I must have doubled my intelligence, or squared it for sure, after getting exposed to the debates held by Intelligence Squared. Come to think of it, I did not even know such things existed. These Oxford style debates are staged before a live audience in New York and available on youtube or podcasts, free of charge, for viewers or listeners. If you have ever wished you could be part of the electrifying atmosphere of a live event such as a debate then this is as good as it gets.
It is all quite standard. Learned, passionate and informed speakers are selected to represent views for and against the motion. The audience gets to vote which side of the argument they favor as they enter into the hall. Later, a second round of voting occurs and the chair calls out by how much did the vote swing on either side.
For someone like me, who is quite clueless about most things happening in the world around, to even considering listening to something titled “The U.S. Should Adopt the ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Online“ was a nudge by fate for sure. I quickly followed this with “Freedom Of Expression Must Include The License To Offend“. Both debates were not only an eye opener in terms of political context and fundamental choices, but also stimulating and invigorating to the mind.
It’s not so much that I agree with a particular side. For me it was more about a spark of interest and a challenge to the intellect. How often do we really question something and impartially analyse it from all angles before passing judgement? How often do we even know enough to be able to provide a well rounded argument. Who has times these days to get into details? I click on the facebook like icon even before I have finished reading the article heading. And if I make it through the first paragraph and the header has a good enough picture then it is time to close the browser after hitting share on twitter.
With the flood of information online the details get more obscured than exposed, is the feeling I get sometimes. The more fast paced life gets the less time I have to spend making the grey cells do their job. Sherlock would be dulled beyond words if he saw how inactive and obtuse to reasoning my mind has gotten.
That is why I was amazed at how good it felt listening to these debates.
Even then, most probably I would not have been tempted to write an article about this if not for the two debates on literary stalwarts of the English Language that swept me right off my feet. The topics might not be the best, given that literature is subjective and picking a winner is futile, but I learnt a lot. Much more than I would have if I had managed to select a daunting tome that spoke about the writers and poets through the various eras.
The first one is a close to two hour fervent discussion on Shakespeare vs Milton: the Kings of English Literature Debate. This was even more fun than the other debates I had already heard because seasoned thespians had been brought to substantiate each side of the argument by enactment. Sadly, my limited Indian CBSE schooling has never exposed me to the original works of these writers. I have often wondered where does one start if one wants to read these great works. This was a brilliant answer to my quandary. The choicest of verse were highlighted and explained with impeccable aplomb. And the actors, specially Harriet Walter (her voice is pure magic), added life into those timeless pieces of literature.
The second one is Jane Austen vs Emily Bronte: The Queens of English Literature Debate. Both speakers have an infectious love for these writers and are witty, smart and imaginative in their impassioned defense of their stand on the topic. Find out the wild side to Jane Austen and the unparalleled effect of Emily Bronte. One of the speakers noted, that these writings have an appeal for all ages. It is as likely for a thirteen year old young girl to fall in love with Jane Austen, as much as for an adult male reader to find something to muse over in these novels. Droll comments and ardent praise from both sides suck you into the hall right alongside the enraptured audience. I am quite tempted to reread all those books all over again, such is the heartfelt love that was reflected in the debate.
Recently, a conversation with Indi di made me remember college debates. Those public speaking events during fests brought with them an insane adrenaline rush. From basking in the glory of a win, to watching with starry eyed awe at the hallowed favourites. More than the content that was spoken or the topic itself what remains with me is who spoke and how. Those memories always do make good conversations.
These debates can’t transport you back to those college days, but even though there is a seriousness to these talks they are far from boring or pedantic. They are riveting and informative and have an excitement of their own. If you enjoy an intelligent argument then you are bound to love the Intelligence Squared Series. Pick a topic you like and tell me what you thought of it.
The one I am looking forward to is the ultimate clash of civilizations – Greece vs Rome.
Thank you lazywiz for introducing to me to this.