February 08, 2009

How to Win 2nd Place at a Debate Tournament

1. Sing a Christmas song
2. Make broad generalizations
3. Fearmonger
4. Remember that America can do no wrong

No, I didn't win anything at the Duke tournament I attended yesterday. No, I'm not bitter. One fellow, to whom I shall henceforth refer as "Sucks at Debate," or simply "SAD," did win second place. I watched him give a speech in the final round. I was not terribly impressed. What follows is something of a rant.

SAD began his speech by saying that Christmas is his favorite time of year, and we remember the lessons we learn at that time well into the new year. The message of peace is one of those. SAD then sang a few lines of some drippy song. Then we find out that the question he is to answer is what the US should do to facilitate peace between Israel and Palestine. According to SAD, we should do nothing.

SAD's first point is 'religious diversity,' which is always code for 'ethnic conflict,' which is in turn code for 'civil wars,' and is a convenient way for an ignorant Western kid to completely sanitize complex issues. He begins this point by discussing how America was founded on the basis of religious freedom, and people of all different beliefs came together to escape persecution.

Actually, the country was founded by a bunch of rich guys who didn't want to pay their taxes, but nice try. And I'm not sure "a couple of varying sects of Christianity" counts as "different beliefs." The Puritans came to America a) because no one took their crazy, extremist religion seriously in England and b) in order to tame the so-called savages that were already here. They were just a bit racist. Additionally, they thought religious freedom was ok as long as it applied only to their religion. Doesn't seem very noble to me.

But, according to SAD, those poor, backwards Arabs aren't nearly as free as we are. All of their problems are caused by their conflicting religions! In fact, the Muslims want to kill the Jews! And the Jews want to escape the horrible Jew-hating Muslims! And so there's fighting and stuff!

Again, completely simplifying a complex history. Contrary to popular Western belief, Israel and Palestine do not fight because their gods have different names. There are a number of factors that led to the recent escalation in violence: land disputes, poverty, etc. Religious extremism is ONE factor, and it is by no means the most important. And my jaw dropped when I heard "the Muslims want to kill the Jews." For one thing, it's entirely too broad a generalization, and it's false and offensive. For another, to paint this as a "Muslim-Jew" thing is completely wrong. It isn't. There are non-Muslims and non-Jews who were hit just as hard by the war, and talk like this only alienates them and makes them invisible.

SAD then makes an incredible, death-defying leap of logic and claims that America can't intervene because our religious freedom is distasteful to the Israelis and Gazans. They wouldn't listen to us because they're so put off by our democratic tendencies, so facilitating peace is futile.

The ignorance doesn't stop there. SAD goes on to say that we should do nothing because we haven't the money. Ignoring the fact that the only way to get out of a recession is to spend, we are currently sending out envoys to other places, like Pakistan. Sending ambassadors to a peace conference would be no different. And peace is far less expensive than war--if we're okay with spending billions of dollars on the Iraq war every day, we should be spending on peace too. Another bs argument.

SAD's final point is an analysis of a history of relations between Israel and Palestine. Basically, says SAD, they don't like each other. And so, for some reason, we shouldn't get in the way. Not only is this remarkably similar to SAD's first point, it's also blatantly hypocritical. For someone who blathers on about complexity and nuance, he's pretty willing to make blanket statements about entire groups of people. He concludes with another trite quote about peace. But the judges seemed to like it.

Which is why SAD, who shouldn't have advanced past his freshman year in extemp, won second place, and which is also why I tend to loathe the people in my event.


  1. Wow. Was that a pity award, or was #3 that much worse?

    "The Muslims want to kill the Jews." Is that verbatim? And we don't have the money for peace? Are you sure he didn't also mention that these clearly culturally inferior persons squabbling about in the Middle East would discover the true meaning of peace if only they, too, sang Christmas songs?

    Was this a talk radio audition, perhaps? Or were the judges asleep?

    A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.

    Things should be less loathsome in college – although I guess I can't speak for Duke. (Oh, and Blue Gal sent me...)

  2. Well, I would certainly give you first prize in the rational thinking competition.

    Long ago in high school I won a couple of those competitions; but I found that as I got older and entered university and started developing more rounded and better-informed approaches to issues, I quite often lost out to the 'jingoists'.

    I liked your post very much. It shows the kind of rational thinking that we all would like to see in our leaders.

    Don't give up Lauren.

    (I'll just take one more line to thank http://bgalrstate.blogspot.com/ for pointing me to your blog).

  3. What was the answer of person in first place?

  4. I meant to come over here first and tell you I'm sending folks here to give you some encouragement. The last eight years should tell you the battle doesn't always go to the mentally swift. But the war is won by intelligent people who don't give up and don't get distracted. I love the title of your blog but I hope it's not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep the faith and keep blogging. I'm gonna blogroll you just so I can kick your ass from time to time. I do it because I care! :)

  5. i'm with blue gal on this. keep fighting the good fight.

  6. damn, when i was in high school, i always thought debaters were from another planet. their brains, at any rate, i thought were certainly larger than mine, and i just knew they were destined for far greater things than i. even 2nd and 3rd placers.

    and i was not far wrong.

    your own thoughts, your astonishing logic, thrill me and take me to way back when, and i pray you will go the distance. yours is a fine talent and i hope you never turn away from it or try to ignore it.

  7. thank you all! seriously, as a high school kid just starting out blogging, this is huge.

    @Batocchio: ha, who knows. and yeah, that is a direct quote...my mind, she was blown. sadly, it was a different event, and a (supposedly) highly analytical one at that (extemp).

    @tjames: thanks! yeah, the jingoists' arguments tend to be convincing if not well thought out. interestingly, i had just given a speech on Israeli politics, and how appealing to nationalism has won people over to the right-wing...huh. don't see any similarities there.

    @Frederick: the person who won first answered a different question, I think. don't remember what, though.

    @BlueGal: thanks for your support and for my new legions of devoted readership! :) i've been reading your blog for a while, and i love it! i hope i can learn from your example.

    @james: i am seriously speechless. thanks for the encouragement and kind words.

  8. You make me want to be sixteen again because I would so want to have you as my friend. You are thoughtful, intelligent and and cool. But you see, I am almost old enough to be your grandmother. Keep on.

  9. ah well, we can still be friends. :D

  10. Hang in there. I once lost a Lincoln-Douglas debate to a guy who wore the Union Jack a a lapel pin. He said it made him look and sound smarter.

    Guess the judge agreed with him too.