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Lincoln/Douglas/Foucault/Zizek
June 7, 2010 2:19 PM   Subscribe

"Only if the opposing team can prove that the material world of our perceptions is real, and not a hallucination, do they earn the right to have their arguments considered on their merits." High school debate used to be the province of fast talkers with notecards full of facts and figures -- until literary theory got into the act. Kritik, a family of tactics derived from au courant Continental thinkers like Foucault, Zizek, Spivak (and old favorites like Nietzsche and Heidegger) aims not merely to counter the opposing team's arguments but to expose them as manifestations of implicit oppressive paradigms. Kritik was pioneered in the early 1990s by Ft. Hays State University debate coach Bill Shanahan (who later experimented with another novel tactic by mooning a rival debate coach in a college meet.)

Feminism kritik.
Fear of death kritik.
Biopower/Foucault kritik (.doc file.)
How to defeat the kritik.
posted by escabeche (128 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite

 
I always preferred trying to define the proposition into a tautology and then see if the opposition caught on. This seems like actual work.
posted by GuyZero at 2:23 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good lord, debaters + crit theory. We were insufferable with just Kant.
posted by khaibit at 2:24 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I challenge the implication that we're actually debating — that assumption is inherently dualist and utterly ignores the synthesis of discourse; "winning" is triumphalist and contaminated by the patriarchal mindset — also, you suck.
posted by adipocere at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2010 [64 favorites]


College debate is probably the activity least resembling debate possible.
posted by LSK at 2:28 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Statement! One-love!
posted by Babblesort at 2:29 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


My favorite kritik ever is the one that says it's our moral responsibility to kill humanity, for what it's worth.
posted by LSK at 2:29 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So essentially you question the basis of the whole concept of the debate? Sounds a lot like the classic undergrad "attack the terms and redefine the question" essay technique.
posted by djgh at 2:30 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bunch of bloody Kants if you ask me.
posted by orthogonality at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well done, escabeche. Well done.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:39 PM on June 7, 2010


As a strong supporter of critical theory and continental philosophy, I think this is totally lame.
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:40 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ah, I hate this style of debate.

If I may explain why through use of analogy, say you're taking a course that studies dogs. Your assignment is to come up with a shared definition about what constitutes a dog (because your professor is insane). You present scientific evidence that a dog is a specific species of creatures that falls under a specific genus, which falls under a specific class, etc.

Some scholar in the class pipes in and offers that the word dog has other meanings. Specifically, one of the ways it is used is as an insult by the powerful against the less powerful. He insists that class power struggle, thus, needs to be included in the definition.

Another person argues that the very word "dog" is not the same thing as the actual creature. As a word it is merely three abstract letters that some people have chosen to use to indicate that they are discussing canines. Why, it is entirely possible that some people hear the word "dog" and picture "horse," "cat," "faster," or "theory." We should not exclude any of their definitions of "dog" by giving too much focus to our definition.

That person uses an extended analogy to illustrate their point.

A third person starts debating points of that analogy and soon the class is derailed into a discussion about the analogy instead of a discussion about the definition of "dog."

Somebody else gets furious because to them, a dog is a dog and this discussion is wasting valuable class time. They attempt to point out that this discussion is, in fact, a waste of time. At this point, the second speaker turns this anger around to illustrate that the angry dude is, in fact, not interested in getting to the truth, just in forcing his viewpoint down the rest of the class' throat. This, in turn, gets the angry speaker angrier.

The professor, meanwhile, looks on benignly and finally, as time runs short, stops the discussion and announces "so, to make sure out definition is as inclusive as possible, let us just say that 'dog' means anything you want it to mean."

Then you transfer out of that university and go to trade school instead.

I am very willing to accept that there is merit to the work of Foucault, Zizek, Spivak and all the other thinkers who inspire some of this style of debate. That said, this isn't Vietnam. This is debate. There are rules.

In the hands of strong debaters, kritiks can be powerful tools. In the hands of most debaters, the debates turn into semantic discussions that never get to the heart of the topic.

To whit, every debate shouldn't be about the word "resolved" and the oppression inherent in it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:41 PM on June 7, 2010 [79 favorites]


How to defeat the kritik.

Well, fire is a good start. Can't argue with a good burning, I always say. If that don't work, we can try drowning them, but if they're like the Old Gods, water ain't nothing to them. Personally, I stick to avoiding them when I can.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:42 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I hate structured debate. Any "debate" where the participants are trying to imitate the Micro Machines guy is unlikely to be of interest to anybody but the scorekeeper.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:47 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I avoided policy debate like the plague in high school and settled on Lincoln-Douglas debate precisely because it was more receptive to meta-questions and cites to overtly philosophical sources than, say, reading a notecard crammed with data as fast as physically possible.

On a related note, I saw a pretty good documentary on the current state of policy debate, and how one inner-city team tried to utilize challenges of the class- and status-assumptions built into and reflected by policy debate as it is practiced. It is called Resolved and is worth checking out if you have even a passing interest in high school debate (policy or otherwise) or just like a heartwarming yarn about poor kids trying their damnedest to seize a heretofore middle-to-upper-class pastime as means of self-improvement.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:47 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I was in High School debate, I got my life threatened because of our tactics. We ran a counterplan where we took every single affirmative plan and combined them under the broad umbrella of the "Bureau of Juvenile Justice."

A debater said she'd gouge out my eyes if I ever tried that again.
posted by drezdn at 2:49 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another year, we tried a counterplan during the immigration debate where we would annex Haiti and Cuba (this was during the 90s with all of the rafts heading to Florida). The annexation would turn every Cuban and Haitian into a US citizen.

IMHO, the person who called the plan immoral didn't get the point of High School debate.
posted by drezdn at 2:51 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is fun and interesting and all, but since the purpose is to defeat the purpose of structured debate, I feel like it sort of defeats the purpose.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:51 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Found the Netflix link for the Resolved doc I mentioned above.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:56 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


NYT writer Mark Oppenheimer's recent memoir Wisenheimer offers a look into an interesting alternative universe of high school debate: Oppenheimer debated in a small league of New England boarding schools that hadn't yet been influenced by the kritik and increased speed in policy debate, nor what I would describe as the increased narrowing of resolutions in Lincoln-Douglas. Their partner debate style resembled policy in topic, but maintained the ideal of debate as a civic activity in which rhetoric and realism were still important.

When I was in high school, I sort of missed the boat on policy and LD and spent my time in student congress and (increasingly towards the end of my career) extemp. On the one hand, the competition was probably not as high as it could be. On the other hand, both events still pretty much resemble the thing they're supposed to be.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:00 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(FX: urgent projectile vomiting)

I loathe this kind of thing. Not only is it employed dishonestly about (IMO) 90% of the time, it's also the sort of thing which has brought education into disrepute, being simultaneously decried and employed by opponents of science, the arts, critical thought (rather than critical theory) and would-be reformists of governmental or legal policies.

What really toasts me about it is that an effective use of the technique generally requires a degree of cleverness, and the person employing it is often doing so in order to undermine or deflect a substantive argument which they'd prefer not to deal with. While rhetoric and style have their place, using them to shift the focus of debate away from the merits is terribly dishonest, and arouses an almost painful urge to slap the person doing so.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:00 PM on June 7, 2010 [14 favorites]


So....basically, they're trolls. Nerd trolls.
posted by granted at 3:04 PM on June 7, 2010 [20 favorites]


Right up until reading this FPP, I thought that I'd always missed out on a lot of fun in high school by avoiding the debate team.

I no longer suffer under this illusion.
posted by davejay at 3:07 PM on June 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Joey Michaels, I like what Zizek said (youtube) about that kind of definitional debate:

To take an ironic example, if somebody like Judith Butler were to be asked "What is this?"

She would never have said, "This is a bottle of tea."

She would have said something like, "If we accept the metaphysical notion of language identifying clearly objects, and taking all this into account, then may we not "...she likes to put it in this rhetorical way... "...reach the hypothesis that, in the conditions of our language game, this can be said to be a bottle of tea?"

posted by knapah at 3:08 PM on June 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


I no longer suffer under this illusion.

L-D Debate (Lincoln-Douglas) is and was a different horse altogether, though, davejay. Though I share your blargh reaction to policy debate (and some of my best friends were policy debaters!).
posted by joe lisboa at 3:09 PM on June 7, 2010


Hey, I forgot to credit the excellent book American Nerd, which is where I learned about the existence of kritik.
posted by escabeche at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2010


this is the kind of stupid half baked philosophical shitcrap every fucking stoner thinks of when they're 17 to justify dropping acid

if the only thing that can be proven as real is my perception than by altering my perception i am in fact altering reality

far fucking out man
posted by nathancaswell at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Can I see that card, please?
posted by Skot at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Man, idiots running kritiks is one thing I don't miss about high school debate. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw a kritik run in a relevant and coherent way.
posted by Nattie at 3:14 PM on June 7, 2010


correlation vs causation- this is the classic d-heidt “hitler wore pants” argument

F'ing pants. They're completely overused in debates. Have you ever noticed that as a discussion grows longer, the probability of wearing pants approaches 1?
Most likely wearing pants when they wrote that. Bastards.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:15 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well I think it sounds like fun.
posted by Danila at 3:17 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


also, people who argue like this are the same people who play "devil's advocate" and enjoy "arguing for arguing sake" and who i want to punch in the face
posted by nathancaswell at 3:19 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Rebuttal! Counter-rebuttal! /Drives wheelchair at full speed
posted by Electric Dragon at 3:20 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seriously, kids, if this thread keeps up at current rate, I'm gonna run the hell out of favorites. Can everybody stop being so funny and clever for a few hours?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:21 PM on June 7, 2010


Maybe it's a cultural thing, but this looks like a competition in sophistry to me. Not just this "Kritik" thing, which sounds like poor philosophy, but high school debate in general. Does this stuff really help with critical thinking, public speaking, etc., or does it just teach people how to bullshit more effectively?
posted by simen at 3:23 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is absolutely unlike any kind of argment Spivak, Zizek, or Foucault have ever engaged in. Just looking at the "kritiks" from the first link: "People have the innate right to be wrong" is a mainstream liberal position. "Capitalism is evil" would be met with derisive laughter by all three of the above-named thinkers, all of whom are anti-capitalist in some sense, as well as by Nietzsche and Heidegger. The is-ought problem is listed as a method of Kritik (under "Ethical Imperatives") but that isn't derived from "au courant continental philosophers" or "literary theory". It's derived from David Hume. The section under "Statism" presents the argument of Enlightenment-derived libertarianism. The "materialism" section is a statement of an ancient problem in mainstream metaphysics that most people know via Descartes.

This is basically a list of annoying things to say. It has practically nothing to do with continental philosophy, old or new. What do you get when critical social theory is admired in principle by people who can't be bothered actually reading it? You get the same liberalism you started with, only really bossy and negative. This is a very ugly scene.
posted by stammer at 3:25 PM on June 7, 2010 [33 favorites]


It's pretty stunning to me that we're a couple of dozen comments in and we haven't been swamped by a bunch of knowledgeable ex-debaters. I'm surprised that Metafilter isn't overrun with them (us). Bill Shanahan was a very influential coach, and widely respected, but he certainly didn't invent the 'kritik'-- versions of that had been run for decades prior to their coming into vogue in the early to mid-1990s.

Look, here's the point of the fast talking-- debate is a game, bottom line, and talking fast means you get out more arguments. It's an insular activity and the coaches and judges are more or less as inured to the process as the competitors, so communication and persuasion is de-emphasized in favor of information and research. At its most basic, debate is a research exercise, with quick thinking and counter-evidence being the things that win you the round. As a learning activity, it absolutely makes you smarter, quicker thinking, and (not always, but often) an insufferable prick to those that don't know it.

It's also not great for your grades.

As a final statement, I will not be so arrogant as to claim we were the only ones to do it, but my senior year partner and I (1996) invented the fear of death kritik. He found some awesome quotes in a Victor Frankl book, we linked it up to some Russian anarchists and some other semi-related existentialists, and voila. We later found out that others were running (and I wouldn't be shocked that some of those were running it before us) versions of this, and I am sure that it was a case of independent postulation rather than 'we originated it and others copied', but it's really odd to see that listed as the second example in a list of "weird debate arguments".

If this degenerates into "strange debate anecdote thread" I will be back to add. They are legion. Debaters are weird people.
posted by norm at 3:25 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


If this degenerates into "strange debate anecdote thread" I will be back to add. They are legion. Debaters are weird people.

I believe it is a moral imperative that you start that descent.
posted by knapah at 3:28 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


stammer: "This is basically a list of annoying things to say. It has practically nothing to do with continental philosophy, old or new. What do you get when critical social theory is admired in principle by people who can't be bothered actually reading it?"

Oh man, this reminds me so much of one of my favorite debate room episodes where the lesbian slam poet on our team and the vaguely-autistic Hindu traditionalist kid bond over their joint love of Foucault, neither one of them realizing that they've only read the half of the guy they like...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:28 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe it is a moral imperative that you start that descent.

Let me respond with my moral imperatives kritik. You lose.


xoxoxoxox
posted by norm at 3:30 PM on June 7, 2010


I refuse to take this FPP seriously until it proves itself to be something more than a mere collections of photons rebounding off my optic nerve.

Yes, silly. But that the sorta bad faith debate tactic this reminds me of you can re-frame an argument, but to r-frame it in terms of it empirical worth is just a fancy way of disappearing up one's- you-know-what.
posted by Skygazer at 3:32 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: this isn't Vietnam. This is debate. There are rules.
posted by wcfields at 3:35 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


SmedleyMaaan: Most likely wearing pants when they wrote that. Bastards.

I would like to re-assure you that I am presently, absolutely NOT wearing pants.
posted by Skygazer at 3:35 PM on June 7, 2010


Policy debate is a game. A game with very open rules. So much so in fact that the judge will often announce their judging philosophy before a round starts so that you can tune your strategy to suit their mood. With some judges a critique would be a sure fire way to loose.
posted by lucasks at 3:40 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Only if the opposing team can prove that the material world of our perceptions is real, and not a hallucination, do they earn the right to have their arguments considered on their merits.

This seems like a great way to get punched. Violence is no doubt prohibited in a high school debate;, but hallucinated violence, on the other hand...
posted by ODiV at 3:42 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I see that Shanahan coined the term Kritik by leaving one word mysteriously untranslated when quoting the young Marx's famous call for a "ruthless criticism of everything that exists". Marx would later mock the Hegelian "critical critics" of his time. But it raises an interesting question about the historical development of Marxism. A lot of people fret about what Marx would have made of how Lenin and the other Russian Marxists developed his thought, and about whether he would approve of their political practice and the establishment of the Soviet Union.

But this seems even more serious. What would Marx have done if he had known that his youthful left-Hegelianism would find its historical fulfilment in Bill Shanahan's revolutionary mooning of the University of Pittsburgh debate squad? Maybe he would have become a lawyer, like his Dad wanted.
posted by stammer at 3:44 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


See, to me, the entire project of kritik sounds a lot like the silly word games that show up in a lot of "arguments" about the existence of God.

"Can God make a rock he can't move?"

The correct answer is, of course, "Congratulations. You've realized that language, when forced into recursion, can do some pretty silly things. Now come back when you realize that this isn't actually all that interesting over the long term."

Criticizing a proposition by questioning its assumptions can be useful if done thoughtfully--and I've no reason to think that anything in high school policy debates is actually done thoughtfully--but defeating a proposition on its own terms is a much subtler and more important accomplishment.
posted by valkyryn at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Long discussion of the Shanahan/Shanara incident previously. Here's what I wrote about it on my Livejournal.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:51 PM on June 7, 2010


For you new (or not) to the unsavory world of policy debate, here is a fun article from Mother Jones that examines the subculture that "produced JFK, Michael Moore, Karl Rove, and...Brad Pitt?"

(I used to be a debate coach but hated this style of "debate" and stuck to L-D.)
posted by kozad at 3:52 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was on the debate team in high school but tended to do more extemporaneous speaking than debate (although I did a little LD). So this makes almost no sense to me.

One thing that I often realize, though, is how much I've learned since then (it's been 3 years), mostly due to the many hours I've spent reading posts like this. Sure wish I had been around here learning when I was trying to out-think (or really, out-speak) all the other high school kids who thought they were the next great philosopher or public speaker.

Joining the debate team was one of the better decisions I made in high school and one of the ones that had the most lasting effects, but gosh, some of that stuff seemed so pointless even at the time.
posted by DMan at 3:59 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you think that's English you're speaking, Neo?
posted by benzenedream at 4:03 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sounds like a lot of blather to avoid the point of the debate and the invocation of fallacies as argumentative rigor, specifically straw man and irrelevant conclusion.
posted by Revvy at 4:07 PM on June 7, 2010


This thread is just in time for the National Forensics League tournament in Kansas City next week.

I did Lincoln-Douglas debate in high school and still coach it, and policy in my region has been slowly withering away for the last several years. There are so many unwritten rules/traditions built around it, the K being one of them, that it's a difficult game to break into. You basically have to devote your life to it, and you still need to wait 1-2 years before you've learned the ropes enough to start winning rounds on a semi-regular basis. Nothing beats a great policy round, but it seems that it's collapsing under its own weight.

My boyfriend and I met on our high school debate team. I was an LDer and he did policy. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that policy sucks and LD is by far the superior form of debate.
posted by lilac girl at 4:15 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did debate in college (mid-80's), and as part of that I (and other members of our team) also judged a fair number of high school debates for extra cash when their regional debate tournaments were held at local schools.

A few thoughts:

1. When judging HS debate, I absolutely hated the smug pricks who, when arguing the CON side of a proposition, would walk up for their opening statement with a canned counter-plan that proposed some bullshit exception that magically exempted them from their responsibility to clash with the points raised by the PRO side. It's a debate, motherfucker; respond and show me you can think on your feet.

2. Some high schoolers are naturally gifted debaters. Some are not. When a team of the former meets eviscerates the latter, it isn't pretty. When you can win using talent alone, put the canned BS back in your pocket. Save it for the finals.

3. There is nothing quite as awesome as the clash of two debate teams that each know how to spread. I don't know if the term is still used, but back in the day, "spreading" was the art doing what norm mentions above: putting forth so many valid-ish arguments and counter arguments that your opponent is literally spread too thin to respond to them all, while you simultaneously pick off all of their arguments. It's volume of arguments + substance of arguments, and it's an awesome one-two punch. We used to see it all the time at the college level, but when you saw a team of high school students do it, well....damn. It's a rare skill to see in 16-18 year olds, and you had to smile a bit, and maybe feel a bit sorry for their parents and teachers, 'cause anyone with that particular skill was going to be a handful (not to mention a true asshole) if they chose to be.
posted by mosk at 4:17 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


also, people who argue like this are the same people who play "devil's advocate" and enjoy "arguing for arguing sake" and who i want to punch in the face
posted by nathancaswell


Oh, you mean ad baculum?
posted by jamjam at 4:32 PM on June 7, 2010


more like ad nauseum
posted by nathancaswell at 4:39 PM on June 7, 2010


tl;dr
posted by Artw at 4:41 PM on June 7, 2010


I prefer argumentum scott bakulam.
posted by sciurus at 4:41 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, you mean ad baculum?

Of course not! Logical fallacies are inconsistent as invoking one is an appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:42 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I went to a couple meetings of debate club in high school, and enjoyed rational discussion. It was fun, and I was pretty good at it, but I just didn't have time. In college, I was active in the philosophy group, which was a lot of fun discussion what we were studying, even arranging a conference. Since most of the same people were in the debate team, I thought I'd check it out. It was completely different, the same people, but radically different personalities and objectives. Instead of having a rational, intelligent debate about an issue (which could last for days in the philosophy setting), it was violent and brutal, concerned only about points, and while I'm pretty sure I could have done decently in that setting, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

I'm kind of glad I never got into it, at least not in the MicroMachinesVoiceGuy sort of thing. I prefer to use my powers for good, not evil.


I realize I'm about to be destroyed for this, but it just wants to come out.
(Of course, logical debate is in it's own way a mug's game. Once you agree to a reasonably skilled debater's givens, you've pretty much lost the argument. Everything just becomes bickering about the givens.)
posted by Ghidorah at 4:47 PM on June 7, 2010


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Did I win?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:53 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


jamjam: "Oh, you mean ad baculum?"

Argument ad baculum.
posted by boo_radley at 4:54 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


ODiV: That would make an excellent canned statement when going to debate one of these jerks. "Bishop Berkley, proposed the theory of immateralism, quite similar to the contention by my worth opponents that this is all an hallucination. Dr Johnson famously refuted the proposition of solipsism by stubbing his toe against a large stone, and proclaiming "I Refute it thusly". Not having the good doctor's masochistic streak or a large stone available. I propose to refute my worthy opponents contention by flinging these heavy textbooks hard at their heads. I trust they will have no objections, as if everything I say and do is hallucination, they must hold these textbooks to have as little weight as they apparently do the arguments we have put forward on the subject."
posted by Grimgrin at 5:04 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Violence is no doubt prohibited in a high school debate;, but hallucinated violence, on the other hand...

Another team from my school was once involved in a debate round, in which the opposing team ran a plan that advocated anarchy.

SCENE: First cross-ex

We: So, you're in favor of anarchy, right?
They: Yup!
We: So, if Pointer here [Jeffy's teammate] were to go back to Pete [the judge] and just sign the ballot negative, that would be pretty much keeping with the bounds of anarchy, the thing you're advocating, right?
They: uh....
(Pointer goes to back of room, grabs ballot, signs ballot 'negative', Pete shrugs, round over)
posted by norm at 5:10 PM on June 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Oppenheimer debated in a small league of New England boarding schools that hadn't yet been influenced by the kritik and increased speed in policy debate, nor what I would describe as the increased narrowing of resolutions in Lincoln-Douglas.

Interesting. I see from his CV that he graduated from Loomis in 1992. I did a small amount of debating in high school in the same league (graduating in 1999). This seems to have remained a fair description of the debates I participated in. Anyone have a more recent perspective? Has it changed since then? I can see the internet (in many ways still in its infancy in 1999) having a big impact here.
posted by Jahaza at 5:27 PM on June 7, 2010


SCENE: First cross-ex

We: So, you're in favor of anarchy, right?
They: Yup!
We: So, if Pointer here [Jeffy's teammate] were to go back to Pete [the judge] and just sign the ballot negative, that would be pretty much keeping with the bounds of anarchy, the thing you're advocating, right?
They: uh....
(Pointer goes to back of room, grabs ballot, signs ballot 'negative', Pete shrugs, round over)


The 'uh...' was their big mistake there. Where was the advocacy of consensus decision making?! And why was nobody eating hummus?!
posted by knapah at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm looking forward to microtransaction debate, where debaters have to present thousands of very tiny rebuttals within milliseconds. Surely this is the future of innovation in debate.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:33 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm having flashbacks to the worst moments of my History of Anthropological Theory class. Except my professor was awesome and shut down the worst of the semantics-obsessed perpetrators. Joey Michaels, did you go to school with me or something? Jesus Christ.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:37 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mouse Army, today, in this thread, we are all History of Anthopoligical Theory students.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:45 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I miss debate. Policy and Lincoln-Douglas both suck, and so does American Parliamentary. Talking fast and obeying "flow" or whatever makes for garbage rounds. British Parliamentary would be great if it weren't for the bizarre responsibility of Second Government. Canadian Parliamentary forever!
posted by painquale at 5:46 PM on June 7, 2010


Now that's really hitting below the belt, boo_radley.

But it contains a(nother) treasure a little farther down:

The word baculum originally meant "stick" or "staff" in Latin. The homologue to the baculum in female mammals is known as the baubellum or os clitoridis or os clitoris.[1]

I will now never be able to hear about baubles without laughing over this buried non-entendre.
posted by jamjam at 5:47 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, one other thing.

Policy Debaters? For the love of FSM, please only make topicality arguments when the Aff case is actually off topic. Otherwise, I hate your stupid face.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:49 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


While most were very badly done, some were quite nice and broke up the monotony. For example, the protection of privacy year got me to read most of Foucault's major works. It allowed one to have a debate about the substance and meaning of privacy. Similarly, debates about nuclearism in non-proliferation contexts and critical race theory in education.

These meta debates about how we decide and what we focus on are valuable and interesting. I found them way better fodder for debate than Yet Another Topicality + Clinton + Federalism + State Counterplan debate. These are things that we really discuss here on metafilter.

The point of a meta debate is frequently to shift away from the substantive policy discussion. First, that's not always a terrible crime, as the successful critique will frequently have some fairly radical implications about what kinds of policy are useful. Second, because of the scope of many topics and the way public policy literature plays out, negative teams design virtually always want to get away from the affirmative proposal. For example, on the Education topic there were probably 1000 distinct affirmative plans corresponding to some subgroup's idea of what it really wrong with education plus minor variations. No negative could really be ready to demolish them all on their merits. For many of them, there was so little data out there that a debate on the specifics would just be a bull session.

Even in areas in which I am a real expert, there are positions that I would have to think about for a while and would almost certainly not generate some easily found citable article detailing all the problems. The literature either does not exist or is very difficult to access. As a result, negative teams have to make very general offensive strategies and deflect discussion from the specifics of the plan, which the affirmative will be in a way better position to sound smart on.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:51 PM on June 7, 2010


I don't know if the term is still used, but back in the day, "spreading" was the art doing what norm mentions above: putting forth so many valid-ish arguments and counter arguments that your opponent is literally spread too thin to respond to them all, while you simultaneously pick off all of their arguments. It's volume of arguments + substance of arguments, and it's an awesome one-two punch

I completely disagree - I was in policy debate for a time in high school, and I actually ended up going to nationals in policy, so I'm not some random internet tough-guy who's running his mouth. I gave up policy after two years because I got sick of the bullshit, getting up at 4 AM to go to all-day tournaments, and the fact that what I was doing didn't have the slightest to do with actual "debate."

There's a reason most real debates have moderators who restrict the subject matter and try to keep the participants focused on a few issues - that's where the actual arguments and discussion occur. Simply throwing out a huge volume of arguments because you can talk at 800 words per minute and then saying, "So-and-so dropped my point about _ " is about the lamest thing possible - it has nothing to do argumentation, nuance, or erudition.

True story: one of my fellow debaters in high school told me about how is favorite strategy was to 'spread' his opponent. I made an admittedly immature remark to the effect of, "Well, you'd better have lube for that, then." I got punched in the face for that one, but it was still worth it.

I quit debate for fall soccer and and our school's Quiz Bowl team. The latter was much more fun and interesting than debate, with the added bonus that it doesn't slowly crush your soul. I'm still glad I quit; my senior year was fun and I'm glad I didn't burden myself with the debate team.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 6:03 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I really want to reveal the title of the absolute worst, most morally reprehensible counterplan that may have ever been argued, but I'm afraid that, even though that my partner and I were only 14 year-old sophomores in high-school when we came up with it, y'all will all hate me for even thinking it.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:33 PM on June 7, 2010


I only did debate in high school for a little while, and it was all policy I think; certainly not LD, at any rate. I remember, after a session in which I took apart someone's position in an especially sarcastic and mordant way, a kid from the other team said, Wow, you're really mean, with this glow of awe all about his face.
posted by clockzero at 6:39 PM on June 7, 2010


I'm having flashbacks to the worst moments of my History of Anthropological Theory class. Except my professor was awesome and shut down the worst of the semantics-obsessed perpetrators.

I have always loved to read cultural theory. It seemed always like a bright shiny toy of words. I never talked about it much in graduate school, though, because all my peers hated it like mad and when we had to read some of it they would go into frothing rages about how pointless and arbitrary it was. I just figured that people like different things and they had their narrativist approaches they liked blah blah blah.

But then I had a class with a neo-Maoist (yes, really) young man specializing in the history of modern China. Oh my freaking god then I understood why people hate theory. This kid was unstoppable. We would start class in a promising way, and then after about ten minutes we'd be mired in some semiotic swamp because he took vigorous exception to the concept of crime or law or subjective morality external to the questions raised by the texts we were supposed to be reading. For example, we were studying the impact of WWI on the hopes for women's suffrage, and he spent the whole class nitpicking because the author did not deal with the question of whether or not 'women' could be used as a group noun. It was entirely beside the point in the context of the reading, and yet he could not be deflected! And the rest of class would be us smacking him down over and over again because it was obvious even to people as untutored in theory as myself and the rest of the class that he had only read the backs of summaries of the names he was spouting, AND that he was doing it all solely to avoid dealing with the actual works he had not read which we were there to discuss.

Now I am in pain from the memories. Those were the longest individual three hour stretches of my life.
posted by winna at 6:41 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I fucking hate this crap. Comes off as arrogant. Sometimes happens here, depending on the subject.

Whoever asks the question gets to define the terms. Not the answerer! Who do we trust more, the journalist who asks the tough questions, or the weasel who reframes the question to fit their agenda?
posted by gjc at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


this is the kind of stupid half baked philosophical shitcrap every fucking stoner thinks of when they're 17 to justify dropping acid

lol, project much
posted by p3on at 6:50 PM on June 7, 2010


I'm so glad I dropped out of debate in order to do competitive theater. I'm not sure it was less dorky, but I simply couldn't afford the photocopy fees that I was racking up doing "research" for the team (since the first two years on our team was all about just doing research for the folks who actually debated).
posted by klangklangston at 7:03 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow... I think I've learned something today.

This sounds a lot like many of the arguments I find myself in here on MeFi - Claiming "A implies B" leads to a whole slew of irrelevant side arguments about the inherent racism in excluding W from the equation, and what the hell do I have against B in the first place, and if only my middle class privilege didn't automatically grant me C through R I'd see the error of my ways. ;)

Seriously though, I did learn something here. Thanks for the post, subby!
posted by pla at 7:09 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really want to reveal the title of the absolute worst, most morally reprehensible counterplan that may have ever been argued

I worked hard on this FPP, in part so that I might hear stories of people's adolescent debate obnoxiousness, and I demand that you tell us what you know.
posted by escabeche at 7:20 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


My response to all of these would be "Oh my, isn't just precious. You've taken a philosophy course. Good for you, that is so great, really great. Let me know when you figure out that everything you just said was a cliche somewhere about 200 years ago."
posted by oddman at 7:23 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's a reason most real debates have moderators who restrict the subject matter and try to keep the participants focused on a few issues - that's where the actual arguments and discussion occur. Simply throwing out a huge volume of arguments because you can talk at 800 words per minute and then saying, "So-and-so dropped my point about _ " is about the lamest thing possible - it has nothing to do argumentation, nuance, or erudition.


Quite. Simply competing to recite the longest table of authorities or stock arguments as you describe is no longer debate: it's an academic edition of Magic: the Gathering (if you want to be charitable) or 4chan (get a job you bums). Arguments that aren't comprehensible can't be said to have been properly raised to begin with, any more than a bibliography equates to a thesis.

It baffles me that this style of 'debate' got anywhere in the first place; ultimately the point of debate in the real world is to persuade. In some contexts there is sufficient latitude to allow for voluminous arguments - complex legal cases, or elaborate scientific theses; in others speed matters because attention is at a premium, such as commercial transactions or political debates, where exhaustive discussion of the merits is impractical and one must exercise selectivity to identify the most compelling arguments (though not necessarily the most substantive ones). Legislative debate seems to lie somewhere in between.

Sure, one can say that forensic debate is about building your framework rather than persuading an audience of its truth, and that if people want to become expert at such a game that's their business. This is true as far as it goes, and I don't grudge anyone the fun of playing arcane games for shits and giggles. In academic terms, though, it's a bit like justifying a campus snowball match as fieldwork for your study of Newtonian mechanics, or a night of binge drinking as a toxicology project.

As for the underlying premise of popular kritik strategies - that it is meaningless to talk about proposition X because debate is broken, language has not been proved to have meaning, or that dichotomy is an instrument of oppression, or this is all a hallucination - the simple act of presenting such an argument for consideration is an a priori demonstration of its vacuity.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that the two debate coaches in the video reverted to behaving like 3 year-olds, because all this business of kritik, flow, spreading etc. is very obviously just a refinement of verbal schoolyard tricks that worked only as long as they were novel and confusing to the trickee. One might as well open the debate by complaining about the opposing team's failure to bring the requires quantities of skyhooks or striped paint; or demand victory on the basis that the opponents' arguments were made in the past and as only the present can be said to truly exist, there no irrefutable way to prove that the arguments ever took place; or indeed demand forfeiture on the basis that the opponents have not even bothered to show up, but instead sent a group of simulacra.

I don't know why this FPP has annoyed me so much (no blame attaches to the person who posted it, though). I'm walking away from the computer now.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:26 PM on June 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


I worked hard on this FPP, in part so that I might hear stories of people's adolescent debate obnoxiousness, and I demand that you tell us what you know.


Well that deserves a reply before I go - I'll tell you a short story of being on the receiving end of an obnoxious tactic. This was at high school back in the 80s, long before the 'policy' style had reached the place I grew up (and I hope it still hasn't).

So I'm arguing against the motion that 'whiskas is the best cat food' and think i've found a winning strategy: simply going through the list of ingredients and questioning why anyone would want to feed their beloved feline friend such junk. Last of all, and to my mind most devastating, was the '2% ash' - ashes, ladies and gentlemen! They're asking you to feed your cat with the detritus of your fireplace! I rested my case.

So then the captain of the opposing team got up, smirked at me, and said 'I'm sure cats enjoy a little hash.' Gales of laughter, all the judges vote for the funny guy, and the mystery of why people with access to a wide range of media and the electoral franchise had not yet put the world to rights suddenly became hideously obvious.

Should I ever be falsely charged with a vile crime, I want a bench trial.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:37 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


The argument that language is meaningless is easily defeated by pointing out that it was therefore impossible to make that argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:40 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


No wonder I sucked at debating in high school.
I keep reading Kritik, as Krikkit.
posted by robotot at 7:54 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The great part is that the people in this thread who are denouncing debate for its underlying assumptions and structure and for allowing tactics such as kritik: they are employing kritik themselves. Metafilter kritik!

Metafilter is more like debate than any other social activity I've been involved in (and I'm in grad school in philosophy). The attempts to succor favorites with pithy little one-liners, the attempts to pull the rug out from others you disagree with by suddenly "going deeper" than they do, the fact that there are so many points made that you could drown in them and yet the ones you think should be answered never are, the unexpected emotional outbursts... all in evidence in this thread alone.

All you guys hating on debate are debaters at heart.
posted by painquale at 8:12 PM on June 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


"I know YOU are. But what am I?!"

Throw a few of those in.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:17 PM on June 7, 2010


The "materialism" section is a statement of an ancient problem in mainstream metaphysics that most people know via Descartes.

But this cartesian head-in-a-jar skepticism doesn't really exist prior to Descartes, does it? At least this is the impression I'm getting from reading Richard Rorty. IANAP (I am not a philosopher), please correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:25 PM on June 7, 2010


>>I really want to reveal the title of the absolute worst, most morally reprehensible counterplan that may have ever been argued

>I worked hard on this FPP, in part so that I might hear stories of people's adolescent debate obnoxiousness, and I demand that you tell us what you know.


Okay, by request. Again, I remind the assembled company that this was the product of two adolescent minds and does not represent the current, adult attitudes of either myself or presumably my partner. At this point in my life, I am truly ashamed that I even thought of this.

With that caveat, the scene is 1986. The topic, "Resolved: That the federal government should implement a comprehensive long-term agricultural policy in the United States." Many affirmative plans involved the shipping of surplus crops to impoverished nations to alleviate hunger and this was often touted as the major advantage of such plans. My partner and I realized that there were two ways you could make someone not hungry anymore: Feed them, or kill them. After calculating the shipping costs involved, we hatched our diabolical scheme: The Buy a Bullet for a Hungry Child Counterplan.

For the record, yes, that's really what we called it and yes, we got in so much trouble.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:43 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Man, I didn't even need kritiks to drive me nuts in Lincoln-Douglas.

Instead, there was this godawful (regional?) style that everybody had adopted, except for my coach. Instead of debating the actual issue itself, they would choose two "values". These would be totally abstract concepts like "fairness" or "utility". They would then say something to the effect of, "The privacy of the child should trump the rights of the parents because this promotes fairness and utility. Fairness and utility are important because..." and then spend the entire fucking round arguing that their chosen "values" were more important than mine.

Except, I never had any chosen values. I came in and argued my side of the value statement. And I'd continually lose against these assholes, because they'd just say, "This is supposed to be a value debate. What are your values?" And the judges would eat that shit up every time, since every other debate they had seen had two nimrods arguing over whether "sloth" or "gluttony" was better.
posted by Netzapper at 8:46 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


You want the truth? You can't handle the truth! Also, the truth is unnecessary.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:49 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


>These would be totally abstract concepts like "fairness" or "utility".

Which reminds me of the time my freshman partner and I argued our plan on the merits of our arguments that is was both "Nifty" and "Flexible".
posted by ob1quixote at 9:12 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


All you guys hating on debate are debaters at heart.

I love debate, but in order for it to be good it needs to be a debate about content rather than wrangling about the procedures or meaning of debate. There is a place for such wrangling, but it's not the competitive forum - for much the same reason that conventions of baseball umpires are less well attended than baseball games.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:14 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of one night at a college tourney when I asked one of the debaters from our school how the last round had gone. "We won," she said, "but it was frustrating as hell. The other team was sticking with the same phallic argument through the whole thing."

"Phallic? Do you mean fallacious?"

"No, phallic. I'm not saying there wasn't something to it, but you'd have to be a real dick to use it."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:58 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


But this cartesian head-in-a-jar skepticism doesn't really exist prior to Descartes, does it?

Descartes was not a skeptic. He used skepticism as a methodological tool, a way to argue for the epistemology and metaphysics that he wanted to endorse.

Also, Skepticism definitely exist before Descartes. Academic Skepticism (that is, the movement of skepticism that existed in Plato's Academy) dates to a century before the birth of Christ, iirc. And that was harder-core skepticism than you find in Descartes, since its adherents would deny even the statement, "I am thinking"!
posted by voltairemodern at 10:36 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Argument ad bukkake.
posted by Artw at 11:37 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do these kids actually learn anything participating in these silly exercises?
posted by paultopia at 12:01 AM on June 8, 2010


About as much as anyone learns from frenzied masturbation, I'd guess.
posted by Artw at 12:04 AM on June 8, 2010


Not that masturbation isn't a worthwhile pursuit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:25 AM on June 8, 2010


Do these kids actually learn anything participating in these silly exercises?

Actually, yeah. We learned a fair amount of research skills, as well as the ability to form a structured argument. Now, mind you, most of the kids who go into debate already have these skills in spades. But, debate does help you refine them against other people with similar natural talents.

It's very much like sports in this regard.

It was also a way for those of us who were verbally, but not physically, gifted to compete at something, gain some minor recognition in the school. Surprisingly, we tended to get a fair amount of respect (as a team) for doing well at a tournament, for having represented the school positively--even from the jocks. And we got to go on overnight roadtrips.

It's very much like sports in this regard.

It also really, really helps nerdy kids come out of their shells and become comfortable speaking in front of others. And I watched a number of very shy, very nerdy, very smart kids transform into confidant young adults in the course of just one semester of debate.

I don't think it's very much like sports in this regard.

[Yes, sports can instill confidence in people who are shy. However, if you're 5'8" and weigh 145lbs and not already quite athletic, there aren't a lots of sports in a Midwestern high school at which you'll be competitive.]
posted by Netzapper at 1:21 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Only if the opposing team can prove that the material world of our perceptions is real, and not a hallucination..."

Opposing team walks over to speaker and hits him in head with rock. End of hallucination, mofo.
posted by Twang at 3:48 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm happy for debates to be carried out in any fashion whatsoever provided the methods employed progress to a truthful resolution. Everything else is bullshit.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:43 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


High school debate was rife with this kind of thing, which is why it was much more fun to debate prop than opp (that is, present your own interpretations of a given resolution, rather than argue for the status quo). I debated in a podunk rural league in Western Massachusetts where no one hit quite the.. erm.. fever pitch of these Shanahan types, and our favorite thing to do was scour research papers for weird usage of terms in the resolution, and then show up with a case that we were pretty sure the opp team would be prepared to argue themselves. It was hit-or-miss, because once teams got wind of it, they started prepping token defenses for it, and then it was just trench warfare over definitions.

Senior year, though, it came gift-wrapped for us: the resolution was something along the lines of "The United States should enact foreign policy to significantly reduce the use of weapons of mass destruction." This being 2001, and "yellow-cake uranium" not having entered the public eye, there was almost no WMD usage, state-sanctioned or not, that anyone could point to as an example of something that could be reduced, so every prop team in the league found the old version of Black's Law Dictionary that had a definition of "use" that read like "proliferate," and the league adopted a gentleman's agreement that we wouldn't get into etymological pissing contests over whether or not any examples in recent history met the burden of constituting "use," and everyone argued that we should take steps to stop them from being used in the first place.

So, in week 4 of the season, we ran the case "proliferation has proved to be an effective deterrent, so we propose preventing the use of nuclear weapons by encouraging the Russians to distribute them to rogue nations."

I made it sixty seconds into the first proposition speech before the opposing team realized what was happening. Everything they had in their giant Tupperware tub of evidence was arguing the exact point I was, based on a common-law definition of a three-letter word whose definition should have been self-evident. The look on the face of the first opposition speaker as the world fell out from under him was almost enough to convince me to give law school a try.

I don't know if this makes us bigger assholes than the guys who show up arguing navel-gazing Heideggerian literary theory, but it does confirm that blindsiding an opposition team does make for a very enjoyable 52 minutes for the team who pulls this kind of stunt.
posted by Mayor West at 5:45 AM on June 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I remember the previous post about Bill Shanahan but hadn't watched the full hour-long debate that preceded it until last night. Holy shit. Holeeeeeeey shit, I don't think I could've imagined that that is how all of this plays out in an actual debate. On top of the performative pieces, the arguments on ancestral marginalization, the tornado of post-struc theory, and the speed with which they're all delivered, it's difficult to understand how all of this can be competently judged by anyone. Not even to mention the strangely personal issue at hand, the striking of a black, female judge, who is in the room during the debate. It was amazing just to see how well that first judge could synthesize the whole crazy production into something coherent and judge-able.

Thank god I did Academic Super Bowl rather than policy debate. There's a really good chance I would've shivved my opponent in the hallway after a debate and ended up in juvie.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 6:29 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember the previous post about Bill Shanahan but hadn't watched the full hour-long debate that preceded it until last night. Holy shit. Holeeeeeeey shit, I don't think I could've imagined that that is how all of this plays out in an actual debate. On top of the performative pieces, the arguments on ancestral marginalization, the tornado of post-struc theory, and the speed with which they're all delivered, it's difficult to understand how all of this can be competently judged by anyone. Not even to mention the strangely personal issue at hand, the striking of a black, female judge, who is in the room during the debate. It was amazing just to see how well that first judge could synthesize the whole crazy production into something coherent and judge-able.

Thank god I did Academic Super Bowl rather than policy debate. There's a really good chance I would've shivved my opponent in the hallway after a debate and ended up in juvie.


Holeeeeeeey shit indeed. That's terrifying, and makes me really glad I was never involved in this crap.
posted by knapah at 6:42 AM on June 8, 2010


Out: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
In: "Fucking Magnets, how do they work?"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:54 AM on June 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love debate, but in order for it to be good it needs to be a debate about content rather than wrangling about the procedures or meaning of debate. There is a place for such wrangling, but it's not the competitive forum - for much the same reason that conventions of baseball umpires are less well attended than baseball games.

Except that, for an actual debater, wrangling about procedures and meaning is really fun. It's boring to watch for someone who wants to be entertained by a substantive discussion of the issues, but rounds based around that tend to be a lot slower and have the two debaters/teams more-or-less talking past each other by the end. If it turns into a theory round, there's a lot more cut and thrust and the round is more exciting to debate in.

That said, debate is a horrific, soul-sucking activity. To be really good you need to be researching and writing cases as much as your average sports player practices, except there's no off-season in debate. If you don't do that, you go to local tournaments and lose because of bad judges who don't know what they're doing, and then you go to the big tournaments and get slaughtered.

(It also doesn't help that I joined and stuck with it for a profoundly bad reason.)
posted by vogon_poet at 6:57 AM on June 8, 2010



It baffles me that this style of 'debate' got anywhere in the first place; ultimately the point of debate in the real world is to persuade.


This is just begging the question. Leaving aside the insular culture, the bizarre habits of its participants, and the inscrutable delivery, debate is easily the most educational activity I ever participated in. It's on the chopping block, too. Every time an administrator goes and sees a debate tournament and observes a bunch of barefoot hippies going twice the speed of Andre 3000 in "B.O.B." and spewing out a bunch of post-structuralist theory, they decide to cut the policy budget and divert people into (ugh) parliamentary debate or some such rot, which sounds like what you'd expect a debate to sound like but has about 1/4 of the educational value. I debated the Mexico topic in college, for example (I'm dating myself here again) and three weeks in I could tell you every political party in Mexico, every Mexican president back to Lazaro Cardenas, every revolutionary group, every state, and that's even before getting into the domestic policy ramifications. You don't get that kind of intense learning in parli. You don't get it in extemp, you don't get it in AP History, you don't get it anywhere except policy debate.

Get over the delivery aspects. You're missing the point.
posted by norm at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2010


three weeks in I could tell you every political party in Mexico, every Mexican president back to Lazaro Cardenas, every revolutionary group, every state, and that's even before getting into the domestic policy ramifications. You don't get that kind of intense learning in parli.

Just be aware there's an actual question (to which I don't have a firm answer) about whether what you did here was learning.
posted by escabeche at 7:39 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


norm: "Leaving aside the insular culture, the bizarre habits of its participants, and the inscrutable delivery, debate is easily the most educational activity I ever participated in."

We can't leave aside those questions because these are the things that fundamentally close debate to outside spectators or even outside understanding, which is why district or school money barely trickles into the activity. To be successful at the activity most of the time, you have to be bankrolled either by yourself or buy an incredibly rich private school or public school district with money to burn. This is a real equity problem, and I think the reason it doesn't exist in the same way in many high school sports is that people can and do come to watch.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:44 AM on June 8, 2010


So....basically, they're trolls. Nerd trolls.

Yup, that describes a lot of the policy debaters I knew. Not that they pulled this sort of stuff every round - they were good enough to make it to Nationals - but they really enjoyed doing it on occasion.

All of which is why I went for foreign extemp instead. No other team to argue with, lots of reading and research about foreign affairs, no goddamn notecards, and we had to know enough about foreign affairs to be able to put together a speech on any topic in half an hour. Though like the policy kids, we did haul around boxes. Ours had folders full of the best articles on various nations and issues, and all the latest issues of Time/Newsweek/US News and World report (questions usually came from those magazines) often along with the Economist or Foreign Affairs or Foreign Policy. I rather wonder how laptops and widespread internet access have changed this...

Unfortunately, our district was in for a rude awakening when we got to states; many of the other districts were full of kids who used well-practiced canned speeches, which they adapted a little to fit the question, and so our strategy of finding just the correct articles to cite and making a really good argument was doomed. Sure, they were using a method that was supposed to be against the rules, but they sounded better than us, so they tended to win rounds where the judges weren't themselves that knowledgeable about foreign affairs.
posted by ubersturm at 8:15 AM on June 8, 2010


We didn't have debate in our high school league, only individual speech events (and mock trial). When we'd go to tournaments, though, debaters were rife in extemp and impromptu; some teams made their freshmen and sophomores do oratory (persuasive) as well. There was a significant cultural difference between the debaters and the speech people that went far beyond the rolling filecases and the milk crates of magazines, as well as a difference in speaking style and in the attitude toward doing extemp/impromptu.

Part of the reason we didn't have debate in our large city public school system has been mentioned here already; debate is damned expensive. The smaller schools that did well at state championships had teams that spent a lot of time fundraising. No idea if that's still the case, given the invention of laptops between then and now, but we were all pretty thrilled to get new easels for the expository speakers my sophomore year - I have no idea how we'd have afforded the photocopies for a debate team.
posted by catlet at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2010


After reading everyone's comments in here, I was slowly remembering a time when I was asked to join the debate team. I suspect, now, they wanted me to do research for them, as they opened up with 'You sure read a lot - want to join the debate team?'

I didn't see the connection, but I accepted the binder of rules/guidelines and said I'd have a look. When they came back the next day for my option, I said 'You know, if they brandish their pencils, or gesture sharply with their notes, you can ask for the offending object to be taken away as you feel "threatened" by it. See, right here?'

It was decided that, perhaps, debate was not for me. One fellow told me later that he used that 'defense', as it were, to the great annoyance of the other team, some time later.
posted by LD Feral at 9:08 AM on June 8, 2010


>I remember the previous post about Bill Shanahan but hadn't watched the full hour-long debate that preceded it until last night. Holy shit. Holeeeeeeey shit[...]

This is fascinating, but I'm confused by it. I found a partial explanation of the events of this round, but after reading it I only had more questions. According to the CEDA website, the topic for 2008 was "Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should substantially reduce its agricultural support, at least eliminating nearly all of the domestic subsidies, for biofuels, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, corn, cotton, dairy, fisheries, rice, soybeans, sugar and/or wheat." Does either team ever address this topic? I understand that CEDA was meant to be a more value-oriented style of college debating, but I fail to see how either the 1AC or 1NC addressed the topic even in passing. Does raising topicality never happen in these debates? Why even have a topic then? At least one person on eDebate appears to agree with me.

I've seen Resolved, and understand that there's been a change where sometimes the merits of debating itself are argued, but I'm having a hard time understanding how that encourages anything but more of what can be seen in that video. Is reciting portions of the "Revolutionary Aesthetic" passing for argumentation these days?

As long as I'm yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, I have one other question: When did debaters start dressing like fraternity bums?
posted by ob1quixote at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2010


I almost feel like some sort of apology may be in order. Bill Shanahan was my assistant debate coach at Louisville in the early 80s. A small group of us, with Bill as a perhaps unknowing role model, were at minimum some of the early practitioners of many of the things people are complaining about.

I've been away from debate for a long time now, so I don't really have an up-to-date insider's perspective, but I can provide some insight on the origins of this style.

The comments above that debate is a game are spot on. We were a smaller but high profile program. In order to compete with some of the larger schools (Dartmouth, for example) we had to change the ground of the debate. We did not have a large pool of researchers back home working away... There was already a team tradition of gamesmanship, and we merely kept pushing the boundaries of that tradition. At the time, throwing anarchist theory into a policy debate was a favorite way of changing the ground.

Based on my understanding of how Kritik has been incorporated into debate, it reminds me of many late night college discussions (or arguments, since that is what debators do).

I can't honestly say that I agree with the Bill's application of critical theory in this instance, but I am not surprised.
posted by Burgoo at 2:15 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does either team ever address this topic?

In policy debate*, the resolution is addressed by proposing a plan within the bounds of the topic. As long as the plan itself advances a policy that is topical within the resolution, that is what the debate round is going to be about. In debate theory this is known as "parametrics"-- the affirmative plan then becomes the resolution, as it were, and the negative is not going to score any points by being against, say, another topical plan.

While stock issues debate is certainly out of favor, virtually every debate judge** will vote on topicality, if the negative puts enough effort into pursuing it (as in, in your last negative rebuttal, don't talk about anything except topicality). It's kind of a shoot-the-moon sort of negative strategy.

*Policy debate is denoted by the 'should' in the resolution. As your link suggests, CEDA started as a counter to NDT's descent into no-persuasion all-spreading debate, but then wound up becoming essentially just like it and going to policy resolutions.

**I haven't judged a debate round in over ten years, but that is how it was when I left.
posted by norm at 3:28 PM on June 8, 2010


Thank you, norm. I'm an old debater myself, though I won't admit how long it's been since I've judged a round. (Hint: It's not quite as long as it's been since my first time seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

I understand the dangers in a topicality argument if the affirmative even tangentially addresses the topic. I also understand your point that the negative must argue against whatever case the affirmative presents, assuming it is at all topical. Therein lies my confusion though, because I can't see that either team addresses the topic at all.

I'm not sure you've spent the hour and a half watching the video, but now that I've watched it twice I'll attempt a summary of what I saw in this round.

The affirmative spends the entire 1AC essentially arguing that competitive policy debate in and of itself is an extension of the oppressive white power structure explicitly designed to marginalize minority participants, as evidenced by the negative team's striking out the only black judge on the judge's panel. Debating the topic without addressing the inherent racism of the system would be giving in to the oppressor by delegitimizing the black aesthetic.

The 1NC then gets up and reads what sounds like slam poetry. He goes on for the full eight minutes and I can't seem to untangle any argument from his speech, even after reading the transcript. It's very visceral and in my opinion enjoyable in meter and rhythm, but I'll be damned if I can see what he's driving at.

The 2AC continues in the same vein as the 1A. The 2NC then at least makes an argument, but it doesn't appear to actually counter the affirmative case and he agrees that debate is inherently oppressive.

The 1NR then, at least in my opinion, drops the ball in the first paragraph by implying that the affirmative's case is essentially "Vote for us because we're black." Then he too agrees that the structure of debate is oppressive to minorities, but argues that the affirmative's arguments alienate the negative and therefore destroys the entire purpose of debating.

The 1AR does his job countering the negative block. He pulls across the vast majority of their case, and demolishes the negative's evidence as being postmodern Europeans who can't identify with the black experience.

I couldn't really follow the 2NR because his speech patterns make it difficult to even understand what he was getting at. From what I could make out, he argues that his evidence isn't postmodern. The 2AR makes a nice speech and brings the case home like a 2A should.

Two of the judges then explain their votes for the affirmative. The dissenting judge declined to be videotaped.

Now, I'll agree that taken on it's own merits, leaving aside any notion of topicality, the affirmative win the round. They were the better speakers as well.

I just can't quite wrap my head around the purpose of a purported policy debate that never addresses the topic selected by the sponsoring organization. Is there a simply a gentleman's agreement that it would be disrespectful not to address whatever case the affirmative presents, regardless of whether or not it contains any arguments relating to the resolution? I presume that the other teams were prepared for this case as it was a national tournament. I'll note that the Towson team runs the same case in the finals.

I guess I just have to chalk it up to the fact that back when I debated people hadn't yet started to treat it as a game beyond the idea of 'spread'. Since those kids are back on my lawn, I have more questions: Since when is it okay to 1) not stand to address the judges 2)swear in a debate, and 3) for the partner not at the podium to answer questions in cross-ex?
posted by ob1quixote at 6:38 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


ob1quixote, i'm going to try to answer your questions (a good excuse to avoid research). they probably won't be satisfactory, and i'll be the first to admit that these answers are colored by my own experience as well as my own outlook on the activity. the important thing to not lose sight of in this discussion is the litany of styles in existence. the video only captures the most extreme circumstances of the activity, and in the heat of the moment.

Since when is it okay to 1) not stand to address the judges 2)swear in a debate, and 3) for the partner not at the podium to answer questions in cross-ex?
the better question is: why do these uniquely define debate? why does "debate" have to be so rigid? this is what the kritik movement has tried to challenge- the notion that policy debate (and debate/discourse in general) MUST follow stringent standards. as far as the individual points go:

1) not stand to address the judges
what makes standing so important? the content of my speech doesn't change whether i'm sitting at a desk or a standing at a podium, or even squatting down by the wall. this demand is, quite frankly, inane and irrelevant to what is happening in the debate.

2)swear in a debate
when people decided to loosen up. getting all butthurt if someone drops a socially taboo word does nothing to you personally (unless it's a racial slur, but it's probably in pursuance of a debate argument). now, this isn't to say that it should be done all the time. just as in a normal conversation, there are times and places when you should and should not use "foul" language. some judges will automatically dock you speaks, give you 0, or, in extreme cases, drop you entirely. it is up to the debater(s) to decide when and where it is a) acceptable and b) appropriate. most of the use i've seen is for hilarity purposes [ie, "the aff is totally fucked"] or for emphasis ["the kritik claim is utter bullshit--heidegger was wrong" etc etc]. the use of swearing is very limited in the college circuit (shit and damn being the most common), and even more so in the high school national circuit--and virtually nonexistent in state circuits (where it's often explicitly forbidden).

3) for the partner not at the podium to answer questions in cross-ex?
there are several reasons. first and foremost, because the event is a team activity. unless forbidden or otherwise restricted by the judge (if he or she cares), it is commonplace for the questioning team (both debaters) to ask questions- this allows (for example, if the 1a is crossing the 1n) the 2ac to ask a specific question related to his or her speech prep. on the other hand, if we're in the same situation (so the 2nc is sitting), perhaps the question falls in the realm of the expertise of the sitting team member. this happens as a result of what negative strategy has generally evolved into: run a few off-case, maybe one or two on, and then split the block. if you're late in the year, then it's only natural that one team member is stronger on position x than his/her partner--a result of continued block splitting and researching. again, i won't say it works perfectly all the time. there are certainly instances in which this devolves into a clusterfuck of people yelling at each other, but it can be used effectively.

i should also note that due to the variety of judging schemes, the tactics employed by both teams (should) vary wildly between critics of disparate views. if i'm in front of a conservative judge, everything mentioned- standing to address the judge, no swearing, closed cx- is what i should be aiming for. if i'm in front of a more liberal (probably college) judge, then my strategies shift. the value shift from generation to generation of debaters has been clearly marked by the advent and wildfire popularity of critical theory in the event. this will be reflected in the judging paradigms and consequently in what the next generation of youngsters feels comfortable about doing. the points you raise are often used to flag someone as being "value-oriented" as opposed to "content-oriented". i'm not trying to claim one is better than the other, necessarily. part of the debate is being able to adapt to these different styles effectively and consistently.

tl;dr- a value shift in the last 10-15 years has resulted in a more liberal debate community. reactions against the current state typically take place under older, more familiar value systems. the activity is evolving, and people in the activity still find value and worth to participation...it's just a little different than what persons from years and topics ago found worthy in the event.
posted by mordacil at 10:58 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, debate. I miss debate -- I had just figured it out, when I graduated.

I did Lincoln-Douglas -- a really interesting fork, actually, as it was explicitly designed to retain the rhetorical elements that policy had long since discarded. The idea seemed to be that philosophical debate, based on the evaluation of right vs. wrong, was far more amenable to rhetorical appeal than the finer points of policy discussion.

But all games optimize for extremes, and LD had (and probably still has) two masters. Thus, strategically, you could play:

1) Hard Rhetoric
2) Hard Policy
3) Balance

(The degree to which these three modes map to Starcraft races is a little eerie.)

Personally, my biggest beef with LD was the value of Justice. Now, Justice is cool, but it was a logical tautology in every tournament I ever went to. The general case went,

"My value for today is Justice. I believe Justice is the best value because, as Aristotle says, you can't have too much Justice. Justice makes sure everybody gets the right thing."

Essentially, the value of Justice was value itself. One could replace the word "Justice" with the word "Good", and achieve the same end. The point I made -- sadly, rarely understood -- was that by valuing value, one was offering no actual information, no actual discriminatory capability. It was like a child asking their parent, "What's the right thing to do?" with the answer being "Do the right thing."

One could argue that this line of argumentation was a kritik against Justice. Can't say I ever got far with it.
posted by effugas at 12:33 AM on June 9, 2010


You know, that's a little negative. I think back to the utter magic of being on all these college campuses, in my too-small suit, discussing the finer points of philosophy with genuinely smart people from all over, and I smile. That's not really something you get to do much in the real world.
posted by effugas at 12:47 AM on June 9, 2010


"My value for today is Justice. I believe Justice is the best value because, as Aristotle says, you can't have too much Justice. Justice makes sure everybody gets the right thing."

Aaah! You were one of those people! So it wasn't regional (unless you were from SW Missouri).

How did that make any sense to you at the time.

Value statement: The parent's right to know is greater than the child's right to privacy.

And then you, and people who built cases like you, went on to say, "Foozeball is important. Foozeball is defined as blahblahblah. If we uphold today's value statement, we'll get more foozeball."

And the thing that drove me fucking batty every time was when I'd argue Pro against somebody, then meet them again after we'd advanced, and argue Con. Invariably, they'd have the same goddamn case! Only they'd say, "If you don't uphold today's value statement, we'll get more foozeball."

The whole time, nobody ever said anything substantial about parents, children, privacy, kids becoming adults with adult lives, or keeping kids out of trouble. Ask them a question, and they'd just respond with the same answer, "Well, privacy leads to foozeball, which, as Garth Brooks said, is important for a balanced society."
posted by Netzapper at 12:47 AM on June 9, 2010


Netzapper--

The abuse of Justice as a value was ridiculous, but the concept of values in general was the only thing that kept LD from devolving into single person policy. Consider a debate topic, Resolved, racial profiling is justified.

Having a value debate of Liberty vs. Security, or Needs of the Many vs. Needs of the Few, or Global Peace vs. Manifest Destiny -- these are actually interesting discussions to be had, in interesting ways. Far from being separate from the topic, they should be the overall theme of the case.

Of course, there's theory, and there's reality. The big problem is when you get values that have nothing to do with the topic. Suddenly now there's two debates -- the topic, and the value at hand, and the discussions are at cross purposes. I will grant that the best uses of Justice were when the value was brought up, pro forma, as "eh, lets do the right thing".

The worst were when one side simply said, look, whatever the topic is, my value is best because it's defined to be best. That could actually win rounds.

It's the value system that keeps the philosophy, and therefore the rhetorical talent, in the game. So there's real value in it. But man, it's so hard for people to judge right.

Oh, and you shouldn't be bothered by "hypocrisy" in debate. Everyone's running both sides! It's how the system works.
posted by effugas at 2:21 AM on June 9, 2010


Thanks, mordacil. Although, it's a hard, hard thing for a man to wake up one morning and realize that in the years since he last stood behind the podium he's become a conservative debater. I used to be the one arguing niftyness in ugly '70s ties who was sticking it to The Man with his irreverence!
posted by ob1quixote at 7:12 AM on June 9, 2010


ob1--

Oddly, I had the opposite experience. I was the angry young debater through my entire competitive career, and then I found it was much more fun (and convincing!) to simply have fun and be positive. Irreverance can be more compelling than rage.
posted by effugas at 8:29 AM on June 9, 2010


While I understand that there's fun to be had in arguing about the process of debate, the rules of debate, the structure of debate etc. rather than the topic statement itself, what I don't understand is why these Kritik trolls don't just get together and play a game of Nomic instead.
posted by logopetria at 6:29 AM on June 10, 2010


mordacil : what makes standing so important?

Just to address your points, as well as those of the person to whom you responded - People debate as a form of (questionably) intellectual game. Games have rules; you either follow them and play the game, or don't and play a slightly different game. Since it basically requires playing as a group activity, not observing the group-agreed rules counts as cheating (or on the case of not standing to address a judge, just dumb, since it negatively impacts your score).



Netzapper : The whole time, nobody ever said anything substantial

Although you may have some prep time to learn the subject, none of the participants actually cares about it. On the one hand, that lets them argue from a position of objectivity; On the other, it makes all the arguments just meaningless verbal sparring with no intent to present anything of substance that doesn't lead to a better score.
posted by pla at 4:09 AM on June 11, 2010


the thought of little kids reading briefs of quotes taken out of context they found on the fucking internet just makes my blood run cold.

READER'S GUIDE TO PERIODICAL LITERATURE made a man out of me.
posted by Hammond Rye at 2:55 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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