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YES-Club Debates

Why Debates?

Debate is an exercise in persuasion, wit, rhetoric and logic. In your future life you will face some situations when you will have to think on your feet, be able to oppose and prove logically your point of view. Debates are the best school and practice that will help you to develop all necessary skills and become successful in you life and future career.

When Debates?

Every month we organize debates in our club. It is not that easy to carry out debates according to all the rules, and meet all standards and peculiarities, that is why we invite a person sophisticated in this question, who has participated a number of times in debates, to be a moderator and help us to improve our performance.

Format of Debates?

We hold debates in British Parliamentary Debates format. In our club we consider Parliamentary Debate to be the best form of debates and that's why we stick to its hard and fast rules. Here below some information you need to know, but it always better to come, to participate and to try it yourself!

Parliamentary Debate, like all other forms of debates, has two sides: a proposition side, and an opposition side. The job of the proposition side is to advocate the adoption of the resolution, while the job of the opposition side is to refute the resolution.

The emphasis in this form of debate is on persuasiveness, logic, and wit.

The resolution is usually not established until 10 minutes before the debate round begins, and there is a new resolution for every round of debate. Since it would be unreasonable to expect teams to research every topic they could be possibly be asked to debate, parliamentary debate requires no evidence whatsoever.

This form of debate is called "parliamentary" because of its vague resemblance to the debates that take place in the British parliament. The proposition team is called the "Government" and the opposition team is called (appropriately) the "Opposition".

The Government team consists of two debaters, the Prime Minister (PM) and the Member of Government (MG).

The Opposition team also consists of two debaters, the Leader of the Opposition (LO) and the Member of the Opposition (MO).

Format

A round of parliamentary debate consists of six speeches: four constructive speeches (the teams are perceived as laying out their most important arguments) and two rebuttal speeches (the teams are expected to extend and apply arguments that have already been made, rather than make new arguments). The speeches and their times are as follows:

Speech: Prime Minister Constructive (PMC) Leader of Opposition Constructive (LOC) Member of Government Constructive (MG) Member of Opposition Constructive (MO) Leader of Opposition Rebuttal (LOR) Prime Minister Rebuttal(PMR)
Time: 7 min. 8 min. 8 min. 8 min. 4 min. 5 min.

There are various motions in Parliamentary format on which the debaters can rise during others' speeches. These points are:

  1. Point of Information. During one person's speech, another debater (presumably from the opposite team) rises from his seat and says something like, "Point of information, sir?" The speaker has the option of whether or not to accept the point of information (it is usually good form to accept at least two points of information in a speech). If he accepts the point, the person who rose may ask a question of the speaker - usually a rhetorical question designed to throw him off. The speaker then answers the question (or ignores it if he can't come up with a good answer) and moves on with his speech. There are two main rules for points of information: they may only be asked in constructive speeches, not in rebuttals; and they may not be asked during the first or last minute of any speech.
  2. Point of Order. A debater rises on a point of order when he believes one of the rules of debate is being broken. The most common use of the point of order is to say that the speaker is bringing up a new argument in a rebuttal speech, which is not allowed.
    The person making the point of order rises, says, "Point of order, argument X is a new argument." The judge makes a judgment as to whether the point of order is valid. If so, she says, "point well taken," and the speaker must quit making argument X. If not, she says, "point not well taken," and the speaker may continue with that argument if he wishes.
  3. Point of Personal Privilege. This rarely used motion has a couple of different uses. The most common is to protest a gross misrepresentation of one's statements or an attack on one's character. For example: "Mr. Jones says he likes lynching black people." "Point of personal privilege! I merely said sometimes the death penalty is justified." As with points of order, it is the job of the judge to rule the point well-taken or not-well-taken.

Resolutions.

In parliamentary debate, the resolution is usually in the form of a quotation or proverb provided to the debaters shortly before the round (say, about 10 minutes).

Theoretically, the government team is supposed to come up with a specific case that is an example of the resolution, or at least in the spirit of the resolution.

In practice, nobody really cares whether the case that the government team runs has anything to do with the resolution, so long as the prime minister makes some small pretense of linking the case to the resolution.

For example, the resolution might be "Religion is the opiate of the masses." A good case to link to this resolution might be that "creation science" should not be taught in public schools. A mediocre link might be something about the drug war, inspired by the word "opiate." A lousy link would go something like this: "This resolution made us think about how people believe things that aren't true. For example, some people think that rent control is a good idea, but that's not true. So in this debate, the government will argue that rent control should be abolished." At most parliamentary debate tournaments, nobody would even blink an eye at that link.

The upshot is that the government team has broad latitude to run almost any case they want. Although theoretically the government team is supposed to devise its case only after hearing the resolution, most often a team already has an idea what case it wants to run long before then.

There is also no requirement that the government run a public policy case. All that is required is that the government team must establish a topic that has two (or more) clashing sides and is debatable.

Broadly speaking, there are only three types of cases that the government team cannot run:

  1. A tautology. A tautological case is one that is immediately and logically true by construction.
    For example, "Bill Clinton is the best Democratic president since 1981" would be a tautology, since Billis the only Democrat to have attained the presidency in the specified time period.
  2. A truism. A truistic case is one that no moral person could possibly disagree with.
    For example, "Infants should not be skinned alive for entertainment purposes" would be a truism. Of course, the definition of truistic is contentious, because it is almost always possible to find someone who disagrees with a proposition, and what is considered moral is often culture-specific.
  3. A specific-knowledge case. A specific-knowledge case is one that would require the opposition to know more about a topic than it could reasonably be expected to know. In general, debaters are expected to be familiar with current events and popular culture. If the case requires more particularistic information, the government must provide all necessary information in the first speech of the round. If the government fails to do so, then the case is deemed specific-knowledge and hence against the rules.

Style.

Parliamentary debate has managed to preserve its emphasis on persuasion, logic, and humor; this success is most likely a result of eschewing excessive preparation and evidence. The spontaneity and openness of the format makes parliamentary debate free-wheeling and exciting, whereas other styles of debate can become boring because every debate round at a tournament revolves around the same topic.

The downside is that in the absence of any evidentiary burden, debaters are free to spew utter nonsense, or even outright lies, without providing any support for their assertions. (The prohibition against specific knowledge fortunately helps to curb this problem.)

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© Ivan Zyuzin, Moscow, October 2004
Last updated: October, 25th 2007