Debates: a semester in review


The final exam schedule has been released, the first frost has hit St Andrews and the last public debate has concluded. That can only mean it’s time to take a look at this past semester’s debates!

The Union Debating Society managed to bring in a myriad of speakers to the public debates this semester from seasoned UDS debaters to professional comedians to NGO heads and even the former head of the UK Civil Service.

Lower Parliament Hall saw a dozen-odd motions, from the most ridiculous – “This House Believes Vampires Are Sexy, Not Scary” – to the most serious – “This House Believes Britain Should Abolish Its Nuclear Weapons.” But the Freshers’ Week debate – “This House Would Live Fast and Die Young” – and the week six debate – “This House Believes the Millennials Will be Less Successful Than Their Parents” – stood out.

At the Freshers’ debate, the house filled to capacity in only ten minutes. Students were keen to hear the all St Andrean group of speakers debate about the merits of hedonism, “cocaine and jet skis”.

Dr Chris Hooley, of the School of Physics and Astronomy, opened the debate for the proposition and tried to give serious reasons for living fast Taylor Rodrigues Debates correspondent and dying young. He argued that by living fast we can avoid timidity, enjoy the moment and take calculated risks. Further, the “live fast lifestyle” naturally leads one to die young, thus avoiding the pains of old age and the loneliness of outliving all of your friends and family.

Opposition speakers Dr Christine Lusk, director of Student Services and Dr Stan Frankland of the social anthropology department rebutted that you can only reach your full potential if you grow old and that the “golden years” can be a peaceful and enjoyable time. (Although this author thinks that implicit in their speeches they had the worry that they would run out of students to teach if the “the live fast lifestyle” ran rampant).

As the debate proceeded down the table it quickly descended into what Alyssa Muzyk, opposition speaker and UDS social secretary, called a “dark comedy show.” Both sides began to make outlandish arguments and threw political correctness out of the house.

UDS co-whips Parker Burns and Alex Don, speaking for the proposition, argued that one of the greatest benefits of living fast is that there is no need to save for retirement. You can spend your pension on the carnal pleasures: high-end hookers, fine wines and drugs that will get you higher than a kite. They even agreed with Kurt Cobain that “it’s better to burn out than fade away” – it’s better to end your own life at its peak than suffer a slow decline into obscurity. The opposition (mostly Ms Muzyk), responded that there are some advantages of making it to old-age besides the obvious ability to claim National Insurance and stop working. It’s acceptable for you to be racist (because no one has the heart to correct racist elderly), you no longer have to follow fashion trends and if senility doesn’t delude you into becoming content with life you can get access to legal drugs that will.

To Dr Lusk’s and Dr Frankland’s relief, the house did not buy into the proposition’s selfish hedonistic lifestyle – the motion failed to pass. Perhaps the motion would have passed in Manchester where a student’s recent night out clubbing left him waking up in a washroom in Paris.

The debate on the motion “This House Believes the Millennials Will be Less Successful Than Their Parents” was not as entertaining but was perhaps the most relevant to current St Andrews students.

As the proposition, Shiv Malik, journalist for the Guardian and David Kingman, a researcher at the Intergenerational Foundation, argued that Millenials (those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) will be less financially successful than their parents. They will be forced to take on tens of thousands of pounds in debt if they wish to attend university, be forced to slave through several unpaid internships in the pursuit of employment, and most will have to save for around 20 years to obtain the down payment to buy property anywhere close to London.

Mr Malik and Mr Kingman acknowledged that financial success isn’t all there is to life, but argued that financial security was a pre-requisite to the “good life.” Living your entire life in debt is stressful, limits your freedom and delays or entirely eliminates retirement.

The opposition speakers, Daniel Knowles, Britain correspondent for the Economist, and Jess Siegel, former UDS president and consultant at Accenture, rejected the proposition’s narrow definition of success.

Knowles argued that the parents of the Millenials are going to leave the Millenials better off in terms of technology, arts and knowledge. He noted that the Millenials will have access to smartphones, the internet and other great scientific and literary advances.

Ms Siegel attacked the proposition’s narrow definition of success. She argued that success is entirely subjective to the individual and that even if the Millenials won’t be as materially wealthy as their parents, they can still lead meaningful and happy lives. She touted the Millenials progressive social attitudes towards homosexuality, gender equality and visible minorities.

This motion overwhelmingly fell. From the floor speeches, it was clear that St Andrews students opposed the motion because they thought they would somehow buck the trend and be wealthier than their parents.

If you didn’t get a chance to see a debate this semester or are eager for more, don’t fret! Weekly public debate will resume in Lower Parliament Hall on Thursday 30 January 2014 with the motion “This House Would Boycott The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.”

Next semester’s debates will cover a variety of topics, including coalition governments, the Act of Union 1707 and whether St Andrews really is a good place to find love.


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