辩论的终极目标：妥协 Debate for Compromise
Debate for Compromise
It always haunts me what happened in one of the debate I’ve judged a few years ago. It was on the topic that “this house would give Japan a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.” The debate happened between some Chinese debaters, who, though sitting on different sides, clearly shared equally strong nationalistic values as well as anti-Japanese sentiments. So the debate went as follows.
The first Proposition speaker: “We would give Japan a permanent seat because Japan is economically strong!”
However, the proposition never explained why “economy” is an important factor in judging which country should be the permanent member in UNSC.
The first Opposition speaker: “But once Japan takes up a permanent seat in UNSC, the emotion of people in Asia would be deeply hurt!”
This might be true, as I can tell that he would be hurt emotionally. But, again, he didn’t ever try to explain why the emotion of Asia matters in the discussion of who should be permanent member in UNSC.
The second Proposition speaker: “But Japanese economy is strong!”
The second Opposition speaker: “But our emotion would hurt!”
The story above perfectly resembles what a bad debate would be, yet it is also analogues to how quarrelling in our everyday life was like. Suppose that a son was arguing against his parents about what major in University he should sign up for, before the College Entrance Exam, and the debate would very much goes like this:
Parents: “You should study engineering!”
Son: “I want to study art!”
Parents: “You should study engineering!”
Son: “I want to study art!”
Again, the debate is never ending. Would it be different if both sides can offer us some depth in their analysis?
Parents: “You should study engineering, as the skills you can learn from a degree in engineering would promise you a good job. With these skills you would never worry about surviving in our society, because our society always needs people to produce, and the process of production always demands the involvement of engineers.”
This is no longer a claim. It is now a statement clearly explained. It does not only provide clarity in the presentation of arguments from the parents, but also makes it easier for the son to hit the target in creating a meaningful response.
Son: “Even though engineering skills are needed, we see as fact now in job market many engineering students end up unemployed after graduation. We have way more supply of engineers in the job market than demand. Because of this, studying engineering is no longer the choice definitely with high returns.”
Son: “In the meantime, witnessing a significant growth in the arts market, becoming an artist might give me better return on my study. As economy develops, people now no longer simply pay attention to cheap products; they want products which would please them both in terms of function, and aesthetics. The success of Apple clearly manifested this trend. As much as society needs engineers, it needs artists.”
After rebutting his parents, the son can even make one more new argument.
Son: “We can’t conclude that the return on studying engineering surpasses that of studying arts. But what I’m quite sure of is that I regard arts as the love of my life, giving up on arts would make me painful. Job helps provide a means of living, but living with depression can turn life into hell even though I can be economically affluent. We want a good job to make life easier and happier. A job that causes pain defeats the purpose.”
The assumption in the parents’ argument lies in the fact that a degree in engineering would give the son higher pay off, comparing to a degree in arts. To refute, the son challenged this assumption by analyzing our society’s demand for engineers and artists, drawing the conclusion that artists are also needed and well paid, while engineers are currently over-supplied. He added that choosing a major, as well as consequently choosing a job, is a choice for life, so he needed to choose something he loves.
It is still hard to draw a conclusion who is right and who is wrong, but in this debate we have now a lot in principle upon which both sides agreed – both of them believes that choosing a major affects life after university; both of them want a good life for the son; and both of them have their criteria in judging what would make up a good life.
Instead of an unreasonable quarrel we faced in the beginning, we now know clearly that the judgment of who is a right lie in only one question: whose criteria are more reasonable?
People are often divided because of the differences in their own sets of value in which they firmly believe. It is very easy for you to accuse people hold completely different opinions, yet these accusations might cause even bigger social divide. A very typical case to illustrate this point is to consider the controversies surrounding homosexual marriages.
Supporter: “The Homosexual’s right to marriage should be protected as much as Heterosexuals.”
Opposition: “Marriage has never been between two people of the same sex!”
When the two sides are simply pointing fingers at each other, we can never figure out who should we support. Instead, we see many people going with their intuitions, and with these intuitions, many refuse to think about the other side of the story.
Many a time I ask debaters I teach, “Why can marriage only happen with people from different sex?”
They thought that they can get away with an easy answer, many reply, “If not, marriage seems so strange.”
“Why is that strange?”
Indeed, it seemed strange for African American slaves to be desegregated, before racial segregation got abolished; it seemed strange for American women to enjoy equal right in voting, before women’s right to vote was respected; it seemed strange for Chinese women not to bind their feet, before foot-binding was deemed too cruel to be allowed. The question is not whether something is strange, but rather, why does that “strangeness” matter?
They had to think harder.
Some tells me that marriage was traditionally defined that way. But if that’s true, why can we stop Polygamy in China, which was clearly something in line with tradition, and allow only Monogamy?
Some say, “If homosexuals get married, they can’t have babies!” But if that’s true, why do we allow DINK families to exist? Should we invalidate all the marriage between people who do not want baby, or who are not capable of giving birth to a child?
Can you, my readers, give me better reasons than these?
I would be flattered if you disagree with what I said, as much as if you agree, because by choosing to do either, you are thinking. Social harmony doesn’t come from people turning a blind eye on things they don’t like. It comes from this process of self-questioning: Why do I support what I support? Why do I oppose what I oppose? If you can’t find your answer, you need to look for them. The great things we derive from these questions, are not the conclusion you eventually make, but the understanding that certain compromises are valid; that stories always have two sides; that we need to learn both of them and tolerate both of them.
 This House: 英语的议会制赛制辩论发端于议会中的议事流程，所以辩题中的“this house”本意为“本议院”。实践中“this house”虽然由于传统被保留下来，但并无实际意义，或可以译为辩论的“辩论场”。
 United Nations Security Council: 联合国安全理事会，即下文简称的UNSC Permanent Seat: 联合国安理会中的常任理事国席位。拥有此席位的国家称为“常任理事国”即下文中的“permanent member”。
 Affluent: 富裕的，富足的
 Homosexual: 同性恋者
 Heterosexual: 异性恋者
 Racial Segregation: 种族隔离
 Foot-binding: 裹脚
 Polygamy: 一夫多妻制
 Monogamy: 一夫一妻制
 DINK: “Double Income No Kid”的缩写