This is probably old news too many, I heard this card for the first time in a debate I judged today (though I think I remember another old spanos email card floating around that said something similar) and I find it pretty annoying/ill informed. What do people think?
William Spanos in Joe Millers’ book Cross-ex (pg. 467) 2004
Dear Joe MIller, Yes, the statement about the American debate circuit you refer to was made by me, though some years ago. I strongly believed then –and still do, even though a certain uneasiness about “objectivity” has crept into the “philosophy of debate” — that debate in both the high schools and colleges in this country is assumed to take place nowhere, even though the issues that are debated are profoundly historical, which means that positions are always represented from the perspective of power, and a matter of life and death. I find it grotesque that in the debate world, it doesn’t matter which position you take on an issue — say, the United States’ unilateral wars of preemption — as long as you “score points”. The world we live in is a world entirely dominated by an “exceptionalist” America which has perennially claimed that it has been chosen by God or History to fulfill his/its “errand in the wilderness.” That claim is powerful because American economic and military power lies behind it. And any alternative position in such a world is virtually powerless. Given this inexorable historical reality, to assume, as the protocols of debate do, that all positions are equal is to efface the imbalances of power that are the fundamental condition of history and to annul the Moral authority inhering in the position of the oppressed. This is why I have said that the appropriation of my interested work on education and empire to this transcendental debate world constitute a travesty of my intentions. My scholarship is not “disinterested.” It is militant and intended to ameliorate as much as possible the pain and suffering of those who have been oppressed by the “democratic” institutions that have power precisely by way of showing that their language if “truth,” far from being “disinterested” or “objective” as it is always claimed, is informed by the will to power over all manner of “others.”
This is also why I told my interlocutor that he and those in the debate world who felt like him should call into question the traditional “objective” debate protocols and the instrumentalist language they privilege in favor of a concept of debate and of language in which life and death mattered. I am very much aware that the arrogant neocons who now saturate the government of the Bush administration — judges, pentagon planners, state department officials, etc. learned their “disinterested” argumentative skills in the high school and college debate societies and that, accordingly, they have become masters at disarming the just causes of the oppressed. This kind leadership will reproduce itself (along with the invisible oppression it perpetrates) as long as the training ground and the debate protocols from which it emerges remains in tact. A revolution in the debate world must occur. It must force that unworldly world down into the historical arena where positions make a difference. To invoke the late Edward Said, only such a revolution will be capable of “deterring democracy” (in Noam Chomsky’s ironic phrase), of instigating the secular critical consciousness that is, in my mind, the sine qua non for avoiding the immanent global disaster towards which the blind arrogance of Bush Administration and his neocon policy makers is leading.