It was cold early morning when we set off from the Tilburg station to Leiden on the 30th of November. Being our second tournament, we were visibly excited for the Leiden Novice tournament, especially after the Maastricht tournament that took place earlier in the month. The following are a few observations I made as a participant of the tournament.
The tournament organized by Leiden Debating Union had over 30 novice teams participating and consisted of 4 preliminary rounds of British Parliamentary style debating, culminating in a final between 4 teams.
We started round one with a topic on education, “This house regrets extracurricular commercial tutoring”. As the opening government, we had the advantage of framing the debate, an advantage we fully utilized as we framed it as tutoring for standardized tests used to evaluate entry into mostly public-funded universities. We channelled our inner-socialists and argued that such tutoring created a greater class divide, and going against the meritocracy of the system. We argued that of the aims behind public funding of tertiary education was to break the cycle of poverty. Followed by the closing government arguing that this was essentially a way of gaming the system and created no real knowledge in their students. The opposition side did bring out arguments of self- improvement, freedom of choice, and most importantly that such extracurricular tutoring in a world where there are private schools has very little impact to the class divide.
For the second round, the topic was on law enforcement; “This house opposes entrapment”. Preceded by an info slide that explained entrapment to be practice whereby law enforcement agents induced people to commit criminal offences. Personally, I believe info slides are invaluable at a novice tournament, especially when there are so many international participants involved as it ensures things aren’t lost in translation and that all teams are on the same page, resulting in better engagement within the debate as opposed to everyone debating at cross purposes.
In our room, the opening government began the debate on the premises that such practices are detrimental to minorities given institutionalized racism and the war against drugs. Which clearly showed how influential the US context is even here in Europe. The debate appeared to revolve around drug offences, and how innocent people with enough persuasion would try and buy drugs. Strangely our opponents kept speaking about how all of them wanted to try ecstasy and under such a system they’ll all go to jail for wanting to buy it. I still don’t understand how attempting to buy drugs makes you innocent, but clearly the Dutch love to party. On the opposition side it was argued that such methods were usually targeting those who are already offenders, but due to technicalities and lack of evidence beyond circumstantial evidence have not been prosecuted. It was pointed out that pre-emptive measures of catching would-be offenders are crucial in cases involving vulnerable victims such as children, especially in relation to crimes such as paedophilia, as the alternative would cause far more harm which in no way can be remedied. The opposition also argued that such measures would act as a deterrent and reduce crime overall.
The third debate was every IR student’s dream, with the topic debated being “This house prefers a world with one hegemon, over a world with multiple superpowers”. The arguments ranged from how multi-polar worlds result in mutually assured destruction scenarios, aggressive foreign policies and proxy wars, to how a single hegemon will result in bullying and oppression with no counter powers to act as a balance and check.
The final round before teams broke was on the utterly sentimental notion of love. The scenario was that we were convinced that we found the love of our life but our family fundamentally opposed the relationship, and, in those circumstances, we were to debate that “This house would pursue the relationship”. As predicted the debate opened with the cheesy notion of following your heart and the idea of soul mates, which was viciously countered by the cynical argument that this is but a chemical reaction that will eventually fade away. Interestingly the Closing government argued that there was a moral imperative to follow your heart in order to change society’s views and make concepts such as interracial and homosexual relationships more acceptable, and thus create a more inclusive society. Which we as the closing opposition countered with a more utilitarian, albeit selfish perspective that what you need is to pursue your happiness and that in a world where romantic love fades and divorce rates are as high as 50%, love and support (be it financial or otherwise) from your family is more reliable.
The four teams that broke into the finals were ‘I’ll Take You Later’ (10pts), ‘Waffle-ing On’ (10pts), ‘Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog’ (9pts) and ‘Team Duct Tape’ (9pts), and were adjudicated by 7 judges.
For the final, the CAs decided on a topic with a moral dilemma akin to the dreaded trolley problem. The scenario was as follows:
“You are a Russian sniper on the eastern front of WWII. You see your comrades are surrounded by German troops. You are, sure that they will be treated poorly if not tortured upon capture. You also know that captured soldiers are seen as deserters and are ostracized at home. You are in a safe location, and can get away with taking the lives of your comrades.”
So as expected the topic for the finale was “This house would take the lives of their comrades”.
How the final teams navigated this moral minefield, we never found out as tournament ran late and we had to catch a train back home. But despite missing what would have certainly been an interesting final, I have to conclude that overall it was a brilliant tournament, with topics and the quality of debate keeping us on our toes.
Shakya is a debater of the Tilburg Debating Society Cicero.