In principle, debates clarify disagreements and bring everyone closer to the truth in a convivial dialectical process. In practice, participants clamor for attention, stoking tribal sentiment in memorable attack lines, soundbites, and strawman arguments.
A combination of endemic polarisation, weakening attention spans, enervated critical thinking, and social media incentive structures have undermined debate as a social good; it feels ill-suited to our epistemic needs and civic challenges. The US Presidential Debate in September 2020 was a nadir for the practice, described by The Guardian as 'debate apocalypse'.
Creating 'better debates' may not actually be feasible, and while dialogue is commendable, it's not clear it can cut through to shape culture at scale. The question becomes: What kinds of speaking, listening and thinking should we seek to encourage in the public sphere?
Perhaps we need an *antidote* to debate, rooted in the principles of good debating, yet fundamentally reconceiving their purpose to be closer in spirit to dialogue. The antidebate is a nascent methodology that seeks to do that. There’s still an entertaining public contest, but victory depends on the virtues of intellectual humility, empathy, and truth-seeking communication and the 'game’ being played is not about winning an argument but demonstrating superior sensibilities of understanding.
Over two years we will develop the philosophical and methodological basis of a new social practice, design and test evaluation rubrics, host public prototypes, disseminate recordings and commentary online, and create a book-length guide for others to create their own, and a short documentary to promote the praxis. The emphasis will be on establishing the form, ethos and ambience of antidebates, and learning from workshop iterations. We’ll prepare a larger application to scale the practice, because we believe the antidebate could potentially help promote intellectual humility around the world.