From burqa bans to botoxed-up beauty pageants, young debaters impress

I spent Sunday at the National Final  of the schools Debating Matters competition. I was thoroughly engrossed in the intellectual to-and-fro ranging as it did on topics as diverse as wikileaks, smart drugs and burqa bans. With the possible exception of the latter discussion, these young debaters put the usual so-called grown-up fare to shame.

The burqa ban round was interesting for what it lacked … any mention of religion. Those for the ban argued (predictably enough) against this ‘symbol and facilitator of the oppression of women’, those against described the burkha as ‘an integral part of their identity’ and fundamental to the ‘freedom to make a statement about who you are’. While sartorial libertarianism was all the rage – as you might expect from fashion-conscious, uniform-wearing sixth-formers – only one student (from the audience) thought to mention God. But I suspect this shortcoming was more than a youthful oversight. The obsession with identity has taken the place of more substantive matters and to be fair we’re not in the midst of a religious war.

Ours is a world of conspicuous consumption. And a good thing too in my view. ‘The world’s second largest export is coffee’ said one young debater in a curious start to the smart drugs debate. What’s wrong with wanting to be smarter, better, faster? From nose jobs to perking up knackered long-haul lorry drivers, enhancements are a win-win, argued one side. The other resorted to dystopian visions of a Brave New World of grotesque botox-injected children at beauty pageants. This lost them the argument. Or so I thought. They actually won that round. Just goes to show how easy it is to go with the side of the argument you like, rather than with the arguers that make the best of the side they find themselves on. Try that at home!

Congratulations to St Francis Xavier’s College, Liverpool, for taking first prize. I particularly liked their case against the motion: ‘Wikileaks is good for democracy’. Matthew Handley was critical of the notion that ‘leaking in and of itself is a good thing’, regarding it as both irresponsible and unaccountable. Rather, they argued, things could get ‘even murkier’ as the authorities look nervously over their shoulders, politicians cover their backs and the diplomats get wrong-footed by a leaked briefing here and an unwise dispatch there. ‘If everyone hears everything, no one says anything’ said Handley’s debating partner Daniel Keeley. Thankfully the students had plenty to say.

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