Is it Necessary? Is it Accidental?

Welcome to the new blog site! I thought a change was in order after not posting for so long. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the role and place of debate in my life. As I am assessing this, I take a lot of notes. I make a lot of lists. I think about the books that debate drew into my life, and the types of texts that debate pushes out of your life. 

Mostly what I have been considering is what I no longer find enjoyable about debate. But the more I think about it, these are things that might not be debate at all. 

If you were to make a list of all the things you wish debate would dispense with in order to improve, what would it look like? You should try it. I do it often. 

Now examine that list, and ask the basic philosophical question - which of these are necessary to debate? 

My guess will be that very few would be related necessarily to having a valuable, engaging, challenging debate. I would assume that many of the things you listed are accidental properties of debating. 

Now shift the question: How many of the practices on your list are necessary to having tournaments? I bet most of them. Most of the things we assume are debate practices are actually debate-in-tournament-setting practices. 

The next step is to try to imagine debate without tournaments. What remains? If you strip away all the tournament practices that you find distasteful, what can you have? What do you have? 

This system of questioning works well on a lot of things. I first encountered it when I was studying the works of Herbert Marcuse. In One Dimensional Man, Marcuse argues that a key restriction on thought perpetuated by modern society is the loss of the ability among people to distinguish between the "ought" and the "is." The inability to make normative claims is one thing - it takes practice. But not seeing the necessity to make them, i.e. seeing the world as set and non-fungible - is something very different. It is to the benefit of an ideology of practices that the realm where normative statements can be offered disappears.

This is where we are with debate. It seems that we have great difficulty imagining debate without tournaments. Which means that the ideology of the tournament has pasted itself onto our idea of debating. Perhaps this is why so many debaters have trouble appreciating debates that occur in public spaces. Public debates, hosted by many clubs worldwide, often engender the rhetoric among team participants or observers: "Well, if this had been a real debate. . ."

Real debate? Or real tournament debate? The elimination of conceptions of debate practice outside of a tournament model eliminates the difference. 

We don't have the luxury of something like baseball here, where "real" baseball follows from a set of rules that are maintained by a professional league. We don't even have the small comfort of something like mock trial or legal mooting competitions where connection to the law itself maintains some semblance of "real" practice that is not just the norms and ideology of the competition. 

What does debate have? 

We seem to have the reasonable person standard, which has transformed itself into the average reasonable voter standard, which is slowly and silently becoming the average reasonable debater standard - that is, instead of a public or simulated public evaluating our debates, it's a simulated private. Without some external check, the norms of debating become synonymous with the norms of tournament debating. 

Connection to something other than what works at a tournament is essential to allowing debate space to change to benefit the practitioners. To allow the tournament to transpose itself onto debate is to eliminate a number of possibilities for engaging, challenging, and interesting debate practices to emerge.