Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Helsinki Open 2018

Helsinki Open 2018 was jointly organised by the debating societies of Aalto University and Helsinki University, and was held at Aalto University School of Business (Runeberginkatu 14-16, Helsinki). The tournament was British Parliamentary (BP) format with 7-minute speeches. There are two benches: the government/proposition (for the motion) and opposition (against the motion). Each bench has two teams (of two speakers), therefore there are four teams and eight speakers per debate, and one speech per speaker. There are four positions in each debate: opening government (OG), opening opposition (OO), closing government (CG), and closing opposition (CO). The debate starts with the 1st OG speaker (Prime Minister), then the 1st OO speaker (Leader of the Opposition), then the 2nd OG speaker (Deputy Prime Minister), then the 2nd OO speaker (Deputy Leader of the Opposition), then the 1st CG speaker (Member of the Government), then the 1st CO speaker (Member of the Opposition), then the 2nd CG speaker (Government Whip), and finally the 2nd CO speaker (Opposition Whip). The opposing bench is allowed to interrupt the speaker the offer a point of information (PoI) for rebuttal (an explanation of why the arguments made by the other side is wrong) in the form of a question or comment for a maximum of 15 seconds after the first and before the last minute of the 7-minute speech. When someone wants to offer a PoI, they should stand up. The speaker has the right to refuse the PoI being offered, in which case the person offering it must sit down. This commonly happens when the speaker is in the middle of a point and doesn’t want to get side-tracked by a PoI. Therefore, PoIs can also be used tactically in debates. It's recommended that everyone should offer many PoIs during the debate and accept two of them during their speech in order to keep the debate interactive and please the judges.

After the team positions and motion are announced (position in the debate is randomly drawn, so nobody can choose whether they are for or against the motion!), everybody has 15 minutes to prepare in their teams of two speakers, and they aren’t allowed to search for information or definitions online. This can sometimes lead to misinterpretations of the motion, but unless it is a significant misunderstanding, the rest of both benches must follow the 1st OG speaker’s definition of the main elements of the motion. An illegitimate and unreasonable attempt by opening government to restrict or shift a motion is known as ‘squirrelling’. This tournament consisted of 5 rounds with break (to reach the knockout rounds) to quarter-finals and to novice (beginners’) finals. There were spaces for 60 teams (of two speakers). The n-1 rule was applied to Nordic and Baltic societies, and n-2 for others. The n-1  Adjudicator (judge) Requirement rule applies to institutional teams. That is, for institutions which send 1 team, there is no need to register and bring 1 Accompanying Adjudicator. However, when an institution registers 2 teams, it would have to register 1 Accompanying Adjudicator. For an institution registering 3 teams, 2 Accompanying Adjudicators will have to register and judge at the event. Failure to adhere to this N-1 Rule may result in teams from that institutions not being allowed to ‘break’ or having one of its teams being broken up to provide the required Accompanying Adjudicators. The rules seem complicated and most people make mistakes whilst learning them, but they do make more sense in practice than in writing!

The Convenor (the person responsible for organising a debating competition) was Anna Vilén; the Chief Adjudicator (CA) team were Ayal Hayut-man, Milla Huuskonen, and Sharmila Parmanand. The Equity was Alex Moise. The Independent Adjudications (IAs) were Oskar Avery, Johan Båge, Lamine Kane, Klaudia Maciejewska, and Alex Moise. The Tabmaster (The individual responsible for creating and maintaining the tab and draw throughout and after the competition) was Joona Suhonen.

The registration fee was €45 (£39.55) per debater (including food) and €30 (£26.36) for accommodation two nights (Friday-Sunday) in Omena Hotel Lönnrotinkatu (a 12 minute walk from the tournament venue) in a room shared between four people. I’ve heard negative things about Omena Hotel, which has no reception and operates by guests checking themselves in. However, I thought the room was pretty reasonable for the price. There were two single beds and two pull-out single beds, and our own shared bathroom, which was as good as or maybe even better than staying in a hostel.

I was part of the team ‘Die Debattierer’ ('the debaters' feminine plural in German, as my debate partner was Austrian), and the other team from the Tampere Debate Society was ‘Der Debattierer’ ('the debater' masculine singular in German). We took the bus together from Tampere station to Helsinki Kamppi 13:45-15:55 on Friday 18th May. Unfortunately, we missed the ‘Workshop and Debate: The Middle East’ on Thursday 17:00-21:00. Registration was 17:00 - 18:00, and Round 1 started at 18:30. The motion was “This house would (THW) ban religious primary and secondary schools”. We were assigned the position of closing government.
The main government arguments were:
The main opposition arguments were:
·         Many pupils in religious schools didn’t freely choose to be there, which undermines their human rights (such as the freedom to worship), as well as democratic values
·         Pupils’ right to choose should be more important than their parents’ right to choose
·         Parents don’t always have their children’s best in mind because they can be blinded by their love for them and therefore have a limited ability to be realistic
·         Parents can still choose for their children to attend religious gatherings outside of school
·         Religious schools are usually private and therefore those who establish them have the right to freely choose how they operate
·         Parents know best for their children and they deserve the right to choose for them because they have made so many sacrifices for them
·         Childhood decisions have long-term impacts on wider society
·         Science is not always taught effectively in religious schools because they often favour creationism over evolution, which can lead to attitudes such as climate change denial
·         Religious schools sometimes indoctrinate children to keep the Church alive, which may limit their ability to understand other religions and different people’s viewpoints, and therefore they may struggle to cope in reality, have restricted career choices, and could become extreme
·         There are different religious denominations on which religious schools’ operations depend, and therefore negative generalisations can’t be made about all religious schools
·         Religion often causes wars
·         Religious schools often push young people away from religion anyway
·         Religious schools are often segregated by gender, despite arguments that children shouldn’t have same-sex parents because they need equal contact with both genders
·         Religious schools don’t always provide effective sex education, especially for their LGBTQ+ pupils, based on misogynist and homophobic scriptures, which can lead to problems such as teenage pregnancy
·         There is no place for religious schools in the 21st century
·         Religion can give hope to troubled youth, especially in ‘developing’ countries, and even help them later in life
·         Society often has a negative perception of certain religions that could be changed through religious schools
·         Prayer has health benefits
·         Religious schools have a place in the 21st century because religion is dying but it’s an important cultural value that should be kept alive

·         Secularity offers a neutral curriculum
·         Moral values can also be taught in secular schools
·         Secular schools don’t allow smoking and drinking alcohol either
·         There is no such thing as a neutral curriculum
·         Secularity is also a choice
·         Religion usually correlates with moral values, and secular schools tend to have more problems with pupils smoking, drinking alcohol, and getting pregnant
The judges said that we could have explained more about why religious schools are sometimes resistant to change, and their attitude towards homosexuality. The debate relied too much on extremism, which is more related to religion itself than religious schools. The OG’s definitions were a little vague and self-serving, which was restricting to others and difficult for them to redefine. You also can’t attack an argument by simply asserting your own.
Dinner and socials started at 21:00. We had couscous and coconut curry.

On Saturday 19th, breakfast started at 08:00. There was bread with margarine, hummus, and cucumber, as well as porridge, tea, and coffee.
Round 2 started at 09:00. The motion was “THW pool donations for specific charity causes and redistribute them to charities according to evidence-based assessment of the efficacy of these charities within the sector (for example, if I donate to treating malaria, the money will go to the charities that are proven to be most effective at combatting it)”. We were assigned the position of closing opposition.
The main government arguments were:
The main opposition arguments were:
·         It seems that the current system isn’t working as it is because there are still many parts of the world that are suffering from basic illnesses
·         With alternative model there could be less bureaucracy and extra and sometimes unnecessary agency
·         People tend to rely too much on emotions
·         People would still know what cause they support with this model, which should be more important than the individual organisation itself
·         This undermines human rights, specifically the freedom to choose
·         Some people may choose to donate to a certain charity because of personal and emotional convictions and connections to it or the involvement of family members and friends
·         Smaller organisations have less chance of development and improvement if large ‘evidence-based’ charities have monopoly
·         The monopoly of larger ‘evidence-based’ charities could make them vulnerable to corruption and bribery
·         Checks and balances (when branches have some measure of influence over the other branches and may choose to block procedures of the other branches) can already cause problems
·         If larger ‘evidence-based’ charities have a monopoly there might be too much dependency on them and wider impacts on society if they make a mistake, and smaller organisations might be less able to offer support
·         People might give less to charity if they don’t know exactly where their money is going
·         Emotions such as empathy are the very foundation of charities
·         People often check for evidence about charities’ trustworthiness on the internet, which is unreliable
·         Charities sometimes lack internal scrutiny and don’t always evaluate their own work
·         No evidence is fully objective even if it’s based on statistics, as statistics can be manipulated to support different arguments
·         Producing such evidence could be wasteful
·         There are many informative websites that people can already use and we don’t necessarily need an alternative and extra bureaucracy
·         People don’t want to be more restricted and patronised by the state
·         Charities do often evaluate their own work or assign an external independent body to do so
·         There are already too many charities and therefore cooperation can be challenging
·         Charity work shouldn’t be about market competition
·         Only the most effective charities make significant progress
·         People might be discouraged from establishing new charities, such as those that address new causes
·         If there’s less competition, there might be less incentive to improve
·         Startup costs are high
·         Too much of charities’ budget is used for marketing, advertising, and branding rather than for the actual cause, and this could be reduced in order for spending to become more effective
·         Advocacy, campaigning, lobbying, and activism can also raise awareness and increase fundraising and support
·         Workers and volunteers working in the charity sector are probably aware that they are likely to earn less than those in the private sector but they are still committed
·         Marketing and advertising can raise awareness and increase fundraising and support in the long term, but this is difficult to measure
·         Limiting marketing could limit charities’ ability to develop and get new donations
·         Charities aren’t all about money – raising awareness is also important
·         Marketing and advertising provide employment, which addresses the global unemployment crisis’
·         Removing jobs such as marketing positions undermines charities’ legitimacy
·         Charities probably wouldn’t exist without paid workers, who already usually get paid less than those in the private sector
·         Lobbying larger ‘evidence-based’ charities that have monopoly can undermine market competition and democracy
The judges said that we could have considered the importance and wider societal impacts of corruption, employment, and the freedom of choice; as well as incentives.

Round 3 started at 11:00. The motion was “This house believes that (THBT) progressive social movements should emphasise personal responsibility in addressing social problems, at the expense of emphasising the need for structural change (for example encouraging women to be assertive in the workplace more than advocating for anti-discrimination policies; encouraging young people in minority communities to achieve academic success more than to challenge broader social and economic discrimination)”. We were assigned the position of closing opposition.
The main government arguments were:
The main opposition arguments were:
·         Structural changes are too broad, and specific individual social problems depend on the context/society in question
·         Progressive social movements aren’t effective in making much impact on social problems, so it’s worth trying something new
·         People can better relate to specific individual social problems through personal responsibility
·         Not everyone may support this model, but we should mostly consider the perspectives of activists because they are usually the people who are most involved in progressive social movements
·         People can better understand and be motivated to participate in addressing social problems through structural change, as some people take more personal responsibility than others
·         The model that the government is proposing is too simplistic and specific
·         It could be difficult to select which specific social problems should be prioritised when they might actually deserve equal attention, whereas this wouldn’t be a problem in structural change because through it many interrelated social problems can be addressed at the same time
·         We’re all human and can’t necessarily address all social problems through individuals’ personal responsibility because this might lead to too much pressure for them
·         Progressive social movements, lobbying, campaigning, and activism are more likely to address social problems through structural change
·         Structural change often takes a long time, whereas addressing social problems through personal responsibility could make change faster
·         It’s better to address social problems sooner rather than later through emphasising personal responsibility
·         The trickle-down effect isn’t always effective
·         Social problems can’t be addressed by waiting around for external help; this is immoral
·         It’s important to consider long-term change as well as short-term, as long-term structural change could have bigger eventual impacts on wider society
·         For example, why try to change the procedures and raise the standards of one organisation when you can try to change all the procedures and raise the standards of all organisations through the trickle-down effect?
·         Its perhaps better to emphasise long-term structural change in addressing social problems rather than emphasising rushed short-term change through personal responsibility
·         Individuals taking personal responsibility are drivers of change
·         Progressive social movements throughout history have been led by individuals such as Gandhi and Mandela taking personal responsibility
·         Gandhi and Mandela might not have been able to as effectively address social problems without the progressive social movements comprised of individuals that they inspired that led to structural change
·         We can’t rely too much on individuals’ personal responsibility as drivers of social change in case they make mistakes, get hurt, or die (we’re all human)

·         Some social problems can only be addressed by structural change rather than personal responsibility
·         One person’s personal responsibility alone can’t usually change the law, but collective progressive social movements can
·         Victims, for example of sexism or rape, can’t always take personal responsibility to protect themselves, but rather this should be the responsibility of the perpetrators
·         We shouldn’t encourage people to take personal responsibility by breaking the law
·         Each personal gets one vote regardless of how active they are
·         Structural change often involves the government and therefore it can be more widespread and effective
·         Progressive social movements such as the ‘Me Too’ movement is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault have involved self-empowerment
·         Social problems such as structural racism can only be addressed by structural change

·         Why would the government want to encourage structural change through progressive social movements since it usually has authority over most official structures?
·         The government hasn’t concretely shown us how we could emphasise personal responsibility in addressing social problems
Lunch started at 13:00. We had pizza (the vegan pizza was from Kotipizza)!

Round 4 started at 14:00. The motion was “THBT criminal justice policy should be outsourced to technocrats (members of a technically skilled elite) instead of elected representatives (for example the parliament/government)”. We were assigned the position of opening opposition.
The main government arguments were:
The main opposition arguments were:
·         Technocrats have a better understanding of criminal justice policymaking
·         Perhaps an understanding of the electorate and public opinion isn’t necessarily required in criminal justice policy, particularly as the public opinion may be overly represented in this area
·         Some elected representatives invite technocrats to give advice on policies, but others ignore the advice of technocrats and instead use their power to implement policies often for political gain
·         Technocrats can also have perspective because they gather lots of information, use peer reviews and clear scientific papers, and refer to science and facts
·         Elected representatives tend to use sensational rhetoric and make emotional decisions
·         Elected representatives have a better understanding of the electorate and what they need because they are closer to the electorate, whereas technocrats wouldn’t necessarily address the wishes of the electorate
·         Many elected representatives have a background in law
·         Elected representatives often anyway invite technocrats to give advice on policies
·         Technocrats are usually only experts in one field, whereas elected representatives often have a wider view
·         Policymaking often involves perspective rather than skill
·         Scientific papers and long peer reviews are often not written in a way that is understandable or accessible to the majority of people, whereas elected representatives tend to be more understandable and accessible in their work
·         All of us make decisions based emotion
·         Technocrats might design unnecessary criminal justice policies based on their so-called expertise
·         Technocrats might not consider the wider impacts of criminal justice policy, such as the introduction of rape laws encouraging murder
·         Technocrats could provide faster, evidence-based, and efficient policymaking according to new situations and trends, whereas elected representatives are often uninformed
·         Technocrats often come from academia and therefore may be idealistic and ideological, and have a limited sense of reality and no political experience
·         Elected representatives tend to have more concrete and categorised views which could lead to faster policymaking
·         Policymaking shouldn’t be about speed and quantity anyway, but rather quality, which often requires more time
·         Technocrats themselves probably wouldn’t support this motion
·         Some electoral systems are flawed, and therefore their democracy can be questioned
·         Elected representatives themselves are often corrupted and bribed and we don’t necessarily even need them, whereas private individuals with experience and expertise and who don’t depend on votes could be more lawful and ethical
·         Elected representatives are often elected based on their speaking skills rather than their knowledge
·         Voters shouldn’t have to demand effective criminal justice policy from elected representatives, and they wouldn’t have to from technocrats
·         Who should select the technocrats? They might not be democratically elected
·         Anybody can be corrupted, but as technocrats are private individuals, this could particularly lead to corruption, bribery, and a lack of accountability
·         Elected representatives’ accountability leads to more justice
·         Some technocrats come from academia, and academic bias exists
·         Voters can just elect new representatives if they aren’t happy with the outcomes of the current elected representatives
·         Technocrats may make big changes which would have a large impact on wider society
·         We shouldn’t take risks with criminal justice and potentially jeopardise people’s safety
·         The government didn’t provide more information and details about how the motion would work in practice
The judges said that we could have considered why democracy is important and compare bribery in the cases of technocrats and elected representatives.
There was a break at 16:00.

Round 5 started at 17:00. The motion was “THW allow workers to give up rights (for example union membership, working hours, safety conditions, benefits) in exchange for higher pay”. We were assigned the position of closing government.
The main government arguments were:
The main opposition arguments were:
·         The law is often broken with regards to unrealistic workers’ rights (such as long shifts without breaks, working for weeks without a day off, or having to work more than one job to survive), so they may as well benefit from it
·         Employers wouldn’t necessarily be able to check potential workers’ attitudes towards giving up rights in exchange for higher pay
·         Workers are responsible adults who are capable of making their own choices
·         With this model, workers would be given free choice by being allowed to willingly decide which rights they would give up in exchange for higher pay, and they could have the flexibility of opting out and opting back in if they so wish
·         Some workers need hard cash rather than other potential benefits obtained from workers’ rights
·         Some workers are forced to take holidays when they would rather work extra
·         Some workers are obliged to pay to be in a trade union even though they don’t use its services
·         Being able to for example work a double shift could increase employment
·         Workers need an alternative as they are already suffering for example from the closure of their workplace for public holidays, which would in some places otherwise be paid double
·         This would be a unique opportunity, and even if a worker decided to give up their rights in exchange for higher pay, their working conditions would probably still be better than many working conditions in ‘developing’ countries
·         It seems that the current system isn’t effective, whereas this motion could lead to an alternative system that allows more long-term flexibility because life is dynamic
·         The adoption of the motion could lead to further exploitation and eradicate workers’ rights as a protective structure, for example selective employment and discrimination based on asking in interviews and pressuring workers to give up their rights
·         Workers who want to keep their rights may end up fired and struggle to set up their own business as an alternative
·         This motion may lead to inconsistency in workers’ rights and the ‘every (wo)man for his/herself’ mentality
·         Organisations such as the United Nations with supposedly moral values take unpaid interns who have to live in tent or car just to afford to work there. This attracts mostly wealthy people and reinforces the gap between the different classes in society. What kind of role model are they for workers’ rights?
·         Allowing workers to give up their rights in exchange for higher pay could mean that they would be more likely to increase market supply and demand, investment attraction, the availability of cheaper infrastructure for the labour workforce, negotiations for improvement, and skills development (so it would still be effective even if the labour costs wouldn’t be cheaper); as well wider economic benefits such as the employer not needing to hire substitutes, the development of the tourism industry, and subsequently the country in question’s reputation
·         Some countries with the most successful imports, such as China, don’t mind quality. People just want cheap goods because we live in a world where things aren’t designed to last so that companies can profit from people throwing things away rather than fixing them, and then just going to buy replacements.
·         With this model, we might no longer need to import from companies whose workers abroad work in sweatshop conditions
·         This motion goes against our moral values
·         Quantity shouldn’t be paramount to quality
·         Small safety risks are perhaps worth it for higher pay
·         We face small safety risks in everyday life such as crossing the road, and we would never achieve anything if we never took risks
·         Safety shouldn’t be swapped for flexibility, as a risk is still a risk regardless of how small it is
·         Safety risks such as crossing the road can’t be compared with workplace safety risks such as chemical exposure
This was really difficult to debate since I personally feel strongly against the motion. I didn’t feel that the motion was balanced since many government teams didn’t do very well. Our main argument was economic benefits. It was interesting that after this debate somebody asked me whether what I had said about the law being broken was true, and I said yes based on personal experience (I thought these kinds of examples were common knowledge!).
Socials and dinner started at 19:00. We had leftovers from the day before as well as some pasta salad. The one thing I don’t like these kind of events is the pressure to drink and stay up late.

On Sunday 20th, breakfast started at 9:00. The semi-finals and novice finals started at 10:00. The semi-final’s (non-novice) motion was about Iran having nuclear weapons (I was convinced that this would come up during the tournament because of Thursday’s ‘Workshop and Debate: The Middle East’). Lunch started at 12:00. We had wraps. I was surprised how good the food was during the tournament, and I was thankful for that, especially as they made sure there were vegan options. The final started at 13:30. The final’s motion was about democracy becoming a human right, and the novice semi-final’s motion was about memory erasing. The closing ceremony started at 15:00, and the tournament was over before 16:00. Our team ‘Die Debattierer’ came 24th out of 29. As an individual speaker, I came 44th out of 54.

I enjoy debating because it has improved my ability to speak not only generally but spontaneously. It’s not really possible to speak from a script with 15 minutes to prepare. Listening to and evaluating the arguments of others as well as speaking against my own opinion has helped me to better understand and defend my own opinions and learn about different perspectives towards an issue in issue. The feedback from the judges is also really helpful. In debating, we must assume that the judges are ‘average citizens’ and explain things in a way that they would understand. However, I doubted the ability of an ‘average citizen’ to understand the terms used in many speeches and even some of the motions. The tournament itself used a lot of
jargon that I didn’t know the meaning of. Speakers are judged mostly on the content of their speech rather than their style. This surprised me sometimes because I was often very wrong in my opinion of who was best. When I felt like my speech had gone badly, the results were sometimes quite good, and vice versa. This encourages people to be analytical rather than sensational and emotional. However, in the real world, for example in politics, the situation is very different. ‘Average citizens’ usually pay more attention to sensationalist and emotional rhetoric that they can relate to, regardless of how factually accurate or analytical it is.

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