Aesthetics of Debate

First,  let me clarify cause it seems as if this being taken to an extreme.  At no point did I say do not read new affs.  I advanced a nuanced difference between one shot affs with lower quality evidence versus the merits of breaking a strong new aff.  If you are confused about the difference well… figure it out.

Secondly, I think Scott and Rajesh’s posts both deal with the purely competitive aspect of debate and less with the merits of having good debate, this leads to….

Lastly- the fact that some teams do not have good strategies does not mean that others do not.  I feel like some people read pretty good strategies on various affs and discussions post the toc revealed others had decent strats vs affirmatives they did not debate.

Debate as an Aesthetic (Yes K people I’m familiar with a big word too)

Debate is a competitive activity, but so is playing Chess, Checkers, Uno, Apples to Apples and Monopoly.  The reason people choose debate is because it is something that is both fun to do and has a competitive outlet.  Would people debate if there were no winners or losers and no awards? Probably alot less… I cannot deny that the competition is what keeps manyof us intrigued and involved in this activity.  BUT the reason you see people coaching and involved in this activity for so long is because there is something special about this activity that differentiates it from other competitive things.   The reason I discussed at 2 different points the debate between Bellarmine and Westminster in the finals is because that is what good debate should be.  Its not just about protecting your house, its about having great debates not just in the biggest rounds of the year but every debate should have some greatness in it.

The slippery slope is this if we focus too much and solely on the competitive (breaking unsustainable affs or disads we know are truly false) without regard for the implications this has to the activity what will become of the activity? If debate becomes a race to the ridiculous with bad evidence being produced by the aff and neg we lose what is great about this activity.

I’ve been in debate for around 11 years now and have seen drastic changes in this activity, some good others not so good.  This activity has seen people poop in a bag, pie someone in the face, a coach drop his pants,  a transition away from the norms of contemporary debate for whatever reason they chose and the advancement of more critical arguments instead of just policy arguments, and finally…. the Internet.

We are at as critical juncture for this activity, the ability to access anything on the internet has meant that we can literally get a hold of anything on the internet good, bad , stupid, fake, credible, or no qualifications at all.  Within the framework of competitive success or maybe even external to it ask yourself this when you cut cards and produce files.   Am I doing something that betters this activity?  It used to be that the worst thing one would cut is an Op-ed and cite it as a newspaper that has drastically changed.  It is now our burden to protect this activity.

Balancing the educati0n vs competitive aspects of this activity is something we all struggle with.  I’m not sure there is an answer or perfect balance but it is something we need to think about when we decide what arguments to produce or read.  What you do has trickle down effects onto others.  Much of this one shot aff stuff started in college and trickled down to high school.

Some of you all will say BS Roy you are one of the most competitive people I know.  That is probably true.  I am not lecturing as someone who is high and mighty superior to you all (while its possible that is true in some instances) but my time as a coach has led me to changing how I approach debate related issues.

To those who believe Scott is gonna bash this post, he cannot he has already conceded. Scott: i dont think ive ever heard u say u yelled at ur kids for not learning, lots of yelling over losingme: well they arent learning not to loseScott: ahahahahah touche ok that comeback was pretty good, i concede

7 thoughts on “Aesthetics of Debate

  1. Rajesh

    The idea that debate could be better if we all treated quality as our paramount concern is an example of the prisoner’s dilemma. The ideal world would be one in which no debater cuts crappy evidence/new one-rounder affs and everyone has great in-depth debates, but that could only happen if everyone cooperates/no one is shady– As soon as any shady activity occurs, everyone else is by definition at a disadvantage unless they reciprocate. This is the same reason everything from arms control treaties to banning steroids in sports fail–human nature.

    Given that there is a Win-Loss ranking, speaker points, and no aesthetic point system, a change toward valuing the non-competitive aspects of debate is probably never going to come. For anyone to have an incentive to change, there needs to be a calibration of the quality of debates/evidence. But after viewing the reluctance to change even the dumb 30-point to 100-point speaks scale, is never going to happen either.

  2. Roy Levkovitz

    Rajesh- I will always act better then you dress 😉

    It is ultimately why judges, coaches and debaters need to take some level of responsibility or this activity.

    Judges need to be willing to hold students and debates to higher standards, ev quality and argumentation

    students need to be willing to push themselves to work harder and cut good cards, research worthy arguments

    and coaches need to push their students on the right track.

    There obviously is no clear path, but it is a burden we all face.

  3. Pingback: The Cult of Evidence and the Importance of Source Quality » The 3NR

  4. Layne Kirshon

    Throwing out thoughts:

    1. Impossible to do anything better than rajesh dresses

    2. I don’t think there’s any way to gauge (sp?) what “quality argumentation” is. For example, Jim Schultz punking people on “civilization bad” every round, while pre-determined as a “low-quality argument” by many people, definitely forces people to think in creative and innovative ways that has a fundamental educational value. Calum youtube video reference here: debate forces people to look at different issues in ways no other activity does. No where outside of debate can you have a discussion about nuke war being good. Even if many people think Spark is a terrible argument, the fact that most debaters can’t adequately answer it proves limiting what can be discussed creates a culture of narrow-mindedness. This applies to ASPEC, Timecube, Consult CPs, etc.

    3. Gonna back up Raj here on evidence. 90% of cards in debate are absolutely terrible but people will never stop reading them. Politics DAs, Consult CPs, and a ton of K literature have cards that are considered to be “awesome” relative to other cards but really don’t make a useful argument. People will inevitably use them though. I’m relatively sure the vast majority of debaters would rather get the W reading crap-tasitic evidence.

    4. I think a solution, if there is one, starts at camp. Too many lab leaders at institutes don’t take the time to adequately teach about quality ev/read the ev before the lab puts it out. One thing i loved about 7 week was how stringent lab leaders were in regards to evidence. JP and Dheidt would straight up tell u if ur cards are ass-tastic and would not turn them out in files and it helped me (and im sure many other debaters) determine what is good evidence. Camps that turn out 600 files are 90% worthless. If camps spent less time producing an amalgam of attrocious evidence and more time focusing on how to cut good cards, camp would be much more productive. I would much rather camps turn out 10 100 page files with all quality evidence than 90 200 page files where 80% of the evidence is embarrassing in quality and it would improve quality of debates throughout the whole year

  5. Bill Batterman

    I think Layne’s #4 is spot-on. The reason that #3 appears inevitable is precisely because the current argument culture rewards evidence over intelligence. If we can nudge that calculus a bit in the other direction, the appeal of reading bad arguments supported by bad evidence will subsequently decrease (because relying on those args/cards will no longer be as successful). I fully agree that impact turns are awesome and that arguments outside the mainstream have a place in high school debate; the crucial issue for me is the quality of the research done to support these arguments. Cards from comments, unqualified blogs, message boards, self-published “news” websites, etc. should not be presumptively accepted as “evidence”.

  6. Layne Kirshon

    another thought about community norms. kind of tangental, but w/e.

    The community needs to hold a much higher standard for solvency advocates for CPs, and even in some cases affs. Social productivity of argumentation is probably determined by the literature base supporting it. Alex Miles and I were having a chat about whether or not the states CP is a good argument and I think that for affs like RPS where Michaels and Sovacool and Cooper write articles refuting one another means that CP is good for debate in that context. But when people start throwing planks having the courts decide not to strike it down etc., it sacrifices discussion over things like the commerce clause and stifles research incentive. Affirmatives, especially at the TOC (probably on the wrong thread here, but ill make the reference), also have that problem. We debated a new aff nearly every round and almost every one had a plantext that was VERY questionably advocated in their solvency advocate. As a result, our 1NC strategy was always CPs with no solvency advocates and bad DAs and T violations.

    Basically, I think it all boils down to CPs and affs need to have specific evidence. Less bad affs and CPs would also allow the negative to prepare a lot more for things like impact turn and case debates which seem to be disappearing in the community.

  7. Nathan Ketsdever

    >>>Cards from comments, unqualified blogs, message boards, self-published “news” websites, etc. should not be presumptively accepted as “evidence”.

    I think Bill makes a good point. I think the emphasis on “unqualified blogs” is apt and needs to be made.
    Journalistic blogs, industry expert blogs, and even the CATO institute are far better than most blogs (although the agendas of each of the following can still be suspect for various reasons).

    I also think that its still a continuum. That all evidence is at various stages of qualification.

    Honestly…I would rather read a well warranted argument from Kevin Sanchez than a Washington Post article with just fluff.

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