[eDebate] the high-tech MPJ Good case

Josh Branson harobran
Tue Nov 21 23:03:41 CST 2006

I've thought about this for a little---a couple of what I hope are somewhat 
unique thoughts:

1. Adaptability

There's no question that MPJ decreases the amount of adaptation demanded of 
debaters. I don't think that's a bad thing.

There's no question that adapting to people's opinions and views is 
important in life; nobody can really dispute that. But should debate merely 
model the real world? Students (and the rest of us) get trained in normal 
persuasion and the art of dealing with people's different quirks and styles 
almost every hour of every day. That's what people practice at their jobs, 
in class, in their social interactions...all the time. I think what 
separates debate from the 'real world' and what makes it so valuable is its 
UNIQUE ability to give students a reprieve from the ideology and 
irrationality that so saturate a lot of human interactions. When asked by 
people why I think debate is sweet, I always find myself talking about its 
relative intellectual purity---for 2 hours, you get to engage in argument 
that is in its ideal form is uncontrained by all the bullshit we all deal 
with all the time: the personal agendas, the refusal to listen to opposing 
points of view, the laziness, the incompetance etc. I think that that 
experience is profoundly valuable to everyone involved; the ability to 
debate your arguments in a very advanced way in front of neutral judges who 
are just as if not more informed about the arguments you're making is 
something that is NOT available in other forums. I could have had a 
rudimentary discussion about emissions trading systems and gotten someone's 
gut reaction any time I wanted. But being able to delve into the details of 
a hybrid permits scheme vs a purely upstream system and its implications for 
innovation and WTO compatability in front of someone like Repko or DHeidt 
who had read about the subject and judged about it all year long----THAT you 
cannot get somewhere else.

Lets take the adaptability argument to its logical conclusion: speed would 
be eliminated, because you don't talk fast in the real world, we'd bring 
people in off the street to judge, evidence would be drastically altered, 
etc. If you are against MPJ for the reasons of adaptation, then I think you 
also must be against fast talking for the same reason. One of the thing that 
sets debate apart from the real world is that you have an opportunity to 
control who judges you: someone that you feel is a good match for the style 
and sophisticiation of your arguments. I think we should preserve that. It's 
part of the value-added that debate provides.

2. Balkanization

Is there really a 'war in debate?' I find this a little ridiculous, and 
whatever level of 'divide' there is between K and policy folks, I don't 
think MPJ is the cause. Do you really think Fort Hays is going to bust out 
their Stare Decisis DA if we get rid of MPJ? Is MSU going to display their 
hidden Nietzsche talents? I thought Sue Peterson's post on this was pretty 
interesting; I think that eliminating MPJ might actually heighten the 
problem---if anyone thinks that the post-round discussion between some of 
the extreme K teams and extreme policy judges (and the other way around) is 
going to be wonderfully integrative and productive if they are FORCED to 
judge each other, I'd be surprised.

MPJ doesn't have to contribute to 'balkanization.' In fact, I used my strike 
sheet in exactly the opposite way. I tried to prefer all the people in the 
middle of the ideological spectrum, ones who I thought were the least 
ideologically committed to any certain vision of debate or agenda. I just 
happen to strongly believe that the best judges and probably the ones most 
highly preferred are also the ones who are the least dogmatic about any 
particular argument. Because while preferring the less competant but more 
ideologically similar judge may help you in certain situations, I strongly 
believe that it will inevitably screw the teams that rely upon such a 

In fact, the killer part about this arg is that it turns the anti-MPJ 
adaptability arguments. The absolutely crucial part of MPJ for me was that 
it preserved flexibility WITHIN the debates. Only through MPJ was I able to 
get rid of the people who, through whatever Balkanist ideology, were rabidly 
anti-K or anti-policy. Eliminate MPJ, and all of a sudden the strategy in 
some debates becomes determined by the judge, not by the research done or 
the merits of the arguments. And I think THAT is the exact sort of 
argumentative inflexibility that would be horrible for the activity.

3. There's a gigantic DA to eliminating MPJ that turns and outweighs your 

That DA is simply judge competance. Nobody can credibly claim that all 
judges are equal. The fact that DHeidt is so highly preferred is not because 
he's white or because he's male. It's because he's good. He works really 
hard at it.
Take another example in W Repko. Everyone makes fun of Repko for taking so 
long to decide, but let me tell you in a big debate I appreciated every 
minute that he spent back there. When you've worked as hard as debaters do, 
your biggest fear in a debate is that a judge will get lazy or ideological 
and ruin all that work. And you would know that Repko wasn't going to vote 
until he had absolutely meticulously analyzed every argument, and you also 
knew that he was going to do his damndest to suppress his personal opinions 
and evaluate things objectively. The idea of replacing him in a big debate 
with somebody who hadn't cut a card all year, who hated Northwestern, or who 
wanted to just vote quickly to get to the bar is not one I like to 

The specifics of Repko aren't the point here; there are other judges who the 
fit the bill too (Sarah Holbrook I believe I ranked top 6 in the ordinal 
thing at the NDT last year, not because of affirmative action but because 
she's a great judge) but lets be honest, eliminating MPJ means that a lot of 
the less competant judges will judge more.

And I know that for some reason in debate nobody likes to call anybody bad, 
and we love to say that All Judges Are Equal and that apparent talent is 
either a result of privilege or bias. But at the end of the day, lets be 
honest, there are some judges better than others, and MPJ, while it has its 
problems, generally allows the better judges to judge more.

4. I'm less sure about the minority representation argument, but I do know 
that there is a problem when our solution to underepresentation is to FORCE 
people to take minority judges they don't want. I think the problem lies 
less with MPJ than with the fact that people's mutual choices seem to be 
biased. The argument that lies in banning MPJ to force people to take 
minority judges is awfully close to just proposing that female/female teams 
be given a few automatic wins per tournament. There are obviously no easy 
answers, but the mandate affirmative action proposals sure don't seem like 
the right ones.

Sorry for the long email, but the edebate discussion has been fairly 
one-sided on some of these args, i thought I'd make the opposite case.


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