I love debate, even when I face stupid or irrational arguments. It’s stimulating your mind, makes you work on your self-discipline, entices you to find smart arguments, and encourages dialog which is healthy for any stable society. Recently I found out about Intelligence Squared, an organization that stages debates held in the traditional Oxford style around the world, and which broadcasts these debates on YouTube. I’ve watched dozens of them, from business to politics, sex or religion. Here are some of my favorite Intellgence² debates, as well as my positions to the motions that are being discussed in them.
Should Europe Should Shut the Door On Immigration?
I disagree with the motion: No, Europe shouldn’t shut the door on immigration, because (a) it’s impossible and (b) we would lose valuable resources. But I think that Europe should keep the door firmly ajar.
Europe shouldn’t shut the door on immigration, it should keep it firmly ajar.
Should We Assert The Superiority Of Western Values?
I agree with the motion: No, we should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values. As long as we accept that anyone else is entitled to do the same of their own values, and that we accept the dialog between cultures.
We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values.
Is Islam A Religion Of Peace?
I agree with the motion: Yes, Islam is a religion of peace. It is practiced as such by a majority of believers. But I reckon that Islam’s difficulties to condemn and address the violence of a minority blurs this perception by our society.
Islam is a religion of peace as it is practiced as such by a majority of believers.
Would The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion?
I disagree with the motion: No, the world wouldn’t be better off without religion, but I reckon that I believe so because of my faith, not because I can justify that with facts. I believe that religion cause much more good than harm in the world.
The world is better off with religion, because overall it causes more good than harm.
Is The Catholic Church A Force For Good?
I agree with the motion: Yes, the Catholic Church is a source for good in the world. True, it hasn’t always done good, there are still positions that society doesn’t see as good – and it’s not the only force for good neither. But I believe it is one.
While it’s not the only one, today the Catholic Church is indeed a force for good.
Is It Wrong To Pay For Sex?
I agree with the motion: Yes, it is wrong to pay for sex. Beside the (personal) moral judgement, it’s wrong because prostitution comes with abuse & exploitation more than with consent & empowerment today.
Prostitution comes with more abuse & exploitation than consent & empowerment.
Can the State Spy On Its Citizen For Safety?
I agree with the motion: Yes, you can spy on me to keep me safe. If there are indeed threats, and if data that can effectively help in preventing them, I trust the State to act in the spirit of the precautionary principle and in the general interest.
If it can prevent threats, I trust the State to screen my data in the general interest.
Is Democracy Always The Best Form Of Government?
I disagree with the motion: I think that democracy is indeed the best form of government. But I think that it is eventually the ultimate solution, and that every country should be able to chose how to get there peacefully.
Democracy is the ultimate form of government, countries can chose their path to it.
Is Amazon The Reader’s Friend?
I agree with the motion: Yes, Amazon is the readers’ friend today (whether they’re publishers’, authors’ or employees’ friend is another question). We’ll have to see if Amazon will stay the readers’ friends in trying to reach profitability in the future.
Amazon is the readers’ friend today, we’ll have to see if it will stay so in the future.
Is Smart Technology Is Making Us Dumb?
I disagree with the motion: No, smart tech isn’t making people dumb. People can do dumb things with technology, but overall it’s still a fantastic tool to learn, discover and share. I think people are smart enough to use this in smart ways.
Technology is increasingly smart, and I trust people will keep using it as such.
Afterthoughts after watching dozens of debates
After watching a couple of these debates about politics, religion, immigration and more, I found there are other constants in the discussions. I think these are important to better understand the above videos:
- The motions are straightforward and provocative, as I said. As such, they instantly wake up emotions or passions that lead the discussion in a certain direction (ex: the debate about Western values directly opposed them to Islam, even if there are many other value systems) which leads the debates to be quite partial.
- Panel members also have polarizing personalities and arguments, not to mention that they sometimes have an agenda (the people who buy their books, for example) beyond the sole motion that is being discussed. And I wouldn’t exclude that some debaters also have a fair amount of ego and/or pride. So, sometimes I think some very valid arguments are not heard, just because the opponent doesn’t want to give in.
- We shouldn’t forget that every debate occurs in a specific context (ex: the debate about the Catholic Church being a force for good happens during Benedict XVI’s papacy) and that the debate is always influenced by this context (today’s positions under Francis Ist’s papacy have evolved a lot – thankfully). The geopolitical situation, the perception of the speakers, the position of the audience… all this plays a role in the way the debate are being conducted and concluded.
- A lot of arguments in the debates look at extreme examples, rare situations or deviant behaviors to imply that it represents the norm (ex: the debates about religion often cite violent passages of the Bible or the Quran, even if both also have a lot of passages about love and compassion). This is a classical technique to make arguments in debates, even if it’s methodologically questionable, but it’s interesting and entertaining for sure.
- Also, there is often a disconnect between the ideals and the real-world situations, which are always different (ex: the debate about religion picks up a lot of “failures to comply” with good religious values, dismissing religion as a force for good and overseeing an overall assessment). Ideals are important, but I think they are not always suited for debates, because none of the sides agrees on them anyway. This generates people not really understanding each other (what does child porn found on a priest’s computer say about Christianity??), but at least it generates interesting and entertaining discussions. But thankfully, the panelists often take it lightly and the moderator saves it with a touch of humor.
Thankfully, panelists often take it lightly and tension is relieved with a touch of humor.
Eventually, it’s very important to understand that there is no ultimate truth, whatever the motion that is being discussed, and whatever the quality of the arguments that the panel members oppose. In the end, the reality is always the collective consensus between different ideas, and that constructive dialog will always make this consensus a better, more enlightened one.
The reality is always the collective consensus between ideas. Constructive dialog will always make this consensus better and more enlightened.
What do you think about the videos? About my positions?
Let’s debate. Constructively.