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.