Moral Maze

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Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze
Updated: 10 min ago

The Collapse of the Caliphate

February 21, 2019 - 11:31
“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 of violence. Punishments aside, where does an individual’s moral agency come into this debate? It could be argued that the whole of Western society must take some of the blame for the demons that have been unleashed by what many believe are mistaken foreign policy interventions and the marginalisation of minorities. Or do we need to stop viewing serious organised criminals as the vulnerable victims of indoctrination and start being much more ruthless with those who reject our hard-won British values? Producer: Dan Tierney

‘Decolonising’ the Curriculum

February 14, 2019 - 11:03
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 be teaching students in schools and universities? Are there too many dead white men on the curriculum, and if so, is it time to redress the power imbalance? How are we to narrow the education gap for minority students and broaden people’s understanding of those from diverse backgrounds unless we offer an education that engages with their perspectives? Or, in trying to be fair, do we run the risk of belittling important literary and historical figures and binding the curriculum in chains of political correctness? Producer: Dan Tierney

The mental health of young people

February 7, 2019 - 11:03
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 responsible for the mental health of young people? Is it time to intervene through government regulation and education policy to protect teenagers? If the politicians, teachers and doctors take increasing responsibility, do they risk undermining parents as authority figures? We worry about teenagers’ self-esteem, but are we in danger of wrapping them in cotton wool, and reducing their resilience? Are we over-medicalising the issue, diagnosing serious mental health problems where once we saw only the stresses and uncertainties of adolescence? In this ‘Children’s Mental Health Week’, how should we do the right thing by our children? Producer: Dan Tierney

The Moral Duty of MPs

January 31, 2019 - 10:52
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 others, the very nature of the crisis demands that Parliament must have the opportunity to say no to ‘no-deal’ or push back on the backstop. Add to that the shouts in favour of taking the crisis back to the people, although no future referendum can guarantee a clear-cut result to get us out of the mess. With all that in mind, is it time to rewrite the constitutional rule-book? And who has the moral authority to do it? Producer: Dan Tierney.

The Morality of Friendship

November 29, 2018 - 11:23
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 have voiced the concern that hatred is infecting public discourse, where ‘opponents’ who are ‘wrong’ become ‘enemies’ who are ‘evil’. Is this the sign of a more morally-empowered society, or are we are losing the ability to debate and disagree? Do we have a moral duty to befriend those who hold views and values we don’t share? Producer: Dan Tierney

The United Nations

November 22, 2018 - 11:22
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 commitment to the welfare of all of humanity, affirmed in statements like the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. They are happy to report that – globally – we’re winning the war on poverty and disease and we’re sending more boys and girls to school. But the UN also has its critics, who do not see it as a cohesive body with a unifying sense of moral purpose. They point out that the Security Council is deadlocked and impotent in the face of any major conflicts in which permanent members have a stake, and they see rising prosperity principally as an achievement of global capitalism. What, then, is the point of the United Nations and does it still have a moral role in the world? Producer: Dan Tierney

The Morality of Compromise

November 15, 2018 - 11:45
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. Compromise can be a dirty word, especially where moral conviction is involved. To concede any ground in a deal is to risk being accused of weakness or lack of principle. Conversely, those who refuse to give ground can be seen as impractical or downright mulish. In our politics, our business deals and our personal relationships, how should we balance flexibility and integrity? Producer: Dan Tierney

Lest We Forget: the Morality of Remembrance

November 8, 2018 - 11:55
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 many corners of our grieving and grudgeful planet, there is a moral case for forgetting. That view - reply the crowds who lined the streets of Wootton Bassett to welcome home the heroes of Helmand - is unpatriotic rubbish. Meanwhile the armed forces are seeing their biggest personnel shortage in a decade. The Chief Of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter recently questioned whether today’s young people understand the "notion of service". If that’s true, should we welcome their independence of mind, or deplore their lack of loyalty? If it does nothing else, perhaps the act of remembrance serves to remind us of the virtue of sacrifice and that millions of people once rallied to a cause they believed to be greater than themselves. Producer: Dan Tierney