[eDebate] Metaphors, Fiat, and Movements

David Glass gacggc
Thu Nov 15 08:36:54 CST 2007

One common theme that seems to arise in many of the discussions here is that
there are two debate "camps," separated by fiat.  One group is given the
role of the games-players, who unrealistically assume roles of policy
makers, whereas the other group comprise activists fighting for a better

As might be expected, neither picture is accurate, and both camps can be
reconceived as occupying precisely the same space.

The unifying elements are many; but let's focus on debate as a metaphor, a
symbol for something else, a signifier.  When a policy debater invokes fiat,
nobody truly thinks the debater is some deluded individual who truly
believes she/he is a Congressperson engaged in actual policy change.  Rather
it is quite clear to all involved that policy debaters are being asked to
state their positions "as if" the things they were proposing could actually
happen, so that they could "model" what the effects would be.

Whether one is a policy debater or someone arguing around their kitchen
table, the idea is that political discussion and arguments will help them
clarify their own believes as to what should happen, which will then direct
their choices and activities as citizens, and which might also change the
minds of other participants in the debates.  If enough debates happen, minds
are changed, and real change is more likely.

Is there any difference in this process to what happens in an "activism"
round?   Let's say your goal is to fight inequities in financing of
extra-curricular debate programs.  Do the debaters truly believe that as a
result of the round there will magically be equity in financing?  Will the
result of the round be a "fiat" of equity?  It would be insulting to the
debaters to accuse them of such a thing.

Is a debate round the most obvious or direct way for such activism?  Wouldn't
directly engaging those responsible for school funding be more direct?

It is clear that for the activists, the debate round is being used in the
same way as it is being used by the policy makers ? as a forum to be heard,
to test ideas.  The only difference seems to be the "alternative" tool is
viewed as distinct from the "fiat" tool.  But it is not.

Where the two camps part company is in their claims to "realness".  Fiat is
attacked by activists, so that significance claims associated with policy
changes cannot be used as a mechanism to "outweigh" pre-fiat calls to
fairness or equity.  Policy debaters attack "activists" as subverting the
game of assessing policy.  What this struggle is really about is what the
proper role should be of the policy debate round ?what the rules of-the-game
 are.  What should the debate round be a metaphor of?

To me the only "unfair" thing is the claim that one side is deluded whereas
the other side is not.  Neither camp is deluded.  Both understand what they
are engaged in. And neither side is "really" what they say they are.

A true policy maker is in the halls of Congress.  A true activist is outside
those halls, mustering the support necessary to incite  change.

The debate round is a competition.  Everyone knows this.   Any claims of
privilege from one side or the other should be seen for what they are ? a
simple attempt  to increase the priority of their arguments vs others who
claim a different priority.  Whose priority "wins"  can be the subject of
the competition.  But it   needs to be realized that there is no distinction
between the fiat claims of the policy debater, and the fiat claims of the
activist debater; the activists simply use different terminology, so that
they can claim their priority.
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