The time has come as it does every few years where I must watch most everyone destroy and mock the thing I've spent most of my life trying to understand. Debate appears to most as a very simple operation of placing facts on a conveyor belt and turning it on. The facts then go down the line and are delivered to the audience. And this is not just a model that journalists shill for. A senior faculty member of my university asked me in passing the other day, "What's more important in debating: Facts or skill in saying things?" As if the past 30 years of critical theory, philosophy, linguistics, literary studies, anthropology, history, economics, ad nauseam had not been pointing at this distinction as somewhat meaningless. At the very least, it's not a good starting place for figuring out what debate is.
Everyone seems to know; nobody seems to know. I'm reminded as I write about the recent long essay The Hatred of Poetry which I blogged about last month. The Love of Debating would be a good counterpoint title for a very small series about complex forms of rhetoric that don't get a lot of attention and are considered obvious in their means and method. I don't like participating in events around Presidential debates nor do I like commenting on them, but I feel a weird sense of responsibility to say something about them every time they come creeping around. It's almost like a stop and frisk policy for discourse: I'm pretty sure everything labeled debate is criminal on suspicion so I shake it down. Maybe not the best policy at all.
Tonight I have to type something up about the debates so I'll most likely link it here. So far I've been thinking about the value of these events if they were not called debates, or if we understood the media idea of debate in different terms. I am leaning toward calling them antagonistic epideictic events, much like Sydney Krause's famous conclusion to his research that these are "joint press conferences." This sounds like an insult, but is pretty constructive: Think of them as press events where the opponent is present and can engage with whatever is said through their own speech. This doesn't make them debates, but rich texts for us to judge and evaluate, thinking about how these people interact in situations where they are measuring response. It's the opposite of a campaign speech, and a nice counter to it.