Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 3

Motion 1: This House believes that individuals who buy non-essential items rather than donating to charity are morally responsible for the deaths of starving people who lived in poverty

This debate motion is a classic, and that means that there is probably a plethora of information available that you can easily access through Google or Youtube. Here are a few links which you will probably find useful:
1) This is a Youtube video where debaters from the University of Cape Town debate the motion THBT, after meeting one's basic needs, individuals have a moral responsibility to donate a significant portion of their income to poverty alleviation.

The motion is phrased differently from the SSSDC motion but the spirit of the two motions are virtually identical. It will be useful for you to watch the video, take notes and consider the strengths and weaknesses of each side. I would also caution against copying the speeches wholesale, because public resources such as this video has probably been seen and analyzed by a large number of people who would probably develop effective countermeasures against the arguments made within the video. In fact, it would be highly advisable to start preparing your rebuttal sheet by formulating the rebuttals against the arguments within this video.
2) In the above link, the BBC neatly and simply summarizes Peter Singer’s argument that “giving to charity” isn’t being generous, it is merely everyone’s moral duty to provide for those less well off than ourselves. In fact, not donating to charity would be wrong, it would be a dereliction of our moral duty and we would be complicit and not just negligent towards the suffering of those we deny charity to. Put simply, if we do not contribute to charity when we can, we will be directly responsible for the suffering of the less fortunate. You may also want to check out “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” to get access to the detailed version of Peter Singer’s academic writing, though the BBC article explains his argument in a more easily digestible form while also addressing how to respond to the Opposition argument that a positive moral duty to give to charity is too demanding.

At this juncture, you would probably think that the arguments on Prop side are fairly straightforward, intuitive and accessible; and you would be right to think so. This motion is probably slightly more challenging for Opposition, both in terms of research as well as finding the right argumentation to persuade the judge in your favour. On an intellectual level, the philosophies of egocentrism (having little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than one’s own) and hedonism (that pleasure is the only thing good for an individual and therefore individuals should seek to maximize their pleasure) are perfectly valid ways of leading one’s own life, but they are unlikely to hold much appeal to a judge when the trade off is allowing children to starve. As a result, it is probably unstrategic to rely solely on arguments which attempt to justify people’s self-indulgence. Proudly proclaiming that individuals owe no duty to starving children is unlikely to win over the average reasonable person even though it is a perfectly sound and logical argument.

Before introducing other arguments in Opposition, I will first explain the concept of Effective Altruism which you should probably do more research on anyway. Effective Altruism (EA) encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact. EA seeks to answer the question, “with limited time and money, how can I make the greatest positive impact in the world?” To better illustrate this concept, two people may donate the same amount of money to charity, but one person may achieve a greater positive impact by donating to a more effective charity. For example, Bill Gates exercises charity through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also engages in fund-raising, spreading awareness and identifying new worthy causes to support. As a result, every dollar donated by Bill Gates probably has a greater positive impact than a dollar I donate to the National Kidney Foundation.

The reason why I introduced EA as a concept is to highlight the fact that creating a positive impact on the world isn’t just about how much monetary resources you donate, there are many other factors that also need to be considered. An individual who spend on non-essential items and therefore donates less to charity can create a greater positive impact than another individual who donates more to charity. Furthermore, spending on non-essential goods can also boosts one’s ability to accumulate greater wealth which can then be donated. For example, by spending on a non-essential luxury bed, I can get better sleep and hence boost my health and productivity. By spending on a luxury lifestyle, I can greatly boost my quality of life that can increase my motivation and ability to earn more money I can donate later. By spending on luxury fashion, I can improve my ability to network with rich individuals whom I can convince to donate. The list goes on. The trick here is to explain how Opposition’s world doesn’t necessarily involve more poverty and suffering. One could also argue that the industries which produce non-essential goods actually provide a great number of jobs and pay to those who would otherwise live in poverty.

Motion 2: This House believes that all forms of contemporary art have as much merit as more traditional forms of art

This motion has the potential to create debates that become a confusing mess really quickly, because it is unclear what differentiates “contemporary art” from “traditional art”. In fact, during a dialogue session organized by the Florence Academy of Art, when renowned artists were asked to elaborate on their own definitions of the two forms, they stated that they considered the duality irrelevant to some extent, calling for an aesthetic that can integrate and synthesize contemporary and traditional aspects. “There are overlapping rivers of traditions that flow in parallel .. The first abstract painting was done nearly a hundred years ago, so is it traditional or contemporary?” If established artists cannot agree on a clear distinction between the two forms, it is unlikely that the debaters on both side will be able to do so.

There also exists Contemporary-Traditional Art which refers to an art produced at the present period of time that reflects the current culture by utilizing classical techniques in drawing, painting, and sculpting. This form of art is referenced in a recent article published by The Straits Times, which discusses utilizing the traditional form of Chinese Opera to explore contemporary issues.

There are a few ways to look at the contemporary-traditional divide.

1. Categorize art based on the time period in which they are produced
Basically art produced during or after the 20th century would be considered contemporary. The problem with definition based on period of production is that it is quite arbitrary and does not provide a meaningful way to differentiate between the two. Two closely similar pieces of art would fall under separate categories simply because they were produced during different time periods.

2. Categorize art based on style and technique
Based on this definition, traditional art is based on classical techniques such as but not limited to, drawing, painting and sculpting. While contemporary art forms include digital art, pop music, etc… The difficulty with this definition is that there are also contemporary forms of drawings, paintings and sculptures which brings me on to yet another definition.

3. Categorize art based on content
Based on this definition, traditional art is tied to the culture of a group of people, for which the skills and knowledge required to create the art are passed down through generations. In contrast, contemporary art is globally influenced, culturally diverse and possibly technologically driven.

4. Categorize art based on form and interpretation
Based on this definition, traditional art is relatable, containing beautiful elements that please the eye, making the aesthetic response much easier to grasp. In contrast, contemporary art focuses more on expressing an idea or feeling instead of conveying a subject or idea that is beautiful or realistic. As a result, whereas traditional art can be appreciated just by looking at how it is aesthetically beautiful, contemporary art needs to be understood.

Note that the list of acceptable definitions I have provided are not exhaustive. The problem then is that a single piece of artwork can be defined as both traditional and contemporary depending on which definition is used, and teams being self-serving will likely cherry pick their examples and interpretations to best suit their arguments. This will likely result in a messy, parallel debate that is not at all enjoyable to watch and as a result lead to judges giving low scores to all speakers involved.

I have already mentioned this in two previous articles but it bears repeating that speakers should try their level best to avoid getting low speaker scores because the majority of teams will be reliant on their speaker scores as tiebreakers in order to qualify for the Quarter-Final. Moreover, in a messy debate, the judge is far more likely to award the win and higher scores to the team that attempted to create clear clashes within the debate to make the judge’s life easier.

This basically means that it is in your best interest to somehow navigate through these diverse set of possible definitions to provide a relatively clear and functional yardstick as to what makes art traditional or contemporary. There are too many different permutations for me to discuss meaningfully, but it will be important to understand the distinctions well to create mutually exclusive argumentation and analysis that judge’s will credit your team for.

You should also take note that the wording of the motion suggests that Proposition needs to show that contemporary art is as valuable as more traditional forms of art, which means that the spirit of the motion should lead Opposition to argue that contemporary art is less valuable. If Opposition tries to be creative and attempts to flip the motion around by arguing that contemporary art is in fact more valuable, they are violating the spirit of the motion, though Proposition probably still needs to convince the judges that this is the case. The simpler way to understand this is that if Opposition argues that contemporary art is more valuable than traditional art, they agree with Proposition that contemporary art is at least as valuable as traditional art, and therefore crosses the house, which is not allowed in the WSDC format.

Motion 3: This House believes that fairy tales are a negative influence on young children

From side Prop, there is an opportunity to draw on the fact that many of the original Grimm’s fairy tales were actually not suitable for children. For example, in the original Sleeping Beauty, she isn’t woken by a prince’s kiss. Rather, the king after seeing her sleep, decides to rape her. She eventually wakes because one of her children sucks her finger which removes the piece of flax keeping her asleep. She basically wakes to find herself raped and the mother of two children. In another example, Cinderella, the nasty stepsisters cut off parts of their own feet in order to fit them into the glass slipper. The prince is alerted when two pigeons peck out their eyes, leaving them to become blind beggars. From these violent, brutal and misogynistic examples, it is relatively easy to draw out various reasons why such content is inappropriate and harmful towards children.

Opposition may of course contest this definition of fairy tales and claim that the main form of fairy tales accessible to children today is the sanitized version made popular by Disney. However, the WSDC format rules found here suggest that Opposition can only challenge the definition if Propositions definition is unreasonable.  (
There are a few things to note here:
1) Most judges (and debaters) have probably never bothered reading through a 51 page document to familiarize themselves with all the rules. Even if they have, they may not remember them.

2) Having to prove that Prop’s definition is unreasonable is a pretty high burden to take on.

3) Even if Prop’s definition is unreasonable, explaining why this is the case would take up significant portions of time in your speeches that you may not be able to afford when the speeches in SSSDC are only 5 or 6 minutes long.

4) Opp has to rely on the subjective viewpoints of the judges; whether the judges find the definition reasonable. Obviously opinions between judges may differ, which means that challenging the definition set up by Proposition is always a risk.

5) When judges consider Opposition’s definitional challenge illegitimate, they often greatly discount their argumentation. (even though they should not do so)

As a result, Proposition teams actually have a great advantage in terms of being able to take liberties with the definition of terms within a motion. By going first, they get to set the parameters of the motion and the debate. This first mover’s advantage allows them to set up certain contexts which may be favorable to Proposition, and the Opposition team may struggle with.

What Opposition can do relatively easily in these situations is to attempt to expand the debate by claiming that Proposition is setting a narrow and myopic definition by picking and choosing only examples that are favorable.

“Panel, the Proposition team’s definition of fairy tales as the original edition written by the Grimm’s brothers is certainly legitimate, but it is also an incredibly myopic and narrow definition. We need to acknowledge that fairy tales are not static, they evolve over time to suit the tastes of the modern generation. For example, the version of Rapunzel which children of today are exposed to isn’t the original version written by the Grimm brothers, but rather the movie Tangled produced by Walt Disney where Rapunzel is portrayed as an assertive and independent women.”

In this way Opposition can give themselves some wiggle room without an explicit definitional challenge, by claiming that they are merely “expanding the definition”. After all, the term “definitional challenge” almost always fills the judge with dread that the debate will become parallel, messy and impossible to judge, whereas an Opposition team trying to improve the debate by expanding a narrow definition is likely to be credited for being comprehensive. To a certain extent, the two are one and the same, but a good debater should put themselves in their judges shoes and try to understand the debate from the judge’s perspective.

In terms of content and argumentation, one of the primary clashes within the debate will most likely be about whether the simplicity of narratives within fairy tales are beneficial or harmful towards children. Troupes such as “good always triumphs over evil”, “true love can overcome all adversity” are effective in inculcating certain positive moral values in a way that can be more easily accessible and understood by children. On the other hand, they may also be misleading and out of touch with reality. Furthermore, despite Disney’s recent and admirable efforts to modernize many of these classic fairy tales, by for example creating strong and powerful female characters such as Elsa in Frozen, they are nevertheless guilty of entrenching gender roles. Women continue to be portrayed as emotionally vulnerable creatures in need of love and affection by male characters who vanquish evil villains through heroic physical feats. After all, commercial profit making companies such as Disney need to pander to public demand in order to sell movie tickets and merchandise. The flip side of this is that their profit incentive leads to the creation of highly popular and accessible forms of media which facilitates the ability of children to learn about positive values through these mediums. Considering the fact that children have fairly limited experience and understanding of the world around them since their interactions are largely isolated to what they experience in school and at home, fairy tales are the primary means through which they are exposed to moral values which influence them in a positive manner.

I hope you've found these tips useful and wish you all the best for round 3!

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Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 2