Senin, 05 September 2011

Chapter 3 : Search for a Super-Model (it was a funny name once)

There seems to be a fair bit of confusion about what a model is, how to construct one and what to do with it once you have it. Models are an extremely important and useful part of debating, so let me try to clear up all those questions.

The first question is what is a model? The answer is simple. A model is a specific set of practical actions proposed by a team in a debate. So it means that instead of just arguing that a certain idea is good, the team actually set up a particular type of system that they support for reasons that are linked to various parts of the model.

For example, the "heroin trials" debate (i.e. “That we support safe heroin injecting rooms”) is one where there is room for a range of models, because there are many important questions about the practical application of the idea. For instance, teams should choose between a model of government supplied heroin or a ‘user supplies’ system – i.e. a ‘no questions asked’ policy about where a user obtained their drugs as long they use them in the safe injecting rooms.

Both these models have strengths and weaknesses. The government supplied model will generate criticism on the grounds that it turns the government into a drug dealer, as well as questions of how long the government can afford to maintain such a system (especially if the number of users grow as a result). However this system does effectively put many drug dealers out of business and it also means that users will always get pure heroin and not the ‘dirty’ varieties often found on the street (which is a major cause of overdoses). So you see the choice of model is extremely important, because it can change the focus of the debate, and bring in (or cut out) various issues.

Building your model.
There are many ways to construct a model, the easiest of which is to steal someone else’s! The vast majority (if not all) the debates you’ll do are real, contemporary issues. That means that they are being debated in the public arena right now. So it’s perfectly legitimate for you to take the side of one of the groups who are publicly lobbying on this issue. Take the republic referendum held a few years ago. At that time debates about a republic were obviously common and the model you picked was critically important. But thankfully the Constitutional Convention produced a wide range of models representing the ideas of each of the republican groups represented at the convention. So by keeping up to date with the news, and becoming aware of the various proposals being suggested by different groups in society, you have ready-made models just waiting to be debated!

Alternatively, you can modify an existing model. So once you’ve stolen a model off a political party or whoever, you might be able to think of ways to improve it or expand it. That’s fine too. Just make sure that you’re really clear about how your version of the model is different to the group that you stole it off.

The only other way to come up with a model is to invent it from scratch. This can be time consuming, but rewarding in many ways. What it requires is for you and your team to really talk about the issues in the debate. Remember that most debates stem from ‘a problem’, either a real or perceived problem and if you understand the problem, you might be able to come up with a solution. The best thing about invented models is that they are original. That means that your opposition won’t be prepared for them (whereas they can be prepared for a common model) and you have a chance to have a truly unique debate, on issues that you have established.

I strongly encourage teams to come up with their own model, because it shows research (no matter how smart you think you are, there is no substitute for learning the details of an issue), thought and a genuine attempt to tackle the issues, however I have one warning. Keep it real. Make sure your model is realistic and practical. By realistic, I mean make sure that you are taking into account the way people really behave, otherwise your model will be hopelessly flawed (for example the counter-model to attacking Iran is not "world peace" because at this point in history it is simply unrealistic). By practical I mean that it should be possible given the resources that currently exist. Don’t propose a model that would cost trillions of dollars, or require technology that doesn’t exist, or is highly unlikely to exist anytime soon.

How to use your model
The model should always be presented by the first speaker, before they present their substantive arguments. This is because you want your model to frame the debate, and structure which issues are important to this debate. You can’t do that if your model comes out at second speaker. Nevertheless the important thing to know about models is that they are not the ‘be all and end all’ of debates. There are precious few debates where a good model will win a debate all by itself. The model is a tool to structure debates and focus them around important issues. It is the analysis of those issues that will be the deciding factor in most debates. A model makes a debate clearer because it tells the audience precisely what the debate is about, but you still have to show why that’s a good thing, and why the benefits of the model outweigh the inevitable costs.

Final Tips on Models
  • Negative teams can have a model too. They’re called a counter-model and are just as effective as an Affirmative team model.
  • Don’t get too hung up on how much a model costs (in monetary terms) as long as the benefits of the model are worth the cost, (and the cost is realistic) then its really not that important. Lots of programs cost the government a lot of money, but they are important and worthwhile.
  • A good way to attack a model is to look at what assumptions the team have made when they constructed it. Did they realistically assess how individuals and groups act in society? Is it really the role of the government (or other organisation) to do what is being proposed?
  • It is OK for opposing teams to concede some of the benefits of a model as long as they show why the problems the model will create are worse than those benefits.

Models are a great way to show your ideas are practical and possible, and in any case where you're proposing to significantly change something, a model of some description is a must. But again, the model is pretty useless without strong arguments to back it up – and that’s the subject of the next chapter.

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