[eDebate] topics and evidence

Michael Korcok mmk_savant
Tue Jul 17 13:07:15 CDT 2007


I will work hard to treat this issue fresh.  a bunch of us were here a decade ago and made judgments and arguments then.  i am a fan of "stay the course" in US foreign policy but i think Huxley had it right generally: "Single-mindedness is all very well in cows or baboons; in an animal claiming to belong to the same species as Shakespeare it is simply disgraceful."
 
Evidence is good.  The lack of it for "resolutions is why people left and why we continue to decline" is important.  
 
1) Matt points out that no one who left says they left because they didn't like the resolutions.  I doubt anyone would.  Even if they did leave because of the resolutions.   "I left because I didn't like the resolutions" makes the utterer sound like a trifling ass.  That is hardly a good enough reason to inflict parliamentary debate on one's students.  I would expect them to front with statements like "The zeitgeist of academic disputation had transitioned to hypertechnical modes of discourse."  Now THIS statement, it is all professorial and learned.  True, it makes the utterer sound like a pompous ass but pompous ass > trifling ass every minute. I know this is simply a trick that the religious pull, having an explanation why there is no evidence to imply there really is evidence.  So I won't do that.  But there is a decent explanation why there isn't this sort of evidence.
 
2) Josh and Tim give other causes for programs leaving.  Because Jackie makes the direct causal claim.  I think causal claims are largely scams:   claims about complex social causes are just grifts.  For every event or situation, there is an open-ended set of conditions for its occurrence or existence.  Isolating one of those conditions or even a subset of them as the "cause" or "causes" is a political/power act.  Not to be too pedantic, but there is a game I play with my argumentation class about causality and I don't say much more about causality other than to mock its textbook treatment.
 
You wake up at 7:30 am, all bleary-eyed, your head pounding from the booze, meth, and lack of sleep.  Yah, you got home at 4 am from that party and fell into bed with your clothes still on.  The world is swirling about, but you throw yourself into the shower for 10 minutes and throw on some laundry from off the floor.  You get in your car, which badly needs a maintenance check-up, and start to drive to school.  The fog is thick this morning, you can't see more than 10 feet in front of you and there is a shine on the asphalt, but you need to get to your 8 am class so you push it a few miles over the speed limit.   Just as you enter an intersection, the traffic light hanging in the middle resolves through the fog, and it is red.  You hit the brakes, your car skids into the middle of the intersection, you try to steer out of the skid, and BLAM!  As you come to, you do a check, no blood, shoulder bruised badly, no broken bones, neck stiff, glass everywhere.  You get out slowly, a lot of damage to your car, the other car too, you see someone getting out, you rush over, they're ok.  No one badly hurt, you talk, you call the police...
 
OK.  What caused the accident?  And the related question: who or what is to blame?  Invariably, the first answers are you caused the accident and you are to blame.  But then I guide the class to an understanding of how "causality" functions as we generate the list of causes:  the party hosts for allowing booze and meth, the party hosts for allowing the party to go to 4, the Jack Daniels distillery for pushing a booze youth culture, the automobile companies for making cars that don't drive themselves, the city for laying down roads that skid, the city for placing traffic lights in the middle of intersections instead of 5 feet before the intersection, the college for having 8 am classes, your parents for raising a fool, your high school for inadequate drivers ed, the tire company for making a product that skids on slick roads, the brake manufacturer for making brakes that don't actually stop the car, your parents because if they hadn't had that special evening you wouldn't have been born and if you hadn't been born there wouldn't have been an accident, the sun because no sun no accident, the nonexistent aliens from Alpha Centauri because they could have transported in seconds before the accident and whisked your car up over the intersection, the OTHER GUY for ramming into the side of your car...
 
see?  causality, it is a scam.  for any given event or situation, there is an open-ended set of conditions which must obtain for that event to occur or that condition to exist.  isolating just 1 of those conditions as a cause is foolish or dishonest or both.  isolating a subset of them is little better.  and blaming is just the grifter offspring of the parent grift.
 
so...  I don't think that policy resolutions are the cause of the decline in participation.  I don't even think that thinking about this issue in a causal way is productive or honest.
 
2') To be fair to Josh, Tim, and Jackie, they aren't really talking about causes so much as they are about reasons people have for making the decisions they do.  And that makes the discussion a little more honest.  But reasons are at least as complex as causes.  Our decisions aren't made for reasons all that often:  emotions, feelings, relationships, circumstances, and plain old brain chemistry determine decisions too.  And there are several cool psychological studies that indicate that reasons are largely after-the-fact explanations of decisions already made rather than being part of the decision-making process itself.  So much of what happens when a debate program doesn't get started or when a debate program leaves cross-examination debate or when a novice debater doesn't start debating or when someone quits going to debate tournaments is largely opaque to us and even to the decision-makers themselves.  arguing about the reasons they had for making the decisions they did is likely little more than a political exercise.
 
3) There is evidence.  It is not that good.  It is embedded in the world like all evidence invariably is.  It comes to this:  the decline in participation in CEDA coincides with a) the 4 or 5 years of increasingly policy-oriented resolutions pre-merger and b) the post-merger lock-in of increasingly "policy" policy-based resolutions.  Were other things going on at the same time?  absolutely.  lots of things.  speed of delivery ramped up, research burdens skyrocketted, Bush got elected, the White Sox won a World Series.  In fact, there is a TIGHT correlation between Korcok losing his hair and cross-examination debate participation declining... it is almost as if each of my hairs represents another novice debater in the activity.  Damn!  another newbie just fell out of District 5!  the point is no one is going to do a satisfying factor analysis trying to correlate participatory decline with portions of what has happened over the past decade so the evidence we have is:  participation declining at the same time as policy ascending.  oh oh.
 
4) There is a story to be told.  It is sorta entertaining and it can be used to beat people over the head and neck, including people I respect as well as people who need a good thrashing.  Josh is in both of those categories.  Tim is just in one of them.  
 
The story is this:  
 
Policy resolutions are more of the same for elite high school debaters.  Policy resolutions give elite high school debaters a large advantage over those without experience in high school policy debate.  Those folks who did great for a few years debating policy resolutions get to do more of the same in college, the same stuff that they excelled and trained in for a few years already.  That makes policy resolutions a substantial entry barrier to novices.  Some coaches here have been teaching people how to debate policy resolutions a long frikkin time.  For DECADES, in fact.  Same with programs:  some of the programs around here have been learning how to do that crap for frikkin ever:  they have policy resolutions down like your momma has eating down.  That makes policy resolutions a substantial entry barrier to new programs and new coaches.  
 
Hey!  What the hell happened in the merger?  Oh I know!  A large number of programs that didn't know jack about how to do policy resolutions which were filled with kids who didn't know much about how to do policy resolutions got fed to programs and debaters that knew that shit inside and out.  And many many of those CEDA programs didn't want to be eaten alive so they left, quit, fled for their lives.  Good eatin for the hungry NDT programs which had suffered through lean times, not so much fun for the CEDA programs.
 
And now?  Yah.  Continued steady decline in participation as cross-examination debate continues an overall strategy of pandering to the elite high school debaters and the programs built on them rather than doing the middle years CEDA strategy of targetting the much broader student population of some or no high school experience debaters.  
 
You know, instead of doing the thing that worked, we are doing the thing that failed.  GO US!
 
I LOVE that story.  It is a story for both reformers and revolutionaries, it makes bad guys out of the powerful and explains to the disenchanted that it isn't their fault, it is the fault of the system that the rich construct to keep the rest of us down.  And it is mostly kind of true or at least rather truthy which is good enough for government work.
 
5)  it is time for a non-policy resolution.  we might all learn something.  even if Josh spends the whole year skulking about all pouty and grumpy.  i think we would all enjoy that.
 
Michael Korcok
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