Forget fusty town hall meetings. Debating is a sophisticated affair. Helen Croydon recommends a night of mind candy.
When it comes to debates, fidelity and its unsuitability to our thrill-seeking human nature is my favourite topic. So when I had the chance to watch some of my favorite writers discuss this topic with the utmost finesse - live - I was delighted.
"If you want fidelity, get a dog!"
That was the motion at the centre of six very entertaining and cleverly assembled arguments at Intelligence Squared last week. That’s three 'fors' and three 'againsts'. Author Kathy Lette, actor Jack Kleff, and comedian Jane Bussman were charged with the task of getting the audience to agree that indeed, our only hope of achieving a successful committed relationship is with Fido. Novelist Anne Atkins, journalist Rowan Pelling, and comedian Maz Jobrani tried to convince us that such a statement is an insult to our integrity and of course we are capable of - and regularly strive for - harmonious relationships with unblemished records of fidelity.
The latter team won - 224 votes against the motion versus 164 who agreed. This was much to my disappointment. I am much more in tune with the idea that fidelity doesn’t come naturally to us. As Kleff said, monogamy only actually exists in less than 20% of the world’s cultures. And as Bussman very astutely pointed out: You can be ever faithful to your friends, your boss and your lovers, but they will only remember the one time you slip. Whereas dogs - they’ll always be faithful because they have no memory!
But saying that, there were gems from the againsts, too. In fact Atkins put her point across so eloquently, it nearly made me convert: “We haven’t lost fidelity.” She said. “We’ve just lost our bottle. We think it’s too difficult. It’s like when you tell a child that they can’t do something, they won’t.”
Intelligence Squared, which hosted the debate, is my discovery of the month. The group organises weekly live and lively debates on political, social, historical and scientific hot topics. Two teams of figureheads from the worlds of politics, media and the arts contest each other on stage in front of a well-heeled crowd. The audience also get allocated a 30-minute slot to put in their two cents worth.
Past topics include whether Winston Churchill was an asset or liability, whether clean energy can drive economic recovery, and even whether the West is any good at raising children. After launching in the UK in 2002, Intelligence Squared now host regular events in New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, Kiev and Abuja.
It’s particularly refreshing if, like me, you’re on a drive to find non-alcoholic social stimulus for an evening. (There does come an age I am finding when mid-week drinking has to be restricted to Thursdays.) And cinema just isn’t that impressive at a dinner party, is it. Tickets are £25, which for two hours of mind candy, a comfortable seat, and a chance to laugh and listen to great minds observe our current zeitgeist, is better value than a couple of large Pinots and a saucer of olives in a City wine bar.