[eDebate] Mmm Lentils, Chikpeas, and Mohair

Brad Hall hallbrad
Fri Jul 11 10:46:41 CDT 2008

As someone who has (at least temporarily) left debate to do public
policy-related research, I think Andy overlooks the benefits of the
*process* of policy debate and its connection to his call for "political
agency in the real world." Ross and others have made this point many times,
but it is worth briefly reiterating: switch sides public policy debate
enables activism by teaching a research and decision making process that is
applicable outside of the insulated debate community. While debates do not
directly change public policy (after all, Mohammed Ali Hammadi still roams
the streets of Beirut), the skills of debate teach debaters how to help with
"activist" causes once they leave debate. For example, policy debaters are
taught the skills of researching a topic both quickly (finding one or two
politics cards in 3 minutes) and in depth (consider that hundreds of high
school debaters around the country are currently attempting to exhaust the
debate over global warming and alternative energy). Debaters learn a number
of other useful skills, from word economy to prioritization of the best
arguments. But most importantly, the process of reflecting on this research
and considering both sides of a public policy issue teaches the participants
of debate a decision making process that is applicable to the rest of their

Many, many traditional policy debaters have taken these skills and
translated them into work at think tanks, law firms, universities,
corporations, journalism, and other sectors. NDT Champion Larry Tribe has
produced groundbreaking societal change through the law just to cite one
example. Glenn Greenwald is one of the most popular progressive bloggers
whose research acumen is obvious. Real change has been produced by these
individuals (and many others), and it continues to be.

The real question should be: how do alternative models of debate promote any
of these skills/process, or if they don't (since they often base their
existence on a criticism of these aspects of policy debate), what do they
offer to activism outside of debate? It is somewhat noble to claim that the
structures of debate are changed by alternative models (though this is often
not the case), but unless you expect the actual channels of power like
Congress to be similarly changed, what impact does non-traditional
non-policy debate have on the "real world"?

To return to the thrust of Andy's original post, there are few activities I
would rather see public money be spent on than training high school and
college students in traditional, switch sides policy debate.


P.S. I would discourage you from consuming mohair.

On Fri, Jul 11, 2008 at 9:59 AM, Morris, Eric R <
EricMorris at missouristate.edu> wrote:

>  This is a curious argument to me. It would seem to be exceptionally
> conservative, in that it would limit debate to thoroughly mainstream
> political ideas.
> Think about the Republican opposition to public financing of elections ?
> the argument is that I should not have to pay for a campaign on the other
> side to publicize ideas that I oppose. But now, instead of those ideas being
> fairly mundane differences of the best path to achieve a mutual goal, the
> ideas are revolutionary. In a country where large numbers reject any
> affirmative action with teeth (while quoting Martin Luther King to justify
> color blindness), would there really be majority support for training which
> used a racially conscious aesthetic as a primary educational tool?
> I think public support levels would be higher for training 30 kids to know
> both sides of an important public policy issue (Ag subsidies, I would not
> single out chickpeas) than for revolutionary activist training.
> This doesn't mean I'm saying such training should not occur, etc. ? more
> that the framework invoked in this post seems surprisingly conservative in
> its implications, given who is advancing it.
> Ermo
> *From:* edebate-bounces at www.ndtceda.com [mailto:
> edebate-bounces at www.ndtceda.com] *On Behalf Of *Andy Ellis
> *Sent:* Friday, July 11, 2008 9:38 AM
> *To:* edebate
> *Subject:* [eDebate] Mmm Lentils, Chikpeas, and Mohair
> Here is a framework question for choosing what you debate about. Is what
> you debate about worth the investment that society puts into it. Like if the
> state of kansas spent 500,000 training 30 people to know both sides of the
> chickpea debate without expecting any application of that knowledge to
> actual chickpea policy, would this be a expenditure of funds you thought
> prudent?
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Brad Hall
hallbrad at gmail.com
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