[eDebate] Debate is NOT Activism

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Tue Jul 3 00:58:50 CDT 2007

while i agree "[p]eople need to be honest with themselves about the 
limitations of the activity of debate in order to avoid obscuring its 
potential benefits," i'll defend three claims which run counter to those 
found in philogelos' post (accessible here: 
http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-June/071440.html) -- (1) focus 
on in-round rhetoric needn't entail 'illusions of grandeur', (2) workable 
alternatives to conventional topicality needn't 'wreck the competitive 
structure', and (3) debate activism needn't 'do absolutely nothing'.


1. philogelos: "Why people think that everyone else needs to hear their 
speech act no matter how much it nullifies the thousands of hours of 
work...is sheer arrogance (or just an attempt to win rounds by skirting the 
normal structures of competitiveness, which is even more pathetic)."

ironically, previous to this sentence s/he explains that 'the peculiar 
belief' that 'we only learn and challenge ourselves as people by the content 
spoken of in the debate round itself' results from 'the desire to justify 
the inifinte hours spent on debate work' - yet how a rhetorical 
concentration both 'justifies' and 'nullifies' the intense research burden 
required by debate isn't as adequately explained as i'd like. calling 
debaters who pursue a strategic option 'even more pathetic' seems to 
contradict one of the underlying values attributed to debate, while calling 
debaters 'arrogant' seems a paradigm case of the non-unique disad. 
neverthless i'll try to demonstrate that concentrating on speech-action is 
simply another way winning debates, the diastrous impacts of which seem 
bombastically over-blown.

let's start with one of the more typical mistakes committed by those who 
oppose kritiks: they assume that those who offer kritiks need to prove they 
can solve for the cited harms in the real world. 'fiat is illusory' was the 
first principle of kritik in no small part because it pre-empts this 
fallacious argument: when a judge votes on plan, nothing more or less 
happens to change the actual status quo than if a rejectionist kritik is 
voted up. a policymaker knows they're pretending to enact plans, but you 
feign ignorance so you can play a game. that's absolutely *not* the kritik's 
problem - the problem is that the way policymakers pretend to play the game 
considers as all-important the shit shovelled around washington d.c., and 
the question we ask is, why can't the shit shovelled around debate be 
considered important too? why can't we evaluate a discussion - among 
democratic citizens whose voices should matter - on its own terms? and pray 
tell, why isn't waving some magic wand over congress and the president not 
definitionally an 'illusion of grandeur'?

the mistake here is this notion that those who focus on rhetoric should 
engage in any less than the same level of 'make believe' which policymakers 
engage in -- maybe some kritikers have played into this misconception (taken 
the act a bit too far, etc.), but debate still remains a game. we're still 
pretending there are implications to what comes out of the mouths of 
debaters: policymakers like to pretend debaters are passing policies through 
the u.s. federal government while kritikers like to pretend they're 
evaluating rhetoric in a forum meant for policy discussion. you like to 
pretend what matters most is whether a particular plan is (theoretically) 
signed into law by the judge, and kritikers like to pretend what matters 
most is whether particular assumptions (theoretically) leave the room 
unchallenged when the judge signs the ballot. it seems obvious there's merit 
to both ways of approaching argumentation, yet neither is definitively real 
world nor devoid of pretense, so how this spells 'the destruction of debate' 
is beyond me.

2. p: "What is stupefying to me...is that no one seems to realize that the 
essential and paradoxical motivation behind the obnoxious drive to undermine 
the resolution (and the core of debate itself) is a gross overestimation of 
the importance of debate."

oddly enough, philogelos seeks to convince us that the resolution relates to 
'the core of debate itself' while at the same time 'it doesn't matter what 
the hell the resolution is' -- why, one wonders, does the topic committee 
invest so much time in determing the topic if a random choice would do just 
as well? this points to another tension in the aforementioned post: debate 
can help people acquire research- and argument-skills yet it's nothing but 
'hyper-complicated sophistry'.

i'll deal with this argument more thoroughly in an upcoming post, but 
suffice it say that alternatives to standard interpretations of topicality 
have little to do with the overestimation of the debate's importance; 
they're simply looking for better ways to ensure a predictable and fair 
competitive discussion. perhaps it's foolish to believe that the core of 
debate is the debaters themselves, but if participation rates decline to 
ziltch, who will appreciate the shining jewels of your debate?

3. p: "But no matter how pressing the issue of genocide, one using that as 
their affirmative in lieu of the decided upon resolution does absolutely 
NOTHING to help address that issue. There are infinitely better ways to go 
about being a social advocate.  All it does is wreck the competitive 
structure that compels people to work and research; which are the activities 
that provide the real training grounds to go about and potentially do some 
good on the rest of one's life."

although there certainly are better venues for social advocacy, there's no 
perfect ones, and activism in debate can be meaningful - it directly affects 
participants (tomorrow's decision-makers), it contributes to a larger 
national and international dialogue (today's decision-makers), and even if 
the results of speaking out are always indeterminate and possibly 
inconsequential, many past activists have decided to error on the side of 
raising awareness wherever they go, sometimes to unlikely successes. to lots 
of debaters, the activity isn't reducible to "hyper-complicated sophistry", 
and to some, it has the potential to become a more public sphere for 
argument. a lot of this work will go on outside of debate rounds proper, and 
it can do so regardless of what topic is chosen by the topic committee... 
wherever you stand, however, know that debate's alleged irrelevance is a 
choice, which means you're already engaged in a political act. how do you 
propose to build a good training ground for intellectual advocates who work 
and research to address genocide if debaters don't discuss on-going 
genocides? (weren't you subtly lamenting that you never heard an affirmative 
case discuss female genital mutilation on the africa topic?...). if it's 
possible to have an activity that "fuels in-depth research and maintains 
competitive equity" yet grants debaters greater flexibility in what they 
choose to run, then why not try?


i appreciate the nietzschean thrust of your post, philogelos - your 
deflation of moralistic ideals by exposure of self-serving motives and 
self-justify ideologies... nietzsche was also a big fan of competitive 
games; in his 1872 essay entitled 'homer's contest', he argued that that's 
what saved greek civilization from falling into barbarism: "jealousy, 
hatred, and envy spur[red] men to activity: not to the activity of fights of 
annihilation but to the activity of fights which are *contests*". however 
many a subscriber to this list and a participant in this activity may never 
have delved too deeply into nietzsche's work were it not for kritik 
debate... is that also ironic?


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