Catz students came out in force yesterday to support their classmate Adam, who was competing in The Great ORA Debate at the Oxford New Theatre. Adam went head to head with speakers from Balliol, Univ and Queen’s Colleges to debate the motion: “Modern technology and traditional diplomacy are incompatible.”
The debate was introduced by Tom Fletcher CMG, who, as a former British Ambassador to Lebanon, and advisor to Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, might have more of a handle on the material than most. Fletcher discussed the main issues at hand, suggesting that the opposition at play is not that between technology and diplomacy, but between two conflicting world views: “The big dividing line in the 21st century is between those who believe in co-existence and those who don’t.” He then ceded the floor to the debaters, challenging them to prove whether or not technology and diplomacy could co-exist in the current global climate.
Catz representative Adam was first to speak in support of the motion. His argument centred on an image designed to strike fear and tenderness into the hearts of the audience―most particularly those from his own campus. He asserted that diplomacy is founded on three things, “Communication, Authenticity, and Trust―or, CATs”. He went on to say that “technology poses a distinct threat to CATs”, in allowing people to misrepresent themselves online, hack away at will at government systems, and flood social media with unregulated content and fake news. His final blow: “the CAT is dead.”
Speaking against the motion were Arya and Jingshu, the former putting forward the point that technology acts only to make diplomacy easier, and the latter taking issue with the very term “traditional diplomacy”: Jingshu’s argument rested on the idea that diplomacy has always been, and will ever be, innovative, and that modern technology is just the latest development in its process.
Adam’s counterpart in support of the motion was Pedro, who represented Balliol. Pedro redefined the terms of the debate, asserting that far from challenging traditional diplomacy, technology has merely changed it, allowing it to reach new heights in the form of “modern diplomacy”.
When all speakers had had their say, when rebuttals had been made, and when the floor had taken its chance to refute some of the speakers’ claims, guest speaker Tom Fletcher took the podium once more to conclude proceedings and announce the winner. Drawing on an old adage oft recommended to him during his posting in Lebanon, he emphasised the importance of listening in both debate and diplomacy: “After all, as it is said, God gave us only one mouth, but two ears.” For his ability to listen to the points raised against him and come back with strength and clarity of argument, Fletcher pronounced Pedro the victor and presented him with an elegant trophy.
Runners-up then had the chance to shake Fletcher’s hand and pose for a photo with their own prizes. The audience, buzzing with the excitement of new ideas, spilled out onto the streets of Oxford and dispersed to their campuses to continue the conversation amongst themselves.
Back in St Catz, our students were visited by creatures who live by a similar homing instinct to that just exhibited by Adam: as he zeroed in on the points of his opponents, dealing blow after blow to their arguments, so these birds of prey stalk their targets until they are ready to go in for the kill. Yesterday evening, however, they were really quite amenable, consenting to sit calmly on students’ fingers and pose for pictures.