[eDebate] Context and Appropriateness

Ede Warner ewarner
Thu Mar 20 20:20:10 CDT 2008

Dear NDT/CEDA community,
During the final debate in the Great Debaters, one of the Harvard debaters stands up to hit James Farmer in the face in the pie as he describes the lynching incident as a justification for civil disobedience.  Of course, Harvard is just showing the satirical value of civil disobedience.  
No Malcolm, you are not racist, but you are insensitive if you say that this use of pie throwing is funny.  Now, you walk that line without ever crossing it in an effort to challenge the pie = racist argument.  Now I haven't followed the thread until this post, but the pie throwing wasn't racist, it was insensitive given the nature of the opposition argument.  The nature of the opponent argument makes it racially insensitive.  While you have a right to perceive it as whatever you want, you don't have the right to define the meaning of the experience for someone else.
And I guess therein lies the problem that the community hasn't learned given the recent sexual harassment debate/discussion and Malcolm still attempts to justify: that no one can decide what is offensive to someone else, no one.  
Now what is appropriate once someone is offended is up to the norms of the culture and the one thing that is certain: this culture is so fragmented and out of control that no one is able or willing to take responsibility for figuring it out.  One group has a very tight, narrow understanding of what they believe "superior" policy debate to be, a perspective that is out of touch with history, humanity, and evidence to prove their superiority, while the other side wants to challenge not only the rules, norms and laws of debate, but most any rule of authority and law.  In the end, you keep getting these spectacular exchanges, and little is being done to concretely address the problem.
Certainly, laying blame on the participants doesn't change the landscape, since it still doesn't address the fundamental question: what common understanding of what POLICY DEBATE is can the entire community come together and agree on.  Until that occurs, I suspect these exchanges are inevitable and will occur with increasingly regularity.
Two roads are left to follow:  down one lies another split, where those one each side of the aisle with their specialized believes separate to form separate organizations, again ignoring history and the inevitability of ending up at the same bat time, same bat place in 10 years or so like everyone else have done; or the other road: where a group of smart and reasonable people come together--recognizing the importance of collective strength , the educational value of difference, and in the spirit of compromise--towards a purpose of making a stronger policy debate community.  
One road is more traveled for a reason, the one less so is a lot tougher but more worthwhile in the end.  Good luck to all this weekend.  Some fundamental norms of common purpose must be established before anyone can start taking about particular types of "censorship".  And of course, once those occur, there needs to be some type of regulation.  
The movie example makes a pie throwing unlikely because the audience checks the behavior of the specially trained judges.  This weekend, students self-select judges that coincide with the strategies they want to use.  In this case given your post, pie throwing sounds like it can be effective in front of you, perhaps even in this context.  So teams are more likely to keep engaging in behavior seen offensive by some debaters as long as teams can select judges who see the world similar to how they see it.  But that's a debate for another day I guess.
With Love,
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