The Best Talks and Debates on the Internet

    8 January 2019

    The internet has changed beyond recognition in recent years. In the noughties we consumed short, digestible bursts of information online. But now there’s a growing appetite for long-form intellectual content – the internet is chockablock with podcasts, discussions and debates. People are going online to explore ideas that, before, would never have been found beyond the bounds of a university campus. As Douglas Murray revealed here on Spectator Life, the most radical contemporary thinkers are joining the likes of Jordan Peterson in tapping into this growing desire to discuss philosophical and political questions online. In doing so, they sidestep the censorious culture of some universities and reach an online audience of millions.

    In the light of this shift, we bring you seven of the most thought-provoking talks and discussions available online for those who like to think outside the box:

    Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray and Sam Harris in conversation:

    In 2018, these three middle-aged men managed to sell out the o2 arena in London, as well as several other venues across the world, simply by sitting on a stage and debating the meaning of life, among other topics. The result was a fascinating series of conversations between three of the most independent thinkers of our time all of whom are fully prepared to challenge intellectual orthodoxies and think outside the box:

    Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. 2018 Reith Lectures

    How do we judge what is beautiful? This is the question leading British artist Grayson Perry seeks to answer in his 2018 Reith Lecture series for BBC Radio 4. Perry’s quick wit and knack for cultural insight are present throughout his three talks as he challenges the academic elite’s grip on the definition of beauty and attempts to present a new set of tools for understanding the visual landscape of contemporary art.

    Terry Eagleton in conversation with Sir Roger Scruton

    This conversation from Intelligence Squared between the famous Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton and leading conservative philosopher and Spectator Life columnist Sir Roger Scruton is a must-see even though it took place over six years ago. With the traditional political positions of left and right currently in flux all over the western world, it is even more fascinating to hear these two leading thinkers debate the core ideas behind communism and conservatism. Intelligence Squared has also hosted a number of other noteworthy debates from Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) and Nick Clegg on Populism to best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari on the myths we need to survive.


    Yanis Varoufakis on the problems of the Euro

    The former Greek Finance minister gained notoriety for the stand he took against the EU’s financial demands during the 2015 Greek debt crisis. He has since built a career as a political thinker. Here he is in December talking to the Oxford Union about the problems facing the Euro:


    Jamie Bartlett – Is the internet killing democracy?

    Jamie Bartlett of think tank Demos has a made a name for himself for his forward-thinking books on society’s relationship with technology. From immersing himself in the dark web to trying to understand the way in which the Brexit campaign was able to micro-target voters based on their social media use, Jamie has explored the internet’s every facet.  He was one of the first journalists to report on the Cambridge Analytica news story. Here he is talking about the impact of social media on democracy:


    Camille Paglia on Feminism

    Camille Paglia got into hot water with feminists when she took the movement to task on its tendency to derogate and dismiss men. Whether or not you agree with her arguments (she has as many critics as she has fans), the art critic and academic certainly isn’t afraid to question the accepted thinking of our time. Here she is talking about feminism during last year’s Battle of Ideas festival.


    Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson on Political Correctness

    The Munk Debates take place twice a year in front of a 3,000 strong audience in Toronto, Canada with the resulting discussion posted online for all to enjoy. Past participants include Henry Kissinger, Paul Krugman, Fareed Zakaria and Tony Blair. The debate on political correctness is particularly worth a watch not just because of its participants who include Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson but also because of the quality of the argument on both sides. Start watching at 11.23 for the debate itself:


    Marilynne Robinson on the nature of the self

    Barack Obama’s favourite novelist and Pullitzer Prize winner is almost as famous for her essays as she is for her fiction. Her academic writing covers everything from astrophysics and politics to the existence of God and she is quick to challenge the separation of art and science as two distinct intellectual fields, saying the two can inform each other. But the underlying theme of her work is the nature of humanity – our capacity for immense good and immense evil. Here she discusses how we might have arrived at the modern idea of the self at Yale University. Start watching at 4.14 to skip straight to Marilynne’s lecture: