When I was in high school, because I was on the history bowl team the teacher who advised the model UN club recruited me to play as their delegate in various “historical committees” like the Roman Senate or 1789 French Assembly. I never engaged in any normal committees since you couldn’t undertake false flag attacks or convince the Pope to excommunicate other delegates.

In most committees, as far as I can tell, players represent countries trying to pass a resolution addressing some topic like climate change that’s decided beforehand. An award is given to the player the facilitator decides is the “best delegate”—an unwritten combination of speaking ability, social dominance, and accurately representing (or at least not fatally misunderstanding) your assigned country’s positions and interests.

I often make a mental metaphor about “model UN discussions” and “model UN solutions.” Model UN discussions revolve around people expecting to be rewarded for making many remarks, even though their actual positions could be expressed simply or don’t permit much elaboration.

This leads to the “model UN solutions,” which have a few types, e.g.

  • Applause lights: You could just say buzzwords or unobjectionable trivialities (“When addressing the climate change question we should consider the interests of all the relevant stakeholders. We should apply neither an {extreme viewpoint} nor {the opposite extreme}”)
  • Unspecified solutions: You could give very little information that uniquely identifies a specific change from the status quo in the listener’s mind. At the extreme you get a lot of remarks of the form “To address the problem we should {devote resources} to {solving the problem}” where the bracketed parts are replaced with phrases that aren’t much more specific (“To address climate change we should set up task forces to identify the best technological and policy approaches”)
  • Tradeoff-ignorant solutions: You could even give a directional suggestion but avoid any consideration of the relevant costs or tradeoffs (“We should fund a new educational outreach program related to climate change”).

You could imagine responses that try to identify empty remarks:

  • Ask whether anyone holds the opposite of the remark.
  • Ask how a proposed solution is specifically different from the status quo.
  • Ask who loses out in a proposal (or how resources will be reallocated). Sometimes no one loses out but more often this is just an unstated tradeoff.


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I like this concept a lot. I wish you would expand it. It feels there is more here.

Let me selectively quote below from Richard Kennaway. It reminds me of epistemic failures that occur in model UN -like competition of ideas that lack a ground truth. See also: competitive debate, (parts of) academic philosophy, etc. Since there is no ground truth there is selection for different kinds of signal: (the appearance of) virtue, 'nuanced thinking', 'transgressive thought', etc.

(...) Then there are "perspectives" and "extraordinary complexities", but as far as I can see, no idea of trying to move towards knowledge and away from ignorance. There is only endless discussion, and responses to ideas, and confrontation of this view by that view, and so on. There is no evidence, only suggestive stories, real or imaginary. Nothing is ever disproven, nothing is subjected to any experimental test, there is nothing but an endless game of ideas in which the moves are motivated only by the prize of social power.

This is, however, the usual form that thinking takes in the humanities.  It is not the sort of thing that can lead towards knowledge and away from ignorance. The very idea seems out of bounds.

What is the source of this quote?  I’d like to read more, and some searching has not revealed it.

Found it, sorry.

A fun exercise is to look at actual UN resolutions, and see how much they differ from these.

Here's Resolution 2712 from a few weeks ago, on "The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question:

The Security Council,

(here I skip preambulatory clauses that altogether are as long as the rest of the text),

1. Demands that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children;

2. Calls for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable, consistent with international humanitarian law, the full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other impartial humanitarian organizations, to facilitate the continuous, sufficient and unhindered provision of essential goods and services important to the well-being of civilians, especially children, throughout the Gaza Strip, including water, electricity, fuel, food, and medical supplies, as well as emergency repairs to essential infrastructure, and to enable urgent rescue and recovery efforts, including for missing children in damaged and destroyed buildings, and including the medical evacuation of sick or injured children and their care givers;

3. Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups, especially children, as well as ensuring immediate humanitarian access;

4. Calls on all parties to refrain from depriving the civilian population in the Gaza Strip of basic services and humanitarian assistance indispensable to their survival, consistent with international humanitarian law, which has a disproportionate impact on children, welcomes the initial, although limited, provision of humanitarian supplies to civilians in the Gaza Strip and calls for the scaling up of the provision of such supplies to meet the humanitarian needs of the civilian population, especially children;

5. Underscores the importance of coordination, humanitarian notification, and deconfliction mechanisms, to protect all medical and humanitarian staff, vehicles including ambulances, humanitarian sites, and critical infrastructure, including UN facilities, and to help facilitate the movement of aid convoys and patients, in particular sick and injured children and their care-givers;

6. Requests the Secretary-General to report orally to the Security Council on the implementation of this resolution at the next mandated meeting of the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, and further requests the Secretary-General to identify options to effectively monitor the implementation of this resolution as a matter of prime concern;

7. Decides to remain seized of the matter.