[eDebate] Debating debate

Ede Warner ewarner
Tue Nov 13 08:22:28 CST 2007

David and members of the debate community,
I think your analogy is even more interesting and requires critical
thought.  Sunday morning, the day this non-debate occurred, I started
the morning by severely offending my debaters, or in other words, I
inflicted pain on them.  I told them they had too much faith in the
debate community, and that faith would create more pain on them.  I told
them that living in this world when you choose to be or just are
different requires that until you inflict similar levels of pain on
others, they usually won't stop inflicting unintentional pain on you.   
I told them that for the last seven years, the debate community's one
consistent theme, transcending the contemporary policy community or the
critical/performative community, is how we collectively deal with pain. 
You might ask: what does that have to do with our posture on the Middle
East, or a decision to not debate, or a van ride to Wake Forest?  
Because at the end of the day, no matter which side of the debate
ideological spectrum you sit on, avoidance of pain is a fundamental and
essential part of human nature.  People seeking pain are considered
irrational in our society.  You see, those four debaters understood
something on Sunday that your post demonstrates you still don't get. 
They can't stop the pain of the Middle East by talking about it for a
couple hours in Manchester Hall sitting on the quad, especially not with
the worldview of policy debate that I suspect you endorse.  But I
suspect that my reason for saying this won't be what you expect to hear.
 It's not that fiat is pretend.  It's not debate should be about keeping
it real like Louisville.  It has absolutely nothing to do with
intercollegiate policy debate.
The reason they can't stop someone else's pain in a faraway place, is
that they haven't figured out how to stop their own, or each others. 
Good policy debate should teach us how to make decisions that reduce
pain, not only of our selves, but of many others.  The simplistic
analysis of blaming those four debaters for the potential end of debate
only demonstrates that you too, are in pain.  And I'm sorry to hear
that.  At the same time, sometimes the inflection of pain is a necessary
step for people to stop, think, and realize that they too, might
actually do things that inflect pain, because the truth is, we often
inflect pain on others and stand totally oblivious to it.  The key that
my lovely wife taught me, is to try create policy decisions that reduce
the unintentional pain in other's lives around us, while reserving the
right to intentionally inflect pain on others as a self-defense
mechanism: when others create unintentional pain on you or those you
care about.  Neither side of the debate ideological continuum is close
to living by this creed or producing results that minimize pain.
How contemporary policy debate, what I believe many of you see as some
sort of salvation, causes pain.  Absent any critical perspective, the
standard game by definition, rewards bigger impacts and devalues smaller
ones.  If my interest is on a smaller problem in the Middle East,
contemporary policy debate finds easy ways, non realistic or relevant
ways to outweigh, making my issue non-strategic? A recipe for pain.  So
while I want to talk about dealing seriously about those minority
interests, the rigorous policy exercise that you defend as a solution to
pain, is causing pain.  If my interest in a problem in the Middle East,
requires persuasion to get people to feel the gravity of the issue, and
I attempt to slow down or create emotion for my policy argument, the
contemporary game has a set of norms in it's subculture that can
assimilate that effort away.  That creates pain.  If I am the most
credible undergraduate student in the country on the Middle East, and I
want to uniquely debate this topic against the best and most strategic
minds in the country, and so I enter in the open or varsity division,
armed with real policy 
objectives, the game is rigged to ensure that I
will fail.  So much so, that you likely will tell me that student should
debate in novice.  If I said, what about a Middle East Professor with
substantial experience in US-Palestine relations, you would say they too
should go to novice.  That's pain.  Even further, horrendous policy
making that our best and brightest contemporary policy debate students
currently would likely strike that judge, solely because they "want to
go fast" and "are more prepared to engage the complex strategies of
debate" than they would make necessary sacrifices to get the possible
education that professor could offer in a debate competition.  That's
pain, internalized pain at that.
But let's not kid ourselves.  When the critical performance becomes a
ruse to create confusion for the sole purpose of stopping a good policy
debate.  That's pain.  When a performance goes past the classroom level
of discomfort necessary to create balanced critical thought, and
students start running out of rooms and wearing t-shirts justifying
actions which create that effect, it's time to say enough.  That's pain.
 When people start pushing the competitive excesses we have in rigorous
policy debate in the opposition direction until the creativity and shock
value become more important than the argument.  That's pain.  Shitting
in bags, taking clothes off, simulating sex acts, perhaps even playing
offensive rap music (I do it in my classes so I'm hesistant to include),
all of these are past the boundaries of what the few of us left would do
as academics in a classroom, meaning the competitive extreme has gone
way too far.  That's pain.
But the MOST pain unquestionable right now, is what happens when the
two civilizations clash.  Both sides are so willing to dehumanize,
marginalize, and eliminate the other, they quickly forget that their
efforts to make the other go away, always inflict pain.  We ignore that
how we evaluate one another stands at the essence of our personhood.  It
was hard enough getting the community to see that their exists racial
differences that sometimes inflict inappropriate pain on one another. 
But ironically, that pains in comparison to the ideological pain this
community bombs on each other currently.  So the escalation and war you
speak of, is already occurring.  And the more you talk about how to fix
it, the more it moves nuclear.
I've been a part of that war myself, intentionally creating pain
recently on several people that I care deeply about, not to hurt them
but to try and get them to see that their were doing things that was
creating unintentional pain on me.  I suggested to my debaters, who
continue to exist here in pain,  because they have a vision of policy
debate that is different from most others and the response by this
community to that difference, while certainly unintentional, clearly
produces pain for them.  Is that the best approach, I dunno.  It's the
only one I know.
My suggestion to my debaters was: you need to inflict sufficient
intentional pain on others so they can see open themselves to the
possibility that they can and do act in unintentional ways that create
pain on you.  Can that be throwing the sole purpose of competitive
debate, the ballot, into disarray?  Sure it can.  Can it be looking
someone in the face and saying the way you evaluate my difference
destroys my personhood, and as such, I'm not longing willing to allow
you to evaluate my difference until I feel safe?  Of course.  Can having
a single harassment policy for debate in place only work if it allows
any student at any time to say I'm being harassed?  It must.  Can the
resolution for this charge stop the debate as an ethical challenge to
resolve if the pain inflicted is warranted or some type of productive
societal good?  Without question and thanks to Sherry for figuring that
out before I did.  I was too busy inflicting pain that I couldn't hear
all of what she was saying.
So yes David, perhaps my students inflicted pain upon you
, Ross, and
Jason by their choice to not debate.  Perhaps their choice to express
their feelings, whether accurate facts or whether just their misguided
perceptions, did create some pain and run inconsistent with what you
feel debate should be.  But if that's all the pain you see David, you
too are completely incapable of generating any policy decisions that
will reduce the pain of the Middle East.  And you too, are unconsciously
inflicting plenty of pain yourself with your simplistic reductions of
the problem, as are most who engage this listserve.  So you, nor anyone
in this community, is an innocent victim that stands above all of the
pain being inflicted, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
How does it change?  I'm not sure I know the answer.  But eventually I
suspect the collective pain will become intolerable and unsustainable
and something will change.  Or perhaps someone will create necessary
leadership for some serious policy making about policy debate to address
the issues using critical thinking and research to come up with a
balanced solution.  Or perhaps competition will continue to drive the
train, and the pain inflicted by the unrestrained value of winning at
all costs, not balanced with other societal values, like education or
diversity, will inflict enough pain that people leave and create other
organizations as Jason suggests, without fixing the problem?  Then new
pain will start showing up in those organizations as well.
This has been the "m.o." for debate over the last 50 years in America. 
Jason's call for an HCBU debate league has been tried.  HCBU had vibrant
debating societies during segregation, as leadership training to fight
the war on black life that existed at the time.  The irony is that their
PRIMARY goal, just as Malcolm believed and used debate, was created a
format where truth could be spoken to power.  They wanted to use debate
as a vehicle to have personal confrontations with whites over issues
like segregation, slavery and the like.  Ironically, the death of
segregation destroyed HCBU debate.  In part because the personal
confrontation with whites was less necessary, and in part, because the
stylistic evolution of white debate, made it less relevant to Blacks. 
They didn't want to have fast, technical jargon ladened debates with
whites, so the political leverage to justify continuation of the
programs died to.  
But in spite of all of this, I too, believe that good balanced,
rigorous policy debate can and will one day, be a vehicle for reducing
the world's pain.  It has too.  It's the only hope of survival.  It's
the try or die necessary to create true effective political leadership
and stop the politics you correctly identify as faulty. But debate can't
do it today. And not with simplistic selfish solutions that just call
for one's personal pain to go away without an acknowledgment and
confrontation with our collective pain. 
Still with love,


From: "David Glass" <gacggc at gmail.com>
To:"Brian Huot" <brian.huot at gmail.com>, <eDebate at www.ndtceda.com>
Date: 11/13/2007 4:20 AM
Subject: Re: [eDebate] Debating debate
The fact that such a round took place, when the Resolution on the
involves what the United States's posture should be in the Middle
a place where we have recently started two wars, and are threatening
start a third, is a good metaphor for how the Left has lost its way,
and how
the Right managed to take over the governing process over the last 25
If you refuse to engage in the problems of the day and offer a real
you literally give up the game, and clear the field for those willing
to engage - and,
as Cheney and his friends have shown to great effect, engage they
So I have no respect whatsoever for such a result, and feel that those
waste an opportunity to show a better way forward are in fact complicit
with those
who push a worse way forward.
This is without even starting on the implications for how such a
ion of the debate process 
destroys the activity...

David Glass
On 11/11/07, Brian Huot <brian.huot at gmail.com> wrote: 

In round 6 of the Shirley Classic at Wake Forest, Leon and Phil from
Illinois and Brian and Rosie from Louisville, as well as Beth Skinner 
from Towson reached an agreement not to participate and legitimize the
dominant structures of debate. Both teams and the judge agreed to
either a double win or double loss ? that neither team deserved to
solely lose because of the fundamental inequalities in today's debate 
community.  The tab room at Wake Forest was understanding of our
concerns and responded with a positive attitude.  However, they were
obligated to decide the round for pairing reasons and did so with a
coin flip. 

Among the inequalities:

?       Stylistic marginalization:  This community is accepting of
ability to vote against dropped arguments presented in a traditional
style ? usually with cards only, while ignoring when the stylistic 
majority drops arguments presented in the non-traditional manner.
Sometimes this is intentional, sometimes it's not ? judges often don't
feel that they know how to evaluate those drops. We must find ways to 
evaluate these differences equally, beyond the acknowledgement of a
speaker's singing skill, ignoring the argument within.

?       Financial inequalities:  This community privileges the larger,
expensive tournaments. The institutions with more money are then able 
to compete more at these tournaments, and gain the prestige that comes
with hosting these tournaments. We find also that there is often a
direct correlation between available finances and team success ? such
as Northwestern and Wake Forest, among others.  This creates an
educational disparity at the point where these teams are able to hire
more coaches and assistants to cut cards ? debaters are functionally
turned into machines.  In addition, the debate experience at these 
places is much different than one found at a smaller or less
prestigious debate program, who have to deal with tenuous budgets and
lack of resources ? affecting the feelings of comfort and security.

These are clearly not all of the inequalities within this debate 
community. However, we believe that these, along with other
inequalities, highlight the necessity for change and a global
harassment policy.

We send this e-mail as an attempt to garner the support, feedback, and

criticism of the entirety of this community. We stress, though, that
this criticism must not extend to collective punishment of coaches,
debaters, and/or affiliates of our respective schools. We all accept
personal responsibility for this choice. 

Brian Huot
Rosie Washington
Beth Skinner
Phil Hoffman
Leon Eydelman
eDebate mailing list
eDebate at www.ndtceda.com 

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