Attended the Intelligence Squared debate at the Royal Geographic Society yesterday evening – chaired by Jonathan Freedland, with Jesse Norman and Rachel Johnson for the motion and with Will Self and Rod Liddle against.
On the way in, the audience (full theatre of 350-ish?) were a little under 50% for and the rest more undecided than against. At the conclusion we were over 60% against with very few undecided.
But therein lay the snag for me with the debate – about winning an either-or argument. Apart from choosing which “we” was being debated – the sum total of UK Benthamite “good” divided by the population, or some more global humanity – clearly the for parties simply traded stats on every measure of progress from economics and income levels, healthcare, environmental quality, freedoms of (religious, and political and scientific) expression, etc to subjective surveys of happiness and well-being. Much debate of course about the material and spiritual aspects of good and evidence of lack of correlation between the two. Will in particular declined this debate – sticking firmly to the whole individual of multiple constituencies, rather than measurable choices for some monolithic average “we”. Rod reinforced the superfluity of choice as the measure of why we’ve never had it so bad.
Ultimately as a debate it was the usual gladiatorial rhetorical battle – easily won by the rhetoricians, whose main point ironically was that wining gladiatorial battles on such matters was pointless.
All my “wisdom” agenda items in one nice package – we (constituency), value (good) and governance (how). Will particularly emphasising that scientism and quantifiable stats are the problem not the solution. A man after my own.
(Interesting therefore in this post-Russell-Brand world, that the motion in the March 11th debate at the Cadogan Hall is “One size doesn’t fit all – Democracy is not always the best from of government”. Connects with yesterday’s debate through the superfluity of choice angle, the meme of our social-media-enabled times is that everyone has, and expects to express, an opinion for or against anything and everything. Whereas real life ain’t so simple. Democracy would work if we could lose the myth of popular – statistical – voting.)
[Post Notes: Good personally, to make contact with Rod Liddle, a fellow Prior Guisborian alumnus of Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough, North Yorkshire. And also good to exchange contact details with the young guy from a Muslim society trying to arrange a forum on Islamic contributions to progress - attending this event to pick up hints on how to not necessarily organise as a gladiatorial debate - some impressive names on his wish-list of guest speakers - watch this space.]