. Today, commentators talk also of ?cancel culture? ? public denunciations of high-profile individuals whose beliefs are deemed to be incompatible with the prevailing moral orthodoxy. When ?unacceptable? private thoughts are made public, reputations can be trashed and jobs are sometimes lost. Those accused of this kind of ?groupthink? reject that criticism and believe that all public figures should be held accountable for their views. Once made public, they argue, those views can have a direct and adverse impact on people?s lives, so they become everybody?s business. Should a person?s legitimacy in public life be judged as much on what they think as how they behave? Is it possible to separate thoughts from deeds or are they intimately connected? Has social media robbed us of the ability to tolerate diversity of opinion, or is this talk of ?the thought police? hysterical? Is ?groupthink?, as we have come to understand it, irrational, divisive and dangerous? Or does it merely describe an age-old phenomenon: a group of like-minded people uniting to campaign for a better world? With Dalia Gebrial, Paul Taylor, Rt Rev Dr David Walker and Toby Young. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-07-02
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China

While the rest of the world is poleaxed by the pandemic, China is becoming increasingly assertive ? if not downright aggressive. In the past few days it has annexed 60 square kilometres of the Himalayas, leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead. Meanwhile, Beijing is rushing through stringent security laws in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, sabre-rattling in the South China Sea and incarcerating 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. China?s recent behaviour challenges the values that underpin liberal democracy, so what should the international community do about it? The problem is moral as well as geopolitical. Some say the UK has been sleepwalking into economic dependency on China, with talk of a ?golden era? of UK-Chinese relations. The time has come, they suggest, to disengage and denounce. For others, the priority must be our economic self-interest. They believe that imposing tough sanctions on Beijing or spurning Chinese investment in the UK (including Huawei?s role in our 5G networks) would inevitably hurt Britain in a post-Corona, post-Brexit world. Despite different traditions of governance, is it possible for China and the West to co-exist without trying to damage one another? History tells us that when powerful states become more oppressive at home and more aggressive abroad, military confrontation is never far away; under what circumstances might such action be needed? Or should we be concentrating instead on winning hearts and minds, worrying first about how our own nation could set a better moral example in the world? Within the long history of the rise and fall of global superpowers, how are we to deal with 21st Century China? With Dr Philip Cunliffe, Tom Fowdy and Isabel Hilton. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-06-25
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Racial Justice

The anti-racist protests of the last two weeks, and the far right backlash against them, have revealed something significant about British society. Over and above the rights and wrongs of toppling statues, scribbling out street signs and cancelling old comedies, is surely the deeper question of how we should understand what is happening? Racism exists and there is palpable anger at the injustices black and minority ethic people are experiencing. Yet, at the same time, there are concerns about how the serious fight for racial justice can become an over-simplified battle of competing and increasingly polarised identities, based solely on skin colour. How racist is modern Britain? How can we truly get to grips with the complexity of this question? Once we have a greater understanding of how we got here, what should we do to address the racial inequalities we see in health, education, housing, employment and the criminal justice system? Are some individuals and organisations more concerned with demonstrating their own virtue than doing the hard work required to bring about lasting change? What does the ?hard work? look like and who should be doing it? Does the cause of racial justice justify rage and a ?zero sum? approach? Or can meaningful social change be negotiated in a spirit of understanding and honesty on all sides? With Dr Dominic Abrams, Dr Jason Arday, Jude Blay Yawson and Inaya Folarin Iman. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-06-18
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Isolation

Some of the UK?s national parks saw visitor numbers soar to bank holiday levels over the weekend. The message about social distancing and self-isolation is taking time to sink in. "Life should not feel normal," said the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. If it does, she added, ?You should ask if you are doing the right things." The public?s response to these unprecedented times has exemplified the best and the worst of humanity. What, then, does the coronavirus crisis tell us about the fundamental nature of our species? Your answer to that question will depend on whether you agree with the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes that people are naturally disposed to ?rapine and revenge?; or with the 18th century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau that humans are essentially good. The tussle between self-interest and altruism has been part of the human condition since we were decorating caves. Now an ever-tightening lockdown will make life-changing demands on all of us. We are social animals who evolved and adapted to survive in groups, so how well are we equipped to cope with extended periods of self-isolation? Some predict an epidemic of depression and suicides. Others argue that we are far more adept at developing our own inner life than were our ancestors in the ancient world, who saw exile as a fate worse than death. Are we right to be worried about the moral and psychological effects of a prolonged lack of human contact? Or are we more resilient than we think? With Hilda Burke, Andrew Colman, Julia Hartley-Brewer and Mark Vernon. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-03-26
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Danger and Opportunity?

The coronavirus pandemic has given the world a smack in the face. Sporting events have been cancelled, national borders have closed, jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance, the over-seventies will soon be asked to self-isolate and families are having difficult conversations about whether grandparents can be allowed to see their grandchildren. It?s life, but not as we know it. A cynical politician once said that you should never let a serious crisis go to waste, and pundits are already suggesting that we now have an opportunity to re-think society. After all, in Chinese, the word for crisis is often interpreted as signifying both "danger" and "opportunity". Is it time to make changes that would not have been feasible without an existential threat hanging over us? Could we, for example, strengthen global partnerships, accelerate the shift to sustainable energy, think about a universal basic income or forge a new sense of community? Such ?politicisation? of the problem is appalling to those who just want to get through this ordeal and return to normal; they say it?s much too soon to conclude that free market liberal democracy has failed the stress-test. They are sure that, if we do the right things to protect the most vulnerable, it will soon be business as usual. Yet history shows that a major crisis can be a catalyst for crucial changes. Talk of re-purposing hotels as make-shift hospitals and manufacturing plants to make ventilators, invites comparisons with the Second World War, which gave us the welfare state as we know it today. We won?t get through the corona crisis without ceding a lot of our individual autonomy to the state, but is that an opportunity for greater collectivism in the future - or a danger to liberty? With Rachel Cunliffe, Laura Perrins, Rabbi Lord Sacks and Dr Jamie Whyte. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-03-20
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Islamophobia

The anti-racism campaigner Trevor Phillips has been suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of Islamophobia. Some have described the move as ?Orwellian?; others believe he has a case to answer. The issue turns on what we mean by ?Islamophobia? ? although even to pose that question is to invite denunciation in some quarters; why split hairs when it?s obvious that anti-Muslim bigotry is rife? The Conservative party has been under attack for the allegedly Islamophobic utterances of some within its ranks, but it is waiting to agree on a definition of ?Islamophobia? before committing to an inquiry. It is 20 years since the term entered the political lexicon and almost a decade since Baroness Warsi declared that Islamophobia had passed the ?dinner table test? and become acceptable in polite society; yet, we still haven?t quite decided what it is and what it isn?t. Some people ? including many Muslims ? have a problem with the word itself because they think it reinforces the idea that Islam is something to be afraid of. Islam is a religion, not a race, but the definition used by the Labour Party calls Islamophobia ?a type of racism?, because of the comparable experiences described by Muslims at the sharp end of group discrimination. Meanwhile, free speech advocates are concerned that any formal definition risks blurring the line between the unacceptable hatred of people (Muslims) and the legitimate criticism of ideas (Islam). Once we have our definition, whom should we appoint to decide whether particular words or deeds are Islamophobic? And if there?s a spectrum that runs from insensitivity and disrespect at one end to the most hideous kinds of hate crime at the other, where along that line should the law intervene? With Mohammed Amin, Myriam Francois, Ibrahim Mogra & Fiyaz Mughal. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-03-12
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Coronavirus

Late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a tiny organism migrated from an animal to a human. Three months later, COVID-19 has gone global. So far, nearly 90,000 people are known to have caught coronavirus and more than 3,000 of them ? mostly already ill or elderly ? have died. Here in the UK, the government has acknowledged that its ?containment? strategy is likely to fail and is planning for delaying the spread of the virus and mitigating its effects. But nobody knows how the virus will behave in Britain, and planning for the unpredictable is far from straightforward. If we know we can?t win this fight, but we don?t want to lose it too badly, what are we prepared to sacrifice on the battlefield? How authoritarian do we want the government to be? Must we be ready to accept martial law, the isolation of towns and cities, closed schools, factories and offices, bans on public transport, concerts and sporting events? While some would see such measures as sensible, others warn against authorities who would stamp on our civil liberties out of a nervous need to be seen to be doing something. And what about those in the ?gig? economy who can?t afford not to work? The moral dimension goes beyond the arguments about precaution, panic, freedom and frailty. The coronavirus dilemma could be seen as a real-life example of that age-old ethical thought experiment, the ?Trolley Problem?. Should we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society, even if the knock on effect to the global economy has the potential to cause suffering and death for many more people further down the line? With Dr. Tony Booth, Dr. Norman Lewis, Julian Sheather & Professor Dominic Wilkinson. Producer: Dan Tierney
2020-03-05
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Profiling, Safety and Trust

The boss of Ryanair has been criticised for saying that airport security checks should focus on Muslim men who are travelling alone, because they pose the biggest terror threat. The Muslim Council of Britain said Michael O'Leary's comments were "racist and discriminatory". Profiling is the practice of categorising people and predicting their behaviour on the basis of particular characteristics. We're profiled all the time by businesses and insurance companies with the help of computer algorithms. That same technology has been piloted by police and will now be used to identify low-level offenders who are deemed likely to go on to commit "high-harm" crimes, perhaps involving knives and guns. Is it right to target specific groups on the theory that they are statistically more likely to commit certain crimes? Civil liberty watchdogs argue that such ?pre-crime? profiling not only violates everyone?s civil rights, but fosters alienation and hostility in marginalised communities. Supporters of ?data analytics? believe that, on the contrary, it can eliminate all bias and human error from these judgments. There?s a wider debate about the balance between public safety and trust. Should we worry that these preventative measures are eroding our goodwill towards authority and each other? There are proposals to introduce airport-style security checks in ever more areas of our lives, from concert halls to places of worship. Security campaigners say it?s a necessary step towards making us all that little bit safer. Libertarians call it an over-reaction to a statistically-negligible threat. It is, they say, allowing the criminals to dictate how we live our lives. With Nick Aldworth, Tom Chivers, Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper and Tom McNeil. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-02-27
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Transgender Rights

Two of the final three Labour leadership candidates have signed pledges to defend trans rights, expel party members who express "transphobic" views and fight against Woman?s Place UK, LGB Alliance and ?other trans-exclusionist hate groups?. Both those groups cited insist they are merely campaigning for the rights of women as they exist under UK Equality law, as well as those of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. This bitter quarrel could be seen as symptomatic of a wider culture war which calls into question the very notions of gender, sex, sexuality, social justice and inclusivity. For many trans activists, a failure to recognise trans women as women or trans men as men is itself hateful, because they believe it denies the most fundamental fact of their identity. Their critics, however, accuse them of denying a biological reality that sex is determined at birth. It is, they say, unreasonable to refuse even to discuss the subject. For those prepared to debate, there?s a lot to think about. What constitutes ?transphobia?? What are the moral implications of gender self-identification? What rights and protections should be afforded to ?biological? females in women's changing rooms, refuges and prisons? What does gender self-identification mean for women?s sport? More fundamentally, where does ?masculinity? end and ?femininity? begin? How should we respond to the increasing numbers of children and teenagers, particularly girls, being diagnosed with gender dysphoria? And what ethical considerations should apply in deciding whether and how to treat them? With Jane Fae, Graham Linehan, Torr Robinson and Kiri Tunks. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-02-20
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The Moral Purpose of the BBC

Her 98th year has not started well for Auntie BBC. The Government is consulting on decriminalising the licence fee; 450 jobs are being cut from BBC News to help meet a huge savings target; gender pay disputes are never far from the headlines; and audience figures reveal that the Corporation is struggling to connect with many British people ? especially the under-35s and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the Director-General, Tony Hall, will step down in the summer after seven years in the job. If this is a crossroads, what should be the future direction of the BBC? There are loud voices calling for an end to the licence fee, calling it a poll tax, an outdated funding model overtaken by the streaming giants. Is it fair, they ask, to be forced to pay for a service you don?t want? Supporters point out that the BBC reaches 91% of adults every week and is the envy of the world; a unique and valuable service meant for everyone ? that?s the point of it ? which therefore must continue to be funded by everyone. They believe it is uniquely able to unite a fragmented nation and that the founding Reithian aspirations ? to inform, educate and entertain ? have never been more relevant in this era of fake news and social media echo chambers. The BBC?s severest critics, however, believe it no longer acts either as ?cultural glue? or as a touchstone of impartiality and truth. Instead, of leading us higher, they say, the BBC is sinking ever lower in pursuit of ratings. Bloated and greedy or lean and beleaguered? Perhaps we won?t know what we?ve got ?til it?s gone. What, now, is the moral purpose of the BBC? With Robin Aitken, Philip Booth, Claire Enders, Jonathan Freedland. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2020-02-13
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Healing the Nation

In the last three and a half years, freedom has clashed with fraternity, families have fallen out and friends have become foes. What happens next is ? the Prime Minister promises ? ?a moment of real national renewal?. Post-Brexit Britain is not yet a week old and there is much left to negotiate about its future relationship with the EU, but at last we have certainty on one thing: we?re out. Inevitably there are still die-hard remainers re-branding themselves as ?rejoiners? and continued shouts of ?You lost, get over it!? from their victors, but the tired rhetoric of both sides is now being tempered by hopeful talk of ?healing the nation.? What exactly does this mean? It must surely begin by identifying the sickness: poisonous politics, an inability to engage with opposing views, abuse directed towards MPs, women, minorities and religious groups? Then we should try to determine whether these symptoms are acute or chronic. Are we witnessing an hysterical spasm that will pass away in time or are we entering an historic period of irreconcilable cultural divisions? And what about the prescription? Is all the talk of ?coming together? and ?common visions? well-meaning waffle? Or is the language of healing crucial if we are to recover the art of compromise and civility? History tells us that it often takes a crisis to provoke a cure and that the deepest divisions can eventually be reconciled. But wounds can fester and usually leave scars. Can the past offer us hope for a more united future? Guests: David Goodhart, Diarmaid Maccullough, Jane Robins and Jennifer Nadel. Producer: Dan Tierney
2020-02-06
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Radicalisation and De-radicalisation

The story of the latest terrorist attack in London is both tragic and extraordinary, starkly contrasting the evil of the assassin and the virtues of his young victims. The red-faced authorities are trying to work out how it came about that a convicted jihadist attending a prisoner rehabilitation conference stabbed to death two of the people who wanted to help him. Meanwhile, and predictably, the event has been politicised. It is being cited as evidence that Islamist terrorists cannot be de-radicalised, and that even if they could, we can never know whether a jihadist who claims to have been de-radicalised is telling the truth. The answer for some? ?Lock them up and throw away the key.? Those who believe in second chances, on the other hand, might mention that one of the heroes who confronted and helped to subdue the knife attacker on London Bridge was a convicted murderer on day release. But perhaps before we consider how to punish and rehabilitate Islamists we should think about how to stop young Muslims from being radicalised in the first place. ?Prevention? is a catch-all term; for some it is code for cack-handed state interference in the private affairs of religious minorities; for others it is about community-building and a sense of belonging. But is that wishful thinking when communities seem so polarised, even ghettoised? Is it unreasonable of our society to preach ?British values? to young Muslims who feel both economically and politically alienated? Or does the blame lie with those on both sides who have fought against integration? Featuring Dr Rakib Ehsan, Dr Usama Hasan, Hadiya Masieh and Dr Rob Faure Walker. Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-12-05
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The Morality of Genetics

Doctors of medicine swear the Hippocratic Oath, written some 2,500 years ago, declaring that they will protect the confidentiality of their patients. Sometimes they break that promise and are criticised; sometimes they keep it and are criticised. This week a woman is suing an NHS trust for not telling her about her father?s Huntington?s disease, which doctors had already diagnosed when she had her own child. Only after the child was born did she find out that she also carried the faulty gene for the degenerative, incurable brain disorder ? with a 50% chance of passing it on. Her father had told doctors he didn?t want her to know because he feared she might kill herself or have an abortion. This tragic case is at the centre of a moral tussle between the duty of confidentiality and the duty of care. If our right to medical privacy is intrinsic to our freedom, security and sense of self, when ? if ever ? should it be overridden to prevent harm to others? That?s a problem doctors have faced for a long time, but now inherited conditions are setting us another moral conundrum: science is giving us the power to eradicate many of them entirely, through gene-manipulation. So, should we press on with stem cell therapy and selective IVF? Or should we slam on the brakes, conscious of the perils of playing God and of creating a world in which prospective parents can order the characteristics of their designer babies from a tick-box à la carte menu? Featuring Dr Michael Fay, Sir Jonathan Montgomery, Sandy Starr and Dr Helen Watt. Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-11-21
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The Morality of Voting

?You?re joking ? not another one!? That was Brenda from Bristol, back in 2017 when Theresa May surprised the country with a snap poll. A penny for Brenda?s thoughts as we climb aboard the roller-coaster for our third general election in four years. The pundits are predicting only its unpredictability. The parties are fractured and fraught, the voters are frustrated and fatigued, and Brexit prances through the pantomime. The old safe-seat certainties are crumbling. Campaigners on all sides have been encouraging tactical voting to stop the opposition at all costs. Is that morally acceptable, or should we vote for the candidate we most closely support, even if they have no chance of winning? If our long-held tribal loyalties seem less certain, is that good or bad? Does it shake up candidate complacency or threaten community interests? Is it OK to stand in the voting booth and ask ?What?s in it for me?? or are we there on behalf of all humanity? Perhaps the question is not ?How should I vote??, but ?Why should I bother?? People fought and died for our right to vote, so is it a moral duty to go to the polling station, even if we spoil our ballot? Or is it wrong to criticise those who stay at home on election day, nursing their anger or their apathy? Featuring Dr Lisa McKenzie, Alan Hamlin, Richard Harries and Professor Lea Yp. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2019-11-14
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The Fall of the Berlin Wall

It?s exactly 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dramatic demolition on that chilly November night in 1989 symbolised liberal aspirations for a world soon to be remade in the image of America and Western Europe. For the political theorist Francis Fukuyama it was ?The End of History? and a decisive victory for the global democratic project. But history didn?t end in 1989 and understanding the reasons for that is perhaps the moral imperative of our age. Democracies are shaking, America is polarised, Russia is meddling with Western elections, China is crushing democratic protests in Hong Kong; then there?s 9/11 and its aftermath of Islamist terror. Where has it all gone wrong? Some see it as a moral failing on the part of the West that it did not seize its moment of triumph. Others believe the West was arrogant in expecting the nations of Eastern Europe and the Middle East to adopt its version of capitalist democracy. What are the lessons? The capitalist and communist ideologies may not be as entrenched as they were during the height of the Cold War but neither have they gone away. Today it?s fashionable to argue that only a resurgence of international socialism will keep the ?evils? of global capitalism in check. Others think that totalitarianism never died ? it merely morphed into a new kind of political and moral orthodoxy that now dominates our institutions. Where do we go from here? Should each nation be left to work out its own destiny, or do we need a new global project? Featuring Anne Applebaum, Chris Bambery, Paul Mason, Dr. Alan Mendoza. Producer: Dan Tierney.
2019-11-07
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The Morality of Risk

Fireworks are fun; they?re also dangerous. Hundreds of people are injured every November 5th and pets are frightened by the noise. What?s to be done? Sainsbury?s has become the first UK supermarket to stop selling fireworks and some MPs have called for an outright ban. They are heroes to some; to others, they are spoilsports, determined to see every jot of joy fizzle out like a damp roman candle. We take risks all the time, for better or worse, but is the long march of health and safety ? from the Factory Act of 1833 to the smoking ban and beyond ? taking us to a better place, or are we becoming an over-anxious, risk-averse nation? Risk assessments are vital ? they can prevent lots of people from dying ? but, despite the fact that ?health and safety culture? has extended its reach into almost every aspect of our lives, it failed to prevent the Grenfell Tower disaster. Risk aversion starts early. Children are nowadays less likely to walk to school on their own. Scotland is likely to become the first country in Europe to ban young footballers from heading the ball after research suggested they could be heading for dementia. When should statistical evidence of risk prompt a change of behaviour, either voluntary or state-enforced? Is it moral to accept a tiny level of personal risk for ourselves and our children, when the same statistics show that, across the population as a whole, that percentage risk adds up to hundreds or thousands of lost or ruined lives? Is risk-taking itself sometimes a good thing? In the world of economics it might cause a recession but it can also generate prosperity. In medicine a risky operation might kill the patient or it might be the way to save a life. Is it worth the risk of getting rid of risk? Featuring Kate Blincoe, Prof. Nick Chater, David Halpern and Dr Jamie Whyte Producer: Dan Tierney.
2019-10-31
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The ?Tolerance of Intolerance?

The row in Birmingham over primary school lessons that teach an accepting attitude to homosexual relationships has been making headlines for most of this year, and now the courts are involved: the City Council has applied for a permanent ban on protests at the school gates. So far this escalating dispute about 'tolerance' has not displayed much of it ? on either side. Muslim parents have been portrayed as backward and bigoted, while the local authority has been labelled Islamophobic. Behind this head-on clash is a moral problem that stretches far beyond Birmingham and far into the past and the future of this country. It's about negotiating a settlement between a liberal democratic state and those religious groups who reject its principles. How far can the state afford to accommodate beliefs, teachings and practices that 'enlightened' opinion abhors? Some would draw the line at the point where religion refuses vaccination or blood transfusions to children. Others are worried about the wider social consequences of being too 'tolerant of intolerance'. How much should non-religious citizens reasonably expect to be free from religion? Religion is central to our cultural heritage; it created our great institutions, held communities together and fed the roots of the values we profess. But the European Enlightenment set out to establish a social order based not on religious superstition but on reason, equality and human rights. If that's not quite how it's turned out, what's the solution? Is it to strive more fiercely still for a secular consensus, or to make new space for dogma some of us had thought was dying if not dead? How much does co-operative living ultimately require the stretching of our moral imagination? Featuring Anna Carlile, Assad Zaman, Dr David Landrum & Dr Stephen De Wijze. Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-10-24
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Punishment and Justice

The Sentencing Bill ? one of seven criminal justice bills trailed in this week?s Queen?s Speech ? will aim to keep serious or violent criminals behind bars for longer than at present. It?s part of the government?s ?tougher? approach to law and order, along with an increase in the number of police officers and an avowed intention to give victims a louder voice in the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary Priti Patel says she wants to make criminals ?feel terror? on the streets. Polling suggests that nearly three quarters of British adults agree with her. These changes in policy prompt a number of ethical questions: Is fear an effective motivator for preventing crime? Are longer prison sentences a just and effective form of punishment? How grim should life in prison be, when the deprivation of liberty alone might be thought punishment enough? Once we?ve decided what we mean by ?punishment?, what should we demand of the enforcers ? particularly the police, the prosecutors and the courts? A notion of justice that emphasises retribution over rehabilitation? One that tips the balance towards sympathy for victim and away from seeking to understand the criminal? Does the high rate of re-offending demonstrate that prison doesn?t work ? or that redemption is rare? Should we try to be more understanding about why people commit crimes? The Gospel of Luke says that from those to whom much has been given, much will be required ? so should the circumstances into which someone has been born be weighed and acknowledged in the punishment they receive? Or should justice be blind, swayed by the hard-luck stories of neither the offender nor the victim? Producer: Dan Tierney.
2019-10-17
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Academic Freedom

It seems to some that universities, which used to boast that their courses would explore controversial ideas, are nowadays keener to reassure students that they will not be disturbed by anything too worrying. But safe spaces for students make dangerous spaces for dons. Doctors and professors have been subjected to harassment and no-platforming because of their unfashionable opinions on a range of topics including colonialism, transgender rights and abortion. Earlier this year Noah Carl lost his research fellowship at Cambridge (where he was looking into the links between genetics and intelligence) after hundreds of fellow academics signed an open letter accusing him of ?racist pseudoscience?. Now a group of academics is ready to launch ?The Journal of Controversial Ideas?: peer-reviewed research by authors who can choose to remain anonymous because they fear a backlash that could endanger their careers or even their lives. Opponents of the journal say it will provide a safe space for dangerous and offensive ideas published under the cloak of anonymity. Should there be any constraints on the freedom of academics to make discoveries and interpret them as they choose? How should academic research be treated if it is deemed to support theories that are viewed as unacceptable? Do universities have a moral duty to protect and platform views with which the majority disagrees? Or are universities morally entitled to censure or dismiss academics who flout the norms of decency and respect? Is academic freedom genuinely under threat? Featuring Dr Myriam François, Dr Francesca Minerva, Dr Arianne Shahvisi and Dr Joanna Williams. Producer Dan Tierney.
2019-10-10
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The Morality of Anger

The political pressure cooker is rattling, steaming and whistling. MPs on all sides are venting outrage over the language used by their opponents. It?s like a real-life Twitter. The PM?s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has said the atmosphere in the country will get ever more toxic unless the result of the referendum is delivered. Meanwhile, opposition MPs blame the current fury on what they see as the government?s pig-headed refusal to compromise. Aristotle said: ?Those who do not show anger at things that ought to arouse anger are regarded as fools.? Is fierce public rhetoric at a time of political crisis justified or counter-productive? When does the healthy expression of political anger become incitement to riot or murder? Anger is often described as ?the moral emotion' ? the one most likely to affect our behaviour for better or worse. It can be constructive if it?s harnessed to redress an injustice, but what if the fight against the ?injustice? is driven by the destructive desire for revenge? Is there a moral distinction between anger expressed in solidarity with the oppressed and anger directed to punishing our enemies? Is it always virtuous to control our anger? George Orwell defined the English character as one of extreme gentleness, ?where the bus conductors are good tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers.? Is that national character now changing? Is it too late to recover it? And should we even try? Guests: Brendan O'Neill, Mark Vernon, Rosie Carter and Thomas Dixon. Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-10-03
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Love and Relationships

Whether you watch it or not, it?s hard to ignore the TV reality show ?Love Island?, which puts a bunch of semi-naked heterosexuals in a villa and tells them to ?couple up?. It is firmly part of the zeitgeist and now set for two series a year. There?s a clear generational disagreement about the programme: 16-34 year olds are addicted to it; geriatrics can?t stand it. What does the success of ?Love Island? say about the state of television, and what does the state of television say about us, the viewers? Love Island?s detractors say it?s vacuous, vulgar and exploits its vulnerable young participants in a format designed to play with their emotions. They argue it?s also morally corrupting for those who watch it ? many of them impressionable adolescents with unrealistic expectations of relationships. Those who stick up for the show, including many parents of teenagers, say it contains moral lessons about modern relationships: fidelity, consent and dating etiquette. It is, they believe, both the Jane Austen of the post-millennials and a sex education primer for the over-50s. We live in the era of Tinder and Grindr where partners are selected with the swipe of a phone screen. Some worry about the effect this is having on the emotional intelligence of young people, while others say nothing?s changed; young lovers were always awkward fumblers and there?s nothing new about our obsession with good looks. Social psychologists talk about passionate love ? the kind that grips a couple in the first heady phase of their relationship; and companionate love ? the calmer state that follows, based on friendship, intimacy and commitment. Have we got our priorities right when it comes to love and relationships? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-08-01
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Anti-Semitism

The anti-Semitism crisis engulfing the Labour party has been described by leading Jewish figures as ?a taint of national and historic shame?. Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged failures in dealing with allegations and the party has now published new materials designed to educate members about anti-Semitic tropes. Nevertheless, Labour is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for racism ? an indignity that brackets them with the BNP. According to President Macron, anti-Semitism in Europe is at its highest level since 1945. Stereotypes and ignorance abound. A quarter of the 7,000 Europeans who took part in a recent CNN/ComRes poll believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance, while a third admitted that they knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. Less clear cut is the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. There is an argument about where the line is, and who has the right to draw it. Since Zionism has at its heart a belief in the Jewish right to self-determination, many Jews believe that those who oppose the state of Israel are anti-Semites. Others ? many Jews included ? don?t think that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, and argue that saying so is merely a way of ignoring Palestinian grievances. Anti-Semitism may be the oldest ethnic hatred, but is it just another form of racism? Or is it a distinct and uniquely pernicious prejudice which must be understood in the context of centuries of violent oppression, dehumanisation and genocide? Anti-Semitism: what is it? what isn?t it? and how can it be defeated? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-07-25
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Surveillance and Human Freedom

Big Brother is watching you. George Orwell?s chilling words are now a reality. In China?s Xinjiang province, Uyghur Muslims have been described by one official as laboratory mice in an experiment of ?advanced, predictive, algorithmic surveillance?. The comments were made to an undercover film-maker, whose documentary, ?Inside the Chinese Digital Gulag?, airs this week. The film depicts a society based on phone surveillance apps and a vast network of cameras tracking individuals and even reading their body language to determine their ?threat level?. The Chinese authorities insist these are necessary security measures; human rights watchers say they are inhuman. Closer to home, civil liberties campaigners are unhappy that several UK police forces are trying out facial recognition cameras. What level of state surveillance is morally acceptable in a liberal democracy? While we?re busy pondering that question, let?s not ignore the fact that most of us accept being spied upon in our own homes by our smartphones and computers. Some of us believe it is a price worth paying for convenience and inter-connectedness. Others warn that information is power and power corrupts. The recent eruption of dystopian drama on our TV screens could point to a deeper unease about the current threats posed to human freedom. Are we giving away too much control to artificial intelligence? Are we sleep-walking into our own Orwellian nightmare? And do we care? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-07-18
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The Morality of Fashion

Some of the stars of this year?s Glastonbury festival have joined the chorus of campaigners denouncing ?throwaway fashion?. They?ve given some of their own clothing to Oxfam and are encouraging their fans to buy their outfits second-hand (or ?pre-cherished?). These days you can buy a dress for a fiver and wear it once before chucking it away. Is that proof that capitalism has gone too far? Critics of the industry cite the appalling conditions and rates of pay in the third-world factories churning out garments that will end up as non-biodegradable landfill quicker than you can say ?sustainability?. There are those, on the other hand, who prefer not to be lectured by celebs famous for their multiple costume changes and who point out that the minimum wage doesn?t run to a wardrobe of high-quality clobber. Beyond the social and environmental implications of fast fashion, what about the moral value of clothes themselves? We humans have covered our nakedness ever since Adam and Eve embarrassed themselves in the Garden of Eden. Fashion lovers say that our clothes matter because they are expressions of an aesthetic sensibility, intrinsic to both self-esteem and dignity. Others believe the fuss about this season?s ?look? is a cynical manipulation of insecurity and a celebration of vanity and superficiality. The morality of fashion: fashionably moral. Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-07-11
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Moral Character

Famously photographed stuck on a zipwire, Boris Johnson is now attempting the tightrope. Unless he falls off, the pollsters suggest, he will alight in four weeks? time in Downing Street. Perhaps understandably, he is trying to limit the number of buffetings to which he subjects himself in the meantime. Buffetings, however, continue. While it may be fascinating to voyeurs that he apparently spilled wine on a sofa and had a crockery-smashing row with his partner, is that really important? The Boris backers said this was politically-motivated, Corbynista curtain-twitching. The neighbours defended their actions, saying they recorded the proceedings out of genuine concern and passed the audio to The Guardian in the public interest. But was it? How much, if anything, do we have a right to know about a domestic quarrel involving a potential PM? How, indeed, should we balance the competing rights of public figures to a private life and of citizens to know about those in power over them? What about the value we place in moral character itself? It could be argued that honesty in small things is no small thing ? as Abraham Lincoln said: ?I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true?. These days however, politicians should be judged, many insist, not on the content of their character, but on the merits of their manifestos. Yet, paradoxically, it has become a commonplace of Twitter that political foes are attacked not for having bad ideas but for being thoroughly bad people. So what is the relationship between virtue and effectiveness? Is the requirement for moral character in politicians overrated or overdue? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-06-27
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The Policing of Humour

Comedy is a serious business, as Jo Brand discovered when she made a joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. The police have now dropped their investigation into her and she has not been sacked by the BBC ? unlike Danny Baker after his apparently ?racist? tweet last month. Guardians of free speech worry about the policing of humour and the erosion of the right to offend. Yet we live in politically-febrile times and a joke may provoke more than mere amusement or even offence. Jokes can be deemed to trivialise political violence, encourage hatred and excuse rape. With that in mind, do comedians have a social responsibility to rein themselves in, even if they believe they?re ?punching up?, not ?punching down?? Or should they follow their comedic instinct when it?s telling them to let rip? After all, humour is by nature subversive and, from Martin Luther to Mock The Week, it has always been an important part of political discourse. Beyond politics, where should we draw the line on funny lines? It could be argued that a joke becomes unacceptable when it dehumanises minorities or incites violence. Yet aren?t these criteria themselves subjective? Context and tone are everything in comedy but they?re fiendishly difficult to define. Does it matter that the intent behind a gag is benign if the consequences of telling it are harmful? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-06-20
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The Morality of Hypocrisy

Discussion of the Tory leadership race has shifted from questions of policy to issues of personal morality. Given that most of the candidates have admitted ? to a greater or lesser extent ? snorting, smoking or supping illegal substances at some point in the past, how thunderously should they be condemned? Shouldn?t people running for high office be blasted for their past ?indiscretions?? Isn?t it right that any person in a position of privilege and authority who has shown a contempt for the law should suffer the consequences? Or should we worry that our 21st century witch-finders have developed an unhealthy obsession with ?offence archaeology? ? the diligent digging-up of an historic misdemeanour and using it as a basis upon which to judge a person?s entire character? It?s been asserted that even worse than the crime itself is the sin of hypocrisy. An article from 1999 has been republished in which Michael Gove criticised "middle class professionals" who took drugs, at the same time that he himself was taking cocaine. He has defended himself against headlines calling him a hypocrite, saying: ?If any of us lapse sometimes from standards that we uphold, that is human.? Hypocrisy is an easy accusation to hurl but a tricky sin to understand - La Rochefoucauld famously called it ?a tribute vice pays to virtue". Our own moral boundaries are so often flexible, yet psychologists suggest we?re less inclined to give others the ethical wiggle room we might afford ourselves. So should we have more humility to look inward before judging others? Or is it a moral cop-out simply to say, ?Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone?? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-06-13
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D-Day 75th Anniversary

The Allied invasion of Normandy, 75 years ago, was the biggest land, air and naval operation in history. It led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi control and was the galvanising moment of the age, but it came at a cost that is almost unimaginable: at least 2,700 British soldiers, sailors and airmen lost their lives in the first 24 hours. Their sacrifice ensured that later generations would enjoy a lifetime of peace in Europe. Very few people in Britain today, other than military professionals, have ever worried about having to fight a war. Does that collective comfort also mean that we would be incapable of answering the same call? It is instructive to consider how society has changed in 75 years of peacetime - in particular our loss of deference. Some say that?s a good thing; it empowers us to stand up to institutions on behalf of the marginalised and the oppressed. Others, however, lament the erosion of the national virtues ? duty, self-sacrifice, respect for our leaders ? that made D-Day possible. As the author David Brooks put it, we?ve moved as a society from ?We?re all in this together? to ?I?m free to be myself?. And what of the nature of warfare itself? In 1944, though the cost to human life was enormous, it was a straightforward fight with a uniformed enemy led by villains. Conversely, modern, surgical warfare kills fewer people but is more remote and, according to its critics, further blurs the distinction between soldiers and civilians. What does D-Day teach us about how we might judge ourselves morally against our forebears? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-06-06
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Moral Purity

The Sackler Trust has suspended new charitable donations in the UK, following claims that the Sackler family billions are linked to the opioid crisis in the US. The family denies the allegations, but both the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate group have refused its money. Whether that money is tainted or not (the question is hotly disputed) the controversy raises important questions about the ethics of funding for the arts, sport and philanthropic charities. Purists believe that good causes should always refuse money from bad sources, no matter how much potential benefit that money could bring. More grateful recipients hold their begging bowl with one hand and their nose with the other, insisting that there is no such thing as dirty money because a coin is morally neutral; whatever real, perceived or alleged crimes may have been committed to earn it should not rest on the conscience of the recipient. How should we view this quest for moral purity? It does appear that society is becoming increasingly intolerant of moral grey areas. It?s a short step from turning down dodgy donors to ?no platforming? those with unfashionable opinions. Perhaps that?s a good thing, an inspiring translation of principles into action predicated on equality and justice for all. Or perhaps such thinking is a new form of secular puritanism which is intolerant and dangerous. When does the enforcement of moral principles make us better? When does the attempt to resist moral pollution become its own form of rules-based bigotry? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-03-28
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The Morality of Leadership

Brexit is only days away and we still don?t have a plan. This is enraging for many, perplexing for most, and amusing for those who like their humour black. As one current slogan observes, ?even Baldrick had a plan?. Some argue we are locked in a crisis of leadership. The major parties are fragmenting, collective cabinet responsibility has been trashed and the political atmosphere in parts of Britain is toxic. Have the two main party leaders ever been as weak? Many voters can?t understand how Parliament has so dismally failed to follow a simple instruction, and why the political class has flunked collective moral leadership. Kinder observers point out that the task facing MPs was anything but simple, and explain that while politics is working exactly as it should, the chaos in Parliament reflects an electorate with a split personality. So, with all this in mind, what sort of commanders-in-chief do we need now, in politics and beyond? Visionaries? Listeners? Pragmatists? Power-watchers have reported a sea change in recent years: many leaders now spend more time trying to please their rank and file, they say, and less time actually leading. There was a time when leaders were prepared to defy their supporters for ?the greater good of all?. That sounds persuasive unless you think it was the top-down, managerial style of leadership that contributed to people?s sense of political alienation in the first place. Do leaders like Churchill, Thatcher, Blair and May define their eras or do the events of different eras determine the leaders? Do we always get the leaders we deserve? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-03-21
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Moral Panics

The rise in the number of fatal stabbings in recent months has generated big headlines and heated political debate. Teenage knife crime is high on the national agenda. There is broad agreement that something has to change but not as much agreement about what that is. Should there be more police officers on the streets? more surrender bins? more use of stop and search? more weapons sweeps? tougher sentences? Do we need a knife crime ?tsar? to co-ordinate it all? What about the role of schools and youth clubs? But before we start writing policy prescriptions, let?s ask a more basic question: are we seeing a long-overdue response to a desperate and tragic situation, or a nation in the grip of full-blown moral panic? The phrase ?moral panic? - which was popularised by sociologist Stanley Cohen in his 1972 book about mods and rockers - is nearly always used pejoratively to denote an over-the-top expression of public anxiety about the lowering of moral standards. Yet it could be argued that a moral panic is like a whistling kettle - it?s a warning that things have come to the boil. Perhaps we shouldn?t speak of moral panics but of moral calls to action ? opportunities to get money spent and policies reformed on important issues that are usually below the national radar. Or perhaps such societal soul-searchings are just spasms of empathy, emotional outbursts that take no account of long-term trends, get in the way of clear-eyed policy-making and divert resources from duller but worthier causes. Are moral panics good for society? Producer: Dan Tierney
2019-03-14
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