Last night we watched the documentary “Resolved”. We were surprised to see that the prominent debating style in the US had morphed into something much different than the way we debate in Canada. The US debating style is dominated by participant’s speed talking at about 400 words a minute. A ton of research is conducted to support this epic level of verbal spew. In contrast, the Canadian debating system seems to be built more on three pillar arguments, rhetoric, and the ability to destroy an opponent’s positions in cross examination. In the Canadian debate system, impromptu debates, where the participants have only 15 minutes to prepare, are held in highest regard and viewed as the more significant demonstration of debating prowess. It demonstrates an ability to think on your feet and articulate those thoughts. It seems like the US system emphasizes quantity while the Canadian system emphasizes quality.
Of course, learning to do research is a great skill to acquire and as someone whose career has been as a researcher and analyst I value it. But it strikes me that the American debting system overemphasizes research while underemphasizing filtering, critical thinking and persuasiveness. In the end, young people need to be taught to think independently, make decisions under time constraints, under uncertainty and defend their positions.
Even my own profession, Economics, suffers from not enough thinkers and too many analysts who can just run time series regressions. The credit markets froze up in 2008; the financial system flat lined and required open heart resuscitation. And yet
it appears that most of the mainstream economists and policy makers are treating 2008 like a run of the mill case of the flu or recession. This over optimism is evidenced by the tsunami of market forecasters cutting their growth forecasts.
These analysts are adept at research, at using econometric programs, and manipulating data. They are not great at thinking. Thinking requires presence, a quality that is being discouraged with the proliferation of cell phone texting and continous connectivity that is endemic. This past week, I saw two people texting while crossing the crosswalk on the TransCanada, in the heart of Calgary. The average teen sends 3000 text messages a month. That’s our future folks.
Unfortunately, the problems confronting the world are going to require people who can think, and the experts in government and finance have shown us they are not good at that skill. We have outsourced out thinking to experts in society. They have failed us and will continue to do so. We need to assume more responsibility for ourselves and begin to debate the important issues of our day as educated generalists. Otherwise we are doomed. Liz Coleman, in a TED talk, laments this move away from educated generalists to experts. The benefits of specialization, to individuals and nations are a fundamental tenet of economics. From my
perspective, individuals and society need to practice all things in moderation, including moderation. The same goes for specialization.