[eDebate] Debate, the good old days, and Privileged White gamesMANship

Ede Warner ewarner
Sat Nov 3 21:47:36 CDT 2007


Bob Lechtruck says in answer to a question about when should we debate it out and when should we call the cops:
 
"It depends on the circumstance. If I take a baseball bat to you in debate round (and I call it my performance), I would hope that you would stop the "debate" and call the cops. If I force your 17 year old female debater debater to watch/view pornographic materials after she, her partner, and you, her coach, have said repeatedly that you don't want that, then I would hope you would stop the "debate" and exit the room (telling the "authorities" would certainly be an option). 

If I, as a game player, argue "wipeout" as an argument intended to garner a competitive ballot (as we did for MANY years without dire consequences), then I would hope you would debate it out. 

If we can't tell the difference, then I fear we have crossed the line from itelligent college students and professors to fucking dumbasses....... 

But then again, maybe I am just too old and have too much common sense.

Bob"

Dear Bob and others longing for the good old days of policy debate,
 
Before the kritik, before accusations of sexism, racism, and homophobia, and before "performance", debate was a make believe game where students represented a governmental agency, debated about policies of issues far away from personal selves. This preserved the notion of debate as a laboratory, a marketplace of ideas as it were, a place for students to test ideas, develop critical thinking skills, and learn about the world around them.  Debate was credited with empowering students through skill development and knowledge acquisition.  That sounds like the "game" that Bob says never had any "dire consequences".  I laugh.  I cry.
 
I laugh because I was a part of those "good old days."  As a high school and college debater in the late 70's and early 80's I can count on my extremities the number of debates I had against people that were not white males, usually with substantially more economic privilege than the average American.  That said, there are three things that were true about this history that Bob longs for:
 
1) When NDT and later CEDA became a game of fast, technical policy debate, these activities for the most part were homogeneous.  And if even some diversity existed at the participant level, almost none existed at the judge, coach, and director level.  Just the facts.  Bob longs for a time when the activity was decidedly less diverse than it is today.  I laugh to think those days were good.
 
2) Every topic that has been chosen, meant something personal to somebody, even if not to any of the active debate communtiy at that particular time.  Every core topic area had real people's lives who were affected as illustrated in the research or cards we put into files.  Some more than others for sure, but somebody's real world was affected every time a team prepared to debate any topic.  Just because their feelings, lives, concerns, and whether the ways we debated for and about those people offended them were not a part of our debates because we debated in ways which directly excluded their participation, doesn't mean we can assume those emotions didn't exist.  I laugh to think that we are so arrogant to believe those offenses somehow mean less to what we believe is just or right.
 
3)  The types of arguments that avoid dire consequences, that Bob talks about--whether big theory throwdowns, ALife, Aspec, Nuclear War Good, Malthus,  Racism Good, Beef, or any other meatball of your choice--all created diversions, and potentially would be found "offensive" to those missing audiences when linked to "their" personal issues.  Every affirmative that ignored the smaller consequences for the big impact, just like any disadvantage or PIC that sidestepped the important question to that audience in lieu of a better "strat" than a in-depth discussion of the more germane case issues, all may have produced "offensiveness" to that person who cared about the topic that we debated.  so yes, wipeout had dire consequences Bob, just none that threatened your narrowly defined self-interest.  And the personal confrontations created by being different, are not nearly as "dire" as you suggest.  Threat perception to eliminate difference usually results in more resistance to compromise.  But that's your choice.  I laugh to keep from crying.
 
I cry because Bob, as well as many others, longing for the "good old days" still don't get.  The days of a monocultural debate community are over.  We exist now as a multicultural debate community where people have differing interests for debating, different ideas about how to engage a topic, and the likelihood of people being seriously offended by actions of others is very a certainty.  Is debate prepared for this existence?  Naw, it really isn't.  Is going back to the future the best solution?  Naw, not helpful because there is no going back.  A set of monocultural debate practices in a multicultural society will soon lose any relevance for that society.
 
I cry because the debate community--whether you believe in more traditional conceptions of policy or you believe in the challenge of critical performance--lacks a common purpose to connect that two.  And unless all sides make a choice to come together and begin to think about finding some common ground, the likelihood that things will get worse, before they get better is almost assured.  That's too bad, because this community houses a lot of really intelligent, really compassionate people, who right now are so caught up in the politics of their side, that can't see that the true self-interest lies in respect for the "other" sides.  Is it possible to create a form which embodies both the essence of rigorous policy debate, while respecting the creativitiy and stylistic interests of thoses with a more critical orientation?  Sure, it's possible, I'd belief relatively easy to accomplish.  But not until all of the attempts to censor and eliminate each other ends, and some honest efforts to find that middle ground become set the precedent needed to move forward.  I cry knowing that everyone is still trying to avoid the "other" side, hoping they will go away, either quietly or by rule or by force or by revolution.  I cry because I know no one should go anywhere, as everyone has a right to decide what policy debate should become, even those not here to represent their own interests.
 
Sincerely,
 
Ede
 
 
Ede Warner, Jr.
Director of Debate Society/Associate Professor of Communication
University of Louisville
308E Strickler Hall
502-852-3522
e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu 
http://comm.louisville.edu/~debate
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