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What role for civil debate?


As Calgarians gear up for municipal elections and the mud gets set to fly, we’re reminded that the art and practice of civil debate (read that as civilized debate) is something that needs to be learned, honed, and consistently emphasized. Alas, too many times in modern society—Calgary very much included—we see the complete opposite.

Fortunately, has a timely refresher on civil debate in the form of an engaging talk by Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel. Author of the new book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, Sandel’s talk from TED2010 gives us some hope that we can restore elements of civil debate even around highly-charged issues. Whether it’s major civil projects, snow removal, community programs or your municipal taxes, he highlights that finding ways to talk civilly about the “essential purpose” (as understood by Aristotle) of things is key to restoring a more effective process of debating the issues.

Watch the talk:

A further exploration of the growing crisis in civil debate comes from the April 2010 issue of The Walrus magazine, titled “The Shout Doctrine” by Mark Kingwell (yes, we’re struck by the coincidence with TEDxCalgary 2010 as well). If you’re concerned about how we’re going to deal with complex issues as a society or as a community in the face of the current low standards of debate, it’s worth a read—and a future discussion with your TEDxCalgary contacts!

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