Saturday, December 22, 2012

Debatisms 2012

I have been slacking quite a bit lately on my debatisms and race reports. I have done two races and have heard some pretty hilarious things and have failed to update my blog. I could go into a rather long-winded set of excuses, but I will suffice it to say that I have been busy. As most of you know, when I am not spending my Saturdays on two wheels, I am more often than not, coaching debate for a local high school. Unlike in years past, I am actually judging more often than not this year, which has some advantages and some disadvantages. As is the slogan of my group of work, “it is what it is.”
I feel compelled to reiterate that I consider debate one of the greatest activities in which a high school student can participate. There is a non-exhaustive list of skills it develops, but while developing some of those skills, it often stretches students beyond their limits, particularly when it comes to abstract thinking. While many students are able to grasp these concepts and work their way through the difficulties, others misinterpretation often lead to what my mother refers to as “down the rabbit hole” where reality and the laws that govern it no longer apply.
My first night of judging this season gave me some of my favorite “debatisms” that I have collected in quite some time. I don’t know if it is fortunate or not, but it was the last round of the evening, starting around 8pm (yeah, that’s what this crazy single female does on a Friday night). In Lincoln Douglas, you have a value, which is basically answering the question, “what value motivates the US government to provide universal health care to its citizens?” One of the very popular answers is the protection of life. Indeed, in this particular round, the Affirmative had a value of life. Like many novice debaters, the negative felt it necessary to disagree with absolutely everything the Affirmative said and stated:

1. “People commit suicide so OBVIOUSLY life is not that important, not nearly as important as my value of freedom.”
How do you argue with that logic? I mean, it’s true, people do kill themselves, so how can life be that important?  I often think of the great irony that you have the freedom to kill youself, but doesn't that put an end to freedom as well?
This particular debater had a way of presenting her arguments that made it hard to stifle my laughter. Did you ever watch Let’s Make a Deal? Contestants would have to choose between three different doors, and more often than not, the person would say, “Wink, I think I’ll go with… door number three.” Well, this girl did the same thing, “so, in refuting my opponent’s first contention, I am going to go with…”
2. She went on to say, “we can’t force people to do things that are good for them because it infringes on their right to freedom. For instance, we can’t force people to learn to read because that would infringe on their autonomy and that’s immoral.”
What??? Apparently, this young student thinks going to school is not compulsory nor is “No Child Left Behind.” When I told another coach about this particular debatism, he simply said, “what kind of autonomy does a person have who can’t read?” As I have said, these students mean well, but focus too much on the disagreement aspect of debate and not on providing better arguments. In summary, the negative said to me, “the right not to learn to read is more important than life.” Yeap, down that rabbit was where we went.
Sometimes, like many of my stories, out of the debate context, they just aren’t as funny or enjoyable if you don’t understand the culture of debate so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to read further.
For instance, in a round with the eventual tournament champion, I heard one debater say, “the state of nature is clearly a more realistic thought experiment than the veil of ignorance.” Now, I have been in the debate community for 28 years and have a degree in philosophy (and Economics and Accounting) and still have no idea how a thought experiment is inherently “more realistic” than another. On the ballot, I wrote to this particular debater, “I don’t think anything you said in this round today is ACTUALLY true.”
For my next stint of judging was in Public Forum on a very economics-based topic. I heard claims like:
3.“The Department of Homeland Security is a waste of money.”
4. “We will cut $300 billion dollars from the department of defense and have no impact on jobs.”

5. At the same tournament my mother heard, “Even with universal health care, people will die.” To which the opponent at least agreed, “yes, death is inevitable.”
At the next tournament, I heard of a combination that blew me away. I have gone back and forth about posting this story, but here we go and hopefully it makes sense to non-debate folks.
I was fortunate enough to judge a good round between two very good debaters on a Saturday morning after judging four rounds the night before. These two debaters were still debating whether the US government has an obligation to guarantee access to health care. The negative said that the US government does not have the obligation because it would harm human dignity. Ok, that’s fine, but then this debater supported this value of human dignity by quoting a pretty famous economist by the name of Thomas Malthus. You know in movies when the bad guy walks into the bar and the music comes to a screeching halt?  That's what happened when I heard this in my head.

For those of you who don't know Malthus, let me explain.  Let’s look up the definition of the word “Malthusian” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Of or relating to Malthus or to his theory that population tends to increase at a faster rate than its means of subsistence and that unless it is checked by moral restraint (i.e. limiting the reproduction of the poor) or disaster (as disease, famine, or war) widespread poverty and degradation inevitably result.

When I heard this combination of dignity and Malthus, I thought to myself, “I guess human dignity is only important for the rich these days.” After the round, I went up to the coach and mentioned to her that I found this particular combination ahhh…inappropriate and not in accordance with what the theorist actually wrote. To which this coach responded, “Oh, well you obviously have never studied Malthus.”
I opted to walk away…and fume to my mother. If I would have said something, it probably would have been, “Sure, use Malthus for human dignity. Maybe you can figure out a way to use Hitler to support the value of preservation of life for the next resolution.”
But alas, I am sure I have made myself an enemy, but in the debate world, that’s nothing new.
For the final tournament where I judged, I judged Student Congress. To put it simply, I do not enjoy judging the event. However, I did hear some good debatisms.
6. “Continuing to make corn ethanol will lead to the federal government subsidizing farmers.” Now, that would be a waste of money…oh wait, what’s that, the federal government already spends billions of dollars subsidizing farmers? Who knew? Crazy!
7. The people of the country of Africa are poor, but it won’t cost us anything to provide them with food and better conditions because we can tax them.”
8. “The African people won’t mind us re-colonizing the continent because we are going to help them.” … and if we help ourselves to a diamond mind or two, well, that won’t annoy them at all.
I hope some of these debatisms made you laugh and not think less of me for finding some of the mistakes that students make funny, that I am laughing at the mistakes, not the students. Some of the best debaters that I have ever coached have said things that still make me laugh.

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