A Project for Post-Competitive Trans-Rational Collective Sensemaking

new sensemaking tools

DEBATES ARE EXHAUSTED.  Past their prime.  Part of modernity's decaying legacy.  This claim is debatable, of course, but so is everything else in The Age of the Metacrisis.  To regenerate a world that is more than just “debatable,” we may need to innovate styles of collective sensemaking that go beyond the limits of the conventional debate format.

The debate format has emerged over thousands of years.  It allows two well-intentioned (usually male) rational agents to explore alternative sides of a propositional claim.  Universities and debate clubs train individuals in the rhetorical arts -- taking perspectives, organizing verbal arguments, and engaging in public persuasion.  This kind of domesticated socio-intellectual warfare (better than actual warfare!) has become the basic template for collective decision-making in elections, trials, legislatures, etc.  Yet this powerful approach has some serious drawbacks.

> Conventional debate typically rewards the ability to mentally map other people's perspectives without necessarily empathizing. 

> Debate emphasizes a tactically rational approach to propositional claims -- often at the expense of participatory, embodied, affective, and dynamic multidimensional understanding.
> Debates notoriously ignore the embedding of participants in particular histories, power relations, neurodiversity, etc.

> There is no strong correlation between winning a debate and embodying a truth that is generally better for human beings and ecosystems. 

Is there any alternative?

The John Templeton Foundation founded a 2-year project to develop an alternative -- based partly on the suggestion of antidebates in this article by Peter Limber and Conor Barnes.  (You can watch a short video introducing the concept here.)

Here's the concept:

>>>The antidebate is an antidote to the hegemony of rationalism as a default way of knowing. The method is pluralist and generalist in spirit, and resolutely offline because relational somatic data is a key part of the process.

The project was overseen, inter alia, by Jonathan Rowson from Perspectiva.  Jonathan has written several essays on the process:  Bad Debate, Good Debate and Antidebate, The Antidebate & the Metacrisis, and Experiments in the Art of Sensemaking for a World Gone Slightly Mad.

The AntiDebate process continues to evolve, teaching itself through its iterations and merging with insights curated from other practices of deliberative democracy and group inquiry.  However, the initial period of research and experimentation is drawing to an end. There is now a fairly consistent methodology that builds from the selection of a significant query, through various modalities of response and communication, toward an enriched sense of shared clarity.  There is a growing brand awareness of the AntiDebate as a concept (in which you are participating by reading this).  And there is also an intriguing set of emergent concepts from within the process itself -- such as the question bomb, tableauing, swarming, and enigmatics.

Human wisdom seems to always involve the arts of private and public pondering.  Yet pondering is something different and more profound than merely arguing between two mental propositions or social alternatives.  It is a way of discovering the meanings upon which we can base our lives...

To get more involved, contact Perspectiva.


Check out Katie Teague's new short documentary:

The AntiDebate
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emerge is convening a field of metamodern praxis