[eDebate] Sorting it out...

David Marks dgm2109
Mon Apr 14 18:08:05 CDT 2008

Theoretical (as in, overly simplistic but maybe useful?) model:

(1) Some debaters/judges are just completely close-minded. They refuse to
consider any conception of debate besides the one they think is best. When
they hear something other than what they want to hear, they just shut
off. They don't really care what the debaters want, because they think they
know what's best.

(2) Some debaters/judges really try to be open to most any argument. I'd
include in that category some people who have been a really big part of
current debate's theory and evolution and who you might not think would be
as sympathetic as you'd find out.

(3) Some debaters feel and undergo a different set of standards than others
have to deal with. This can be in the form of aesthetics, content
(privileging "substance" over "stupid" aguments, or vice-versa), or

My proposed explanation:
(3) get mad at things that (2) and (1) both do. They then happen to
characterize (2) and (1) as if they're the same people, because they feel
the effect of their actions to be similar even if the intent is not.

In response, (2) gets mad for being lumped with (1) and begin to protest
(after all, some in (3) have been quite willing to say they want to "kill"
the way (2) debates, and that's not just me trying to find little tidbits
where people contradict themselves in the past).

So, (2) talks about their frustration in being lumped with (1).

(2)'s attempt to shift the discussion really pisses off (3), because their
issues are being deprioritized in favor of (2)'s relatively privileged
issues. This causes escalation and impasse because (3) gets mad at (2) for
shifting the discussion, and (2) gets mad because (3) doesn't really care
about (2)'s issues.

(2) proposes to eliminate the impasse by telling (3) that they should have
just tailored their argument better to address the difference between (2)
and (1).

(3) is infuriated because (3) thinks that (2) is nitpicking from a position
of privilege.

(2) gets mad that (3) isn't happy about the peace offering. Again,
escalation and impasse.

My proposed solution:
(A) We need a lot of discussion, on edebate and elsewhere. This discussion
should, as Jonah eloquently suggested, work on details more than we have so
far. By details, I mean point to specific things that (2) should do better.

Who should do the pointing out? (3) need to help (2), but (2) needs to be
proactive. (2)'s behavior isn't harmless just because (3) doesn't feel
comfortable speaking out; however, (2)'s behavior isn't automatically wrong
just because (2) doesn't always debate in the same way as (3), and (3)
should try to appreciate (2)'s efforts as well.

(B) Stop this war metaphor. Replace with appreciation AND humility.

I don't get why there are soldiers and battles and what not. This isn't a
war. There really aren't just two camps here. Thinking there are is just
part of the incorrect lumping of (2) and (1), and part of the assumption
that motivates (3) to want to "kill" all of (2).

I think a lot of debaters are in (2), and a lot of debaters are quite
willing to change how they think. That doesn't mean they are flexible
enough, and often times they are WAY too defensive when they're told,
"you're not good enough - in fact, you're racist" --- I'm certainly guilty
of this.

But, the fact that many in (2) aren't perfect doesn't mean they aren't good.
It doesn't mean their feelings should be entirely discounted even if they
should also not be used to deprioritize (3)'s issues.

I think the community can go a long way if it begins with appreciation for
difference AND takes on a lot of humility in assessing its own ability to
appreciate that difference. We need less judgment (about arguments, people,
style, whether we're in a debate war, etc) and more humility (about our own
failures to appreciate the impact of our actions and assumptions on other

I don't think we don't need legislated truths to tell us an overarching goal
for debate. Mutual appreciation and humility can go a long way, as long as
they are accompanied by a commitment to really working on the details and
specific practices that are harmful.

The inability to communicate seems to come, at least partly, from
overreaction and defensiveness whenever people get lumped in service of a
grand meta-solution either way.

So, for example, (3) does not need to discard everything that (2) might
otherwise do in a debate. I do think there is value in some technical policy
debates that aren't about race. But, the value depends on the participants.
So, we need to ask, in this debate, what are we doing, what are the
assumptions being brought to the table, why is it valuable? A lot of that
can be left to the debaters without the judge. It usually is. Sometimes it's
valuable not to make the debate personal; it creates a safe space for some
people. Alternatively, sometimes it's both necessary and valuable to make
the debate personal. Sometimes there's going to be a conflict over the value
of making a particular issue personal, and debate doesn't need a pre-defined
answer to that conflict, it needs to find ways for both sides to feel
comfortable in speaking their conflicting concerns. We need judges who are
ready and willing to accept the role as both critic and mediator in a humble
and appreciative fashion.

Fact of the matter is, A LOT of judges strive for this. If that weren't
true, I don't think Louisville or Towson would have had the success they
had. I don't think they had success because they ONLY had judges who were on
their side of the so-called revolution --- there has to be something more.
The fact that they feel so much frustration demonstrates we have a long way
to go, but the path may not be that difficult to see one proactive step at a
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