ALL NEWS ITEMS
We have decided to take a 3 month summer recess over July, August and September. This is needed so that we can channel all our energies into planning for a resumption of live debates in our Hove venue come October. There are some matters to resolve and a lot of preparation to do, so please bear with us and we will announce the next phase when all the pieces are in place. In the mean time – enjoy the summer!
This was a debate of the highest quality between two contestants unable to disagree once ‘patriotism’ was replaced by ‘nationalism.’ The proposer (the excellent Celia Pillay) managed the poisoned chalice with consummate skill, tendering that patriotism was too often manipulated by governments to gain buy-in for their decisions, through jingo-ism and ‘my country right or wrong’ rhetoric.
“Patriotism gives bad government the cloak of respectability.”
Making his debut Philip Brenner (the Opposer) sought to re-claim the meaning and spirit of patriotism, as being the identity with ones country and so the desire to see it uphold and promote our shared values in the international arena.
He further maintained that global alliances were impossible without the coming together of rival patriotic entities, to better contest their differences and find common ground.
But what about loyalty to brand-UK or Italy for instance, is that not a patriotic choice? Equally it is a reflection of localism, the good sense to reduce our carbon footprint of purchases from abroad, said Philip in reply.
Philip’s debut was applauded and he certainly won the argument. If anything, it was his scholarly tone that fell short of conviction on the night, even though instincts told us he held the winning hand. But Celia’s win by a vote, that could have gone either way (turning 6-4 into level pegging) was due to her clarity of speech and persuasive delivery that resonated best with the audience. (no doubt we shall hear more from Philip Brenner in future debates)
How to compare the work of Rembrandt with Picasso or Banksy?
Defining ‘Art’ is a matter of personal preference, so agreed the on-line audience.
The proposer suggested that graffiti was a form of aggressive vandalism, defacing buildings and degrading the environment. Banksy’s status as a community champion of the oppressed is somewhat tarnished by the fortune he is amassing while damaging other people’s property.
The opposing argument cited the beauty of well-known wall paintings, from the cave paintings of Lascaux in France to the work of Rex Whistler, whose work can be seen and admired in Brighton. Surely some graffiti can enhance the character of a town, with Bristol quoted as an example, where the removal of graffiti is seen as a retrograde step.
The ensuing discussion was lively with the motion lost by a single vote.
Far less heat was generated than in the last debate. With both speakers proclaiming their atheism, and most of the audience self-identifying as non believers, the result was never in doubt.
The proposer Jean Yates, began by recognising the good works conducted by various religious groups, such as running soup kitchens, helping the homeless and promoting countless charities in the UK and around the world. But all this she offset against the harm caused by the world’s main religions, which she declaimed as: patriarchal to the point of suppressing the aspirations of women; reactionary towards progress in the sciences and changing social mores; divisive by nature, especially in advocating hostility towards competing religions; complacent in failing to match action with fine words.
The opposer, Paul Chandler saw the issue as far more complex, and how its more often that followers betray their creeds to suit their own political or violent agendas. As for totalitarian regimes which are heathen by nature (by demanding total obeisance to party or state) they offer no guiding set of values, but only fear of an unforgiving authority. Quoting Voltaire: ‘If God did not exist, he’d have to be invented.’
The audience piled in with ‘anti-religion’ observations, such as abuse, intolerance, terrorism and edicts to rise against followers of rival faiths or infidels. In sum, the world’s religions were generally felt to be out of step with our modern, rational world.
With too few religious champions to muster a stronger response, on this occasion the secular case held sway.
To close the evening votes were cast as:
10 supporting the motion, 5 against and another 7 not cast.
This, being the 6th debate in the Zoom series, attracted record attendance and delivered a compelling session. The proposer, Bola Anike, presented a measured case for retaining the support of the middle class liberal consensus. She argued that fear of false accusations of racism, leads to decent people disengaging, which helps no-one. As in the Rochdale case of Asian grooming gangs, or the reticence by security staff to challenge the Manchester bomber, it was the stigma of racism that inhibited the logical response.
Too often mistakes are made out of insensitivity or lack of understanding, including unconscious bias. As for those boorish types who indulge in offensive behaviour; they look for ways to upset anyone, and are best avoided.
Accepting there is a level of racism in all societies, Bola noted the great strides made in the UK towards racial harmony over her 40 years as a Nigerian born citizen of this country.
The Opposer Sonal responded in a spirited and passionate way, citing personal experience of outright discrimination in various scenarios, such as exams, assessments and in her career within the medical profession. Persistently she testified that race was the factor which saw her under-valued time and again. From her specific experience she generalised about behavioural intolerance towards minorities in the UK.
The audience then intervened, and given the diverse composure on this night, were remarkably consistent in supporting the motion. We heard that union representation and dispute reconciliation were much to the fore these days, yet tended to show how complex these issues could be. It was largely agreed that to feel victimised is to lose sight of the bigger picture within society.
Bola’s conclusion was that by remaining positive and utterly determined to succeed the rewards will come. She asked us to accept that we are all different. So why not celebrate our uniqueness, and “wear it like a crown?”
The motion was carried by a 2/3rds majority.
This was a debate which met the highest standards, with two excellent speakers. Anthony Harris, a man of good cheer and an IT expert, spoke optimistically of the giant strides made by technology in the areas of car manufacturing, white goods, green energy sources, artificial foods and even light bulbs. His premise was that we can rely on technology to grasp the nettle without a serious erosion of western lifestyles. Giving the example of the international effort to develop covid vaccines with breathtaking speed, he foresaw mankind cooperating to achieve solutions to CO2 omissions and other factors causing global warning.
Opposing was Matthew Bird, who was far less convinced from his viewpoint as Lewes DC Counsellor and Climate Change lead at the Sussex Wildlife Trust. He noted the long term call for carbon capture technology which seems to be failing. The green grant schemes in the UK have been undermined by successive governments intent on sparing the public finances. While China may be leading the world with solar power, it is still commissioning new coal mines and fossil fuel plants at a colossal rate. Even the UK is in the planning stages for a new coal mine in Cumbria. Matthew was scathing about off-setting $7m for air flights ( Bill Gates) and claimed that only behaviour change by all of mankind could save the planet.
Audience members felt that vested interests meant companies rarely acted in the public good, but rather for their shareholders seeking short-term gain. The optimism was renewed by a recognition that young people are passionate about saving the planet, assuming they will inherit one that can be saved.
In March we discuss racist issues, “Racism is too easy a slur” and whether there is enough understanding and good faith to bring about harmonious race relations in our country.
November’s debate was our third via Zoom and attracted an even larger audience, including one Peter Andrews from Canada, his second appearance with us. The topic was “Universal Basic Income is a good idea” which seemed apposite in view of various Covid-19 bale-outs such as the furlough scheme. The speakers Raphael Hill and Paul Chandler delivered the pros and cons with aplomb, throwing light on a complicated subject. Both recognised the many unresolved issues, particularly on the funding side. Raphael championed the concept of a ‘floor’ income, and being universal, no-one would fall through the cracks. This would make it of particular value for those working in the creative arts. Paul, opposing such a scheme, stressed the potential cost and the fact that, as needs were not universal, UBI could never succeed. There were contributions from two thirds of the ‘audience’, and the concluding vote was 46% in favour of UBI, with 31% against and 25% abstaining.
We are hoping to make accessible previous Zoom debates via this web site, with the aim of inspiring greater interest and more participation.
After an unavoidable absence of several months we are delighted to announce that we are resuming activities from September 15th, and will be re-instating many of the debates from our previous programme. As our venue is still closed and is unlikely to reopen for hire imminently we have decided to follow the pattern of many other organisations, and much of the world debating community, by going online for a Zoom debate. We are optimistic that a large number of our members will by now be very familiar with this popular online meeting platform! Details for connecting to the Zoom session will be published at the beginning of September, so check back here regularly for updates, or join us on Meetup to receive emailed event reminders.
We have published a programme through to December 2020, and will decide the venue or online platform on a month-by-month basis as we receive updates from our venue at St John’s. If you have suggestions for topics for our 2021 programme do please make use of our Contact page
Following government advice about social gatherings during the Coronavirus crisis, we have decided to suspend our meetings until further notice. We will let everyone know as soon as ‘normal service’ is resumed, but in the meantime please take care, and stay safe. Trish Penney, Chair, Brighton and Hove Debating Society
Our latest venture, a hands on workshop, attracted 6 MeetUp visitors plus members of the society on March 10th all keen to gain confidence as future speakers. Jean Yates supervised the sessions having divulged some of the ‘tricks of the trade.’ Anthony Harris and Trish Penney were part of the mentoring team. Based on the success of this event, further workshops are likely incorporating the positive feedback received.