[eDebate] Some thoughts about MPJ and a non-competitive CP

Dr. Joe Bellon debate.gsu
Wed Nov 22 11:19:18 CST 2006


I would like to start with the non-competitive counterplan idea because it's
an issue I haven't seen addressed yet. If anyone cares about my take on MPJ
in general, you can read on after that.

One of the biggest problems with MPJ for me is that we as a community simply
lack information about the judges we are asked to rank. This is true for
many reasons. For one thing, any time you go to a national tournament you
inevitably encounter judges that you don't regularly see in your region.
There are also new judges who debated outside your region, folks returning
to debate after an extended hiatus, and so on.

The problem is much deeper than that, though. We lack quality information
even about the judges we already "know." Yes, many people have judge
philosophies available in some form or another (and props go to Bruschke and
everyone else who has tried to disseminate that information more broadly).
The problem is that many of those philosophies do not tell us the
information we really want to know -- either because they are not detailed
enough or (and I say this with all the love in the world) because people
lie. Now don't get me wrong. I don't think most of us lie on purpose. I
think we lie because we don't want to sound intolerant. I think we convince
ourselves that, for example, we really would vote for a critical aff with no
plan if someone just made the right arguments -- even though we probably
wouldn't. Some folks lie about their tolerance for critical and performative
styles, others lie about their willingness to vote on the politics disad or
the consult CP. I think this is a problem that crosses the ideological
divide.

What is the impact to all this? We make bad, stupid decisions when we fill
out our preference forms. I cannot think of a large tournament in the past
few years where I did not, at some point, just have to guess about where to
rank a large number of people because neither I nor anyone in my close
network of coaching friends knew who they were. We strike people we might
like. I have literally had a team go to a tournament and get a judge they
had meant to strike, only to discover that person what a great judge for us.

We need better information, period. What is the text of the CP? First, I
think judges (myself included) need to reconsider and rewrite their
philosophies with the full range of a prospective debater's interests. We
need to be brutally honest about our own biases, predilections, and our
history. I would love to see this process encourage judges to think long and
hard about whether their intolerant biases are really good pedagogy, and
whether they can overcome them. If I could wave my magic wand, we would all
be more open, but I know many people don't share my beliefs in this area.

The problem cannot be solved by judges alone, and here is where I concede
that the CP is a moving target. See, I would love a world in which we set up
a system where folks could comment on judges the way we comment on items
we've bought on Amazon.com or sellers we've patronized on eBay. We could
have a web site where I could go to find out what people have said about
judges I don't know. The difficulty is that I don't trust us to be civil. We
have all too often demonstrated our tendency to flame someone before we make
a reasoned argument. I worry that debaters would make comments in the heat
of the post-round moment and not take the time to go back and correct
themselves. I worry that hateful, personal attacks would become the norm. I
have sat through too many meetings at NCA now not to worry, as well, that
liability issues would plague the host of such a site.

So I put it to our community, which has shown so much thoughtfulness and
creativity when it comes to constructing and revising MPJ systems: how can
we solve this problem? What can we do to make sure that, no matter what
ranking system we use, our decisions are as well-informed as we can make
them?

*********

I debated long ago when MPJ only occurred at the NDT, and many tournaments
did not even have strikes. There were some benefits to it in terms of
learning to adapt, no questions. Here are the problems with all that: you
cannot adapt to people who refuse to listen, and there are reasons not to
prefer someone that have nothing to do with in-round competence.

We are all, I suppose, familiar with the divide in our community between
those who will vote for critical arguments and those who won't. Believe me
when I tell you that divide is no larger than the divide which used to
separate those who would vote for utopian counterplans and those who
wouldn't. We had other divides, too. We even had a divide between judges who
would vote for those of us who didn't wear ties and those who wouldn't. Once
you decide that it's okay for you to enforce your personal beliefs on the
participants in the debate round, there is no limit to what you might decide
is okay. Perhaps you think I am exaggerating. Let me give you a real example
of this. At the 1988 NDT, my partner and I ran an affirmative that was based
on the first few academic articles that predicted the end of the cold war
and the break-up of the Warsaw pact. We encountered more than one judge who
refused to vote for us because they found our cards ludicrous. I will never
forget one particular judge who accused us of fabricating our evidence and
then suggested that I was crazy if I though the Berlin Wall would come down
in my lifetime. I was thinking of him the night it came down. My thoughts
were not pleasant.

Others have touched briefly on the other point I want to make. Sometimes
there are reasons to rank someone low that have nothing to do with in-round
competence. Even our supposedly enlightened group is plagued by intolerance,
hatred, and plain old creepiness. And let us not forget that we are fully
capable of holding personal grudges against specific students (often, I will
admit, for very good reasons).

Look, there are real and important problems with MPJ to date. We need to
work to fix them. We should not be afraid to try truly new things. But let's
not romanticize the past. It was good, yes. But not having any kind of
preference system is not the right solution.

-Joe
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