English, Current Affairs, 1 seasons, 209 episodes, 6 days 9 hours 28 minutes
Moral Maze Podcast
English, Current Affairs, 1 seasons, 209 episodes, 6 days 9 hours 28 minutes
Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze
Is it moral to attach identity labels to ourselves and others? We often label people by nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, disability and many more categories. Is this a good and helpful or something that should be avoided?
The King has said that he wants the UK to be ‘a community of communities’, whereas some commentators have said that this is a call for permanent racial division in our society. Have the use of labels increased or diminished racism and other forms of prejudice society?
Labels can identify an individual as a member of a collective. Others want the unique identity of each of us to be respected for its differences from everyone else. If our loyalty should be to a group, should that group be defined by the colour of its skin, its politics or its passports?
Panellists: Giles Fraser, Sonia Sodha, Tim Stanley & Ash Sarkar
Producer: Peter Everett
22/11/2023 • 56 minutes 48 seconds
Should politics be guided by public opinion?
Should politicians respect, despise, accommodate or ignore public opinion?
Rishi Sunak is looking for a policy he can pop into place between now and the general election that will avoid a Labour landslide. He is being advised that abolishing inheritance tax will tickle the tummies of the Tory not-so-faithful. Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer wants government planners to “bulldoze” local objections when deciding where to put new housing developments. Can a government get away with ignoring public opinion? Well, it can in constituencies it’s never going to win.
Politics nowadays is not merely ‘guided’ by polls, surveys, databases and focus groups… it is controlled by them. But is that good for the country? Is the advice they generate either wise or moral? Are the public obsessed with issues that don’t matter, while they ignore the ones that do? There is a case to be made against taking any notice of what the public thinks about anything. We know that the public thinks short-term, and th
22/11/2023 • 56 minutes 22 seconds
How should we remember the dead and the living?
The Met police has warned of a "growing" risk of violence and disorder this Remembrance weekend. The Prime Minister has described a planned pro-Palestinian protest in London on Armistice Day as “provocative and disrespectful” to those who wish to remember the war dead “in peace and dignity”. The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said it was "a stain on our common humanity" that so many seem to have "lost sight of the moral distance between Hamas and Israel". Others, however, strongly refute the description of the demonstrations as “hate marches”, believing that the protesters should be allowed to campaign for a ceasefire and an end to the killing; and to show solidarity with Palestinians without undermining either the remembrance events or the humanity of Israelis.
The polarising nature of the Israel-Hamas war and its repercussions in the UK has resulted in both sides accusing the other of ‘weaponising’ remembrance. Public attitudes to commemoration have changed over the last century and no
10/11/2023 • 56 minutes 57 seconds
Live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories.
19/10/2023 • 56 minutes 38 seconds
How should we think about our enemies?
The surprise attack by Hamas was devastating, leaving hundreds of Israeli civilians dead, injured or taken hostage. Israel’s response was swift, with airstrikes on Gaza killing hundreds of Palestinians, including children.
The scale of the attack was unprecedented, but the cycle of violence and escalation is all too familiar in this land that has been contested for more than a century. Now another generation sees the bloodshed at first hand.
Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, so for many Jews this is about survival. At the same time, many Palestinians have come to see Israel as a brutal oppressor. Each side sees the other as an existential threat. Even those who refuse to define their neighbours across the Gaza border as ‘the enemy’ may find themselves defined in those terms against their will – and threatened with death.
How should we understand conventional rules of morality in such intractable circumstances? What is a proportionate response to an act of aggressi
12/10/2023 • 56 minutes 33 seconds
Is impartiality a myth?
The BBC has published new guidance on how its big name presenters can use social media. Those working in news and current affairs are still bound by strict rules on impartiality, which the BBC sees as being fundamental to its reputation, values and the trust of its audiences. But the presenters of other programmes are free to express their political views, as long as they don’t “endorse or attack a political party."
While impartiality means not favouring one side over another, news broadcasters are subject to a subtler version of it: “due impartiality”. That means different perspectives don’t necessarily have to be given equal weight. But which perspectives and how much weight? That’s a matter of judgment.
The changing media landscape has brought new challenges to the principle of impartiality. The media regulator Ofcom has recently investigated GB News. Among their alleged breaches of impartiality was an item in which the Conservative Chancellor was interviewed by two other Conserv
06/10/2023 • 56 minutes 41 seconds
The Language of Freedom
Michael Buerk chairs a special Moral Maze debate recorded at 'HowTheLightGetsIn' festival of philosophy and music.
The language of freedom permeates our political debate. In the US, it may be a decisive battleground in the 2024 presidential election. The problem is that people mean very different things by it. Is it freedom from government regulation or freedom to have an abortion? Freedom of speech or freedom from discrimination? Freedom to own a gun or freedom for communities to ban them?
A distinction is often made between positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom is the absence of constraints (‘freedom from’) – while positive freedom is the possibility of acting in such a way as to take control of one’s life (‘freedom to’). Libertarians often see individual freedom - the private enjoyment of one’s life and goods, free from interference – as the most fundamental value that any society should pursue and protect. This view is challenged by those who believe wealth, health and
04/10/2023 • 56 minutes 36 seconds
Adults, Children and Power
Labour has confirmed that it plans to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in elections, in line with Scotland and Wales. The idea, they say, is to empower younger people by engaging them in the democratic process. Some older members of the electorate might raise the question of whether people under 18 have the maturity to vote. It would be no surprise to hear that argument, we were all children once and we know that adults think they’re superior.
It’s nearly fifty years since the concept of “childism” was first coined by psychiatrists, to describe the automatic assumption of superiority of any adult over any child. Now, perhaps, childism is the last permissible prejudice. Discrimination that would seem shocking if applied to any other group is exercised against children and regarded as quite appropriate. Children’s freedom is constantly restricted and their views are generally dismissed. They’re told what to do, what to eat, what to wear, even what to say. Is this just responsibl
21/09/2023 • 56 minutes 59 seconds
Is idleness good for us?
School’s out for summer. For many, holidays are a chance to rest, unwind and empty the mind of work. For others, the long break brings additional pressures and stresses, such as childcare. It’s a period when inaction and inactivity are to be celebrated and envied.
What does that reveal about our priorities? During the pandemic, many people got a glimpse of what it was like to live more simply. Aristotle writes that the greatest possible human good is contemplation, a life lived remote from endless activity. Economics has taught us that our time is money, which is a necessity. But for some it has turned human beings into ‘human doings’ – units of productivity. The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote “In Praise of Idleness” in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, in which he called for nothing less than a total re-evaluation of work – and of leisure.
Throughout history, however, idleness has, more often than not, had a bad press. St Benedict described it as “the enemy of the s
27/07/2023 • 56 minutes 33 seconds
The Morality of Climate Activism
Wimbledon, the Ashes, the Proms and George Osborne’s wedding have all been interrupted by ‘Just Stop Oil’ protesters in recent days. Several areas of London have been brought to a standstill, provoking the ire of motorists and leading to multiple arrests. ‘Just Stop Oil’ describes itself as a “nonviolent civil resistance group demanding the UK Government stop licensing all new oil, gas and coal projects”. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he wouldn't be “giving in to eco-zealots” disrupting the British summer.
The group’s supporters believe that blocking traffic, interrupting sporting events and vandalising artwork, are entirely proportionate in the face of an existential crisis bequeathed to our children and grandchildren. Right now, they argue, parts of Europe are literally on fire, and there is no more time left to wait for those in power to do the right thing. Their critics object to the fact that the targets of the protests are often ordinary people, who have more immediate con
21/07/2023 • 56 minutes 34 seconds
Cluster bombs and the ethics of warfare
As NATO meets this week, the US is seeking to calm its critics over sending cluster bombs to Ukraine. Cluster munitions are banned by many countries – including the UK and most EU members. They are more indiscriminate and can leave unexploded bomblets scattered over a wide area, posing a lethal threat to civilians years after a conflict has ended. The US, which is not a signatory to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, argues that supplying these weapons is justified in the defence of Ukraine, that civilian areas would be avoided and that records would be kept to facilitate a clean-up operation after the war.
While some see this as a clear concession of the moral high ground, others disagree. As one US congressman put it, “the only way it erodes the moral high ground is if either you're an idiot, or you're rooting for Russia in this conflict."
What should be the ethical rules of conduct in warfare, when the goal of opposing armies is to perpetrate, and sometimes maximise, deat
13/07/2023 • 56 minutes 53 seconds
The Morality of Privatisation
Thames Water, which serves a quarter of the UK population, is billions of pounds in debt and on the brink of insolvency. The company has received heavy criticism, and calls for it to be nationalised, following a series of sewage discharges and leaks. The energy sector, railway companies, and the Royal Mail have faced a similar outcry in recent months.
When it comes to the provision of services which are essential for our national life, the calculation is often utilitarian: which form of ownership, public or private, leads to the greater social good? Many believe that the private water, rail and energy companies are simply failing to serve the public. Meanwhile, although polling suggests most people want to keep the NHS under public ownership, many of the health outcomes of patients compare less favourably to other European countries.
The privatisation versus nationalisation debate is about more than outcomes: it highlights competing visions of the good society. For some, the priva
06/07/2023 • 56 minutes 46 seconds
The morality of news coverage
Comparisons have been made between the news coverage of two tragedies at sea. The first was the capsizing of a boat off the coast of Greece, in which more than 500 migrants from the Middle East and Africa are thought to have drowned. The second is the catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible carrying five people, including a billionaire explorer, who paid a huge amount of money to see the wreck of the Titanic. While the first story made the news, the second story was rolling news.
Moral Maze panellist Ash Sarkar faced a backlash when she tweeted about what she saw as the “grotesque inequality of sympathy, attention and aid... Migrants are “meant” to die at sea; billionaires aren’t.”
This raises the question of the moral purpose of the news – particularly when it comes to public service broadcasting – and the difference between reporting what people want to know and what they need to know. For some, the ‘ticking clock’ coverage of the Titan tragedy was ghoulish and sensation
05/07/2023 • 56 minutes 44 seconds
Should science ever be stopped?
Scientists have created the first synthetic human embryos using stem cells. The breakthrough could help research into genetic disorders, but it raises ethical questions about the creation of life without the need for eggs or sperm. While nobody is currently suggesting growing these embryos into a baby, the rapid progress has outpaced the law.
This prompts a wider question: instead of society having to play catch up with science, should we be having a more frank conversation about the moral responsibilities of science itself? Some believe that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath, a regulatory system of ethical standards, similar to doctors. Others think that will stifle creativity, enthusiasm and academic freedom.
The human drive for discovery is the engine of progress – and we have demonstrably never had it so good. But are there things we should not want to discover? Are we capable of making a conscious decision to say “no further” if the potential consequ
23/06/2023 • 56 minutes 44 seconds
The Morality of Borders
It’s almost impossible to imagine why anyone would risk a perilous crossing over cold, dark waters in an inflatable dinghy. This is a story of humankind: the despair – or ambition – that drove them, the wickedness of the traffickers who exploited them, and the moral dilemma of those of us already living where they want to go. History is all about borders.
Two cross-party reports out this week have sought to inform the political and moral response to the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’, currently making its way through Parliament, which proposes that people who come to the UK “illegally” will be detained and permanently removed. The Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights concludes that the bill, “breaches a number of the UK’s international human rights obligations”. Meanwhile, a Home Affairs select committee report states there is "little evidence" Albanians are at risk in their country and need asylum in the UK.
Migration brings into focus the competing worldviews of universalism and loca
15/06/2023 • 56 minutes 27 seconds
Football: a moral force for good?
Try telling the hordes of Manchester City fans heading to the Champions League final this weekend that the beautiful game has an ugly side. The team is on the verge of sealing an historic first Treble and glory awaits. Rival fans, however, claim they’ve bought success, with the wealth of their Abu Dhabi owners.
The eye-watering sums of money invested in top-flight football raises moral questions for all fans, some of whom may feel they are entering into a Faustian pact. Newcastle United’s recent takeover by an investment fund with strong links to the Saudi state, has prompted concerns about ‘sportswashing’ – a means by which ethically dubious regimes direct attention away from their poor human rights records. Some worry that the commercialisation and uneven distribution of wealth in the game has priced hardworking fans out of watching their team, while leaving some community clubs on the brink of insolvency. There is unease not just about the institution of football but about its cu
08/06/2023 • 56 minutes 39 seconds
How should we understand ‘cancel culture’?
The gender-critical philosopher Kathleen Stock’s address to the Oxford Union this week has divided academics at the university. One group has signed a letter expressing concern that student opposition to her invite goes against free speech. A second group has written an open letter supporting the students and stating that revoking an invite is not the same as preventing someone from speaking.
This case is seen by many as an example of so-called ‘cancel culture’. ‘Cancel culture’ has become such a common term that it is not always easy to understand what precisely it means and what its implications are for society. Media organisations have always made judgements about who should and should not receive a platform. What some view as censorship, others see as curating their own experience of who and what they interact with.
Cancel culture on the left is often characterised as a form of secular puritanism denouncing the ‘sins’ of the age, while, as perceived on the right, it can have a
01/06/2023 • 56 minutes 42 seconds
How should we talk about suicide?
The tragic death of primary headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life when her school was set to be downgraded to “inadequate”, has prompted widespread anger from teachers and calls to reform or abolish Ofsted. Ruth Perry’s family believes that the stress of the inspection led to her suicide, and this week an article in the British Medical Journal argued that “every work-related suicide” should be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive.
While some see this as an important intervention in seeking to understand and prevent further suicides, others are concerned that speculation about direct causal 'triggers' can oversimplify a complex issue. The Samaritans’ media guidelines state: “vulnerable people experiencing similar issues are more likely to over-identify with the deceased when a single reason is given”. Moreover, others are worried about the ‘weaponisation’ of individual cases of suicide by campaign groups seeking to advance wider political aims.
Suicide is a highly s
25/05/2023 • 56 minutes 23 seconds
AI - the end of humanity or the next evolutionary step?
AI – the end of humanity or the next evolutionary step?
Computers are becoming more powerful. Much more powerful. Last week, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel Corporation died. A computer industry billionaire, he came up with ‘Moore’s Law’ which observed that the power of computers doubles every couple of years. Today a microchip can contain 50 billion transistors, each narrower than a strand of human DNA.
The war of the robots has begun. Microsoft’s ‘ChatGPT’ and its rival, Google’s ‘Bard’ allow you to have a conversation with a computer, much as you would with another person. But it’s not just talk. As well as writing essays, presentations, legal documents and sermons, artificial intelligence can also produce art. We’ve accepted that machines can beat us at chess, but might they soon also beat us at poetry, painting and music? Could they make Shakespeare look second rate? Or will art without human input always be worthless?
Some people are impressed by the quali
31/03/2023 • 42 minutes 54 seconds
Is Growth a False God?
Is Growth a False God?
Last week’s budget was, according to the Chancellor, about growth. Whenever politicians talk about their plans these days, it’s always about growth. The arguments are clear: Until we generate more growth, we can’t get any richer and wages can’t increase either. It’s urgent too: The UK will be the only major economy apart from Russia to shrink this year, according to forecasts from the OECD. But not everyone is convinced that increasing growth makes us happier, or even that it’s sustainable.
Some believe the pursuit of growth attaches too little value to wellbeing, that it neglects what should be the real priority, people’s contentment and happiness. Government policies lead us, they claim, to work harder and for longer than we want to. They suggest it creates a culture that values our economic activity, earning money and spending it, over other important roles such as caring for children and elderly relatives, maintaining our community, or charitable w
23/03/2023 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
Is pacifism admirable, immoral, or just impractical?
Is pacifism virtuous, admirable, impractical, immoral or stupid?
War and militarism are in the news every day. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £11bn in defence spending over the next five years, to counter threats from hostile states. It comes alongside news of a new defence pact with the US and Australia in response to Chinese military power. The war in Ukraine has seen advanced weapons rushed in by Western countries to support the fight against Russia. But alongside the talk of battles and territory won and lost, there is also talk of the horrors of war. There are renewed demands for peace, and some say it should be peace at any price. In Germany, protest marchers assert that sending more weapons to Ukraine pours fuel on the fire, causing more death, misery and destruction. They claim to detect a change of mood and point out that the latest film adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, a 1929 novel by the German pacifist, Erich Maria Remarque, has just p
16/03/2023 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
Breach of Trust
Breach of Trust
When the journalist Isabel Oakeshott broke her promise and passed Matt Hancock's personal WhatsApp messages to the Daily Telegraph, was she morally justified in doing so? She didn't just go back on her word to the former health secretary, but broke a legally-binding Non Disclosure Agreement. She claims that "no journalist worth their salt" would have acted otherwise and insists her obligations to Mr Hancock were outweighed by the public interest served by releasing the messages. But others see it differently. It was, they claim, a decision aimed at promoting her own view that government lockdown measures during the pandemic were excessive. Journalists often cite the "public interest" when it can seem that their actions are more about advancing a particular cause, or about selling their story because the "public are interested".
Aside from journalism, when is a breach of trust justified in any human relationship? For many professionals, there's an understanding
09/03/2023 • 42 minutes 23 seconds
Leaders with faith
Leaders with Faith
The first hustings in the election of the new leader of the Scottish National Party were held this week. The winner will become Scotland’s first minister. But so far the coverage of the campaign has been more about religion than policy. One of the three candidates, Kate Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland and has faced criticism from within her party for saying that she would have voted against gay marriage, had she been an MSP in 2014. She also said that according to her religious beliefs, having a child outside of marriage was wrong. Several of her backers have withdrawn their support and others have questioned whether such views make her an appropriate choice to lead the country.
But why should traditional religious beliefs like this be a barrier to achieving high office? Forbes insists that it’s possible to be a person of faith, while still supporting the rights of others. Although she would have opposed the legalisation of same sex marr
03/03/2023 • 42 minutes 24 seconds
How should Britain make amends for its colonial past?
How should Britain make amends for its colonial past?
Should museums in the UK return historic artefacts to their countries of origin? Many items displayed in museums were looted in colonial times and now there are campaigns for them to be returned. There's a related question of whether Britain should pay reparations for its role in the slave trade. Attitudes to both of these questions have shifted in recent years. Some of the Benin Bronzes, looted by the British Army in 1897 have been returned to Nigeria. The British Museum is now in talks over how the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon Temple in Greece in the 19th century, might be displayed in Athens.
Recently the Church of England set up a fund, worth £100m, to address the past wrongs of its involvement with slavery. The church has expressed shame that it invested in, and made money from the slave trade. The fund will be used to benefit communities affected by historic slavery. Several universities have taken si
23/02/2023 • 42 minutes 9 seconds
Why does God allow natural disasters to happen?
Why does God allow natural disasters to happen?
The devastation following the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has been appalling. Already more than 41,000 people have died. Extraordinary stories have emerged as people have been rescued after spending days trapped under rubble. Those small moments of respite have been greeted with heartfelt prayers of thanks for each life saved. The blame for the earthquake and the shocking loss of life has been placed not on God’s shoulders, but on the planning officials and builders who allowed fragile homes to be built. But if God really is almighty and good, why does he allow natural disasters like this to happen? It’s a recurring moral conundrum, but if God is given credit for the splendour and beauty of nature, why then isn’t he also held responsible for the destruction and suffering caused by forces completely beyond the control of people? Some see this as a compelling argument against the existence of a good and almighty God. Ot
16/02/2023 • 42 minutes 38 seconds
Morality and Money
In her first public comments since leaving office, the Ex-PM Liz Truss has argued that her plans to boost economic growth were brought down by "the left-wing economic establishment". Losing the confidence of the financial markets at a time of global uncertainty has made us all more aware of our income and expenditure. If the news accurately reflected our lives, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that life is all about money - inflation, interest rates, pay demands and profits. The overriding objective of measuring economic growth is to help as many people as possible to have more money. But how have we become so pre-occupied with what is, after all, an artificial construct that is intrinsically valueless – paper and numbers in themselves morally neutral?
The love of money may be the root of all evil, but its use demands trust and co-operation, its possession brings freedom and agency. Money may have given much of humanity richer lives, in every way, but it’s made us into trans
09/02/2023 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
What is Evil?
Boris Johnson has described a chilling phone call in which Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike in the run-up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Almost a year on from the start of the war, it’s tempting to see it as a clear-cut conflict between good and evil; Putin the malign aggressor bent on destruction and conquest, Zelensky the courageous defender of liberty and his country. It may be true, or at least substantially so, but is it helpful?
Seeing events through the prism of good and evil enables us to make moral judgements and define what we value. But it can also brush aside the ambiguities of complex situations and de-humanise both those we deem evil, and those we regard as good. Plato and St Augustine thought they were not opposites; that evil was the absence of good, a lack of moral imagination. Psychologists might prefer to dispense with the term ‘evil’ altogether, seeing it as human behaviour to be explained and understood.
Does evil exist? If so, what is it? A
02/02/2023 • 42 minutes 43 seconds
Nicola Sturgeon has argued for a wider debate on teenagers' rights, as she defended plans to allow 16-year-olds to change their legal gender in Scotland. Each society settles on its own thresholds to determine when a person is old enough to make informed decisions about matters including voting, having sex or drinking alcohol. This is a collective agreement about the legal point at which human beings reach maturity. But what is human maturity in moral terms?
Aristotle warned against trusting the judgments of the young, saying, “they have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations”. Meanwhile, psychological studies suggest that the period of adolescence among Gen Z has extended – ‘25 is the new 18’ – which means that ‘adult’ roles and responsibilities now occur later than in they once did. All this is evidence, according to some, that teenagers’ judgments are less likely to be sound than their elders, and rather than expecting them
26/01/2023 • 42 minutes 32 seconds
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” advised Shakespeare’s Polonius. These words seem hopelessly out of touch in cost of living crisis with soaring inflation and astronomical levels of personal debt. The charity StepChange has warned that money borrowed by UK households to pay for Christmas could take years to repay. Meanwhile, a study by the Resolution Foundation suggests the British public are the worst in the developed world at saving. How did we get here?
For some, our eye-popping indebtedness begins with a failure of personal responsibility, an absence of prudence, and an inability to discern between our ‘wants’ and needs’. For others, the real problem is systemic, where borrowers are victims of a consumerist society that both pressurises and stigmatises the poorest. Pragmatists argue that debt itself is morally neutral and merely part of the furniture of modern life. Free market libertarians see debt as a democratising force, giving people greater personal agency. Whereas many
19/01/2023 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
The Ethics of the Family
While no family is likely to have such a public falling out, anyone can surely relate the royal rift to tensions within their own family – the grudges, rivalries and feelings of betrayal. Prince Harry’s words, “I would like to get my father back, I would like to have my brother back”, reveal the depth of hurt experienced by all involved. Families are places of nurturing and wounding; moral networks where expectations of love and loyalty are tested. When the often inevitable strife ensues, are our moral obligations to our family conditional or unconditional?
It’s often argued that there is something uniquely special about family bonds; that blood is thicker than water. Family members are the only people in our lives that are permanent and unchosen, they have known us since the beginning, and that connection can be grounding and valuable in helping us understand ourselves. We might feel instinctively that adult children have obligations to their aging parents, simply by virtue of them b
12/01/2023 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
Thousands of complaints have been made to the press regulator about Jeremy Clarkson’s column in the Sun newspaper, in which he expressed his hatred of Meghan Markle. His critics say he crossed a line in portraying her as someone who should be treated as less than human. He says he was making a clumsy TV reference and he’s “horrified to have caused so much hurt”.
For some, this is symptomatic of a wider culture which rewards extreme and unkind opinions, and that a right to free speech in a newspaper includes an obligation to uphold certain moral standards. Others say mainstream media commentators (and their editors) have no duty to be kind, only to tell the truth or present an honestly-held opinion.
Kindness, courtesy and respect are notable by their absence in our so-called ‘culture wars’. Kindness can be seen as twee, while rudeness can be applauded. We might appeal superficially to kindness, but it can often be secondary to values of honesty, justice and responsibility. For some,
22/12/2022 • 42 minutes 19 seconds
What do we work for?
Forget the advent calendar, it’s a ‘strike calendar’ we need to prepare for Christmas this year. Behind today’s window lurks not a festive chocolate but a list of public service stoppages; not a robin on picket fence, but a postie on a picket line.
Seasonal jokes aside, perhaps the heavy flurry of industrial action is a symptom of a deeper unease about the value we place on work.
Critics of the strikes believe we have lost a sense of duty in our public services, that the public service ethos no longer means very much, and that work today is largely contractual rather than covenantal. Supporters of the strikes say there is nothing self-interested about wanting to earn a fair wage and that it’s about recognising the value of public servants, over and above symbolic gestures like doorstep clapping.
Some think we’ve placed too much emphasis on wealth as a measure of worth and that work should be about seeking to do something well, regardless of the monetary reward. Others believe th
15/12/2022 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
Can ethics survive the death of religion?
For the first time, fewer than half of people in England and Wales describe themselves as Christian. For centuries in the West, Judeo-Christian values have underpinned moral reasoning and grounded our ethics. While ticking “no religion” on the census doesn’t necessarily mean having no religious belief, should it concern us that this central story of our culture is fragmenting?
Implicit in utilitarianism is the idea that we can do ethics without metaphysics. The Enlightenment hailed the triumph of scientific rationality over sacred revelation. Whereas, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that in any society in a state of ‘anomie’ – that is, lacking a shared moral code – there would be a rise in suicide.
Secularists argue that the greatest examples of social progress of the last century have come about as a result of a loss of deference to religious moral authority. Religious leaders believe that it is precisely this moral authority that makes a society cohesive. Others think
08/12/2022 • 42 minutes 19 seconds
The largescale protests in China are not just a response to Covid restrictions but about fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech. They follow weeks of demonstrations in support of women’s rights in Iran, and LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar.
We often speak about human rights as a self-evident truth – the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of conscience. Drafted after the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a milestone document seeking to protect the dignity of all human beings.
Advocates argue that human rights are universal because the struggle for freedom can be found in every culture, despite being rooted in different philosophies and assumptions. They see a human rights-based approach to the world as the best way of identifying a shared humanity and improving human wellbeing. Sceptics, however, believe the global human rights movement can itself be a form of Western moral imperialism, or cite examples of atrocities justi
01/12/2022 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
The Morality of Snobbery
People like us... you know what I mean. Snobbery? It's everywhere, and most of us would admit to it, at least occasionally. But beyond the caricatures of snooty and disdainful types who enjoy looking down on the tastes, habits and backgrounds of others, there's the serious matter of how it affects people's life chances. The British Psychological Society has launched a campaign to make social class a legally protected characteristic, like sex, race and disability. It would force employers and others to tackle discrimination on the basis of class. The idea is to reduce the damaging effects of class-based prejudice across education, work and health, and create a fairer society.
People from working class backgrounds are less likely to get into a top university or land a highly paid job, but how much of that is down to the snobbery of others? Is a change in the law really going to shift prejudices that have been embedded over generations? Is it right to use the law in this way? M
29/07/2022 • 42 minutes 56 seconds
The Future of the NHS
The Future of the NHS
Can the UK keep its promise of free healthcare for everyone? NHS spending is higher than ever, yet waiting lists are getting longer and patient satisfaction is falling. The worst of the pandemic may have passed, but weekly Covid admissions remain high and many services are still struggling. While many patients feel delighted with the treatment and care they receive, stories of missed targets, staff shortages and crumbling buildings are common. Whether its waiting for an operation, mental health support, getting a GP appointment or just hoping an ambulance arrives in time, our cherished and beloved NHS is letting many people down, in spite of the heroic efforts of its staff. The people vying to be our next Prime Minister have acknowledged the problems, but are not promising big improvements. Is it time for a new model?
Some believe it’s about funding, and we need to accept that the NHS we want and need will cost us much more. But in a cost of living cris
21/07/2022 • 42 minutes 38 seconds
The Right to Abortion
The Right to Abortion
This weekend thousands of people marched on the White House in support of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. That constitutional principle, established nearly 50 years ago in the case of “Roe v Wade” has just been overturned by the US Supreme Court and already many Republican states have banned abortions. As President Biden moves to try to protect abortion rights, campaigners in the UK have been stirred to action. There have been ‘Pro Life’ demonstrations outside clinics in Northern Ireland and ‘Pro Choice’ protests outside the US Embassy in London.
The number of abortions in England and Wales last year, more than 214,000, was the highest recorded since 1967, when a new law allowed, in most cases, terminations up to the 24th week of pregnancy. This also applied to Scotland but was only extended to Northern Ireland two years ago. Public opinion is clear: 85% of people in Britain think women should have the right to abortion. But should rights also be
14/07/2022 • 42 minutes 46 seconds
Have you ever felt that you can’t say what you really think, that your honest opinions have become somehow unacceptable? It’s a common complaint that freedom of speech is being restricted, that more and more views have become inadmissible or rejected as intolerable. On social media, people expressing thoughts that would have hardly raised an eyebrow a generation ago, are viciously attacked and branded as bigots.
If that is a problem - and opinions differ - the government may be about to make it worse. Its Online Safety Bill, going through Parliament just now, is aimed at making the UK the safest place in the world to go online, but there are concerns that it could involve more censorship and less freedom.
It is surely good to have a diverse range of views openly and freely expressed in public, important for democracy for honest discourse and a sure sign of true freedom of speech. But others feel that cleaning up the public space of unsavoury, prejudiced
07/07/2022 • 42 minutes 53 seconds
Ukraine - what should western countries do next?
Ukraine - what should the west do next?
It's 125 days since Russia's tanks rolled into Ukraine in a full scale invasion of the country. Since then the world has watched, appalled by the bloodshed, the destruction of towns and cities, the 12 million refugees. At first there was relief that the Ukrainians had beaten back the attack on the capital Kyiv. Now there is less optimism as Russia takes more territory in the east.
From the start Britain and its allies have been clear: Russia must be stopped. Billions of pounds worth of weapons have been sent to help Ukraine fight back. With a unity that surprised many, western countries have imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine says it needs more weapons, and more powerful ones, if it is to drive the Russians back across the border. Some observers do not think that’s a realistic aim in any case. The conflict has become bogged down and our own Prime Minister says 'we need to steel ourselves for a long war.' Global prices of
30/06/2022 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
The morality of striking
Is it morally acceptable to go on strike, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who are uninvolved in a dispute? This week’s rail strike is expected to be the biggest in 30 years with only a fraction of services running and widespread disruption. But whatever the arguments behind the dispute, what’s the moral case for a strike?
The right to withdraw labour is seen by many as fundamental, an essential last resort in a battle with employers where workers are trying to secure reasonable pay and conditions. Improved pay deals resulting from strikes are seen as clear evidence that striking itself is legitimate.
But where should the limits be? The police and armed forces can’t go on strike but doctors and nurses can, as well as other essential workers. Is a strike still morally acceptable if it causes widespread misery or severely damages the economy, or if lives are lost as a result?
Some feel that strikes are always unfair. The main victims are usually n
23/06/2022 • 43 minutes
Inequality: Is the gap between rich and poor in the UK fair?
Is the gap between rich and poor in the UK fair?
The soaring cost of living is raising questions about the gap between rich and poor. As prices have been forced up by global events, including the war in Ukraine, families on low incomes, who spend most of their money on basics, have been hit hard. In the last year, more than two million people in the UK turned to food banks. Stories of parents forced to choose between food and warmth, or skipping meals so their children can eat, have become common. Can the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, morally justify millions of its people relying on charity just to keep their children warm and fed?
The wealthiest ten per cent of households own 43% of the country’s wealth, so is it naïve to suggest that the poorest should get more help and the richest should pay for it? The recently announced windfall tax on energy companies was an extraordinary moment: cash taken from big companies and handed to their customers. Is it time for mo
16/06/2022 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
What is the future of the monarchy?
What is the future of the Monarchy?
A pageant, a star-studded concert, street fairs and picnics; it was a joyful four-day tribute to the Queen and millions revelled in her Platinum Jubilee. Seventy years of service, celebrated in true British style. But now the bunting is down and the carnival is over, how committed are we, as a nation, to the monarchy? A recent poll suggests that about 62% are in favour of retaining it, down from three quarters a decade ago. About 22% would prefer an elected head of state. It's all much closer among young people, with only a tiny majority of 18-24 year olds saying they want to stick with the monarchy.
Many people love the Royal family and how the Queen has helped the UK to stand out in the world, providing long term stability, untainted by politics. Others despair at the behaviour of younger Royals, whose lives can more resemble a soap opera than the bedrock of the nation's sovereignty. But what is the moral case for the monarchy? For some
09/06/2022 • 42 minutes 37 seconds
What's the point of university?
Eight universities are under investigation for providing poor quality degrees. The Office for Students has sent inspectors in to investigate whether undergraduates are getting decent value in return for the huge debts they rack up to get their degrees. For years, there’s been concern about so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees that do nothing to boost job prospects.
But the expansion of universities was rooted in a grand ambition to create a better-educated workforce and to turbo-charge social mobility; a wider variety of degree courses, it was thought, would offer something for everyone. Surely it's positive that more young people now get an opportunity that years ago was offered only to a privileged few? University is about more than boosting the student’s future earnings; it’s about learning to think critically, gaining independence and broadening horizons.
Some, though, believe we have too many universities competing for customers by offering firsts to failures. Standards have
02/06/2022 • 42 minutes 1 second
The Priorities of the Police
Dame Cressida Dick, the newly-departed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, says policing has become ‘too politicised’. When her force has been criticised on the right for investigating ‘Partygate’ and on the left for letting the Prime Minister off too lightly, and when the Durham Police must now decide whether to end the career of the leader of the Labour Party, it’s hard to argue with her.
The Public Order Bill, which had its second reading this week, will create new legal powers to prevent or punish disruptive demonstrations. That too, critics say, is putting politics into policing.
Meanwhile, the newly-arrived Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, has been talking about priorities. He predicted that the cost of living crisis will trigger an increase in crime and advised officers to ‘use their discretion’ when people are caught shop-lifting. One columnist wanted to know exactly how much he could nick without getting banged up.
Police officers in Scotland have asked
26/05/2022 • 42 minutes 59 seconds
Cleaning the Internet
For a brief moment this month Ukrainians were allowed to call for the death of Vladimir Putin on Instagram and Facebook. That freedom was subsequently withdrawn – “hate speech” isn’t tolerated on those platforms after all. But can Ukrainians really be expected to hold back on how they feel about the Russian military? And maybe we, as bystanders, could do with seeing that anger expressed without the filter of online ‘etiquette’ policies devised by a Silicon Valley CEO. Maybe our rage about Mariupol is all we’ve got, so is it wrong to share it. How should we strike the right balance between reason and raw emotion, without on the one hand caring too little, or on the other hand losing perspective.
The trouble is, if we allow ‘hate speech’ about the Russian President, where do we then draw the line? And what about propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories. The social media platforms spend millions on trying to sort truth from lies, but why should it be an internet company that
24/03/2022 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
Refugees and borders
Nearly three million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian tanks crossed the border at the end of February. Some say the UK was slow to respond but many thousands of people are now signed up to a government scheme to turn their houses into homes for Ukrainian refugees - the first should arrive soon. There has been an outpouring of generosity and goodwill toward those suffering in this conflict, but uncomfortable questions remain. Are we really doing enough? Why such generosity now, when we have spent years discussing how to keep migrants out? Is it morally acceptable to feel more comfortable welcoming large numbers of Ukrainian - rather than Syrian or Afghan - refugees? Is racism a factor, or is it simply that these people are fleeing an enemy who threatens us too?
Shortly the Nationality and Borders Bill will return to be voted on in Parliament. Campaigners say the bill is at odds with rhetoric about welcoming refugees as it could criminalise those who arrive to seek asylum in
17/03/2022 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
Sanctions, enablers and collective punishment
We can’t help Ukraine with troops and planes, most politicians insist, but we can hit back at Putin by punishing his friends and choking the Russian economy. This week the long-promised Economic Crime Bill zipped through the Commons and could be law within a month. The Home Secretary said the legislation proves she’s determined to “hobble Putin and his cronies”. But it will do nothing to hurt their ‘enablers’ – the London-based accountants, lawyers and fixers who’ve helped the oligarchs to hide their money and muzzle their critics. Should we try to punish those people too, or does that cross a moral red line?
We don’t need to wait for a new law before we start hurting ordinary Russians with economic sanctions. We’re already punishing extraordinary Russians, from Paralympians to opera singers, with bans and boycotts. Have they all deserved this for the crime of being Russian? Soon visa restrictions will start to trap Russian dissenters in a country that isn't safe for them. Is such "c
10/03/2022 • 42 minutes 42 seconds
Putin - did we help create a war criminal?
We don't know how the Ukrainian conflict will end. But how did it begin? The responsibility for the Ukraine conflict lies squarely with Vladimir Putin - described by some as cunning and crazy by others - this is his war. But was there a chance to prevent it? Would he have done this if the West behaved differently after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the new Ukraine was born? In these last decades, Russia built up its military strength while the European democracies made every effort to disarm. NATO might have trained Ukrainian troops and sent supplies right up to the invasion, but it repeatedly said it wouldn’t get directly involved. And now we have sanctions that could take years to act. Are the democracies weak? Or is despotism always doomed to fail in the end?
What happens if, as seems likely, Putin takes Kyiv and installs a puppet regime. There will be a Resistance and our own Prime Minister is committed to helping it. How far should we go with that – food and medicine, o
03/03/2022 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
What is the countryside for?
We should all have a legal right to nature, according to a group of more than 60 campaigning charities who say we need better access to the countryside. They have written to the government, complaining that one in three of us lives more than 15 minutes’ walk from the nearest green space. But is nature there for our enjoyment? Is the countryside just a recreational resource, to be exploited by anyone in possession of a pair of wellies? If we are entitled to delight in the landscape, don’t we also share the moral responsibility for looking after it? Maybe that means leaving it alone. Or should we be doing more to encourage our city-dwellers and minority ethnic communities to feel included there?
The UK’s countryside is about to live through enormous change, with farmers to be given taxpayer cash to ‘rewild’ some of their land. But what should rewilding mean to them and to the rest of us? Bees and butterflies are lovely, but is it worth the loss of a few lambs to see eagles back in our
24/02/2022 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
How do we make a longer life a moral one?
We can add ten years to our lives if we chose, we’re told this week by scientists who have measured the effects of tweaking our lifestyles. The downside is we’ll need to give up meat and eat a lot of lentils to do it. Oh, and start very young. It won’t be easy – but is there a moral imperative to do it? Elsewhere, science is forging ahead with new, possibly less onerous ways to help us live longer. Researchers in Japan this week unveiled a serum that can halt aging, though so far only in mice. And Silicon Valley is reported to be full of start-ups working on rejuvenation techniques. But is a longer life a more moral life? If we get those extra years will they be worth the effort? Was Kingsley Amis right when he wrote: "No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home" ? Or is it irresponsible to indulge in life-shortening activities that you happen to enjoy, if they increase the reliance you may (sooner than you hope) be placing on the state?
As a soc
18/02/2022 • 42 minutes 54 seconds
What's our moral responsibility to the future?
Levelling up - a brighter and fairer future is on the way according to the Government. But what is our moral responsibility to the future and how does it weigh against the needs of the present? Maybe the stars of technology, economics and politics really are now aligned to bring an end to post-code inequalities. Or is this another hotch-potch of plans that can’t be judged until a time so distant we’ll have forgotten why we dreamed them up in the first place. Are plans for the future destined to fail because we over-reach? Or do they fail because we don’t reach far enough, so preoccupied are we with the selfish here and now?
Meanwhile the UK is committed to the ambition of going carbon neutral by 2050, something that requires the sacrifice of higher energy bills today. Should we be prepared to be individually worse off, to put up with inconvenience and sacrifice our comfort for the benefit of our grandchildren? Does that remain true as gas prices rocket and new price rises are inevitab
10/02/2022 • 44 minutes 39 seconds
How Free Should Speech Be?
Yielding to the big star pressure of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, this week Spotify agreed to put a content advisory label on any podcast that includes material about Covid. Mitchell and Young removed their music in protest at Joe Rogan’s podcasts. These shows are extremely popular globally but they aired views sceptical of Covid vaccines. In an Instagram post Rogan himself said he'd aim for more impartiality in future, but Spotify’s shares are down and more artists are joining the boycott. Who is responsible for the content of Spotify or any other digital platform? Is Covid a special case or must they remove or add a warning about anything any listeners might object to? Is it enough to say sorry or offer to slap on a "contentious material" label? At what point do such safeguards become censorship?
And what about other, more traditional, intermediaries? This week the poet and teacher Kate Clanchy said she considered suicide after parting company with her publisher. She’d been accused
03/02/2022 • 42 minutes 25 seconds
Ukraine - to intervene or not to intervene.
President Putin insists that he has no intention of invading Ukraine. In amassing troops and weapons along the border, the Russians are merely ‘protecting their national interests’. Meanwhile NATO, the US-European military alliance, is busy reinforcing its eastern member states with ships and planes. Our own Prime Minister has issued dire warnings that Russia will not be allowed to harass a smaller neighbour in this way. So, who is right? Is there a moral imperative for us to protect a fledgling democracy that seems to be under threat? What, if anything, can we – or should we – do to support Ukraine? And what moral arguments do we have, to help us decide?
Perhaps this is just aggressive posing by both sides that will drift on and die down. But what if it becomes something more? What if it embroils us in a European war? And if that happens, who will be to blame? Given the record of the UK and the West in Afghanistan and Iraq, do we even have the appetite for another foreign interventi
28/01/2022 • 43 minutes 7 seconds
The Rules - Expectations and Apologies
In spite of his apology the calls continue for the Prime Minister to resign. He did not follow his own rules so he must go, says a sizeable majority in the polls. But why must he go? Sympathy, understanding and forgiveness are all virtues to celebrate - unless we happen to be talking about people we don’t like. Most of those who broke the lockdown rules (maybe you, maybe me) got away with it. Some got a caution or a fine; very few lost their jobs.
The charge against Boris Johnson is not so much that he broke the law as that he crossed a moral boundary. So, what are the moral rules he is accused of breaking? And why isn’t his very public apology deemed by some to be not good enough?
Anthropology tells us that the basic rules of morality are universal. But sociologists say that cultural norms dictate how we’re expected to behave, and Britain is culturally diverse. Given that politics is almost by definition an interplay of pragmatism and integrity, perhaps we should learn to live wit
20/01/2022 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
The so-called Colston Four did not deny pulling down a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston, but last week in Bristol they were cleared of causing criminal damage. They argued that they were protesting for racial equality, “on the right side of history”, and a jury found in their favour. The four were celebrated by crowds outside the courthouse, part of a tradition, it seemed, of activists bringing social change by whatever means necessary. Their critics, on the other hand, say this is an invitation to vandalism since it sends a message that it is OK to take whatever action you choose to promote your cause. If your right to protest allows you to march against injustice should it also extend to the right to glue yourself to a road or topple a statue?
This is the latest in a series of cases where juries have cleared protestors, despite there being no dispute about the facts. When the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion was acquitted in case with many parallels, he said it showed th
12/01/2022 • 42 minutes 54 seconds
The end of one year and the beginning of another can be an obvious moment for people to set goals and reset priorities. The pandemic, from which we are yet to emerge, has put much into perspective and has doubtless prompted many to ask the question: where am I going with my life? What’s it all about? While none of us can truly know the meaning of life, most of us are meaning-seeking creatures who have our own ideas about what gives life meaning – God, nature, the arts, human relationships, good food, scientific progress. Is meaning essential to a life well lived or do we put too much pressure on ourselves in trying to create it? For some, the stories we tell about ourselves are the most powerful way of addressing existential questions like the climate crisis. Yet meaning is subjective, and is often separated by national, cultural, religious and ideological borders. Can our disparate human stories be harnessed as a motivator for collective action on the climate? Or is it hubris to sugge
29/12/2021 • 42 minutes 50 seconds
Peace and Goodwill
Christmas is the season of peace on earth and good will to all people. While we naturally want to endorse this sentiment, it is also a yearly reminder of how conflict and bad faith exist in our homes and in wider society. While some families will celebrate a long-anticipated and joyful reunion, others will be trying to hold their tongue about divisive issues like Brexit or Covid until the same time next year. Surely, we could all benefit from a bit more listening, understanding and compromising? But what if deeply-held principles, make compromise impossible without sacrificing one’s own integrity? Is it better to say nothing at all for short-term peace or speak forthrightly not knowing if the long-term outcome for the relationship will be one of rupture or repair? Beyond the domestic setting is the question of how we address the cultural warfare we see in the public discourse around us. What will it take for us to come out of our ideological trenches and stop our sniping? Perhaps it st
23/12/2021 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
Do we get the politicians we deserve?
The Number 10 ‘party’ scandal has prompted questions not only about whether the Prime Minister is still an electoral asset but whether he and his government have the moral authority to lead us through the lingering pandemic. According to a recent YouGov poll, the level of trust in UK politicians has fallen to an historic low. Despite the scathing attacks from across the political spectrum, are today’s political leaders any morally worse than in previous generations? Some see morality as having been vacuumed out of politics over recent decades; where once politicians had principles, character and a sense of public service, there are now too many who are primarily seeking to boost their own status. Others point out, however, that we’ve always felt this way about our leaders, from whom we demand the impossible, failing to remember that they are imperfect human beings like the rest of us. Morality in politics is about more than parliamentary standards and the ethical conduct of individuals
15/12/2021 • 42 minutes 46 seconds
60 Years of the Contraceptive Pill
It’s 60 years since the contraceptive pill was made available on the NHS. It has had a revolutionary impact on women’s lives and on society. In 1961 women often married at an early age and many were expected to stay at home and raise a family while men went out to work. The ability for women to have control of their own fertility meant they could choose to have children and a career on their own terms. The availability of the pill undoubtedly changed the nature of sexual relationships, even if it was not the single cause of the sexual revolution. While many view sex without the possibility of pregnancy as integral to a woman’s moral agency, social conservatives argue that separating sex from reproduction threatens the traditional family unit, which they see as the foundation of a stable society. More recently, there has been a backlash by some women against hormonal contraceptives to try to reclaim autonomy over their bodies. 60 years on, we live in a very different society but can we
10/12/2021 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
The Morality of Partying
It’s easy to see how lots of people singing, shouting and smooching in a stuffy space would keep a virologist up at night. Within hours of nightclubs reopening the Prime Minister announced that full vaccination will be the condition of entry from September. The Netherlands recently tried reopening its clubs and quickly decided to close them again amid rising infection rates. We may be free to party, but we’re not free of the virus. Just because we can, does it mean we should? For some, there is a clear moral case for delaying our gratification that little bit longer. Another view is that we have to start living again; young people in particular deserve an escape after the months of sacrifice, and the fact that every adult in the UK has now been offered at least one jab should be an important part of the moral calculation. Others have gone even further than the Beastie Boys in suggesting we have not just a right, but a duty, to party. Is there an intrinsic moral value in revelry? Those
29/07/2021 • 42 minutes 58 seconds
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, would for the first time formally recognise that animals have the ability to experience feelings, including pain, joy and fear. If the law is passed, the government will establish an Animal Sentience Committee to scrutinise policy. Many hope it would offer animals greater protection - only this week, the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that rules designed to protect horses from a cruel death appear to be regularly ignored at one of the UK's biggest abattoirs. Some want the bill to go even further by including invertebrates, which, for example, could ban the practice of boiling crustaceans alive. Critics of the proposals believe current animal welfare legislation is sufficient and worry about the unintended consequences for farming, fishing and countryside sports. They argue there should be no contradiction in the idea that a nation of ‘animal lovers’ could eat billions of them every year. The way we tr
22/07/2021 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
The Future of Work
Is it time to rethink our attitude to work? Nearly half of employees care less about their careers since Covid, according to a survey this week of 2000 staff of large companies. Four in ten said they are concerned about work-related burnout and a quarter of women said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their work-life balance. The lockdown has disrupted long-existing patterns of work for some and exposed the work-based inequalities of others. As we’re about to unlock, many believe this is the moment to re-negotiate the role of work in our lives. Some believe that employers should be more adaptable to the individual circumstances of their employees, seeking as far as possible to eradicate work-related stress for the sake of their mental health. Others think greater flexibility based on people’s lifestyles could foster a culture of entitlement and we should accept that a certain amount of stress is inseparable from productivity and creativity. What about the value of work itself?
15/07/2021 • 42 minutes 46 seconds
Justice and Peace
Northern Ireland's largest cross-community victims' group, Wave Trauma Centre, has written to Boris Johnson opposing the idea of a “de-facto amnesty” for Troubles-related prosecutions, after the cases of two Army veterans facing murder charges were dropped. It follows reports that the government has been considering a ban on all prosecutions prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement under a statute of limitations, focusing instead on information retrieval for the families of those killed. Most people will never be in a position to understand the pain of losing a loved one unlawfully. How do we weigh their need for justice, against the need to build a lasting peace in the community? Many families regard immunity from prosecution as an insult to victims on all sides, and a betrayal of those who are committed to justice. While others believe it is time to put future peace ahead of past injustice, with an 'amnesty' that centres on 'truth recovery'. Are prosecutions always central to any noti
08/07/2021 • 43 minutes
It’s that time every two (or three) years when St George’s flags flap out of car windows and red cross bunting festoons the front of the houses of England football fans. At any other time, such behaviour might be greeted with suspicion, even concern, such is the pejorative perception of patriotism expressed by the English. Why does English patriotism have such bad PR? Patriots see their cause as unifying; a positive sense of the nation as something which holds us all together in our different tribes. Others reject being coerced to love their country, whether they like it or not, just because that’s where they happened to be born. Patriotism can’t escape the past. For those on the right of politics it’s often about celebrating one’s national story; for those on the left it’s about reckoning with it. Patriotism has always been inescapably political, but there is a sense on both sides that it has now been co-opted into the ‘culture wars’. Calls for schoolchildren to sing a ‘One Britain, O
01/07/2021 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
Rights and Rules
The New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard looks set to make history after being confirmed as the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. Hubbard previously competed in men’s events before transitioning in 2013. She is eligible due to a change in International Olympic Committee guidelines on testosterone levels in 2015, and after qualifying requirements were modified by the International Weightlifting Federation. For many campaigners this is a landmark moment for trans people, whose participation at grassroots level sport is shamefully low. Moreover, while there are many different male and female body types, they see elite sport as reflecting society’s obsession with gender stereotypes and worry about the implications for anyone who does not meet ‘conventional standards’ of femininity. Opponents think that allowing transgirls, who were assigned male at birth, to compete with cis girls is unfair. They argue that, in the vast majority of cases, males are stronger, fast
24/06/2021 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
The Morality of Swearing
Strong swear words are becoming an increasing part of everyday life, according to research from the British Board of Film Classification. Six in ten of us are now comfortable cursing. A third of us have a greater propensity for profanity than five years ago. What has not changed is the desire to censor swearing in age-restricted cinema and DVD releases. This seems almost quaint in an internet age where almost no content has a gatekeeper. It does, however, point to contradictory attitudes to bad language. Those who dislike swearing think it is vulgar, morally corrupting and intellectually base; the words themselves can be seen an aggressive act, unacceptable in any context. Some see swear words as morally neutral, where any real or perceived harm is entirely dependent upon the intent of the speaker. Others think they can even have a moral power as an expression of strong sentiment and solidarity. Others still, see the creative influence of swear words as linguistically and culturally en
17/06/2021 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
The Morality of Taxation
The G7 group of advanced economies has reached a deal to make multinational companies pay more tax. It is a cause which has focussed minds in the wake of a costly global pandemic. For centuries, taxation has been seen as a moral, as well as an economic, principle. At a national level, some see this as a moment for the government to be bold in recouping wealth from those who have become richer during the Covid-19 crisis, and redistributing it to redress the social and economic inequalities the virus has exposed. Those who argue for high taxes on the rich believe that no one achieves their wealth on their own; rather, their wealth is a product of the society they live in, and taxation is a moral mechanism to recognise the people and infrastructures that enabled that wealth creation in the first place. While some see taxation as raising revenue for public goods, others see it as plunder and theft. Low tax enthusiasts don’t view taxation as a moral obligation at all, since there is no choi
10/06/2021 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
Philosophers and artists, from Epicurus to Ken Dodd, have grappled with the secret to happiness. Now, neuroscientists at University College London suggest the answer could lie in the equation: (t)=w0 +w1∑j=1tγt −jCRj +w2∑j=1tγt −jEVj +w3∑j=1tγt −jRPEj. While hardly rolling off the tongue, the formula roughly translates to mean that we should lower our expectations to be happy – but not so low, and for so long, that it makes us unhappy. This appears to fly in the face of a celebrity culture that chases fame, status and success as ends in themselves. Self-help books and "positive psychology" promise to train us into a happy mood. While the wellness industry is booming, so is the prescription of antidepressants, increasingly for teenagers – according to The National Institute for Health Research. What does this reveal about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What is wrong with personal happiness as a life goal? Some think that there is too much stuffiness about happiness, that th
03/06/2021 • 42 minutes 38 seconds
Is it immoral to refuse the vaccine?
According the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the “vast majority” of people in Bolton who have been admitted to hospital after contracting the fast-spreading Indian variant of Covid-19 had been offered a vaccine but hadn’t taken it. Attempts to persuade vaccine uptake have focussed on public health, social freedom and economic recovery. What about the language of morality? Is it immoral to refuse the vaccine? We are social beings, and the definition of morality is behaving in a way that is good for others, not just ourselves. How are we to make moral judgments when there are many reasons for vaccine refusal and hesitancy: conspiracy theories, false information, health concerns, religious objections as well as cultural and language barriers. Some people justify their refusal precisely because they believe it to be moral. It could be argued that to be moral isn’t always about doing the right thing, it’s about seeking to do the right thing, and even if you have reached the wrong conclusion
27/05/2021 • 42 minutes 36 seconds
The Meaning of Easter
Easter 2021 comes at the end of an annus horribilis. We are meaning-seeking creatures, and the symbolism is everywhere if you want to find it. There’s the re-birth associated with the Spring equinox, the hope in the Christian account of the resurrection, the freedom marked by the Jewish Passover, and the reflection and restoration embodied in the Muslim observance of Ramadan. While many faith and spiritual groups instinctively see this is a powerful moment in the calendar, for many people, the Easter bank holiday weekend means very little other than gorging on chocolate eggs. What should Easter mean? In Christianity, it’s more important than Christmas, and no story has had a greater influence on Western civilisation. While we are no longer a ‘Christian’ society, should Easter be more of a moment of national unity, which transcends the cultural and faith traditions of Britain? We all instinctively know what is meant by the ‘Christmas spirit’, but should we be re-imagining an Easter equi
01/04/2021 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
Moral certainty in a pandemic
The mathematician John Allen Paulos once said, “uncertainty is the only certainty there is”. One year on from the beginning of the first lockdown, never has this felt more true. In light of this, how certain should we be in our judgments about the decisions that were taken by those in power over the last twelve months? One strongly-held view is that had the government and its advisors been more decisive, acting with greater moral clarity in the early stages of the pandemic, more lives would have been saved. While for others, hindsight is 20:20 and context is everything, and any decisions taken in the midst of extreme uncertainty must be judged accordingly. In the last year we have witnessed anything but moral clarity in our passionate debates about the balance of harms and the clashes of good versus good. Public health has been pitted against livelihoods, family life, culture and the right to protest. What lessons should we take from the pandemic about the moral value of certainty? Unc
29/03/2021 • 42 minutes 25 seconds
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
18/03/2021 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
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 civi
04/03/2021 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
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 safe
02/03/2021 • 42 minutes 50 seconds
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
18/02/2021 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
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 mor
10/02/2021 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
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,
02/12/2020 • 42 minutes 26 seconds
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
30/11/2020 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
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 malic
26/11/2020 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
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 ‘se
11/11/2020 • 42 minutes 32 seconds
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 ha
04/11/2020 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
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
28/10/2020 • 42 minutes 30 seconds
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
22/10/2020 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
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
14/10/2020 • 42 minutes 42 seconds
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 opin
08/10/2020 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
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
05/08/2020 • 43 minutes 5 seconds
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 civi
29/07/2020 • 43 minutes 2 seconds
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 bro
22/07/2020 • 43 minutes 1 second
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
15/07/2020 • 42 minutes 54 seconds
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 addictio
08/07/2020 • 42 minutes 26 seconds
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 f
02/07/2020 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
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
25/06/2020 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
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
18/06/2020 • 42 minutes 56 seconds
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 a
26/03/2020 • 43 minutes 4 seconds
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 t
20/03/2020 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
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 th
12/03/2020 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
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
05/03/2020 • 42 minutes 39 seconds
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 o
27/02/2020 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
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 ab
20/02/2020 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
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
13/02/2020 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
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
06/02/2020 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
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
05/12/2019 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
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 face
21/11/2019 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
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 vo
14/11/2019 • 43 minutes 20 seconds
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 ideologi
07/11/2019 • 42 minutes 38 seconds
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 bec
31/10/2019 • 43 minutes 7 seconds
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
24/10/2019 • 42 minutes 46 seconds
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 c
17/10/2019 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
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 d
10/10/2019 • 43 minutes
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
03/10/2019 • 42 minutes 34 seconds
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, bot
01/08/2019 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
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 Je
25/07/2019 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
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 home
18/07/2019 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
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 embarrass
11/07/2019 • 42 minutes 43 seconds
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 a
27/06/2019 • 42 minutes 38 seconds
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
20/06/2019 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
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 t
13/06/2019 • 43 minutes 1 second
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 m
06/06/2019 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
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 be
28/03/2019 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
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 h
21/03/2019 • 42 minutes 56 seconds
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
14/03/2019 • 42 minutes 35 seconds
The Morality of the Artist and the Art
“Leaving Neverland”, a two-part TV documentary broadcast this week, details child sex abuse claims against Michael Jackson. The renewed allegations have prompted a debate about whether we should stop listening to his music. Some believe a boycott takes an important moral stand against the late singer’s alleged crimes. To pay any such artist the compliment of our appreciation, they say, is to undermine the victims. Others think the moral character of the artist has no bearing on the worth of the art. In his essay ‘The Death of the Author’, the French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that a book and its creator are entirely unrelated. Is he right? Does a work of art have intrinsic moral value? Or should we reappraise certain works in light of the questionable behaviour and beliefs of the cultural figures that created them? Charles Dickens, who has a worldwide reputation as a compassionate moralist, was also (according to recently-unearthed letters) a ruthless husband who tried to ha
07/03/2019 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
The Morality of Disobedience
At the end of a landmark Vatican summit on paedophilia in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis had strong words for guilty clergy, describing them as "tools of Satan." Campaigners, though, are looking for the devil in the detail of the Pope’s proposals. Some of them are saying that the Church has now simply lost its claim to moral authority. Has it? Or, in our understandable revulsion to this scandal, do we risk overlooking what institutional religion might still have to offer? The loss of trust in institutions is also part of a wider cultural story that’s been playing out in the West for nearly a century, and that’s the story of the decline of obedience. For many, this is something to be celebrated, a recognition of the dignity of the individual, the primacy of personal sovereignty. For others, it has created a moral relativism that is making people more self-absorbed and selfish, and that will tear society apart. Cardinal John Henry Newman (who is about to be canonised) once said: "I sh
28/02/2019 • 43 minutes 1 second
The Collapse of the Caliphate
“The Caliphate is ready to fall”, tweeted President Trump. The so-called Islamic State’s territory is all but recaptured. If only that were the end of the matter. We can take away their land, but not their warped and dangerous ideas. And there’s the small matter of what to do with the 800 European-born ISIS fighters who have been captured in Syria. The US president has threated to release them if Britain and other European countries don’t take them back. If the British jihadis are traitors to their country, as many see them, have they forfeited their right to citizenship? Or by following due process would we as a country make an important point about the superiority of our values compared to ISIS? What about our moral duty towards those who went to Syria but didn’t even fight? What about our duty to their innocent children? For some, Shamima Begum, schoolgirl runaway and now mother, is a victim of extremist brainwashing. For others she was knowingly complicit in irredeemably evil acts
21/02/2019 • 43 minutes 8 seconds
‘Decolonising’ the Curriculum
A report, commissioned by the Office for Students, has recommended that universities should “decolonise” the curriculum to end the dominance of western values and beliefs, which “position anything non-European and not white as inferior.” While the regulator hasn’t formally adopted the report as policy, campaigners have long argued that the perpetuation of what they see as a colonial legacy in education is immoral. They argue that a ‘white’ curriculum marginalizes BAME writers and alienates minority students, contributing to their low representation and attainment in higher education. While individual departments at some universities have been reassessing their reading lists, critics warn that it promotes tokenism and presents the works of black or female thinkers as being of equal worth merely by virtue of their colour or gender. Moreover, they argue, in an attempt to tackle racial bias in English literature, history and philosophy, it further entrenches racial thinking. What should we
14/02/2019 • 43 minutes 2 seconds
The mental health of young people
By many measures the UK is better than it was in the 1950s, but is it a better place in which to be young? Teenagers are more likely to be depressed today than they were during the Great Depression. Self-harm and suicide are on the rise. What’s going on? Surely, it can’t just be the internet, whether we welcome it for giving young people freedom they never had before, or demonise social media for confronting young people, hour by hour, with evidence of their own inadequacy. Research suggests that children and teenagers are spending less time face-to-face with their friends. Parents used to send their kids out to play in the park; now that’s exposing them to ‘stranger danger’. Young people can go off the rails because of family breakdown, and parents can struggle to cope if there is a lack support from the extended family or the wider community. We remember that older generations have always been quicker to condemn young people than to praise them. How far should we feel collectively re
07/02/2019 • 42 minutes 58 seconds
The Moral Duty of MPs
Another week, another page of script written in the screenplay for ‘Brexit: The Movie’. The plot and cast-list are beginning to look more complicated and extensive than those of the fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones’. MPs on all sides are voting on amendments (and amendments to amendments) to the Prime Minister’s deal. Within this muddle lies a fundamental question: what is the moral duty of a Member of Parliament? When they are deciding how to vote, should they be guided by their personal red lines, or the way their constituents voted in the referendum? What about the manifesto on which they were elected? Isn’t the main thing a pragmatic consideration of the national interest? These unprecedented times also raise a significant question about whether ultimate power should be held by government, Parliament or the people. It’s argued that the government has to be in control, or the country will lack the leadership to deal with the crisis and risks descending into self-indulgent chaos. For
31/01/2019 • 43 minutes 2 seconds
The Morality of Friendship
It’s the time of the year to dust off the Christmas card list and perhaps delete one or two of the names on it. Who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? Who should never have been on the list in the first place? The Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell has made the honest admission that he can’t be friends with his Tory colleagues, saying he can’t “forgive them for what they’ve done” to the country. And yet Tony Benn was friends with Enoch Powell. Tee-shirts with the slogan ‘NEVER KISSED A TORY’ have been popular this year, but so have those that read ‘EMPATHY IS NOT ENDORSEMENT’. When it comes to friendship, where should we draw the line? Some believe it is morally corrupting to befriend, date or marry anyone with different values, beliefs and lifestyle to their own. For others, friendship trumps morality, and we should do everything in our power to remain friends with others, short of those who have committed an irredeemably evil act. This goes beyond personal relationships. Many h
29/11/2018 • 42 minutes 37 seconds
The United Nations
Britain has been heavily criticised by the United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights, over what he describes as its “draconian” benefits sanctions. Philip Alston has taken a 12-day tour of some of the most deprived areas of the UK and he is not impressed with what he has seen. Quoting the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, he says that current government policies are condemning the most destitute to lives which are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Poverty campaigners are hailing Professor Alston’s intervention, while others not only dispute his politically incendiary conclusions, but are furious that he has been allowed to advance them on behalf of the United Nations. Why shouldn’t an outside organisation be allowed to investigate poverty in Britain? This calls into question the wider purpose of the UN, which rose from the ashes of the Second World War. Is it living up to its founding mandate to make the world a better, more peaceful place? Supporters praise its comm
22/11/2018 • 42 minutes 34 seconds
The Morality of Compromise
The Prime Minister’s Brexit plan is now on the table, but the table is looking very wobbly. We learned this week that the Chequers proposal, backed by cabinet ministers in July, was not so much a lollipop as a spoonful of castor oil, an “undesirable compromise” to be grudgingly accepted rather than greeted with enthusiasm. When the deal goes to Parliament for approval, will MPs and peers have a moral duty to support Theresa May's compromise, however unsatisfactory they believe it to be? Some will say ‘No, it’s a matter of moral principle to reject it,’ either because it’s not what the country voted for or because it’s not in the nation’s interests, or both. Others will accept that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be very different from the idea; it’s not a yes-no question any more, it’s a deck of political and economic priorities being shuffled and dealt round a crowded poker table. If ever there was a time to play the odds and cut our losses, they insist that this is it. Compro
15/11/2018 • 43 minutes 8 seconds
Lest We Forget: the Morality of Remembrance
The centenary of the end of the First World War this weekend is a significant moment for collective moral reflection. What is the point of remembering the fallen? Is it to make a solemn vow that we will not let their sacrifice turn out to have been in vain and that we will fight to hold onto the freedoms they fought to defend? Or is it formal commitment that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past and that we will never again send our young men to die uselessly for a cause they do not understand? We can all accept that the rituals and symbols of remembrance say a lot about the values and shared emotions of our nation in the 21st century, but do they express the best or the worst of our nationhood? History and psychology teach us that we are bad at learning from our mistakes. Maybe that’s because remembrance, according to critics, sentimentalises the past, sugar-coating history with the politics of the present, reinforcing nationalism rather than national togetherness. Maybe, in man
08/11/2018 • 42 minutes 58 seconds
Words as Weapons
In a Pittsburgh synagogue at the weekend, history’s oldest hatred delivered yet another tragedy. Eleven people were killed as worshippers were gunned down during Sabbath prayers. We know that the attacker is an anti-Semite, but we do not know whether he was induced to kill, as some commentators have suggested, by the current political climate. Only days earlier a very vocal supporter of Donald Trump was arrested for allegedly posting bombs to 14 of the president’s enemies. Part of the presidential response was to blame the mainstream media for the ‘bad and hateful’ atmosphere and describe them as ‘the true enemy of the people’. In London, meanwhile, Theresa May was asking politicians to be ‘careful about language’ after anonymous MPs spoke of ‘hanging’ and ‘stabbing’ her. When does ugly discourse, encouraged by anonymity and magnified by online sharing, begin to have violent consequences? Does giving a platform to hateful views ‘normalise’ hatred? If there is a direct link between verb
01/11/2018 • 42 minutes 53 seconds
The Morality of Ends and Means
First it was Salisbury and now it’s Istanbul. Once again the news outdoes the most lurid spy thriller. This time the story features the bumping-off of a dissident journalist as he collected divorce papers from a Saudi Arabian consulate, while his fiancée waited for him outside. At first, the Saudis flatly denied the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, saying he left the building unharmed. Now the Kingdom admits he died in a "rogue operation" - without explaining unverified reports of a team of suspected agents arriving from Riyadh in two private jets, accompanied by a pathologist with a bonesaw. How should Britain and her allies respond to this dark episode? Is it time to cut ourselves loose from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? The young ruler has been a reformer; he has let women drive and curtailed the oppressive religious police. On the other hand, those who care about human rights are concerned about the oppression of his political opponents. Bin Salman said recently that he was ‘trying
29/10/2018 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
Guilt and Innocence
Hampshire Police are giving leaflets to suspected sexual predators, explaining the law to them and asking for their behaviour to stop. The "C5 notices" are used when there is not enough evidence to support a prosecution. Supporters of the scheme say it’s another way to prevent sexual crime and protect children. Critics say there’s no evidence it changes anyone’s behaviour and it risks stigmatising the innocent. Where does this leave the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? Is this non-negotiable or can there be a place for pre-emptive justice? The question is more pressing in the age of social media. While public naming and shaming can give victims the confidence to come forward and talk to the police, it can also risk creating the assumption of lifelong guilt for those who are accused but have never been convicted. Some say the new social dynamics have changed our culture and behaviour for the better; others make the historic comparison to witch h
18/10/2018 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
Twelve years to save the world. While we're squabbling about Brexit, climate scientists are reminding us that the existential threat of our day is global warming. This week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising temperatures. According to its authors, keeping to the preferred target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will mean cutting carbon emissions by 45% by the year 2030. That will involve, they say, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society". Decades of increasing prosperity, freedom and choice in the West have come at a cost. The rest of the world wants rapid growth too, but should they be allowed to have it? In a society that badly needs to learn the meaning of ‘delayed gratification’, how should we, as individuals, change our behaviour? When the priority is putting food on the table, many choose economic expedience over sustainability - it can be expensive to
11/10/2018 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
The NHS at 70
The Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a 70th birthday 'present' for the NHS: an extra £20bn a year by 2023, paid for in part by tax rises. It has been received with cries of 'about time' and 'not enough.' Other voices mutter that we are simply pouring good money after bad into a system that is broken. To go with the funding boost, the government has promised a 10-year plan that "tackles waste, reduces bureaucracy and eliminates unacceptable variation," but sceptics say we've seen those promises before. With an ever-aging population and increasing pressures on the system, is it time for a fundamental re-appraisal of the NHS's priorities? What is it actually for? Is the job of the NHS to help us when we get sick, or to keep us from getting sick in the first place? Do expensive treatments need to be rationed, and if so, how should we decide who gets them? The sickest, the youngest, the ones with the best chance of recovery or the ones who can't afford to go private? The mantra of '
21/06/2018 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
The Morality of International Diplomacy
These are difficult days for diplomats; President Trump has torn up the rule-book. In just a few hours he went from firing off a salvo of angry tweets criticising America's G7 allies to embracing Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea - seen for decades as a rogue state - in an historic summit. Mr Trump's supporters see a man who gets things done in the interests of the people who elected him. As the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put it recently, "Imagine Trump doing Brexit... There would be all sorts of breakdowns, there would be all sorts of chaos, but you might get somewhere." Others shudder at the breakdowns in communication, the name-calling and what they insist is a threat to economic freedom and global stability. They believe that international relations should serve higher moral ideals of loyalty and the common good rather than the mere pursuit of national self-interest. While many applaud the historic talks with North Korea this week, others question whether talking to tyran
14/06/2018 • 42 minutes 38 seconds
The Morality of Suspicion
With 25 Islamist plots foiled in the last five years and four extreme right plots stopped since March 2017, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid this week described a "step change" in the terrorist threat to the UK. As a result, MI5 is to declassify and share information on UK citizens suspected of having terrorist sympathies. "Key" biographical data on - potentially - hundreds of people will be given to neighbourhood police, councils and other public agencies such as the Probation Service and the Charity Commission. Is this an example of sensible information-sharing in the interest of national security, or is it the problematic extension of counter-terrorism responsibilities to those who may not be qualified to handle them? Many believe that as the nature of terrorism is changing, so should our behaviour. Anyone can buy a knife and hire a van, therefore we - citizens, employees, officials - should all be vigilant and prepared to report our suspicions. But is all this suspicion good for us o
07/06/2018 • 42 minutes 32 seconds
Irish Abortion Referendum
Following the landslide vote to overturn strict abortion laws in the Irish Republic, attention has shifted to Northern Ireland - the last corner of the British Isles to resist both legal abortion and gay marriage. The Prime Minister Theresa May is facing growing calls to bring the laws in line with the rest of the UK. It's a complicated political picture, but it raises a number of important moral questions. The first is about the extent to which a nation's religious and cultural traditions should be enshrined in its laws. Is it morally acceptable that Northern Ireland should have laws on abortion and same-sex marriage that are different from those in the rest of the UK? Can - or should - a government ever be neutral, or merely procedural, on substantive moral issues? Yet, the Irish referendum also highlighted a wider moral point about the concept of shame, and its complex relationship with respectability and institutional religion. Speaking about the scandal of Ireland's mother and bab
31/05/2018 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
The Morality of Big Data
Worried Facebook-users who have deleted their accounts because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal have been discovering that the social network held even more data about them than they had feared: complete records of their phone calls and text messages, contacts from their address books, appointments from their calendars, reminders of their friends' birthdays... It is naïve to suggest that we can ever again be truly private individuals, however much we might like to be, but is the harvesting of our personal information getting out of hand? The moral issue is not just about privacy - whether these companies should have such information about us in the first place - but is also about the ways in which it can be used. Is it right to divide up the population into sub-groups, without their knowledge, so they can be precisely targeted with advertisements and political propaganda? "Shocking!" say some newspaper pundits. "It's what advertisers and campaigners have always done," say others. Wha
29/03/2018 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
Cold War 2.0?
The icy winds from the East have been an apt meteorological metaphor for UK-Russia relations. Since the Salisbury spy incident, and the immediate pointing of blame at the Kremlin, diplomats have been kicked out of both countries. But that's unlikely to be the end of the matter. All eyes are on what happens next. What would be the most moral course of action to take? Should the UK pursue the strongest possible sanctions and perhaps even refuse to compete in this year's World Cup in Russia? Some believe that unless we take a firm moral stand we put our own citizens at risk and we let down the Russian people. Others urge caution, believing sanctions will mostly hurt ordinary people and will do little to change the regime's behaviour. Aside from tit-for-tat punishment, it has been suggested that Putin's alleged antics with chemical weapons are bringing us closer to a "Cold War 2.0". After the Berlin Wall fell almost thirty years ago, we hoped for progress towards a more peaceful world. Was
22/03/2018 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
The Morality of Comedy
Tatty bye, Doddy. The most famous resident of Knotty Ash, wielder of the tickling stick and creator of the Diddymen, has died. Sir Ken Dodd's widow said: "He just wanted to make people happy". He was both of his time - described as "one of the last music hall greats" - and timeless. From his debut at the Nottingham Empire in 1954 as "Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty: Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter," he never failed to reduce his audiences to tears of helpless laughter. For some, there could be no higher moral purpose of comedy than this. Yet we don't all agree about what is funny or even about what comedy is for. There will always be those who think that some subjects are beyond humour. Others will say it's the target of the humour that's important. Should comedy reinforce or challenge the moral consensus of its audience? When is mockery offensive and when is it satire? Where is the line between challenging bigotry and reinforcing stereotypes? Are comedians as important as pundits or
15/03/2018 • 42 minutes 53 seconds
The Morality of Competition
Cycling is again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. A damning report by MPs argues that Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky "crossed an ethical line." They claim that the Tour de France champion used an asthma drug - which is allowed under the anti-doping rules for medical need - to enhance his performance. The accusation is strenuously denied, but where exactly is the "ethical line"? Isn't it expected that competitors will do anything and everything within the rules to gain an edge? Even the model sportsman Roger Bannister sharpened his running spikes and rubbed graphite on them before breaking the four-minute-mile barrier. It certainly gained him an edge, but not unfairly. In sharp contrast, there are those who believe this latest case is another example of how sport has lost its soul. They say the ideals of 'sportsmanship' and respecting the spirit of the rules have given way to making money, winning at all costs and cheating if you can get away with it. In sport (and in competiti
08/03/2018 • 43 minutes 11 seconds
The Morality of International Aid
Since we learned that aid workers, sent to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake, chose instead to have sex with some of them, there's been something of a moral earthquake within the international aid sector. Charities had seemed to be beyond criticism; paragons of virtue. Now their moral high ground is crumbling away. It's not just Oxfam, though that was where the revelations began and where loud apologies failed to stop 7,000 private donors from cancelling their direct debits. Now the spotlight is on the aid 'industry' as a whole. It seems we can't stand the hypocrisy of powerful organisations using taxpayers' money to lecture us on how to behave, while failing to get their own house in order. There is a wider question about their effectiveness in helping people out of poverty: sceptics argue that global capitalism and stable institutions are much more important; without them, development aid is a waste of time and money. They believe the UK's "overgenerous" foreign aid commitment
01/03/2018 • 42 minutes 36 seconds
Religious orthodoxy versus liberal values
Orthodox faith schools have long been crucibles in which enlightenment values and religious freedoms have simmered uncomfortably. The bubbling grew fiercer this week with the prospect of more faith schools and the scrapping of the rule that they have to take in non-believers. The concern among many about what religious conservatives are teaching children has hardly been assuaged by a group of ultra-orthodox rabbis in Hackney, who are urging their schools not to accept government funding for teaching the 'lie' that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old. The influence of religious conservatism, of course, extends beyond the education system. Halal slaughter, considered cruel by many outside the Muslim faith, is on the rise and we're increasingly and unwittingly eating the product of it, according to Lord Trees, former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Many believe that such orthodox beliefs and practices have no place in modern society; Iceland, for example is propo
22/02/2018 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
As restaurant prices double for the day and the world turns pink and fluffy, it's easy to be cynical about February 14th. Romance is a marketable commodity, partly because most of us grow up convinced that our most important aim in life should be to find true love, believing that the perfect partner is out there waiting, if only we can identify him or her, and then it will be hearts and flowers all the way to the grave. You don't have to be starry-eyed to argue that this vision of romantic love is a good thing; it holds families together, it inspires hard work and virtuous behaviour - and it affects the chemistry of the brain in a way that is similar, it seems, to cocaine. There is an alternative point of view; romantic love was invented a mere five hundred years ago and has been a nuisance ever since. In this view, a couple's aspiration to remain together and faithful until death do them part (which gets more ambitious as people tend to live for so much longer) is an unrealistic ideal
15/02/2018 • 42 minutes 50 seconds
The Objectification of Women
That rich men attract beautiful women - and vice versa - has for centuries been obvious and unquestioned. Suddenly a few noisy scandals have started a social avalanche that some call the new puritanism. In the past week Formula 1 racing has abolished the 'grid girls' whose role had been to look glamorous in the company of racing drivers; the Professional Darts Corporation, in consultation with BBC TV, has done away with the 'walk-on girls' who had provided a similar service for the masters of the triple-twenty; and the UK's gambling regulator has threatened to boycott the world's largest gambling industry conference, accusing exhibitors of using 'scantily clad' women to attract people to their product displays. Reaching back into Victorian times for things to tut about, Manchester Art Gallery last week removed from display Waterhouse's painting 'Hylas and the Nymphs' - then, after a public outcry, put it back. Feminists such as Janet Street-Porter have welcomed all this. 'At last,' she
09/02/2018 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
The Morality of 2017
2017 has been a year of sex scandals and toppled reputations; trigger-happy tweeting and polarising rhetoric; 'remoaners' and 'Brexiteers behaving badly'; 'no-platforming', 'safe spaces' and 'snowflakes'. This year some cherished values - among them free speech, accountability, democracy, sovereignty and the rule of law - have been called into question as never before. For this final Moral Maze of the year, we're inviting our four panellists to nominate their "most important moral issue of 2017" and to face witnesses who passionately disagree with them. Here are some moral questions to consider. First, as round one of Brexit talks draws to a close, is the entrenched behaviour of the various camps making it impossible to deliver a good deal for anyone? Second, in the wake of the Weinstein and Westminster revelations, while we are appalled by crimes of sexual abuse and applaud the bravery of victims who come forward to report them, have we overlooked the moral consequences of making unsu
08/12/2017 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
The Institution of Marriage
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement was announced this week after a frenzy of speculation. We are used to media excitement about the personal lives of young royals, but perhaps this also says something about the value we still place in the institution of marriage. At the same time, the fact that nobody seems to mind that Ms Markle is divorced suggests an acceptance that relationships are more complex than they used to be, and that divorce no longer carries any great social stigma. Beyond the traditions and expectations of the royal family, the reality is that the number of unmarried couples living together in Britain has more than doubled in the last two decades, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. In that time, some may lament the fact that fewer people are getting married, but it is also the case that fewer people are getting divorced. It's seldom easy to end a marriage, and there is now a campaign to ease the pain by introducing quicker and simpler 'no-fault' se
30/11/2017 • 42 minutes 43 seconds
The Morality of Artificial Intelligence
Driverless cars could be on UK roads within four years under government plans to invest in the sector. The Chancellor Philip Hammond said "We have to embrace these technologies if we want the UK to lead the next industrial revolution". At the thick end of the wedge, Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk believes artificial intelligence is "a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation". AI is changing our lives here and now, whether we like it or not. Computer algorithms decide our credit rating and the terms on which we can borrow money; they decide how political campaigns are run and what adverts we see; they have increased the power and prevalence of fake news; through dating apps they even decide who we might date and therefore who we're likely to marry. As the technology gathers pace, should we apply the brakes or trustingly freewheel into the future? For those inclined to worry, there's a lot to worry about; not least the idea of letting robot weapons systems loose on
24/11/2017 • 42 minutes 43 seconds
The Church of England has issued its schools with advice on transphobic bullying, suggesting that boys should be free to dress up in tutus and tiaras, and girls allowed to wear tool-belts and superhero capes, in the spirit of exploring "who they might be", without fear of stigma. The traditional view of gender is in rapid retreat. Both the Westminster and Scottish governments are considering making it easier for someone to change their legal gender. The LGBT campaign group Stonewall has called the current UK system - in which individuals have to appear in front of a Gender Recognition Panel - "demeaning and broken". The first moral consideration must surely be the wellbeing of people whose transitions can often be accompanied by complex mental health problems and a painful battle against the judgements of their families and society. Next is how far society needs to change to accommodate those individuals. Some women, for example, are uncomfortable with trans-women accessing 'women only
16/11/2017 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
The Westminster sex scandal has shone a light on yet more public figures behaving badly. The behaviour may not be new, but people appear to be far less tolerant of it. This raises questions about where our morality comes from and whether human beings can become collectively more ethical. Is this apparent shift in social mores an example of how our collective moral standards have improved? Or has an increasingly sexually-permissive culture - in which even children as young as ten are now "sexting" - created the monster from which many now recoil? It's not just about sex; there is an increasing public intolerance of tax havens, but does that mean we are any less greedy? While some argue that individualism has made us more selfish, others say it has encouraged a morality based on considered personal conscience rather than on a consensus which can be flawed. This week, Nicola Sturgeon apologised on behalf of the Scottish Government to all men convicted of now-abolished homosexual offences.
09/11/2017 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
The Morality of Self-Determination
Before the Cava corks had finished popping to celebrate Catalonia's declaration of independence, direct rule was imposed from Madrid, the region's autonomy stripped away; its president sacked. It was a tumultuous few minutes by any country's standards. To some, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is a traitor to Spain who should face criminal charges. To others, he is a Catalan patriot fighting for the region's right to self-determination - a cardinal principle of international law enshrined in the UN charter. When such a right collides with the territorial integrity of a state, competing ideas of democracy emerge. Separatists decry scenes of women being pulled out of polling stations by their hair and the detention of what they call political prisoners. Those sympathetic to the Madrid government are convinced it is they who have the moral high ground and that the actions of Catalan leaders amount to a serious breach of the Spanish constitution. A key moral question centres on what is
02/11/2017 • 42 minutes 42 seconds
Newly-released data obtained by the Labour MP David Lammy shows the dominance of the top two social classes at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Four-fifths of the students accepted between 2010 and 2015 were the offspring of barristers, doctors and chief executives - and the numbers are edging upwards. More offers were made to pupils in the London commuter-belt than in the whole of northern England. Most prime ministers, most judges and a large proportion of those who work in the media went to Oxbridge. It's a route to the top, but according to David Lammy it represents and perpetuates a ruling elite which is "fatally out of touch with the people it purports to serve." Some argue that the admissions bar should be lowered for socially-disadvantaged candidates - that a 'B' from a struggling comprehensive is worth an 'A' from Eton. Some of the top US colleges give weight to an applicant's class to ensure that talented students who have succeeded against the odds are recognised. Others a
26/10/2017 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
Following claims of rape or sexual harassment made by dozens of women against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a picture emerges of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood exerting pressure on young actresses at the start of their careers, often in hotel rooms and offices. While the allegations of non-consensual sex are denied, the story has prompted a collective soul-searching in Tinseltown and beyond. How was Harvey Weinstein's behaviour tolerated, why did so few people speak out against him, and how many other Weinsteins are out there? Some say this is not an aberration, just a typical example of unrestrained male behaviour. They believe that many men would do the same sort of thing if they thought they could get away with it. For others, the problem has less to do with gender and is more about a general abuse of power. They argue that in showbiz - as in other sectors such as fashion and sport - there is not enough accountability, and there needs to be stricter mechanisms to deal
19/10/2017 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
50 Years of the Abortion Act
The Moral Maze returns with a special programme marking 50 years of the Abortion Act, recorded in front of an audience of students at UCL Faculty of Laws. Under the 1967 law, terminations were made legal for the first time in limited circumstances, with the agreement of two doctors. By far the most common reason for abortion (accounting for more than 181,000 of the 185,596 abortions in 2016) has been that continuing the pregnancy would risk injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated (as a point of clarification, the introduction to the programme only states the strictest grounds, which account for a very small number of abortions). Social attitudes have changed and many doctors now support the official line of the British Medical Association which wants abortion to be decriminalised completely. So is it time for abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure that is regulated by the General Medical Council? On t
11/10/2017 • 42 minutes 43 seconds
The Morality of Holidays
For the crowds of holidaymakers flocking to Spain, it must have come as a shock to see "tourists go home" daubed on buildings in Barcelona and Majorca. You'd think the locals would be more grateful for the millions of euros they bring with them to spend. The resentment is not just about belligerent and under-dressed Brits drinking all day and yelling all night. The anti-tourist graffiti, tyre-slashing and window-smashing are protests against the economics and morality of mass tourism, which - according to activists - impoverishes the working-class. Yet in other parts of the world, the tourist trade is seen as vital to the livelihood of local people. Does that make the decision about where to go on holiday a moral one? Even if we are aware that tourism can have negative impacts, and that our money may not end up in the pockets of the poorest, it's easy not to think about it. Can't we just rely on the tour operators to behave ethically? Does it really matter if tourism is trashing the pl
10/08/2017 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
Veganism and Animal Rights
One of the less predictable arguments to result from Brexit concerns the rights and wrongs of chlorine-washed chickens. Perhaps chlorinated-chicken-gate made many people feel temporarily smug about UK standards of animal welfare, compared with those in other parts of the world. Yet, at the same time, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a 'Go Vegan World' advert with the headline "Humane milk is a myth" - a claim which suggests we do have much further to go before we can feel morally-superior about our treatment of animals. Veganism is on the rise, driven by animal welfare, health and environmental concerns. According to the Vegan Society, sales of vegan food increased by 1,500% last year and there are now more than half a million vegans in the UK, up from 150,000 ten years ago. Is veganism the next step in the march towards a more morally-enlightened and humane society? Or is it just a city-dwellers' fad, detached from the realities of food production, global economics and evolu
03/08/2017 • 43 minutes 1 second
Morality and Gender Equality
Despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act nearly half a century ago, the BBC salary revelations of last week suggest that the most dramatic example of inequality for women - the gender pay gap - shows no immediate sign of narrowing. In a letter urging the corporation to act now to deal with the disparity, many of its highest-profile female personalities emphasise "what many of us have suspected for many years... that women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work." Logically, the legal and moral case for paying the same rate for the same job is overwhelming. But in practice, can two jobs ever be exactly the same? Even if they are the same on paper, what people do with their jobs may be very different. Many examples of the difference in the average earnings of men and women stem from the biological fact that women are the child-bearers. Does that mean we will never be able to escape an inherently misogynistic culture? What more could or should companies, government
27/07/2017 • 42 minutes 57 seconds
The Morality of Faith Schools
A long-running legal battle between Ofsted and the Al-Hijrah Islamic state school in Birmingham has reached the Court of Appeal. The principle at stake is whether segregating boys and girls - for all classes, breaks and trips - amounts to unlawful sex discrimination in a mixed-sex setting. Ofsted's lawyers argue that it is "a kind of apartheid", leaving girls "unprepared for life in modern Britain". The school maintains that gender segregation is one of its defining characteristics and that the policy is clear - parents can make an informed choice. The case is based on the Equality Act, which means the implications of the ruling will be far-reaching and will apply to all schools, not just state schools. Should gender segregation be allowed in co-educational faith schools? If it is as abhorrent as segregating children according to their race, why is the great British tradition of single-sex education not the subject of similar scrutiny? The case also raises wider moral concerns about wh
20/07/2017 • 42 minutes 53 seconds
The morality of parental rights
The case of Charlie Gard, the desperately sick 11-month-old on life support in London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, has captured the attention of the world. At the centre of it are two parents who instinctively believe in going to any lengths to fight for their baby's life, even when the doctors treating him have reluctantly come to accept there is nothing more to be done to mitigate the effects of his exceptionally rare genetic condition. The legal battle raises painful ethical questions about who - parents, doctors or judges - should decide whether or not to continue the treatment of a critically-ill child, and where the line should be drawn between preserving life and preventing suffering. Away from the strict field of medical ethics, there are wider questions about the value society should place on the parental claim to know what is best for a child. Should there be limits on parents' rights to make decisions for their children, based on their own personal moral, ideological or r
13/07/2017 • 42 minutes 54 seconds
The Morality of the Public Sector
It's not very often you see the complete breakdown of the constitutional convention known as collective cabinet responsibility. The issue at stake is whether to loosen the reins on austerity by giving a pay rise to public sector workers, from prison officers and nurses to judges and senior NHS managers. Ministerial heavyweights have been falling over themselves to urge the government to reconsider the 1% pay cap the Conservatives had wanted to keep in place until 2020. The fragile general election result has prompted a serious re-think. The debate is not just an economic one; it also concerns the moral value we place on the public sector. Paying public sector workers more than the minimum required to recruit them is surely the best way to retain and motivate gifted and dedicated people in the service of others? Or should their awareness of being in a socially-useful job be compensation and motivation enough? Besides, is the lifting of the pay cap too high a price to pay, when the extra
06/07/2017 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
Moral Philosophy for the Internet
Theresa May has been forced to ditch whole chunks of her party's manifesto in the wake of the election, but one of the key non-Brexit policies to survive is the plan to crack down on tech companies that allow extremist and abusive material to be published on their networks. The recent terrorist attacks have strengthened the arguments of campaigners who've long said that it's far too easy to access this kind of content and have accused internet companies of wilfully ignoring the problem. The promised "Digital Charter" will aim to force those companies to do more to protect users and improve online safety. With the growing power of tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, connecting billions of people around the globe, is it pie in the sky to promise that Britain will be the safest place to be online? On one level this is a moral argument which has been going on for centuries about what we should, and should not be allowed to read and see and who should make those decisions. But is
29/06/2017 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
Grenfell Tower Fire
Rage is an understandable emotional reaction to the Grenfell tower fire. It's not just a response to the number of people who died or were severely injured and the many hundreds more who lost loved ones or have been evacuated from their homes in the area. It's when you look at the accounts of Kensington and Chelsea council that the emotion crystallises into something more morally troubling. In the last financial year the council had spendable reserves of more than £300 million and was running at such a profit it could afford to write off £1.5 million on subsidising Holland Park Opera. A sprinkler system for Grenfell tower would have cost around £200,000. Were those in Grenfell tower victims of the dogma of the free market - to which New Labour signed up along with the Conservative party - that has destroyed our sense of social obligation and the common good? If they were victims of bad government, is the answer more regulation? Or does "red tape" reduce morality and personal responsibi
22/06/2017 • 43 minutes 4 seconds
The morality of generational voting
British politics has experienced what's been dubbed a "youth-quake." What seemed like political certainties a few weeks ago have been turned on their head by the high youth turnout. And that's a Good Thing isn't it? Politicians have long bewailed the fact that young people don't exercise their democratic right - even if all it takes is not much more than putting a simple 'X' in a box. Until now electoral arithmetic meant that politicians targeted increasingly smaller groups of voters in key constituencies. Now, with people under the age of 25 more engaged than ever in the political process, it's argued that politicians will have to recalibrate their policies to serve a wider group of citizens. There are also those who argue that political parties have been too ready to bow to the power of the "grey vote", too reluctant to look to the next generation and the future. The philosopher John Gray wrote that "the modern world is founded on the belief that it's possible for human beings to sha
15/06/2017 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
Morality of the Green Belt
When it comes to talking about home ownership in this country it quickly divides in to the "have's" and "have not's." According to the OECD fewer than half of low to middle income families are now able to afford to buy a house and some campaigners estimate that, by 2020, families earning the National Living Wage would be unable to afford to buy homes in 98 per cent of the country. The answer, according to many, is radical deregulation of the planning laws and building on the greenbelt. 8 million new family homes could be built if just 2% of the greenbelt was handed over to developers. To those threatened with the prospect of bulldozers arriving in a field near their home, it will mean urban sprawl and the destruction of large swathes of natural countryside so that builders can make a quick profit. Economists argue that when the greenbelt was created in 1955 it arbitrarily distorted the market for building land. But the current housing crisis is about moral issues too and in such a pola
29/03/2017 • 56 minutes 42 seconds
This week the Prime Minister is touring the devolved nations of the UK as she prepares to trigger the Brexit process. Her message to the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is clear: we are better as one nation - the United Kingdom. Brexit has whipped up a complex and (some would say) toxic mixture of politics and patriotism. While Theresa May and others champion the national credentials of the UK, she's having to shout down the voices in the devolved nations that say their economic, cultural and democratic interests would be best served by independence. At the same time, nationalist political parties across Europe are growing in strength, with electoral challenges in France and Germany on the horizon. Is nationalism a moral force for good, because there's no better vehicle for the exercise of freedom and self-determination? Does it encourage a sense of belonging, community and culture? Or is it the worst kind of identity politics - exclusionary, divisive and populi
23/03/2017 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
Meritocracy Of Grammar Schools
The government has pledged that a new generation of grammar schools will improve social mobility. One way being proposed to ensure that is to force grammar schools to lower the 11-plus pass mark for poorer children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The idea is already running into opposition. People are asking what's the point of having a selective academic system if you don't select the most able students? It's also said that it risks patronising disadvantaged communities by sending out a message that less is expected of them. At the heart of this debate is the moral value of meritocracy - that you should be rewarded on the basis of your skills and not on your background. Every child should be offered the chance to achieve their maximum educational potential, but what if they can't achieve that because of an accident of birth? Isn't it right to try to balance the scales? Or will that come at the cost of another, perhaps more able child, being denied a place at a grammar, again because o
16/03/2017 • 42 minutes 54 seconds
There was a time when publicly standing up to protest at injustices, especially if they didn't affect you personally, was the sign of an upright citizen - the very definition of altruism - a "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others." Now such expressions of moral outrage are as likely to be dismissed as "virtue signalling" as they are to be applauded. It's a neat and pithy phrase and like all the best neologism seems to capture and distil something in our cultural discourse. It's only been in use for a couple of years. You know the sort of thing - ice bucket challenges, male actors and politicians wearing t-shirts with the slogan "this is what a feminist looks like". Virtue signalling - the practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate our good character or the moral correctness of our beliefs - was only coined a couple of years ago, and has caught on like wild fire. Perhaps because the only thing people seem to like more than vi
09/03/2017 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
Morality of Loyalty
298 days after Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri had done the seemingly impossible and helped his team win the Premiership league title, he's been sacked. Even by the standards of football it was a decision that shocked many. Gary Lineker, a former Leicester player, said he shed a tear. Leicester had never won a top-flight title but their improbable triumph rekindled some of the romance of the sport and Ranieri was made FIFA's Coach of the Year. This season has been a disaster. Leicester now face relegation - which will cost the club £70m. That might be a simple mathematical calculation, but this is a complex moral equation. Is loyalty a moral virtue? Isn't hard-head commercialism, loyal only to the bottom line, the only rational approach in a results-driven environment? As much as loyalty is a virtue, is blind loyalty a vice? Is loyalty owed to moral principles and objectives rather than to people, who can lead us badly astray? In an era when friendships and relationships have be
02/03/2017 • 42 minutes 48 seconds
The Morality of Fake News
You can't open a newspaper or hear a press conference at the moment without having to dodge the allegations of "fake news" being thrown around the place. Journalism used to be regarded, at least by journalists, as the "Fourth Estate" - the foundation of a civilised society and an essential part of the democratic process. A properly working democracy, it's argued, cannot function if its citizens don't have reasonably accurate, reasonably fair and reasonably comprehensive information about the world in which they live. Now we have the President of the United States and the mainstream media accusing each other of lying and peddling fake news, while a plethora of social media and alternative online news sites are weighing in with their (often highly partisan) views. Has the internet democratised news journalism, creating a new plurality of reporting and opinion? Are we witnessing the healthy overturning of the apple cart of the entitled metropolitan elite who've run the media for so long?
23/02/2017 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
The Morality of Empathy
The government's decision to end the scheme that let unaccompanied migrant children into the UK has provoked an outcry. Many had hoped that we could offer a home to thousands of child refugees and the closure of the scheme has been branded "shameful". It's hard not to empathise with the bewildered and vulnerable child refugees now stranded in Europe and it's a very natural human reaction to want to do something to help. But what if, in the very act of helping, we make matters worse? The resettlement scheme has been halted because it's feared that it will just encourage child trafficking. In this case, our empathy could be leading to greater harm and suffering. Morally, how useful is the emotion of empathy? It might encourage us to feel compassion - and experiencing that emption may make us feel better about ourselves - but, as Aristotle warned, "we are easily deceived concerning our perceptions when we're in the grip of our emotions." In a difficult world where there are no easy answer
16/02/2017 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
Peace, Justice and Morality
How far should we be willing to forgive and forget past crimes in the interests of building lasting peace? The issue has been a running sore in Northern Ireland politics despite the Good Friday peace agreement. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a special unit, the Legacy Investigations Branch, to review more than 3000 murders during the Troubles. But there are allegations it is prioritising re-opening the killings where soldiers from the British Army were involved, over those carried out by terrorists - the majority of which were by Republicans. There are practical issues of getting evidence for crimes that happened so long ago and the cost of investigations, but the moral questions are harder to answer. How do you weigh the right and the need of the families of victims to get justice for their loved ones, against the need to move on and find peace for the whole community? A general amnesty might solve the narrow question, but does that serve the interests of justice? And can
09/02/2017 • 43 minutes 10 seconds
Morality of international trade
If you want to watch the reality of modern politics being played out in real time, you could do worse than visit the Parliament petitions website. The petition to prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the UK has now got well over a million signatures. Rather like the spinning figures on a petrol pump, you can see the total rising by the hundreds every minute as people register their moral outrage at the President's executive order banning travel to the US from certain Muslim majority countries. What price should we, as a nation, be willing to pay to make it clear to a foreign nation that their policies are unacceptable? Publicly humiliating Donald Trump by withdrawing, or downgrading, his state visit would certainly send him a message and might win us the equivalent of a diplomatic round of applause around the world, but what impact would that have on our ability to negotiate a favourable trade deal with the US? Would that be a price worth paying? If you draw the line at Do
02/02/2017 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
The Psychology of Morality
Go on - admit it. You like to feel you're above average. Don't worry. We all like to feel we're somehow special - that our gifts make us stand out from - and above - the crowd. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as positive illusion. It's the sort of self-deception that helps maintain our self-esteem; a white lie we tell ourselves. The classic example is driving: the majority of people regard themselves as more skilful and less risky than the average driver. But research just published shows that this characteristic isn't confined to skills like driving. Experiments carried out by psychologists at London's Royal Holloway University found most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous and moral and yet regard the average person as - well, how shall we put it politely? Let's just say - distinctly less so. Virtually all the those taking part irrationally inflated their moral qualities. Worse, the positive illusion of moral superiority is much stronger and more prevalent than any
25/11/2016 • 42 minutes 59 seconds
Do we have a moral duty to make friends with people of different races, social backgrounds and sexuality? The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, is warning that a lack of social integration in the UK is costing our economy about £6bn and he says the answer lies in our own hands. Talking at an international conference on the issue he said "Promoting social integration is a matter for everyone, for every citizen of our cities. It means ensuring that people of different faiths, ethnicities, sexualities, social backgrounds and generations don't just tolerate one another or live side by side but meet, mix and forge relationships as friends and neighbours as well as citizens." London is said to be one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with over 300 languages spoken in it and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000. Yet even there it's clear that some groups choose to settle in areas where there are already a high proportion of people from the sa
17/11/2016 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
When the actor Kevin Spacey was filming the current series of House of Cards, with its brutally cynical take on American politics, he said he was worried that they may have gone too far. As the US presidential election reaches its vituperative climax, he now concedes they haven't gone far enough. The invective has reached new heights this week with Donald Trump claiming the election is being rigged and Hilary Clinton countering that he's unhinged and dangerous. Has political discourse ever been as poisonous? It's not as if we can look down from the moral high ground. When three High Court judges found that Parliament should have a say on Brexit their photos were splashed across the front pages with one newspaper headline branding them "enemies of the people". Ours is not, of course, the first age to fret about the quality of political discourse. Plato and Socrates did their fair share of lamenting, but the digital age has intensified the political cycle and ratcheted up the stakes. Is
10/11/2016 • 42 minutes 59 seconds
US Presidential Election
On the afternoon of Thursday 19th November 1863, the American President, Abraham Lincoln, delivered what has become perhaps the most important speech in American history. Lincoln was dedicating a National Cemetery for the 50,000 men who'd been killed in the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His address was only 272 words long, but it has become one of the greatest and most influential statements of a national moral purpose "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." America has always seen its Constitution and the Declaration of Independence not just as foundational documents, but as statements of moral purpose. America was to be the "shining city on a hill", a light unto the other nations of the world. At a time of national crisis, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was a reaffirmation of those founding principles that all men are created equal and share rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This November the A
03/11/2016 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
Moral imagination and migration
The demolition of the Jungle camp in Calais this week has highlighted a moral paradox at the heart of the debate about migration. The media are full of heart-rending stories of the suffering, endurance and hope of individual migrants - each one of them a compelling cry for our help and understanding. Yet, despite our growing collective knowledge of the plight of migrants, our attitude to migration seems to be hardening. Why? In many other areas of our society the opposite is true. Take, for example, the case of mental health. As more people overcome stigma to talk about it, we know more about its impact, our empathy with suffers has increased and people are now being treated more humanely. It's a virtuous circle that doesn't seem to work for migrants. Is this a failure of our moral imagination? How can we, at the same time, feel moved by the plight of one refugee but indifferent to the plight of thousands of refugees? Should we be trying to turn what we can see to be right in individua
27/10/2016 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
Authors of Our Own Misfortune?
This week the Moral Maze asks "in a society where resources are scarce, should we take account of whether people have contributed to their own misfortune?" The issue has been raised by Phil Kay, the assistant chief constable of Leicestershire. Like other public bodies, the force is struggling to stretch resources to cover demand. He told his local newspaper that he would "far rather" officers focus on preventing crime and protecting the public than spend their time investigating break-ins where carelessness may have played a role. In time-honoured fashion Mr Kay says his remarks have been taken out of context, but does he have a point? This week it's been reported that some NHS authorities are considering closing hospitals to meet a £22 billion savings target. At the same time demand from patients has never been greater. Is making an explicit connection between our lifestyle choices and the chances of getting treatment for the consequences of them the most just and moral way to allocat
20/10/2016 • 42 minutes 55 seconds
For Donald Trump it was an 11 year old dusty tape that appeared from the archives. For Sam Allardyce it was a sting by undercover reporters. For the Olympic gymnast Louis Smith it was a video leaked on to the internet. All of them conversations they thought were private becoming embarrassingly public, with varying degrees of consequences. We all say things in private we wouldn't want made public, so what right to privacy should those in the public eye be entitled? Is it a simple case that we have a right to know if it tells us about the character of people who have power or who are asking us to trust them? If that's the case how do explain the myriad of examples from minor sporting celebrities to victims of stings by fake sheiks? Should we put them in the same category? We may think their views are unattractive, even offensive, but shouldn't they be allowed to express them in private, like the rest of us, with some confidence that they'll remain private? What right do we have to know?
13/10/2016 • 42 minutes 57 seconds
A world without Down's syndrome?
Do we want to live in a world without Down's syndrome? This isn't just a theoretical question. It could soon become a reality. A new technique called non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), detects Down's syndrome with 99% accuracy and it should soon be available on the NHS. It's already being used in Iceland where 100% of Down's syndrome pregnancies are terminated. The Danish health system declared the objective of being Down's-free and introduced the test in 2006. The termination rate there today is 98%. In Britain the termination rate for positive tests is 90 per cent and around 775 babies with Down's syndrome are born every year in England and Wales. A lot of effort has been made to increase people's knowledge of the condition which has a wide range of symptoms. Many children with it will grow in to adulthood and lead very integrated lives, but some will never walk or talk, or may have severe heart defects, glaucoma, deafness and a risk of early dementia. Would it be a sign of human
06/10/2016 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
When is a personal opinion so offensive that it becomes morally unacceptable? This weekend former Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom discovered her comments on motherhood had transgressed an unwritten social convention. The outraged legions of leader writers, columnists and Twitterati descended and by Monday she was gone. As the politics of offence, identity and rights become ever more toxic, they become equally hard to navigate and the price of transgression is ever higher. The whole Brexit debate and its aftermath have been characterised by claim and counter claim of racism, ageism and classism. We've had laws against "hate speech" for many years now, but are we too keen to create whole new categories of "-isms" to which we can take offence? If morality rests on the ability to distinguish between groups and make judgements about their lifestyles, how do you distinguish between a legitimate verdict and an unjustifiable prejudice? Why is it acceptable to say 'It's good that the P
31/08/2016 • 43 minutes 1 second
The Summer of 2016
As someone once said 'Whoever you vote for the government wins'. Whether we thought it was a conspiracy or not we've got used to the idea that something we called the establishment ran societies like ours. No longer. From Brexit voters agreeing with Michael Gove that we shouldn't listen to experts, to Donald Trump supporters relishing the hostility to their man of every part of the American establishment or Jeremy Corbyn supporters rejecting conventional wisdom about what is needed to win elections: everywhere it appears the conventional, the expert, the elite, the establishment view is on the defensive. For some this is a brave new world of openness, activism and renewal. For others it's a post-factual world of populism, extremism and damage. Is the establishment dying? Is this the assertion of the independent-minded? A welcome jolt for a complacent ruling class? A time of renewal? Or a brainless twitch by people bored with issues and complexity, ushering in a host of dangerous isms -
04/08/2016 • 42 minutes 50 seconds
Going to a music festival has become a rite of passage for the post GCSE teenager. Their excitement at the prospect of a long weekend of unsupervised possibility is perhaps only matched by the anxiety of their parents who know exactly what that might entail. Those fears may have been heightened by the news that a music festival in Cambridgeshire has just become the first UK event of its kind to offer people the chance to have their illegal drugs tested to establish the purity of content before they take them. The testing facility, at the Secret Garden Party, was offered with the co-operation of the police. The organisers said the aim was to reduce harm from drug taking and promote welfare. The group conducting the forensic tests this weekend hope other festivals will follow suit. Is this a pragmatic and realistic approach to drug taking that will save lives or a tacit endorsement that will cost them? Is it part of a gradual slide toward decriminalisation of drug taking? According to th
28/07/2016 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
MP's have voted overwhelmingly to renew our Trident nuclear weapons system and the first job of any new prime minister is to write the "letters of last resort" which contain prime ministers' instructions for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. The handwritten notes are taken to the UK's four Vanguard-class submarines, the ships which carry the ballistic missiles the Royal Navy calls "the nation's ultimate weapon" and contain instructions of what to do in the worst-case nuclear scenario: the obliteration of the UK state. The value of nuclear weapons is in their deterrence - the promise of mutually assured destruction. Theresa May has told the Commons that she wouldn't hesitate, but she could do no other. It is rumoured previous prime ministers may not have been so certain. By their nature the letters have to make broad moral judgments rather than situationally-dependent ones. They're about morality and ethics, not tactics. In the event that deterrence fails and we are attacked,
21/07/2016 • 42 minutes 40 seconds
The Chilcot Inquiry
130 sessions of oral evidence,150 witnesses, 150,000 documents, more than 2.5 million words - the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War was finally published on the day of this programme. The inquiry was set up to examine our reasons for taking part in the US-led invasion of Iraq, how the war was prosecuted and its aftermath. But was the decision to go to war morally justified? Chilcot confirms that there was a massive failing in intelligence in the lead-up to the decision to go to war, especially around WMD; it accepts that Tony Blair was acting in good faith and did not deliberately mislead Parliament and the public about that intelligence. The relationship between morality and consequences is complex and sometimes contradictory. If Tony Blair and his government were acting in good faith but the consequences of that war were so catastrophic, can we still describe the decision to go to war as a moral one? If the government were a limited company, isn't this the kind of gross negligence that
07/07/2016 • 42 minutes 45 seconds
Morality of Victors and Vanquished
Pundits and politicians alike are struggling to capture the enormity of the consequences of the result of the referendum vote. It's at times like these people often turn to George Orwell for inspiration. He likened our nation to "a family with the wrong members in control" - "that" he said "perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase." Who'll be left standing and in charge after all the political recriminations and bloodletting have ended is still not clear. It's been described as the worst peace-time constitutional crisis this country has faced. So this week on the Moral Maze we're asking what should now be the moral priority for the victors and the vanquished? Has the democratic will of the people been clearly expressed so that the victors must now deliver Brexit at any price? Is it the moral duty of those who championed Brexit to deliver on all their promises made during the campaigning? Or, once normal politics has resumed, should the utilitarian principle
30/06/2016 • 42 minutes 46 seconds
The EU Referendum
The murder of the MP Jo Cox has cast a very long and dark shadow across the closing days of the EU referendum. The nature of the campaign and how her death might influence the result are a matter of conjecture. On this week's Moral Maze we're going stand back from that speculation and ask a much bigger question - has this referendum been good for us and good for democracy? The intense campaigning has been going on for many months now and comes hard on the heels of the Scottish independence referendum. Arguably, both have been characterised by trenchant, sometimes bitter and even abusive debate between two sides passionately and honestly committed to their positions. And, arguably, both referenda have left large parts of the electorate dissatisfied by a seemingly endless round of fact-free claim and counter-claim. Are our expectations unrealistic? Have referendums been, for all their faults, exercises in democracy that have engaged and inspired people in a way that party politics increa
23/06/2016 • 42 minutes 57 seconds
Every year thousands of terminally ill patients are being helped to die by their doctors, according to Baroness Molly Meacher, the new chairwoman of Dignity in Dying. She claims doctors are prepared to risk their own freedom rather than see their patients continue to suffer unbearably. Her assertion comes as the British Medical Association next week prepares to discuss the results of its 18 month long survey in to the public and medical professionals' attitudes on end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying. For 26 years now this programme has charted the moral and ethical life of the nation and this subject, above all others, has been the one we've returned to most often. And little wonder as it's an issue that combines moral dilemma, religious principle, human compassion and fear in equal measure. As a prelude to the BMA debate, this week we're going to invite back witnesses who've appeared on our programme over the years to explore how the debate has developed over time. In 1991 w
16/06/2016 • 42 minutes 41 seconds
The Morality of Business
The sales signs are going up in 163 BHS shops around the country as the liquidators try to salvage something from the wreckage of this once proud company. When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000, it was making a profit. By the time he sold it in 2015, for £1, to a three-times bankrupt with no retailing experience, it was making a loss and the company pension fund was more than £400m in deficit. Exactly what went wrong at BHS is the subject of no fewer than four separate inquires. What is certain is that it's you and I, the tax payers, who will pick up the bill for the redundancy payments for the 11,000 staff and responsibility for the 20,000 members of the BHS company pension scheme. The head of the Institute of Directors described the affair as deeply damaging to the British business world. It's all a far cry from the days of Quaker philanthropy that inspired so many Victorian entrepreneurs. The study of business ethics is one of the few growth areas of the economy. You might be forg
09/06/2016 • 42 minutes 42 seconds
Would you ******* believe it? A council has ******* banned swearing in public. The council in question is Salford which has used a Public Space Protection Order to tackle anti-social behaviour in the Salford Quays area which includes Media City, home to the BBC, which might be just a coincidence. Part of the order says it will be deemed a criminal offence if anyone is caught 'using foul and abusive language'. Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs, are similar to ASBO's (anti-social behaviour orders), and allow for broad powers to criminalise behaviour that is not normally criminal. PSPOs are geographically defined, making predefined activities within a mapped area prosecutable. Since they came into existence in 2014 many councils have embraced their new powers enthusiastically, with various PSPO's making, or attempting to make, it a criminal offence to sleep rough, drive a loud car and walk a dog without a lead. It seems that control, or regulation, of public space is becoming more
14/04/2016 • 42 minutes 58 seconds
The fact that the Belgian authorities had been expecting an attack doesn't diminish the shock of yet another bombing with mass casualties in a European capital. Belgium's foreign minister said on Sunday that Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, could have been plotting more operations. Tragically, he was proved right. That Salah was able to hide in Brussels, under the noses of the Belgian police, for more than four months raises uncomfortable questions for them - and also for us. The UK government is still fighting to get its Investigatory Powers Bill onto the statute book. Its supporters believe it will enable the police and security services to fight terrorism and crime more effectively. Opponents say it will destroy our fundamental right to privacy and believe their arguments have been given more force by the revelations of Edward Snowdon about the extent of secret surveillance. The Brussels bombs came on the day that the FBI in America said they'd found
31/03/2016 • 42 minutes 44 seconds
Morality and the EU Referendum
Claim and counter claim in the EU referendum debate have filled the air waves and packed the papers and there are still 14 weeks left to the actual vote. The atmosphere is already highly charged and the political stakes couldn't be much higher. The way we vote on June 23rd will have profound implications for generations to come. We've heard a lot about the political and economic arguments that we should consider when casting that vote, but what are the moral considerations? Is preserving our national cultural identity behind strict border controls a moral priority? Do we have a wider duty as good citizens of Europe and the world? Is fear of immigration and fear of an uncertain economic future a defendable moral position? Is it a moral argument to say our choice should be a utilitarian calculation of where we personally and as a nation will be financially better off? Is sovereignty the moral trump card? Morality and the EU referendum. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Mich
17/03/2016 • 42 minutes 58 seconds
Is Science Morally Neutral?
In 1816, when Mary Shelley sat down to write her Gothic novel Frankenstein, it was a time of social, political and scientific upheaval. It has given us the archetypal image of the mad scientist single-mindedly pursing his grotesque experiments whatever the cost. "Frankenstein Science" has even become its own category, especially beloved by tabloid headline writers. 200 years on and the pace of scientific development has increased exponentially; the fact that Shelley's Frankenstein still has such a hold reflects the powerful role science plays in modern life and also, perhaps, the fear that we don't understand it or know how to control it. Now the head of the Science Council has said that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath and a regulation system of ethical standards and principles similar to doctors. Would more control give us better, more ethical scientists, or just restrain creativity and academic freedom? If we control scientists more closely, is there a case
10/03/2016 • 42 minutes 42 seconds
Historical Sex Abuse
The idea that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead has an ancient heritage dating as far back as 600BC. It's attributed to the Greek philosopher Chilon of Sparta, but judging by recent headlines around allegations of historic sex abuse it might not have much more of a shelf life. Police forces keen to redress claims that in the past they haven't treated victims fairly and to demonstrate they're not part of a an establishment cover up, are devoting huge resources to cases often dating back many decades and even when the alleged perpetrator is dead. Combine that with a press hungry for salacious gossip knowing that the dead can't sue for libel and it's open season on people who are not only unable to defend themselves, but who will never be brought to trial. The most famous example is the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, but there are numerous others. Should the dead have the same rights as the living? Should they be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Is this just vindictive muc
03/03/2016 • 42 minutes 37 seconds
Who Owns Culture?
It may not have the same impact as the Elgin Marbles, but a slightly battered bronze statue of a cockerel has re-ignited a row that has potentially profound implications for our museums and opens a Pandora's Box of moral dilemmas. The statue in question sits in the dining hall of Jesus College Cambridge, but it was originally from the Benin Empire, now part of modern-day Nigeria. It was one of hundreds of artworks taken in a punitive British naval expedition in 1897 that brought the empire to an end. In the same way that Greece has pursued the return of the Elgin marbles, Nigeria has repeatedly called for all the Benin bronzes - which it says are part of its cultural heritage - to be repatriated. The students at Jesus agree with them and are demanding the cockerel be returned. But to whom? There are dozens of high profile campaigns around the world to repatriate cultural artefacts, but the legal issue of rightful ownership is complex and made more so by the value of the objects in ques
25/02/2016 • 42 minutes 58 seconds
How far should you be allowed to express your moral and political beliefs through boycotts? There have been high profile boycott campaigns on everything from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, and tobacco products to economic and academic boycotts of Israel. Now the government is planning a law to make it illegal for local councils, public bodies and even some university student unions to carry out boycotts. Under the plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services as part of a political campaign. It's said that any public bodies that continue to pursue boycotts will face "severe penalties." The government believes cracking down on town-hall boycotts is justified because they undermine good community relations, poison and polarise debate and fuel anti-Semitism. Beyond the narrow principle of what tax payers money should be spent on, what is wrong with a group of citizens organising to express their moral, philosophical or
18/02/2016 • 42 minutes 50 seconds
Charity in the UK is big business. There are over 165,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission, and the total annual income of the sector is more than £100 billion. But what should they be allowed to spend their money on? The government has just announced that charities which receive state grants will not be allowed to spend any of that tax payers cash on political campaigning. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has described the change as "draconian" and will amount to "gagging" them. There is a lot at stake. Charities get £13 billion pounds a year from national or local government. Figures from the National Audit Office show that that money makes up well over a half of the annual income of many well-known charities. Being a prophetic witness has always been a key aspect of what charities do. Campaigning and political activity is a vital part of that, but should it be funded by us the taxpayer, whether by direct grants or via the tax breaks that are part of c
11/02/2016 • 42 minutes 52 seconds
The wobbly mobile phone footage and someone calling out "you ain't no Muslim bruv" has given us a powerful rallying cry. It was filmed by a bystander as police restrained a man who's since been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. What it doesn't show is how one very brave man fought to try and disarm the attacker, while people stood around filming it all on their phones. Mobile phone footage has now become a staple of our news and not so private lives. Which one of us hasn't clicked on a link and experienced a vicarious thrill from watching the latest talked about clip of death, disaster or embarrassment? It is undeniably useful too, but what are the moral consequences of videoing and displaying everything in public? Does looking through the prism of a phone camera create a kind of moral distance that atrophies human capacities like empathy, compassion and self--reflection? The instinct to say 'I was there' is immensely strong, but earlier this year there were a number of cases
10/12/2015 • 42 minutes 51 seconds
We live in a complex world where it's often hard to know what's the right thing to do - the right thought to think. But there are increasing sectors of our public discourse where any sense of moral ambivalence or doubt will not be tolerated. Race, homosexuality, child abuse are just some of the touchstones where any expression of doubt is often pounced on and hounded out, especially on social media. Our Moral Maze this week isn't about freedom of speech, or political correctness; it's about the moral value of certainty. We prize and reward moral certainty and consistency, especially in politics, but also business and even sport. Any expression of doubt is seen as weakness - even moral turpitude. Is this a good way of binding society with a set of common values? Or is the public shaming that follows the transgression of those boundaries not so much about morality, but ensuring conformity that itself is a kind of prejudice? Do we need a bit more humility about our moral certainties? Or w
03/12/2015 • 42 minutes 47 seconds
Just War and Syria
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will make his case for bombing ISIL in Syria this week. Some commentators are predicting that, if parliament votes in favour, the raids could start as early as next week. This will mean our going into a coalition not only with France and America but also with Russia - a country that has been a long-standing ally of the Syrian leader President Assad, the man whom we wanted to bomb only two years ago. The adage "my enemy's enemy is my friend" dates back at least to the 4th century BC. It might be harsh to say that we're basing our foreign policy on an ancient proverb from a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, but it's hard to avoid the parallels. Is it, though, a moral justification for going to war? On the Moral Maze this week we discuss what is meant by the phrase "just war" and the morality of pacifism. Has the pacifist case been heard enough? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Giles Fraser, Michael Portillo and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Dr
26/11/2015 • 42 minutes 50 seconds
Drugs in Sport and Human Enhancement
The report from the World Anti-Doping Agency couldn't have been clearer. Russian athletes were involved in state sponsored cheating and the IAAF was involved in bribery and corruption. Admittedly it's not exactly the stuff of Chariots of Fire, but what are the real moral boundaries that have been transgressed? If you think elite sport is all about individual talent and dedication you're sadly mistaken. Top athletes in all sports are supported by multi-million pound programmes that ensure they get the best of everything - including scientists who maximise their nutrition and medical treatment. If you come from a country that can't afford to pay for it, you're already handicapped. And if your son or daughter is showing some sporting promise you better get them in to a private school quickly. Half the UK gold medal winners in 2012 were educated privately and the pattern is repeated in almost every sport outside football. Sport is many things, but fair is not one of them, so why single out
12/11/2015 • 43 minutes 3 seconds
This week the Moral Maze asks: "is it our moral duty to have fewer children?" The question has been brought in to focus by two stories in the past week. First, that by 2027 the population of the UK is expected to top 70 million people and the second that China is to end its "one child" policy. With 238,737 births every day the world population is rapidly approaching 7 and a half billion and will be 8 billion by 2024. While many people will be campaigning for tougher policies at next month's UN climate change conference, should they also be calling for policies to control population growth? Without some technological miracle, more people will mean more unsustainable resource use, worse climate change, massive population displacement and large scale migration - something we're already seeing. If we can foresee the suffering that unrestrained population growth will cause for all those who live after us isn't it our moral duty to do something about it? Is it time to accept that having more
05/11/2015 • 42 minutes 21 seconds
When Professor Averil Macdonald, the chairwoman of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said that women are opposed to fracking because they don't understand it, the reaction was predictable. She was accused of being sexist, patronizing, misogynistic. But in all the brouhaha what was missed was the difficult moral question at the heart of her argument. Professor Macdonald was citing research that shows only 31.5% of women are in favour of shale gas exploration compared to 58% of men. She argued that while women do accept the rational benefits of shale gas, they prefer to give more weight to their emotional fears about its possible impact. Setting aside the issue of gender, fear has been a powerful motivator in many campaigns such as GM crops, nuclear power, the MMR vaccine and numerous others. Combine that with an understandable streak of nibby-ism and you get an implacable and emotionally charged opposition to progress or developments that could benefit the majority of people in this country. It t
29/10/2015 • 42 minutes 59 seconds
Turning a Blind Eye and the Law
If you're the kind of person who likes to smoke a joint and chat on your mobile while out for a relaxing Sunday afternoon drive it seems you're in luck. According to figures released this week it seems that the police are increasingly turning a blind eye to these offences and when it comes to enforcing the new law banning smoking in cars where there are children, the police have said it's not their job. If the purpose of the law is to protect public health and safety, and to set moral boundaries, can it ever be morally acceptable to ignore law breaking? Should the law be about defining what is right and wrong, good and bad in all circumstances? Or is it acceptable for a law to be a moral symbol of disapproval, with no real threat of enforcement? And if the police don't have a moral duty to enforce the law, what about us as citizens? From this week landlords will be breaking the law if they don't check their tenants have a right to live in the UK and teachers now have a legal duty to ta
22/10/2015 • 42 minutes 49 seconds
The Work Ethic
The Moral Maze returns this week to apply its nose to the grindstone and naturally the prospect of work is exercising our collective mind. Ringing, perhaps guiltily in our ears, are the words last week of the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Defending the changes to tax credits he said "We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years' time. There's a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard? And that is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success." According to one business expert he may have a point. Rohit Talwar, the chief executive of Fast Future, has said teachers should be preparing schoolchildren for a future that could see them having to work in 40 different jobs until they reach 100. For many this debate isn't just abou
15/10/2015 • 41 minutes 15 seconds
Looking back at some of the stories that have been in the news during this series of Moral Maze you could be forgiven for despairing of humanity. The suspected firebombing by Jewish settlers killing a Palestinian baby, the white supremacist who shot dead nine people at a church in South Carolina and where to start with so-called IS? Public stoning, mass executions and lessons in beheading for school children are just some of their stock-in-trade. Faced with such a litany of horrors it's tempting to reach for the word "evil" - nothing else quite does justice to the enormity of this kind of barbarity. If we can comfortably categorise an action as evil, what about the people who carried them out? Are they evil too? The problem of evil has long exercised theologians and moral philosophers. As our understanding of psychology and the neurosciences has developed what role should the notion of evil have in our moral, political, and legal thinking? Is evil an out-dated, redundant superstition w
06/08/2015 • 42 minutes 57 seconds
No one has come up with a better or pithier definition of public service broadcasting than John, later Lord Reith. The purpose of the BBC is to "inform, educate and entertain." For Reith, the son of a minister, the creation of the BBC was a public service; an unambiguous moral good and ever since Reithian has become an adjective that symbolises a kind of broadcasting that promoted virtue to the nation and one that should not be sullied by commerce. To "inform, educate and entertain" are still part of the BBC's mission today, but for how much longer? And how should we define what public service broadcasting is in a global, digital world? This week the government will publish a green paper setting out the details of a fundamental review of the BBC, examining its future size, funding and purpose. The BBC is funded by what is effectively a universal tax so making sure everyone gets something out of it has always been an issue. Advocates of public service broadcasting often talk about defen