How to Have an Intellectual Conversation

What do politics, sports, and religion have in common? Aside from being extremely lucrative career paths for men, they are totally taboo conversational topics and you never discuss them. Ever.

Why do you think this is so?

Because conversations about topics that tend to polarise people in a powerful way always end in fights: Catholics versus Protestants, Man United Football Club versus Liverpool, Democrats versus Republicans, etc. In the case of sports, these rivalries often end in bar fights; in politics, to endless bickering and dick waving; and in religion, to war. So we just avoid them in our day-to-day conversations. It’s better that way.

Or is it?

Let’s be clear right off the bat: This is not about what qualifies as an intellectual topic of conversation. I’m not going to sit here and list off all the interesting and worldly things you should be talking about with your mates or about how to sound really smart to the lady or guy you’re on a date with. Rather, this is about the package those topics come in: the words, logic, and language you use to discuss, dissect, refute, and embrace new ideas.

That’s the key, really…new ideas.

dog at computer with glasses

Nowadays, too many people refuse to allow new ideas to percolate into their atmosphere. How the heck are we ever going to expand our mental horizons and learn about all the amazing things happening outside our bubble if we constantly keep our opinions to ourselves and refuse to listen to those of others? It’s through intellectual debate that we at least learn to appreciate how people other than ourselves think and rationalise.

This brings to mind a fairly relevant anecdote:

Many years ago, a weedy looking fellow sidled up to me on a Sydney-bound train. There were dozens of other seats available in the cabin but he chose my personal space instead and, planting his derriere in the seat directly opposite me, said: “Have you found Jesus?” My brain twitched to life. I’d heard about people like this and I’d always wanted to engage one in an intellectual battle. Since he had approached me completely unsolicited on the subject, I felt I didn’t have to censor my argument; I wasn’t talking to a dear friend whose feelings I actually cared about. The gloves were off. Let’s go!

This loyal disciple of Jesus began explaining how, in five simple steps, I could atone for all my sins and earn my place in heaven. Within the first few minutes of this business pitch / religious monologue, my brain, at first eager to engage in battle, began drifting off and instead treated me to a playback reel of the previous night’s iniquities involving a medium rare steak, two bottles of Australian craft beer, and a very beautiful woman.

The question here isn’t why I only had two beers, it’s why I would waste my time talking to a person who obviously wasn’t going to change his mind about what he believed. What’s the point of such a conversation? It’s only going to steer us towards certain social disharmony and possibly disaster.

The answer to this, my friends, is two-fold: (1) I was bored and had nothing better to do, and (2) because having conversations with people isn’t about changing their minds, it’s about expanding your own. The tendency of human beings to force our opinions and worldviews onto others really cripples our ability to have intellectual conversations and debates with each other. We’re so focused on the end goal – on converting another’s opinions to our own – that we neglect to begin these conversations in the first place. Why bother? It’s only going to end in an argument.

Bollocks, I say!

In the case of the guy on the train, there was no middle ground to be reached and once we’d established that I was going to burn in eternal hellfire for being a lady who likes the ladies, he moved on to the next sucker on the train. However, I stand by my point: I believe that we need to have intellectual debates, no matter how inflammatory, risqué, or controversial the topic. We need to learn how to handle a difference of opinion, lifestyle, culture, and worldview because we’re always going to rub shoulders with people who are different to ourselves. It’s through these eye-opening conversations that we learn to respect these differences, rather than fear them. And when we remove that virulent fear, we eliminate the prejudice that people of different ethnicities, religions, cultures, and agendas are not the same as us and are therefore to be avoided.

Issues of race are huge here in South Africa, given our tumultuous history of racial discrimination and segregation. And we live in such a guilt-stricken society that, as a white person, I’m just one poorly chosen word away from being strung up by my intestines for being racist. As such, many white people avoid conversations about race and culture, when, I believe, they are pivotal to bringing about the empathy we all need to get along better.

We – everyone – should be able to talk about race, culture, language, and ethnicity as a way to broaden our understanding of each other. The problem is, there is a pervasive misconception that talking about these things shines an unwanted spotlight on them and when you do that you’re being racist.

To compound the problem, most people simply don’t know how to conduct themselves in an intellectual debate. What begins as a civil conversation can end up in nuclear fallout faster than you can say “white privilege” and this is yet another reason why we all avoid discussing these topics.

No longer!

Stop walking around on eggshells and start learning about the peoples, societies, and cultures that colour this beautiful world we live in. Engage in captivating conversation and debate with anyone and everyone, whether it’s about sports, race, religion, culture, politics, or sex. But, before you do, you’ve got to learn the rules of engagement and learn them well. With great knowledge comes the responsibility to conduct yourself respectfully and in a mature, intellectual manner.

Rule # 1: stop trying to take over the world

Dr Evil finger in mouth

Acknowledge and respect that there is, and probably will remain, a difference of opinion or worldview after your conversation. You are not Adolf Hitler on a conquest to take over the western world, nor are you going to score points for converting people to your beliefs (even if you are a Jehovah Witness).

What you need to accept is that you’re entering into this conversation to expand your understanding and appreciation for those outside of your belief system. Whether you’re talking about sports, politics, religion, sex, or a myriad of other controversial topics, you’re doing it to become a more empathetic human being. If this is not the final prize for both people engaged in a debate and if you can see that your opponent is unwilling to parry, then bow out with grace. They’ll be far more frustrated by your disinterest in engaging them than by any volley of intellectual missiles you can send their way.

Rule # 2: mind your f***ing words, G** damn it!

swearing

Don’t swear, don’t insult, don’t undermine, and don’t make disparaging comments about your opponent’s beliefs or opinions. An intellectual debate is one that is free of hurtful, inflammatory language. It’s about using words to communicate ideas. If you find yourself getting frustrated, it can only be for one of three reasons:

ONE: You’re failing to articulate your ideas, which means you need to do a little more introspection. You need to excavate the layers of your worldview, scrutinize its various dinosaur bones and then put it all back together in a coherent order. It’s only once you deeply understand your own worldview that you can defend and substantiate it in a battle of the intellects. If you’re flummoxed by vocabulary – or your lack thereof – read more or else you handicap yourself with a deficient verbal artillery.

TWO: Your opponent is breaking Rule # 2 of having an intellectual conversation and is fighting ugly. If this is the case, point wildly over his or her shoulder and scream, “Oh my God, is that Lady Gaga?” and then run for the hills.

THREE: You’re being “that guy”. Stop it immediately and go home.

Rule # 3: acknowledge your opponent’s point

The reason arguments often end in wrathful yelling is because one person is convinced that the other isn’t listening to them or acknowledging their point of view. It doesn’t matter whether you strictly agree with your opponent or not, even if that opponent is your girlfriend, what matters is that you show them the respect of listening to and acknowledging their point.

There is but one caveat to this whole business: you’ve got to mean it. A debate can only progress if you and your opponent are constantly building upon and fleshing out your arguments. You’ve got to listen to what they say and if you disagree, say so and say why. If your opponent doesn’t feel like you’ve heard their point, they’re going to reiterate it again and again, possibly getting louder and more high-pitched with each repetition. If you sense this frustration, don’t hesitate to say, “I’ve heard you, I understand what you’re saying, and I agree to a certain extent, etc.”

Then you throw down your “BUT” harder than Nicki Minaj in her Anaconda music video.

Just remember, having a debate is not about winning. Unless, of course, you’re actually participating in some kind of competition, defending a client in court, are a politician with an agenda, or your boyfriend is being an ass again. However, if you’re engaging someone in a debate for the sake of having an interesting and thrilling conversation, stop obsessing about winning and focus on the next point.

Rule # 4: allow yourself to be educated

10 out of 10 rating.jpg

In many places, debate is regarded as sport. Some people manage to craft lucrative careers out of being professional debaters. These people usually end up in politics or courtrooms, as I previously stated. In your case, you’re utilising debate to expand your mental horizons, enjoy the thrill of intellectual stimulation, and possibly even establish a meaningful connection with the person you’re talking to. Don’t turn your conversation into a roaring soliloquy, a one-sided litany, or brain-numbing monologue. Listen to what your opponent has to say and if they reveal information you’ve never considered before, allow yourself to discovery and be educated.

I often step back from the throes of debate and exclaim, “Oh wow, I never considered that before” or “You know what? You’re right.” It’s no deceptive ploy, either. I mean it and it has a wonderful calming effect on my opponent who realizes that I’m not actually at war with them. It’ll mean a lot to your opponent if they feel they’ve actually taught you something and they’ll be far more likely to listen to what you have to say if they feel listened to.

Rule # 5: be dexterous and parry with your partner

funny sword fight.jpg

Repeating the same point of view over and over again will not increase your chances of being heard. If your opponent doesn’t yield to your reasoning, try a different tack and approach the debate from a different angle, using different reasoning. Be dexterous and think on your feet. Through all of this, however, you’ve got to establish the root of the disagreement and if there is no common ground to be found – as will frequently be the case – move on. Agree to disagree or if that fails, order another drink and be on your merry way.

I once locked swords with a man, let’s call him John, over issues of sexuality. John masqueraded as devoutly Christian and his tired point was that being gay is against God’s will. It didn’t take me long to realise we would never get anywhere with any kind of debate. John didn’t feel strongly about homosexuality because of his faith; his feelings were motivated by personal prejudice and bigotry. And so, I pivoted my point to highlight that fact. After all, if he cared that much about sinning, he wouldn’t have been pounding back tequila at a seedy bar and hitting shamelessly on women. His solid gold retort perfectly highlighted my point: “Being gay is disgusting.”

Thereafter, I would have sooner shared genitals with a 15th Century bar wench than the table I was sitting at with that vapid twit, so I wandered off to the bar and ordered a cranberry and vodka. I then kissed a girl and liked it.

So you see, try to change your footing and if there is no common ground to be found, agree to disagree and move on.

Rule # 6: realize when to quit

rolling eyes.jpg

I had to walk away from my debate with John because I realised it was time to quit. And I’ll tell you this: it is exceptionally difficult to find people who will entertain a roaring debate without wanting to garrote you at its crescendo. The people who are smart, objective, and confident enough in their opinions to do so are very few and far between, so if you sense the conversation going south (and not in a sexy way), back off. If your opponent starts getting sensitive, uncomfortable, or even aggressive, change the subject or walk away. Realise when to quit and be civilised and conciliatory about it.

Class dismissed: your take-home message

Most of the science-themed topics I cover in my book, Why? Because Science! aren’t exactly inflammatory and won’t get you withering looks from the person you’re trying to engage. Some of them, however, will. Scientology, religion, evolution, homosexuality, astrology, and the existence of a spiritual realm are all subjects that many people feel passionate about and as good as passion is in the bedroom, it too often trips up a civilised conversation, sending it south quicker than the Rand after President Jacob Zuma fires another finance minister. This is where tact and the afore-mentioned rules of intellectual debate should serve you well.

This doesn’t guarantee that your opponent will employ the same degree of diplomacy. In fact, in all likelihood, you’ll find it exceedingly difficult to find people willing to discuss such provocative and potentially incendiary subjects. However, the more you broach these subjects and the better you handle these conversations, the more willing people will become to engage in intellectual debate. Like a case of the clap in a fraternity house, this willingness can spread from one person to the next, infecting the world with a sharper appetite for debate, a higher threshold of tolerance, and a healthier sense of humour.

It’s in your power to combat ignorance. Do it responsibly, compassionately, and with sweeping conversations about the world in all its microscopic and macroscopic beauty.

 

If you enjoyed this read, you’ll love the book Why? Because Science! Now for only $3.41 on Amazon. Go and get you some!

Get the WBS Book FREE Today!

One does not simply give away free shit.png

From midnight Pacific Standard Time on December 4th to 8th, I’ll be running a free promotion for my book Why? Because Science! That means you can go to Amazon and download your electronic copy FOR FREE. Click on the following link if you wanna get you some:

Heck yeah, I want a free copy!

What’s the catch?

Whoever said the best things in life are free was onto something. But whereas love costs you your sanity, this book is completely free; no ifs or buts, no terms or conditions, and  no catch. Just download it, read it, and if you find yourself laughing, learning something, and falling in love with science just a little bit more then leave a review; maybe share the link to your Facebook page and convince your friends to do the same.

The aim of the promotion is to spread the word about Why? Because Science! and to show Amazon that this book deserves a spot near the top of its best-sellers list for books in the science category. With that kind of exposure I can fund my ambitions to take over the world, mooohahahahaha! Failing that, I can pay my Internet bill.

So, go forth and get your very own FREE copy of Why? Because Science! (the promotion will be running from today to Friday 8th December). And if you enjoy it, please let me (and the world) know all about it!

Happy reading!

‘Why? Because Science!’ – an interview with science author Thea Beckman

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. People typically care only about advancing their own interests and kindness from strangers is an anomaly of such rarity that when it does happen we find ourselves searching for the T&Cs. This is one of those rare cases. A stranger living on the other side of the world stepped into my bubble and offered to do something truly great for me and this blog is it: my first ever interview as an author and as an anything, really.

Matthew Wright, you’ve done so much more for me than a girl could ever have hoped for and I sincerely appreciate it. Matthew has published an incredible number of books on New Zealand history and science and has officially moved from virtual acquaintance to role model. Thanks again for this and to the rest of you: enjoy!

Matthew Wright

Long-time readers of this blog know I’m a huge enthusiast for explaining science and a cheerleader for everybody on the same gig. Today I’m interviewing author and science writer Thea Beckman, who’s just released her first book – Why? Because Science!

Her blog of the same name is a wonderful blend of cool science and sharp humour (don’t drink coffee while reading. I regularly snorted mine).

Click to buy.

Matthew: Hi Thea, I figured you’d write a full-length science book, sooner or later. Congratulations! You’ve subtitled it: ‘The little book of bedtime science that unravels life, the universe, and the occasional pair of underpants’. Sounds intriguing. Also a bit awkward if you’re wearing the underpants at the time and the loose thread got caught on something, and don’t notice until you’ve got 100 metres of cotton behind you. Actually that describes writing. Ahem. So tell me about the book –…

View original post 1,130 more words

“Why? Because Science!” is LIVE!

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me orgasmic pleasure to announce the grand arrival of my book, “Why? Because Science!” It drops TODAY on Amazon so click on the link below and get your electronic copy!

Why Because Science book

It would also be super awesome if you could help me promote this by sharing the link to your social media, recommending the book to friends, leaving a review on Amazon, and forcing it upon family members for Christmas. If this is going to be a success, I’m going to need all the help I can get from you, my blog family. And if you do help to promote the book on social media, please tag my Facebook page @whybecausescience in your comment, status, share, etc!

I’d really appreciate it. Happy reading, everyone!

Amazon: Why? Because Science book

Quick Notice: Book Pre-release

Hi all! To those of you who requested to join the pre-release list, the emails went out yesterday. If you haven’t received your free book – and if you submitted a Google mail address – please check out your Promotions Folder on Gmail. And if you have ninja-level filters in place, check your spam folder.

That is all.

Happy reading!

reading book.jpg

Last Chance to Join the Pre-release List

In two days – Wednesday 22nd November – I will be pre-releasing a digital copy of “Why? Because Science!” to an exclusive list of people. If you want to join that list and be among the very first to clap eyes on this book, please send me your email in an comment below or privately to thea@thecontentqueen.co.za.

Is there a catch?

Too good to be true

The best things in life are free, my friends, and so I have decided to make the book free to those of you on my pre-release list. All I ask for in return is your help promoting the book on your social media channels (a simple shout-out and a link to the book on Amazon will do), and an Amazon review. There are no other T&Cs.

Why pre-release the book at all?

Amazon is essentially a search engine, which means that it functions like Google. If you want your business or product – in my case, a book – to appear at the top of the search results pages, it needs to be popular. The more the book is downloaded, the more reviews it gets, and the more traffic it receives, the more Amazon will perceive it to be popular. Since Amazon makes money every time the book is downloaded, it will do its best to help it sell well.

This is where the pre-release launch comes in. By giving a group of people my book (for free) and asking for a some promotion and reviews in return, the book gets off to a good start and (hopefully) attracts enough downloads, reviews, and traffic to tell Amazon that it is worthy of their support.

So, help a girl out!

help a girl out

Send me your email details and I’ll add you to the pre-release list. On Wednesday, you’ll get a link to the book as well as a little list of tasks you can do to help me promote the book, which will be officially launched on 1st December.

I’ll be extremely grateful for all your support!

 

You get a book and you get a book; everybody gets a book!

Oprah you get a car!.jpg

Want a free copy of my book “Why? Because Science”?

Yesterday, I announced the launch date – 1st December – for my first ever book. Now, as a powerful drive to set this book up for success on the international market, I NEED your help.

If you send me your email address (here or privately to thea.beckman@gmail.com) I’ll send you a FREE electronic copy of my book 10 days before the book launch – that’s next Wednesday 22nd November. In return, all I ask is that you share my book’s link in Amazon to your social media channels (the more the better) and write a review on Amazon.

Batman thumbs up.jpeg

Many people have insisted on paying for my book, which is wonderful – thank you – but for the first few weeks or so, the book will be listed for free as a way to encourage downloads so that Amazon’s search engines will take notice and say: “Holy crap, this book is popular! Let’s push it to the top of the list!”

With your help, promotion on social media, and positive reviews, we’ll put Why? Because Science! in the best possible position to become a bestseller in its category. This is the ultimate goal and if you can become a part of helping me achieve that, I’ll be so incredibly grateful!

So send me your emails, y’all and I’ll put you on my pre-release list!

you're awesome.jpg

 

 

Count Down to Book Launch!

Hello minions!

It’s been many moons – hundreds, in fact – since last I posted on this blog site. Many of you have rightly asked if I’m still alive. The good news is that I am indeed still alive. Why then the resounding year-and-a-half-long silence? I have a great excuse, I promise:

I have been writing the official Why? Because Science book! Here’s a sneak peak at the provisional cover… Why- Because Science (2).jpgIn just over two weeks’ time – on the 1st December 2017 – I will be launching it on Amazon. To begin with, the book will be in kindle/electronic format only. Once I have raised the necessary funds, I’ll be able to launch a print-to-order enterprise, which means hard copies! It’s a step-by-step process that’s utterly terrifying and satisfying at the same time. Very much like nipple clamps.

Keep an eye on this space and thank you so much for your loyalty over the years!