At a time of rapidly growing political polarization, it can be exceedingly difficult (and exhausting) to fight over an issue — only to reach an impasse every time. And while there's no surefire way to get someone to agree with your views, there are tried-and-true tactics you can use to at least have a more productive conversation.
The second U.S. presidential debate of 2020 was more sedate than the first, with its whining, braying, and general frothing at the mouth. We all remember how the human moderator at the first rumble struggled to cut through to the actual issues that people care about, such as jobs, the environment, and stopping the pandemic.
Let’s make debating, like governing, a team sport. Three candidates sit together on each side, for a total of six. There’s a yay-and-nay side, and they present and then debate specific motions. The motions should be ones on which the candidates have meaningful disagreements, but on which some of the candidates agree, so teams can be formed.
Robert Rosenkranz, a financier and a philanthropist, believes in civility. Since 2006, his foundation has sponsored a series of public debates called Intelligence Squared U.S., in which two experts argue for a resolution—“Charter schools are overrated”; “Video games will make us smarter”—and two argue against. “The audience votes twice, on their phones, once before the debate and once after it’s over,” Rosenkranz said recently. “The hope is that a significant portion will change their minds, or will come away with a more nuanced understanding of the other side.”
On a frigid January night, a Harvard genetics professor with a billowing white beard stood stage left in a theater on Manhattan's Upper East Side, an icon of the environmentalist movement in a fleece vest beside him. Both men were staring down a toothy problem: How could they convince their counterparts on the stage, along with the 300 people who'd filed into Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse for a debate, that the world should bring back velociraptors or, at the very least, an extinct pigeon?
We saw computers beat humans at chess in 1997, beat humans at Jeopardy in 2011 and vanquish the world's best human players of the ancient game of Go in 2017. On Monday, a computer edged out a victory over people in a far more nuanced competition: debate.