Video transcript
Primary school debating 2. Stop rebutting yourself

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TONY DAVEY: OK. Hey, Maja, how's things?

MAJA VASIC: Hello. I'm pretty good, yeah.

TONY DAVEY: Yep, OK. You want to tell people a little bit about yourself, and then we'll get into what's going to happen?

MAJA VASIC: So I'm Maja. I'm in my first year of uni. I did quite a bit of debating throughout school, so all the way from primary school throughout high school. I was on the CHS team in Year 12, and I was also a reserve for the state team in Year 12.

This year, I've done a little bit of debating at uni, but, obviously, the coronavirus has gotten in the way of all that. But, if the coronavirus weren't happening, I'd be coaching at Sydney Boys at the moment, and yeah, debating at the University of Sydney.

TONY DAVEY: Excellent. Yeah, sounds fun. So, what's about to happen is we're going to watch you from way back when you were in - I'm pretty sure Year 6.

MAJA VASIC: [chuckles]

TONY DAVEY: Selected on the primary schools state Debating Championship Sydney Region team. And, that team made it all the way to the actual final against, I think, the nine other best regions and their best kids across New South Wales. So, we're going to watch. I think you were the first affirmative. We'll watch your first affirmative speech. And then we'll get you to give yourself a little bit of feedback, and finally rebut yourself.

All right. The topic of the debate we're about to watch, I think, it is that it's really advanced, 'that we should ban cosmetic surgery for people who don't have a medical reason.' So yeah, obviously a little bit harder, if you're wondering, than what we would normally set for the opening rounds of the Premier's Debating Challenge in primary school. But, obviously, at this stage, Maja and her team and the other team were some of the very best primary school debaters in the state, so they get a really tricky topic. OK, you ready to go?


TONY DAVEY: Excellent. Here we go then.

YOUNG MAJA VASIC: Cosmetic surgery harms the people and the public. Good morning. In today's society, there is a heated controversy surrounding the concept of unnecessary plastic surgery. The media is constantly channelling Australian stories about the stars who have most recently gone under the knife.

The topic of today's debate is 'that we should ban cosmetic surgery for people without a medical reason.' We define this topic to mean that we should prohibit surgery to alter one's physical appearance unless one has a medically and professionally diagnosed physical health problem.

We propose that by the end of 2014, all cosmetic surgery unrelated to a medical purpose must be prohibited by the Australian government. Any citizen found to travel overseas to a foreign country to do such, to have plastic surgery, will have citizenship suspended or fined severely, as such information will be recorded and globally shared by the government.

I will talk about the superficial and dangerous aspects of plastic surgery. My second speaker will talk about unnecessary plastic surgery being permanent and the general good of our society.

My first argument is about the superficiality involved. All cosmetic surgery is done in regard to altering physical appearance. The world is dwelling more and more and more on our looks. In such a materialistic world, the option of unneeded plastic surgery is merely causing even greater need for perfection. This makes focus simply on looks and qualities. Personality loses importance in the shadow of a nose job. Such a superficial world, based entirely on how you look, will extinguish love, joy, sorrow, and all those other necessary emotions.

If we live in a cosmetic world, people would pursue happiness by having plastic surgery and then more plastic surgery, and so on, and so on, and so on. The people who can not afford plastic surgery will feel as though they can never achieve happiness, because they will never look 'perfect.'

And finally, the people in this world who don't support plastic surgery are merely being forced to live in a material world, a world where looks are second to personality, where everybody has to be a human Barbie or a human Ken. Compare today's world, where we dwell on appearance, where we think looking good means having surgery or simply suffer in the dark shadows of not accepting this.

Compare this to a world where we don't need this, where we focus on who we are as people, and accept what we look like. Obviously, this is the better world.

Moving on to my second point, I'd like to discuss the dangers involved in plastic surgery, as well as the simple prospect of dissatisfaction with your results. Plastic surgery is dangerous. We constantly hear about people who have been put into severe and occasionally life-threatening danger.

And, the one thing that rings true in all of these cases is that the victim claims they were unaware of the risks. This is not their fault. Although education may seem to be the solution, some think this danger should simply be prohibited altogether. It's the role of the government to protect people and create a safe environment. Even when people know that plastic surgery is dangerous, it is still dangerous, and doesn't lose its danger due to education.

Look at illegal drugs. In today's society, children are constantly educated about the dangers of illegal drugs. But nevertheless, they are illegal, hence the name.

People are dying because of plastic surgery simply gone wrong. If it becomes illegal, we are saving people's lives, and ultimately giving them a better life.


Even when plastic surgery is not life-threatening, but simply doesn't work out, what do people do to fix it? Get more and more and more and more and more and more. They think they will never look how they want to look, hence lowering their self-esteem. We must ban plastic surgery without a medical reason because we don't want this to be our future. Cosmetic surgery harms the people and the public.


TONY DAVEY: OK. So did you remember much of that? Do you remember being in the final?

MAJA VASIC: I remember being in the final, but I don't remember what it felt like to speak. And I don't remember any of what I said or any of that, so it's a nice throwback.

TONY DAVEY: Ah, it's fun to see these things again then. All right. So, we have to, first of all, to speak to your old self and give yourself a bit of feedback. OK, great. Go for it.

MAJA VASIC: Yeah. So I think that was, all in all, a pretty good speech for a Year 6 student on a pretty challenging topic. But I think I have 3 key pieces of feedback and things to think about.

The first thing I want to say is that it's really important to think really, really carefully about the definitions you're giving for a topic, and the parameters you're setting, because you don't want to cause a bigger problem than you solve. So, the idea that you might take away someone's Australian citizenship for having plastic surgery overseas is a very, very serious thing to do. You're leaving somebody without a citizenship. You're potentially making somebody a stateless person, and that has its own set of big, big complicated problems you're raising there.

So, don't create more problems that you then have to solve by making your solution too radical. The fines weren't a bad idea, though. That's a more reasonable sort of consequence for having surgery overseas, if you want to impose a consequence. So yeah, just think very carefully about what you're actually putting in your model and your definitions.

The second thing I want to say is that when you're talking about big problems, think about all of the potential causes. And, once you've thought about all the causes, think about how much you can do to fix them. So, this is especially relevant to the point about how superficial plastic surgery is. It's definitely true that the fact that a lot of, for example, TV stars are getting Botox. That probably contributes to having, say, a materialistic, superficial society.

But, there's probably also a lot of things outside of cosmetic surgery that might make our society superficial and materialistic as well. Think about something less radical than plastic surgery, like makeup. Think about the beauty industry. Think about modelling. Think about all of those other kinds of things, all of those other pressures, and all of the other reasons we might live in a superficial society.

And, the reason it's important to think about all of those potential reasons for a problem is that it helps you think about how much your solution can achieve, because by banning plastic surgery, it's true that we might get some benefits, but we might not completely eradicate any pressure people have to feel beautiful, because we still - and the negative team probably will say that we still will have things like the beauty industry. We still will have makeup. We still will have all of these other pressures on you to look your best, to focus on your appearance, all of those kinds of things.

So, think about what you can realistically solve and how much of the problem you can actually solve. And, by stepping that through, you make your point a little bit more realistic, because when you say you're solving a huge, huge problem with a small action, it's not as believable as when you're solving a very specific problem with your actions.

The last thing I want to say is that it's really, really important to consider different stakeholders, but try and do this as much as possible. So, it was quite useful when you were talking about how people who choose not to get plastic surgery still face the repercussions. Whereas some people can't afford plastic surgery, and they face repercussions, and all of those kinds of things.

But, I think it would have been really valuable as a first step to talk about who actually gets plastic surgery and when. It's kind of implied in your arguments that anyone who can afford plastic surgery, who's not super resistant to the superficial culture we live in, will get plastic surgery. But, if that's your characterisation, it should have been stated more clearly.

And, I also don't necessarily think it's the truest characterisation because I can't think of anyone I know personally who's gotten cosmetic surgery. So, I don't think it's realistic, necessarily, that everybody is out there getting it. So yeah, again, think about who's getting it.

The characterisation of celebrities in the media was pretty accurate. But, once you think about the kinds of people who get plastic surgery, and the reasons they get plastic surgery, you can make a more realistic and more concrete argument.

Good job. Debating is stressful, and that was a pretty good speech.

TONY DAVEY: OK. Some excellent feedback there, I thought. I thought you were pretty nice to your old self, but yeah, that's really, really good.

OK, so are you now ready to deliver some rebuttal against your speech at first affirmative? Fantastic. All right? Well, I'll introduce you, and then we'll get you going. All right? So, please welcome the first speaker of the negative, also Maja Vasic, to continue the debate.

MAJA VASIC: We thought it was really, really unrealistic for the opposition to paint a world where everybody was getting plastic surgery all the time to fix any little problem they had. Given that plastic surgery was a time-consuming, expensive, very well-considered procedure, we thought that people would only get it when they really needed it. These would only be a few people actually getting plastic surgery. And, that meant that all of their issues about plastic surgery being very widespread and a huge part of our culture were just not true.

I want to look at the opposition's 2 main points - that plastic surgery encourages a superficial culture, and that plastic surgery is very dangerous - in this speech. So, first of all, on this issue of superficiality, what the opposition tried to argue was that plastic surgery and having a lot of it in our society makes people feel pressured to look good all the time, and makes everybody feel like they have to get plastic surgery.

First of all, though, I want to take a look at who actually gets plastic surgery, and I dealt with this a little bit in my introduction. We thought it was unrealistic of the opposition to characterise a world in which everybody got plastic surgery. We thought that, first of all, not very many people got plastic surgery, because it was quite expensive, because it involved quite a long procedure where you had to have many consultations with many doctors, where you had to spend some time in hospital, where you would have to take time off work for all of that, where you would have to invest a lot of thought into it.

And, we also thought that there was something of a stigma, and a bit of a social taboo, around plastic surgery, to the extent that if you got surgery just to look better, you might face some judgement from your peers and from your community. And, for all 3 of those reasons, we thought not very many people got plastic surgery at all.

We thought that the people who got plastic surgery kind of fell into 2 categories. Number 1, people who really, really wanted to undergo a specific procedure about something they were really insecure about. So, these are people who spent 10, 15 years thinking about how they really don't like their side profile, and they want a nose job. These are people who've given the procedure a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of consideration.

The other category of people are people who have some medical circumstance that makes them want to get cosmetic surgery to look better, not for a medical reason. So, this looks like something like purely cosmetic facial reconstruction after burns injuries. We thought that wasn't covered under their model, because it wasn't medically necessary. But, we thought it was probably very, very fair for somebody who had been the victim, or who had experienced some kind of serious medical issue, or some kind of accident, who wanted to fix up aspects of their appearance, to do that.

So, those were the 2 kinds of people who were going to get plastic surgery. And, we thought that they were both quite small groups. So, what that meant was that all of their issues about plastic surgery encouraging a lot of superficiality and being pervasive were just overstated. And, we also thought that it meant that because people who got plastic surgery always had really good reasons for it, they were not likely to influence other people to get plastic surgery, if those other people didn't also have similar reasons. So, it wasn't like you, sitting at home, would just feel like you had to get plastic surgery because someone who really needed had gotten it.

The second issue with this argument was that it ignored the many, many other factors that create this kind of superficial and appearance-based society. That is, things like the beauty industry putting size 4 models on all of its runways. That is, things like social media saturating us in images of Instagram influences. That is, things like makeup, things like reality TV. All of these things encourage a focus on looks, encourage a focus on appearance.

And, all of these are things that are far more influential than plastic surgery, but still exist on their side of the house, which means they don't really solve the problem of the superficial culture. So, for that reason, we just thought it was untrue that we were going to see any benefits in terms of making our culture care less about appearances, or anything like that.

The second point they raised was that plastic surgery is really, really dangerous. But first of all, we thought that that was just simply untrue, under the status quo, because it was very, very carefully regulated. If a medical procedure was really, really dangerous, and a lot of people died from it or faced serious complications, we thought that it would probably be illegal by now.

But, we thought that the reason plastic surgery was quite likely to be safe was because, first of all, it was conducted by highly qualified, very accredited people. So, these are, first of all, doctors who have not only undergone all of their medical training, but who have then specialised in cosmetic surgery. So, these are people who know what they're doing.

They're also bound by strict regulations about things like health and safety, with a lot of government regulation and oversight, making sure they do things in a safe way. And thirdly, we thought that you did have a very good informative process in terms of people approaching plastic surgery. So, what the opposition said was, education isn't enough. Look at drug education. We have that. The drugs are still illegal.

But, we thought that the kind of information you got about plastic surgery wasn't like generalised information you got in a school classroom. It was specific information you got talking to doctors about your procedure. It was information you'd get at multiple consultations. It was something you were going to take far, far more seriously than you were ever going to take what you heard in a Year 9 classroom in PE.

And, what that meant was that you had a very, very good idea of what you were getting yourself into. And, if it was very dangerous, the doctors would stop you anyway. So, what that meant was that plastic surgery just wasn't that dangerous.

But, what we thought was more important to consider was the fact that plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery got far, far more dangerous on their side of the house, because when you don't have a regulated form of plastic surgery, if people are still desperate to get it, they will find ways to get it. This looks like getting plastic surgery at a non-accredited doctor. This looks like getting plastic surgery somewhere that isn't licenced, somewhere that doesn't have government oversight. This looks like potentially being hesitant to go to the hospital afterwards if you have a complication, because you don't want to expose that you've done this illegal thing.

And, all of that meant that given that they characterise the reasons for getting plastic surgery as very compelling, if people wanted plastic surgery, they were still going to get it, but they were going to get it in a way that was far more dodgy, far more dangerous, and far more likely to have serious health implications for them. And, that meant that on their side of the house, this argument also failed because plastic surgery was far more dangerous. So, on that basis, both of their arguments no longer stand. Thanks.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah. Yeah. That's brutal. Congratulations. That's great fun. So, thank you for you rebutting yourself. I thought you did a terrifyingly thorough job of crushing the old you. Well done.

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