[eDebate] Andy, you don't understand the concept of ground rules

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Thu Jun 14 09:34:29 CDT 2007

Topicality is important because it is a gound rule for meaningful debates. A
team's unilateral decision to ignore the resolution breaches communication
ethics and should be sanctioned. The standard rationales for
topicality--fairness, and education--can be answered or turned by a non-topical
affirmatives or simply do not describe the underlying rationale for topicality
being a voting issue. Your lack of understanding is your problem. Your
inability to understand analogies from the legal sphere reflects your own

We ask, why is X against the law? We respond, because of 1, 2, 3.

You ask, why is topicality a voting issue in a debate round. I respond, because
of communication ethics and necessity to respect the concept that some rules
are necessary for communities to meaningfully exist.

The ball has been advanced substantially from my point of view. Matt and I have
pressed the issue--where do we draw the line? You don't like to affirm the
resolution so you choose not to do so. My team does not like to debate, so they
just pay the judge  fifty bucks for the win. Or, we decide we don't like to sit
and listen to other people speak. Or, we decide that we can beat your teams ass
and just jump you in the bathroom before the round even starts. At this point,
you start going, "wha, wha, wait! That goes too far. YOU can't beat someone up
in a debate round?" My response is "Why not?"

The obvious response from you will be "Because there are certain norms or rules
of discourse by which we agree to operate in order to have a debate." Either
that, or you just roll with the punches. Surely, you will agree that there are
minimal ground rules that exist in all debate rounds. If not, then you are
really advocating a bad form of anarchy.

However, If you concede that some rules are necessary for meaningful debates,
(which I cannot understand how you cannot)then we get to the critical secondary

What rules exists?

Who gets to choose what rules exist?

The blanket "there are no rules in debate" is obviously flawed and simply not
true. So, we have to ask what are the rules and who gets to make them.

I suggest certain rules or norms are a priori in academic debates:

Example: Violence is not condoned. I assume we can agree at least on this.

Why not? Because the majority of the people within the community have agreed
that literally kicking someone's ass in a debate does not foster community
know, persuasion versus coercion, etc.

O.K. Then if we agree that the community can establish certain norms and that
people should be sanctioned for violating those norms, we get to ask, are there
other norms?

I suggest there is another norm--that teams come together to debate a single
problem area. The community has decided that this is the method of debate, prior
to the debate round. That is what all the bitching about the topics sucking and
which one to vote for is all about. That is why I am still deciding whether to
even particpate in CEDA tournaments this year. because, as a program director,
once I choose to participate, I believe that my teams should debate the agreed
upon resolution.

Other debate organizations have decided that they want to have teams debate
different resolutions per round--but within each round, there is an a priori
that both teams will debate the topic chosen for that particular round.

You suggest, and teams have actually attempted, to flout this norm by saying
that the affirmative does not have to debate the resolution that was chosen by
the community prior to the debate round. The debate over what the topic of
discussion should be has already occurred, yet, you unilaterally want to reopen
this a priori debate.

I am merely offering that your justifications of education and freedom and
conscience do not outweigh the community's need to maintain coherence, and the
general need to have some mutually agreed to ground rules that are established
before teams enter the round.

>From a legal perspective, rules are all about line drawing. We draw those lines
every day. There are good reasons why topicality should remain a line and why
voting negative is an appropriate sanction. The best reason I have found is
that of communication ethics--namely, parties agree to certain ground rules
prior to engaging in persuasion. If one party breaches those ground rules, this
"gentlemen's agreement" has been breached, and often, all bets are off. The only
way to prevent this is by offering some form of sanction. In the case of a
debate round, a non-topical affirmative breaches part of the agreement and
should therefore be sanctioned with a loss.

Just explain why we should draw the line at violence, or interruption of
speakers, or bribery and not draw the line at topicality; and you may have an
argument Andy.

Finally, I think it is absurd that anyone should read any "cards" from edebate
posts. Rather, I would suggest that teams searching for new reasons why
topicality is a voting issue look to texts on communication ethics. I suggest
Habermas and Chaim Perleman. I would also suggest texts on Jurisprudence, RUle
of Law and moral reasoning. Finally, I would suggest books on civil
disobedience thoery. The "cards" to support these arguments, if cards are even
needed, exist and are readily obtainable.


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