[eDebate] Topicality can make people radical too

Steve Sawyer sawyers25
Sat Jun 16 11:11:25 CDT 2007


Granted I've been out for a couple of years, but the
"soft question" seems to still be in flux.  The "hard
question" you ask is far more subjective and is
difficult to resolve without judge intervention.  I
think it's unfortunate that the very thoughtful posts
by Charles Olney, Josh Branson and Joe Patrice have
been left completely divorced from this whole
topicality discussion.   

You asked why so few people try to defend racism in
debates.  The glowingly obvious answer that you're
expecting is that people find such an argument
repugnant, which is probably true.  However, I'm going
to be "politically incorrect" here for a moment and
suggest that many debaters think that advancing such
an argument would stigmatize them within the community
and particularly with the critic in the back of the
room.  The debate community may tolerate wipeout or
Spark but it doesn't tolerate "racism good" arguments.
 I don't really recall any topic in my four years
where I was structurally forced to argue such a
repugnant position anyway.

I don't see how this question is one about switch side
debate so much about the norms of the community.  Nor
do I think it has to do exclusively with the "games
mentality" that some have postulated.  The problem
seems endemic to debate regardless of topic or
argumentation style.  As Josh and Charles noted,
judges frequently reward debaters who read bad
evidence or make bad arguments.  It happens whether
you're a dinosaur who decides to go for T substantial
and the Bush disad, or you read nine minutes of
post-colonialism in the 1NC.

The community norm is for critics to let the debaters
decide the debate and then sit back and try to be
objective.  In my experience this happened whether
people decided to run topical affs and debate the case
(the treaties topic) or whether everyone decided to
just avoid case debates all together (e.g. the Indian
Country topic). Perhaps it's better to have a passive
critic than the critic who decides a certain way based
purely on personal politics.  However, critics and
coaches do a disservice to participants by patronizing
them with high speaker points and a win for bad
arguments.  I don't think it's a banked form of
education to ask that judges use some discretion and
reward debaters for arguments that are creative, well
researched, and well-explained.

Certainly there will always be the people who are
driven by personal conviction or competitiveness to
excel.  However, for the students who are developing
research and argumentation skills, the bar eventually
needs to be raised a bit.  It shouldn't be raised so
highly that people feel intimidated or embarrassed and
decide to quit, but if the goal is to assist students
in developing communication skills, you eventually
have to tell it as you see it.  And don't get me
wrong, there are plenty of judges out there who do a
great job at both explaining their RFD and offering
constructive suggestions, but the best judges for me
at least were the ones who were willing to say, "I
voted on this argument even though it was uncarded and
the other team read a dozen bad cards in response" or
"that argument was interesting but it was


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