I’m back (I have been around for over a week now) from the parliamentary debate at the WB National University for Juridical Sciences in Kolkata and boy is the lack of sleep telling on me. (yes, after over a week.)
I had registered as an adjudicator; an adj test was organized on the first day of the tournament to allot people to debates to be held the next day.
I hear from other debaters that judging debates can be very frustrating and that has to be the understatement of the year because listening to people yap is the last thing on your mind when all you want to do is roll your notebook and whack that prime minister for stupid definitions or try and figure out how to get out and take a leak but you can’t because guess what: you’ll miss out on the debate. And you barely sleep.
But I had fun.
I trained for both days of debate at a comfortable 2 on 5, what with training under different chairs, all with their own styles of feedback;I gained better clarity regarding the judgment process with each round that rolled by.
But that’s your first parliamentary debate tournament for you. My last chair turned out to be amongst the few who gave me feedback (there were those who gave none. How do you expect me to get past that measly 2 you scored me if you don’t tell me where I’m going wrong or what I should be doing?) and his, after my last round of judging, cleared a lot of fog.
Debates are to be judged from the POV of an average person who has expert knowledge of the rules of that form of debate.
Even if most guidelines for judgment sound easy as you read this, they’re aren’t all cake and tea when you’re trying to pin one team as victorious. It is truer for good debates where both the gov and the opposition have comparably strong cases.
Novice as I was, I set off with comparing both teams on an argument by argument basis, failing to see the bigger picture and getting lost in a whorl of speeches. I risked changing the style in which I make notes, only to go crawling back to the previous one. With every new chair, I hoped I’d get something right. At the end of five rounds of debate, I’m glad I was in a position to be able to recognize where I previously went wrong. (I’m roaring to go for another shot at judging!)
Some of my other friends were out debating; some lost, some won but they were unable to break.
Nevertheless, we learnt. And this was the sort of ‘learnt’ that only comes with practice and hands-on buffoonery.
And then, yes, I met other new faces on their debut too, especially a team from IIT Guwahati.
The break between debates would see people appear out of nowhere and coalesce around maashi’s stall right outside the campus near NIFT or the Bubbology stall near the reg desk out front. I miss the midday chai and nights at accommodation spent debating and poking fun and sleeping like old dead men.
We’d often venture out for dinner at night; this being my maiden trip to Kolkata, there were streets I wanted to see, monuments I’d been looking forward to gaping at… The cab driver driving us to the Howrah station knew, I think. This man drives us through a long albeit interesting route weaving through the city, stepping on the toes of old buildings and laboriously curated piles of trash fighting for space with wholesale vendors. I drank in the last of the city as I headed back.
When I returned to Bhubaneshwar, I wasn’t the same.
Funny how the withdrawal symptoms show up. I’m looking forward to another debate tournament.
Not before I study. I hear you, Dad.
In college, emphasis is militarily laid upon the ability to answer your recruiter under pressure and manage to make sense – and be sarcastic and humorous if you’re lucky or you practise it well enough. But one aspect everyone seems to neglect is listening. You can talk all you want, but none of it would make sense unless you knew something about the other guy speaking.
Lesson 1: listening.
Each speaker speaks for 7 minutes and the smallest arguments that you miss out on could potentially swing the debate in the favor of the other team.
Lesson 2: patience.
Like a chair told me, being to the point is all fine and it saves time. But you do not want to mess up people who have lost the debate while telling them where they’re wrong when all they can think of is to go catch a smoke or eat.
How you frame and present your feedback is as essential as your judgment of their respective cases.
Lesson 3: Tact
Lesson 4: Note making
( I learnt to write at the speed of a paper shredder, y’all.) to deciding which team won to thorough objective analysis of hits and misses of each side, I watched good debates, average ones and not-so-average ones and the importance of being brief and Lesson 5: prioritizing along the way.
Oh, and debaters get to rate adjs too. In an ideal world, this system would have been just perfect: you debate, you’re told whether you have won or lost and are given fair, unbiased feedback for the same. And then you’d have rated your judges very fairly. But because we’re human and how one perceives something may not necessarily be the same as another, it is far from perfect. There are times when tired and annoyed people give you a bad rating. Unreasonable, tired and annoyed.
Not everybody does. These flaws make it all the more enjoyable. Deviation from the expected, from the logical, from the rational in an arena when arguments are pitted against another are always interesting.
Model UN vs. parliamentary debates
The first, some would argue, helps you know more about other countries and their policies and their decision-making rituals at the UN. Mimicking the working papers and bloc formations, model UNs were intended to be an exercise aimed at making today’s young people ‘more aware’.
Of course, you know more about countries and the UN, you know how to suit up and talk business albeit elegantly but the debate bit looks out of place.
It is more of a group process that hopes to find solutions that plague the international community.
What really goes on at MUNs is slightly flustering. Firstly, almost everyone participates for the certificates because MUNs on your resume supposedly score you brownie points with your recruiters, irrespective of whether you spoke in council or not, and if at all, whether you made any valuable contribution to the deliberative process.
Second, there are people who make good delegates and ultimately participate for the money.
When you have had enough number of MUN experiences, you can apply to be the Executive board which looks over council proceedings and pays fat bucks (even travel, if you’re lucky.)
In terms of debate, there is little meat to chew on. There are certain sites whose information can be relied on for research. Once you have your info in place, you only have to assert and win. A solution to the agenda is not always the order of the day. Personal equations bleed into the council and very often, what was supposed to be a diplomatic exercise ends up being a debate.
Principally, this is where most model UN conferences I see have failed. When solutions to specific issues (through healthy debate and discussion, of course) are the purpose of various countries coming together, it ends up being a debate. Some chairs recognize this, most others don’t.
Moreover, your being able to speak depends on whether the council’s chair recognizes. You have a set number of seconds, usually varying from 45 to 90, to speak ONLY IF majority of the delegates let you.
This also deeply affects the quality of debate in a MUN. And goes without saying, the socials are boring.
Speaking of pd’s, each speaker has a well-defined role and a set number of minutes within which (s)he is expected to build the case and/or rebut the opposing team’s points as role dictates. Participation certificates might not hold as much weight as MUNs but winning a debate tournament certainly holds much more value than winning the best delegate award or special mention.
Generally, there are two-three people ‘judging’ a council whose strength can vary from below 10 to near 100. There is absolute lack of transparency and there’s no telling what motivated the chair to award one delegate and not another. Hence, there are people who cozy up to the EB to win cash and a certificate.
Compare this to a parliamentary debate. Let’s talk about the Asian pd’s at NUJS.
There is a chair who judges your debate, in addition to panelists and trainees. Once you’re done debating, the chair and the panelists declare the winner of the debate and go on to explain their reasons for having awarded it to one and not the other. They give you feedback on your arguments raised, or the lack of them.
They may not be the fairest of all on earth, but you know what motivated them to pass that judgment. What’s more, you judge the adjudicators back!
If the adj wasn’t good or you observe the judgment wasn’t fair, you rate them accordingly. In case of extremely poor judgment, the adjudication core at NUJS asked teams to explain why they felt the adj was poor.
Plain and simple.
Also, there is no research you can hide behind. You have to persuade your audience to believe in your stance. You learn to analyze on the run, there’s no special knowledge that is required.
And break nights!
MUN conferences aren’t bad debates. Kidding. They are. Except for crisis situations which are thrust upon the council proceedings out of the blue and countries are embroiled in the stickiest of situation where presence of mind saves your tushy, not your research. The spontaneity and the adrenaline guarantee a good time.
Why do people debate? They all have their reasons. Money or certificates aren’t lowly goals. But the debate’s gotta be engaging.
MUNs are boring. For a lot of people in India, they are like these big Ekta Kapoor sagas (so long, K-woman) where you reunite with your family over a new issue at hand. I hope people stop looking at these conferences as cash cows; the framework behind a MUN is too unaccountable for their to be a good, fair formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.
A good debater can be a good MUNner but a good MUNner does not have to be a good debater.
PS. I’m taking this course by Duke University on Coursera. ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’ unlaces the brains behind said processes and collide with philosophy while at it.
If you like to speak or think or both, you have to take this course. One can easily look around for Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s book Understanding Arguments on the web for free. It complements his course with Ram Neta. They promise to be fun. Heck, they are!
It fashions together linguistic concepts and the primitive act of thinking and goes down to the root of what an argument is and what constitutes a good one, how to identify them et al. The exercises have been thoroughly engaging, even simple sometimes.
Everyone is capable of earning a degree. Ask why, and not everyone can answer you.