What's Left Out?

Giving a talk today via Skype to a policy debate team about Worlds style debating. The question that I am using to orient my comments is one that might be a bit Lacanian: What's left out? Or, since it's a format that was created in Britain perhaps the better lecture title might be "Mind the Gap."

Using this as the principle of constructing how this format works and why it might be valuable to practice seems a better approach than a lot of the head-on, scorched Earth style discussions that many people expect/lament/enjoy/instigate. My feeling is that exposure to one format when one is from another only increases the chances that one might understand the grammar of one's home format a bit better, becoming a better debater in both formats (over time of course).

What I think happens is the same as in learning a foreign language - you become better able to understand how your own language works when learning a foreign tongue via the weird structural approach that we use in language teaching. This is why many schools report better test results on grammar and reading comprehension when they require Latin in the curriculum.

But it goes a bit deeper. Gadamer in Truth and Method relied on the classics department as his model of a humanities program that doesn't always go begging to the social sciences for justification on the level of method. The reason why is that these grammars are invented, and one can always interrogate and question the order of the order. Translations in context or out of context or within addendums and modifications to the grammar rules are always in play. This type of fluid understanding is one of the few means to keep truth alive and useful - by keeping it in play, keeping it fluid, keeping it breathing. Dare I say: Keeping it alive.

Debate formats should be like this. Even if you disagree, time is against you. Culture is against you. Show me a policy debate round and I will use the same example to prove that it is not policy debate. Worlds is also changing/changed. These flows and pulses will happen. Do we want to be swept up by the waves or do we want to ride them? Better still, let's learn how to surf. Enjoy your symptom, as Zizek would say.

Mind the gap when exiting or entering the format.