Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 2

SSSDC gets a lot of flak for their motions, but these set of motions for Round 2 are actually relatively solid and deal with many relevant and current issues. For today’s article I will be sharing some tips for each motion to help debaters with their prepared cases.

Motion 1: This House believes that cultural treasures should be returned to their country of origin

For this motion, it is important for teams to avoid attempting to prove their case entirely through the use of examples. Research and examples are certainly a useful way to gain an edge over your opponents, but some teams have a tendency to get carried away with their examples and end up using them as a substitute for actual analysis.

To give an example of this (get the irony?):
“The Elgin marbles were removed from Greece by Lord Elgin to rescue them from the Ottoman Empire, who cared nothing for the ruins of Greek Antiquity and had already pillaged them for building stone or bricked them up for gun-placements. Had Lord Elgin not moved them to Britain with the permission of the ruling government of Greece at the time, these cultural treasures would likely not have survived till today. Over the course of 200 years, these artifacts have been preserved and kept in Britain, where millions of dollars have been spent protecting and preserving them.

Conclusion: Clearly, cultural treasures should not be returned to their country of origin because they have been under the protection of museums overseas which have preserved them at great cost, without which these treasures would probably not have survived the sands of time anyway.”

While the Elgin marbles are certainly a legitimate example to be used for the motion, the paragraphs above make the mistake of hinging their analysis on a single isolated example. Put simply, there are many other examples of cultural treasures which may not have been removed from their country of origin “with the permission of the ruling government”, and may not have been “pillaged for building stone” if they had not been taken. Opposition, if they had done their research, could probably list some counter-examples of treasures that were plundered as a result of colonialism, such as the 4000 Indigenous Australian items acquired after British contact, invasion and occupation of the continent beginning in 1770. Similarly, just because the Ottoman Empire specifically would have destroyed the Elgin marbles doesn’t mean that all other cultural treasures would have met the same fate.

Here’s an illustration of how to use examples effectively:

“These artifacts were indeed removed from their country of origin a long time ago, and we acknowledge that they were often, though not always, obtained through questionable means. However, through the centuries, these artifacts have been safeguarded by the host governments and museums, which have spent millions of dollars to protect and preserve them. If these treasures had been left in their country of origin, they would likely have been degraded over time, stolen or destroyed during cycles of conflict. As a result, the country of origin of these artifacts have no legitimate claim to ownership over them as they only exist because of the good work done by other countries to maintain, restore and guard these treasures.

We believe that the host countries of these treasures therefore have a greater claim to them due to their creditable efforts to take care of them, without which many of cultural treasures would have been damaged, destroyed, stolen or even lost.

For example, consider that the many of the most well-preserved cultural treasures of ancient Chinese dynasties actually exist in foreign museums whereas the artifacts within China have been damaged or destroyed over the past few centuries. During the Cultural Revolution, the CCP made an active effort to destroy all relics of history. During the many civil wars and foreign invasions China experienced, many of these artifacts were subject to looting or destruction, even the ones which remain intact have had their gold coating striped off. In many ways, the current Chinese government’s claim that their treasures have been unfairly stolen from them is downright hypocrisy since their own predecessors set out to actively destroy these treasures.”

In the above paragraphs, the examples add to the credibility of the analysis already made, and therefore the argument does not hinge on the validity of the example. In fact, you could substitute the example of treasures from ancient Chinese dynasties with the Elgin marbles, or any other example without compromising the argument being made.

Examples should complement rather than substitute analysis. Ideally, the analysis made should also not hinge on the examples given so that your opponent’s cannot defeat your argument by simply rejecting your example or providing a counter-example. Furthermore, you should seek to avoid example proving wars where teams throw examples at each other instead of engaging the underlying logic because they make for terrible, painful debates which will tank your speaker scores and affect your chances of breaking (also known as progressing to the elimination rounds). For more about the importance of speaker scores, click here.

Motion 2: This House would require citizens to pass a political general knowledge test before voting in national elections

I foresee a number of Proposition teams claiming that this general knowledge test is necessary to prevent someone like Donald Trump becoming elected by taking advantage of fake-news in a post-truth world where people are struggling to figure out what is right, and what is true. This is because debaters at the secondary school level may not be the most well-read and Donald Trump is the most accessible example that jumps to mind because of how prominent (- and infamous!) he is in the media.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

1) It is important to consider the range of people who would be excluded from voting as a result of this policy. Ignorant Rednecks who vote for Trump are as likely to fail the test as politically disenfranchised African Americans who are likely to vote Democrats. In fact, given that wealthy Americans are far more likely to vote for Trump, this policy would probably skew elections in his favor since poorer Democrat-leaning Americans who are less educated will also fail the test.

2) Given that the Republican party is one of the two major political parties in America, they are likely to have significant influence over what goes into the general knowledge test unless Proposition somehow manages to provide a mechanism which prevents this.

3) The rules of the WSDC format which SSSDC is based on does not allow for place-setting, which means that teams are not allowed to debate the motion as if it is only relevant in a single country. As a result, hinging your case solely on the American context will leave you vulnerable to counter-examples from side Opposition.

4) Donald Trump and the Republican party do not necessarily rely on outright lies to fuel their popularity, very often they employ facts that are misleading to warp perception, which a general knowledge test cannot be expected to fix.

There are two factors you should consider in preparing for this motion:

1) Who are the people who are likely to fail this general knowledge test?
This would include, but is not limited to, those in poor disenfranchised communities who are likely to be less educated, those who are politically apathetic, those who live in remote rural regions of the country, those who may not even show up to attempt the test etc...

It is important to identify the categories of people who will fail the test in order to analyze the impact of omitting their votes. For example, people who are poor and uneducated are likely to fail the test. Proposition may suggest that these people cannot be meaningful participants of the democratic process if they do not have the prerequisite knowledge to make a politically informed choice in the ballot box. This means that they may not even utilize the vote effectively to forward their own best interests and voting may become counterproductive for them. On the other hand, Opposition could also claim that this will lead them to become increasingly marginalized as they are no longer represented by the political process which means their needs and concerns will be neglected by the government which is no longer accountable to them through the ballot box.

2) Who decides what questions will be asked in this test? What are the objectives of this test? What type of questions will be in this test?

These are important questions to answer in order to have a clear and clean debate which generally leads to higher speaker scores being awarded. There are different pros and cons depending on who sets the questions for this test. In some countries, the incumbent ruling party may have a disproportionate influence on the make-up of the test, which means the test may not be fair. To counter this, Proposition can suggest that every party should be allowed to suggest questions and veto questions they object to but this also means that it may be hard to come up with a meaningful list of questions. Proposition could also employ a non-partisan party to set the test but they will still need to justify why this non-partisan party is not likely to be unduly influenced by major parties or lobby groups.

Motion 3: This House would ban an entire nation from major sports competitions if a significant number of their competitors are found to have taken performance enhancing drugs

To date, only Russia has been banned from the Olympics, specifically the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound.

Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.”
The New York Times

As mentioned earlier, teams are not allowed to place-set for debates in the WSDC format. Thus, it is important to consider that other countries may also receive a similar ban in the future. Since Russia is the only country that has ever been banned from participating in the Olympics as a result of doping, it will probably be a vital case-study referenced by both sides. This issue has been all over the news recently since the Winter Olympics is happening right now so it should be fairly easy to find out more through various news and media outlets. Kudos to the organizers for giving a motion that is relevant to current affairs to encourage young debaters to read the news.

For this motion, I would advise teams to consider that both teams can run a variety of different cases which would lead to very different debates. Proposition can choose to copy the IOC ban on Russia; they can also choose to bar all athletes from the banned nation outright, such that they are not even allowed to participate under a neutral flag . On a related motion "This House would ban athletes caught taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for life" I have also seen teams from Opposition suggest that PEDs should be legalized.

There are various different interpretations of the motion which can lead to a number of different permutations. This means that teams need to consider their different options and be flexible in their response strategy. At the secondary school level most debaters are likely to struggle when they encounter unexpected cases and argumentation from their opponents. It is important to utilize the week-long preparation period to consider the different moving parts of the debate to better prepare yourself for the unexpected (and sometimes to run unexpected cases).

As mentioned in an earlier article regarding prepared debates, sometimes it is important to map out the different possibilities and construct different response strategies or cases. Reuben and I once prepared two distinctly different cases in Opposition because we were unsure how the Proposition team would interpret the terms of the motion.

You will sometimes encounter unexpected cases and arguments in a debate, that is part and parcel of what makes debating fun and exciting. As a debater it is important to do extensive research and consider the full range of arguments possible on each side. You should avoid a situation where an unexpected case, policy or clarification from your opponent side-steps the central arguments of your case and renders them irrelevant. Throughout the years I have seen many teams lose debates because they fail to adjust their prepared substantives that have become irrelevant in the face of their opponent’s unorthodox but nevertheless legitimate arguments. Don’t let the lack of preparation and research be your downfall.

If you liked my analysis on the motions for SSSDC 2018 you can also check out the article I wrote for Round 1.

Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 3

Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 1