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Integrating New Perspectives on Debate

Thursday September 24, 2020

While thinking about gentle communications, I found this interesting little nugget via Kottke.org

From @ProfSunnySingh, a tweet about debate

I would be delighted to accept an invitation in the future should there be an opportunity for a reparative and contemplative – rather than adversarial – exchange of ideas.

There’s something that really resonates here. I’ve personally been wondering lately: Why isn’t the classical debate really done so much anymore? And when it is done, why is it so niche?

TBH after watching some old debates and thinking about this, they were kind of cringe in that adversarial or exclusive sense. I had to think it wasn’t super necessary, and it may have even been harmful, to arrange a clash of ideas like that. And the idea of “winning” a debate…hmmm…that’s kind of a one-dimensional way to look at human creativity.

As much as this may pain some of us INTJs, we who prize the act of winning others’ deference with just the right knowledge-nugget or a statistic example shared at the right moment, it really could be that debate needs a replacement-activity.

It seems clear to me that really nailing the positioning of a knowledge-nugget or a stat or an example on a linear timeline, as part of a competition is quite different from the broader patterns around engaging in productive discourse, and probably pretty unnecessary—or maybe unnecessary depending on the context.

(I also believe we’re creative enough to come up with vastly superior replacements for things we don’t want to do anymore, in general. Kind of an underrated human trick. We INTJs can totally nail this with our intuition sometimes—take a new spec for a thing that doesn’t exist yet, and conceptualize the exact form of that new thing. And maybe we can do that with things like debate, when pained voices tell us that debate is hurting them. A “better debate” without those downsides is likely doable with some thought.)

In the past I have enjoyed some of the Intelligence Squared debates and they do seem a bit more like conversations than other debates I’ve watched or heard. But I also haven’t heard what the experience is like for the debaters.

There’s also the model wherein “NT” types are the “debaters,” in which for all we know, the other personality types find debate ridiculous, stuffy, annoying, embarrassing, tacky, insulting, or stressful. While this model is limited, it does surface the question of how suitable debate really is, for a society at large, as a cultural co-development tool.

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