Intellectual Conversations

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What happened to deep conversation?

One of my fondest dinner-party memories—what has become my dinner-party ideal—happened by chance seven or eight years ago. In small groups, I like to introduce friends who might enjoy each other and who have varied viewpoints.

On the night of my most memorable dinner party, five people—each of a different religious faith and cultural background—fearlessly and respectfully discussed meaty, challenging, “off-limits” topics including politics, sexuality, women’s rights, and more. We talked late into the night. We ate two helpings of dinner and dessert.

I remember the moment because of its rarity.

My last in-depth intellectual conversation came over dinner with two female friends during my contemplation on women’s animosity toward other women. As with my dinner party, I remember the evening so vividly due to the unusual depth of discussion and the sheer fun of the debate.

So here’s my question: Why?

Should we blame

  • social “politeness,” which forces us to stay away from “danger” topics and keeps us talking about the weather or the latest sporting event or a television show episode? Over time, out of loss of practice, perhaps we become so rusty in respectful intellectual debate that we flinch from chewy conversation?

  • busy lives, which keep us away from knowing deeply enough about most topics to debate them with fervor?

  • numbness from the onslaught of nonstop news, which has caused us to turn away from thinking too deeply about difficult topics—and to turn toward dumbing ourselves down with popular culture?

What do you think?