Sunday, January 07, 2007

my love-hate relationship with debate

Most of this weekend was spent judging at the Cal State Fullerton High School Speech and Debate Tournament. In high school I competed in a number of events (mainly original advocacy, foreign extemp and policy) but my coaches and friends in forensics could easily tell that my passion lied in debate. Unless you're a cx debater, it's difficult to explain because debate in itself is its own world. The activity changed my life. It opened doors to countless perspectives of politics and academia, philosophers like Michel Foucalt and theorists like Cynthia Enloe, life--everything I learned blew my mind. I took so much from debate if only I could describe the feeling here.

It's difficult to talk about debate to non-debaters. People don't believe me when I tell them that there are debate camps. It's a scary thought, actually. High school students should be enjoying their summers in the woods, running around, hiking, swimming, doing frivilous nonsense, not stuck in a classroom researching, writing, and debating. But debate was in my blood and so I did. And I was hooked. The summer of my junior year was spent at three different camps in Austin, Flagstaff and San Marino. I remember after I came home from UTNIF my friends and family threw me a surprise party to celebrate my sweet 16, and that same day I had to leave to catch the train for CDE in Arizona. It was hectic and I was so consumed, and not even that good (I can't even begin to talk about my infatuation for such great debaters). The work was rigorous and sometimes I fell behind, but the intellectual stimulation that I got from debate was out of this world and that's what I loved.

At the same time I hate debate because of its elitism. Only those debaters with money can afford to attend camp (the really good ones, for that matter) and travel and attend tournaments because fees are ridiculously expensive and not always a short bus ride away. So much paper gets wasted for evidence that rarely even gets read, and it's tough to find a coach, most of whom are starving college students who hate to commute unless they're getting paid big bucks for their time. At tournaments you wake up early and stay up late, go to rounds, "spread" (debate jargon for reading aloud so fast it's uncomprehensible) and claim to solve for nuclear proliferation. It makes you feel good, like you're saving the world. Very realistic, not.

Having spent your entire summer at some elite college prepping for the coming year's resolution, you're overwhelmed with knowledge and unfortunately, conceit. There are those debaters --the ones with their tubs stacked high atop a skateboard, donned in birkenstocks and their hair, uncombed. You sense they know everything about the world and only they have the solution to solve it. They easily clear prelims with a 6-0 record and have their bids to the TOC. Yup, and you love and hate 'em, or at least I did.

One round that stands out in particualr from this tournament was between two teams who were more or less JV level. The aff plan advocated extending the number of coast guards in the US; the neg countered with a militarism kritik. The need to analyze the construction of the military, its heirarchy, creation of the "enemy," and system of perpetual violence. This made me think, why is it that names like "sissies" get thrown at male soldiers, so as to put their"manhood" on the line so that they can "toughen" up, and yet demean women at the same time. Why is it that we have a don't ask-don't tell policy of military personal's sexual orientation, or why women serving in the military are threatened to be reported of being lesbian and thrown out of service if they don't consent to sexual intercourse by a male counterpart. Gay/lesbian-baiting, it's called. This sort of violence and domination transcends the military to every day society. I was watching Wedding Crashers this morning and as much as I laughed, it bugged me that Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn were calling each other "pussies." I don't find that sort of stuff funny.

I don't agree with war or the use of violence. Some call that being a pacificist, but to me, appeasing isn't my ideal either. I want peace but I'm unsure of what that's supposed to be like, and I don't think it's the opposite of war. Inbetween needs to be some sort of communication, dialogue. Too easily we resort to violence or the thought of it. And I'm just as guilty as a bit earlier my little sister, Brittney, was rushing me to drive her to cheer practice. I was fustrated with it all and said under my breath in the midst of wanting to do three things at the same time that I was going to slap her in the face, even though I would never lay a hand on her. That fustrated me even more.

Reflecting on debate, what captivated me was not the point of arguing against your opponent, but rather it's being able to exchange varying viewpoints, conversing in the real world. Debate opens a space to talk about why things are the way they are, and come up with solutions. Oh, the power of discourse!

The car ride with Britt was a silent one for the most part. I wanted to apologize for my uncalled-for behavior, instead, I asked her if she was excited for school to start again. Poor sort of communication on my part.

Hmm, I think I know what to do when I pick her up. Maybe it'll be easier if I take her to get some frozen yogurt at 21 Choices.

And that sort of explains my love-hate relationship with debate. I never said it was easy.


Anonymous said...

this is why it would be really nice to marry a special, non-arrogant, really crazy debater

and i watched your policy team at quarters with felix, damien took the round 2-1, but i didn't really agree--but then again, i don't do policy, so who knows

we'll talk someday, bye connie!

Anonymous said...

pshhhh Damien totally dominated that round, what you talkin about playa?

Connie Chung said...

damien won?! you're joking me!
aww, i need to console my bellarmine boys, carl and terry.