The world of Public Forum is confronted this month by a particularly Lincoln-Douglas style resolution. The rez declares that civil disobedience in a democracy is a good “weapon in the fight for justice” or some such bombast. I rolled my eyes and realized there was major work ahead of us. Nobody around Massachusetts seemed to understand the November topic except for us, given that it was aimed at extemp-like squads. Civil disobedience, however, is the type of thing any PF team that’s an appendage of an LD team will have reams of background on.
So I trotted out the standard “Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau and oh I guess Rawls” social contract lecture, to give the kids background on approaches the LD types will have down pat. However, PF is not just theory debate. We need facts, and examples, and to prove feasibility to make our case here. Despite that, PF bans plans and counterplans. And the topic is limited to democracy, so we lose the Burma and Tiananmen Square examples. In democracies historically, civil disobedience and expansion of rights usually coincide. Nobody knows if the civil disobedience caused the expansion of rights, but nobody knows that it didn’t either. So that’s not very debatable; we don’t have evidence or even a way of getting evidence.
So harumpf. So aff writes itself, but what do you argue on con? You can argue that other means are better but oops, that’s a counter plan, and verboten by the gods of Public Forum. You can stick to LD style moral justification arguments on why citizens ought not break the social contract, but then if the other side comes up with one good concrete example, most honest judges are going to go for that first. You can start swinging around wildly and say the tyranny of the majority is a good thing, but good luck convincing an average mom of that.
The problem is Public Forum was designed in reaction to problems in other events. The founders of the event took a list of things they didn’t like about LD and Policy, and built an event that doesn’t permit those exact things from happening. Therefore, most of its rules forestall negative trends, instead of encouraging positive ones. But these rules and restrictions prevent more than critical, off-topic arguments; they also hamstring legitimate avenues of on-topic discussion. That’s not a good way to create a coherent event. PF shouldn’t be the way it is because of negative trends in LD or CX; it should be what it is because it’s good for PF.
We’ll muddle through somehow. Maybe we’ll come up with a clever way of imagining negative policy consequences to civil disobedience. But at the basic level I think the event as a whole could use some fine tuning, with the security needed to allow the students leeway to debate the issues fully.
I don’t like the coinflip either. But that’s another post.