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Our designated MC (master of ceremonies) begins the first speech. “It’s unusual to find issues on which so many different groups, ranging from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to PETA to Belgian Catholics, agree. Yet in this case, they all tend to agree in restricting the unstunned killing of animals as part of religious dietary practices (such as halal and kosher). Despite this, we tend to disagree…”

Last year, I wrote an article discussing the competitive debate form (unfortunately/indescriptively) known as “ethics bowl.” Now it’s a new season, and the collegiate ethics bowl regional cases have been released (they can be viewed here). Shortly after the release of these cases, Ethos received a request for an article providing more detail on training and competition practices. I’ll be devoting a set of articles to describing the structure of presentations, how we prep on cases, and in-round communication techniques. I’ll incorporate a case analysis throughout.

Quick Note: there is no silver bullet

This series of articles will cover some of the practices that I have found to work in general, but results may vary. The fact is, this is still a burgeoning field—unlike value and policy debate styles, which already have a solid amount of history and tradition. On the bright side, this does mean that you can do some pioneering and experimenting—you may even be helping shape the future tradition. Always be on the lookout for new practices.

General Components

Introduction. Much of this is your typical speech introduction, including repeating the question. Sometimes this includes a (cliche) gratitude statement such as, “we want to extend our thanks to the judges who have volunteered their time…”

Short answer to the question, and roadmap of your overall presentation. Here’s what that might look like: “In response to the question ‘were the regions of Belgium morally justified in passing a law that bans this unstunned killing?’ we hold the stance that Belgium ought not to have passed this law. In a second, I’ll hand it off to Harrison to elaborate on our answer and briefly describe the moral framework we will be using, then Samantha and Sean will present some of the arguments in favor of our position, and lastly, James will address some potential objections….”

Long answer to the question. This provides your interpretation/definitions for the prompt (including what it is not asking), the caveats for your answer, alternative proposals, basic factual clarifications/details, etc. For Case 1, “Should we keep Kosher?” you probably need to:

  1. Define all the ambiguous definitions,
  2. Describe what the specifics of the law were, perhaps noting the fact that you may not disagree with every part or interpretation of the law,
  3. State whether your answer is only meant to be specific to Belgium (perhaps as opposed to also condemning New Zealand, which may have a different religious demography and history of religious oppression compared to Europe, which may be important in an argument later),
  4. State whether you want to propose an alternative to the ban. Options could include: requiring food labels that tell whether an animal was not stunned prior to slaughter, levying a tax on these slaughterhouses (and maybe even directing this money towards pain-reduction research), restricting the use of this meat in public settings such as public schools, etc.

The moral/ethical framework with which you are analyzing the case. Personally, I tend to default to a hybrid form of Utilitarianism. With this framework, normative Utilitarianism is the foundation, but I recognize the consequentialist value offered by some theories regarding duties and rights, such as deontology.

Justifications or arguments in favor of our stance. This is generally the “meat” of your presentation. In favor of our position on Case 1, we might argue that:

  1. Religious freedoms/rights are valuable (this argument includes common reasons such as appeals to tradition or culture, legal rights, avoiding backlash, slippery slopes, etc.)
  2. This can be used by Islamophobes and anti-semites in discriminating against religious groups—who also could feel echoes of discrimination that they/their ancestors experienced in that region in that past (or even continuing into the present day). This could reasonably increase suffering among religious adherents.
  3. Displacement of economic actors in favor of others (e.g. competing industries). Note that in each of the arguments, we would want to make sure we have linked it back to our moral framework (if it is not obvious already).
  4. This sets up a double standard and/or simply masks the alleged problem(s):
    -The unstunned slaughter of animals would be at least partially shifted to other regions that haven’t outlawed this. Those regions could then export the products back to Belgium. Thus, it may only reduce animal suffering by a fraction of what was intended. In fact, some of these countries may even have worse practices, causing more animal suffering.
    -It’s bad to eat/kill animals, period–according to some vegetarians/vegans: “Why should we allow restrictions specifically against religious groups because ‘they have civilized options’ (e.g. anesthetics/stunning) when the rest of the world continues to systematically slaughter billions of animals despite the fact that we often have ‘civilized alternatives’ (e.g. soy/tofu)?”
    -The overwhelming majority of US farm animals live in terrible conditions, particularly those raised in so-called factory farms.
    -If we have a Utilitarian obligation to reduce the animals’ suffering in the last moments of their life, would we not have an obligation to seek to increase the pleasure of the animals during their lives?
    -What about other unethical—but secular—practices such as foie gras in France? These certainly should be banned before restricting religious practices.

Respond to common/expected objections. This can often be partially mixed into the previous section. However, I sometimes have this as a distinct section in case the responses don’t smoothly fit into the previous section (and as a matter of good debate, you should try to distinguish between arguments for your side and responses to arguments made by the other side). For example:

  1. “What if someone had a religious belief that they should kill a human, such as in the case of Abraham and Isaac?” – “[Obviously] the distinction is that one is killing a fellow human as opposed to killing an animal. We would not allow killing humans.”
  2. “Does animal welfare just not matter?” – “[Again,] we think it does matter to an extent, but in this case, with these specific facts, harm done to humans through restriction of freedoms outweighs the supposed benefit that animals get from the ban. In this regard, animals are already being slaughtered en masse in the status quo, which not only sets up a serious double standard issue, it also simply means that the suffering experienced by animals is only marginally worse, based on the extra pain in the last minutes/seconds of their lives. Furthermore, some researchers are divided on whether the unstunned religious slaughter is notably worse than unstunned traditional slaughter.”
  3. “Does this slaughter not cause psychological suffering for people?” – “[Again] double standard: does it not matter to these people that we slaughter millions/billions of animals when we generally have ‘civilized’ alternatives? Additionally, this has been going on for centuries, so it isn’t radically new. Furthermore, the restriction of people’s religious practices will definitely cause psychological harm and frustration for those people.”

Conclusion. This is simply where you wrap up your points by making sure they are linked together in a cohesive way. You may want to end with an illustrative example, you may want to just end with a cut-and-dry summary of what you said, or you may want to particularly emphasize key points you are worried might be forgotten.

We’re halfway there…

This has been a long article…but there’s still more to cover! In a future article, I will cover more techniques, such as in-round communication, and how to prep before the tournament.

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