[eDebate] Rejecting the cult of fairness

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Wed Nov 14 13:54:08 CST 2007

in reply to, http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2007-November/073105.html

hear, hear!

i couldn't agree more with josh's post (which i thought was brilliant), so i'll just extend his analysis in some different ways, and mention one tiny disagreement toward the end as an afterthought...

first, let's get back to basic for a second: why isn't fiat itself 'unfair' by standard theory? when fiating, the
affirmative claims the power to assume away all realistic obstacles to
the enactment of plan: by what right do they have that power?

because it's a valuable thought experiment to engage in. it allows
us to debate what *should* happen as opposed to what *will* happen.

so the same reason that 'but plan won't pass' fails to negate the
affirmative plan is the same reason that 'fiat, iran will disarm' fails
as well. it's not that it's abusive'. it's that it's not worth
considering. you can't assume away one of the necessary premises of a
thought experiment and then claim you've demonstrated why that thought
experiment is a bad idea. you haven't proven
the water is dirty -- you've merely pulled the plug.

for me,
knowing this only strengthens the standards that fairness arguments
were actually meant to enforce. continue to speak for two minutes after
your time is up - that's unfair. make a totally new argument in a
rebuttal - that's unfair. read a quarter of a card and claim you've
read the whole thing - that's unfair. ...but intrinsic out of a disad -
that might be unworthy of consideration, but it's not
unfair. ...and if it's not predictable, so what? some of the best
arguments in debate have been the least predictable - before someone
had the ingenuity to advance them, that is.

this also tempers some of the dumb excesses of both kritik and
policymaking dogma, which have fed off one another. policymakers may
say things like, 'the kritik alternative has a solvency deficit: you
need to demonstrate that there is some spill over to the real world
after the round - or else it's unfair', and kritikers may answer
this in exactly the terms that josh correctly lampoons, 'we will change the world
through debate'. what obvious fact are both sides missing (or feigning
ignorance of, anyway)?...

that debate is a game, one which operates upon the pretense that there
are implications to the words which come out of debaters' mouths:
policymakers pretend they're passing
policies through the u.s. federal government; kritikers pretend
they're advocating policies in a forum meant for policy discussion. 

one of the problems i've had over the years has been explaining (and
re-explaining) to kritik debaters that the problem isn't 'fiat is
illusory' (since the thought experiments kritikers pursue are as
embedded in a role-playing game), but that fiat considers as
all-important the shit shoveled around washington. the kritik's
founding question, therefore, is: why can't the shit we shovel around
debate be considered
similarly important? ...it's simply another way of playing the game,
and that's all it's ever been.

ok, i've got to mention one point of (potential) disagreement, or i
wouldn't be doing my job; josh writes, "Everyone has access to the
resolution, everyone has access to
the same literature base, and everyone has the same speech time to

one of those things is not like the others. yes, everyone knows the
resolution. yes, reciprocal speech-times are enforced. but does
everyone have access to the same literature base? or at least, does
everyone have *equal* access to that literature base? 

here i think
it best to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic factors: if
someone makes a great argument that's hard to answer, that's intrinsically difficult to deal
with; if someone has lexis-nexis access (and you don't), that's
extrinsically difficult to deal with. ...seems to me one of the goals
of debate should be to level the playing field in terms of extrinsic
difficulties *precisely so* intrinsic difficulties are harder on
everyone - e.g. teams from privileged skools have as tough a time
hitting less privileged skools. 

{...and i also see no reason the
questions of fairness opened up by this distinction can't be raised during
actual competition, e.g. why debaters can't demand their opponents
publish all their evidence online before using it in-round :
...one of the benefits, by the by, is enhancing evidence quality.} 

in this sense, 'all teams start at the same point' is an impossible
ideal (to use a bit of derrida) - one that's worth striving for all the
more because it's unreachable.

lastly, josh again: "theory arguments are at the top of the list of things that
marginalize debate as a good training device. It's something that
people outside debate don't really understand, and it's by far the most
boring thing to judge, and, just as a matter of empirical observation,
the people that do it a lot tend to be the laziest ones."

haha... fairness theory-arguments are inherently unfair! ... someone
should write the block - and slip an 'irony good' subpoint near the
bottom. =P

p.s. to help out josh a little against steve d'amico, simulation and
insularity go hand-in-hand. if you break the wall of separation between
debate and so-called 'the real world', this makes debate *parasitic* (not simulatory) on
whatever it models - e.g. what becomes important is what debate has to
say to congress, not its own internal dynamic. oddly enough, this can
hurt the value (the richness, but even the accuracy) of the simulation - part of the
reason why, for example, think-tanks may value isolation.

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