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I’ll drink it here, thanks

You open the doors to wisps of throat-catching cigarette smoke, and walk in to one of Wellington’s coffeehouses with a sleight of hand and a topic you’re just itching to discuss.

Or you sit by yourself at one of the tables, only to be joined by a fellow patriot and reader of the same newspaper. Over a coffee (or two), the intellectual duels progress late into the afternoon; the terrors of the morning press fading into the thick air above.

What, dear reader, do you discuss? Who do you talk to and what would they say?

Politics, religion, or philosophy? A political scientist, or maybe an artist? Maybe some history; or even European current affairs?

Most of us would have chosen one of those ‘intellectual’ topics. Long ago, we talked about those things.

Today when we participate in the much-loved café culture of Wellington, many of us just get a takeaway. I’ve considered asking for a takeaway intellectual conversation as well, just to fit in.

In the 1960s, coffeehouses in Wellington sprung up with the rise of the coffee culture around the world. The history books will tell you that they only lasted 10-20 years; replaced with television, nightclubs, and instant coffee.

Simultaneously, the slight intellectual culture we had here began to dig its own grave, burying the idea of friendly debate deep into the dirt.

Why is it that we’re so averse to challenging conversation; so unwilling to listen to others with different opinions – and knowledge on different subjects?

On the train, in the coffee shops, on the street even: we’re all looking down at our screens, and it’s detrimental to the intellectual culture our country should have.

We’re so small in size that it should be natural to discuss important aspects of politics or policy with each other. The idea that such topics are simply ‘too deep’ is preposterous, given that they affect our daily lives and impact our relative prosperity.

Whilst working at The New Zealand Initiative, I have seen first-hand the disconnect between intelligent policy-based research and the wider political debates in the country. I too lament the lack of ability for the media and the people to talk about things that matter. For us as citizens to listen to each other and learn from each other.

And most importantly, to be open to new and different ideas.

I find the world of ideas and concepts fascinatingly magical, and that’s perhaps why I love philosophy so much. It’s not too much to ask that the quality of our country’s debate improves. I think this qualifies as a case of nostalgia for something I’ve never had.

So, look up from your phone. Don’t get a takeaway. And duel with the sword of words – nicely, of course. Make use of our café culture, not just the drink.

Jack joined the Initiative team as an intern for six weeks. He researched and worked on our upcoming localism report. Jack is two years into a three-year degree in Philosophy at KU Leuven University in Belgium and is back home in Wellington while on his (European) summer break. 

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