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: 4 min 5 sec ago

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

Words as Weapons

November 1, 2018 - 11:24
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 verbal and physical violence, are we entitled to police the language others use? At a deeper level, can a verbal assault itself be an act of violence? Some argue words are weapons which should be used as carefully as any other weapon. Others believe language itself cannot be violent, and history has shown how curtailing it may itself be the first step towards dehumanisation and mass killing. How can we achieve civility and a public discourse that won’t end in bloodshed, while at the same time protecting freedom of speech? Producer: Dan Tierney

The Morality of Ends and Means

October 29, 2018 - 14:35
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 to get rid of extremism and terrorism without civil war’. Is that an effort we should be supporting? Many believe we should stop supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia when we know they will be used to blow up children in Yemen. Others say it is hypocrisy for us to take the moral high ground and that we should be concerned only with what is in our national interest. More generally, when is it morally acceptable to make alliances with bad people in order to defeat worse people, or to allow bad things to happen in order to avert greater evils? When, if ever, does the end justify the means? Witnesses are: SORIN BAIASU, Professor of Philosophy at Keele University and Secretary of the UK Kant Society; DR STEPHEN DE WIJZE, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at Manchester University; DR NEIL QUILLIAM, Senior Research Fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House; and ANDREW SMITH, Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Producer: Dan Tierney

Guilt and Innocence

October 18, 2018 - 11:16
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 hunts and pillories. This applies to all kinds of behaviour, not just the criminal. When an individual’s every past teenage misdemeanour is a matter of public record, from an ill-advised selfie to a casually racist tweet, how should they be treated in adult life? Have we lost the capacity to forgive? If justice is a combination of punishment and rehabilitation, how should we strike that balance? Witnesses are: Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the think-tank Demos; Dr Marian Duggan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent; Michael Lane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire; and Corey Stoughton, Acting Director of Liberty. Producer: Dan Tierney

Climate Change

October 11, 2018 - 10:08
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 go green. Would it be right for the government to make us all greener by taxing or even banning log-burning stoves, gas-guzzling cars and cheap air travel? Many make the moral case for saving the planet on behalf of our grandchildren. But what of our moral obligation to those who don’t yet even exist? Is it morally dubious to put the theoretical interests of posterity before the real and immediate needs of poor people today? If climate change is the organising call of our age, how should we respond? Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Shiv Malik, Anne McElvoy, Tim Stanley and Giles Fraser. Witnesses: Leo Barasi, Author of “The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism”; Ross Clark, Journalist, author and political commentator; Charlotte Du Cann, Core member of the Dark Mountain project; and George Monbiot, Journalist, columnist and campaigner. Producer: Dan Tierney