In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote, "he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that." He was laying out the case for robust, good-faith, and systematic debate as essential to an open society. If you don't test your beliefs by engaging with people who disagree with you, you're more likely to make weak, incomplete, self-serving, or irrelevant arguments, leading to ruinous outcomes in policy matters or acrimonious misunderstandings in social life.
That's where the group Open to Debate comes in. Founded in 2006 as Intelligence Squared U.S., Open to Debate has hosted hundreds of debates with the goal of "restor[ing] critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to American public discourse." Through a mix of online and in-person events, Open to Debate brings together artists, officials, public intellectuals, scientists, and entrepreneurs from across the ideological spectrum to work through contentious, heated, and seemingly irresolvable issues of the day.
Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward, for instance, was part of a debate that asked, "Is Capitalism a Blessing?" Over the years, I've argued for legalizing all drugs and against Medicare for All, net neutrality, and forgiving student loan debt. I also moderate debates for them, including one in New York about millennials taking place on June 7. Open to Debate invites audience participation, and it airs all its programming on public radio, YouTube, and the group's own website, where it provides voluminous notes and materials, all designed to help audience members reach independent and informed conclusions.
My guest today is Open To Debate's CEO, Clea Conner, who tells me about her group's mission, its name change, and its push to host actual presidential debates rather than "joint press conferences with really rehearsed talking points."
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- The Reason Speakeasy. The Reason Speakeasy is a monthly, unscripted conversation in New York City with outspoken defenders of free thinking and heterodoxy. It doubles as a live taping of The Reason Interview podcast and always provides a great evening of camaraderie and conversation about cutting-edge topics and ideas. On June 5, Nick Gillespie talks with Fox News contributor Kat Timpf about her bestselling book, You Can't Joke About That: Why Everything Is Funny, Nothing Is Sacred, and We're All in This Together. Tickets are $10—which includes beer, wine, soda, food, and plenty of time to talk about politics, culture, and ideas in one of the coolest settings in midtown Manhattan. For details, go here.