(2nd Opposition Speaker) Jenna Hong, WSDC Hong Kong Team, Pre-WSDC 2021 Final
Motion: THS the Glorification of the Mediocre Life
Here’s the video: https://www.facebook.com/106053431657221/videos/1137307660090878
I disagree with Singapore when they tell us that if you tell someone more than one thing is good, they’ll just get confused, because I don’t think that’s true. I do think that working hard at school is important, I also like spending time with my siblings, I also think that honesty and integrity are important and that shouldn’t come into conflict with how well I do at school.
These are up to three different things that I can value and none of them make a confused person. In fact, I am happy in all three aspects of my life, and as a result, I think I am a much more fulfilled person than I would’ve been otherwise.
Four sections to rebuttal before into substantive on the subjective standards of happiness. First off, on happiness as a general concept. First thing we would contest is whether success is zero-sum anyways. We actually think when we have a narrative that people should work hard, instead of a narrative that frowns upon working hard, we can actually have more people work hard and succeed. Because the only analysis they give us is that some things are out of your control, but the existence of some things being out of your control just means that there is a cap on how successful you can probably be.
It means however that you can get really really close to that cap by working hard as opposed to being really really far from it and therefore having much less success than you otherwise would’ve done by working hard.
They then tell us that success is relative to your surroundings. But at the same time, Bill Gates is going to splash his face all over things and therefore you’re going to be really really sad.
This is confusing, I don’t live near Bill Gates and therefore he is not “my surroundings”. In fact, we don’t think people compare themselves to just all the celebrities they see online, even if there is some exposure to them. Because the majority of the exposure you get is from the many interactions you have with people all the time around you, from your family members to your peers.
Yeah, I might see a magazine with Bill Gates on it every once in a while but that exposure is significantly less than everything else. On top of that even when I see that magazine of Bill Gates, I don’t compare myself to him, because I don’t think of him as really equivalent to myself. Instead when I see someone else and when my peers exist I can see, wow that person, John, I know exactly what John is like. John is that kid in my class, I know who John is, I can picture myself in John’s shoes because I know the details of his life and his school and how he works. So when John succeeds it raises more questions about why I can’t succeed. I don’t really know Bill Gates intimately, that’s why I don’t compare myself to him as much.
As a result, we think firstly, success isn’t a zero-sum game and is far more attainable than they suggest and on top of that, success doesn’t mean that you have to be Bill Gates and is, therefore, a lot more attainable. You just have to be successful within the reasonable standards you set for yourself.
But thirdly they tell you that people are going to delay happiness and be anxious. Firstly, we don’t think people are going to be anxious about “losing their success”, because once you’re able to build up things that you’re successful in and are proud of, those memories and those accomplishments stay with you forever, even if you don’t constantly have them, you’re still able to point back at those old accomplishments and feel a sense of pride in them.
On top of that, we don’t think people are likely to delay happiness. We concede that some people might get sucked into like the status hamster wheel and might, unfortunately, be unhappy. But the vast majority of people won’t.
Why is this the case? Because we think we value money, not for inherent money purposes, the fact that we live in a capitalist structure doesn’t fundamentally rewire our brains, and make us think that this piece of money because it’s this piece of paper, because it’s green, is inherently valuable and we should chase it in our entire life.
The fact is that we care a lot about things like family, the emotional deep relationships we build with other people, we care a lot about things like values, like hard work. In fact, we would actually say that as a result, people only value money as a gateway to those things, people value money because it means you don’t have to work three jobs at minimum wage, you are actually able to work a job that has forty hours a week and then spend time with your kids.
You are able to work a job and therefore that probably reflects that you work hard and is a valuable meritocratic trait for other people to have. As a result, we think that when people have money they’re going to use it to signal those other people in society, or they’re going to use it to chase the things that make them happy in the first place.
Fourthly then, on this notion on how if someone sets up a foodbank, they won’t be seen as successful. Firstly again, we think that success is relative, just because you set up a food bank and haven’t made a Fortune 500 company doesn’t mean that you’re not successful. But on top of that, again we don’t think success is just tied to money because we say that CEOs are great people because they’ve made a huge contribution to society and presumably worked really hard to do it.
If you set up a food bank, you have done similar things. You’ve worked really hard and you’ve made a major contribution to society, we think people will still value those things and see them as a form of success. I’m going to be adding more analysis on happiness in our last piece of substantive, but I think that’s
enough rebuttal for now.
Secondly then on the idea of minorities but before that, I’ll take that point.
POI: Your argument is that people will only compare against their own communities, rather than against TV, social media, or other forms of media. Therefore, your arguments about minorities rising up…
Response: Why is this not the case? If a minority doesn’t think, I have to make a Fortune 500 company. They can still succeed relative within their communities and as a community as a whole, can make gradual steps forward. Yeah, they’re not going to become millionaires overnight, but you can have, for example, a community that sends almost no kids to university, starts to send a couple of kids every year.
So secondly, that brings up perfectly this idea of minorities. They tell us, firstly it’s not about suffering. This was never about people starving on the streets, inequality still exists. The fact is that certain people have to work a minimum wage job, they might not be starving, but it is definitely less fair that they are much more likely to end up in a job that has more backbreaking labor for them, that means that they have less time to spend with their kids than someone who’s born into just a different zip code and therefore was far less likely to live that life.
Yeah, people aren’t suffering and dying, but that’s why structural inequality is really really hard to see. There’s nothing inherently wrong about working a low-level job, in the same way, there’s something inherently wrong with starvation, so people are extremely unlikely to point out these structural inequalities and we think therefore they’re harder to see.
Secondly, on that, this idea that people will be disillusioned if they’re unsuccessful. Firstly again, note that success is relative and more attainable but we also think it is more important for some people in that community to succeed, even if some other people are a little bit sadder that they didn’t succeed. Because those people who are more successful are able to go to university, they’re able to send more money home in the form of remittances, they’re able to improve the reputation of their ethnic group as a whole, possibly get into management level positions, where they’re able to hire more people within that community.
And thirdly then on this notion that people want to help because they want to donate. We don’t think that this is the case, people only really want to help in the case of clear suffering, and something that is inherently bad.
So on their note that like Buddhist people are going to be like more generous, firstly, we’re going to prove later why actually people on our side of the house earn more and therefore even if they donate less as a percentage, they’re still going to donate more money. But on top of that, it’s just not clear why you want to give your money.
Just because you have extra money to give doesn’t mean that you’re going to give it because you think that someone’s un mediocre life is an injustice, in the way that someone’s suffering and starving is an injustice.
Fourthly then on that note on innovation, note that almost none of this was actually responded to, so I’m going to leave all of Madeleine’s analysis standing, other than this note that it was tension.
This was not tension, the fact that mediocrity has different definitions means that different groups will respond differently. But the ideal society is where all groups push themselves to be as useful as possible.
So yes, the people at the top, if they push themselves as hard as possible, are likely to be able to innovate and do things like making more medicines. That is useful in and of itself, but people at the bottom who are also just able to go to university, become a doctor, or a lawyer is able to be true in their own way. That’s not tension, that’s nuance.
Lastly then on the subjective standards of happiness. Firstly, that people are different. We think that people are just born different, they were raised by different parents, they grew up with different values.
Some people want to be mothers and fathers, some people want to focus on more careerist things. People just make happiness in different things in life, we just don’t think everyone is the same. But, mediocrity espouses a very specific life. Where you are just generally okay in everything.
That means it is extremely unlikely that they are going to support, and in fact, as they say, actually criticize people who spend a lot of time focusing on their careers and therefore people who might want to, focus on their career because they just aren’t interested in having a family, which is totally fine, or people who are vice versa, really like spending time with kids and wanting to raise a family, but have very little interest in having a career, all of those things should be fine and people should be free to pursue those anyways.
But on their side of the house, people will be pressured into thinking they have to be mediocre in everything because if I fail in having a family, that’s bad, if I fail in not having a job, that’s also bad. On their side of the house, people will live their lives in mediocrity until they’re forty or fifty and realize they’re not really happy.
They will wonder why they’re happy, they will think that they’re broken because everyone else around them seems to be living this “mediocre” life that has been glorified. Those are the people who end up having those forty-year-old fifty-year-old midlife crises because they spent their whole lives not pursuing what they want, but what other people told them they want.