The IQ2 debates

We went to the IQ2 debate last night. The topic was: Only The Wicked Need Fear Government Spying and it was a great experience on several levels. The debates have been running for some time in Sydney, but a subscription to the entire series this year was my geeky Birthday present. So off to Angel Place we trooped last night.

As we entered the building staff were taking a pre-poll on whether you were for or against the the topic. It was pretty clear just listening to the action that the majority of people were against, and that was validated when they announced the results: 18% undecided, 18% for, and the remainder against. So the affirmative team had a tough gig ahead of them from the very beginning.

The IQ2 debate program is based on the traditional Oxford and Cambridge style of ‘chamber’ debating. This is more ‘parliamentary’ in style than competitive school debating. “Speakers speak in relative independence from each other, and it’s quite common to have speakers who disagree with each other philosophically and ideologically speaking on the same side, if they both arrive at the same conclusion on an argument – even if they arrived there from different directions.”

In this case the panel of speakers did an excellent job, as far as the subject matter allowed. The affirmative argument, however, basically revolved around the idea that we should trust the government because Australia is a civilized place with checks and balances in place. This clearly didn’t run well either on the clap-o-meter measure or in terms of the audience poll at the end which gave a resounding victory to the negative team.

After the prepared speeches the panel took questions and comments from the audience – most of which were thoughtful and insightful; although there were a few too many from people who already had other fora in which to push their public position.

The whole idea of a reasoned, intelligent debate presented in an entertaining fashion has me in love with the IQ2 series already. But last night’s topic particularly resonated with me (I wrote on this topic a few weeks ago) and drove home just how concerned we should be as a society with these new laws. The very fact that there was a forum in which to debate them was a really positive thing. The fact that the audience was against the laws was probably no great surprise. The thing I found most telling, though, was that the very learned and experience people presenting the affirmative case could only mount such a weak and inconsistent argument. If that’s the best that can be done in an environment well away from the politicians’ five-second sound-bites or parliamentary rhetoric then these laws really lack a justifiable foundation.

Anyway, the purpose of debate is to get people thinking and considering and the IQ2 debates certainly do that. The next one in may is on the changing nature of media.

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