Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze
The Morality of Vaccination
It’s hard to remember what normal life feels like, but for the first time since the start of the pandemic, there are reasons to be optimistic about when we might return to it. It looks increasingly likely that by the New Year at least one highly-effective Covid vaccine will be available. Despite this promising news, any new vaccines will be rationed, cost money and carry some degree of risk. This prompts a number of ethical and moral considerations. For some, this as a matter of global justice; they believe it would be immoral and counterproductive to distribute a vaccine on the basis of whichever countries have the biggest pockets. Others think it’s perfectly reasonable for any state to prioritise the health of its own citizens, particularly the vulnerable. There are those who have concerns about the speed of the vaccine trials, and believe that if we’re going to inoculate billions of people, many of whom are asymptomatic or unaffected, we’ve got to make sure we’re not cutting corners and causing harm. While, for others, normal rules shouldn’t apply during a crisis, and the faster you can get the vaccines out, the better. And what about those who refuse a Covid jab? There have been calls for emergency laws to stamp out anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories online. Last year, NHS chief Simon Stevens warned that large numbers of parents rejecting vaccines for their children was a "growing public health time bomb". Is there a moral case for compulsory vaccination? Or is it an unjustifiable infringement on civil liberties and parental rights? With Prof Helen Bedford, Matthew Lynn, Dr Julian Sheather and Prof Tom Solomon.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
Defence versus Foreign Aid
The Chancellor’s spending review this week has thrown up competing moral visions for Britain’s place in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world. On the one hand, there will be a boost in defence spending on drones and cyberwarfare; on the other, speculation about the UK’s foreign aid commitment has prompted ex-prime ministers, charities and religious leaders to speak out against any proposed cuts to the aid budget. Symbolically, if not practically, defence spending and overseas aid are seen to be in competition since they are both projections of global Britain. If so, how can we assess their competing moral worth? Is using taxpayers’ money for defence any morally better or worse than for foreign aid? One worldview contends that prioritising investment in defence is jingoistic and problematic, while funding international development is benign and benevolent. Others, meanwhile, consider there to be a greater moral obligation towards those closer to home in response to changing threats from malicious regimes, and question whether the distribution of public funds in the form of overseas aid is incorruptible. Or are the two sectors inextricably linked? Some see international development almost as a branch of national security, exercising soft power and helping to shore up unstable states, while others point out the role of the armed forces in peacekeeping, delivering humanitarian aid and combatting the drugs trade. Both military personnel and aid charities are guided by a moral code and, in both cases, include individuals who have fallen short of that code. When it comes to the daily motivations of human beings on the ground, is the ethos of the armed forces any different to the ethos of international aid workers? With Dr Sabina Alkire, Ian Birrell, Prof Michael Clarke and Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
Donald Trump is refusing to concede the US election, making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and planning rallies across the country to build support for the legal fights ahead. The ‘leader of the free world’ is having a wobble and it is a testing time for democracy. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to unify a country that has become so polarised that even the choice about whether or not to wear a mask during a pandemic is seen as political. What do the deep divisions, and even the denial of the outcome of the vote, mean for the democratic legitimacy of the office of the president? Many of Mr Biden’s followers believe there is now a moral imperative for all Americans, regardless of their politics, to support him in his attempt to unite the states of America. Many Trump voters, however, say they feel not just forgotten, but despised by the opposition, and see the appeal to unity as another way of telling large swathes of the electorate to ‘get with the programme’ or to ‘see the error of their ways’. Democratic legitimacy can be a slippery concept. Many have argued that there is no such thing as the ‘will of the people’, or even, depending on voter turnout, the will of most people. As Brexit trade talks resume this week, there are still those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the referendum and believe the concerns voiced in the last four years about the social, political and economic impact of leaving the EU change the democratic, and moral, equation. Their opponents denounce them as democracy deniers. How long after a democratic decision is made are we compelled to be loyal to it? While we can all be pious about democratic legitimacy, can we also be guilty of playing fast and loose with it when it suits us? With Prof Matthew Goodwin, Dr Jan Halper-Hayes, Prof Allan Lichtman and Prof Bo Rothstein.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
The Morality of Mortality
The Prime Minister said the second lockdown in England was necessary to avoid the "medical and moral disaster" of the NHS being overwhelmed. In starker terms: many people will die if nothing is done, and not just of Covid-19. Depending on one’s perspective, the government’s strategy has either been too concerned, or not concerned enough, with the avoidance of death above all else. What has the crisis revealed about our attitude to our own mortality and how we value human life? Some are accused of being too blasé about the fact that many who died in the first wave of the pandemic either had ‘underlying conditions’ or, more bluntly, would have died soon anyway. Others, who believe the second lockdown should have been sooner and more severe, are accused of giving in to fear – as one lady quipped in a TV vox pop: “I’m 83 and I don’t give a sod”. Nevertheless, the coronavirus has made many people face death far earlier than they were expecting. People have died alone and their loved ones have grieved for them in isolation. For some, the pandemic has highlighted how inadequate we are at confronting death more generally. Medical progress has given us longer and healthier lives yet there are many who believe that we have focused too much on prolonging life rather than making the time we have left meaningful. We also live in an age when some think the prospect of ‘defeating death’ is in touching distance. Is death the ultimate taboo in our culture? If we can’t medicalise our way out of it, how can we live – and die – well? With Prof Michael Hauskeller, Kathryn Mannix, Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy and Prof Ellen Townsend.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free meals for vulnerable children during school holidays has received widespread support from both the public and the media, with some describing Rashford as rising from sportsman to statesman, the noble quest of a celebrity footballer taking on the might of the Government. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen but it demonstrates the growing power of the celebrity. Advertisers and charities alike have long understood the power of associating celebrities with a product or a cause. They can guarantee visibility and familiarity and their likeability, attractiveness and success are known to influence the way many think and act regardless of whether the celebrities themselves know much about the cause they are championing. But when it comes to public policy should politicians be held to ransom by the power and influence of celebrities? Shouldn’t it be up to Government how it spends its money not the celebrities who are not accountable for their actions? Yet the relationship between politics and celebrities are becoming increasingly blurred. Celebrities are often asked to endorse political campaigns. In America, the history of politics is populated by celebrities themselves achieving political success from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump to name but a few. Some would argue this has reduced political success to whether you like or dislike a politician not on well-rehearsed political arguments or ideologies. Others would argue that it degrades the moral status of government and is a danger to democracy. So who has the moral authority – the politician or the celebrity? With Paul Cullen, Dr Mark Harvey, Prof Natasha Lindstaedt and Brendan O’Neill.
Producer: Amanda Hancox
Global Capitalism and the ‘Lost Generation’
By November, 1 million young people in the UK will be unemployed, according to a report out this week from the newly-launched Alliance for Full Employment. It has the backing of the former Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown, who warned of a “lost Covid generation” of young people with no prospects and nothing to do. The cost, he says, is more than just a financial one: “It destroys self-worth; it hurts family life; it shatters communities”. So what should our moral obligation be to this generation? A parallel has been drawn with the post-war period which saw the birth of the Welfare State. While there is widespread support for short-term financial help, there are those who caution against what they see as writing off an entire generation as ‘lost’, or institutionalising state dependency; they believe that the pandemic has merely accelerated inevitable economic change from which a brighter future can emerge. There are many young people who don’t share that optimism, and point to how the Covid crisis has exposed pre-existing health and wealth inequalities, which, for them, raises bigger questions about the morality of global capitalism. This is the moment, they argue, to change capitalism so that it focuses on what humans really want and need, and to actively promote the things we value beyond financial success and economic usefulness. Capitalism’s supporters, however, see our quality of life as being intrinsically bound up with markets and economic growth. For them the moral response to Covid is to kick start the consumer boom and allow people the freedom to make money unconstrained. Is it time for a radical challenge to unbridled capitalism for sake of the young, or is the ‘invisible hand’ still the best way to get a leg up? With Grace Blakeley, Ian Goldin, Daniel Pryor and Jamie Whyte.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
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Dangerous Talks Club
This is one of the few spaces in the modern media superhighway in which we are exposed to intelligent opinions without the oppressive speed limits, crash helmets and stabilizers of the overbearing ’if you offend me you are wrong’ crowd.
Michael Buerk does an admirable job of letting everyone have their say (if only he would sit in on Piers Morgan’s interviews) - often in the face of the enjoyably impassioned arguments of Giles Fraser and Melanie Phillips. Tim Stanley is a welcome addition, though Claire Fox much missed. Panellists Michael Portillo, Mona Siddiqui, Anne McElvoy and Matthew Taylor are also excellent.
Some new panelists have been added who carry too much baggage from their careers elsewhere. It’s not pleasant listening having her and Melanie Phillips at the same time.
Repetitive. Tiresome. Pretentious.
You don’t need to put a “people are being silenced for not agreeing with extreme social justice ideology” spin on literally everything. What could be a great opportunity to discuss issues like Black Lives Matter and transphobia is frankly being wasted. Please accept that people know more than you for more reasons than just being academics - black than you about racism and trans people are more qualified than you to speak on trans rights.