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@The Arts Unit Art Bites – High school debate club – 03. With Tony Davey

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TONY DAVEY: So welcome to the third of these high school debating lessons that we're kind of running while everybody's in lockdown, and they can't get out through their regular debating coaching, and of course competing in competitions. Hope you're all staying safe and overall is well since last time. And so, what's today about? We're just going to take a quick look at a different kind of argument and go through a framework to help you start making arguments that are principled as opposed to practical.

So it's helpful in debating to think of there being two different kinds of arguments.

'Practical arguments' they're all about whether or not something will work, whether or not there's a problem in the first place, how well this will work, how people will react. And then there are 'principled arguments'. They're not about whether or not something will work as such, or what the outcomes will be. Principled arguments are about whether something is right or wrong, fair or unfair. Whether they feel democratic or not. They're generally arguments about people's rights and how those rights kind of intersect in a very complicated world.

So it's important in a debate that you do have short and practical arguments about how things will work, how they'll turn out, why your side is improving things. But also principled arguments about why your side stands for right in this debate. Why yours is the fairer side or the more democratic side in this debate.

Now of course, the truth is that some arguments are both practical and principled a little bit. And we'll see later on that you can't just insist upon a principle and say, there you are, it's the principle. You've also kind of got to talk your way through it a little bit and show why that principle matters in practise. But it's still really useful to think about these things as two different kinds of arguments, so that you can make sure you're covering your bases in a debate.

OK so obviously, principled arguments are going to be really, really important in the debate. At least as important as your practical arguments are going to be. You can imagine in a debate that you might easily win the argument about whether something will work or not, but lose the entire debate because the other team proves that it's just fundamentally not right.

Of course, at the same time, if something won't work and the other team proves that, it really doesn't matter how right you prove it to be. But you can see that there's two different things there you need to be arguing about. Whether the thing will work and whether the thing is right or wrong or fair or unfair. And oftentimes, especially for younger debaters, they just forget to have that debate, about whether the thing is fair or right or in principle a good idea. And that argument could have added to their case and maybe won them that debate in the long run. So they're really, really important.

First of all, a quick look at some of the common principles that come up in debating. It's often useful to think of them as in pairs. They're not always in pairs. For instance, something like fairness in sport tends not to be paired up with anything. But some common ones are like the right of parents to raise their kids in whatever way they see fit, versus the right of the government to regulate education and the right of schools to teach kids core things they need to know.

There are like-- there's a principle of democracy and whether or not something is democratic as we understand it to be, or whether we need to worry more about efficiency and government working and maybe forget about giving everyone a say in absolutely everything, as well as protecting minorities.

In international debates, there's often a principled clash between whether or not national sovereignty, a nation's right to rule itself, is more important than the responsibility of the wider world to take care of and protect the citizens of a different nation. So that's another clash you can see between two different principles.

There's also stuff like whether or not the government should be regulating markets or whether markets should be free and businesses should be allowed to practise basically how they want within the law. There's arguments about-- there's principled arguments about maybe the freedom of speech and why it's important on the other side of that, censorship and why the government has a right to censor things. And I suppose most broadly, and that last one was kind of pointing at it, one of the main principled clashes you'll come across, is the idea that people should be free. They should have liberty. They should have bodily autonomy, and that's a really important principle in Western societies. Versus the idea that governments should protect vulnerable citizens, stop them from doing stupid things, trying to make sure that citizens aren't risking themselves unnecessarily. And you can imagine lots of different places where those two principles kind of clash.

So let's just have a quick look at a way to make arguments about those kinds of principles by following a few simple steps. OK. The first thing you want to do when you're making an argument about a principle is you still need to do that 'P' step we talked about in the first video. So you need to actually say, here is my point. My team's something argument will show that. And then name the principle and kind of explain what you're going to be talking about.

Let's pretend the topic was something like, that we should ban sports gambling. So that's actually a topic that you'll see a little bit of later in the week. One of our best adjudicators is going to watch one of his old finals and rebut that topic. And there's a fair bit in it about your right to spend your money how you want versus the government's right to stop you from blowing your money.

So let's talk about your liberty and banning online gambling. So if you're the affirmative, you might say; look, my team's first argument will show that the government has a responsibility to stop problem gamblers from wasting all of their money and getting in even deeper than they are right now. Maybe from the negative, you might say; so my team's first argument will show that citizens of a free country, should have the right to spend their money however pleases them the most, without government interference.

So it's kind of still that 'P' step, but you're naming the principle that you're going to be explaining. So that's step one. Saying my team's first argument will show that, and then name the principle and sort of give it in a half sentence.

OK. The next step that's really useful is just to explain your principle in abstract. Just say, here, explain how it works. And most importantly, explain why that principle matters so much.

So again, thinking about that gambling debate. If you were the affirmative, you might say; look, it's really important that governments are able to act to protect vulnerable citizens. Obviously, those citizens are vulnerable, so they're not able to protect themselves. Sometimes, they don't know any better. Sometimes, they have an addiction, and that's clearly going to be the case here with problem gamblers. So it's really important that the government is able to step in and make laws to protect people like that, from the harms and the risks they might be getting into.

And of course, if you're on the negative, you're going to say the opposite. You're going to say; so, it's really important that people be allowed to spend their own money the way that best pleases them. They work really hard for that money. They spend all day at work earning it. And it just doesn't make sense that the government should be choosing for them, where that money gets spent. One of the problems with governments making that choice, is that they don't know very much about what you like. So if the government had to pick what your money went into, it would always go into super, and insurance, and health care, and really dull food. And you'd be really healthy and live a long life, but it would be a terrible life. That's why we want people making choices about where they spend their money because they can understand those things the government is talking about, like insurance, like super, like health care. And they know they need to be responsible, but they're also in a position to weigh up whether spending money on gambling will improve their life by making it fun. And fun is something the government really doesn't understand very well.

So just talk about the principle in abstract, and talk about why it's so important. That's the second step.

The next thing you want to do, in step three of your argument, is try to tie that principle into the specific topic that you're arguing about. So you're going to take the principle that you've just shown is important in a country like Australia, and you're going to show how it's at play in the topic and the side that you are debating about.

Again, if you're the affirmative and you want to ban gambling, you might say; now, nothing could be more true than that the people we're trying to protect by banning gambling are vulnerable citizens who are at risk of terrible, terrible outcomes. They're unable to make choices for themselves. They're addicted to these machines. The people who run machines and who run gambling, do a really good job in making sure they stay gambling forever, and they really have very little opportunity to extract themselves from the mess they've gotten themselves into. Clearly they're exactly the kinds of vulnerable citizens that we want our government to step in and protect.

Of course, if you're on the other side and you want things like gambling to be legal, you're going to be talking about how; now, it's particularly clear in this debate that people should be allowed to spend their own money in any way that makes them happy. So the government doesn't understand why it's fun to put $5 on a horse. They don't understand why it's enjoyable to sit down with friends at a pokie machine on a Friday afternoon and while away $10 while chatting, with the chance of maybe winning a couple of extra bucks. The government doesn't understand why that's fun. But people who've worked hard for their money all day and who enjoy gambling because of the thrill, the tiny bit of adventure, and the social elements of it, they should have a right to make that choice to spend their money that way.

Cool. So let's step three. Take that abstract principle and leak it to the topic and the side of the topic that you're on specifically.

The next thing is as useful. You might think of this as step four. Is to talk about an 'analogy'. That's like a case study or an example, if you were just doing a practical argument. What you want to do here is say, look, here's another similar situation in society where we say, the government should regulate this. Or another similar situation where we say, look, that's bad for you, and it's not my favourite thing, but we'll butt out, and we'll let you blow your money how you want.

So the affirmative, who maybe want to ban this kind of gambling might say; look, we have lots of government regulations already that describe what you can and can't spend your money on, based on whether or not it's too risky a behaviour or too dangerous a behaviour. So you can't just say, oh, I really enjoy base jumping. I'm going to drop two grand on base jumping because it's far too dangerous.

So the government has said, we're going to outlaw base jumping. In that situation and in many similar situation-- In fact the government even just takes our money in tax or forces us to have things like health insurance and put money aside in superannuation. So it's just not that unreasonable for the government to have this say in how our money is spent.

Of course, if you're on the other side, on the negative, you'll talk about the opposite of that. You'll talk about situations where the government does let you spend your money on really stupid things that might be harmful in the long run. So you might say something like; for example, ladies and gentlemen, in Australia, the government has chosen to let us purchase things like cigarettes if we want to. It's clearly a dumb idea. Those cigarettes aren't good for you. But the government has said to themselves, look, it's not my lungs, I'm not sure how much pleasure you are getting out of those cigarettes. I'm just going to give you lots of warnings and then let you make that choice for yourself. And that couldn't be more true than when we talk about things like gambling as well. We know that there's a risk you're going to lose your money, but we think you should be allowed to lose that money. We'll just give you some warnings and help if you get in trouble.

So you point to-- a kind of similar situation in society, where the two principles balance out the way that you want them to.

The next step that you should do, I think we're up to like step five, is to talk about the 'competing principle'. Name that balancing principle and talk about why it's not important in this debate.

So if you're on the affirmative, you want to ban gambling, and you just spent all of that time saying, here's why the government has this responsibility to protect these vulnerable citizens. You might then say; now look, we understand that people should have the right to spend their money however they want. But we think that those people who enjoy gambling, and have a bit of fun and are just betting $5, can easily find a different way to fill their afternoons and have fun, while we're protecting those incredibly important people, the problem gamblers, who are gambling themselves and their families out of a home, and who are addicted and are unable to help themselves.

Right. So you say, look, this is their principle. It's the one about your right to spend your money however you want. It doesn't apply here because you can find another fun way to spend your money. Whereas the government needs to step in and save people from truly drastic problems.

Of course, if you're on the other team, you might say; look, we understand the government has a responsibility to protect people with things like gambling problems. But that principle doesn't apply here because the government is already doing more than enough to help those people. There's lots and lots of advertising, they fund lots of self-help groups, and there are lots of regulations about how much money you can gamble, how long you're allowed to sit a poker machine, where ATMs can be in casinos. Those kinds of things are heavily regulated. So the government's already doing its job to look after those people, and it's just not true that they need to take away our right to spend money how we want.

Cool. The last step is a really simple one. Oh, before I move on, just one thing to say about that our principle is more important than their principle. It's worth thinking back to last week when we talked about different ways to say things were important. Right. So you might say, look, the size of the group that I'm looking after is much bigger. Or the potential harms and benefits on my side of the debate are much bigger. That's kind of what you're doing when you're saying, yeah, there are a lot of people who enjoy gambling and spending $5. But the state they have isn't great. Honestly, they could have fun some other way. There are not as many people who are problem gamblers, but the problems they have are massive. That's why you should listen to my side of the debate.

So remember that trick for proving that one thing is more important than another.

The last step here is just to tie things up with a link, just like you would in any old argument. You finish by saying, and that's why we think we should or shouldn't ban gambling.

So very quickly, start with a 'P', a point, like you normally would. My team's something argument will show that, and then a good heading. And then outline for us the principle in abstract and tell us why it's important. Then take that principle and link it to the issues in the debate itself. Then explain the analogy to us. A situation in Australia where we make the same or a similar decision, and it works out well. And then look at the competing principle and explain why it's not as important and why your stuff is more important. And of course finally link, say, and that's why.

So that's just a simple framework to make sure that you're talking reasonably consistently about the principles in a debate.

We should do one more. Imagine a topic was that we should ban homeschooling. Particularly kind of interesting topic in light of what's happening now with COVID-19 and everybody learning, at least for a couple of days a week, at home.

So we set that topic quite frequently, that we should ban homeschooling. And often, one of the key things that happens, is we have to ask ourselves how far do the rights of parents go in how they raise their child and how do we balance that with, on the other hand, the right of the government and the education to ensure that young people, who can't really make choices for themselves, get the education they need to be successful.

So if you're on the affirmative and you want to get rid of homeschooling, you'll be talking about how the government has a responsibility to protect you from parents who are not making the best choices for you, maybe don't have your best interests in heart. And you use that whole framework.

If you're on the negative and you want homeschooling to continue, maybe the trickier side in some sense, you might sort of-- well, let's run through it. You might say; my team's first argument will show that parents have the right to raise their children in whatever way they think works best for that child. And we give them a lot of leeway to make those choices. So this principle of letting parents raise their children however they want is really, really important in a country like ours. And the reason this principle is so important is that parents know their own specific kids much better than any government or even any school could. So a parent who's been raising a kid since he was literally born, is going to be able to say things like, I know how my kids will react in this scary situation, I know my kid's not making this up, like they're really actually afraid of this, or they really are bored with this or they really do know this. They just know their kid a lot better than any government or any education system can.

And that's why it's always a good idea to defer to the will of the parents when making choices about a young person's future and their education.

Now how does that play out in this specific debate about homeschooling? Well, we think there are lots of legitimate reasons, a parent might want to keep their kid home from school and teach them themselves. The government might say, no, I don't buy that that kid is too scared of bullying. We've got bullying programmes. Just go to school, kid. But in fact, that parent who knows that kid, who sees that kid every afternoon and every evening and sees how they're struggling with bullying, might reasonably say to themselves, I'm going to keep my kid home and look after their education myself because I know that they're not kind of like taking this bullying thing in their stride.

They might just have a really sensitive kid who's bad at learning maths in a large group. And that parent knows that kid is going to be better off with a one on one session every day, where they learn maths. Those parents know those kids better. They know what makes them work and know how they think, so they're much better off making that choice about how they learn, much better than an uncaring government or education system who thinks one size fits all.

An analogy would be the way we make parents make lots of particularly tricky choices for their kids. We let them make choices about vaccination, about medical procedures that might be quite dangerous. We let them make choices about their education right now. Do things like take them out of school to go on holidays, choose a religious school, instead of an arguably much better performing government school. We allow them to make those kinds of questionable choices all of the time. This doesn't seem any different to our side of the house.

Now we do understand (next step) that the education system has a responsibility to ensure that all kids receive a good start in life and a basic education that sets them up for the future. But we think that's really easy to do, whilst respecting the wishes of the parents to homeschool a kid. You can still have curriculum. You can still have frameworks. You can still check in on that child. Those systems all exist right now. And we're proving right now, with the way people are being homeschooled during COVID-19, that it's actually really easy for parents to teach their kids without any of the expertise of being a teacher and also really easy for them to ensure those kids still get a social life. Because all of the social things you get at school, you can also get by wandering around your neighbourhood or joining sports teams. So we just don't think the government should be sticking its nose in, this question of whether or not parents should be allowed to homeschool their kids. And that's why we should not ban homeschooling.

So that went for a little while, but you get the idea. It's about picking through that principle and slowly explaining each step. I should warn you, because that one went on for a while, that you only want to spend as much time on that as is useful for you to win the debate.

There are plenty of debates where the principal just isn't that important. Like if the principle is gender equality, pretty much everyone kind of agrees that gender equality is what we should be aiming for. The real debate is going to be about the best way to achieve gender equality in pretty much every topic.

And even in a debate about something like gambling, the real debate is probably not going to be about the extent to which liberty should trump government regulation. The real debate is probably going to be about the way that those people who are gambling are choosing to gamble. Because it's almost settled that if you are giving your free and informed consent to something risky, you'll probably be allowed to do it in this country. So the real debate will end up being about whether you'll consent, your choice to gamble, is actually free, or is it coerced, or pressured, or in some other way, rendered not a real choice by factors outside of yourself. And that's something we're going to talk about next week. How to make arguments about informed consent to harms.

OK. Hopefully this was helpful. Like I said, later in the week, we'll do another definition. And you'll also get to watch Alex rebut himself on a topic about gambling.

So thanks, stay safe out there, and we'll see you next time around.

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