[eDebate] We Other Debaters
N. Kirk Evans
Wed Feb 27 21:29:02 CST 2002
Foucault begins his ?History of Sexuality v. 1? with the paragraph: ?For a
long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue
to be dominated by it even today. Thus the image of the imperial prude is
emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality.?
He then goes on to argue against the ?repressive hypothesis,? the theory
that Victorianism repressed sexuality and that the goal of modern efforts
should be to eradicate the last vestiges of this repressive regime. Instead,
he analyzes the productivity of the power relations concerning sexuality, in
particularly how they produced a polyphony of discourses concerning ?sex.?
Although critics of debate (e.g., Kevin Sanchez) appropriate Foucauldian
language such as describing debate as ?the pedagogy devoted to scholarship
and training in good conduct,? I can?t help but wonder if there is a little
?repressive hypothesis? discourse going on here. ?For a long time, the story
goes, we supported a
repressive/calculating/veritas-seeking/flogocentric/docile body producing
regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today. The image of the
stratego-spewtron is emblazoned on our restrained, (un)mute, and hypocrtical
I don?t like certain aspects of debate as it is currently practiced. Some of
my objections are political (e.g., under-representation of minorities,
propensity of elite schools to dominate). Some are aesthetic (e.g., lack of
clarity among most debaters). My problem with criticisms such as Kevin S?s
or William S?s or Jack S?s is that they lump something together called
?debate? and criticize it from afar (if that isn?t rendering something
standing reserve and then surveying it with an enlightened imperial gaze, I
don?t know what is). Somehow the sentiment seems to be lurking about that
we?d all be free, uninhibited, and unrepressed beings if the debate-machine
hadn?t turned us into assembly-line products of technostrategic thinking.
Ummm? repressive hypothesis. The reality is that proto-debaters enter high
school with 8-9 years of educational training to be docile subjects and
liberal humanists. If debate still maintains vestiges of these systems of
thought, I think it has more to do with what people bring to the
?institution? of debate than what debate teaches them. Debaters are taught
to question authorit(ies), and there is certainly a higher degrees of
activism (both liberal and conservative) among debaters than among their
non-debate counterparts. I wrote out an extensive refutation of Kevin S?s
idea that debate trains us to: ?1. strategic argument, 2. disciplinary
3. their role in ensuring a constant surmounting of 'inferiors' and
thereby also ensuring victory in status quo 'dominion'? but I thought it
made my post too long. If he or anyone else is interested, I?d be glad to
forward them my thoughts on the matter.
I?ll restrict myself, however, to objecting to a couple of points of
-the veritas/aletheia distinction (which doesn?t mean capital-T truth versus
little T-truth as debaters who don?t know Heidegger from headgear often
insist). The exposure to hundreds of thinkers from a wide variety of
perspectives opens debaters up to a wide variety of ways of being, and I
thus find the notion that debate teaches us to search for veritas inane.
-debate and ?pluralistic? thinking. Debaters have opinions about everything,
so rather than encouraging wishy-washy pluralism, I think debate teaches us
to have well-informed opinions about the world around us. The fact that
there is a parallel thread occurring right now on edebate about Afghanistan,
terrorism, and the ethics of retribution belies the pluralism charge.
One last note about debate and the ?repressive hypothesis.? A certain
Frenchman once said, ?Where there is power, there is resistance??: debate
encourages internal resistance to its very practices (as recent
?performance? trends in debate demonstrate), and so I?m skeptical of the
notion that debating encourages univocal thinking. We don?t need
?liberation? from debate anymore than we need ?liberation? from Victorian
sexuality; instead, we need more efforts to reimagine what debate can be
rather than dismissing it as inherently disciplinary. In conclusion, Spanos?
post angered myself and others because it was the arrogant spouting-off of
an uninformed outsider.
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