Its debatable…Speak Up!

May 23, 2007

And so it begins…

Filed under: Debate — bk2nocal @ 3:18 pm

The intercollegiate policy debate season is a lengthy one.  Some might think it begins with the first tournament of the year, others may say the summer institutes are the real start to the season, but I would argue that today is really the beginning of the next season.  Today the resolutions that will be on the ballot for the 2007-2008 season were posted. 

This year, I have to admit, I have a slightly different view on this process after participating in the summer topic committee meeting for the first time.  It definitely changes your perspective when you actually attend the meeting and see all the interactions that take place during the three days.  And let’s face it, three days is not a whole lot of time to construct a resolution that literally 1000s of people across the nation will be pleased with, but still the people come and try to make it work, only to find that, once again, huge errors have been made by all those participating.  But, I digress…

So, why do I think this is the beginning of the season?  Well, with this year’s ballot in particular, research can begin for the topic today.  Prior to today, we knew we would be debating the Middle East and some sort of constructive engagement with the Middle East, but beyond that, we really had no idea, and all of those were very broad terms.  Now, we have a relatively short list of countries, we have a couple of methods at most (one choice leaves just one method of constructive engagement), and we have a place to go and start doing the research.  For some, this is the best time of the year – no distractions from tournaments, just good, clean research fun!  For some, this is the worst time of year – just the research…none of the fun of debating for months to come.  But, either way, if you want to be successful, you have to get started on the topic now.

The topic committee is certainly not a membership of great reward.  It is an underappreciated, truly unrewarding committee.  I felt like I needed to be on the committee so I could speak from experience in the future, as well as have a better of understanding of how a resolution comes about.  The resolutions are always somewhat imperfect (three days does not = perfection unless you are a divine being), they truly exemplify the phrase, you can please some of the people etc…., and finally, they really can only be good, not great – a great resolution comes along every decade or so at most, and the rest of the time, good is the best that can be done. 

I also never realized the incredibly complicated grammatical challenge of writing a coherent topic that does not risk being hugely mis(re)interpreted by the community.  Debate resolutions are kind of unique in their purpose, and the traditional grammar rules sometimes only serve to complicate the process, but they have to be considered.

There have already been a couple of people posting about their frustrations concerning the list of possible resolutions, and I’m sure I will feel defensive and want to try to explain why their assumptions are faulty or why we considered their concerns, but in the end had to sacrifice some things in order to protect other things and how incredibly difficult it is to spend a short few days trying to predict the ways that a resolution will be utilized during an entire season by both affs and negs and protecting both of those in some ways.  But, in the end, I realize that we just have to let the debates happen for a year and then evaluate what we felt were good things and bad things about them and keep them in the back of our minds for future topics.  We are, after all, a group of less-than-perfect people doing a less-than-perfect job based on a less-than-perfect review of literature. 

I will say that this year I felt like the topic paper had mulled over and considered a number of different things.  It was coherent, comprehensive and well-written.  So, the fact that we did not stray TOO far from the original advocacy for at least a couple of resolutions and the fact that the authors of that paper were present and actively involved in the process makes me feel much better.  I definitely value their opinions about this subject matter much more than the individuals who have now done only a cursory search of the literature and have immediately come to the conclusion that the authors of the paper were wrong.  But, in the end, those people have the right to their opinions and I will do my best to hold my tongue, consider their criticism for future meetings (if I remain on the committee or just choose to participate in the future as a non-member), and try not to let it effect my self-worth.

It definitely shows me the problems with trying to be a representative of a body of people – the bigger the body, the harder the job.  Whose opinions do you try to priortize?  Whose do you choose to discard?  Because at some point, you have to make those choices – over and over again. 

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