Monday, March 13, 2006

Complexity, religion, science, horror, employment

On a day when there seems to be no news*, it’s a pity that the BBC has to cram so much into a 45 minute programme. As so often, at least three of the five items on Radio 4’s Start the Week this morning could have more than filled the whole show. With Richard Dawkins, The Rt Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, Daniel Dennett, Barbara Ehrenreich and Hamish Mykura as his ‘guests**’ even Andrew Marr wasn’t quite as good at segueing as I implied he was a few posts back.

You can listen ‘again’ from their web-site or, starting this week, download a podcast. And there’s a shortened repeat tonight at 9:30***

Daniel’s book is about science and religion. It discusses the reasons that religion might have evolved from simple explanations of why things go bump in the night through folk beliefs into the organised faith systems of today. With the assembled crew it’s unsurprising that there was so much discussion. Does faith mean blindness to evidence that contradicts it, is being ‘merely’ a carrier of genes a ‘bad thing to be’?

Richard Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ book is (amazingly) thirty years old and he’s just produced a new edition. He expressed concerned about the motives behind Hamish Mykura’s programme for Channel 4 about the people who chose to jump from the WTC rather than wait to be burnt to death on 9th September 2001. Astonishingly apparently they’ve been criticised in some quarters for ‘taking their own lives’. It does seem a pretty intrusive concept for a programme to me and I doubt if I could watch it. Certainly their plunges were some of many powerful images on the day of this most horrific event which happened ‘live’ on TV and the internet. Individual horror vs. collective tragedy – which is the more awful? I recall my rather selfish almost first thought on watching the reports on a colleague’s computer just as the second plane’s strike made it clear that the first wasn’t an accident; this was going to change our deceptively comfortable world forever (or at least for the rest of my lifetime).

Ms Ehrenreich’s new book is about her attempt to infiltrate corporate America and to discover what life is like for middle class employees. She found a non rational world where positive attitudes score more highly than proven ability and where sudden falls from grace (into the pit of unemployment and no health care) are not uncommon. Even the Bishop complains that clergy CVs nowadays contain no humility! 'Selling the sizzle rather than the steak (I thought it was 'sausage'?)'. What no one remarked on was that steady employment for ‘white collar’ workers is a comparatively modern phenomenon – less than a century old. What a shame they hadn’t invited me onto the programme......

* how else can one explain the BBC radio news leading with the “Ian Blair recorded my phone call horror” and the clip from the self-righteous lady who heads Liberty? I guess there is still war, famine and pestilence bedevilling the world but our media isn’t very interested by such run-of-the-mill foreign stuff.....

** guests isn’t quite right given that they all have books to sell or events to publiscise.

*** it would be fascinating to work out what they leave out.


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