[eDebate] Right, *Russia* is at the core of everything

Travis John Cram tcram
Fri Apr 25 19:55:03 CDT 2008


I'm not sure if a lot of the problems you cite about misappropriation of scholarly evidence or ideas is unique to the content of contemporary policy debate resolutions or the academic disciplines that it draws its membership from.  Debate's treatment of even basic IR theory is pretty abysmal.  As an IR major, I cringe when I hear the facile interpretations and gross conflations of liberalist, realist, constructivist theories or accounts of interstate relations.  I mean, an affirmative that reads a democracy promotion advantage and a realism good argument in the same debate without even a hint of irony... at least as egregious as the examples you highlight from the CEDA final round...  Or a hegemony advantage that mixes offensive realists with defensive realists, or balance of threat with balance of power accounts...  All kidding aside, the broader point is that various pressures in the debate environment make surface-level research and contradictory applications of scholarship inevitable.  Whether that's a bad thing (encourages sloppy, facile reading) or good (encourages creativity in reconciling competing perspectives, as well as responsive research to hold such teams accountable in later rounds) is up in the air for me.  As far as integrity of scholarship or ability for me to maintain rigor in my own studies, it hasn't been a problem.  I've found it easy to separate the skills debate has taught me (accessing databases, books and journals in an efficient and indepth manner, as well as critically evaluating texts) from the actual content of the cards I cut (the various spin or interpretation of evidence that accompanies cutting it).  I then apply the skills to my academic pursuits, not the questionable content.  I don't know.  I obviously speak from my own experience, but I haven't had a problem.  Whether people want a 'separation' between their debate lives and their academic lives...I can't speak to.

Travis Cram

-----Original Message-----
From: Tom Meagher [mailto:meagher.tom at gmail.com]
Sent: Fri 4/25/2008 2:49 PM
To: edebate at ndtceda.com
Subject: [eDebate] Right, *Russia* is at the core of everything
 
I really should not be posting to eDebate but can't help myself.

I debated in high school, and this is the sixth spring in a row I've
considered returning to debate in some capacity. I miss it. I miss it
painfully, as so many former debaters do. But each time I think about coming
back, I actually have to do the research - talk to old friends, check out
case lists, eDebate, et cetera, and see what debaters are talking about.

So yeah, ridiculous though it may be, I've been following eDebate a little
over the last month, watched CEDA finals, scoured case lists. I'll set as
many of my opinions aside as possible to focus on the one issue that is
abundantly clear:

The debate community does a terrible job of researching racism.

I understood why when I would make debates about issues related to racism in
high school rounds in 2000-2002 the other team only had cards from law
reviews. Lexis-nexis + a lot of lawyers and people on the legal track in the
community. Same reason most of the cards I cut were from law reviews,
especially since it was pretty hard for me to access research libraries at
the time. But then I went to college, and discovered its limitless research
potential. I spent the summer after high school excitedly using a research
university's resources for the first time, and quickly discovered that I
didn't care much about the treaties topic, especially when my research
assignment was CO2 Good.

And then TWO of the coaches on my top-ranked college squad told me to
abandon my plans to make Ethnic Studies my major. And after 50 hours a week
of CO2 Good for the next five weeks, I decided I'd rather not owe the squad
anything more, and quit before going to a tournament. Debate was just not
good for my academic pursuits, and as I stayed close to it as a dedicated
high school coach for two years, this became even clearer. I'm not saying I
could not have found a good setup in debate. There was a year in there where
I'd convinced myself my life would have been pretty good if I'd reached out
to Fullerton and gone there. But it's basically undeniable that I learned a
hell of a lot more about racism, colonialism, and a myriad of other issues
by being a hard-working student and independent researcher in an Ethnic
Studies department. And I'll go toe-to-toe with any member of this community
on the value of that education, so if you want to defend your legal studies,
area studies, political science or postmodern literary or philosophical
studies against me in front of any damn critic in this community, I'm game.

I look at Calum's arguments for the Russia topic. Russia is foundational.
Great argument. But can you even produce a decent argument that the history
of European colonialism since 1455 is not at the core of US-Russia
relations, and was not the engine of the entire Cold War? Perhaps you'd like
to engage that debate, but have you actually researched it? Not to mention
that global coloniality has dictated the course of agriculture, health care,
education, arms control, genetic engineering, and, of course, reparations.

I'm tempted to make these arguments here. But really, I'd much rather that
the debaters following this topic discussion ask themselves whether they've
done any substantial research on the topic of coloniality. And by
substaintial research, I do not mean asking the scholars wedded to the
disciplines that have emerged as technologies of coloniality what they think
of racism. As long as debaters are almost entirely reading from legal
studies, poli sci, area studies and IR, and Eurocentric philosophy
(including the 'post-colonial studies' that largely divorces itself from
centuries of decolonial scholarship and theory in order to appropriate
Continental Philosophy), they are not going to be able to adequately address
questions of racism. Period. If you want to take this as cause to research,
go ahead. If you want to backchannel me for research suggestions, I pledge
to go out of my way to assist and provide extensive bibliographies and
support. But I'm not going to post a list of articles to serve as a
strawperson (given the origins of the term, strawman really is a more
accurate term, but that's a different though related discussion) for the
right-wing vanguard. Feel free to try to change my mind.

I am genuinely curious if Calum is willing to make the (correct) argument
that the Soviet Union profoundly affected the US's racial politics and
practices without also acknowledging that the US's racial politics and the
period of global coloniality going back to 1455 are the only historical
phenomenon that could possibly have caused the Cold War. Are the multitude
of debaters who make 'capitalism' arguments unaware of a) the historical
period that created the phenomenon of capitalism, b) the global division of
labor that served as a prerequisite for it, and c) the intellectual history
of discourse on capitalism? I think the answer to these question is that
they are not by and large unaware, but they have been exposed primarily to
paradigms that preclude an actual examination.

Watching the final round of CEDA online was encouraging and disheartening.
Please allow me to make an observation about the two main authors used in
this debate as a comment on phenomena in the debate community. Please, try
to see what I am saying as a response to the state of the debate community
and not as a response to the individual teams or squads, who are both
extremely talented and hardworking and had their reasons for choosing these
arguments.

Let me first address Towson use of Charles Mills' arguments from the Racial
Contract. This is indeed a valuable piece of scholarship, and it has
inspired much discussion. Let me relate the main argument against it that I
am familiar with. Mills self-consciously adapted his arguments - which of
course draws heavily from the lineage of decolonial theory and, especially
for Mills, Caribbean thought - for Eurocentric audiences. Focusing on the
concept of the Social Contract was a move related to legitimacy, and a close
reading of the texts makes clear how his arguments are filtered and somewhat
altered by his attempt to secure relevance to particular intellectual
communities. Towson focuses on Mills' concept of the White Aesthetic, which
for strategic purposes makes a great deal of sense. But "the White
Aesthetic" is only a particular formulation of a concept that is widespread
in decolonial theory, which is that the categories of thought, intellectual
traditions, political insitutions, and even basic human ability to perceive
the world with the senses are profoundly impacted by the completely
unprecedented phenomenon of global coloniality (this phenomenon emerged in
1455 with the papal decree and Portugal's initial foray into African
slavery, became the first truly global human phenomenon in 1492, and has
shaped every element of history and nearly every element of human reality
since). I take no issue with Towson's choice of Mills, and I haven't seen
their previous debates so I can't offer commentary, but I must ask if it is
significant that Towson's inclusion of a mainstreamed piece of decolonizing
scholarship coincided with their ascension in results. Would they have been
as successful if, for instance, they had based their arguments on a text
that is denser and more uncompromising but ultimately more true to reality
and the lived experiences of the underside of modernity? Could they have
gotten anywhere with 'cards' from a text that was much more groundbreaking
and influential than Mills' but that does not attempt to address itself to a
contemporary U.S. white experience (I have in mind, as one example,
Discourse on Colonialism by the recently deceased Aime Cesaire, which makes
Mills' main points and many, many more in a much more concise fashion, but
one surely deemed too out of touch and too easily dismissed for petty
misunderstandings of meaning to resonate with the bulk of debate judges)?
None of this, it should be clear, is a knock on Towson. I really
congratulate you on actually accomplishing something that I chickened out on
even trying multiple times.

Now, let me bring up something that no one I've talked to seems to be aware
of (maybe I'm talking to the wrong people). Kansas read alternative evidence
for its 'love' argument from Sandoval 2000. This is Chela Sandoval, the head
of UCSB's Chicana/o Studies program, from her hugely influential work
Methodology of the Oppressed. This text offers a very thorough methodology,
as the title promises (though I must note that her original title, Theory
Uprising, better captures what the work is about but was rejected by the
publisher). READ THIS BOOK. ABSOLUTELY. It is a masterpiece, and especially
given debate's fascination with Continental Philosophy and her very tolerant
treatment of it (which has, unfortunately, caused Sandoval's text to be
misappropriated as a defense of Foucault, Barthes, et cetera when it is
instead an appreciation of their relation to feminist and decolonial thought
that offers an explicit challenge to them), it figures to resonate with many
in the community and hopefully open them up to new areas of study.

So you would expect me to be excited upon hearing this evidence. Except...
uh, I heard the rest of the 1NC. And it is completely improbable and
arguably close to impossible for a K alt to be taken more out of context.
Kansas read a piece of eveidence from the FIRST TWO PAGES of the book, and
their extension evidence was from Angela Davis' foreword. Did the person
cutting the book just give up after getting those two cards? Because the
entire book is about the VITAL NECESSITY of REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS and
OPPOSITIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS. The two main tenets of Towson's aff that Kansas
was critiquing! Sandoval's entire book outlines what she means by "love,"
and to synopsize (again, read the book, pretty please with the topping of
your choice), love is a process, a decolonizing movement that actively
requires a specific methodology (i.e., the "methodology of the oppressed")
which itself cannot "solve" without AFFIRMING REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS AND
OPPOSITIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS. This is even in the paragraph that Kansas used
in this debate (OK, oppositional consciousness is; for revolutionary
politics, you could have looked at the table of contents or even just
flipped forward to the concluding sentence of the book).

Love, for Sandoval, does NOT mean, as Kansas stated, "everybody love
everybody." Unfortunately, Towson was not familiar with that particular
work, so they were not able to point out the obvious problem early in the
debate. But then Kansas reads 1nr evidence from ANGELA DAVIS (which does not
talk about 'love' but about Sandoval's Methodology of the Oppressed!) as an
extension of their alt and then makes a multitude of nonsensical arguments
that follow from this:

"We are reading a multitude of authors, including African-American activists
like Angela Davis which is a reason as to why your argument about white
supremacy and epistemology of our arguments does not apply to us." (The
obvious response being that grossly misinterpreting these authors and then
using their identities as evidence that you are not subject to white
supremacism is a move inextricable from white supremacism.)

"What is the permutation? It is love and openness but with the infusion of
revolutionary ethics in the 1ac ... it says that it is open but thrives on
the rejection of the white aesthetic and potentially revolutionary partners.
... The perm is not open or loving." (When Sandoval's entire text is devoted
to arguing that 'love' cannot exist without movements whose revolutionary
ethics require that they explicitly reject particular 'aesthetics' and
revolutionary partners! This is like if an aff running, I don't know, the
Kyoto Protocol, faced a K that argued for the adoption of an environmental
ethic using evidence only from someone who said that a) activists should
lobby the US to ratify Kyoto and b) the US should ratify Kyoto, and then
asserted throughout the 2nr that the perm could not be an environmental
ethic because it included a policy.)

"Revolutionary politics are something that she [Angela Davis] turned away
from because they are not effective, because they were so rejective."
(Riiiiiiiiight. And they said this after Towson called BS.)

No knock on Kansas specifically. I understand how hard it can be to do this
research, and I don't really blame anyone for seeing the text and being
confused and just taking what could be found from its intro. I apologize in
advance for bringing this up and calling you out, because I have much
respect for all the debaters and coaches, and fondly remember Scott Harris
being of amazing help to me at summer camp in 2000. Kansas got crossed up,
and that happens. But I want to know: on an 11 person panel of major figures
in debate, not one was able to identify that a major text in ethnic and
gender studies which has been used at least by Fullerton was taken way, way,
way out of context? And that none of the debaters I asked about this knew
what the hell I was talking about? In a hugely publicized round? It's not a
scandal that a team was able to win four ballots in the national
championship from judges who voted for their alt card because it avoided
criticisms that are directly antithetical to the alternative? Is anyone
willing to take this as evidence that the debate community needs to
massively upgrade the level of its research on racism?

Andy Ellis and others have called for a topic that will put research on
racism at the forefront, because debaters desperately need to improve their
understanding and research of these issues. Calum Matheson makes the same
argument for Russia. Put aside ground, mechanisms, etc., for a moment to
consider whether the evidence is stronger for Andy's claim or Calum's. Do
debaters, by and large, have a better basic understanding of Russia or
coloniality? And even if Calum is ahead, if I win my 'coloniality influences
everything about US-Russia relations' argument, shouldn't a research focus
on coloniality come first?

What's more is that the reparations topic actually does encourage new and
better research in these areas than any previous topic. The civil rights
topic, for instance, could be debated with a very high reliance on the legal
literature, and was limited to a very small portion of the scope of racism
and coloniality. Reparations actually requires a pretty thorough examination
of a lot of things. And what's more, it requires a mechanism that has a very
active solvency debate in concert with a limitless number of CP's with
obvious grounding in the literature. If you do not think that there is good
negative ground on a reparations topic, it is straight up because you are
not familiar with enough relevant research. (I hope it is clear by now that
the scope of relevant research is not the policy literature on reparations.)
If you told me I had to go neg every round on the topic, I would be just
fine, and you will not find people in the community who think that the
oppressions the topic would address are more influential than I do.

Please do not take this as an attack on anybody personally. I just wanted to
present some of the evidence that this community has a very different depth
and distribution of knowledge on race studies than it does for the main
disciplines it draws upon, and even those who profess some level of
expertise are often just very familiar with some limited and often
specific-to-another-discipline scope. How many debaters go on to graduate
studies in area studies, poli sci, or law, and how many pursue studies in
racism? If you see that you may contribute to this disparity, are you okay
with that because you think the other areas are more important? If so, is
that a result of research or assumption/conditioning? And to the directors
and coaches of the community: if, for pedagogical reasons, you are opposed
to a race-focused topic, are you also incorporating or willing to
incorporate a researched curriculum on race/coloniality in your debate
program?

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