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Radio review: Bringing UpBritain, Free Thinking, and Beyond Today

26 July 2019


THE moment your child learns to lie is a moment to be cherished. Perhaps we should create a new form of celebration; like a christening or bar mitzvah. Your sweet innocent has developed a theory of mind and now appreciates that mummy and daddy do not always think the same way as he or she does. It is a moment of creative self-actualisation, in which many essential cognitive and social skills are deployed.

This was the take-home message of last week’s Bringing UpBritain (Radio 4, Thursday of last week). Mariella Frostrup was joined by a studio full of psychologists telling us that it’s OK to fib. According to a university study, adults will admit to telling 2.19 lies a day; which must surely itself be a porky, since other research suggests that in any ten-minute conversation with people we don’t know well, we will tell at least three lies.

The really awkward bit in child-parent relations comes when the child realises this: at about the age of 13, they will, for the first time, understand the full extent of adult hypocrisy, and batter the parent with it relentlessly. The bit of pre-programme hype which was most intriguing — about negotiating “the post-truth world” — was sadly lacking in the broadcast cut; the implication being that we have always inhabited such a world, even if we are loath to admit it.

The world of truth and lies is the world in which Camille Paglia does battle every day. And her interview with Philip Dodd on Free Thinking (Radio 3, Tuesday of last week) provided a comprehensive survey of her intellectual portfolio. As a feminist who regards the struggles of the 1920s and ’30s as the golden age of gender empowerment, Paglia is finding a new audience among liberals who are nostalgic for an era when free speech was unfettered by pre-emptive anxieties on behalf of apparently vulnerable identity groups.

She talks of the “disastrous” criminalisation of utterances known as “hate speech”, and of the tyranny of victimhood which has paralysed debate in American academe over the past few decades. She speaks fast, and her discourse is peppered with references to her own work. “I am one of the most quoted writers,” she declares; and that might well be true, bearing in mind how often she quotes herself. But, if you are going to take on the likes of Andrea Dworkin, you need all that brashness and more.

Paglia shares with many others a belief in the freedom to cause offence. The documentary film-maker Louis Theroux — interviewed for the Beyond Today podcast (BBC, Monday of last week) — talked with typical sensitivity about his encounters with the Westboro Baptist Church, whose public demonstrations of homophobia are the quintessence of hate speech. Theroux has managed to gain access to an organisation that delights in offence, exposing its vulnerabilities while never making excuses.

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