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Debate, a Dutch art form


Debate is an art for which the people of the Netherlands have a finely-cultivated ability.

It's worth learning a bit of the language to understand the gist of a good Dutch discussion.

But this is not easy. Indeed, the chance to watch debate programs on archived uitzendingen — broadcasts — is one of the rare delights of knowing some of het Nederlands. You can't speak it, with Nederlanders, unless you speak it well. You can insist; but you will have to make a concerted and persistent effort not to let conversation slide into English. You could pretend inability to speak English, in some cases, but you'd have to learn a bit of Dutch first, op je eigen houtje.

But a good debate program from Dutch TV? Masterful. Delightful, beautiful. Geweldig.

My favorite so far is the now-discontinued Lagerhuis ("Lower house," a reference to the UK House of Commons,) over which the great leftist Marcel van Dam held court. Twenty debaters of all adult ages, both sexes — and various roles in society — discussed matters introduced by meneer van Dam himself — and did so in an orderly and mannerly fashion (and yes with passion and committed argumentativeness.)

The Dutch have a history and a politic of discussion, and a tendency to form policy by consensus in place of leadership. This, the so-called "poldermodel" or "polder politics," derives from requirements in a land where local decisions about waterworks have always had wider implications on mutual well-being and even survival.

And, as a result — however-much genetically and however-much culturally — Dutch society is characterized by an ability to discuss, to talk, and to talk more — to debate.

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