August 8, 2016

Academic Debates

Most professional academic events are organized into conference formats where people travel from around the world to present short talks that are synopses of larger papers they have previously written. Sometimes there is a question period. Sometimes, sets of academics will be organized into panels where these short talks are followed by turn-taking conversations where a moderator might prepare a few questions for panelists. But very rarely do you ever see events where academics get worked-up into energetic debates. It seems to me that Socratic dialog and/or Talmudic exchanges are a thing of the past in most secular educational settings.

Where are the arguments? Where is the fire, passion and energy in the intellectual world?

There are flame wars online, but meatspace seems colder than ever. We all seem to be afraid of disagreement. Arguments that do happen are typically shallow and fearful, or lop-sided, dominating and quick. They are not as mutually enriching as they could be. Sherry Turkle says technology is causing us to lose the art of conversation. We're also losing the art of the argument. Smoky, boozy, music-filled intellectual café culture is gone, replaced by nothing. Even public street arguments in busy cities are disappearing. I don't like it.

If we're going to keep improving as societies, we need to feel more free to rebuke each other. We need to disagree with each other. Directly, not passive-agressively. Our increasingly peaceful world needs to become peaceful through liveliness, not heat loss.

What new typologies can we imagine for invigorating intellectual life? Can we start organizing more debates at conferences? Can we organize panels into peripatetic group walks? How can we provoke better critiques of each others' work?

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