Like this, but with less idiocy.

One of my major sociopolitical themes at this blog is that with the right application of frank, honest discussion, we could avert a lot of disaster in the world. We, as a species, seem to be headed toward disaster, given the emergence of several social and political and biological issues that we’re ill-equipped to discuss. I was talking this through with Ailish–who is currently bringing the house down with viola practicing–and I came upon an idea. You know what we could use to inspire frank and honest discussion about a number of topics? We could do a chat show. On British tv. Late at night. Like any other chat show, but here are the few key differences.

It would be called Would you be willing to participate in a chat show?. The title would change by format. It would be based on the question first asked of any panelist on the show: would you be willing to participate in a[n] x? You see, every panelist would be randomly selected from the audience (if it gets to big national chat show status) or from the street (for the first few episodes). Every night, it would be a different five people, not screened for race, gender, religious affiliation. We would screen for age; every panelist would be between the ages of eighteen and thirty. The young voters. People who should be making a difference in this world, but don’t seem to be.

Every night, maybe every week, they would be asked a different question at the top of the show. Say, “stem cell research: murder or medicine?” but a lot more complex. It would be a question that identifies an issue facing the voting populace of the day. Gay rights, abortion, stem cell research, hydraulic fracture, off-coast drilling. Racism, sexism, ageism. All this stuff. And instead of getting vapid, superficial celebrities to discuss these issues, whose opinions may or may not be informed, we’d get regular people, whose opinions are most-definitely not informed. Average people who vote.

This entire thing, the entire project and format would be tied into forums online, where your real name is your username, no exceptions. You have to stand behind what you’re talking about when you talk about it online and useless all or nothing rhetoric will be strictly monitored. But everyone online would talk about the issues raised that day in discussion by the five people randomly selected to participate in the chat show/podcast/whatever. And it’s uncensored, no holds barred, you have to express your real opinion. If transgendered people make you uncomfortable, you say so up front and then it’s not about demonizing you or calling you a bigot. It’s about finding out, through discussion, what makes you in particular uncomfortable with transgendered people.

I got the initial idea for this format by going on anonymous chat site Omegle. I know Omegle’s a bit uncool nowadays–ChatRoulette seems like the more hi-tech, impressive option–but Omegle is still one of the last places you can meet a stranger in this world and have a real, honest to god conversation. I mean, if you’re patient enough to wade through all the perverts and idiots. It hit me that if you really want to know someone’s opinion on something, you have to be stuck with them in a room for a set amount of time with nothing to talk about. And that’s what this show would be.

Ideally, none of the panelists would have met before the taping. Unless we get some Lost-scale coincidences where it turns out that one of these people killed the other’s con-man father for driving his stepdad to suicide. But they would be anonymous people, trapped in a room together who simply have to talk about the topic of the day. All of the panelists would introduce themselves at the top of the show, but that would be the first hint they had of each other’s names or identities. “I’m John, 23 years old, from x.” Maybe we’d even have theme weeks. Young video game enthusiasts would identify themselves by video game systems. Other people would be university students, college students, we’d get anyone we could just to talk about these things.

See, this is what the world needs. We don’t need staged debate on CNN, we don’t need “with us or against us” bullcrap–we need honest to god conversation about these things. We need to know what we know and don’t know about all the issues assailing the world, we need to be able to disagree with each other respectfully and calmly in our discourse. And this podcast, chat show format could lead to that happening everywhere. It’s not enough to say that things need to change–we have to make them change. And what better way to do that than make everything into a public forum where you have to be accountable for what you’re saying?

I’d start it off small, probably as a local podcast with people I pick up on the street. The show itself, to start with, would be cheap to produce. Hell, all you’d need is a room and five chairs. Get a mic in there, it’s a podcast; get three cameras in there, you have yourself a chat show. Get five willing young people in there, and we might have the hip new thing that gets everyone actually talking about things. Should Islam undergo a moral and intellectual renaissance like Western religions, what is the role of political correctness in society, can we really talk to each other about anything anymore or are we so very obsessed with not offending anyone that we won’t express our opinions honestly or calmly? It’s a sin right now to say what you feel about controversial topics. Any statement is immediately treated as reason to tear that person a new one. But that doesn’t have to be so.

What I’m really saying here is, I might start putting up episodes of Would you be willing to participate in a podcast? later this year, and it’s gonna be a rough and bumpy ride. This is one of those ideas you can make happen with a camera and a laptop, though. It should be easy to put up.