James Baldwin debates William F Buckley

59 minutes

Hurricane Katrina, frame by frame

6 minutes

A woman like me

9 minutes

The super zoom

3 minutes

Are you really addicted to your phone?

3 minutes

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Who is ‘looting’ and who is ‘finding food’? How image gatekeepers shape the news

In August 2005, Alysia Burton Steele was just two months into her job as a photo editor on The Dallas Morning News when she decided to dispatch the photographer Irwin Thompson to New Orleans to document the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Her newspaper’s bold journalistic work went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2006. In this short interview, Burton Steele describes how her team approached their coverage of the storm and its aftermath, and discusses the telling disparity between how news outlets presented African Americans and white people affected by the tragedy. This video is part of Topic’s Frame by Frame series, in which ‘celebrated photojournalists explore images of the people and events that helped shape the American experience, and discuss how working with photographs impacts them personally’.

Director: Yvonne Michelle Shirley

Producer: Jennie Bedusa

Website: Topic

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

When a deafblind woman from Denmark met a woman like her in Nepal

‘I dreamt I was the deafblind woman we visited … And there was no information, nothing, just isolation.’

Sensory experience, cultural differences and degrees of privilege collide in a meeting between two deafblind women: Dorte Eriksen from Denmark and Budhi Maya Gurung from Nepal. Commissioned by the Danish Deafblind Association to document a trip to help deafblind people in Nepal, the Mexican-Danish filmmaker Isabel Morales Bondy found herself filming the two women’s remarkable encounter. A Woman Like Me is assembled entirely without spoken words. Instead, viewers get to see as if through Eriksen’s eyes and hear only what the director does as witness to the women’s language of touch. Acknowledging the opacity of this experience, Morales Bondy chose not to subtitle the women’s meeting, prompting profound questions about language, communication and human connection. 

Director: Isabel Morales Bondy

Producer: Lars Feldballe Petersen

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

A quantum odyssey from the tip of a pen to the dark side of human knowledge

The classic short film Powers of Ten (1977) propelled viewers on a journey from a Chicago park into deep space and then back down to the scale of a single proton. In The Super Zoom, the Brazil-based graphic designer Pedro Machado’s visualisation dives even deeper into the realm of the subatomic and theoretical. While the original film by Charles and Ray Eames zoomed in to a scale of 10-16 metres at most, Machado’s film draws on 40 years of quantum research – not to mention significant advances in 3D rendering technology – to drill down to the unfathomably small scale of 10-33 metres, brushing up against the limits of human knowledge and imagination. The mindbending animation uses a framework of quantum gravity in which a gravitational field exists at these smallest conceivable scales.

Director: Pedro Machado

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Is ‘tech addiction’ really akin to drug addiction? Here’s what the research says

Over the past two decades or so, industries have sprung up to treat ‘addictions’ to everything from excessive eating or sex to video games. And colloquially, use of the word ‘addictive’ seems to have reached a peak, used in headlines and casual conversations to describe everything from Nutella to the latest streaming series. In this short video from BBC Ideas, Andrew Przybylski, a professor of experimental psychology at the Oxford Internet Institute, examines the phrase ‘technology addiction’, offering a brief history of the term, and ultimately arguing that, unlike research on addictions to gambling, drugs or alcohol, the research on technology addictions is inconclusive. For Przybylski, it’s more than a matter of semantics: given the lack of conclusive research, new ‘addiction’ treatment markets have become fertile ground for opportunists looking to make a quick buck. Also, like conflating sadness with clinical depression, pairing ‘tech addiction’ with medically proven conditions risks minimising very serious brain disorders.

Video by BBC Ideas

Animator: Cheng-Hsu Chung

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter
Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Essay/
Beauty and aesthetics
Blackness and beauty

We need a radical new paradigm for thinking about blackness that recognises beauty’s potential to save lives

Enuma Okoro

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The Bible’s first critic

Centuries before Spinoza, there was Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, a Jewish freethinker for whom the Bible was too irrational for faith

Pieter van der Horst