The BBC Radio 4 series and podcast Moral Maze, a panel discussion program recorded live on the morality of current issues and timely topics, has been hosted since its first broadcast in 1990 by Michael Buerk, whose introductory remarks for each episode are nearly always a tour de force. Their shortened, variant version is posted on each episode's webpage, too.
The July 13, 2016 episode is "Policing Offense", when does personal opinion become morally unacceptable? I've edited Buerk's opening remarks and their published version on the webpage:
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. 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 judgments 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 President is black" but not to say "It's good that the next President will be white"? Ditto women. Why is the insult "stale, male and pale" OK, but it wouldn't be if you changed gender and race?
Just when you'd learned to call the sexually ambiguous or at least transient "transgender", you're told the concept of gender is unacceptably binary and hence insulting.
There are exploding tripwires of social acceptability everywhere, with a new vocabulary of perceived offensiveness: "micro-aggression", so-called "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" to protect students from ideas they don't agree with.
It only seems to work one way. Black or brown people can't be racist about whites. Women, if that's not too binary of a description, can't be sexist about men.
Is all this a good thing, stigmatizing and policing prejudice? Is this about defending the powerless against the powerful, or are we stifling debate, making the political personal, limiting people's rights to say what they think, and making identity more important than ideas?
Where do we draw the line between policing the basic principles of equal rights and mutual respect with a capacity to judge people by what lies in their heart? When does personal opinion become morally unacceptable?
Listen to the episode (streaming) or download it as an MP3 here. It's also available on iTunes.
Along with Buerk as chair, the program features four panelists and a series of witnesses. Regular panelists as the time of this writing are Claire Fox, Giles Fraser, Kenan Malik, Anne McElvoy, Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, and Matthew Taylor.
Besides chairing Moral Maze, and co-hosting the ITV program Britain's Secret Treasures, Buerk is best known as the journalist whose October 23, 1984 report on the Ethiopia famine inspired Band Aide and Live Aide.