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Radio review: Morality in the 21st Century, You, Me and the Big C, and The Food Chain

14 September 2018


“THE flood is coming. You’d better be prepared.” These were the prophetic words of Professor Jordan Peterson, of the University of Toronto, opening Lord Sacks’s generously proportioned examination of Morality in the 21st Century (Radio 4, weekdays last week; Paul Vallely, 7 September). Over five episodes, the former Chief Rabbi wrestled with the iniquities of our age with such determination that more impressionable listeners might have felt the need to stock up on a few cubits of gopher wood just in case.

You will not be surprised by the headlines: that we are a species of selfie-snappers, obsessed by social media, with no thought for notions of society, and a moral compass that points for ever in the direction of Love Island.

If there was to be any hope of redemption, it might have come from the contributions of young people, invited during the shows to comment on the proclamations of Sachs’s assorted experts. But these young people had themselves become infected with the assumptions by which the whole project was predetermined. Does not the contradiction embedded in the very title of the series invite us to snort in derision?

And when you ask, as does the title to Wednesday’s episode, “Is society a myth?”, are you not merely summoning up a stock of anxieties which have been expressed about society presumably ever since our ancestors first gathered around a watering hole?

Your perception of society and its moral code will necessarily be shaped by your self-identity. There will be those who will have found You, Me and the Big C (Radio 5 Live podcast) inspiring and reassuring, whether or not they themselves are suffering from “the Big C”.

Many will have been drawn to last week’s podcast after the death of the contributor and 5 Live newsreader Rachael Bland from breast cancer; and will have encountered a show full of laughter, barely suppressed tears, gallows humour, and fond memories. It was all that you would want and expect from a gathering of your mates.

If, on the other hand, you are not part of the blogging generation, and jokes about bowels and boobs are not your thing, then suffering from cancer is not going to make you feel inclined to tune in on a regular basis to “the coolest club you never wanted to be part of”.

Societies are demarcated by how they relate to the dying, but even more so by how they relate to the dead. In two episodes of The Food Chain: Raw grief (World Service, Thursday), Emily Thomas has been looking at how different cultures use food to articulate their experiences of bereavement. In the United States, casseroles are shared among the living; in China, Big Macs and other comfort foods are offered to the dead. It all depends on whether, in death, you are deemed to have resigned your membership of the living.

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