YANSS 255 – How to improve our lives (and the world) by improving the quality of our disagreements

This is the second episode in a three-part series about how to have difficult conversations with people who see the world differently, how to have better debates about contentious issues, and how to ethically and scientifically persuade one another about things that matter – in short, this is a three-part series about How Minds Change (which is also the title of my new book).

There seems to be a movement afoot, a new wave of nonfiction about how to reduce all this argumentative madness and epistemic chaos. I want to boost everyone’s signal on this issue, so I thought it would be nice to collaborate instead of compete, since that’s part of what we are all proselytizing with these books.

So this episode’s guest is Bo Seo, the author of Good Arguments – a book about how he became a world debate champion in which he not only teaches us how to apply what he has learned to everyday life, but imagines communities built around, not despite, constant arguing and disagreement.

Seo says that a political life without constant disagreement would be impoverished. As he puts it, quote, “Nations are, at their best, evolving arguments. As he writes, “In a liberal democracy, good arguments are not what societies should do but also what they should be.” See believes that on well curated, well moderated platforms, ones that value good faith interactions, arguing and disagreement would flip from being catalysts for polarization to the very engine of depolarization and change. In the interview, he not only tells us how to defend ourselves against bad arguments, but explains how in his mind a great democracy isn’t a place where everyone agrees and sees eye-to-eye, but one where we work to have better quality disagreements.

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Two-time world champion debater and former coach of the Harvard debate team, Bo Seo tells the inspiring story of his life in competitive debating and reveals the timeless secrets of effective communication and persuasion

When Bo Seo was 8 years old, he and his family migrated from Korea to Australia. At the time, he did not speak English, and, unsurprisingly, struggled at school. But, then, in fifth grade, something happened to change his life: he discovered competitive debate. Immediately, he was hooked. It turned out, perhaps counterintuitively, that debating was the perfect activity for someone shy and unsure of himself. It became a way for Bo not only to find his voice, but to excel socially and academically. And he’s not the only one. Far from it: presidents, Supreme Court justices, and CEOs are all disproportionally debaters. This is hardly a coincidence. By tracing his own journey from immigrant kid to world champion, Seo shows how the skills of debating—information gathering, truth finding, lucidity, organization, and persuasion—are often the cornerstone of successful careers and happy lives.

Drawing insights from its strategies, structure, and history, Seo teaches readers the skills of competitive debate, and in doing so shows how they can improve their communication with friends, family, and colleagues alike. He takes readers on a thrilling intellectual adventure into the eccentric and brilliant subculture of competitive debate, touching on everything from the radical politics of Malcom X to Artificial Intelligence. Seo proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that, far from being a source of conflict, good-faith debate can enrich our daily lives. Indeed, these good arguments are essential to a flourishing democracy, and are more important than ever at time when bad faith is all around, and our democracy seems so imperiled.

Bo Seo

Bo Seo is a two-time world champion debater and a former coach of the Australian national debating team and the Harvard College Debating Union. One of the most recognized figures in the global debate community, he has won both the World Schools Debating Championship and the World Universities Debating Championship.

Bo has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, and many other publications. He has worked as a national reporter for the Australian Financial Review and has been a regular panelist on the prime time Australian debate program, The Drum

Bo graduated from Harvard University and received a master’s degree in public policy from Tsinghua University. He is currently a Juris Doctor candidate at Harvard Law School.

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Previous Episodes

Bo Seo’s Website

Good Arguments

How Minds Change


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