Another Kind of Atheism
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 a
John Gray: Recalling Eric Ambler
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 un
John Gray: Euro Despair
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 p
Adam Gopnik: Long-Form Television
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 wi
A weekly reflection on a topical issue.
Peter Aspden: In Love with Greece
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
Adam Gopnik: In Praise of Privacy
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
Adam Gopnik: Power, Persecution and Pluralism
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 societ
Adam Gopnik: Family Reunions
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 especia
Adam Gopnik: Words and Music
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
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 f
AL Kennedy: The Worth of Education
"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
"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
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 journ
Politics of Hope
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
Presidents as Monarchs
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 kingshi
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
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
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
Ideology Versus Art
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
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 self
Mankle Image Crisis
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-drive
The Price of Independence
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
Trial by Select Committee
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 holdin
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
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.
A weekly reflection on a topical issue.
The Power of Fiction
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 f
The Purpose of Satire
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 c
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 ch
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 exercis
The Power of Art
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." Produce
Language and Listening
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.
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 ac
The Pursuit of Happiness
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
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 broug
Art: The Real Thing
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 sculp
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 senti
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 abo
Thinking the Unthinkable
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-o
Dostoevsky and Dangerous Ideas
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
Soylent and the Charm of the Fast Lane
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
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". Pr
Cures for Anxiety
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 dis
A Lesson from Love Locks
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
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 Pr
Dying with Dignity
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 es
Short and Successful
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.
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 n
Red Dress Sense
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: Sh
The Horror of War
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 Co
When fiction comes to the historian's rescue
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
Why Orwell Is the Supreme Mediocrity
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 u
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
Will Self reflects on the power of modern day consumption and the effect it is having on us. Producer: Caroline Bayley.
Believing in Beliefs
Will Self offers a weekly reflection on a topical issue.
The Changing Nature of Utopias
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
Is patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel?
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 fo
Believing in reason is childish
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 h
Isis: A modern revolutionary force?
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'
To See Ourselves
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 c
Battling the Botnets
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 computer
If You Haven't Got Anything Nice to Say...
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 eac
No Burning Required
"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 li
Bring Back the Heptarchy!
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?
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
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.
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
The Paradox of Growing Old
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 t
"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
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 t
Travel Writing Giants
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 wandere
A Tale of Two Elections
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 a
A Lenten Reflection
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
A Disease Called Fame
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 d
Sarah Dunant compares our reaction today to climate change with responses in the seventeenth century to extreme weather. Producer: Sheila Cook.
The Time Warp
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 to
Free the Schools
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 Co
Our Love for Animals
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 adapta
The Perils of Belief
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." Prod
Two Cheers for Human Rights
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 sho
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 r
Why Dickens Endures
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
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 underm
Political Trojan Horses
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 i
Rebuilding After 9/11
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 compe
Self Confident Culture
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 multicultu
Kennedy 50 Years On
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
Will Self: Pity the Young
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
Lisa Jardine: Reflections on IVF
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 unde
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
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.
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 - e