On the request of SevenTwenty, Eric Stam agreed to voice his opinion on the ESL final motion in order to start a proper debate about motion setting and the “parliamentary” nature of parliamentary debate. On Friday, Manos Moschoupoulos will respond with a defense of the motion. Any other author wishing to contribute to this debate can use the respond boxes below, or send in an article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There seems to be something ‘’wrong’’ with motions used in ESL final rounds. At Cork Worlds 2009, the motion ‘’This House Would require a domestic quota of players in football teams’’ was held responsible by many debaters for a poor performance of some of the teams in the final, which eventually resulted in a petition on Facebook ‘’This House Believes the ESL final motion of Cork Worlds 2009 is a disgrace’’. I remember that I didn’t sign that petition because I believed it to be an excellent motion. Not only because I strongly disagree with those who claim that football has a marginal societal impact, but also because it was a perfectly fair and balanced motion in my opinion. I couldn’t comprehend that some people believed this was a debate that required ‘’specific knowledge’’. Some people – literally – didn’t know who Lionell Messi was. That time, I was asking myself: How can people be so ignorant? How can people live such an empty and shallow life?
However, I must confess I had a strong emotional reaction myself when I heard the motion of the ESL final of the EUDC this year. Not that it was of any concern to me – I wasn’t there, it was not my final – but there was clearly a sense of disbelief on not just my part but also on Facebook and Twitter after the motion was announced. Surely, debating the existence of God might be very interesting to people. No doubt it’s one of the biggest questions in life for many people around the world. But how – in the name of God – did it qualify as a good final motion for the ESL competition?
Ironically, the complaining this time is not about the marginal societal impact or a lack of opportunity to show some serious cleverness. The ESL competition has not been underestimated this time – to say the least. Most people I spoke with had no idea how they would have handled this motion. Some points to consider:
1. This motion requires very specific knowledge about non-intuitive argumentation. The only way to practice this motion is by practicing this motion. It’s disproportionally dependent on knowledge one cannot take for granted. This motion is especially hard, for instance, for debaters coming from countries where secularism is strongly institutionalized.
2. The burden of proof for the proposition is disproportional. Any argument in favor of the existence of God can be refuted by saying: “That doesn’t proof there is a God.’’ It’s also extremely hard to debate about a concept without a clear, fixed meaning. Why is it invalid to show a carrot and define it as God?
3. The motion hardly has any tradition in most debating culture, except maybe in the British/IONA circuit. Debating metaphysics is something we usually don’t do within parliamentary debating. Most debaters have reasonable expectations about the kind of motions they have to debate – something more parliamentary. This particular motion has never come across at tournaments or training weeks such as DAPDI as far as some of us can remember. Those debaters would feel that this motion is the equivalent of saying after the semifinals of Wimbledon: ‘Ok, now in order to determine who the winner is, we are going to play gulf.’
4. Especially in outrounds the ‘’shock effect’’ seems to be very important with escalation to crazy motions as a result. Many (experienced and old?) debaters defend this motion by remarking how ‘refreshing’ it is to do something ‘out of the ordinary’. It might be asked to those debaters how they would feel if they had to debate in a final about a motion that would never have been picked in their time as an active debater.
Personally I would be interested to know whether the adjudication team has considered to run this motion in a preliminary round, and to find out why they would or wouldn’t. My guess is that by running this motion in a preliminary round they would have been overwhelmed by complaints because both teams and judges would not be comfortable with this motion. One can argue that a motion in a final round can be more challenging, but the question always remains whether teams can live up to the sometimes ridiculous and notoriously hard-to-guess expectations of people in the adjudication team. When something goes wrong there, the adjudication team is (partly) to blame.
Disclaimer: this article has been written on personal behalf after an initial response and his unsuccessful parodic attempt to inspire others to start a petition to show the world that this motion WAS A DISGRACE!! – The author doesn’t consider this to be ‘‘his business’’. However, signing the petition can be done here.