The love of a good argument is as much a part of human nature as the desire to eat, sleep, and be happy. Words are powerful things, when delivered effectively they have the potential to shape our laws, societies, and core beliefs in a way that little else can. From Martin Luther King to Julius Caesar, Nelson Mandela to Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart’, time and time again our world has been transformed and generations inspired into action through words alone. Simply put, when people stand up and make their voices heard, others will always listen. Some will agree, some will not, but there will always be an audience.
Given this enormous potential for change that words possess, debate over those words is essential. Without the opportunity to hear an opposing view, we can far too easily fall into the trap of blindly following the person preaching to us, without much thought as to what it is they’re saying. As history has shown on countless tragic occasions, stifling opposing points of view is often the first step on the road to atrocity, with blind faith replacing reason and logic. Debate, in allowing us to hear these opposing viewpoints, prevents this. It forces us to take a step back and listen to the other side, acknowledge their ideas, even if we don’t agree with them, and ensures that this blind faith without regard for consequence cannot take hold.
If words are the sparks that can ignite social change, universities are the fuel that keep it alight. For countless generations now, student movements have been the single most effective group in society at campaigning for change. From the anti-war movements in the United States in the 60’s, to thousands of Irish students marching in Dublin this year for bodily autonomy, the college campus has played a vital role in allowing words and ideas to become action and change. It is here then, more so than anywhere else, that we need to be sure our ideas are right, our causes just, and our actions fair. It is here, more so than anywhere else, that we need debate.
Facilitating this need is, in a nutshell, the purpose of the House Debate. What House Debates provide is a guaranteed space where speech and opposition can be facilitated, where ideas can be tested, and movements can be started. With politics becoming increasingly polarised, media organisations being accused of bias, and claims of threats to free-speech becoming more and more frequent, having this guaranteed space is absolutely vital for a college campus. It ensures that when we do go out to make our opinions heard, those opinions are well-founded, and likely to actually create the positive change we all strive for.
A crucial aspect to these debates is the unparalleled diversity college campuses can offer. For many of us, college is the first time we leave the echo-chambers of our upbringings and enter a diverse melting-pot of cultures, backgrounds, and ideas. This diversity is our greatest asset, bringing together opinions and expertise on a level that no other forum in the world can match, and providing us with a unique opportunity to reshape our own ideas when given the right platform. There would be no greater shame than to pass through college without tapping into this diversity, listening to what others have to say, learning from their experiences, and telling them about our own.
House Debates, if nothing else, ensure that those conversations are had. By providing platforms to speakers from across the political, economic, and cultural spectrum, they allow for these different experiences to be shared, ideas to be challenged, and minds to be changed. They allow a law student from South Dublin to speak alongside an engineer from New Delhi, be questioned by a scientist from France, and potentially change the mind of a Malaysian veterinary student. They provide the exchange-student from rural Alabama a chance to listen to speakers they would never encounter back home, and create the opportunity for discourse between cultures and communities that otherwise may never happen.
If blind faith and cultural isolation are truly to be avoided, then we need debate more now than ever before. The college campus has never in history been a more diverse place than it is today, meaning we have never before been in a better position to have these conversations. Incoming students have never before had a greater opportunity to break out from their traditional moulds. Ideas have never before had the potential to be challenged to this extent. In a world of scapegoating and stereotyping, it is painfully easy to be swept along by unchallenged rhetoric. The House Debate is the first step in challenging that.
By James Brandon – UCD Law Society Auditor