Building an Atlas of Ideas

Mapping the world’s opinions

The internet has democratised speech — it has given everyone a publishing platform.

We rightly herald this technological shift as a political revolution — extending the right to a platform is a fundamental extension of the democratic premise, no different from expanding suffrage.

I am a huge fan and promoter of this new world of multiple perspectives, of different viewpoints and new narratives *— the world is an infinitely richer place as a result, and a fairer one too.

But fully democratised speech is fast becoming the enemy of understanding.

With the premise that everyone has a right to voice their opinion, so goes the assumption that there is an infinite number of opinions out there and that all opinions are of value.

Both those assumptions are false.

Take any argument you can think of, give it a minute’s thought, and you’ll realise that there is, in fact, a spectacularly limited number of real arguments on any side of the topic.

  • You can shrink the billions of words spilt on Brexit down to a half-dozen arguments on either side: sovereignty, economics, some cultural essentialism, some globalisation…
  • The abortion debate hangs on two basic issues : whether you believe life is sacred and, if so, when life begins.
  • Even the critical issue of Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo rests only on a few core arguments (though…)

So here’s my thinking:

If we agree that there is a finite number of arguments for any topic (Brexit, or abortion, or Cristiano Ronaldo), those arguments can be mapped.

And if we can map one topic, we can map them all.

I want to build something like a Total Argument Map, a Wikipedia of opinion, an atlas of all argument.

Trinity College Old LIbrary

You ask: Hasn’t Wikipedia already done this?

No: Wikipedia deals in units of knowledge — the Volt, Silicon Valley, Catherine the Great — each a separate entity of information. Arguments, on the other hand, are nested: they exist in relation to each other and their counters, and they need a different organizing architecture.

Parli.co

I’ve called it Parli (if you can think of a better name please tell me): please sign up to help me test the Beta, and please share this post.

I want Parli to achieve three things:

  1. Help us understand the world:
  • What’s the beef with trade barriers?
  • What are the different positions on Russia’s role in the world?

2. Help us understand what we believe?

  • What do I think about #MeToo?
  • Does my view on immigration tally with my view on nationalism?

3. Most importantly, help us understand what others think:

  • Do we really understand the other side of the debate on gun-control, liberalism, communism, censorship, even racism?

It turns out the person screaming at you from the other side of the picket fence isn’t best placed to help you understand their opinion.

We need translators.

So:

I’m deep in Beta (with thanks to the DNI Fund) and before I launch I need:

  • debaters happy to test the platform
  • publishers intrigued to take this to their audiences

If you’re any of the above, or if you just want to say hi, please

a) sign up to beta-test the first iteration (live in July)

b) write to me at tmunthe @ gmail.com, or contact me here.


  • In 2008, I founded Demotix — a free speech platform that became the biggest global network of photojournalists — precisely on this principle of expanded participation, and democratising speech.