[eDebate] 'what difference does it make who is speaking?' (reply to mitchell)

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Tue May 19 06:04:37 CDT 2009


mitchell contends that justin skarb's pseudonymous public commentary regarding
solar-powered satellites and the texas flood action plan initiative circa 92-93 differ
significantly in at least two ways:

(1) "the actual identities" of the advocates were involved in the latter,
(2) "academic debate experience" was not mentioned in the former.

two foods for thought...

FIRST on "academic debate experience".

had skarb written under his own name and cited his topic-related research to
"ground [his] public claims", my guess is that this 'evidence' would not be
considered credible by a sizable segment of the debate community - take
jason russell's reaction as suggestive:

"If [Skarb] were to produce some evidence on the internet, published under his own
name, and used that evidence in a debate round, the issue in my opinion would no
longer be one of dishonesty, but rather one of *poorly qualified evidence*."
-- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2009-May/078730.html

to lie about one's identity is academic dishonesty on par with cheating, says
russell; but, on the other hand, one is not deemed qualified enough to weigh
in using one's own name. (for the record, russell didn't clarify whether the lack
of qualification was specific to the author at issue, or is a more general trait
shared by debate coaches - and i won't put words in his edebate posts.)

one of the factors that contributes to writers' use of pen-names, incidentally,
is contexts in which it's quite likely ad hominem attacks will suffice to discredit
otherwise legitimate claims. we could forgive the boy who cried wolf for doing
an impression of the village lawyer, if the boy did indeed spot a wolf, but knew
his warnings would go unheeded because of his involvement with past hoaxes.

before i'm accused, my intention isn't to defend skarb here; i'm simply saying
there are deeper problems with debate's evidentiary practices - and these are
what future skarbs will use to their own squad's advantage, if rationality does
not prevail. debaters are too apt to trust conjuecture from official sources: a
degree in political science apparently enables one to speculate on issues for
which ordinary citizens (e.g., lowly debate researchers) can't be counted to
comment upon (i.e., whether s.p.s. is too costly an adventure in a recessed

cards are required where none are needed, which often results in a wasteful
avalanche of strung-together tidbits, cards are taken as fact where nothing
but opinions are submitted and cards are taken as credible from some sources,
not others, without regard to the kinds of claims under review, which results
in authoritative bias, and finally, the subject-position of debate participants
is disqualified, as if by definition, which results in democratic dis-empowerment.
...as with most ideas, however, someone else said it better:

There are not and cannot be "experts" on political affairs. ...The dominant idea
that experts can be judged only by other experts is one of the conditions for the
expansion and the growing irresponsibility of the modern hierarchal-bureaucratic
apparatus. The prevalent idea that there exist "experts" in politics ... makes a
mockery of the idea of democracy: the power of the politicians is justified by the
"expertise" they would alone possess, and the, inexpert by definition, populace is
called upon periodically to pass judgement on these "experts".
-- Cornelius Castoriadis. 'Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy' (p108-9). Chapter 5: The
Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy. Lecture originally given on 15 April 1982.

{my own conclusion is that the background condition of the incoherence surrounding
'evidence' is the lack of a substantive unifying paradigm of debate - that is, a better
understanding of what debaters are *doing* when they debate. we need to again
take up snider's concept of 'gaming' and connect it with robert brandom's concept
of 'deontic scorekeeping', and this could give us a common theoretical vocabulary
for navigating our discursive committments and entitlements which does not rely on
the dictonomy between evidential and analytical argument. ...but this will have to
wait for another day.}

in sum, if debate experts have time to lambast skarb, they have time to write that
castoriadis card for debate specifically - and i hereby nominate gordon mitchell. =)

SECOND on "the actual identities".

'the author is dead', declared one french author. to what extent is debate fun insofar
as it does *not* involve the 'interpretive tyranny' of reducing points-of-view to singular
advocates? instead of debate mirroring 'the real world' of policy scholarship, perhaps
the simulated realm of argument should make the real world more fake: as publication
becomes "a
many-to-many enterprise unfolding across a complex latticework of
internetworked digital nodes", perhaps the figure of the sincere, self-certain policy
advocate becomes a framework built for a less informed/informational time. even 'the
economist' has no bylines. is there not something magical about the anonymity of a
hypothesis, and its tests? -- here's something i wrote on the subject...

In saying this, I seem to call for a form of culture in which fiction would not be limited by
the figure of the author. It would seem pure romanticism, however, to imagine a culture
in which the fictive would operate in an absolutely free state, in which fiction would be
put at the disposal of everyone and would develop without passing through something like
a necessary or constraining figure. Although, since the eighteenth century, the author has
played the role as regulator of the fictive, a role quite characteristic of our era of industrial
and bourgeois society, of individualism and private property, still, given the historical
modifications that are taking place, it does not seem necessary that the author-function
remain constant in form, complexity and even existence. I think that, as our society
changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author-function
will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemic texts will once again
function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint - one which
will no longer be the author, but which will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced.

All discourses, whatever their status, form, value, and whatever the treatment to which they
will be subjected, would then develop in the anonymity of a murmur. We would no longer hear
the questions that have been rehashed for so long:

"Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality?
And what part of his deepest sense did he express in his discourse?"

Instead, there would be other questions like these:

"What are the modes of existence of this discourse? Where has it been used, how can it circulate,
and who can appropriate it for himself? What are the places in it where there is room for possible
subjects? Who can assume these various subject-functions?"

And behind all of these questions, we would hear hardly anything but the stirring of an indifference:

"What difference does it make who is speaking?"

...and you can quote me on that!    ;)


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