A Point of View
The Past in the Present
April 20th, 2017, 06:00 PM
A L Kennedy reflects on the way our past shapes our present and our future. "As groups we get trapped in our pasts, not quite repeating them, but sometimes forcing our futures out of shape for the sake of their ghosts." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Power of Reading
April 13th, 2017, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy extols the virtues of reading and its power to encourage respect for the value and sovereignty of other people's existence. "It allows you to look and feel your way through the lives of others who may apparently be very other - and yet here they are - inside your head." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Bad News is Good Business
April 6th, 2017, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy says we should reject the media outlets that peddle only bad news whether real or fake in ever shriller voices, depicting a world of unremitting awfulness. "Fake facts - let's just call them lies - and deceptively selective coverage have to be peddled with greater than average outrage and shock just to keep their frailty from being examined too closely." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Dementia Rights
March 30th, 2017, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare argues that viewing dementia as a disability could help those living with the condition win greater rights. In the last few decades, he writes, we have seen many impairment groups unite to demand a better deal from government. "But when it comes to dementia, we are still thinking in terms of disease and tragedy and passivity". He believes treating dementia as a disability - with all the legal ramifications that involves - may help us change our attitudes and our policies. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Power and Peril of Stories
March 23rd, 2017, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare reflects on how all the political populists who now occupy our imaginations are master story tellers. People need stories and these stories appeal to us, he says. But he argues that as well as persuasive stories, more than ever we need facts. "The plural of anecdote is not data, as a professor used to tell me", he writes. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Sic transit
March 16th, 2017, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare on why - in today's world of uncertainty and fear - it may give us some political consolation to remember that while everything positive in life is short-lived, so too is everything negative. He argues that believing that the best is behind us stops us making the most of present opportunities. "To wallow in the past is to be sentimental, to seek an impossible return", he writes. "Our task is to create something different but equally fulfilling in future". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Screensaver of Life, or the Idling Brain
March 9th, 2017, 06:00 PM
Stella Tillyard looks at the phonomenon of the "idling brain" - when the brain is supposedly at rest. She ponders what it means that we have no idea what's running through the minds of the people closest to us and argues that - in an increasingly fractured world - knowing what's going on in each other's minds might help us understand each other. Scientists, she points out, have taken up the challenge. One group of psychologists estimate that people spend somewhere between 25 and 50% of their waking hours engaged in thoughts unrelated to the here and now. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Flying Saucers and an Uncertain World
March 2nd, 2017, 06:00 PM
"Human beings shape their perceptions according to their beliefs", writes John Gray, not the other way round. He says people "will persuade themselves to believe almost anything, no matter how far-fetched, if it enables them to preserve their view of the world". He asks how we can best come to terms with the realisation that the world is frighteningly unpredictable. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Spectre of Populism
February 23rd, 2017, 06:00 PM
John Gray look at the history of populism. He argues that modern-day populism has largely been created by centre parties who have identified themselves with an unsustainable status quo. He looks at how populism is likely to play out in the upcoming elections in France and Holland. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Follies of Experts
February 16th, 2017, 06:00 PM
John Gray assesses why experts failed to predict recent seismic events. He says they operated under the long-held but mistaken belief that history unfolds according to predictable patterns. "Human events have no overall direction", he writes, "and history obeys no laws". He discusses how we can prepare ourselves for the "unknowable future". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Protecting Our Way of Life
February 9th, 2017, 06:00 PM
John Gray examines what lies behind our desire to protect our "way of life". "If people are forced to choose between insecurity and a promise of stability through tyranny", he writes, "many will opt for tyranny". He argues that spending vast amounts of money on "grandiose wars while large sections of our own people languish in neglect and despair can only leave our societies more vulnerable to extremist demagogues". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
States of Confusion
February 2nd, 2017, 06:00 PM
Will Self argues that, at a time when we're observing "our so-called leaders, fretting and strutting on the world stage", it really is a worthwhile exercise to spend time worrying about why we're here. "I'd argue", he writes, "that to engage fully with the weird mystery of being is to at least take the helm of your own ship - even if its course is determined by some automatic pilot". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Teaching to the test
January 26th, 2017, 06:00 PM
Will Self says it's time for schools to stop "teaching to the test". He argues that in the contemporary wired world, "it seems obvious that young people need more than ever to know how to think outside the boxes, rather than simply tick them". There's no reason, he says, to shackle children "to the go-round of memorization and regugitation". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Fourth Plinth
January 19th, 2017, 06:00 PM
Will Self explores the significance of the art work that adorns the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. He asks what such public art projects represent in this "festival of ephemerality our society seems to have become". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Re-launching National Service
January 12th, 2017, 06:00 PM
"We're constantly being reminded that this is a democracy", writes Will Self "one, indeed, which we should take back control of". But in the arena of national defence, he says, the role of the citizen "is relegated to that of a guilty bystander, his fate in the hands of the state's hirelings". Will Self argues for the re-introduction of National Service to invigorate British democracy. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The fun of work - really?
January 5th, 2017, 06:00 PM
"I haven't been visiting schools and drowsing during headteachers' PowerPoint presentations for nothing this past quarter century", writes Will Self. "I know full-well that the purpose of both British education and British employment is the same: to keep us busy and purposive from cradle to grave". Will Self explores how the worlds of work and education have become seamlessly merged with each other. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Shape Of Our Time
December 29th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik revisits a much explored subject - the differences between patriotism and nationalism. In the light of the events of the past year, he questions why the politics of nationalism appear irresistible today. He wonders "if we cannot now see that patriotism and nationalism have a more fluid, a more organic, a more connected relationship that we might want to imagine". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Word of 2016: People
December 22nd, 2016, 06:00 PM
"Perhaps we should try, before the year's out", writes Howard Jacobson, " to agree on the International Word of 2016 - the word that most describes where we've been these last 12 months". "Post-truth", "Trump" and "Farage" are all in the running. But in the end, Jacobson's chooses "people" as in "the people have spoken" for his Word of the Year. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
"Baby It's Cold Outside"
December 15th, 2016, 06:00 PM
The Christmas song "Baby It's Cold Outside" has become the cause of intense controversy in the US where it's been described as a "hymn to rape" . "As the father of a teenage daughter" writes Adam Gopnik, "I will stand down to no one in the fight against sexual assault of all kinds". But, he argues, the worst thing liberal minded people can do is "allow their liberalism to become infected with puritanism". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Holes in Clothes
December 8th, 2016, 06:00 PM
"I work hard so that my teenage daughter can have holes in all her clothes", writes Adam Gopnik. He reflects on the greater significance of designer holes in jeans...and why it's a trend to be celebrated. "I know what you are asking", Gopnik says. "How can you be rattling on about torn jeans...when our world, by your own account, may be coming to an end?" ! "Liberty large is what we fight for, but the little liberties of life - and the arbitrariness of fashion is one of life's most engaging little liberties - are part of the way we recognize that the larger liberty exists". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Bob Dylan and the Bobolaters
December 1st, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik - a lifelong fan of Bob Dylan - muses on Dylan's "utterly predictable lack of gratitude" towards his Nobel Prize. "The terrible and intriguing truth", he writes, is that "people are tragically impressed by indifference...and pitifully contemptuous of the charming". The Dylans of this world, Gopnik says "impress us as the true egotists we secretly are". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
A Liberal Credo
November 24th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik muses on liberals and liberalism - and why liberalism is so despised. "At a moment when it seems likely to be drowned out in America" he writes, "I shall make a small forlorn effort to speak its truths". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Week Gone By
November 17th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik asks what hope is there of a liberal, open society in America during the next 4 years. He argues that Americans must hold to the faith that liberal politics really do rise from the ground up.
The Trump Card
November 10th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton assesses some of the reasons behind Donald Trump's victory. And he asks why many who intended to vote for Donald Trump would not have confessed to their intention. "They wanted change," writes Scruton. "A change in the whole agenda of government".
America Votes
November 3rd, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik reflects on why he believes a victory for Donald Trump would be a disaster for America. The American Presidential election "posits a simple eternal human confrontation between sensible and crazy", he writes. He says we must not pretend that the rise of Trump is essentially a "people's revolt" or a movement of the dispossessed. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
In Praise of Prophets of Doom
October 27th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson argues that dissatisfaction with life is essential for the health of the human spirit. "It might come to outweigh other emotions to the point where it is detrimental to the vigour of an individual or a society, but without it there is no vigour at all." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Shylock's Mock Appeal
October 20th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson applauds the granting of an appeal by Shylock in a mock trial in Venice as a symbolic revoking of a bad decision in Shakespeare's play. "It's natural to rage against wrong decisions, miscarrriages of justice or the inclemencies of nature, but the more fanciful of us go further and imagine that some power will intervene and make things right again." Producer: Sheila Cook.
In Praise of Difficulty
October 13th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson applauds the playwright Tom Stoppard's attack on the ignorance of the average audience, arguing we should not only aspire to be educated ourselves but should not be offended by the evidence of education in others. "We are an entangled species; we are not to be unknotted easily. When we turn our backs on difficulty in art, we turn our backs on who we are." Producer: Sheila Cook.
October 6th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson deplores the fashion for "whooping" as a mark of approval, and sees it as a species of social blackmail. "The whoop is on an errand to keep things simple. That which strikes audiences as true because it is what they think already, elicits a whoop." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Against Safe Spaces
September 29th, 2016, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on the controversial "safe spaces" policy being pursued by some universities. It may have been devised to ensure that people of all identities are entitled to a tolerant environment ...but John Gray argues that the policy not only threatens a fundamental liberal value but represents a demand to be sheltered from human reality. He says the point of education used to be to learn how to live well in full awareness of the disorder of life. "A lack of realism ...was considered not just an intellectual failing but also a moral flaw". He says we ignore this lesson of history at our peril. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Real Meaning of Trump
September 22nd, 2016, 06:00 PM
John Gray assesses what lies behind the Trump phenomenon and the remarkable political upheaval that could - possibly - see Donald Trump propelled into the White House. From the start, he says, Trump's campaign has been an audacious experiment in mass persuasion. "His uncouth language, megalomaniac self-admiration and strangely coloured hair....all deliberately cultivated" to help him profit from the popular resentment against the elites of the main parties. "Whatever happens", writes Gray, "there will be no return to pre-Trump normalcy". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Who Cares About Independence?
September 15th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Wheelchair user, Tom Shakespeare, reflects on what it feels like to be dependent on others. He says care often leaves the recipient in a devalued state. He calls for society to respond to the challenge of delivering help "without creating domination and infantilisation" and for care to be funded properly. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
My Idea of Heaven
September 8th, 2016, 06:00 PM
John Gray muses on what his idea of heaven is....and why it shouldn't be a perfect world. History teaches us that trying to create a perfect society leads to hell on earth, he writes. "But dreams of a perfect world don't fail because human beings are incurably flawed. They fail because human beings are more complicated and interesting that their dreams of perfection".
Every Dog Has His Day
August 25th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare - a new dog owner - reflects on what dogs can teach us about contentment. Remembering his childhood obsession with the Peanuts cartoon, he quotes Snoopy "My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm Happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?" Dogs, writes Tom, have a much greater capacity for contentment than people and we can all learn from this. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Finding Our Roots
August 18th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the joys of genealogy - truffling in census returns and parish records and establishing "our genuine links to multiple generations of nonentities"! "As a passionate Londoner", he writes, "I wanted to establish when the first Self had arrived in the city". Entire family sagas, he says, are today vanishing into thin air, in an era of nuclear families. Gone are those generations of extended families where over a cup of tea, the same old stories were told about the same old relatives. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
What's wrong with modern art?
August 11th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self explores what's wrong with modern art. "I've been responsible for a fair amount of absolutely total nonsense in my time", he writes, but says most contemporary art is little more than "overvalued tosh and useless ephemera". Instead of a world where Russian oligarchs "buy artworks by the metric tonne and plaster them on the walls of their vulgar houses", he calls for a genuine understanding of art where - once again - we become "capable of conveying and explaining the subtle ambiguities of genuine art". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Act Your Age
August 4th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self explains why he finds it hard to always act his age. "To alternate between being an errant child and a corrective adult must, I think, be intrinsic to the human condition." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Canaries in the Coal Mine
July 28th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare gives a very personal view of the implications for society of a prenatal screening technology due to be announced shortly. Tom inherited the genetic condition, achondroplasia, or restricted growth from his father and passed it on to both his children. Soon we will have to decide, he writes, what sort of people we are prepared to accept in our families and in our society. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Being English
July 21st, 2016, 06:00 PM
Via steak and kidney pie and a spot of Morris dancing, AL Kennedy reflects on Englishness...at a time, she writes, "when Englishness is struggling to decide what it can be". She appeals to England - with all its different views, customs, history and opinions - to "treasure yourself, all of yourself". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Facts Not Opinions
July 14th, 2016, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy ponders the importance of facts... in a world dominated by opinion. "The Chilcot report highlights how a war can conjure the demons it promised to suppress", she writes "because facts were dodged or massaged and fantasy outcomes were taken as certainties". While facts may be grim, "avoiding them puts us all at increased risk". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Brexit and our cultural identity
July 14th, 2016, 06:00 PM
The historian Mary Beard presents the last in the series in which some of Britain's leading thinkers give their own very personal view of "Brexit". Mary Beard asks whether the referendum result will change our cultural identity. And as she sits at a David Gilmour concert in the ancient amphitheatre at Pompeii, Mary reflects on the "New Europe that we British seem to be about to lose". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Strategic Shift
July 13th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Peter Hennessy sees the UK's vote to leave the European Union as the biggest strategic shift in British history since the Second World War, rivalled only by the disposal of the British Empire. As a consequence, we need a serious national conversation using a new political vocabulary to tackle "multiple and overlapping anxieties". "If we do hold that national conversation, rise to the level of events and draw on those wells of civility and tolerance, we may yet surprise ourselves - and the watching world - by the quality, the care and the foresight of what we do and what we say." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Democracy After Brexit
July 12th, 2016, 06:00 PM
In these special editions of A Point of View, five of Britain's leading thinkers give their own very personal view of "Brexit" - what the vote tells us about the country we are, and are likely to become. Today, the philosopher Roger Scruton reflects on democracy after Brexit and explains why he feels it is the ordinary people of this country who care about democracy, not the urban elites. "The referendum gave these people a voice", writes Scruton, "and what they have told us is that their country, its laws and its sovereignty are more important to them than the edicts of anonymous bureaucrats striving to rule from nowhere". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Britain, Europe and the World
July 11th, 2016, 06:00 PM
In these special editions of Radio 4's long-running essay programme, A Point of View, five of Britain's leading thinkers, give their own very personal view of "Brexit" - what the vote tells us about the country we are, and are likely to become. Today, the philosopher John Gray who has presented on Radio 4 for many years, argues that Britain should look to Brexit as a new beginning in which it "can throw off the dead weight of a failing European project". He says we should now accept the new opportunities given to us and "make our home in a more spacious world". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Onora O'Neill
July 10th, 2016, 06:00 PM
The philosopher Onora O'Neill criticises the standard of public debate on both sides of the European Union decision and asks how this democratic deficit can be repaired. "The disarray that we now witness, and the retractions, revelations and recriminations that spill out on a daily basis, show that large parts of each campaign failed to communicate with the public, did not offer adequate or honest accounts of the alternatives, and did not provide the basic means for voters to judge the real options, the real opportunities or the real risks." This is the first of a series of special editions of Radio 4's long-running essay programme, A Point of View, in which five of Britain's leading thinkers give their own very personal view of "Brexit" - what the vote tells us about the country we are, and are likely to become. Producer: Sheila Cook.
July 7th, 2016, 06:00 PM
"Transitions shake us" writes AL Kennedy. "and you don't need me to tell you that as a nation we're sharing one". Alison reflects on how disturbing transitional times can be ...and writes of her own personal experience and that happening in post-Brexit Britain. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
On Brexit
June 30th, 2016, 06:00 PM
The philosopher John Gray argues that Brexit will have a greater impact on the EU than it will on the UK. And he predicts the British experience is likely to be repeated across much of continental Europe over the next few years. But, he says, rather than recriminating about what is past, we should be looking to the future. "We find ourselves in a new world", he writes. "Why not make the best of it?" Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The power of language
June 23rd, 2016, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy reflects on how being able to communicate clearly is the work of a lifetime. She argues that the present school testing regime could have a catastrophic effect on our children's ability to find their voice. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
A Petition Against Petitions
June 16th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton says the fashion for government by petition is out of step with representative democracy in which representatives are not elected to relay the opinions of their constituents but to represent their interests. "The common good, rather than mass sentiment, should be the source of law, and the common good may be hard to discover and easily obscured by crowd emotions.".
How Should We Build?
June 9th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton says we should protect the English countryside by making beauty our priority when we build new houses while in towns we should reverse the damage done in previous decades. "Surely the time has come to tear down the post-war estates, and to recover the old street lines that they extinguished." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Ring of the Nibelung
June 2nd, 2016, 06:00 PM
As Wagner's Ring - that huge and controversial cycle of operas - goes on tour, self-professed Wagner fan, Roger Scruton, tells us why The Ring is absolutely a story for our time. "Despite our attempts to live without formal religion" writes Scruton, "we are no more free than people ever have been or ever will be from the religious need". He adds: "I have loved The Ring and learned from it for over 50 years and for me, it is quite simply the truth about our world - but the truth expressed by means of music of unquestionable authority and supreme melodic and harmonic power".
I Gave It All Away
May 26th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self argues that instead of holding onto money until old age, we should give children their inheritance when they're most in need of it. "Forget the old right/left, rich/poor division" he says, "nowadays the greatest divergence lies between the old and the young". And he asks how can we in conscience go on denying the young the opportunity to clear up the mess we've ? for the most part quite inadvertently ? created for them. "Give it all away!" is his plea. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Psy Wars
May 19th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self - with a nod to the "valetudinarian pop-person, Morrissey" - poses the question "Does the mind rule the body or the body rule the mind?" Before 1960, he says, "a Briton could probably go their entire life without encountering a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst - let alone a modish psychotherapist". But not any more. Will ponders what role these "psy-professions" play in contemporary Britain. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Spell-checking the Futr
May 12th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Self-confessed "digi-drunkard" Will Self on predictive texting, spellchecking and algorithms. Will tries to convince himself - and us - that his use of technology is considered and practical, not the "glug-glugging of the cyber sozzled"! But, he admits, "a great river of denial runs through me...as I fidget and tweezer my way through the glassy looking-glass and into the virtual world". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Florence Under Water
May 5th, 2016, 06:00 PM
50 years after one of the worst floods in Florence's history, Sarah Dunant reflects on the events of 1966 and the work still going on to save some of the greatest art in the world. She talks to some of those who were there about their memories of the human and cultural catastrophe. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Power of the Pen
April 28th, 2016, 06:00 PM
On a visit to her local flea market in Florence, Sarah Dunant stumbles across a love letter. The date: November 1918. There's the challenge of the Italian of course....but the biggest hurdle, she says, was the handwriting. It was "as if a conscientious ant had climbed out of the ink pot and then wound its way across every millimetre of the page". Admiring the tiny handwriting with hardly any space between the lines, Sarah reflects on the modern day demise of handwriting. "Regimented key strokes in various type fonts" are no substitute, she argues, for the beauty and emotion contained in handwriting. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Reading Renaissance Art
April 21st, 2016, 06:00 PM
Taking a tour of some recent blockbuster art exhibitions, Sarah Dunant reflects on the importance of context for us to properly appreciate art. She argues that increasingly we're sold art as a list of superstars. "To grab the headlines, put big numbers through the turnstiles, means focusing on the stars" she writes. But understanding the great Renaissance masterpieces demands an understanding of the intellectual climate that produced them. A scantily clad Ursula Andress emerging from the sea holding a conch will not really help us understand Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
When Is Enough Enough?
April 14th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant takes an historical look at avarice. She argues that the revelations in the Panama Papers are just the latest proof that man's greed is woven into the human psyche. Dante gave it a harder time than lust...two centuries later, it's one of Machiavelli's central themes and many of the greatest works of art exist only because they were paid for by rich, often corrupt, figures, many within the church. And - Sarah asks - aren't many of us, to some extent, guilty? Can any of us really say that when it comes to money we know when enough is enough? Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Meaning of Time
April 7th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on our sense of the meaning of time and the changes in our perception brought about by new technologies. "Obviously the world wide web and the internet have played a key role in making each and every one of us a little hot spot of Nowness: over the past twenty years as more and more people have chosen to spend more and more of their time in this virtual realm, so we've sought to furnish its fuzzy immensity with our memories, individual and collective." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Virtual Violence
March 31st, 2016, 06:00 PM
Will Self draws no comfort from an alleged drop in violence in the real world, as he sees us increasingly expressing our innate tendency towards violence in the virtual and online worlds. " I don't think watching violence drives us to commit violent acts - I think it is a violent action in and of itself." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Allergic to Food
March 24th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Finding himself on a restricted diet, Will Self reflects on the rise of food allergies and intolerances which used to fail to invoke his sympathy. "It's not so much that I doubt the physiological component of all this tummy rumbling and grumbling, it's more that the social and cultural aspects of the malaise have grown still louder in the past half decade.".
March 17th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik struggles to keep his New Year's resolutions to find a "monastic moment" in the day to meditate and listen to good music. "What gets in the way of our dream of practising detachment..is our daily practice of attachment, which may be the most human thing about us." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Human Hybrids
March 10th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik deplores the fashion for attacking so-called "cultural expropriation" as in the recent fuss over American students wearing sombreros at a Mexican theme party. "Cultural mixing - the hybridization of hats, if you like - is the rule of civilisation not some new intrusion within our own. Healthy civilisations have always been mongrelized, cosmopolitan, hybrid, corrupted and expropriated and mixed.".
Moral Futures
February 25th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik thinks future generations will be as appalled by some practices that are accepted today as we are by aspects of the past. "Even as we condemn our moral ancestors, we need to hold our ears to the wind, and listen for the faint sounds of our descendants telling their melancholy truths about us." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Vanilla Happiness
February 18th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik says the secret of happiness lies in unexpected pleasures, like finding yoghourt is vanilla when you expect it to be plain. "Are the intrinsic qualities of something more powerful than the context in which we perceive it, or are what we call intrinsic properties really only the effect of expectations and surprise?" Producer: Sheila Cook.
Star Wars Obsession
February 4th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Helen Macdonald has made her name writing about nature and birds of prey. So why has she become so fascinated with the recent Star Wars movie that she's been to see it six times? In her first "A Point of View" she tries to get to the bottom of her obsession and wonders whether it's all down to nostalgia or something else. Producer: Richard Vadon.
Expert by Experience
January 28th, 2016, 06:00 PM
After hearing a former political prisoner in South Africa and a holocaust survivor tell their stories, Tom Shakespeare concludes that personal experience is the most powerful form of expertise. "Hearing their testimonies affected me more deeply than any lecture, book or film. They were unforgettable authentic encounters." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Face to Face
January 21st, 2016, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare is concerned by the growth in cosmetic procedures and the pressure more and more women and girls, in particular, feel to conform to a face and body type. "My anxiety is about the society that first generates body dissatisfaction and then provides surgery as the solution to that cultural problem". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Sing a New Song
January 14th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare argues that we need a new national anthem, one that celebrates what's great about the whole country, reflects the diversity of the population and the values of modern society. He suggests that existing anthem-like hymns such as Jerusalem, or the likes of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory won't do. Jerusalem, for example, talks of walking on England's mountains green, excluding the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. A new anthem, written and composed for the purpose, would actually mean something and would make us proud of what's great about the United Kingdom. It would be in tune with our times. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
January 7th, 2016, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare argues the House of Lords should be completely reformed and turned into a Senate of 300 members (down from over 800). He suggests they should consist of 100 politicians, selected in proportion to parties' showing in the previous general election, 100 cross-benchers, chosen for their expertise, and 100 members of the public, selected from the electoral roll like juries. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
Howard Jacobson: Wisdom
December 31st, 2015, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson does not feel complimented when someone describes him as "wise". He would sooner have understanding, akin to that of Shakespeare. "What's wrong with wisdom is it implies stasis, as though our greatest faculties of cognition and intuition are at their journey's end, have attained a peak of complacency from which they gaze down imperturbably on the small vanities of man.".
Howard Jacobson: Sermons
December 24th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson would sooner see Radio 4's Thought for the Day more not less religious and argues that humanists and the religious can meet in sermonizing when it's of the majesty of a great preacher like John Donne. "I fall to wondering what exactly non-religious needs are, and whether, by insisting on a distinction between the religious and the non-religious, humanists aren't making an unpardonably limiting assumption about both." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Howard Jacobson: Christmas
December 17th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson recalls the healthy mongrel mix of traditions in his Jewish family's festivities at Christmas. "Let's rejoice in the eclecticism, I say, and find in the varieties of ways people choose to mark or miss the point of Christmas the universal love that is its message." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Sarah Dunant: Protest, Paris, Terror
December 3rd, 2015, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant reflects on the nature of protest against the threat of terrorism and the threat of climate change and their coming together in the city of Paris. "How do we find a sense of potency in the face of terror, how do we embrace life when threatened with death, how do we champion our future against those who claim they will just carry on dying until they win? Perhaps what is needed is mental as much as military action." Producer: Sheila Cook.
From Pot to Profit
November 26th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant welcomes Canada's plans to fully legalise marijuana and sees the benefits of a booming cannabis products industry in the American states where it's already legal. "It costs society too much, in all senses, to criminalise so many people - and disproportionately young black or Latino men - for doing something, which legalised could create jobs and help balance the budget." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Sarah Dunant: Crisis in Catholicism
November 19th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant sees a new crisis in the Catholic church as a result of unchanged policy over divorce, homosexuality, celibacy and the role of women. "Men may truly believe in God but for most of them chastity is too big an ask and if enforced leads, at worst, to abuse and at best to a clergy and hierarchy ignorant of, and often unsympathetic to, the problems of being human. From there it's but a skip and a jump to the role of women and their exclusion from the heart of the church." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Roger Scruton: The Tyranny of Pop
November 5th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton deplores the tyranny of banal and ubiquitous pop music. Young people, above all, need help to appreciate instead the great music of our civilisation. "Unless we teach children to judge, to discriminate, to recognize the difference between music of lasting value and mere ephemera, we give up on the task of education." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Roger Scruton: Offensive Jokes
October 29th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton says we must feel free to express opinions and to make jokes that others may find offensive; censoring them them only leads to a loss of reasoned argument. "The policing of the public sphere with a view to suppressing 'racist' opinions has caused a kind of public psychosis, a sense of having to tip-toe through a minefield, and to avoid all the areas where the bomb of outrage might go off in your face." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Roger Scruton: In Defence of Free Speech
October 22nd, 2015, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton argues that the law on freedom of speech ought to protect those who express heretical views and not be used to close down debate. "Free speech is not the cause of the tensions that are growing around us, but the only possible solution to them." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Will Self: On Gardening
October 15th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on our relationship with gardens and gardening.
Will Self: Looks Matter
October 8th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self says we can't pretend that looks don't matter or that everyone is beautiful, including the obese. "That different cultures, during different eras, have found different aspects of the human form beautiful is another straw the sub-gorgeous clutch for." Producer:Sheila Cook.
Will Self: What's in a Name
October 1st, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the significance of names, including his own. "We desire to be recognised for who we really are, and seek out in our very ascription the means of uniting our intimate identities with our social selves.".
Will Self: A Life of Habit
September 24th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self sees our love of habit as a shield against the unexpected in life. "For us, custom, and its bespoke application, habit, are integral to our lives; because - or so we sort of reason - if we fill up our days with oft repeated actions, we can shut our ears to the siren song of contingency." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Will Self: Losing Sleep
September 17th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the various reasons for his inability to sleep soundly any more. "I concede there is something about our contemporary existence, especially in big, bustling cities, which seems altogether inimical to a good night's rest." Producer: Sheila Cook.
P J O'Rourke: Presidential Candidates
September 10th, 2015, 06:00 PM
P J O'Rourke sizes up the candidates aspiring to be the President of the United States. "Who are all these jacklegs, high-binders, wire-pullers, mountebanks, swellheads, buncombe spigots, boodle artists, four-flushers and animated spittoons offering themselves as worthy of our nation's highest office?" Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Abolition of Man
September 3rd, 2015, 06:00 PM
John Gray warns about the dangers of science that attempts to enhance human abilities. He says such knowledge can jeopardize the very things that make us human. More than 70 years after C.S. Lewis wrote "The Abolition of Man", John Gray argues that Lewis' questions are even more relevant today than they were then. "The scientists of Lewis's generation were dissatisfied with existing humankind" he writes. "Using new techniques, they were convinced they could design a much improved version of the species". But Gray says that while the scientific knowledge needed to remould humanity hardly existed then, it is rapidly developing at the present time. He believes that the sciences of bioengineering and artificial intelligence carry serious risks. "If at some unknown point in the future it becomes feasible to remould ourselves according to our dreams" he writes, "the result can only be an impoverishment of the human world". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Another Kind of Atheism
August 27th, 2015, 06:00 PM
John Gray looks to history to argue that it's time to rethink today's narrow view of atheism. He ponders the lives of two little known atheists from the past - the nineteenth century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and the Somerset essayist and novelist Llewelyn Powys. He says their work shows how atheism can be far richer and subtler than the version we're familiar with. "The predominant strand of contemporary unbelief , which aims to convert the world to a scientific view of things, is only one way of living without an idea of God" writes Gray. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
John Gray: Recalling Eric Ambler
August 20th, 2015, 06:00 PM
John Gray recalls the life and work of the thriller writer Eric Ambler and finds uncomfortable echoes of today's society in the pages of his novels. "What they reveal is a world ruled by financial and geopolitical forces that care nothing for the human individual. Most unsettlingly, this world is unmistakably European." Producer: Sheila Cook.
John Gray: Euro Despair
August 13th, 2015, 06:00 PM
John Gray sees the European currency as a misconceived project from the outset and thinks the austerity policies imposed on Greece are destructive and self defeating. "Attempting to maintain the euro at any cost can only result in mounting desperation, which will seek expression in violence if no practicable policies are on offer to ameliorate the situation." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: Long-Form Television
August 6th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik reflects on the reason for our obsession with long - form television series and sees a link to the current brevity of all our other forms of discourse. "As communication, public and political and spiritual, becomes ever more condensed - as newspapers close and are replaced exclusively with Instagram feeds, as texting becomes ever more enciphered and as the demotic slang of teens, which we will all speak sooner or later, becomes ever more abbreviated then we can expect, or dread, ever longer compensatory popular narratives." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: Role Reversal
July 30th, 2015, 06:00 PM
A weekly reflection on a topical issue.
Peter Aspden: In Love with Greece
July 23rd, 2015, 06:00 PM
Peter Aspden thinks the powerful influence of Greece, both ancient and modern, on European sensibilities makes the current economic crisis full of emotionally charged symbolism. "I often think that the hostility between Greece and its harshest current antagonist Germany, for example, is best seen as a furious tiff between former lovers." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: In Praise of Privacy
July 16th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Although he loves to read collections of private letters by public figures, Adam Gopnik feels disturbed and offended by the lip-smacking ease with which people thumb through Hillary Clinton's or Amy Pascal's once private e-mails and asks what are the proper limits of privacy in the Internet age. Are we putting at risk part of the future historical record? "The practice of showing what life is really like later depends on keeping some parts of life clandestine while they're happening". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: Power, Persecution and Pluralism
July 9th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik wonders why religious people are feeling "persecuted" following the US Supreme Court ruling making same sex marriage legal in all fifty states. Can a religious person free to practice their religion actually feel persecuted? Are they just offended by the practices of a pluralistic society, or do they have a point? "Their complaint is, in its way, one that seems fixed in the political choices of the late Roman Empire: the only alternatives they can recognise as real are either power or persecution. Either you are the magistrate making rules, or else you are the martyr being sacrificed to them." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: Family Reunions
July 2nd, 2015, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik's ten-year family reunion brings into focus the passage of time. "The inescapable material of any family reunion, British or American, Jewish or Celtic, is always the same: each offering a hair-raising or hair-losing seminar on the effects of time on the human body and soul, and especially on the difference between aging and growing." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: Words and Music
June 25th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik's experience of writing a libretto casts light on the mysterious relationship between words and music. "Sung words belong more fully to the world of ritual and routine, of incantation and mother's murmurings, than to the fully lucid and well-lit world of argument." Producer:Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: Indispensable Man
June 18th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik found himself supplanted as his family's waffle maker while he was away on a trip and concludes there are no indispensable people in any organization (or family) anywhere, though we all like to imagine that there are. There are only instructions on the side of the box, which anyone can follow. Producer: Sheila Cook.
AL Kennedy: The Worth of Education
June 11th, 2015, 06:00 PM
"A school's core strength is that it's a school" writes AL Kennedy. She argues that the "monetisation" of learning - where its value is assessed in purely monetary terms - risks destroying the very essence of learning. She says we need to rethink this "quiet mess" before it's too late.
AL Kennedy: Creamola Foam remembered
June 4th, 2015, 06:00 PM
"I'm getting old. Not older, just old" begins AL Kennedy. Through childhood memories of drinking Creamola Foam, her grandfather's voice ...and being kicked by a boy in the shin during playtimes, she reflects on how age changes our perception of the past and the future. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
In Praise of Courtesy
May 28th, 2015, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy takes the recent death of a friend - the screenwriter Gill Dennis - as her starting point in an exploration of courtesy. "When courtesy walks into a room," she writes, "it seems to turn a light on". She contrasts this with a striking example of discourtesy she encountered on a train journey. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Politics of Hope
May 21st, 2015, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy says the election results in Scotland reflect a surge in political engagement in which people continue to feel they have the power to make a difference. "A significant percentage of Scotland's voters on both sides of the independence question currently seem intent on reverse-engineering a democracy by beginning with hope." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Presidents as Monarchs
May 14th, 2015, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine says when Barack Obama's critics accuse him of acting like a king they're forgetting the origins of the office of President. "From the outset, the American presidency was vested with what might be termed monarchical authority, which meant that it really was a form of elective kingship." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Election View
May 7th, 2015, 06:00 PM
The American writer PJ O'Rourke gives his view of the UK election. "In the once solidly red-rosette glens and braes and lochs and heather the Scottish National Party snatched the sporran, ripped the kilt off and walked away in the ghillie brogues of Labour" Producer: Sheila Cook.
Leaders Old and Young
April 30th, 2015, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the merits of youth and age in our political leaders and finds the current set taking their parties into next week's election strikingly young. "It's a curious and unexplained paradox that in earlier times, when life expectancy was much lower than it is today, politicians were generally much older; whereas nowadays, when life expectancy is much greater, it's widely believed, at least in some quarters, that politicians ought to be younger". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Commemorative Style
April 23rd, 2015, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine compares the enthusiasm for national commemorations in Britain with the more understated syle in the United States. "It's easier for Britain, which is a relatively small and unified nation, with a strong central government, to stage nationally inclusive displays of commemoration than it is for the United States, which is a country with a relatively weak federal government, that many people dislike and distrust, and which oversees a vast transcontinental empire extending from one ocean to another and beyond." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Ideology Versus Art
April 16th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson explains why he prefers art to ideology, especially at election time, and always has. "I consider myself fortunate enough to have been brought up in a state of dogma-free grace." "...the point of art is to refute whatever it is we've made up our minds about." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Life's a Selfie
April 9th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson explains why he dislikes the narcissism of the selfie. "It's always possible that there's some Rembrandt of the selfie out there, using his 'phone to investigate the ravages of age, the incursions of melancholy, and even the psychology of self-obsession itself, but commonly the selfie performs a less self-critical function, putting the self at the centre of everything we see, marking the landscape with our faces, as though the only possible interest of the outside world is that we're in it." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Mankle Image Crisis
April 2nd, 2015, 06:00 PM
Howard Jacobson thinks the current focus of male fashion on the ankle region or "mankle", revealed by the trousers of skimpily cut suits, shows men are suffering from a self-image crisis. "It would be a brave person who argued that what we wear counts for more than what we say, but in an image-driven culture our attention is always liable to drift away from words, however well chosen, to tailoring." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Price of Independence
March 26th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare says that disabled people's right to independent living is under threat as a result of the imminent winding up of the Independent Living Fund. "I hope that whichever parties are in government after May will have a rethink about social care. The ILF may...have been an anomaly, but one of the glories of living in Britain is that we have a high tolerance of historical anomalies." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Trial by Select Committee
March 19th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare thinks our reformed Select Committees have revitalised Parliament but he warns against the temptation to play to the gallery and to cross examine unfairly. "Their main business is the worthy task of holding the government and the civil service to account, even if it's more fun holding unpopular public figures' feet to the fire." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Cognitive Decline
March 12th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare says increasing wisdom in middle age is at least some compensation for declining cognitive powers. "Wisdom is not the amount you know, it's how you see and how you interpret what you see." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Nature of Time
March 5th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the unsettling nature of time. "What gives our human cultures any sense of cohesion at all is an almost relentless effort to shore up our collective memory of the past against the remorseless depredations of time." Producer: Sheila Cook.
February 26th, 2015, 06:00 PM
A weekly reflection on a topical issue.
The Power of Fiction
February 19th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the power of our relationship with fictional characters. "People need people whose lives can be seen to follow a dramatic arc, so that no matter what trials they encounter, the people who survey them can be reassured that when the light begins to fade, these people - to whose frail psyches we've had privileged access - will at least feel it's all meant something." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Purpose of Satire
February 12th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self finds himself driven to reconsider the nature and purpose of satire in the wake of the murders at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. "The paradox is this: if satire aims at the moral reform of a given society it can only be effective within that particular society; and furthermore only if there's a commonly accepted ethical hierarchy to begin with. A satire that demands of the entire world that it observe the same secularist values as the French state is a form of imperialism like any other.".
Having Children
February 5th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the growing and vexed divide between people with and without children. "The real indication that we don't know what value parenting currently has is that to either valorise or demonise this state of being seems as ridiculous (if not offensive) as doing the same in respect of childlessness". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Losing Touch
January 29th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Will Self regrets our growing lack of physical contact with one another and with the natural world as a result of the rise of technology. "What the touch screen, the automatic door,online shopping and even the Bagladeshi sweatshop piece-worker who made our trousers are depriving us of is the exercise of our very sense of touch itself, and in particular they are relieving us of the need to touch other people." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Power of Art
January 22nd, 2015, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy reflects on the importance of the beauty and creativity of art to sustain the human spirit. "Art is a power and most of its true power is invisible, private, memorised and held even in prison cells and on forced marches, so you can see why totalitarians of all kinds dislike it." Producer: Sheila Cook Editor: Richard Knight.
Language and Listening
January 15th, 2015, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy reflects on the importance of learning languages and listening to one another. "More words give me more paths to and from the hearts of others, more points of view - I don't think that's a bad thing." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Charlie Hebdo
January 8th, 2015, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnick reflects on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. "The notion that what some have called France's 'stark secularism' - or its level of unemployment, or its history of exclusion, that imposed invisibility - is in any way to blame or even a root cause for this, depends on being ignorant of the actual history of France." Producer: Sheila Cook Editor: Richard Knight.
The Pursuit of Happiness
January 1st, 2015, 06:00 PM
A L Kennedy reflects on what it means to pursue happiness in a world where "not having enough money can be utterly miserable" and indulging our desire to acquire is also unsatisfying. The answer may lie in seeing that happiness is, "not so much a condition as a destination - it can inspire journeys ...better made in company". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Monarch's Message
December 25th, 2014, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the history of the Queen's Christmas message. Following the success of the first broadcast in 1932 by the Queen's grandfather, King George V, "what had begun as a one-off innovation" soon "became an invented tradition". "There can be no doubt," says Cannadine, "it brought the King closer to his subjects than had been true of any monarch who had gone before him." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Art: The Real Thing
December 18th, 2014, 06:00 PM
In the last of his three talks on art Roger Scruton asks what constitutes real art, as opposed to cliche or kitsch. He says we must ignore the vast quantities of art produced as commodities to be sold, in contrast to symphonies or novels that cannot be owned in the same way as a painting or a sculpture. Real art has to have lasting appeal, he argues, and for that it needs three things: beauty, form and redemption. The production of such art, he says, takes immense hard work and attention to detail, but it can give meaning to our modern lives and show love in the midst of doubt and desolation. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
December 11th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Philosopher Roger Scruton looks at kitsch in the second of his three talks on art. Kitsch, he says, creates the fantasy of an emotion without the real cost of feeling it. He argues that in the twentieth century artists became preoccupied by what they perceived as the need to avoid kitsch and sentimentality. But it's not so easy. Some try being outrageously avant-garde, which can lead to a different kind of fake: cliche. So a new genre emerged: pre-emptive kitsch. Artists embraced kitsch and produce it deliberately to present it as a sophisticated parody. But is it art? Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
Faking It
December 4th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Philosopher Roger Scruton reflects on the difference between original art that is genuine, sincere and truthful, but hard to achieve, and the easier but fake art that he says appeals to many critics today. He argues that original artists from Beethoven and Baudelaire to Picasso and Pound tower above those contemporary artists whose pieces push fake emotion - and who, by focusing on avoiding cliche, end up cliches themselves. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
Thinking the Unthinkable
November 27th, 2014, 06:00 PM
John Gray argues that "thinking the unthinkable" as a way of making policy does nothing more than extend conventional wisdom to the point of absurdity and fails to take account of the complexities of reality. "Capitalism has lurched into a crisis from which it still has not recovered. Yet the worn-out ideology of free markets sets the framework within which our current generation of leaders continues to think and act." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Dostoevsky and Dangerous Ideas
November 20th, 2014, 06:00 PM
John Gray points to lessons from the novels of Dostoevsky about the danger of ideas such as misguided idealism sweeping away tyrannies without regard for the risks of anarchy. "Dostoevsky suggests that the end result of abandoning morality for the sake of an idea of freedom will be a type of tyranny more extreme than any in the past." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Soylent and the Charm of the Fast Lane
November 13th, 2014, 06:00 PM
The new food substitute Soylent allows you to give up eating meals in order to have more free time. But John Gray argues that human beings crave busy lives. We want to be distracted, he says, so we don't have to think too much. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Capitalism and the Myth of Social Evolution
November 6th, 2014, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on why the advance of capitalism is not - as is widely believed - inevitable. He argues that social evolution is often unpredictable and that the "seemingly unstoppable advance of market forces" could well be halted by political decisions and the "random flux of human events". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Cures for Anxiety
October 30th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik identifies four different types of anxiety that afflict modern people and suggests ways to cure them. "The job of modern humanists is to do consciously what Conan Doyle did instinctively: to make the thrill of the ameliorative, the joy of small reliefs, of the case solved and mystery dissipated and the worry ended, for now - to make those things as sufficient to live by as they are good to experience." Producer: Sheila Cook.
A Lesson from Love Locks
October 23rd, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik draws a poignant lesson on the nature of true love from the eyesore of love locks in Paris. "Love should never be symbolised by a shackle. Love - real love, good love, love to grow on rather than be trapped in - is a lock to which the key is always available." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Football Fallacy
October 16th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik explains why the English are better at watching football than they are playing it and why the Americans are better at talking about democracy than they are at practising it. "Call this the Constructive Fallacy of the Secondary Activity - or, perhaps, The Delusion of Mastery through Proximity." Producer: Sheila Cook Editor: Richard Knight.
Dying with Dignity
October 9th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik thinks we fail too often to let people die with dignity at the end of their lives and believes the answer lies in showing deference. "Dignity, I think is an exceptional demand, one that depends on at least an illusion or masquerade of an anti-egalitarian, indeed pre-modern - indeed an essentially feudal sense - of deference." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Short and Successful
October 2nd, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik thinks there's a simple reason for the recent findings that short men enjoy stable marriages. It's not that they are desperate to please, but are desperate to prevail. "In every area of life, we underrate the merits of desperation, and persistently overrate the advantages of free choice." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Keeping Time
September 25th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine reflects on the rich history of time-pieces and the power of clocks and watches. "Each watch on display in the British Museum's Clocks and Watchers galleries speaks to me of a world galvanized by scientific innovation, whose horizons were expanding through voyages of discovery and the new objects and ideas brought back." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Red Dress Sense
September 18th, 2014, 06:00 PM
This season's fashion for red prompts Lisa Jardine to reflect on the past power of the colour. "In Tudor England successive monarchs tried to define social status by dress. A strict code governed the wearing of 'costly apparel', and red was one of the colours most rigidly controlled." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Horror of War
September 11th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine says while documenting and commemorating the First World War we should not lose sight of its horror. "Wars are not heroic, even if they prompt acts of heroism by soldiers and civilians. Our young people, raised in a Britain at peace for 70 years, need to know that." Producer: Sheila Cook.
When fiction comes to the historian's rescue
September 4th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine explores how fiction can be more useful than fact in helping us understand the past. She examines two works of fiction (a recent radio play "The Chemistry Between Them" and Michael Frayn's celebrated stage work, Copenhagen) to show how they often cast far more light on their respective subjects - and particularly the emotions and personal convictions involved - than that found in the history books. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Why Orwell Is the Supreme Mediocrity
August 28th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Will Self takes on one of the nation's best loved figures, George Orwell.....and braces himself for the backlash! "Not Orwell, surely!" he hears the listeners cry. He uses Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" to make his point. This - he says - is often seen as "a principled assault upon all the jargon, obfuscation, and pretentiously Frenchified folderol that deforms our noble tongue". That - in Self's view - couldn't be farther from the truth. Describing Orwell as a "Supreme Mediocrity", Self gets to work..... Producer: Adele Armstrong.
What's Funny?
August 21st, 2014, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on comedy, asking why we laugh and whether there's too much of the wrong type of humour in our culture. Producer: Caroline Bayley.
The Affliction of Consumption
August 14th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the power of modern day consumption and the effect it is having on us. Producer: Caroline Bayley.
Believing in Beliefs
August 7th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Will Self offers a weekly reflection on a topical issue.
The Changing Nature of Utopias
July 31st, 2014, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on what the changing nature of utopias says about us, from Thomas More's sixteenth century Utopia to the recent TV series of the same name. The utopias and dystopias of the past offer a range of different futuristic scenarios but, argues Will Self, they actually all have one thing in common: they're about each writer's present, not future. The late 19th century saw something of a craze in the publication of utopian fiction. Many novels were implicitly optimistic in that they imagined better futures, and some even spurred political movements as was the case with Edward Bellamy's 'Looking Backward 2000-1887'. But nowadays, at a time of man-made global warming, this optimism has dissipated, and our utopias are reduced to fairytales of the non-human, or involve less environmentally destructive species like fictional apes. Where we do imagine a human future, such as in the current TV series, it looks suspiciously dated. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
Is patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel?
July 24th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Republican or royalist we all need something or someone in which to invest our loyalty. Will Self reflects on what really lies behind our sense of patriotism. In Britain we invest the idea of sovereignty in an individual, namely the Queen - or rather, it is an idealisation of who she is decoupled for the living reality. The Queen, says Will Self, is unfailingly wise, calm, pacific - a true mother of the nation; and if her Government happens to do things that are at variance with her goodliness, that is only because their power is contingent upon an evanescent electoral mandate, while her shadow-power-play is founded upon time-out-of-mind heredity - and at least residually, upon the Lord's will. Patriotic Britons may be reluctant to admit to all of this, argues Self, preferring to be seen as modern and up-to-date, but if they examine their consciences carefully they're likely to concede that a discrete love-of-country object is required for full patriotic attachment.
Believing in reason is childish
July 17th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Some critics of religion see having faith as being childish. But John Gray argues that believing that human beings are rational is more childish than believing in religion. The belief in the power of reason to improve humankind rests on childishly simple ideas he says. One of the commonest is that history's crimes are mistakes that can be avoided as we gain greater knowledge. But if history teaches us anything, Grey asserts, it's that behaviours and attitudes like cruelty and hatred are permanent human flaws. To imagine that we can become more rational is an example of magical thinking and an expression of the belief in the omnipotence of the human will that psychoanalysts identify as the fundamental infantile fantasy. John Gray believes that we'd all be better off if we saw ourselves as we are: intermittently and only ever partly rational creatures, who never really grow up.
Isis: A modern revolutionary force?
July 10th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Philosopher and author John Gray argues that the Sunni extremist group Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is actually more of a modern revolutionary force than a reactionary one intent on a reversion to mediaeval values. Surprising as this may sound says Gray, Isis is thoroughly modern. It's organised itself into an efficient company, and has become the wealthiest jihadi organisation in the world. And while it invokes the early history of Islam, the society it envisions has no precedent in history. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. Isis is part of the revolutionary turmoil of modern times warns Gray, and until the West grasps that uncomfortable fact, it won't be able to deal with the dangers Isis presents.
To See Ourselves
July 3rd, 2014, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy argues that the British have much to gain from - in the words of Robert Burns - "seeing ourselves as others see us". Referring to last week's row over the appointment of the new European Commission President, she writes: "the EU's view of Britain might be that we're always yelling in a corner about chips!" An entertaining exploration of the down-sides of personal and national introspection.
Battling the Botnets
June 26th, 2014, 06:00 PM
It's a tale of "shadowy white-hatted hackers, more shadowy black-hatted hackers and the possibility that the pricey electronic equipment lurking in our homes may not have our best interests at heart". AL Kennedy reflects on the current spate of high-profile viruses that are threatening our computers ...invasive software that may be sending our bank details to criminals every time we connect to the internet. She says as more sophisticated computers become part of more appliances, the potential for virus infection increases. So is it time, she asks, for us to rethink our devotion to these machines? Producer: Adele Armstrong.
If You Haven't Got Anything Nice to Say...
June 19th, 2014, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy argues that our obsession with gossip is affecting our public discourse, and corrupting its content. She traces the history of gossip, explores how gossip is edging out real news and how it's taken over our political lives. "Gossip obscures truth" she writes, "sours our outlooks on each other and can trivialise any debate". She concludes that "we really could do with a lot less of it". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
No Burning Required
June 12th, 2014, 06:00 PM
"Humanity's past thoughts are my inheritance" writes AL Kennedy. "I need them in order to learn how to prosper in the long term". As more and more public libraries close their doors, AL Kennedy argues that we must reassess the importance of books. She says library closures, culled GCSE reading lists, moves towards reducing prisoners' access to books are part of a "perfect storm" which means we're losing books on all sides. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Bring Back the Heptarchy!
June 5th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Scotland could become independent. So, asks Tom Shakespeare, should England consider returning to an earlier order - a heptarchy of seven independent jurisdictions?
Should we be frightened of disability?
May 29th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Many people assume that disabled people must be unhappy. But the empirical evidence doesn't back this up. In A Point of View, Tom Shakespeare argues that disability is nothing to fear.
Why we should be religious but not spiritual
May 22nd, 2014, 06:00 PM
A growing number of people are describing themselves as spiritual but not religious. This is not a trend of which Tom Shakespeare approves. In this week's Point of View he argues, rather, that we should be religious but not spiritual.
Testing Times
May 15th, 2014, 06:00 PM
As hundreds of thousands of young people get ready to sit exams, Mary Beard reflects on exam season - past and present. The Cambridge don describes how the "tough, engaging and intelligent young people" she has taught for years "suddenly morph into nervous wrecks, hanging a bit pathetically on your every word, as they have never, quite rightly, done before". She talks about the extraordinary similarities between exams in the 1800s and today...the "curmudgeonly gloom that greeted the students' efforts" sounds very familiar. Michael Gove and his friends - she suggests - might like to take note that complaints about poor performance have been around for quite some time! Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Paradox of Growing Old
May 8th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Mary Beard reflects on recent TV programmes and newspaper articles about what's going on in care homes for the elderly. She says she believes that in a few hundred years' time, "our treatment of old people will be as much of a blot on our culture as Bedlam and the madhouses were on the culture of the 18th century". But she also argues that our view of dementia is a sanitized one. She says we have to recognize that dementia can make its sufferers truculent and aggressive...something that most of us - not just care workers on a minimum wage - would find very difficult to deal with. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Digging Digitally
May 1st, 2014, 06:00 PM
"The archaeological wonders of today" writes Mary Beard "don't come from heroic subterranean exploration, still less from the efforts of teenagers with their spades and trowels in damp Shropshire fields. They are much more often 'virtual'". Mary reflects on the new face of archaeology - far removed from the days of Heinrich Schliemann who famously claimed "to have gazed on the face of Agamemnon". She traces the history of virtual archaeology from the early 1900s and admits "part of me thrills to the magic of the technology, and to the sheer bravura of displaying the plans of lost buildings, even lost towns, at the touch of a few buttons". She recognises it's far cheaper, quicker and leaves ruins where they are safest: under the ground. But she also admits a feeling of nostalgia for the old ways. When she sees an exciting new discovery, "my heart just itches to get out my spade and my trowel and go and actually dig it up". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Mile Milestone
April 24th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Mary Beard looks forward to the 60th anniversary of the first "four minute mile". But in the midst of the celebrations, she argues that we should also remember that Roger Bannister's victory was a "glaring display of class division". Maybe appropriate then that this month also sees the return of that "wonderful working-class... comic-strip hero, Alf Tupper". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Travel Writing Giants
April 17th, 2014, 06:00 PM
William Dalrymple celebrates the writing of Peter Matthiessen who died this month, comparing him with another of his favourite travel writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor. "Both were footloose scholars who left their studies and libraries to walk in the wild places of the world, erudite and bookish wanderers, scrambling through remote mountains, notebooks in hand, rucksacks full of good books on their shoulders." Producer: Sheila Cook.
A Tale of Two Elections
April 10th, 2014, 06:00 PM
William Dalrymple reflects on the current pivotal elections in India and Afghanistan where religion, identity and economics will all help to determine the outcomes. Feeling a mixture of unease and optimism, he celebrates, nevertheless, the good news that "democracy is an unstoppable force in south and central Asia." Producer: Sheila Cook.
A Lenten Reflection
April 3rd, 2014, 06:00 PM
Taking Lent as his starting point, William Dalrymple contrasts the Christian view of Lent - with all its self-discipline and self-deprivation - with that represented in great Indian art. He visits the painted caves of Ajanta, dating from the 2nd century BC, and seen as one of the most comprehensive depictions of civilised classical life that we have. He describes their monasteries, adorned with "images of attractively voluptuous women....because in the eyes of the monks, this was completely appropriate decoration". But Christianity - he says - "has always seen the human body as essentially sinful, lustful and shameful". He charts how - throughout India's history - the arts have consistently celebrated the beauty of the human body seen, "not as some tainted appendage to be whipped into submission, but potentially the vehicle of divinity". He argues that history can make us aware of "how contingent and bound by time, culture and geography so many of our preconceptions actually are". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
A Disease Called Fame
March 27th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant reflects on fame and the cult of celebrity following the recent success of the film "20 feet from Stardom". The film about backing singers - the unsung heroes of pop music - scooped best documentary at the Oscars. Sarah discusses how celebrity culture has given us a society where the dream is no longer to be the backing singer, but to take centre stage. "Andy Warhol" she writes "with his fifteen minutes of fame, has turned out to be a prophet as much as an artist". But "in a world where everyone wants to be the lead singer" she asks "who is left to swell the sound? Or more importantly to appreciate it". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Heavy Weather
March 20th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant compares our reaction today to climate change with responses in the seventeenth century to extreme weather. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Time Warp
March 13th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant reflects that today's harsher judgement of some of the sexual behaviour prevalent in the 1970s springs in part from the freedom forged in that decade. "Without the seventies, we would never have had the debate, the public awareness, the sense of outrage or even the occasionally blunt tool of the law to judge the present and the past." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Free the Schools
March 6th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton believes the way to improve our schools is through tapping into the time and talents of middle class volunteers. "The philanthropic middle classes, who created our education system and made it one of the best in the world, have been for too long excluded from it". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Our Love for Animals
February 27th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton thinks we get our priorities wrong when we favour pets at the expense of wild animals. "We must recognise that by loving our pets as individuals we threaten the animals who cannot easily be loved in any such way." Producer: Sheila Cook.
United We Fall
February 20th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton argues for a voice for the English in the debate over Scottish independence. "As an Englishman I naturally ask why my interests in the matter have never been taken into account." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Money Matters
February 13th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik explains why he thinks the pictures on our banknotes matter. "The iconography of money is more than just decor - it displays the true convictions of the commonwealth that intends to support its value." Producer: Sheila Cook.
February 6th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik explains his indifference to Twitter and social media. "After the introduction of a new device, or social media, our lives are exactly where they were before, save for the new thing or service, which we now cannot live without". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Why Sportsmanship Matters
January 30th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik reflects on the value of sportsmanship ahead of the American Super Bowl following controversy over a player's supposedly unsporting comments. "Sportsmanship is this day's triumph's salute to time...We will not always be the winner." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Self-Drive Manhood
January 23rd, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik hails the development of the self-drive car as the way to rescue his male identity after years as a non driver. He also muses on the need for such cars to have "ethical engines" capable of moral judgements. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Sex and the French
January 16th, 2014, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik reflects on the attitude of the French to the sex lives of their statesmen and gives his opinion that the price of privilege is prudence. "Puritanical societies are less morally alert than ones like France that aren't, because the puritanical societies have the judgments prepackaged and their hypocrisies, too. Instead, in France, the moral rights and wrongs, I've learned, are adjudicated case by case." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Unknown Knowns
January 9th, 2014, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on "unknown knowns" - what we know but prefer not to think about, whether it's the truth about the invasion of Iraq or the failures of the financial system that led to the banking crisis. "We humans are sturdy and resilient animals with enormous capacities of creativity and adaptability; but consistently realistic thinking seems to be beyond our powers." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Perils of Belief
January 2nd, 2014, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on the damage that can be caused by evangelical belief in a religion or in a political idea. "Whether they are religious or political, evangelists seem to me a blight on civilisation. For them as for those they persecute or bully, belief is an obstacle to a fulfilling life." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Two Cheers for Human Rights
December 28th, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray gives only two cheers for human rights. We are in danger, he argues, of turning them into a "comforting dogma through which we try to escape the painful dilemmas of war and politics." "Rather than thinking of rights as a militant creed that can deliver the world from its conflicts, we should recognise rights for what they are - useful devices that quite often don't work.".
Islamo-Christian Heritage
December 19th, 2013, 06:00 PM
In the week when Prince Charles has drawn attention to violence against Christians in the Middle East, William Dalrymple says it's time to remember the "old and often forgotten co-habitation of Islam and Christianity". "Christmas time is perhaps the proper moment to remember the long tradition of revering the nativity in the Islamic world. ...There are certainly major differences between the two faiths, not least the central fact, in mainstream Christianity, of Jesus' divinity. But Christmas - the ultimate celebration of Christ's humanity - is a feast which Muslims and Christians can share without reservation.".
Why Dickens Endures
December 12th, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray gives his own theory for the cultural longevity of Charles Dickens, celebrating his view of life as a theatre of the absurd. "Dickens enjoyed human beings as he found them: unregenerate, peculiar and incorrigibly themselves." Producer: Sheila Cook.
It's Always the Others Who Die
December 5th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects that our modern, secular society has silenced the voices of the dead. As a result, he argues, we fail to appreciate the sacred buildings, art and literature of the past. "Having purged them on the basis that they can furnish no proof of their existence, do we not begin to undermine the capacity of that which they have left behind to also speak to us?" Producer: Sheila Cook.
Political Trojan Horses
November 28th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self warns against politicians' superficially attractive policies which turn out to be Trojan horses. "It all comes down to gifts - presents that we save up for through the countrywide Christmas club we call progressive taxation, and which are then handed out by the jolly, hoho-ing Government in the form of public services." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Rebuilding After 9/11
November 21st, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects from the top of the new One World Trade Center in New York on the challenge of rebuilding after the destruction of 9.11. "The downtown site, mired in ground sacred to mammon, has mixed into it a complex mulch of private rights and public responsibilities: to harmonise these competing interests in the frozen music of architecture has proved a gruelling compositional task.".
Self Confident Culture
November 14th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self argues for greater British cultural self confidence in the debate over the wearing of the veil. Apologies are not needed for an insistence on uncovered faces in court, he says, and the best safeguard against extremism is engagement with the Western philosophic tradition and its multicultural influences. "Of course British culture will be changed by the cultures of our recent immigrants, but surely our greatest desideratum is precisely this: to be the heirs, possessors and transmitters of a legacy that is ready and able to adapt." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Kennedy 50 Years On
November 7th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on America's view of the assassination of JF Kennedy, fifty years on. After years of talk of conspiracy, cover-up and doctored film footage, he concludes, "It isn't so much that the Kennedy assassination has transitioned smoothly into a commonsensical past; it's rather that it was the first instance of a peculiarly modern variant of the historic event: its media simulation". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Will Self: Pity the Young
October 31st, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the malign influence of the older generation on the young as the population of Britain ages. "In my darker moments - of which there are quite a few - I often envision the baby boomer generation as a giant and warty toad squatting on the youth of our society". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Lisa Jardine: Reflections on IVF
October 24th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine reflects on the sensitive questions surrounding IVF as she comes to the end of her term as Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. "I would have loved to have been able to have spoken more often and more publicly, with more words of caution for those preparing to undertake IVF, or postponing their family because IVF seems a reliable option should natural conception fail." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Machine Intelligence
October 17th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine compares the contributions of Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing a century later to computer science and contrasts their views on the potential of and limits to machine intelligence. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Cross Border Science
October 10th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine reflects on the internationalism that underpins the progress of science in a week when individual nations celebrate their Nobel prize winners. "Science has always ignored national borders, in pursuit of the fullest possible understanding of nature."Producer: Sheila Cook.
Ethical Science
October 3rd, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine learned the story of Leo Szilard from her father who regarded him as an exemplary figure in science. Szilard, an Hungarian physicist, helped to develop the atom bomb, but later fought against its use. His story provides lessons about the relationship between science and human values - even though the version of the tale Lisa was taught turns out not to have been entirely true.Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Horror of Love
September 26th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Stephen King says "Love creates horror." AL Kennedy agrees. "As someone who often says 'I think' and almost never says 'I feel', I don't personally welcome love's ability to make me fear not only for myself, but others," she writes. But love makes us altruistic, humane. "We would find it bizarre if a parent was more worried about dropping a vase than dropping their baby - even a Ming vase and an ugly baby. An absence of love within a family or a relationship is taken as a sign of something having gone very wrong," she says. "But an absence of love in the world we help construct around us, that's regarded as a form of common sense. We are used to making decisions - or having them made for us - which would save the vase and not the baby." Producer: Sheila Cook.
AL Kennedy: Someone to Watch Over Me
September 19th, 2013, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy reflects on our tendency to behave badly when we think no-one's watching or when we follow the wrong crowd. "When psychologists test how people behave with and without oversight, it becomes depressingly clear that if we think nobody's looking, we don't even remotely always let our consciences be our guides," she writes. "Even very normal, pleasant people can delegate their morality to other people who appear to be in charge, even of bizarre and disturbing scenarios." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Great Pretenders
September 12th, 2013, 06:00 PM
AL Kennedy reflects on the stuggle to establish truth in what she regards as an age of lies. Lies, she says, are proliferating on TV, in politics, in business and throughout public and private life. Extracting truths in moral and effective ways, she argues, is an ever greater challenge. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Real Change
September 5th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Fear of change can lead us astray. It can keep us from mercy. It can be used by authorities as an excuse for sticking with the status quo. It's a barrier to happiness. AL Kennedy doesn't like change. But she thinks perhaps she should change her mind.
Of the People, By the People 4/4
August 29th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton concludes his series of talks on the nature and limits of democracy. "We in Europe are moving not towards democracy but away from it," he says. "There is no first-person plural of which the European Institutions are the political expression," he argues. "The Union is founded in a treaty, and treaties derive their authority from the entities that sign them. Those entities are the nation states of Europe, from which the loyalties of the European people derive. The Union, which has set out to transcend those loyalties, therefore suffers from a permanent crisis of legitimacy.".
Of the People, By the People 3/4
August 22nd, 2013, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton continues his series of talks on the nature and limits of democracy. This week he argues that nations should be defined by language and territory rather than by party or faith. And, looking at examples across the Middle East and in particular in Egypt, he explains why - in his view - a modern state cannot be governed by Islamic law. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Of the People, By the People 2/4
August 15th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton continues his series of talks on the nature and limits of democracy. Roger Scruton argues that democracy works only if we are prepared to be ruled by our opponents, however much we may dislike them. We need to accept politics as a process of compromise and conciliation. And for that, he says, the state must be secular.
Roger Scruton: Of the People, By the People 1/4
August 8th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Roger Scruton argues that democracy alone is not enough for political freedom. Democracy, freedom and human rights do not necessarily coincide. "In the underground universities of communist Europe ... my friends and colleagues prepared themselves for the hoped for day when the Communist Party, having starved itself of all rational input, would finally give up the ghost," he says. "And the lessons that they learned need to be learned again today, as our politicians lead us forth under the banner of democracy, without pausing to examine what democracy actually requires.".
Machiavelli's Summer in Tuscany
August 1st, 2013, 06:00 PM
It's exactly 500 years this summer since Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous book 'The Prince', on how to gain and retain political power. Sarah Dunant takes us back to the hot Tuscan summer when Machiavelli put down his thoughts, including the view that in politics, virtue must be tempered by expediency. He based his thesis on what he'd witnessed during his career as a diplomat and adviser in Florence, and also on lessons learned from Ancient Greek and Roman historians. While fortune had smiled on him during the fourteen years he served the Florentine Republic, it stopped doing so when the Medicis were restored and he was imprisoned and tortured. Released into exile on his family's estate south of Florence, he started writing the book that became a foundation of political theory. In a further twist of fortune, his exile, far from being his ruin, made his name for posterity. He was never completely rehabilitated in Florence, but ended up writing one of the most provocative and influential political works of all time. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
Reforming Catholicism in 140 Characters
July 25th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant says Pope Francis should use his Twitter account to demonstrate that he's prepared to deal with the 'mess' inside the Catholic Church. Perhaps, she says, with this Tweet, he's already started: 'If we wish to follow Christ closely, we cannot choose an easy, quiet life'.
A Big Day for Bert and Ernie?
July 18th, 2013, 06:00 PM
The recent New Yorker cover showing Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, delighted by the American Supreme Court ruling that the Defence of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, prompts Sarah Dunant to reflect on the power of cartoons to convey social messages. "Those cartoon characters - or their puppet equivalents - which touch us at our most formative moments of early childhood will become part of the bedrock of our cultural belonging." Producer: Sheila Cook.
A Sporting Catharsis
July 11th, 2013, 06:00 PM
As Britain basks in post-Wimbledon glory, amid the Ashes, Sarah Dunant reflects on how sport has - throughout history - been used by the authorities to help populations let off steam. In Florence, in the late 1500s, townspeople played a form of football that allowed them to wrestle, punch and immobilize their opponents in any way they liked. Venice had a spectacularly violent sport of bridge-fighting where opposing teams "armed with sticks...dipped in boiling oil beat the hell out of each other". Civic sporting therapy - past and present - has for centuries, Sarah argues, "proved a creative alternative to our recurring tendency to kill each other". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Gender Matters
July 4th, 2013, 06:00 PM
At a party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the feminist press Virago last week, writes Sarah Dunant, the current head of the company told the story of how one night she asked one of Virago's founders why she had started the company. "To change the world of course" was the reply. Forty years on, Sarah, a Virago author herself, wonders just how much Virago has changed the world. She talks about how, a few weeks ago, as she waited for an hour in the studio of the Today Programme to be interviewed for a piece about female characters in fiction, she didn't hear a single women's voice. She tells how last month, the Australian writer and academic, Kathryn Heyman, got into a very public spat with The London Review of Books because of a dearth of women writers in its pages. And the ousting of Julia Gillard as Australia's Prime Minister last week is the most striking example that Virago's mission is not yet complete. But Sarah takes some comfort from the fact that Kevin Rudd, the new PM, has an unprecedented six new women in his cabinet. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Anyone for Art?
June 27th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Isn't it time to democratize art? Shouldn't we, the public, be allowed to borrow works of art from our national collections? That way we could have an affair with art, rather than a one-night stand. Tom Shakespeare presents the last of his four essays.
A Midsummer Daydream
June 20th, 2013, 06:00 PM
In Britain many of our holidays and festivals are rather dull - bank holidays for example. Tom Shakespeare, presenting the third of his four essays, says that when he looks at other cultures he feels a strong sense of festival envy. He wants Britain to have better festivals. To start with, shouldn't we celebrate Midsummer?
Fly, Fish, Mouse and Worm
June 13th, 2013, 06:00 PM
"When I was a child, one of my favourite books was Bear, Mouse and Water Beetle," says Tom Shakespeare. "Today, I want to tell you a contemporary story, which you could call Fly, Fish, Mouse and Worm." These 'model animals' help scientists to understand the basic processes common to all living creatures. But while model animals epitomize the success of the scientific strategy of reductionism, they may also illustrate the downside.
Can Compassion Be Taught?
June 6th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Tom Shakespeare presents the first of his four essays. There have been several recent scandals in the health service, with appalling cases of abuse and neglect coming to light. Not surprisingly, this has led to calls for people in the medical profession to be taught compassion. But Tom is sceptical. This week he asks whether compassion can and should be taught.
Gatsby: The Perfect Fake
May 30th, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray finds new resonance for our own age in the story of "the Great Gatsby". "Just as in the Roaring Twenties, we've lived through a boom that was mostly based on make-believe - easy money, inflated assets and financial skulduggery." "We want nothing more than to revive the fake prosperity that preceded the crash. Just like Gatsby, we want to return to a world that was conjured into being from dreams." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Doors of Perception
May 23rd, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray argues for another way of perceiving the world inspired by the fantasy fiction writer Arthur Machen. Instead of believing that meaning in life can only be found by changing things around us, "Some of the most valuable human experiences, Machen observed, come about when we simply look around us without any intention of acting on what we see. He thought of the world as a kind of text in invisible writing, a cipher pointing to another order of things" Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Meaning of Evil
May 16th, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray turns to the writer Patricia Highsmith and her character Tom Ripley for a perspective on the meaning of evil. "For me she's ....one of the great twentieth century writers with a deep insight into the fragility of morality." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Myth of Modernity
May 9th, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray draws on the novels of Mervyn Peake to argue it's a mistake to imagine that modernity marks a fundamental change in human experience. "The modern world is founded on the belief that it's possible for human beings to shape a future that's better than anything in the past. If the Gormenghast novels have any continuing theme, it's that this modern belief is an illusion." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Limits of Materialism
May 2nd, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray draws on a story by Walter de la Mare to argue that the prevailing creed of scientific materialism is a "simple minded philosophy", preferring de la Mare's unsettling portrayal of everyday existence as insubstantial and unknowable. "Even if there are such things as laws of nature, there's no reason to think they must be accessible to the human mind." Producer: Sheila Cook.
John Gray: Bitcoin's Cyber Freedom
April 25th, 2013, 06:00 PM
John Gray wonders what the rise of the cyber currency Bitcoin tells us about our human need for freedom and protection, "The dream of finding some kind of talisman, a benevolent tyrant or a magical new technology, that can shelter us from power and crime and protect us from each other." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Adam Gopnik: On Children Leaving Home
April 18th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik's son is about to leave home. His suitcase is already packed. It's not a day Adam is looking forward to. Why is love between parents and their children so asymmetric, he wonders? Why do parents love their children infinitely - while children feel about their parents, at best, a mix of affection, pity, tolerance and forgiveness?
Science, Magic and Madness
April 11th, 2013, 06:00 PM
What is the difference between magic and science? What is the difference between Galileo and his contemporary, the famous Elizabethan astrologer and alchemist John Dee? According to Adam Gopnik it's the experimental method - the looking and seeing and testing that goes with true science. But when he wrote about this recently he found that fervent members of the John Dee fan club disagreed.
The Irrationality of Nations
April 4th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Every nation has a core irrationality - a belief about itself which no amount of contrary evidence can shift - says Adam Gopnik. Adam tries to uncover the core irrationality of the four nations he knows best: the United States, France, Canada and the UK.
The secret of a happy marriage
March 28th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik reflects on what makes a happy marriage. Darwin, Gopnik writes, when first thinking about marriage, made a list of pros and cons. Cons included the expense and anxiety of children and the odd truth that a married man could never go up in a balloon. On the plus side, he noted, marriage provided a constant companion and friend in old age and, memorably, that a wife would be better than a dog. Gopnik's own formula for a happy marriage is lust, laughter and loyalty. Via Samuel Beckett, Monty Python and The Big Lebowski, Gopnik concludes that loyalty is a much-underrated quality. Loyalty is not, he argues, a passive state that holds two people together when all else has failed. Rather, he explains, loyalty is a wholly active state, as a new family dog has demonstrated. Dogs are there, he writes, "to remind us that loyalty is a jumpy, fizzy emotion - loyalty leaps up at the door and barks with joy at your return, and then immediately goes back to sleep at your side". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Turkish notions
March 21st, 2013, 06:00 PM
"Lately I've been thinking a lot about the Turk", writes Adam Gopnik. He's talking - not of the Ottomans - but the famous chess playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. A mechanical figure of a bearded man, dressed in Turkish clothing, appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent. It was - in fact - a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine. It was a sensation. But the players inside were nothing more than good chess players. "We always over estimate the space between the uniquely good and the very good", Gopnik writes. "We worship one tennis player as uniquely gifted, failing to see that the runners-up, who we scoff at as perpetual losers, are themselves fantastically gifted and accomplished, that the inept footballer we whistle at in despair is a better football player than we have ever seen or ever will meet". As some of the world's top chess players battle it out in London in the Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Championship, Adam Gopnik reflects on why we overrate masters and underrate mastery.
Celestial Bodies
March 14th, 2013, 06:00 PM
When two spectacular comets appeared in the night sky in 1664 and 1665, many feared they were harbingers of doom. Not long afterwards, the Great Plague and the Great Fire were visited on London. Lisa Jardine has been looking upwards this week in an attempt to catch sight of the Pan-Starrs comet, which is thought to have been hurtling towards the sun for millions of years. Later this year, another comet is expected to grace our skies. Her concern is not that they might bring with them a modern day plague, but whether we have learned the lessons early astronomers taught us about sharing scientific information.
Dame Mary Cartwright
March 7th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine celebrates the achievements of the mathematician Dame Mary Cartwright, the first woman mathematician to be elected to the Royal Society. During World War Two, she responded to a request from the British government to address an issue with early and still-secret radar systems. Together with her colleague Professor J. E. Littlewood, they were able to help war-time radar engineers circumvent a problem that was making radar unreliable. Her findings were not fully understood by her peers at first. It would take a generation before mathematicians realised that her discoveries were the foundation of what became a new field of science: chaos theory. Dame Mary Cartwright was very modest and did not want eulogies at her funeral, but Lisa Jardine takes the opportunity of International Woman's Day to blow Dame Mary's trumpet on her behalf.
Modern Medicis
February 28th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine celebrates the influence of art connoisseur Sir Denis Mahon and reflects on the impact of wealthy art collectors on public taste and government policy. "Art collectors with a fortune to spend inevitably exert an influence on artistic taste and on the art market. The question is: Is a collector who wins public praise for having a "good eye" or "flawless taste" being celebrated for their critical astuteness in identifying a neglected work's lasting aesthetic value and its importance within the artistic tradition? Or are they simply establishing a high competitive price for that artist or artistic school?" Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Winter Queen
February 21st, 2013, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine celebrates the achievements of Elizabeth of Bohemia, the "Winter Queen", and sees her relegation to the margins of history, "despite the pivotal role she played in international politics throughout much of the seventeenth century", as a reflection of our failure to recognise and value powerful women. Producer: Sheila Cook.
In Praise of Birmingham
February 14th, 2013, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine defends his home city of Birmingham against a slur in Jane Austen's "Emma" as, "not a place to promise much", by celebrating its heritage and its current cultural renaissance. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Grand Central celebration
February 7th, 2013, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine celebrates the saving of New York's now century old Grand Central Terminal and regrets the destruction of the city's other great beaux-arts station. "Many New Yorkers... had initially opposed, and subsequently regretted, the wanton destruction of Penn station as a deplorable act of civic irresponsibility and cultural philistinism." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Love of Bears
January 31st, 2013, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the enduring appeal of the teddy bear in contemporary culture. Why, he wonders, have they been such popular toys and featured so prominently in literature and song since they were first named after Theodore Roosevelt over a hundred years ago. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Presidential Inaugurations
January 24th, 2013, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the history of American presidential inaugurations since Abraham Lincoln's, and compares presidents' speeches at the start of their first and second terms in office. "Second inaugurals...are often less up-beat and up-lifting, since it's no longer possible for a president, having already been four years in office, to offer a new deal or to proclaim, as President Obama did in 2009 that 'change is coming to America'". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Urban Designs
January 17th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self laments what he sees as an absence of rational urban planning in our big cities and a fashion for dramatic skyscrapers driven by short term commercial values. "It occurred to me that the contemporary metropolitan skyline is really only a fireworks display of decades-long duration: a burst of aerial illumination intended to provoke awe, but doomed eventually to subside into darkness." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Terminal Thoughts
January 10th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self wants to "nudge society in the direction of considering suicide acceptable" when the alternative is a slow and painful end. "I don't say any of these things idly," he writes, "like many of us in middle age, my last few years have been heavily marked by an increasing awareness of both my own mortality and that of those who I love." Producer: Sheila Cook.
American Ambivalence
January 5th, 2013, 06:00 PM
Will Self looks back over 2012 and reflects on the confused relationship between Britain and the US. Love and hate, he argues, are there in equal measure. Taking as his starting point the Tom Stoppard plays his American mother took him to see in the 1970s, he says our relationship with our friends across the pond has changed little in 40 years. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Will Self: The British Vomitorium
December 27th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"Are you full yet? Stuffed? Fit to burst?" asks Will Self as he appeals to the post-Christmas glutton to consider a major lifestyle change in the year ahead. "What I think we should all do", he says, "is throw up our very obsession with food itself, and enter the New Year purged". He takes us on a tour of foodie history, and explores how we've gone from being a culinary backwater to "the most food-obsessed nation in Europe - if not the world". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Economics Priesthood
December 20th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Will Self warns against the false prophets of the new priesthood of economics who base their analyses and predictions on "spurious notions of human behaviour". "In place of the vulgate we require the holy books of economics to be written in the language we actually speak, and along with this we should actively seek a liberty of individual conscience, so that we communicate directly with Mammon, freed from the intercession of a priesthood who, when not arguing about how many angels can be fitted on the head of a pin, are spending our money producing elegant but utterly spurious mathematical models of possible future angel-on-pin scenarios." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Digital Past
December 13th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the effect of digital technology on his perception of the passage of time. "Perhaps the reason I feel quite so liberated from the present while more and more attached, not to the individually recalled 'good old days', but to a collectively attested and ever-present past, is because the hard drive of my computer is overloaded with digital images of the places I've been and the people I've met, all of them time-coded to within a tenth of a second." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Trustworthiness Before Trust
December 6th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Onora O'Neill reflects afresh on questions of trust, a decade after her Reith lectures on the subject. She argues that rather than asking, "how can we restore trust" in general, following recent scandals and failures, we should ask specific, practical questions about how better to measure trustworthiness. "Placing and refusing trust intelligently is not a matter of finding guarantees or proofs; we often have to assess complex and incomplete evidence, which the masters of spin and PR may be massaging to make things look better than they are." Systems of accountability or transparency can be ineffective or even counter-productive whereas easily assessable communication is "important and often indispensable." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Are students getting their money's worth?
November 29th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Mary Beard reflects on why universities are being consumed by "customer satisfaction" surveys. "When you're paying up to £9000 a year for the privilege of being at university, you want to make it pretty clear if you feel you're not getting your money's worth", she writes. But the deluge of forms - asking students for their views on the content, presentation, organisation of the course and the quality of the handouts will - she argues, do little to improve "the learning experience". She admits having a "tweak of nostalgia for that old era before the tick-box, when brave students would tell their famous professors to their face that their lectures were rubbish"! Producer: Adele Armstrong.
On Pompeii
November 22nd, 2012, 06:00 PM
"Last weekend I spent a couple of hours with the remains of one of the human victims of the eruption of Vesuvius" writes Mary Beard, as she wanders through the rooms of a new exhibition about Pompeii, the "City of the Dead". The display at the J Paul Getty museum in Malibu is one of several Pompeii exhibitions running in different museums around the world - and very similar to one coming to the British Museum in the spring. As she makes her way through the bodies - or "anti-bodies" as she refers to them - she ponders questions of privacy, archaeology and restoration. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Mary Beard: Age of Consent
November 15th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Rich man, poor man
November 8th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Mary Beard on the long history of the rich looking down their noses - sometimes with a hearty Roman snort - at the poor. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Understanding Contemporary China 4/4
November 1st, 2012, 06:00 PM
Martin Jacques presents a personal view on how best to understand the unique characteristics and apparent mysteries of contemporary China, its development and its possible future. In a new series of talks he sets out the building blocks for making sense of China today. In his final talk, he asks how the undemocratic Chinese state can enjoy legitimacy and authority in the eyes of its population. He argues that the Chinese state is held in such high esteem because it is seen as the embodiment, protector and guardian of Chinese civilization. The state is seen as an intimate, a member of the family indeed - in fact, the head of the family. It is a remarkable institution which will come to exercise interest and fascination outside China. Martin Jacques is the author of 'When China Rules the World'. Producer: Arlene Gregorius.
Who are the Chinese? 3/4
October 25th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Martin Jacques presents a personal view on how best to understand the unique characteristics and apparent mysteries of contemporary China, its history, development and its possible future. In a new series of talks he sets out the building blocks for making sense of China today. In this third talk, he explores the nature of race in China. Over 90 per cent of the Chinese population regard themselves as belonging to the same race, the Han. This is a stark contrast to the multi-racial composition of the world's other populous states. Chinese ethnic identity stems from a process of integration and of cultural identity. What defines the Chinese above all is a sense of cultural achievement. Martin Jacques argues that the Han identity has provided the glue which has held China together and has given the Chinese people an admirable confidence. But this strong sense of pride in who they are can also have a downside: a tendency to look down on others. Martin Jacques is the author of 'When China Rules the World'. Producer: Nina Robinson.
What Will China Be Like as a Superpower? 2/4
October 18th, 2012, 06:00 PM
In this second talk, he examines the tributary system, the historical China-centric network of international relations which involved other parts of East Asia accepting the principle of Chinese superiority in return for protection and access to the Chinese market, an arrangement distinct to European forms of colonialism. He asks whether a system of this kind is now re-emerging. Martin Jacques is the author of 'When China Rules the World'. Producer: Rosamund Jones.
Understanding Contemporary China 1/4
October 11th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Martin Jacques presents a personal view on how best to understand the unique characteristics and apparent mysteries of contemporary China, its development and its possible future. In a new series of talks he sets out the building blocks for making sense of China today. In this introductory talk, he argues that we cannot make sense of China by looking at it through a Western prism. China is not like a Western nation-state and never will be. Western nations are countries constituted on the basis of nation, China is a country constituted on the basis of a civilization. The consequences are profound and far-reaching. In his second talk, he examines the tributary system, the historical China-centric network of international relations which involved other parts of East Asia accepting the principle of Chinese superiority in return for protection and access to the Chinese market, an arrangement distinct to European forms of colonialism. He asks whether a system of this kind is now re-emerging. In his third talk, he explores the nature of race in China. Over 90 per cent of the Chinese population regard themselves as belonging to the same race, the Han. This is a stark contrast to the multi-racial composition of the world's other populous states. Chinese ethnic identity stems from a process of integration and of cultural identity. What defines the Chinese above all is pride in their culture and a sense of cultural achievement. The advantage of the Han identity is that it is the cement that has held China together. The disadvantage is a weak understanding of and respect for ethnic and cultural differences. In his final talk, he asks how the undemocratic Chinese state can enjoy legitimacy and authority in the eyes of its population. He argues that the Chinese state is held in such high esteem because it is seen as the embodiment, protector and guardian of Chinese civilization. The state is seen as an intimate, a member of the family indeed - in fact, the head of the family. It is a remarkable institution which will come to exercise interest and fascination outside China. Martin Jacques is the author of 'When China Rules the World'.
Presenting the Past
October 4th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant reflects on the role of history in society - and how it changes over time. Research and archaeology, as well as the views of the times in which historians live, change their perception of the past. Dunant also asks what historical fiction takes from academic study - and what it, in turn, can teach those who study the past. She also asks whether the humanities are as valued as they should be. Do we underrate them at our peril? Producer Rosamund Jones.
Mouthing Off
September 27th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"For moneyed Americans", writes Sarah Dunant "perfect dentistry is a matter of course". For Europeans- and she counts herself within that number - the situation is rather different! Sarah takes a sideways look at teeth through the ages...and dentistry in times of austerity. And for those whose chief loathing is a mouthful of shining American teeth, she offers hope. "Yaeba", the latest craze to hit Japan where young fashonista girls are getting their teeth cosmetically altered to appear more crooked! Producer Adele Armstrong.
Sweet charity
September 20th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"Much of what some would call my eccentric wardrobe derives from charity shops...By temperament, I'm a historian and the sense of an object with a provenance somehow ties me more securely to the present" writes Sarah Dunant. As she rummages for bargains in her local charity shop, Sarah reflects on the history of charity shops and their growing importance in times of austerity. Producer Adele Armstrong.
In Search of Prizes
September 13th, 2012, 06:00 PM
As the Man Booker shortlist is published, Sarah Dunant explores how new writers and readers find each other. "While an unhappy 19th century Russian marriage which leads to a fatal adulterous affair may be irresistible to one reader" she writes, "a man who wakes up as a beetle may be what presses the button of another. That is both the wonder and nightmare of selling novels". Sarah explores how - in the "brutal climate" facing the publishing industry (with the onslaught of supermarket and internet price wars) - literary prizes provide a much needed boost for authors. But these prizes, she warns, are a kind of lottery. Producer Adele Armstrong.
Policing Sex
September 6th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"Once again the snake pit of policing sexual behaviour and the conflict between men and women's attitudes of it have become news" writes Sarah Dunant. She discusses the remarks by the American would-be senator who claimed that after "legitimate rape", women's bodies protect them from pregnancy. She looks at George Galloway's assertion that what Julian Assange did or didn't do in bed was simple bad sexual etiquette. And she discusses the controversy surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. She starts from a very personal perspective, and broadens the debate on attitudes to sex by looking at it from an historical perspective. She concludes that a storm of female outrage serves only to stifle debate and that men must be involved in the discussions. Producer Adele Armstrong.
The alchemy of memory
August 30th, 2012, 06:00 PM
John Gray explores the role of memory in giving meaning to our lives. Through the writings of J.G. Ballard, he reflects on how we struggle to preserve our past but at the same time sometimes long to leave it behind. Gray praises the power of Ballard's imagination - and his enchanting fables - to make good all this. His conclusion is upbeat. "Through the alchemy of memory the leaden buildings in which [Ballard] wandered as a boy became the golden vistas of his fiction, and the traumas of his childhood were transmuted into images of fulfilment". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The trouble with 'freedom'
August 23rd, 2012, 06:00 PM
"We like to tell ourselves an uplifting story in which freedom expands whenever tyranny is overthrown" writes John Gray. "We believe that...when a dictator is toppled the result is not only a more accountable type of government but also greater liberty throughout society". But Gray believes otherwise. Using the nineteenth century liberal John Stuart Mill and his god-son Bertrand Russell, he advances his argument that liberty is one thing, democracy another. "The reality" he says "is that when a tyrant is toppled we can't know what will come next". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Sherlock Holmes and the Romance of Reason
August 16th, 2012, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes at a time when we've lost confidence in the power of reason alone to solve problems. "Seeming to find order in the chaos of events by using purely rational methods, he actually demonstrates the enduring power of magic." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Climate for Culture
August 9th, 2012, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on the climate needed for culture to thrive, recalling Orson Welles' quote from the film "The Third Man" that despotism in Italy produced the Renaissance whereas democracy in Switzerland produced the cuckoo clock."We know that art can flourish under despots but we're reluctant to admit it: if creativity and tyranny can co-exist, the value of freedom seems diminished." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Price of a Postage Stamp
August 2nd, 2012, 06:00 PM
The philosopher John Gray wonders what bulk buying of stamps ahead of the price rise tells us about economic gloom. "The relative security that many people enjoyed in the recent past is fading from memory". Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Paradox of Immortality
July 26th, 2012, 06:00 PM
The philosopher John Gray reflects on the nature of immortality as expressed by the writer Theodore Powys, 'The longest life may fade and perish but one moment can live and become immortal.' "Powys captures a paradox at the heart of our thinking about death and the afterlife: there's a kind of immortality that only mortals can enjoy." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Keynes' Insights
July 19th, 2012, 06:00 PM
John Gray takes a fresh look at the thinking of John Maynard Keynes and wonders what he would have really thought about the current economic crises and how to solve them. "It's still Keynes from who we have most to learn. Not Keynes, the economic engineer, who is invoked by his disciples today. It's Keynes the sceptic, who understood that markets are as prone to fits of madness as any other human institution and who tried to envision a more intelligent variety of capitalism". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Why humans are violent
July 12th, 2012, 06:00 PM
John Gray reflects on the nature of violence which he sees as an inevitable part of the human condition. He analyses the impulses which drive us to fight one another and takes issue with the philosopher Hobbes' view that violence can be tamed principally by the use of reason. "The vast industrial style wars of the last century may have been left behind, but they have been followed by other forms of human conflict, in their way no less destructive". Producer: Sheila Cook.
The curse of a ridiculous name
July 5th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"I have a funny name. I know it," Adam Gopnik starts out. "Don't say it isn't or try to make me feel better about it...If I ever google myself, I find myself as often as not as Adam Gropnik." He explains its unglamorous origins and it's contemporary Russian connotations of meaning "a drunken hooligan". But the trouble is, he says "like every writer, I would like my writing to last". Little chance of that with a name like Gopnik, he believes. He bemoans why he hasn't a name like Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope. Writers are, he believes, condemned to greatness or otherwise, by their names. The great exception is William Shakespeare, whose ridiculous surname - much mocked in his day - is now part of everyday speech. Via a detour through name history, he reaches the conclusion that his fate is fixed. "I shall remain and say goodbye -- and then vanish as a, and A., Gopnik". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Nazis - Gopnik's Amendment
June 28th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik reflects on our continuing obsession with the Nazis and ponders the place of the Second World War in our history. He writes: "A German friend once complained to me that educated Westerners often know far more about the German government in those five years of war than they do about all German governments in the sixty years of subsequent peace". Adam quotes a principle frequently used during internet discussions called "Godwin's Law". It states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler gets greater". Godwin's conclusion - broadly speaking - is that we should not mention the war. But Adam proposes what he calls "Gopnik's Amendment". "When we see the three serpents of militarism, nationalism and hatred of difference we should never be afraid to call them out, loudly, by name and remind ourselves and other people, even more loudly still, of exactly what they have made happen in the past". We should, he says, "never be afraid to mention the war". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
What to do about a bad review
June 21st, 2012, 06:00 PM
Adam Gopnik ruminates on how to handle a bad review. He ponders the various options. The first is to ignore it and claim the high moral ground, "the Big Ignore" he calls it. The second is to write a late night letter - or three - to the offending publication. But he now has a third option - passed on by a friend just the other evening - which he promises will produce delightful results. An amusing guide on how to get your own back on your critics. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Beatle Time
June 14th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"There is something eerie, fated, cosmic about the Beatles" writes Adam Gopnik. "They appear in public as a unit on August 22nd 1969 and disappear as a unit, Mary Poppins like, exactly seven years later". In this talk, he ponders exactly what it is that makes their music endure. Why is it, he asks, that one of the things people never say is "I don't like the Beatles". For his children, he says, "the Beatles are as uncontroversial as the moon. Just there, shining on". To underline how strange this is, he points out that had the same thing been true for his generation, then the pop music of his childhood would have dated from before the First World War. And that, he says "would have been more than bizarre". Gopnik concludes that the reason their music lasts is that it was a perfect collaboration of opposites. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Adam Gopnik: Embarrassing Parents: The Thirteen-Year-Old Truth
June 7th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"One thing that is written into the human genome" says Adam Gopnik, "is that exactly at the age of thirteen, your child - in a minute, and no matter how close or sympathetic the two of you have been before - will discover that you are now the most ridiculous, embarrassing and annoying person on the planet". Ridiculous "because of your pretensions to be cool...in spite of the obvious truth that you are barely sentient, with one foot rooted in the dim, ancient past while with the other your toes are already tickling eternity"; embarrassing because, "in spite of being ridiculous, you are not content to keep your absurdity decently to yourself" and annoying because "in the face of the wild obvious public embarrassment you cause, you still actually think that you can give advice and counsel". He takes us on a generational analysis of the plight of the parent - and offers some light-hearted consolation! Producer: Adele Armstrong.
On Bees and Being
May 31st, 2012, 06:00 PM
"The other day" Adam Gopnik writes, "my son was working his way through the text of Shakespeare's 'Henry V' with an eye to a student production". He read Canterbury's famous speech on how the well regulated kingdom is like a bee hive. "How could Shakespeare know that much about the division of bee-labour" he ponders "and not know that the big bee in the centre was -- a girl bee?" Gopnik takes us - via a bunch of bee experts - on a journey of "long and buzzing thoughts". He discovers a transgendered bee in Virgil's Georgics, dressed up as a king bee. He finds himself deep in the world of the Dutch biologist, Swammerdam. "Swammerdam!" he writes. "One of those great Northern European names, like Erasmus of Rotterdam that carries its credibility within its consonants". He draws lessons about the theory of knowledge and the working of the human mind. He rejects the notion "that thought proceeds in fortresses as ordered and locked as a beehive seems to be." In truth, he argues, "no age thinks monolithically, and no mind begins with absolute clarity ... The sticky honey of uncertainty, the buzz around the beehive's entrance - these are signs of minds at work". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Will Self: A right loyal toast
May 24th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the historical tradition of the Loyal Toast. A week before the Jubilee celebrations get underway, he muses on where deference is properly due. "I have never risen for the Loyal Toast, and unless some apoplectic patriot holds a gun to my head I doubt I ever will" he writes. He suggests we should turn our thoughts to who else we might raise a toast to....personally, he believes it should be his postwoman. In that case, he says "I'd be on my hind legs before you could scream 'Treason!'" Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Europe and my quadriga-spotting tour
May 17th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Will Self ponders the future of Europe as he stands by Berlin's Brandenburg gate. "As in Greek mythology" he writes, "the sun god Apollo Helios drives his chariot across the skies...so the charioteer and four horses that surmount the Brandenburg Gate...embody the idea of contemporary German nationhood". On his "quadriga-spotting tour", Will weaves his way through the complex history of this symbol and its relevance for the rest of Europe. In the end, he controversially asks whether "an end to the European Union in its current banjaxed form might allow all of us to experience a new dawn, drawn by a new charioteer". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Military matters
May 10th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"Suppose you've spend the entirety of your working life pushing paper in an office and concocting ways of winning elections - then the heavy wooden door of Number 10 finally swings closed and....in the back garden, a couple of strapping fellows are parading up and down the lawn with Heckler & Koch machine guns around their necks, their mission: to stop the baddies scything you down". Will Self asks what can drive political leaders into the arms of the military. From the era of Margaret Thatcher on, he says, "a key aspect of the premiership seems to have become posing with tough, tough boys and their tough, tough toys". In Will Self's view, this close relationship between politicians and the military helps no-one. His solution - to bring back National Service. "The cry", he writes, "beloved of the ramrod-straight and the crew-cut is joined by me with all my bohemian heart". And he says he would be first in line! Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Lords, lordlings and....crumpets
May 3rd, 2012, 06:00 PM
Fifteen years ago - Will Self writes - he had afternoon tea in the House of Lords with the late Conrad Russell. The distinguished historian was a hereditary peer who was entirely in favour of Lords' abolition. What Will Self remembers most about the encounter was the crumpets. "'Do have another crumpet" he'd say, 'they really are awfully good'". Fifteen years on, Will says: "Russell was right about the crumpets - and he was right about the hereditaries". He looks forward to the Queen's Speech, which is widely expected to include a bill on Lords reform. A waste of time, he believes. But that matters little in his view. "After all, the first bill to create an elected second chamber was introduced over a century ago - and doesn't this simply prove that the great and glorious fudge that's the unwritten British constitution thrives on such slow and organic change". Via what he calls the "Googlisation" of the political process, he attacks the move towards the centre ground by all three main UK parties. "We...are tormented by politicans who look the same, sound the same and spout so-called 'policies' that are usually only marginally different versions of the same routine ideas". Back at the Lords, he concludes, hereditary peers "are still busily tucking into their excellent crumpets. Yummy-yummy". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The rights of humans... and animals
April 26th, 2012, 06:00 PM
"Could it be that human rights simply don't exist?" asks Will Self provocatively. To illustrate his point, he writes: "One man's extraordinary rendition is another man's license to torture, which in turn is a flagrant denial of a third man's human rights". And he ponders how we can conceive of a person having any human rights, unless effective sanctions are in place to stop them being violated. He turns his attention to Syria and its "vicious dictator...actively and consistently violating the human rights of its own citizenry". But the UN Security Council is - he says - seemingly powerless to stop him. It is all a long way, he suggests, from Article 1 of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." That - he points out - means that "no single one of the eight-and-a-half billion-odd human lives currently transpiring can be held to be of greater value that any of the others". Without the creation of an "independent global judiciary" and "an equally incorruptible international police force," he argues, this is little more than cant. Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Challenging Intellect
April 19th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Will Self says we should embrace the intellectual challenge of "difficult" books and art, and value works which are more taxing than our increasingly low-brow popular culture. "The most disturbing result of this retreat from the difficult is to be found in arts and humanities education, where the traditional set texts are now chopped up into boneless nuggets of McKnowledge, and students are encouraged to do their research - such as it is - on the web." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Jubilee Celebrations
April 12th, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine looks ahead to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, reflecting on the history and significance of royal jubilees worldwide and, in particular, the celebrations for Queen Victoria. "Diamond jubilees... are very much a construction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: both in terms of the grandiose ceremonials accompanying them, and also in terms of the narratives that have invariably been constructed to make some sort of sense of the six decades that are being commemorated." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Cathedral Heritage
April 5th, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects at Easter time on the architectural glories of cathedrals and the part these buildings have played in our national history and culture. He traces early and more recent traditions and identifies the world wide impact of Anglican cathedral building during the era of the British Empire. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Fat Policemen
March 29th, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the changing images of the typical policeman and our attitude towards the way they look in the light of a recent report that over half of the members of the Metropolitan Police are overweight. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Fashion for Westerns
March 22nd, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine recalls the heyday of cinema and television Westerns and wonders if the makers of a big screen adaptation of the Lone Ranger will capture a new audience when the film is released next year. Despite the decline in popularity of the Western, "the appeal of the mythical West has remained a powerful force in American political life." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Power of the Press
March 15th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Historian David Cannadine reflects on the power of the press, past and present, recalling how early twentieth century press barons attempted to influence politics. He recalls Stanley Baldwin's response to the campaign by Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook to topple him as Conservative leader, accusing them of wielding "power without responsibility." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Churchill's American Speeches
March 8th, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the enduring resonance of the important speeches which Winston Churchill delivered in colleges and universities in the United States. Westminster College, Fulton, has "become a shrine to Churchill and his 'iron curtain' speech" and Harvard was where he gave a speech on "Anglo-American Unity". Producer: Sheila Cook.
David Cannadine: Why Wear a Tie?
March 1st, 2012, 06:00 PM
Historian David Cannadine compares the traditions of tie wearing on both sides of the Atlantic. He reflects on the social significance of this element of male dress and observes a recent phenomenon - that politicians seem to campaign in open neck shirts but govern wearing ties. Producer: Sheila Cook.
A History of Monetary Unions
February 23rd, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on the history of monetary unions and what causes them to succeed or fail. Ancient Greece turns out to be a pioneer, whereas modern Greece has posed a threat to any monetary union it has joined. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Bankers in America
February 16th, 2012, 06:00 PM
David Cannadine reflects on current and historic attitudes towards bankers in America where opinion does not divide neatly along party lines. He sees today's criticism as mild by comparison with the attitude of Franklin D. Roosevelt who unleashed "a sustained and ferocious attack " during the era of the New Deal. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Anniversary Cornucopia
February 9th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Awareness of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens may be widespread but fewer may know 2012 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the death of the only British prime minister to be assassinated. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Email Etiquette
February 2nd, 2012, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine reflects on the perils of sending over-hasty emails compared with the time allowed for reflection by old fashioned letter writing. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Thatcher Story
January 26th, 2012, 06:00 PM
The historian Lisa Jardine reflects on the week's events. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Volume Control
January 19th, 2012, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine reflects on her aversion to today's new sources of noise and traces the history of some attempts at noise abatement. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Art of Gardening
January 12th, 2012, 06:00 PM
The historian Lisa Jardine recalls the seventeenth century Lord Chancellor, and keen gardener, Sir Francis Bacon as she reflects on the art of gardening, as both pure human pleasure and a means of self advancement. "Perhaps the innocence and sustaining consolation of gardens is not quite such a simple matter after all. The shadow of political self-interest falls across the sweet-smelling flowerbeds and shady bowers too." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Information Overload
January 5th, 2012, 06:00 PM
The historian Lisa Jardine reflects that information overload is not a new problem. "By the seventeenth-century there was widespread anxiety that the sheer volume of available knowledge was getting out of hand." There were also fears that wars and unrest could obliterate knowledge through the destruction of archives. Nowadays, losing knowledge completely is harder thanks to the internet, but the need to sift it is as great as ever. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Glamour in Austerity
December 29th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine remembers 2011 for the spectacle of the Royal Wedding, reflecting on the historic power of regal glamour in times of austerity. Queen Elizabeth I "used ostentation and opulence in her dress as a political tool to increase national confidence in the solvency of her regime." Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Memory Business
December 28th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Simon Schama reflects on how the world - ten years on - remembered the events of 9/11. And he ponders why it's vital to remember. "Ten years is an aeon in tweet-time", he writes, but 9/11 "bleeds - in every sense - into today's front pages". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Media Malpractice
December 27th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects on the new landscape for the press Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Meaning of Debt
December 26th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Sarah Dunant looks at different aspects of debt, including the debt owed to those who have been a force for change in Arab countries. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The End, yet again?
December 25th, 2011, 06:00 PM
The author and philosopher John Gray on the merits of living for the present. "We tend to look forward to a future state of fulfilment in which all turmoil has ceased", Gray writes. But, he says, "when we look to the future to give meaning to our lives, we lose the meaning we can make for ourselves here and now". He argues that we should give up our obsession with endings and urges us not to be wary of change. "Humans are sturdy creatures, built to withstand disruption". "Conflict never ceases", he says, "but neither do human resourcefulness, adaptability and courage". On Europe, he writes, "wherever Europe's elites turn for support, the pillars begin to crumble and shake. Eventually every utopian project comes to grief - and while it started as a benign creation, the European project has long since acquired an unmistakably utopian quality. The efforts that are being made to renew the project are only accelerating its demise". "Renewing our lives in the face of recurring evils", he concludes, "is the task...that has always faced human beings. Looking to an end-time is a way of failing to cherish the present - the only time that is truly our own". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Carols at Christmas
December 22nd, 2011, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine reflects on the power of music to move, especially at Christmas, when the singing of carols unites singers and listeners alike, in an outpouring of community spirit. She also celebrates each advance in technology which has made music available to all, not just an elite, from the fifteenth century mass production of carol books to the screening in cinemas worldwide of opera live from the Met in New York. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Climate Change Belief
December 15th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Lisa Jardine thinks selective hearing skews the debate over climate change and urges climate scientists to fully engage in a conversation with their sceptical critics. "Graphs and pie charts have evidently failed to convince. Perhaps a more discursive approach which focuses on observable change backed up by scientific evidence may be more persuasive." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Beware the Experts
December 8th, 2011, 06:00 PM
The historian Lisa Jardine recalls CP Snow for lessons on the dangers of leaving political decisions to technocrats and experts and calls for better informed debate by politicians and public alike in the fields of science and economics. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Lisa Jardine: Finding Family History
December 1st, 2011, 06:00 PM
The historian Lisa Jardine welcomes recent moves to promote the teaching of history in schools and finds herself converted to the value of family history after the discovery of a tape recording shed light on a puzzling family photograph which was taken in 1906. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Oxbridge Interview
November 24th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Mary Beard reflects on the purpose of the much-maligned "Oxbridge interview" and defends the "Would you rather be an apple or a banana" school of questioning.... Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Reflections on Monetary Union
November 17th, 2011, 06:00 PM
With the euro in turmoil, Mary Beard reflects on the very first monetary union, two and a half thousand years ago. And she contemplates the detail of the modern euro coins. "Take a closer look at those heads-and-tails" she writes, "and you'll find some rather disconcerting angles on European history and politics". She decides that it is the Greek Euro-coinage that offers the most food for thought. The bull on the back of the 2 euro coin is, in fact, part of a depiction of a rape. Zeus, the king of the gods turned himself into a bull and snatched Princess Europa. Mary says she understands why the Greeks wanted this scene on their coins. It suggests that "without Greece there would have been no Europe - that Greece had invented the continent". But she's never quite worked out "how the Greek people so easily came to terms with the idea of having a picture of rape jingling around amongst the small change in their pockets". Then she turns her sights to the 1 euro coin, with its beady-eyed owl, an exact copy of a fifth-century BC Athenian coin. The little bird was the symbol of Athena, the protector of the city of Athens. In the fifth century BC, she points out, Athens was a democracy yet also "an exploitative empire, controlling many other states around the Mediterranean". The Athenians made their neighbours get rid of their own currency and use the owls instead. "Its hard to resist the conclusion", she says, "that the Athenian imperialists were using monetary union to display their political muscle - and hard not to imagine that vengeance for that has finally come, 25 centuries later". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
On Age and Beauty
November 10th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Mary Beard takes a peek at Miss World 2011 and ponders why - unlike her days as a radical feminist teenager -the whole occasion doesn't fill her with fury. "It all felt" - she writes - "like a scantily-clad, tabloid version of University Challenge....but with a kind of high-minded worthiness". Long gone the old beauty contest ambitions of travelling and starting a family. "These contestants talked of becoming international lawyers, museum curators, architects, diplomats". So does this lack outrage mean she has she sold out on feminism? "That's not how it seems to me" she writes. "At 56 I count myself as strong a feminist as I was at 26". Just a bit more laid back. "The less I see my own body as a positive asset" she says - joking about her greying hair and her thickening toe nails - "the less I have wanted to interfere with what other women choose to do with theirs". "Times do change and some battles honestly do get won" she concludes. "I don't any longer feel that Miss Venezuela is much of an enemy". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Mary Beard: On Tyrants
November 3rd, 2011, 06:00 PM
From the ingeniously ghastly ways they killed their opponents to their weird forms of dress, Mary Beard reflects on the uncanny similarities between Colonel Gaddafi and the tyrants of ancient Rome. She argues that the similarities were present in life - and in death. "On 11 March 222 AD," she writes, "a posse of rebel soldiers tracked down the Roman emperor Elagabalus to his hiding place. The tyrant was holed up in a latrine, desperately hoping to keep clear of the liberators, who were out for his blood". She continues: "The story goes that the rebels rooted him out, killed him, triumphantly dragged his body through the streets of Rome and then threw his mutilated remains into a drain." Mary suggests modern and ancient tyrant are portrayed as sharing a penchant for eccentric accommodation, like Gaddafi's tent and Nero's infamous "Golden House". And they seem to enjoy dubious hobbies - such as Emperor Domitian's obsession with stabbing flies and Gaddafi's obsessive collection of pictures of Condoleeza Rice, which were stuck in a scrapbook. But she argues that these stereotypes of tyrants are little more than half-truths and hearsay....an easy way of making a figure of fear into a figure of fun. The reality, she says, is much more nuanced. "Badness", she suggests, "comes in inconveniently complicated ways. Most bad people are good in parts". How often, she asks, are we told that life expectancy in Libya far exceeds that of its neighbours, that Libya has substantially lower child mortality than its neighbours, the highest literacy rate in North Africa, free hospitals and free childcare. "My point is not that we should see Gaddafi as a good man" she says. Rather that "among all the things that have been going terribly wrong under the Gaddafi regime, some things have been going right". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
The Arms Trade
October 27th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Will Self deplores the arms trade and Britain's role in it, including the sale of weapons to authoritarian regimes which abuse human rights. He takes aim at the euphemisms that surround the sector. "The elision of business-speak with the foggy verbiage of warfare is perhaps the most deranging aspect of the contemporary arms trade," he says. Producer: Sheila Cook.
Class, race and social mobility
October 20th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Will Self reflects that racism is rarely a sole cause of social injustice but alongside other problems such as poverty it can limit people's social mobility. "All too often pundits and policymakers seek a single cause for social stratification when they should accept that in a nation where inequality in real, monetary terms is increasing....the reasons for being at the bottom of the heap are manifold. It's not a case of class or family or education or money or race, it's a matter of of class, family, education, money AND race." Producer: Sheila Cook Presenter Will Self.
In praise of wind turbines
October 13th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Will Self praises the beauty of wind turbines and says protests against them spring from a misconceived idyllic view of our already man-made landscape. "It would seem to me that most of those who energetically campaign against the planting of wind farms in their bosky vale do so not out of a profound appreciation of the dew-jewelled web of life, but merely as spectators who wish the show that they've paid admission for to go as advertised." Producer: Sheila Cook.
Why Prisons Fail
October 6th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Will Self sees an urgent need to reform the prison system and deplores what he sees as a lack of political will to tackle its present failings. "Not only does prison, for the vast majority of those who endure it not work - either as punishment or as rehabilitation - but there is no escaping the conclusion that it functions as a stimulant to crime, rather than its bromide". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Political party membership
September 29th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Will Self attacks the people who join political parties as "donkeys led by donkeys". He criticises the spectacle of the party conferences, a parade of "endlessly biddable Dobbins" displaying "a mental passivity that makes the average X-factor audience look like the participants in one of Plato's symposia." He argues that members repeatedly see their principles betrayed by the actions of the leaders of their parties who are continually fighting over the same patch of turf, "butting and biting the other herds". Producer: Sheila Cook.
Churchill, chance and the black dog
September 22nd, 2011, 06:00 PM
"For a couple of days in May 1940, the fate of the world turned on the fall of a leaf" says John Gray. He outlines the strange conjunction of events - and the work of chance - that led to Churchill becoming Prime Minister. He muses on how Churchill was found by one of his advisers around one o'clock on the morning of May 9th "brooding alone in one of his clubs". He was given a crucial bit of advice which may have secured him the job. What would have happened Gray wonders if he hadn't been found and that advice - to say nothing! - not been passed on? He also ponders whether it was it Churchill's recurring melancholy which made for his greatness? "It's hard to resist the thought that the dark view of the world that came on Churchill in his moods of desolation enabled him to see what others could not". "Churchill had not one life but several" says Gray. Without them all, "history would have been very different, and the world darker than anything we can easily imagine". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Believing in Belief
September 15th, 2011, 06:00 PM
John Gray argues that the scientific and rationalist attack on religion is misguided. Extreme atheists do not realise that for most people across the globe, religion is not generally about personal belief. Instead, "Practice - ritual, meditation, a way of life - is what counts." Central to religion is the power of myth, which still speaks to the contemporary mind. "The idea that science can enable us to live without myths is one of these silly modern stories." In fact, he argues, science has created its own myth, "chief among them the myth of salvation through science....The idea that humans will rise from the dead may be incredible" he says, "but no more so than the notion that humanity can use science to remake the world" Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Cats, birds and humans
September 8th, 2011, 06:00 PM
John Gray considers why the human animal needs contact with something other than itself. He tells the story of an eminent philosopher who once told him that he'd persuaded his cat to become a vegan! An effort, it seems, to get the cat to share his values. But Gray argues that there's no evolutionary hierarchy with humans at the top. "What birds and animals offer us", he says, "is not confirmation of our sense of having an exalted place in some sort of cosmic hierarchy. It's admission into a larger scheme of things, where our minds are no longer turned in on themselves". He concludes that "by giving us the freedom to see the world afresh, birds and animals renew our humanity". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
John Gray: The revolution of capitalism
September 1st, 2011, 06:00 PM
The author and philosopher John Gray presents a hard-hitting talk about capitalism. He argues that one side-effect of the financial crisis is an increasing number of people who believe that Karl Marx was right. He outlines why Marx's belief that capitalism would lead to revolution - and end bourgeois life - has come true. But not in the way Marx imagined. For increasing numbers of people, he says, a middle class existence is no longer even an aspiration. "More and more people live from day to day with little idea of what the future will bring". "It's wasn't communism that did the deed" he says. "It's capitalism that has killed off the bourgeoisie". Producer: Adele Armstrong.
Kim Philby
August 25th, 2011, 06:00 PM
As recently discovered letters from Kim Philby are published, John Gray argues that the spy's life illustrates why we are so poor at predicting the future. Where Philby saw a bright future in Soviet Communism - one that led him to betray friends and colleagues - many in the West hoped for a different utopia in Russia as Communism collapsed. Neither saw their dreams realised. As John Gray observes, both groups "failed to understand that the only genuine historical law is the law of irony." Producer: Adele Armstrong.