The Sentencing Bill – one of seven criminal justice bills trailed in this week’s Queen’s Speech – will aim to keep serious or violent criminals behind bars for longer than at present. It’s part of the government’s ‘tougher’ approach to law and order, along with an increase in the number of police officers and an avowed intention to give victims a louder voice in the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary Priti Patel says she wants to make criminals ‘feel terror’ on the streets. Polling suggests that nearly three quarters of British adults agree with her. These changes in policy prompt a number of ethical questions: Is fear an effective motivator for preventing crime? Are longer prison sentences a just and effective form of punishment? How grim should life in prison be, when the deprivation of liberty alone might be thought punishment enough? Once we’ve decided what we mean by ‘punishment’, what should we demand of the enforcers – particularly the police, the prosecutors and the courts? A notion of justice that emphasises retribution over rehabilitation? One that tips the balance towards sympathy for victim and away from seeking to understand the criminal? Does the high rate of re-offending demonstrate that prison doesn’t work – or that redemption is rare? Should we try to be more understanding about why people commit crimes? The Gospel of Luke says that from those to whom much has been given, much will be required – so should the circumstances into which someone has been born be weighed and acknowledged in the punishment they receive? Or should justice be blind, swayed by the hard-luck stories of neither the offender nor the victim?
Producer: Dan Tierney.
It seems to some that universities, which used to boast that their courses would explore controversial ideas, are nowadays keener to reassure students that they will not be disturbed by anything too worrying. But safe spaces for students make dangerous spaces for dons. Doctors and professors have been subjected to harassment and no-platforming because of their unfashionable opinions on a range of topics including colonialism, transgender rights and abortion. Earlier this year Noah Carl lost his research fellowship at Cambridge (where he was looking into the links between genetics and intelligence) after hundreds of fellow academics signed an open letter accusing him of “racist pseudoscience”. Now a group of academics is ready to launch ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’: peer-reviewed research by authors who can choose to remain anonymous because they fear a backlash that could endanger their careers or even their lives. Opponents of the journal say it will provide a safe space for dangerous and offensive ideas published under the cloak of anonymity. Should there be any constraints on the freedom of academics to make discoveries and interpret them as they choose? How should academic research be treated if it is deemed to support theories that are viewed as unacceptable? Do universities have a moral duty to protect and platform views with which the majority disagrees? Or are universities morally entitled to censure or dismiss academics who flout the norms of decency and respect? Is academic freedom genuinely under threat? Featuring Dr Myriam François, Dr Francesca Minerva, Dr Arianne Shahvisi and Dr Joanna Williams.
Producer Dan Tierney.
The Morality of Anger
The political pressure cooker is rattling, steaming and whistling. MPs on all sides are venting outrage over the language used by their opponents. It’s like a real-life Twitter. The PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has said the atmosphere in the country will get ever more toxic unless the result of the referendum is delivered. Meanwhile, opposition MPs blame the current fury on what they see as the government’s pig-headed refusal to compromise. Aristotle said: “Those who do not show anger at things that ought to arouse anger are regarded as fools.” Is fierce public rhetoric at a time of political crisis justified or counter-productive? When does the healthy expression of political anger become incitement to riot or murder? Anger is often described as ‘the moral emotion' – the one most likely to affect our behaviour for better or worse. It can be constructive if it’s harnessed to redress an injustice, but what if the fight against the ‘injustice’ is driven by the destructive desire for revenge? Is there a moral distinction between anger expressed in solidarity with the oppressed and anger directed to punishing our enemies? Is it always virtuous to control our anger? George Orwell defined the English character as one of extreme gentleness, “where the bus conductors are good tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers.” Is that national character now changing? Is it too late to recover it? And should we even try?
Guests: Brendan O'Neill, Mark Vernon, Rosie Carter and Thomas Dixon.
Producer: Dan Tierney
Love and Relationships
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
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