“How Dangerous Spaces Debating would work” – Shengwu Li on the current discussion on setting motions

Datum: Apr 8th, 2015
By
Category: international, Jurieren

After Tim Squirrel provoked a debate on free speech, Amanda Moorghen, deputy chief adjudicator of this year’s European Universities Debating Championship in Vienna, proposed in a comment on Facebook that chief adjudicators (CAs) should take the debaters’ feelings into consideration when setting motions: “Your race, your gender – these are things which affect the feelings a motion creates in you. It is wrong when, even unintentionally, we only selectively attempt to avert the suffering of others.”  The post got a lot of attention. Shengwu Li, European Champion 2009 and best speaker of the World Univeristies Debating Championship in 2010, answered on Facebook and allowed Achte Minute to publish his comment.

All CA teams should aim to set motions that are interesting, deep, and balanced, for the vast majority of participants at a given tournament. These are the only criteria for motions.

One of my housemates asked me, “Would you debate any motion?” And the answer is: No, I wouldn’t. For instance, I would not propose “THW commit genocide.” If this was set at a tournament, even a very reputable tournament, I would willingly concede the points, and spend the round having coffee. This should be entirely socially acceptable.

Your mental health and moral convictions come before points in a debate tournament. What this means is: If you sincerely believe that a motion would be deeply traumatic for you to argue, or would contravene deep moral convictions, you should contact the CA team to send a swing team, and concede the round.

We all have different notions of what would be traumatic, and different moral convictions about what would be undebatable. To take a real example, a staunch Christian might believe that it is morally wrong to argue that a fetus is not a life, and may willingly handicap themselves in a world final on abortion in order to stay true to their convictions.

If I have particular neuroses that make certain topics impossible for me to debate, that’s my problem. I wouldn’t ask you to change the tournament for me, any more than I would ask you to delay the tournament by a day because I need to go to the hospital for a medical emergency. I’ll take the point loss – because, goodness knows, my health (mental or physical) matters more than some game. (We can’t, obviously, compensate me for lost points, or that would create all kinds of perverse incentives.)

Shengwu Li at the World Universities Debating Championship 2014 in Chennai. © Henrik Maedler // Chennai WUDC 2014

There should be no stigma attached to giving a round a by. We should make it entirely transparent what the procedure is for doing so.  And doing so should not be interpreted automatically as blaming the CA team.  A veteran suffering PTSD may be entirely unwilling to debate about the war in Afghanistan, but may believe that it’s valuable for other people to have that argument.

If it turns out that something like 20% of your tournament gives a round a by, then you’ve seriously misjudged your demographics and have set a bad motion. Again: Motions should be interesting, deep, and balanced. If a motion is interesting, deep, and balanced for the vast majority of participants, then those in a minority can take a by. It’s only points, and the alternative is that we never have debates about armed conflict, since there can always be a tiny minority who are traumatised in the particular way which means they can’t debate about it at all. If a motion isn’t interesting, deep, and balanced for the vast majority of participants, then it’s a bad motion for those reasons alone.

To take one example: “THW commit genocide.” is neither deep nor balanced.  It fails even on the old test – but if a CA team set it, I’d happily walk out.

But “THW commit suicide.” is interesting, deep, and balanced. It is one of the most abiding problems of philosophy, and I would love to argue about it with good debaters. I honestly don’t know which side has stronger arguments. I wouldn’t set it for schoolchildren. I wouldn’t set it for a charity fundraising debate.

But it would be part of the social compact, in Dangerous Spaces Debating, that such motions could be set. And that we all may have our own particular neuroses, so if someone walks out on a motion, that carries no stigma against the individual taking a by, and implies no judgement about the quality of the motion. We would still argue about good and bad motions – but the full set of criteria would be whether they were interesting, deep, and balanced.

I make no assertion about whether this is ‘inclusive’. I’ve never been a fan of seeing debating as a big happy world conference. I’ve always enjoyed it because I got to argue, and have my convictions challenged, with people I wanted to argue with and hear from. Debating is for people willing to argue about their most basic convictions and the darkest parts of lived experience. Dangerous Spaces Debaters needn’t be willing to argue everything. But when their own convictions are too strained, or they just couldn’t argue something, but they recognise that the vast majority would find a debate interesting and balanced – they’d take a by. Because they’d be in it for something more than points and tab position.

Shengwu Li/ama

Mittwochs-FeatureThe Mittwochs-Feature: every Wednesday at 10 am, the “Wednesday Feature” introduces an idea, a debate, a book or a person. If you want to kick off a debate, send us your proposal via email at team [at] achteminute [dot] de.

Shengwu Li won the European Universities Debating Championship in 2009 and was top of the tab of the World Universities Debating Championship in 2010. He studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in Oxford and is currently doing his Ph.D. in Stanford.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Schlagworte: , , ,

3 Kommentare zu ““How Dangerous Spaces Debating would work” – Shengwu Li on the current discussion on setting motions”

  1. Paul says:

    Is it properly a ‘bye’ or a ‘by’?

  2. Nicolas Friebe says:

    Guter Artikel… Zustimmung!

  3. Alex Hans says:

    love that you chose the picture where Shengwu Li is threatening to strike at Chennai Worlds =)

Comments are closed.

Follow Achte Minute





RSS Feed Posts, RSS Feed Comments
Help for mobile version

Credits

Powered by WordPress.

Our Sponsors

Hauptsponsor
Medienpartner