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Valuing debate

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 3 August 2012

The Western world since the Enlightenment has been shaped by the inviolability of rule of law, a commitment to scientific enquiry, and an adherence to democratic process. But at the root of all of these values lies an openness to ideas and a willingness to discuss them.

Pluralism of opinion is the defining characteristic of a liberal democracy. The ability to form one’s views independently and to express them freely is at the heart of our political processes. It is an essential ingredient for a free press. And it is necessary to drive social progress. Besides, it adds colour to our lives. If you have forgotten how dull a society without debates is, read old issues of the Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda.

Ideas may not always be palatable, and discussing them can be painful. But the litmus test for one’s belief in free and open debates is to allow the expression of ideas you may disagree with. As the famous quote, perhaps wrongly attributed to French philosopher Voltaire, says, “I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

It is important that in education, we not only pass on the teachings of the Enlightenment and their impact on the world to a new generation, but also pass on the commitment to spirited debates which enabled previous generations to develop this knowledge.

To support this, The New Zealand Initiative is organising debates between student teams from four universities. Sponsored by the Friedlander Foundation, the Next Generation Debates tackle the big social issues of our time.

Next week we will host the two semi-finals. The first semi-final is at Ernst & Young Auckland at 5.30pm on Wednesday, 8 August. The University of Auckland and the University of Otago will debate the moot ‘Chinese investment in New Zealand farms should be banned.’

The second semi-final is between the Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Canterbury. The debate will be held at Mac’s Brewbar in Wellington at 5.30pm on Thursday, 9 August and the moot is ‘A minimum wage helps young people get a fair start in the workforce.’

Tickets are free but registration is essential. Attendees will not only be treated to big ideas and great debates but to free beer and pizza as well. We hope you can join us in Auckland and Wellington next week.

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