[eDebate] The Topicality Chronicles

Josh jbhdb8
Fri Jun 1 20:26:03 CDT 2007

Let me try a different tact:

Part One: Topic or Topic Process Haters

I agree that it is probable that for some people the majoritarian method of
selecting topics silences topics done the way they would like to debate.

Example One: Massey

As I understand it, Jackie Massey would like a topic that doesnt force the
a) writing of the affirmative plan b) forces the affirmative to do something
he sees as "genocidal" (more on this in "the state" example below) and c)
allows for flexibility in construction of the affirmative case. Despite
lobbying for years for a topic as he desires a topic his voice/desire is
never rewarded.

I used to respond to this complaint by suggesting traditional politics and
lobbying. But I certainly understand why Jackie is frustrated by the
process.  In truth, I dont think it would be the end of the world to have a
broader topic once in a while...While I disagree with many of his arguments
about topics..there is nothing fundamentally wrong with debaters getting to
play with all kinds of different topics during the four or five years they
get to debate.

As I understand it, Jackie's argument is not against topics but rather
against particular types of topics.

Example Two: So-called race/gender/orientation

Much like the SAT can ask questions that have little to nothing to do with
the experiences of whole groups of potential students in high
school...College topics tend to be worded/formulated for people who have a
primary interest in national and international public policy and therfore
also tend to have little to nothing to do with the experiences of whole
groups of potential students coming out of high school (or already in
college). We should, as a whole, be much more receptive to exploring and
even supporting subjects and areas we dont usually explore in topic areas.

Again, the majority process makes coming to new agreements and wider
agreement hard.  Last year, despite massive debater support for yet another
international policy topic the process was allowed to be limited to legal
topics.  This could also happen in other areas...We have certainly had
topics that deal with issues of race/gender/and orientation before.  I
suspect that we could decide that this area was something students big S
should have exposure to as well.

As I understand it, one of the potential benefits of this approach would be
recruitment and retention of communities that are under-represented in the
debate community now.  If this is true, it is certainly worth inclusion.

Again, these dont seem really to be arguments against a topic per se as much
as criticism of the bias demonstrated against particular types of topics
within topic selection.  This argument seems to be strong given that these
concerns are rarely addressed in the topics we end up with.

Example Three: The State

There are many people who object to the actor in a particular resolution
being the USFG.  There are a number of good arguments that have been made a
thousand times on both sides.  Dont really have much to add here except to
note that there are some people who really feel that having to use the
USFG is something someone ought not be forced to do.

Example Four: Anarchy

This group argues that any topic anytime does something terrible - puts
limits on what people say and do in a forum that could teach people to
advocate in particular ways for or against things that will actually be
relevent to thier lives outside of debate.  In addition, these people
believe, in an ethical sense, that is wrong to ever tell people what can and
cannot be discussed.

There are plenty more objections to the topic process I am certain....but
these seem to the arguments that come up over and over.

Part Two: Topic/Topic Process Lovers

Obviously (because traditional topics are the norm), the majority seem to
prefer the following - a USFG actor, a question of public policy, a somewhat
narrow prescriptive approach, and if possible an international slant.

Traditionalists (that I know) think debate is a process that operates well
if an affirmative is forced to start the debate with something controversial
over which a diverse literature exists on both sides of that issue.
Ultimately, by forcing that controversy, that issue is tested in a way that
creates a deep education for all participants on whatever that issue is.
While the end result of any particular debate might not result in relative
truth.....It is probably true that exposure to the literature on that
subject and formulation of arguments probably makes someone MORE informed on
that subject then they would have been never encountering it.

In addition, traditionalists think there is a wider value to the educational
method of encountering a never ending stream of public policy questions over
an indeterminate number of years.  Many feel that there is even an
educational responsibility involved in this idea of what debate should be.

There is also a question raised about what form activism should take...how
debate should teach/represent activism....what positionality is best for
activism training...and an implicit set of assumptions based on a long long
line of debate trained activists out doing policy in the "real world."

Probably most important traditionalists (like me) believe that in the world
of topic anarchy the end result of debate is a "cheap" win in place of a
deeper education process that forces a search for relative truth (topic
based debate). Fair or unfair that is how it is perceived.

Finally,  topic traditionalists clearly believe that the process of
majoritarian democracy is at least more fair and that the alternative (topic
anarchy) is clearly less-fair.

Part Three: Where do we go from here

So far, year after year after year after year....the basic topic process
moves on its merry way...massive complaining aside....Most topics end up
fairly debateable despite our best attempts to jack them up.....Edebate, on
the other hand, becomes a six month fist-fight between those on both sides
of this divide.  I dont have an answer to this (and I doubt anybody really
does).  I agree with elements of what the protesters say but remain a
traditionalist...But one who clearly wants to find space in debate for
everyone and every style.  I love critical and race literature...I like
creative affirmatives but also like a topic to be limited enough that the
education is focussed and meaningful.

Seems the relevent question is if we are just going to continue to go along
as we are - some people ignore the topic and have to lose sometimes to the
"EVIL" of "TOPICALITY."  Or are there ways we can envision space for
everyone that dont totally flush the deep seated feelings of

I dunno, I am just tired of having the same exact argument year after year
after year after year after year.........Generally the way we have dealt
with this is the way the world generally deals with change...eventually, the
better ideas win out or the activity perishes.  Obviously, either the new
idea (new forms of forming topics or whatever) isnt making the stronger and
more persuasive arguments OR the majority is a) better or b) whistling past
its own graveyard......I obviously hope its not b....Persuade
me renegades...how can you convince all of us traditionalists we are wrong
about what debate should look like.  Hopefully, spending all this time
writing proves I am at least trying to listen...I am sure some other folks
are too.

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