As events such as the Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, Israel-Palestine conflict, and the rise of ISIS have revealed a region in turmoil, some argue that the United States has shown considerable restraint in its relations with Middle Eastern countries, when compared to its history of global intervention. While some see a lack of action and praise it as disciplined leadership, others criticize it as a display of weakness and declining influence. As a global power, does America hold a responsibility to enforce order in this unstable region? Moreover, how does the role of peacekeeper fit within its broader foreign relations and ethical obligations? Intelligence Squared US (IQ2US) took on this polarizing topic with a debate on the motion, “Flexing America’s Muscles in the Middle East Will Make Things Worse.”
Finally, America may have a shot at real presidential debates — debates that require the candidates to discuss substantive issues with depth and nuance, to marshal relevant facts, to respond to challenges, and to demonstrate their ability to transcend memorized sound bites and actually think on their feet. The current format is not real debate: it’s reality television and, we can all agree, it’s absurd. It’s time to fix the presidential debates.
I’m a big fan of the Intelligence Squared US (IQ2US) debate program, so when I learned that the program had compiled data on the 119 debates it had held since 2006, I was eager to dive in. And in doing so, I learned a few things: People do change their minds a fair amount. They are more likely to change their minds on science and technology issues; on politics and economics, opinions tend to be a little more stable, though still somewhat fluid. Also, what appears to be consensus at the start of a debate is often illusory.
Yes, this is a small and nonrepresentative sample with a self-selected audience — and generally thoughtful debaters on both sides. But the relative fluidity of opinion is important. It suggests that ideas and arguments can actually matter, and that when both sides get a fair and equal shot to make their case, minds can indeed be swayed.
What if human beings didn’t have to grow old and die? That’s how we framed the latest Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, “Lifespans Are Long Enough.”
Life expectancy has increased significantly in the last hundred years thanks to medical advancements, among other sociological changes. As aging and biotechnology research rapidly progresses, new treatments have emerged that some believe can “cure” aging. What are the ethical and sociological implications of increasing human lifespans from 78.8 years to 125 years to even 1,000 years, as our debater Aubrey de Grey has famously claimed is possible?
In classical Chinese painting, one sometimes sees distinguished figures in a mountain retreat, involved in “the four elegant pursuits.” The first three are readily understandable: painting, music, and calligraphy. The fourth is a surprise: the game of Go. Seeing these paintings, it seemed most odd to include a board game in this pantheon of pursuits. But then I realized there was something quintessentially human about the game. Computers simply couldn’t do it. In 1996 an IBM chess program, Deep Blue, beat the then reigning human champion. Its programs were designed by expert chess players, whose algorithms, pared with the computer’s vast calculating powers, produced an unbeatable competitor. 20 years later, no computer program could play Go as well as decent amateur. Until last week.