[eDebate] Dear Mr. Meagher

Tom Meagher meagher.tom
Sun Apr 27 18:35:52 CDT 2008


Mr. Souders,

I thank you for your response. I appreciate that you elaborated your
objections carefully and thoughtfully.

I apologize for using Kansas as an example in my original post. I think in
doing so I have probably hurt a lot of people in the community, and not just
Jayhawks. Were I to do it again, I would not have done so.

I am an asshole for using the inflammatory language you pointed out. I was
wrong to do so.

My frustration with the debate community is shaped by many personal
experiences. This frustration generated a post written in a moment of anger
and concern. I had spent more than a month thinking about an appropriate way
to address Kansas' use of the Sandoval evidence in the CEDA Finals round,
because I am very concerned about the influence it may have. The
appropriation of decolonial scholarship is something that I take very
seriously. Sometimes taking something very seriously from a point of a
limited access leads to eventually presenting the arguments in a way that
eliminates that seriousness. This happened to me.

I regret the pain that I have caused. I wish I could undo it. If my initial
post proves more influential than my follow-ups, there is no way that that
can happen.

I lose this debate and have offered an apology. I have never expected Kansas
to lose their debate or apologize for their use of the evidence.

I do not feel that you are fully responding to my issue with Kansas' use of
the evidence in the round. You make many valid points. However, if the
alternative had been Sandoval's version of love, the net benefits would have
linked to the alternative. Kansas' alternative, if implemented, would always
have to be inclusive of projects like Towson's. You write:

But this quote seems to indicate to me that Sandoval at least thinks that
there is a problem with the fragmentation that can result from believing
that race (or sex, class, gender, etc.) are the fundamental root of social
problems.  And it is reasonable to claim that Towson's approach was not
"postmodern" did not include a "hermeneutics of love" as a "shared practice"
to build a "coalitional consciousness."

I see why you are saying these things. I disagree, and that disagreement
stems from a familiarity with Sandoval's work. You seem to be unaware that
the hermeneutics of love is about aligning oppositional consciousness and
revolutionary politics, not about criticizing them for their shortcomings as
if they were larger indictments. The first section of Sandoval's book is a
discussion of postmodernity; if you read it, I don't see how you can
criticize Towson for not being postmodern. Coalitional consciousness is not
a term used to mean that movements should begin with efforts to adapt their
arguments and analysis so that they may form broad coalitions. Rather, it is
the technology that is used to align and integrate oppositional and
revolutionary consciousness. Simply put, Sandoval is advancing a way to
connect projects like Towson's *to preserve their intellectual specificity.*
Towson's refusal to adopt a less revolutionary ethic or to analyze phenomena
other than the white aesthetic in debate did not, as they repeatedly stated,
stem from a rejection of other ways and these insights. It stemmed from a
commitment to staying true to their epistemic location. Your link arguments
are what Sandoval argues against, and the hermeneutics of love depend on
*not* focusing on the criticisms that KU advanced in the debate.

What is more is that KU's arguments in the debate did not serve the function
of creating a coalitional consciousness. It is one thing for you to argue
that Sandoval's arguments should be considered as a possible critique of
Towson and that as such her defense of love is a responsive alternative. It
is quite another to claim that you can accomplish Sandoval's alternative
without substantively advancing arguments that mesh with it. Kansas did not
defend Sandoval's arguments in this debate, and I feel that that is because
they were unaware of them. This is not an attack on the debaters who made
the argument.

Further, you wrote:
there is single key to a variety of modes of resistance and it is love as a
political technology.  The 1AC contains zero of this and cannot be
successful without this as a starting point.  CXs demonstrate that the 1AC
brooks no compromise with other perspectives.

Mr. Souders, you are making this argument without an apparent understadning
of what Sandoval means by love as a political technology. The idea that the
1ac contains none of it is frankly offensive. Love for Sandoval requires
putting one's own criticisms into the world, and not compromising them to
come in line with the preconceptions of others. Their criticism of debate is
very clearly an act of love. Sandoval creates a framework for integrating
such acts of love across differences. KU's alternative, as they argued it,
did not do this; it argued for "everyone love everyone", which bears no
relation to Sandoval's exposition of love. KU attempted to use Sandoval's
argument for love as a reason that less revolutionary and less oppositional
politics would still be able to accomplish much or all of what Towson's
project accomplishes; Sandoval's notion of love is premised in large part on
a rejection of this argument.

I take no issue with KU arguing for a politics of "everyone love everyone"
and making arguments that this is superior to Towson's approach. I cannot
stomach citing Sandoval's work in doing so.

It is my contention that anyone familiar with Sandoval's text should have
deemed it inappropriate as support for KU's advocacy in that debate. That
the debaters were unaware of something as foundational as Sandoval's use of
the term "love" is, to me, very strong support for this. My quotations from
Kansas' rebuttals were chosen to flesh out these arguments, not criticize
the debaters. They debated from their own understanding of the evidence and
with the cards that I'm assuming they did not personally cut. That these
cards could find their way into this debate is evidence that the debate
pedagogy and the community at large have not created high standards for
knowledge of major works in research on racism. These concerns are not
unique to research on racism, but that does not mean that their specificity
should be overlooked, because in many other research areas the debate
community is not similarly burdened. *Because of the significance of
Sandoval's text*, which is fairly widely read and assigned in curricula on
racism and gender, I think it is quite remarkable as a commentary on the
debate community's familiarity with research in these areas that a) KU ended
up reading the evidence and b) that none of the critics on the panel of
CEDA's finest were able to identify the significant problems that this
created in the debate.

Nate and Chris did a fine job in the debate. I do not mean to imply that
they are bad debaters or did bad things. I mean to imply that at some point
they were given access to this particular slice of the literature without
being given a sufficient understanding of its meaning.

You ask what would have satisfied me in that round. The answer is very
simple. Kansas should not have used that evidence. I do not know how the
debaters and coaches came to the conclusion that it was appropriate for that
round. I do not know why the decision was made to use it even though the
team reading it was unaware of the underlying argumentation that that
paragraph introduces and synopsizes. And I do not know why the team was
given access to the Davis evidence that is not a support for Kansas'
arguments but rather Sandoval's overall argumentation.

I singled out the final round of CEDA. I did so not to pretend to be a
stand-in for the debaters or judges in the round. Using one round can only
serve as anecdotal evidence, and I understand that. Unfortunately, it is
quite difficult to present systematic evidence about the level of research
in the debate community; this does not mean that the available evidence,
considered holistically, does not indicate a systematic problem.

I did not single out Kansas. I criticized Towson's use of Mills and also
implicitly their lack of familiarity with Sandoval. I focused on Kansas'
lack of familiarity with Sandoval as opposed to Towson's because it seems so
unusual for a team to read a critique alternative without having a
substantial understanding of the argument that the evidence advances. I do
think that doing so in a high profile round that will clearly influence
large numbers of debaters is worth discussing. I understand that the effects
of my respective criticisms of KU and Towson are very different in the real
world. But I do not understand the notion that I am diminishing Kansas'
accomplishments and no one else.

Further, I think there is a much harsher implication to my criticism of
Towson than my criticism of Kansas. In the case of the latter, I have
accused them of not understanding their own evidence. In the case of the
former, I have accused them of choosing evidence for strategic purposes that
to an extent corrupt their criticism. I think the significance of the second
infraction is greater. I also think that I have never seen a debate round
where criticisms of these type could not be made. I singled out a highly
viewed and likely influential round because it was just that, and I did so
not to criticize the debaters but the system of evidence production and
in-round use that they have been cast into.

I feel, right now anyway, that it is really unfair for you to be claiming
that I make KU a scapegoat. I don't think you have offered support for that
claim.

Further, it is my contention that the misuse of this evidence could have
happened on any debate squad. This may have the effect of calling out Kansas
and putting it into question, but it is being done in a context where I am
arguing that it is not out of the norm. I'm arguing to change the norm, not
the team.

I do not seek a "We were wrong" or an apology or anything like that. I
brought it up because it was a salient and high profile example of a
knowledge defecit in the college debate community.

I meant no attack on KU generally. I understand that I cannot make up for
the fact that my arguments still function to accomplish this on different
levels.

I am not backing off of claims I originally made. I am elaborating upon
them. You state that my initial post argued:

 "(1) Kansas cheated, (2) (Present) debate coaches discourage academic focus
on race issues, (3) Ethnic issues are the heart of US-Russia politics."

I think these are clearly caricatures of the arguments I advanced. I
understand the impression of (1), but I certainly never said Kansas cheated.
Others have inferred that conclusion, and I have refuted that inference; you
are free to judge my refutation as you will. I have never thought KU to be
cheaters. (2) is not a claim I made. I have not argued that there is a
discouragement of academic focus on race issues. I have made a qualitative
claim, not a quantitative claim. The forms of research privileged by debate
at present, as well as the disciplines that debaters and coaches on the
whole have the most familiarity with, are not sufficient for research on
racism.  That was and is my argument. My offered solution was not a
rejection of debate (or debate coaches), but rather an argument that this
could be remedied in large part by something as simple as choosing a very
debatable and deep topic. (3) is a funhouse mirror distortion of my
arguments on Russia, and I will continue to elaborate them in my forthcoming
response to Calum. "Ethnic issues" is so far from the arguments I advanced
that I have to wonder whether it is an intentional distortion. If this is
simply your phrasing to represent my argument, then I will stand firm in
arguing that "Ethnic issues" are at the heart of all US politics, and
excluding US-Russia politics from this because those "Ethnic issues" are
imagined to be internal to the US rather than a global phenomenon is the
sort of thinking that a) I see often in debate and b) concerns me deeply.
(At least you did not write "(4) Science is bad.")

Entering this discussion was a personal risk for me that at a certain point
I felt I had to take, one that will cost me friends and chances for
employment, among other things. I took this risk because of my commitment to
improving the discussion of racism in the debate community. I have no
problem with anybody thinking that I, as an individual, am wrong about any
of the issues I am discussing. I'm engaging in a painful process because
these processes are often productive and yield change. If my attempted
intervention does not accomplish these, then obviously I lose, to put it in
debate terms, and have cracked dozens of eggs that will not find their way
into any omelets. Don't vote for me. But do consider the arguments I am
making about the level of research on racism in the debate community.

I am not arguing for my own superiority. I am coming from the lived
experience of someone who has seen their debate training interfere with
their ability to engage in research on racism. Mick is probably a much
better researcher than I am, and was surely a better debater, and I don't
doubt that the same is true about anybody on the KU squad.

That being said, academia is littered with scholarship on race and racism
that is lacking, and it is not sufficient to point out that such research
exists to refute the claims that the scholarship could be much improved
through an altered research focus. KU's grad students may be and probably
are producing outstanding scholarship, and it was never my intention to
argue otherwise. This does not preclude the possibility that debate training
has in some ways negatively affected their ability to do so. My attacks are
systemic and not personal. There are not ways to provide concrete evidence
of the quality of research in debate that do not make reference at some
point to the research of selected individuals. You may critique my choice,
but I hope you can see that I have not arbitrarily come to this conclusion
on the basis of simply the evidence I presented. It is because of the
negative effects of my choice that I cannot provide an unlimited stream of
evidence to back up my argument in this forum; that is, I cannot keep going
through the research that debaters and their staffs have produced and point
out their individual flaws in this forum. I have come to my conclusions
based on doing that in private and in smaller discussions with debaters and
ex-debaters.

I come to this as a white male who, partially through debate, came to see my
own social location as an impediment to my ability to understand and
research the world. A very substantial part of that social location is my
training in debate. I hope the debate community, a community that generally
acknowledges it is dominated by white males, can see that this may be the
case for the community as a whole. I am not offering a program that advances
my interests, unless you think I have made the misguided decision to take a
major hit to my reputation (with those in the community to whom I am
relevant) in order to see the Reparations topic win so someone will hire me
to cut cards.

Any time you see somebody type "way, way" or any subsequent ways, you know
they are having problems divorcing emotion from the argument. That happened
to me, and the effect was to create further emotions that are not good. It
is my hope that a phoenix or phoenixes may, though they may be quite small,
emerge from my ashes.

Best,
Tom
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