The Bastardization of Debate

I hold a very romanticized fantasy of debate. It is an ideal in which debaters do not debate for ego, a win record, or any other pigheaded reason; but rather, an ideal in which debaters debate in order to seek clearer truth and more accurate focus. It is, as the word “ideal” suggests, a dream. But a dream, nonetheless, that must be struggled for.

Debate competitions exemplify the many problems of modern debate, because the very essence of competitions signifies that both sides of an argument are debatable, and that both sides are equally weighted.1 Close equilibrium may be so for certain topics, but who are the managers of debate tournaments to say?

Socrates, the man who first formed the idea of debate, would have been disgusted by debate tournaments had he lived to today. He believed that arguments held different weights, and that one had to carefully analyze every premise and every conclusion to every idea brought forth in a discussion.

Modern debate scoffs at Socrates. Peculiarities allow debaters to counter arguments in general, close-enough fallacies; time constraints allow for clever wordings and circumlocution; and eye contact, speaking ability, and tone of voice are carefully watched. Shouldn’t the weight of a contention alone dictate the merit of a position?

But perhaps the most bastardizing form of debate is presidential debates. Presidential candidates should be the examples, showing us how to clearly think and how to use logic properly. They should be the epitomes of good debate conduct. But they are not. They slander their opponents, lie, and create statistics out of thin air.

It illustrates my deep fear: Even at the very top, debate has been corrupted.

1 Debaters are not even expected to believe in the position they vouch for. That is nothing short of absurd.


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