Paradigm

The last post certainly stirred up the world a bit, but it didn’t unfortunately put together enough of a consensus to produce action in our nebulous, poorly governed and disunited community.  That’s a shame, because students will suffer for it.

The objections to a topic change came down to two categories.  Some defenses are largely procedural in nature; essentially, they say my objections weren’t lodged early enough, and the voting of the NFL member chapters must be respected.  I disagree; the governance structure of debate does not have enough inherent value to me not to give way to the needs of substantial numbers of debaters.  I didn’t pay close attention to the topic list earlier because I’m not an NFL member, I have no vote, and since the NFL doesn’t release voting figures — probably because turnout is very low, as with most nonprofit voting systems — I have little concept of what it would take to change the topic consensus.   Furthermore, in the days before the topic release, I honestly didn’t believe that a responsible educator could vote for that topic.  Apparently I’m wrong.  But I don’t believe there is a time limit on objections of this nature.

The second category of defense says we should face this issue and give it a platform and voice, and that it could empower people.  Platforms and voices are important, but this platform is ill suited to it.  We should talk about, and confront this issue.  I actually relish the discussion online about the topic, as it has certainly increased awareness in our community.  We should not, however, force minors to engage it in switch-side debate.  Debate is not about giving voice to your own opinions, because you cannot choose which side you’re on.  There are some victims of abuse who would like to, and should be able to, speak loud and often about this dark problem in our society.  There are others who choose privacy and would prefer not to fight for the cause.  We should respect both choices.   There are plenty of venues to speak up on topics of your choosing; we have one in forensics, called original oratory.  Debate is too restricted for such a live-wire emotional issue.  We should not be in the business of excluding people who feel they can’t talk about this issue, or even who could but don’t want to.  This topic makes them choose between their private choices, and debate education itself.

The process of topic selection strikes me as primarily focused on competitive concerns.  For instance, the topics are released in dribs and drabs, not all at once — which hurts pre-planning, but reduces the perceived advantage that “those who go to camps” have.  I can forgive that the process produced a bad topic; I don’t blame anyone on the committee or anyone else for not thinking about my objections ahead of time.  To be honest, it didn’t fully hit me until after the topic was announced and I gave it serious thought.   Wider exposure of proposed topics before they hit the ballot might have caught this sooner, but it might not have.

However, the reactions of those in a position to do something about them has deeply disappointed me.  Just as the replacement to the Islamic cultural center PF topic betrayed a lack of understanding of the nature of the objection to said topic, the responses coming from many of the leaders in our community, formal and informal, tell me that they’re not just respectfully disagreeing; they don’t get it.   A lot of the commentary tells me that many coaches at heart believe debate is  all game, no matter the subject.  The game, and the need to win it, trumps all; those who can’t hack it be damned.  The competitive instinct underlies a lot of the discussion; and its presence is why I object to this topic.  If coaches can’t separate that out in their online discussion of a topic, how can we expect minors to in the heat of a limited-time round?

I gave serious thought to leaving debate; maybe just for this topic, maybe just LD, maybe for good.  I’ll be honest, it’s still a possibility.  It grew in likelihood the more I read people I otherwise like and respect defend this topic in ways that ultimately assert that debate matters more than the debaters.  I do debate because it’s fun.  It’s not my career; I accept no money for coaching.  This topic is not fun.  Nor is discussing it in the context of a debate round going to produce valuable education.

For now, I think I’m going to add this to my paradigm.  It’s still not perfect, feel free to suggest alterations.  Feel free to also adopt it yourself, if you’re a judge.  Feel free to strike me because of it, because I don’t want to judge this topic anyway.

Some rules aren’t meant to be followed.

——

I've decided that in my own right I will not force you to debate this
topic. The NFL may be uninterested in reconsidering their decision, but I am
under no particular obligation to them to enforce it. Ultimately what happens
in a round is up to the judge.

Therefore, if both debaters mutually agree to debate an old topic of their
choosing, or any of the topics on the 2011-2012 NFL ballot, I will happily
judge that round. I will also give both debaters 30s for their efforts.

If there is no agreement on using an old/alternative topic, then the
affirmative, after notifying the neg before the round, may run advocacy that
addresses a topic about the core of the resolution -- vigilantism and self
defense -- while avoiding domestic violence specifically. If an aff pushes this
debate into non-emotionally charged ground thereby, I will not vote on topicality and I
will give the aff 30 points. The aff must only inform the neg; the neg need
not agree. Negs should have answers to those types of positions anyway.

If the aff doesn't decide to do so, then I will hold the aff responsible for
the entirety of the resolution, and will not affirm on PICs bad theory or
other limiting factors that attempt to box neg into ground where they must
risk arguments that offend or trip over emotional landmines.

If you don't like this, please do strike me. Every strike I get on this topic
is a gift, because I don't want to judge it anyway. If that makes me a
terrible judge so be it; I assure you, I would be a terrible judge for this
topic anyway, because I feel zero compunction on this particular issue about
intervening if one of the many lines this issue raises are crossed. There's a
chance that I may refuse to sign ballots on this topic; for example, if a
student simply cannot continue a round (which has happened in practice).
I don't really know what the limits are and don't want to find out, and
I'm willing to shower you with astonishingly liberal speaker points if
you help me avoid it.

The silent

There’s a kid on your team.  He’s a sophomore who did really well in his novice year.  He came close to breaking at a finals bid tournament last week; just missed on speaks.  He’s active and engaged in practice, and helps his teammates out.  He loves debate, signs up for every tournament, and helps his teammates cut cards and write cases.  In brainstorming sessions, he’s the one you have to restrain, to give others the chance to participate too, even though his ideas are admittedly usually better.

Today, that kid doesn’t speak.  His parents are divorced after three years of his mother using too much makeup to cover the marks.  His father is wealthy, but his family now struggles to get by, because his mother chose safety over prosperity.  She didn’t do it on her own account; she only mustered the bravery to leave when the father started to hit her son, too.

Debate was his outlet, his way of expressing himself.  Now he can’t open his mouth without risking tears.  So today, he is silent.  Tomorrow, he will drop from the next tournament; sorry, something came up.  Next year, he’ll be one of those kids who just lost interest, or had other priorities.  It happens all the time, nothing to be remarked on.

There’s a judge at your tournament.  She’s a senior in college.  She is a highly preferred judge who is regularly on deep out round panels.   She’s smart, gives good critiques, and usually the debaters she drops feel they were fairly treated.  And, like one quarter of all women her age, she was sexually assaulted.  It was at a party on campus two years ago, and was by her own boyfriend.  She told few people, and had to keep her assailant’s name private, for fear her father would be sent to jail after murdering the bastard.

She sits in the back of the room, listening as negative debaters accuse those who resort to vigilantism of moral cowardice and rights violations, because they need to cover the flow.  She listens to affirmative debaters argue that she is irreparably irrational and so should not be held to moral account for her subsequent actions.  She barely pays attention, because for the fifth round in a row, she is mostly trying very hard to not break down.  She’s not concentrating on the topicality debate; she’s thinking of that ex boyfriend, and wondering if she shouldn’t have spoken his name to her father after all.

And in the RFD, she is silent.  She has nothing to say.  Even the winner comes away baffled.  She uncharacteristically begs off judging early.  After this tournament, she will never judge LD again.  She’s graduating college, getting a real job soon; it happens, all the time.

Domestic violence is a crime that silences people.  Victims cannot bear to speak of it.  Family are your closest people; closer than friends, than colleagues, than anyone else.  We tend to protect our family’s confidences; and abusers hide under that protection, using the shame of breaking family trust to tie their victims down.  Victims carry guilt, and self-blame; they fear that leaving would break the family, that it would ruin their children’s lives for their own selfish needs.  They fear that even speaking out will cause the world to reject them, and their own extended families.  It often does.  This crime is silent.  Even when these long nightmares do end and people escape, the silence continues, because speaking of it at that point only stirs up memories of that shame and fear.

This topic is therefore as undebatable and harmful as the mosque topic; it asks some people to take positions that they simply cannot bear to take; and puts up for debate an area that the game of debate is ill suited for; the emotional content is too high, and the intellectual content overwhelmed by it.  But this attack is crueler still, because the targets are concealed, and may wish to stay so. You don’t know who that sophomore boy is.  You don’t know who that college judge is.  They are silent.  Millions of adult women, and more than a few men, walk around with this burden.  Millions of children grew up in houses that are homes in only the barest sense of the word.  If your team is large enough, it includes some of these children.  If your team is small, and fortunate, nonetheless your next tournament will include some of these children and judges.

But unlike most Muslims, the last group a debate topic called out in this manner, you cannot tell who they are, and you cannot even fairly ask.

The topic asks us to consider if domestic violence is so horrible that cold, deliberate murder, the ultimate immoral act, may nonetheless be a permitted response.  If deliberate murder is even possibly justified by domestic violence — and if it isn’t, how is this debatable? — why are its many victims, millions in number, supposed to keep their emotions in check while debating?  Deliberate murder is possibly in bounds, but hysterics because switch-side debate pits you against yourself isn’t?  And how can people make objective decisions, both in strategy and in judging, if their subjective pasts are so strong?

What happens to the kid who at age 10 dreamed of killing his father to rescue his mother, and now must excoriate his most private secret dream whenever he flips neg?  What happens to the college judge who felt so wrong in her impulse to seek revenge that she stopped herself in a supreme act of will, but now has that choice yanked out into the spotlight by an affirmative case?  And how can you ever know if the person in the back of the room, or across the table, isn’t that sophomore boy, isn’t that college judge?

Does the judge have an obligation in the name of debate to disclose her personal story?  Do you think she should put it in her frigging paradigm?

I know that sophomore boy.  I know that college judge.  Their details are masked, but their stories are true.  I know dozens others like them, inside and outside of debate.  Very few will speak out for themselves.  It’s not worth coming out as a victim and branding yourself with that shame publicly to make a point in debate.  So this topic, too, has silenced them, and banished them from an arena where there should be no silence.  We won’t notice them, because they will remain silent; drift off, leave debate behind them; they will appear to be part of a normal pattern.  And next year, we will again bemoan that few girls do high level debate, and wonder why not.

This issue isn’t about the circuit versus locals.  This uneasiness isn’t about wanting the targeted killing topic.   I’d trust a monkey with a dartboard to pick any of the remaining ones gladly.  It’s not about me; I’m not a victim, my parents never even argued much, much less hit each other.  There has been domestic abuse in my extended family, but not repeated; it was ended quickly in the one case I know of.  But I also know this topic will silence voices, silence debaters, and in doing so, just add more suffocating layers to the silence at the heart of the crime itself.  I want no part of it.