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: 55 min 38 sec ago

Love and Relationships

August 1, 2019 - 12:29
Whether you watch it or not, it’s hard to ignore the TV reality show ‘Love Island’, which puts a bunch of semi-naked heterosexuals in a villa and tells them to ‘couple up’. It is firmly part of the zeitgeist and now set for two series a year. There’s a clear generational disagreement about the programme: 16-34 year olds are addicted to it; geriatrics can’t stand it. What does the success of ‘Love Island’ say about the state of television, and what does the state of television say about us, the viewers? Love Island’s detractors say it’s vacuous, vulgar and exploits its vulnerable young participants in a format designed to play with their emotions. They argue it’s also morally corrupting for those who watch it – many of them impressionable adolescents with unrealistic expectations of relationships. Those who stick up for the show, including many parents of teenagers, say it contains moral lessons about modern relationships: fidelity, consent and dating etiquette. It is, they believe, both the Jane Austen of the post-millennials and a sex education primer for the over-50s. We live in the era of Tinder and Grindr where partners are selected with the swipe of a phone screen. Some worry about the effect this is having on the emotional intelligence of young people, while others say nothing’s changed; young lovers were always awkward fumblers and there’s nothing new about our obsession with good looks. Social psychologists talk about passionate love – the kind that grips a couple in the first heady phase of their relationship; and companionate love – the calmer state that follows, based on friendship, intimacy and commitment. Have we got our priorities right when it comes to love and relationships? Producer: Dan Tierney


July 25, 2019 - 10:57
The anti-Semitism crisis engulfing the Labour party has been described by leading Jewish figures as “a taint of national and historic shame”. Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged failures in dealing with allegations and the party has now published new materials designed to educate members about anti-Semitic tropes. Nevertheless, Labour is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for racism – an indignity that brackets them with the BNP. According to President Macron, anti-Semitism in Europe is at its highest level since 1945. Stereotypes and ignorance abound. A quarter of the 7,000 Europeans who took part in a recent CNN/ComRes poll believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance, while a third admitted that they knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. Less clear cut is the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. There is an argument about where the line is, and who has the right to draw it. Since Zionism has at its heart a belief in the Jewish right to self-determination, many Jews believe that those who oppose the state of Israel are anti-Semites. Others – many Jews included – don’t think that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, and argue that saying so is merely a way of ignoring Palestinian grievances. Anti-Semitism may be the oldest ethnic hatred, but is it just another form of racism? Or is it a distinct and uniquely pernicious prejudice which must be understood in the context of centuries of violent oppression, dehumanisation and genocide? Anti-Semitism: what is it? what isn’t it? and how can it be defeated? Producer: Dan Tierney

Surveillance and Human Freedom

July 18, 2019 - 11:55
Big Brother is watching you. George Orwell’s chilling words are now a reality. In China’s Xinjiang province, Uyghur Muslims have been described by one official as laboratory mice in an experiment of “advanced, predictive, algorithmic surveillance”. The comments were made to an undercover film-maker, whose documentary, “Inside the Chinese Digital Gulag”, airs this week. The film depicts a society based on phone surveillance apps and a vast network of cameras tracking individuals and even reading their body language to determine their ‘threat level’. The Chinese authorities insist these are necessary security measures; human rights watchers say they are inhuman. Closer to home, civil liberties campaigners are unhappy that several UK police forces are trying out facial recognition cameras. What level of state surveillance is morally acceptable in a liberal democracy? While we’re busy pondering that question, let’s not ignore the fact that most of us accept being spied upon in our own homes by our smartphones and computers. Some of us believe it is a price worth paying for convenience and inter-connectedness. Others warn that information is power and power corrupts. The recent eruption of dystopian drama on our TV screens could point to a deeper unease about the current threats posed to human freedom. Are we giving away too much control to artificial intelligence? Are we sleep-walking into our own Orwellian nightmare? And do we care? Producer: Dan Tierney

Deadliest Day – a new investigative series from Beyond Today

July 17, 2019 - 14:57
Claire Read introduces her special series about the impact of one day of the British army’s war in Afghanistan on the troops who were there and the families they left behind. Download the Deadliest Day series from the Beyond Today podcast.

The Morality of Fashion

July 11, 2019 - 11:04
Some of the stars of this year’s Glastonbury festival have joined the chorus of campaigners denouncing ‘throwaway fashion’. They’ve given some of their own clothing to Oxfam and are encouraging their fans to buy their outfits second-hand (or ‘pre-cherished’). These days you can buy a dress for a fiver and wear it once before chucking it away. Is that proof that capitalism has gone too far? Critics of the industry cite the appalling conditions and rates of pay in the third-world factories churning out garments that will end up as non-biodegradable landfill quicker than you can say “sustainability”. There are those, on the other hand, who prefer not to be lectured by celebs famous for their multiple costume changes and who point out that the minimum wage doesn’t run to a wardrobe of high-quality clobber. Beyond the social and environmental implications of fast fashion, what about the moral value of clothes themselves? We humans have covered our nakedness ever since Adam and Eve embarrassed themselves in the Garden of Eden. Fashion lovers say that our clothes matter because they are expressions of an aesthetic sensibility, intrinsic to both self-esteem and dignity. Others believe the fuss about this season’s ‘look’ is a cynical manipulation of insecurity and a celebration of vanity and superficiality. The morality of fashion: fashionably moral. Producer: Dan Tierney

The Morality of Anonymity

July 4, 2019 - 10:59
Sir Cliff Richard said his reputation was "in tatters" after the police raided his home in 2014 while the BBC filmed it from a helicopter above. Accused by an anonymous informant of a long-ago sexual assault, Sir Cliff was never arrested but his humiliation could not have been more public. He has since recovered damages from the BBC for breach of privacy and now he is one of several well-known figures calling for a change in the law. They want those suspected of sexual offences to remain anonymous unless and until they are charged. It is unjust, they argue, that accusers receive lifelong anonymity, while suspects can be named at any time. We are all innocent until proven guilty, but ‘mud sticks’ and too many onlookers say that there’s no smoke without fire. Opponents of this view say false allegations are rare and they are worried that unless the names of abusers are publicised, other victims will not come forward. How, then, should we balance the risk to an individual’s reputation with the public interest, the freedom of the press and the principle of open justice? There are further questions about transparency in the wider legal system. Campaigners want to ‘shed light in dark corners’ of the family courts. They argue that, with the media present and reporting restrictions lifted, miscarriages of justice will be less likely. But lawyers working in the courts are concerned about the impact on vulnerable children. And what about youth justice? Should those under 16 years of age who commit murder be given new identities as adults? Does anonymity uphold or undermine justice? Producer: Dan Tierney

Moral Character

June 27, 2019 - 10:04
Famously photographed stuck on a zipwire, Boris Johnson is now attempting the tightrope. Unless he falls off, the pollsters suggest, he will alight in four weeks’ time in Downing Street. Perhaps understandably, he is trying to limit the number of buffetings to which he subjects himself in the meantime. Buffetings, however, continue. While it may be fascinating to voyeurs that he apparently spilled wine on a sofa and had a crockery-smashing row with his partner, is that really important? The Boris backers said this was politically-motivated, Corbynista curtain-twitching. The neighbours defended their actions, saying they recorded the proceedings out of genuine concern and passed the audio to The Guardian in the public interest. But was it? How much, if anything, do we have a right to know about a domestic quarrel involving a potential PM? How, indeed, should we balance the competing rights of public figures to a private life and of citizens to know about those in power over them? What about the value we place in moral character itself? It could be argued that honesty in small things is no small thing – as Abraham Lincoln said: “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true”. These days however, politicians should be judged, many insist, not on the content of their character, but on the merits of their manifestos. Yet, paradoxically, it has become a commonplace of Twitter that political foes are attacked not for having bad ideas but for being thoroughly bad people. So what is the relationship between virtue and effectiveness? Is the requirement for moral character in politicians overrated or overdue? Producer: Dan Tierney

The Policing of Humour

June 20, 2019 - 10:37
Comedy is a serious business, as Jo Brand discovered when she made a joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. The police have now dropped their investigation into her and she has not been sacked by the BBC – unlike Danny Baker after his apparently ‘racist’ tweet last month. Guardians of free speech worry about the policing of humour and the erosion of the right to offend. Yet we live in politically-febrile times and a joke may provoke more than mere amusement or even offence. Jokes can be deemed to trivialise political violence, encourage hatred and excuse rape. With that in mind, do comedians have a social responsibility to rein themselves in, even if they believe they’re ‘punching up’, not ‘punching down’? Or should they follow their comedic instinct when it’s telling them to let rip? After all, humour is by nature subversive and, from Martin Luther to Mock The Week, it has always been an important part of political discourse. Beyond politics, where should we draw the line on funny lines? It could be argued that a joke becomes unacceptable when it dehumanises minorities or incites violence. Yet aren’t these criteria themselves subjective? Context and tone are everything in comedy but they’re fiendishly difficult to define. Does it matter that the intent behind a gag is benign if the consequences of telling it are harmful? Producer: Dan Tierney

The Morality of Hypocrisy

June 13, 2019 - 10:48
Discussion of the Tory leadership race has shifted from questions of policy to issues of personal morality. Given that most of the candidates have admitted – to a greater or lesser extent – snorting, smoking or supping illegal substances at some point in the past, how thunderously should they be condemned? Shouldn’t people running for high office be blasted for their past ‘indiscretions’? Isn’t it right that any person in a position of privilege and authority who has shown a contempt for the law should suffer the consequences? Or should we worry that our 21st century witch-finders have developed an unhealthy obsession with ‘offence archaeology’ – the diligent digging-up of an historic misdemeanour and using it as a basis upon which to judge a person’s entire character? It’s been asserted that even worse than the crime itself is the sin of hypocrisy. An article from 1999 has been republished in which Michael Gove criticised "middle class professionals" who took drugs, at the same time that he himself was taking cocaine. He has defended himself against headlines calling him a hypocrite, saying: “If any of us lapse sometimes from standards that we uphold, that is human.” Hypocrisy is an easy accusation to hurl but a tricky sin to understand - La Rochefoucauld famously called it “a tribute vice pays to virtue". Our own moral boundaries are so often flexible, yet psychologists suggest we’re less inclined to give others the ethical wiggle room we might afford ourselves. So should we have more humility to look inward before judging others? Or is it a moral cop-out simply to say, “Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone”? Producer: Dan Tierney

D-Day 75th Anniversary

June 6, 2019 - 11:07
The Allied invasion of Normandy, 75 years ago, was the biggest land, air and naval operation in history. It led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi control and was the galvanising moment of the age, but it came at a cost that is almost unimaginable: at least 2,700 British soldiers, sailors and airmen lost their lives in the first 24 hours. Their sacrifice ensured that later generations would enjoy a lifetime of peace in Europe. Very few people in Britain today, other than military professionals, have ever worried about having to fight a war. Does that collective comfort also mean that we would be incapable of answering the same call? It is instructive to consider how society has changed in 75 years of peacetime - in particular our loss of deference. Some say that’s a good thing; it empowers us to stand up to institutions on behalf of the marginalised and the oppressed. Others, however, lament the erosion of the national virtues – duty, self-sacrifice, respect for our leaders – that made D-Day possible. As the author David Brooks put it, we’ve moved as a society from “We’re all in this together” to “I’m free to be myself”. And what of the nature of warfare itself? In 1944, though the cost to human life was enormous, it was a straightforward fight with a uniformed enemy led by villains. Conversely, modern, surgical warfare kills fewer people but is more remote and, according to its critics, further blurs the distinction between soldiers and civilians. What does D-Day teach us about how we might judge ourselves morally against our forebears? Producer: Dan Tierney