[eDebate] on topic, but not on time (reply ken, tim, charles, josh and nicole)

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Tue Jun 19 17:02:47 CDT 2007

-- ken -- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-May/071113.html :

_ "An open question to the debate community: why do so many of you hate 
debating topicality?"

i can't speak for the many, but i'd wager the antipathy results for many of 
the same characteristics some debaters and coaches attribute to kritiks: 
they can operate either as timesucks in early constructives or total 
hyperbole in later rebuttals; they shift focus from the substance of the 
affirmative case; they're seen as insincere; and in most instances, they're 
run poorly. needless to say, these aren't (my) arguments; i'm merely 
guessing in response to your question.

_ "We have topicality debates in life all the time (if you don't recognize 
this, I don't think you're paying enough attention) and learning the 
technical skill of debating T prepares people for those real-world 

granted, any community of speakers must exclude certain topics from 
discussion - the question before us is, how is this best carried out? and my 
sub-question for you is, are you happy with the way topicality is enforced 
at present?

because to me, it's a broken system: teams continue to run cases that many 
in the community consider blatantly non-topical, sometimes despite multiple 
loses, and topicality is run in most every round, even against cases that 
most everyone agrees are topical. moreover, a significant segment of the 
community feels unrepresented by those who frame and dictate the topic. so 
if topicality is a penalty, it seems to have little detterent effect, and 
the topic committee itself lacks legitimacy in the eyes of a growing 
minority. do you consider these accurate descriptive statements?

_ "[Topicality] has opened the door to critical debates about the uses and 
construction of language[.]"

well let's open the door a little farther then. the standard assumption of 
topicality is that it's possible to ground the meaning of the resolution in 
a stable and fixed way, that there's only one correct interpretation of the 
topic and that the framers speak with one voice. i claim this is false on 
its face.

the meaning of a word is determined by its differences from and 
relationships with other words. in everyday life, i use a dictionary to 
define what words mean - i look up the phrase 'middle east', and wikipedia 
will inform me: "The Middle East is a region comprising the lands around the 
southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, a territory that 
extends from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf". yet then i 
wonder what definitions are attached to 'mediterranean sea' and 'persian 
gulf', as well as 'region' and 'territory', so i'd look those up as well. a 
definition thus becomes a series of words, each with its own definition, and 
the serial chain continues indefinitely. furthermore, since i can decide the 
meaning of the term 'middle east' only after i've decided what all the words 
that define it mean, and since those words also have words that define them 
which i'll have to track down, the full meaning of 'middle east' is always 
put off until a later time, i.e. it's never definitive.

therefore, the meaning of the resolution is necessarily multiple and 
ever-delayed into the future, hence *indeterminate*... yet clearly debaters 
aren't talking about everything under the sun. if definitional limitation is 
impossible, as i've briefly shown above (and i welcome counter-arguments), 
then what effectively limits the discussion? - this brings us to tim's 
notion of social contract...

-- tim -- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-June/071158.html :

"If you lose topicality you deserve to be penalized for at least two 
reasons: #1 you are an uninvited party crasher #2 there are better ways to 
achieve your goal.

#1 That's why tournaments invite people. In the invitation they indicate 
what topic is to be discussed. If you show up at a tournament that invited 
you to debate about the middle east and demand to talk about the genocide in 
darfur it seems the group is being more than a little lenient to allow you 
to speak at all. Indicating you lose seems like a minor penalty and doesn't 
really sound that much like exclusion. Exclusion would be the treatment you 
get when you show up at a World Cup match with shoulder pads and helmets and 
demand the right to play
#2 If you really think Darfur is more deserving of debate than the middle 
east then host a debate tournament and invite people to debate about Darfur. 
If people show up to your Darfur tournament and insist on debating about the 
middle east you would be justified in showing them the door."

although this offers us a more realistic view of how topicality functions, 
the indeterminacy outlined above still haunts this supposedly neutral 
agreement between parties: tournaments tell participants what the resolution 
is, but they don't directly tell participants how the resolution is to be 
read - that is, is it limiting legalistic language? is it only a suggestion? 
does the topic change at all as the year goes on?, and so forth. there's 
something of an uncrossable gap between the written rule and the underlying 
social norms that tell us how to follow that rule, but let's pretend 
momentarily that this gap weren't there, and ask tim a simple question:

would you really disqualify a team from participating in your tournament if 
they openly disregarded the topic and spoke entirely about darfur? would you 
enforce the contract they made with you to the letter and 'show them the 
door' with the consolation that they'd now be free to 'host their own 

knowing you're a decent person, i doubt very highly you would. yet if you 
truly believed what you were saying, why wouldn't you?... how could you let 
some judge hesitant to pull the trigger on topicality or some team not 
inclined to run it effectively crap all over the agreed upon framework?... 
my hunch then (excuse my impertinence) is that this is just something people 
say to justify winning a debate argument, not something people take 

what's very serious to me, however, is that reasonable people could still 
endorse this allegedly fair concept of contractual agreement in disciplinary 
contexts like debate. what's missing from this analysis are the normalizing 
hierarchies that shape the teacher-student/varsity-novice relationship 
before any decision is consciously made. subtle forms of petty coercion 
abound: it's not only coaches telling you what not to run, but the 
internalized notions of what's expected of you that affect your attitudes 
and choices; it's not only the undemocratic system of deciding topics, but 
the ritual presumption that everyone should talk about the same topic so 
that different aptitudes can be accurately and legitimately ranked. most 
students, subjected to debate socialization, want a topic and want someone 
in charge. so the preexisting imbalance of power systematically distorts the 
contractual link such that the notion that participants and 
framers/directors/coaches are equal signatories to a cut-and-dry agreement 
is laughable... as laughable as the suggestion that students up and start 
their own forum. that's just another instance of 'love it or leave it' 
trying to get rid of all those who would seek to improve it. - this brings 
us to charles' proposal for change...

-- charles -- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-June/071125.html 

as i read it, the 'raising the bar'-argument reasons as follows: evidenciary 
support is a necessary but insufficient condition for quality argumentation, 
and to counteract the debate community's over-estimation of 'cards', debate 
judges should consider well-founded analyticals adequate to negate shoddy 
evidence. (please correct any misstatements there, charles.)

i can't fault this reasoning, but i'd pull at it in couple ways: first, why 
are analyticals limited to negational but not assertive force? charles gives 
two warrants: (a) it establishes a limit on the scope of discussion and (b) 
it's a convention of the game. yet the specter of 'people asserting whatever 
they want' proves non-unique when you consider that you can find a 'card' 
that asserts anything. every mindless rant i've contributed to edebate, for 
example, certainly has an evidenciary basis in some crackpot literature 
somewhere (see post-script). and the fact that this is conventional only 
begs the question - is it a good convention or isn't it? so in addition to 
not excluding 'the crazies', it belittles the expertise that many debaters 
garner as a result of their extensive research, which is...

...my second point: why make a sharp distinction between evidence and 
analytics at all? at bottom, this relies on an underlying distinction 
between facts and opinions that's not only untenable in a philosophical 
sense (i could go into why, if you like), but simply isn't necessary in a 
pragmatic sense. if i need to know the names and locations of russian 
facilities for destroying chemical weapons, then no amount of analytical 
reasoning will give me that answer -- barring any fact-finding tours i 
may've participated in under the supervision of the russian embassy, i'll 
either quote someone who claims to know, or if i claim to know, then i've 
obviously done some homework and read one or more of the someones who claims 
to know. if there's any disagreement, then we'll have to mix it up as to the 
credentials of those someones. furthermore, if i need to know why topicality 
is a voting issue, then no amount of empirical study will do the trick -- 
you're expected to be your own expert here, because you're a relevant member 
of the forum being discussed. (i don't think you were seriously suggesting 
that evidence is needed for all argument types, but you left yourself open 
to that misinterpretation when you concluded your post with "I think this is 
true in all kinds of debate: K, policy, personal, theory debates, morality 

so why not simply say that most statements are considered true until refuted 
(as per the debate convention of 'non-intervention') and leave it that? it 
doesn't matter whether the assertion or the refutation is 'carded' - what 
matters is whether they're reasonable. i concede that it's often quite 
reasonable to trust experts, but fail to see why it should be automatically 
required, and think the judgment of a well-read debater can sometimes hold 
more water than a file full of experts (especially those funded by 
oil-and-gas companies). in any case, we can only decide whether certain 
expertise is useful by applying commonsense; to over-rely on 'the experts' 
means surrendering critical thought. - here's three cards i'd recommend 
reading, however...

<need a tag for this one -- any takers?>

Cornelius Castoriadis, April 1982. (Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy. chapter 
5: Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy. p108-9.)

There are not and cannot be "experts" on political affairs. ... The dominant 
idea that experts can be judged only by other experts is one of the 
conditions for the expansion and the growing irresponsibility of the modern 
hierarchal-bureaucratic apparatus. The prevalent idea that there exist 
"experts" in politics, that is, specialists of the universal and technicians 
of the totality, makes a mockery of the idea of democracy: the power of the 
politicians is justified by the "expertise" they would alone possess, and 
the, inexpert by definition, populace is called upon periodically to pass 
judgement on these "experts".

<and here's one for your creative commons/open debate initiative file>

Josh Branson, 31 May 2007 (eDebate. 

In debate, by far more important than how credible or qualified your 
argument is how NEW it is. You surprise the other team with a new strategy 
(no matter how idiotic) and the chances are good that you will win. Of 
course, that doesn?t really work in the think tank world. I actually think 
that debate would be way more educational and realistic if teams were forced 
to disclose their arguments before hand. I understand all the problems with 
mandating this, and realize it won?t happen, but I do think that the cult of 
newness at times is profoundly uneducational.

<and another for your kritik of procedural abuse file>

Josh Branson, 31 May 2007 (eDebate. 

A large percentage of ?fairness? impact arguments in debate are stupid. 
People?s obsession with ?fairness? or ?competitive equity? is misguided. One 
of the most valuable things about debate is adapting to unfair 
circumstances. If the neg runs conditional CPs, get better and deal with it. 
If the aff doesn?t specify their agent, figure out something else besides 
your same old agent CP. This is what the policy world is like; you?ve got to 
react and deal with tough situations.

-- nicole -- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-May/071098.html :

lovely poem.

kevin.sanchez at gmail.com


p.s. i had no time to go into the finer points of josh branson's intelligent 
post, nor to sketch out two alternative proposals you may've read from me 
before, namely the weighing of all procedural abuse violations as ethics 
challenges and the in-round enforcement of online argument publication under 
public licenses.

p.p.s. the response to ken's post was heavily-inspired by derrida's work, 
and the response to tim's was heavily-inspired by foucault's. i didn't want 
to mention this because i want potential respondents to deal with the 
arguments, and refrain from crap like 'well i guess if some 
pomo-intellectual said it, it must be true'. nevertheless, i did want 
readers to know where those arguments might be found in greater detail 
should they want to develop them further. for those interested, these two 
posts on deleuze's 'difference and repetition' also deal with topical 
issues; for examples, why debaters should reconsider reducing resolutional 
problems to plan-based solutions, and why ground is a dumb voter:


i've really been wanting for a long time now to apply jacques ranciere's 
lecture (see here, 
http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-March/070180.html) to academic 
debate more specifically, but alas... more hours are needed in the day.

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