The most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze debated the case of Ched Evans, a convicted rapist who seeks to return to playing professional football in England. Although the story has received modest attention in America (here is a link to a New York Times article story), it has created a national debate in England.
Here is a description of the Moral Maze debate from the BBC’s website:
The case of the footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans is a morality tale for our times. Evans, who played for Wales and Sheffield United, was jailed for 5 and a half years after being found guilty of raping a woman who was so drunk she couldn’t give her consent. Clayton McDonald, then a Port Vale defender, who was also involved, was cleared of the same charge. Evans has always maintained his innocence and has not apologised to the victim. He’s now been released on licence and there are calls for him to return to his footballing career. An online petition with 150,000 signatures says Sheffield United should not take him back. The story may read like a tawdry tabloid expose, but it actually goes to the heart of the kind of society we want and the kind of people we want to be. Should a convicted rapist who’s served his time and maintains his innocence be entitled to get his job back? Does the need for forgiveness and rehabilitation trump the need for continuing disgrace and the need to make an example of someone who for many should be a role model? Does the fact of being a high profile figure put you in a different moral category that deserves extra punished? Or does that send out a message that even though you’ve served your time you still may not be allowed the chance to rebuild your life and reintegrate in to society.
Panellists: Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, Claire Fox, Giles Fraser
Witnesses: Charlotte Webster, David Walsh, Dr Clare Carlisle, Dr Nina Burrowes
Although the BBC’s the Moral Maze is currently on hiatus until later this fall, the most recent episode discussed the morality of surrogacy. The topic was sparked by a horrendous story discussed below.
Here is a description of the podcast from the BBC’s website.
She was paid £8850. The money would help repay the family’s debts and to go towards the education her two children. Pattaramon Chanbua never even met the Australian couple who were paying her. It’s known as “gestational surrogacy” where the host mother is implanted with an embryo. Effectively the Australian couple were paying to rent the Thai woman’s womb. In this case Pattaramon gave birth to twins. One of them, who’s been named Gammy had Down’s syndrome. It’s a terrible story that raises many uncomfortable moral and ethical dilemmas. This isn’t just a simple contractual obligation. At the heart of this there’s a child’s life. Who bears the moral responsibility when things go wrong? And is that something that can be delegated to regulation? Infertility is a grief for many thousands of couples and the trade in international surrogacy also attracts same sex partners who desperately want children. But how do we – should we – weigh their pain against the exploitation of poor women and the commodification of that greatest of gifts – the gift of life? In such emotive cases it’s perhaps too easy to rush to judgment. There’s the argument that when done properly surrogacy can enrich people’s lives, offering the childless a the chance to become parents and by putting money into the hands of surrogate women it gives them the chance to plan the future of their families in the way they see fit. If we ban it we take that opportunity out of their hands. If we regulate is that tacitly condoning a degrading a marketization of something that should not be commodified? And if we regulate womb renting, why not allow the poor to monetise other parts of their bodies? Their blood? Or perhaps a kidney? And is it the role of the state to regulate and control what people do with their bodies? Moral Maze – Presented by Michael Buerk.
Panellists: Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy and Jill Kirby.
Witnesses: Richard Westoby, Julie Bindel, Nicola Scott and Dr. Helen Watt.
“The Morality of Nationalism”
That was the issue being debated on the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast. An appropriate topic given the current state of affairs in the Ukraine, where nationalism plays a central role.
Here is a description of the podcast from the BBC website:
This week the Moral Maze looks at the morality of nationalism. In Ukraine and the UK people are fighting and in the former case dying over the idea and the ideals of nationhood. Those are just the biggest headlines today; without pausing to think too hard you might add Syria, the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain and Tibet to the list and that’s just from the news in the last seven days – let alone going further back in history to the breakup of Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Ireland. Nationalism and the struggle for national identity is a complex moral puzzle. What makes nationalism such a powerful and morally problematic force in our lives is the interplay of old feelings of communal loyalty and relatively new beliefs about popular sovereignty. On the one hand it undoubtedly expresses something deep in human nature – a yearning for self-determination and justice. But it can also come with darker tribal undertones of “us” and “them” and has been seen all too often through ethnic cleansing and genocide. To what extent should people be permitted to act on the basis of loyalty to those to whom they are specially related by culture, race or language? Are there benign forms of nationalism? Should enlightened people repudiate nationalism? What value should we attach to cultural diversity? Given the current examples of how nationalism can sometimes seem to be a force for good, and sometimes a force for very great evil what are the moral underpinnings of nationalism?
Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor and Giles Fraser.
Witnesses are John Breuilly, Edward Lucas, Philippe Legrain and Gideon Calder
“Public health vs individual freedom”
This was the title of the most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast. The programme fosters an interesting (although admittedly, at times, dry) debate about the role of the state in regulating public health and its limits. For instance, do you have an individual right to Twinkies? Does the should the state regulate the size of sodas (NYC)?
Here is a description of the show:
When should society step in and save us from ourselves? Our apparently insatiable appetites for smoking, drinking and eating are all in the news this week, but where and how should we draw the line between individual freedom and public health? Is it purely a utilitarian calculation; that the consequences are such a drain on the national purse that we can no longer afford the luxury of letting people do what they want? Or does that just reduce the value of our bodies to the lowest common denominator – the bottom line on a balance sheet? And even if we could afford it, should the common good outweigh individual freedom? Is expecting other people to pay for the consequences of our own behaviour immoral? And what if we could invent a cheap and effective pill to allow us to drink as much as we want without suffering a hangover, or eat what we like without the risk of diabetes? We might herald the scientific advance, but would it make us better humans? Is there something morally, as well as corporally corrupting about defiling our bodies with intoxicants and excess? Or does that sound hopelessly Victorian and censorious in an age that has come to prize self-indulgence and hedonism almost as much human rights? Are policies to control our appetites the worst kind of nanny-statism that punishes the responsible and infantilises the rest or a sensible response to a public health crisis?
Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor.
Moral Maze: Boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics
With the Sochi Winter Olympics starting later this evening, I think it is fair to say that most Westerns assume that there is symbolic value in boycotting the games in protest of Russia’s human rights violations, particularly as they relate to homosexuals. However, the most recent episode of the Moral Maze questions this assumption and debates the moral utility of Olympic boycotts. Several of the “witnesses” of the programme assert that Olympic boycotts are useless. They argue that, particularly with reference to Russia anti-gay policies, gay athletes would be better served competing and beating the Russians rather than sitting out the games. They cite Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany. What better way to show the absurdity of Hitler’s claims of “Aryan superiority” than an African American running faster and jumping further than Nazi “uberman.”
Here is a brief description of the podcast:
Are sporting boycotts of events like the Winter Olympics effective or just empty gestures?
What Is The Role of the Police?
This was question being explored on the most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast. Given that I have been studying criminal procedure this past semester, this has been a particular relevant question.
Here is a description of the podcast:
“Plebgate”, the Hillsborough disaster, evidence of blatant fixing of crime statistics – by any standards our police have come under searching scrutiny lately and haven’t exactly come out with flying colours. So this week’s report by a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John – now Lord Stevens – on the future of policing is certainly timely. But this is more than just a debate about numbers, structures and complaints procedures, this is a fundamental question about what our police should be for. Lord Stevens says it’s time to accept that police “are not simply crime fighters”, but they should also have a “social mission” that should be enshrined in law which would incorporate improving safety and well-being within communities. We’ve come a long way since the days of the Sweeney catchphrase “get your trousers on – you’re nicked”, but do we want our police to take on the mantle of social workers as well as crime fighters? Is this mission creep by the police, or an abdication of our own responsibility? By widening the scope of what we expect our police to police are we in danger of turning them from law enforcers, in to enforcers of social norms? And that this will lead to a subjective understanding of what society regards as right and wrong and blur the moral line between what is and isn’t a crime?
“The Morality of Remembrance”
Happy Veterans Day to all those of who have served. In commemoration of the occasion here is an episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast elegantly entitled “The Morality of Remembrance.” In England, their version of Veterans Day is Remembrance Day. Where we have the yellow ribbon, they adorn the poppy flower.
Although the debate is an English take on the holiday, many of the issues discussed apply in the American context. For instance, what is patriotism? What should we honoring? How should we be honoring? It is interesting that in the United States the holiday is marked by a status, whether or not one is a veteran; while in England, it is about an act, remembering past wars and warriors. In a sense, Veterans Day is simpler in the US, we know who and what to honor. In the United Kingdom, the issue is more contested. When the holiday is framed in terms of remembrance, the question becomes what should we be remembering?
“Genetics and Education”
In a recent book, G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement, Robert Plomin and Kathryn Asbury explore the science of genetics and the potential impact of genetics on education policy. Plomin and Asbury argue against the taboo (*eugenics*) surrounding use of genetics to inform education. G is for Genes is the basis of recent BBC Moral Maze debate.
Here is a description of the podcast:
For centuries philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the question of nature versus nurture. Increasingly and for some controversially, the science of behavioural genetics is starting to come up with some of the answers. The argument is perhaps at its most sensitive when applied to education. When it was revealed that Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s outgoing special advisor, Dominic Cummings, called for education policy to incorporate the science behind genes and cognitive development he broke a modern taboo and there was a predictable outcry. In a wide ranging paper Mr Cummings cited the work of Professor Robert Plomin who’s about to publish a book with psychologist Dr Kathryn Asbury which calls for “genetically sensitive” schooling. It’s based on a study of how genes and environment have shaped the development of over 10,000 twins who were studied from birth to early adulthood. The scientists say their work is about probability not prophecy and can be used to personalise education and create better outcomes for all, but fears of genetic determinism are deeply ingrained. How should we use genetics in education? Science is a very long way from knowing exactly which genes influence individual differences in learning but as knowledge in this field advances that time will surely come. We already use genetics to screen for various medical conditions, so why not for learning abilities? And what happens if, or when, the science of genetics becomes so powerful that we can identify different populations that are endowed with different genetic make-ups that we believe are more or less desirable? Is that just a scientific inevitability that we have to come to terms with, or does it open the door to eugenics? How should we use the science of genetics?