[eDebate] In Defense of Topicality as Non-White-Supremacist

Eli Brennan elibrennan
Thu Apr 10 17:02:38 CDT 2008

I think there's a limit to a strategy to reform debate through identity
politics IF there's no topical content to the political appeal.  There a
couple main reasons:

1.  The Reductio: Someone else (sorry dont recall who) noted this central
problem--- and I want to expand on it.  We need an answer to the
*reductio*that you are voting for or against the blackness of black
debaters, or the
whiteness of white debaters (not to mention all the "others"- these are the
terms of the current debate as far as I can tell- so I'l leave them be).
This is important for many reasons, both conservative and radical.  If
people are voting up or down simply on skin color (or the aesthetic codes
that often overlap with skin-color-categories), this is not a path to a
community we can love.   LET ME BE CRYSTAL CLEAR: *I don't think that's the
argument being made.*  The argument I'm hearing is that we shouldn't exclude
or devalue various styles of performance becuase to do so creates/maintains
a structural racist barrier to fair play.  I am FERVENTLY in favor of judges
being open to different kinds of judgment calculus... debated out and
warranted within the debates.  The difficulty is that if that's the ONLY
reason to vote aff... we're in a shitty strategic position: the aff has
defended a style... which is in principle compatible with every negative
argument except exclusion [which we don't want to defend for good reasons-
losing over and over among them].  SO- if I agree that debate should be open
to literary, policy, pop-cultural, religious, and other modes of thought and
presentation... TO WHAT USE DO WE PUT THESE PERSPECTIVES?  The answer our
community has provided has been "the topic."  If the diverse styles we want
to encourage in debate are addressed solely on the question of whether they
are legitimate--- we have a self-referential debate... one where the FORM *
IS* the CONTENT.  This means that the ground for the negative is limitted to
debating the legitmacy of our opponents' mode of being.  This, to put it
mildly, is uncomfortable for everyone, strategically unfair, and
incentivizes the worst kind of personal attacks on both sides.  In that we
want a community where everyone is comfortable to do their thing (this IS
what we want, right?), having a common topic gives everyone a PLACE (topoi)
to do their thing.  The style needs a content OUTSIDE itself.  A debate
about racist assumptions in US iran policy from a unique siutuated
perspective may be prefereable to a spew-down of cards for very very good
reasons.  But this is a comparison of styles ABOUT an issue.

2. Standpoint epistemology: Our diversity of social locations helps us bring
more knowledge to the table... the question is where is the Table.  At it's
very best, a strategy with no topic, and only competing styles, would not
make the most of our community because it denies the ABOUT WHICH that makes
peoples' unique experiences valuable.  We are all unique and valuable... but
THAT is not much of a topic for debate... We can imagine the native american
explaining their experience of oppression "AGAINST" the young black man
explaining his, etc.  This is a caricature of identity politics/hierarchy of
oppression.  The key to mobilizing our diverse experience is to embody it in
contexts.  OF COURSE our experiences give us unique insight to USFG
policy... and those insights should not be abandoned to a spew-down of
cards. Some of us wanted to oppose the Iraq war... and we did it WITH our
perspectives.  The argument that oppressed people need to avoid all
consideration of policy strikes me as stunningly short-sighted.  Practically
speaking, a common topic approaches an ethical ideal for the embodiment of
difference in a collective.  Any answer to this is an insult to our
creativity... we all bring knowledge, perform it, get push-back, and in
ideal cases an intelligent resolution by an expert critic.  I have seen
high-schoolers bring their knowledge to African

3.  Opponents of Sharing and Issue of Debate don't have much game:  Every
argument I've heard against having a topic assumes:
a. that we keep the USFG as the agent... this is a practical problem, i
realize, but more appropriate to change the rules, ethically, than to punish
people who support alternative topics but who also have to submit to the
collective judgment of the community.
b. that plans are only have one value orientation (pro).  obviously plans of
action can also be tragic, comic, artifacts for genealogy and so on and so
forth.  [Shakespeare didn't think Hamlet's plan would SOLVE- but he HAD to
present it]. If the STYLE is open to debate, then the CONTENT is almost
entirely beholden to it.  this would have the benefit of maximal inclusion
(as inclusive as minds are original) as well as using artificial constraint
to inspire our imagination.  topicality is no more totalitarian than genre.
Actually, if you free up the genre of the discourse, topicality is a very
very loose guide- not in principle exclusive of any specific perspective.
BUT, it IS something the neg can argue besides the illegitimacy of their
opponents' political being.  Remember, right now it's almost impossible,
structurally, to win against anti-debate affs with an alternative political
strategy... the PERM is a killer... largely because only Form is being
asserted, leaving the Content to be aff perm ground.  So people go for
framework... or grab another ideology and compare them- which sidelines race
(depending on who wins).  This situation is less than ideal socially and
c.  that we need to purge all tradition.  This is just not true if the style
of performance is open.  We don't have to purge all of our history...
including the policy-making bias of topic selection.  Debate isn't any more
racist for having white aesthetics involved than Spike Lee is racist for
portraying racist whites in film.  A "plan" could easily be a plot device
for a larger argument that has as subtle an ethical position as its
author(s).  Hell- our very nouns and verbs are constraining... and the
product of a bloody history--- but many, certainly including our Reigning
CEDA Champs, can bend and mold into powerful blasts of freedom. [Huge
Congrats to all involved by the way- this post isn't really "about" that
achievement as much as about the broader discussion].

I don't think any of this is controversial... and I know it's not original.
But this debate always seems stale to me largely because these ideas seem
easily agreed upon.
I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong.

eli brennan
minneapolis [35/freezing rain and snow]

PS- I know this post may be terrifying to "policy" people... But it's
basically the SQ with clearer research burdens.  There's plenty of ground to
argue more limiting interpretations than this, or within this, but As
Always, these should be negotiated by 4 debaters and 1 or more judges on a
case-by-case basis.   The problem for policy teams now is that by trying to
defend an ad hoc exclusion, they are having their limits argument impact
turned, and need to be able to (coopt the offense) give their diverse array
of opponents a safe place to do their thing.  So I think it's best for
everyone.  This is ethically and strategically preferable for all.
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