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?
"In a few hundred yards we seem to have strayed into prehistory, though you can still hear the dull groan of the A3 in the distance."
"But on the walls of expensively-tended gardens, rhododendrons are starting to emerge; cherry blossoms giving the lane a froth of fondant-fancy pink."
[From Edward Thomas' poem, "Up in the Wind":]
For who now used these roads except myself, A market waggon every other Wednesday, A solitary tramp, some very fresh one Ignorant of these eleven houseless miles..... [T]he land is wild, and there's a spirit of wildness Much older, crying when the stone-curlew yodels His sea and mountain cry, high up in Spring.
Photo: Edward Thomas memorial stone in the village of Steep.
Moderator Melvyn Bragg is joined by Janet Soskice, Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College; Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture; The Reverend Graham Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church.
During the show, The Athanasian Creed (c. late 400s-early 600s) is mentioned several times. Below is its first part that stresses the equality of the "persons" of the triune God of Christianity. The Nicene Creed (A. D. 325) is far better known and more often recited by liturgical Christian traditions of both the East and West.
From the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father.God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.
From the Athanasian Creed:
And the catholic faith is this-- That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.
Image #1: an interlaced triqueta (not discussed in the IOT episode), by some called the "trinity knot"--similar to a trefoil knot, which is the simplest mathematical nontrivial knot (that is, a closed loop). It is shown here as three vesica piscis (L. "bladder of fish")--a.k.a. mandorlas (It. "almond")--that geometrically are formed by the equally overlapping perimeters of three circles. Current evidence places the symbol's origins--presumed to be pagan (specifically Celtic or Germanic) but possibly Christian--in the A.D. 600s.
Image #2: Andrei Rublev's Trinity (A.D. 1411 or 1425-27).
Enjoy Peter Randall-Page's excellent essay on BBC Radio 3.
For 25 years the sculptor Peter Randall-Page has worked Dartmoor's obdurate and unforgiving granite boulders. He reflects on what it's like trying to wrestle with it: "granite is stuff personified, quintessentially dumb matter, it is what the earth is made of, congealed magma, planetary and galactic, inert and unintelligible."
Peter's is the third of four essays in which writers and artists reflect on the way their bedrock geology - their cornerstones - have shaped their favourite landscapes. Peter Randall-Page realises that he's worked his way back through geological time to work with granite: "beginning with the relatively young sedimentary limestone of Bath, through the metamorphic marble of Carrara to the most ancient material of granite."
Various times along the way to Brighton or Lewes, I've noticed a sculpture that I've rather unimaginatively referred to as "the nautilus," which I love to see for it means I'm in Britain and on vacation. Come to find out, it's one of Randall-Page's works, Cuilfail Spiral, located at the north end of the Cuilfail tunnel.
Photo (cropped) by Anthony McIntosh: the Cuilfail tunnel and Cuilfail Spiral
So begins Sue Clifford, co-founder of the arts and environment organisation Common Ground, in her radio essay on what England's limestone landscapes mean to her. Clifford's is the first of a series of four essays--as part 2014's contributions to BBC Radio 3's regular The Essay program--"in which writers reflect on the way their bedrock geology has shaped their favourite landscapes".
Limestone, as Sue Clifford says, is not only the stone of choice for many of Britain's architectural landmarks, but in the wild it also supports a wealth of flowers, creating its own micro-climates in the klints and grykes that characterise karst scenery. Limestone, she acknowledges, rejoices in its own specific vocabulary.
In the other essays, the walker and geologist Ronald Turnbull addresses sandstone, the sculptor Peter Randall-Page describes what it's like working with Dartmoor's obdurate granite boulders, and the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke writes about Snowdonia's slate.
To hear this particular essay, visit: www.bbc.co.uk. My fellow New Yorkers may be especially intrigued by some of the observations in Turnbull's essay on sandstone.
Visit Radio 3's The Essay page to access any of the more than 300 essays available as podcasts. The Essay is "a series of programmes debating and exploring arts and cultural topics." Recent essays have covered topics as diverse as fading English rituals and attitudes ("England Ejects"), the Islamic Golden Age, portraits of great Anglo-Saxons, and much, much more.
You can subscribe to the The Essay podcasts on iTunes.
Prince Charles rightly called out climate-change deniers at a recent public event.
"It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science.
"All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.
Denial isn't just a river in Egypt. On this week's programme of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, the Daily Mail columnist and self-described monarchist Simon Heffer (photo) couldn't bring himself to show much support for the heir to the throne of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and myriad Commonwealth nations, saying that Prince Charles ought not to wade thus into political waters. So, monarchist until the monarch-in-waiting says something you don't like: akin to what the prince had described relative to science.
Heffer is an accomplished writer and intelligent man, and admirably admitted during his remarks that he had a poor understanding of the science of climate change. He nonetheless trundled on to declare that in his opinion--which he'd moments before deemed unlearned--the scientific experts who say that human activity has contributed to climate change are--drumroll, please--unconvincing.
In short: he's unconvinced by those who know a lot more about the topic than he does. It was a sort of "Off with my head!" moment, though no one on the Any Questions panel dared to note that Heffer's remarks put him among the headless ranks the prince described.
In the eyes of some there's perhaps consistency here, finding Heffer's thinking to be as medieval as monarchy, but when it comes to climate change and what to do about it, it's thinking that's certainly much less helpful than Prince Charles' efforts to bring attention to a matter that affects us all.
The BBC Radio 4 program Thinking Allowed features the erudite and delightful Laurie Taylor (photo at right) discussing current ideas with experts to explore the latest research into how society works.
November 18th's episode (2013) examines John Maynard Keyne's profoundly unfulfilled prediction of a 15-hour work week and the topic of economic neo-liberalism. It's a very good episode.
The introductory text from the Radio 4 website:
The triumph of Neoliberal economics in the post Recession world. Laurie Taylor talks to US Professor of Economics, Philip Mirowski, about his analysis of why neoliberalism survived, and even prospered, in the aftermath of the financial meltdown of 2008. Although it was widely asserted that the economic convictions behind the disaster would be consigned to history, Mirowski says that the opposite is the case. He claims that once neoliberalism became a Theory of Everything, providing a revolutionary account of self, knowledge, markets, and government, it was impossible to falsify by data from the 'real' economy. Neoliberalism, he suggests, wasn't dislodged by the recession because we have internalised its messages. Have we all, in a sense, become neoliberals, inhabiting "entrepreneurial" selves which compel us to position ourselves in the market and rebrand ourselves daily? Also, why do work almost as hard as we did 40 years ago, despite being on average twice as rich? Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, suggests an escape from the work and consumption treadmill.
Small-c conservatism. It's a very strong thing in Britain, and Anne McElvoy of The Economist (and self-described "Gymnast Germanophile" in her Twitter profile) does a marvellous job examining the history of British conservatism in the BBC Radio 4 series, British Conservatism: The Grand Tour.
Below is an audio clip teaser for the series' first program, about how "the guillotine kick-started British 'small c' conservatism.'" Episode guide here. Alternatively, here's a week's worth of episodes at a time: the first week's omnibus ("from the French Revolution to the beginnings of mass democracy") and the second ("from a riot in Birmingham in 1901 to the rise of Mrs Thatcher").
Risk! It's more than a game by Parker Brothers. It's the topic of the first programme in the ninth series of the BBC Radio 4 show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, in which "Professor Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince bring their witty and irreverent take on the world" of science.
This programme's opening featured some classic Brian Cox.
Cox: So how can we combat the alluring simplicity and melodrama of anecdotes with the nuanced but occasionally complex world of fact? Is this even possible or are we storytelling creatures forever doomed to value opinion over statistical evidence? Problems caused by our misperception of risk are not just confined to our everyday existence. They affect our government policy decisions through the unfortunate conduits of democracy.
Ince: You would like every single decision made by scientists?
The Infinite Monkey Cage returns in the first of a new series and turns its gaze on the science of risk. Together with guests David Spiegelhalter, Sue Ion and former Goodie, Graeme Garden, the team explores such questions as: why is seven the safest age to be? Should badgers wear bicycle helmets? How safe is nuclear power and how worried should we be by the threat of asteroid impact? Producer: Rami Tzabar.