By Jash Dholani:
Every relationship goes through three stages.
Stage one is the moon landing stage: You meet someone new, someone utterly fascinating. You’re smitten, bitten by a bug, transfixed — it feels like landing on a moon after having slogged through the boring routine of Earth your whole life.
Stage two is the false promises stage: You delude the other person, and yourself, into believing that things have permanently changed. The future feels warm and predictable now – and the two of you are in charge. Promises and plans run galore.
Stage three is when shit hits the fan, when reality cracks down like a whip, when love fizzles out without much of a fight. People are finite beings and they eventually become boring. Slowly, you drift apart from the one you couldn’t get enough of.
I think I have reached stage three in my relationship with Model United Nations (MUN) conferences.
I’ve attended 5 MUNs and 3 Youth Parliaments. Out of the 8 conferences, I’ve won Best Delegate in four of them. I’ve also chaired an MUN. My CV isn’t jaw dropping, but it is enough. I’ve attended conferences in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Gandhinagar. I have met hundreds of debaters. From 13-year-olds yet to reach puberty to 23-year-old graduates who can’t get enough, from first time delegates overwhelmed by protocol to Executive Board members who smoke up at the end of Day 1 and go through Day 2 stoned — I’ve met, fought with and gotten to know people from all across the spectrum.
And for some time, I thought it is the people who are the problem. I bought into this idea that there is a specific type of people who are sucked into the MUN orbit. The arrogant, opinionated, acronym spewing kind. I am arrogant and opinionated myself – although I abhor acronyms – and I thought if only we could do it differently, if only we could invent a new form of MUNning, it would be okay.
I was wrong. People can do things differently (for instance, can we have more girls in the Security Council, please?), but they are not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is the thing in itself.
Initially, I thought MUNs were perfect. I’ve always loved debating, so I took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Add to that the adrenaline from lobbying, the endorphin from flirting, the dopamine from winning, and I was near ecstatic. It was like being high without losing control. It couldn’t have been better.
And hence, it got worse.
By my third conference, I realised something was wrong. Things felt rushed inside the committee, the debating experience was getting unsatisfactory, and ever so steadily, I was starting to resent the other delegates. I had touched upon a flaw, bumped into an imperfection and brushed my hand against a tear in the fabric. Initially, I couldn’t quite understand what was wrong. I was winning, hoarding trophies, enjoying my committee time and the socials afterwards. There was nothing to complain but something had twisted in my gut. My unbridled passion was getting diluted with cynicism.
By my fifth conference, I realised what was wrong. It was the way I was debating.
In an MUN, you get a lot of chances to speak – but never for more than 2 minutes. I realised that I was selectively quoting facts, using linguistic flourishes to mock other viewpoints into insignificance, lobbying over imaginary differences and drafting hollow draft resolutions. I was, I realised, betraying my own research. Issues are complicated, more so the issues of international diplomacy, and if all you have are short bursts of 120 seconds, then rhetoric takes precedence over facts. Discussion of nuances is lost under the cacophony of ideological posturing.
I decided to change. I couldn’t.
I realised that it wasn’t just about me. I wish it was. But it was about the MUNs themselves. MUNs are not better, because they can’t be better. If people are going to be marked on how hard they lobby, on how much sarcasm they can stuff inside two minutes, and how many disjointed statistics they can spat out — then that’s what they’ll do. They’ll lobby hard and turn in a document full of nonsense and vague diplomacy that says nothing. They’ll make sarcastic remarks and feel all warm inside. They’ll rattle off figures and acronyms – mistaking fast-talking with genuine insight.
MUNs are screwed up because their incentive structure is screwed up. Beyond all the fancy formals and research binders, there lies the same old group-think and the need to conform. The worst parts of our generation, the most disgraceful and absurd elements of 21st century, have made it deep inside MUNs. Offense is taken, apologies are demanded, platitudes are spoken and stereotypes are reinforced. Instead of a commitment to facts, we have role-playing. Instead of aggressive brew of opinions, we have plastic heads smashing into each other.
I have my 9th MUN conference coming up in a few weeks.
It’ll perhaps be my last. I’m delegating as David Cameron in the British House of Commons. The chair is one of the biggest names in India, and the committee will almost certainly have the best debates in the conference. Maybe my love for MUNs will be rekindled but mostly not.
It was a good run. I remain as interested as ever in public debating. I remain as obsessed, if not more, about issues I’ve butted heads for. Above all, I retain my deep love for meeting interesting people and talking about world politics with them. But MUNs have slipped from fascinating to farce, and while it’s any fun, I think I’m going to wave farewell.
So long, you beautiful people.