Archive for the Manifestoes Category

The Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley Interview

Posted in 2012 deb(k)ate Oral History Project, College, elimination round, Know Your History, Manifestoes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2012 by Scott Odekirk


Interview with Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley conducted by Scott Odekirk on 2/13/2012 at the University of Texas debate tournament. Shanara is the first black woman director of debate in the country, a professor of communications at Pitt, and a general goddess of knowledge.

Minor edits were done to this article on 4/8/2012 and can be noted by brackets []

Odekirk: ok, really 4 general questions… the first one is just, why do you think the same debaters win all the time?

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: I think there are a number of reasons, there are some structural reasons of course – resources are critically important in our community, number of coaches, how much time you have to devote to debate outside of the tournament space I think is a really important one, so it makes me sort of think about Iggy and Ben, when they are not at a debate tournament, life is about feeding their families and getting through college. You know what I mean. There is no like I get home from a debate tournament, and I spend every day until the next debate tournament sitting in the debate office, doing debate work and being able to produce all of this research. It’s like when you get home, it’s like does my sister have my food to eat tomorrow? Do we have like the things we are gonna need for the next month, there is just soo much that has to be done, and you don’t have time to just sit and work all the time. So I think there are resource disparities, yes, you know, Northwestern may have more money than somebody else, you know like a smaller team. But there is even internal resource disparity in terms of who has to work to go to school, who doesn’t have to work to go to school and has time to just invest in nothing but debate. So I think those are some of the issues.

Odekirk: What do you think about how debate chooses the ideal debater?

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: That’s where I was going next. Right? This is part of what I talk about in the dissertation and what sort of formed the idea for the dissertation, was coming back to the circuit after 3 years. And, I came back after Liz and Tanya had finished, so I did not get to see their run. I didn’t get to see any of their show. I didn’t even know it was happening.

Odekirk: I remember sitting in those rounds, and just GOD!

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: I know! And, I’m so sad I missed it! You know what I mean? But, I was through with debate at that point, I wanted to be a scholar, I had no intention of ever being back in this community what so ever. Ever! Had no intention of coming back, this is a hostile environment. I wanted to be a scholar, people here didn’t treat me like they respected me or wanted me to be here at all, whereas people in the academy did.  And, I had no interest in coming back to this community, and people started to approach me and ask me questions about ‘what do you think about what Louisville is doing?’ and I was like well what? ‘well they said people like you are Uncle Toms, and black folks can’t speak fast’ – all of these white people. No black people were talking to me about it. Cause I had a bunch of white friends in debate. So, all these white people were like coming at me: ‘Shanara, I don’t like it, I’m sure you aren’t gonna like it’ they were just indignant. And, so, I was like: “what then? why all these white people indignant?” That was my reaction. My reaction was not “they can’t say that about black debaters” my reaction was like “why are all these white people tripping?” So I came to a tournament, and watched a little bit of the after Liz and Tanya Louisville show, and Deven was really young at this point, but at Towson. And I started looking at it, and went back and looked at some of the Loiusville footage, and I was like, ‘oh its very obvious of whats happening here. Black people are talking about race, white people are uncomfortable. And what was very interesting to me, is that the liberal white people were the most uncomfortable. These are people that I considered allies, right? And for them to be having this reaction to these students, I was like ‘something is going on here.’ And so, as I looked at the situation what I began to realize was how, in terms of whiteness, and masculinity, and class privilege functions in debate, is that we have an ideal. Right, an ideal debater that has to do with speed, and ability to argue, and very fast and efficient line-by-line debating. But, it’s more than that. Because all of those technologies that we identify as success in our community are attached to certain bodies. Right? So if our history of success looks like white men with money, right? Then the very ideal of what successful debate looks like is white men with money. And, that became a real issue for me. And it was heartbreaking for me in a lot of ways, because when I was a debater there wasn’t enough black people in debate for there to be like, for your entire identity to be about being black. Right, so you came in to debate, you were successful, and your blackness had nothing to do with it.

Odekirk: Did you find your voice in debate?

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: I found my voice in debate. And temporarily lost my soul. Found my voice. I started debating as a freshman in high school in the pilot program that later became the urban debate league. And we were 1 of 2 black high schools that debated on the Georgia high school circuit. And so going to tournaments where there were no other black people, and then the bus full of black people that we had just brought from our 2 black high schools in Atlanta going to South GA, and being first and second novice speaker, and first, second, third, fourth and fifth novice teams. Right? And top varsity speaker, and we were the only black folks there. We were just spanking that ass all through the GA high school circuit. Right? So that gave me this voice, I was really shy before then, if you had met me then it would astound you that I am the person I am now. I was shy. I was overweight young black woman from a black high school, with a working class black family. You know, but, I had a lot of support. My family were ex-civil rights activists. I mean, my grandparent’s house was bombed by the KKK when my mother was 2 years old because they were active activists in Tennessee. I grew up with this aesthetic of ‘you are supposed to do something for black people, to push us forward.’ So I always knew I was supposed to do something special. And debate became that avenue for me to do something special. It gave me my voice. But when the urban debate league hit my junior year of college, like the summer before my junior year of college. That changed the debate community in a lot of ways. Rather than just being a good debater where people would take me under their wing, I was an Emory debater so I had a lot of resources. I had the ability to be good. People recognize talent. Will Repko. I used to run up to Will Repko and hug him every time we arrived at a debate tournament, because he was that supportive of my career. Literally, hug Will Repko. Now we don’t even speak to each other, because the urban debate league changed the debate environment. When it got to the point where I was no longer just a really smart cool good debater, and I was ‘oh, she is our black debater’ because I became a poster child for the program. So by the time I was a senior, and at CEDA nationals my senior year, and Melissa wanted me and Steven Bailey debate together and the whole tournament was a buzz with the potential possibility that an all black team was about to win CEDA nationals, that became the context in which I had to compete. And when that happened it confused me, because I no longer knew if I was Shanara the real person, right? The person who had all these experiences, the person that did well at debate, and like these people I was really accepted. Or, was I the image? Is this Shanara the poster child for the Urban [Debate League]…right? Who are you voting? If you are gonna be voting for me, am as I smart as I thought I was? Or as you are telling me who I am? Total psychic split. Total psychic split. There was me, and then there was her. The image.  It got so bad for me, that by the time I finished my last year of debating, or got close to that least year, my last year of competition I did not go to class, any class, that whole semester. In order to be psychologically prepared to go to debate tournaments, I had to just, not do school. At all. And so, I was on the verge of failing out at Emory. I had to take a year-long psychological withdrawal. Which didn’t mean I really needed counseling, I just needed an excuse to get out of school without them failing all of my classes and screwing my GPA. And, so I had to take that year off. And during that year off, I spent starting my treatise on what was problematic about the Urban Debate League. That’s when I wrote and I coached for Emory. Now, I’m writing this, and I’m talking to Melissa Wade about what I’m writing. And, Melissa has known me since I was 13 years old, this woman took me under her wing when I was 14, and I stayed under that wing straight through. And, so I’m telling Melissa I’m starting to recognize that this community has caused me to have this psychic split, and that split made me start to think about what the Urban Debate League really meant, and what diversity initiatives really meant in our community. And, I started writing about it. And, Melissa’s reaction was ‘oh no. No, you are just freaking out, you are just a kid, nothing that you say is a legitimate criticism of what’s happening here.’ Which started my break with Melissa, and that started my break with the UDL. So, I stopped getting the phone calls that said “Shanara I need you go fly to Baltimore and meet with the teachers and administrators and talk about the program. All of that stopped. I was very quickly removed.

Odekirk: This whole network, like you said is a crucial part of your identity, so I know you’ve said to me a lot of times you feel like an outsider. Do you think that, debate can solve that kind of a problem, or is it intrinsic to debate?

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: I don’t think its intrinsic to debate at all, cause if I did I wouldn’t be here. I love debate. I believe in it. I believe in us as a community, that we can deal with these issues. What is heartbreaking is the refusal to do so. Not that we can’t. But, the refusal to do so. By people who I thought of as allies in this fight to do something in terms of meaningful participation in terms of people of color in this community. When it became clear to me that Melissa and I were not on the same side, it broke my heart. It wasn’t just Melissa, it was Will Repko and David Heidt. Right, David Heidt was my personal coach for my junior year at Emory. He stopped traveling with the NDT side of the top teams. He would go where they went, but everywhere we went he went. That was Melissa’s agreement. D. Heidt your personal coach. David Heidt does not even speak to me. D. Heidt doesn’t talk to me. So it is just astounding that the debate community was only willing to accept me when I was saying what they wanted to hear. The moment I started being critical of that experience they were like ‘oh, well you’re just a crazy.’ When I was standing up telling funders for these multimillion dollar grants programs were looking into and attaching to their debate programs, right when I was standing up and saying ‘yes, this program works, I am an excellent example of exactly what this program is designed to do.’ But then, later I got to the point where, remember when one of Edde Warner’s posts back in early 2000 where he was like ‘UDL’s are plantations?’

Odekirk: I definitely remember that.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: people freaked out about that! And I was right there with him. Because I understood that the UDL was a segregated space, and you don’t produce greatness through segregation. Separate is not ever equal. So, my UDL experience was getting to go to camp for free at Emory and Melissa occasionally sending some of the Emory coaches to come coach us at our high school. There were no separate debate tournaments. We started debating [white] people immediately. So, my rate of growth was quick. So by the time I was a senior, I was ready to go to anybody’s college. Good grades, good SAT scores. Got into Emory early decision, got into 22 other schools. I had over a ½ a million dollars in scholarship offers my senior year of high school. So all of that lead to Emory and the resources at Emory, and being who I was and being able to be competitive. I fundamentally realized I was in complete and distinct opposition compared to what the UDL students were experiencing when they entered into debate. And I had a problem with that. I didn’t have a problem with the program. I had a problem with the segregation. Segregation is never going to be equal and it didn’t make sense to me, and that was part of the problem, how are you going to talk about how we formed the program, and rather then people listening to one of the oldest of us that have come through this process and here me saying “no don’t end the program, but lets think about what we are doing, and for the response from the people who were in positions of power to be “Oh no! now you are out.” And, so I was out. Now that didn’t mean that there weren’t individual Urban Debate Leagues that I formed relationships with that were like “you were right about that” I had conversation with them and I continued to work with them, I worked for Seattle, I worked for the NY Urban Debate Leagues, and I worked for Baltimore. By that time they were developed enough that they weren’t under Melissa’s thumb or under NAUDL’s thumb enough that they wouldn’t refuse to hire me.

Odekirk: What do you think, if you had an idea, if you had one wish of what you could do with scholarship in debate rounds that could come to terms with these kind of like structural, the creation of scapegoats, the ostracization of structures, the symbolization of power, the reinforcement of power through different structural things. What can we do with our scholarship, or is there anything, maybe there’s not. What can we do in terms of our debating, to come to terms with this [ed]?

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: Well, step one is do some [ed] research. If your answers to Wilderson’s afro-pessimism argument is a Wilderson indict from somebodies book review, and that’s all you got to say to Wilderson you’re an [ed] idiot. You’re an idiot. You are an idiot. And so I’m astounded looking at debate coaches who I know who do nothing but cut cards who are refusing to do research! What the!? Where are we? I thought we were good at debate. I thought we are in debate. I thought we did research, I thought that’s what sort of defined our community. So you’re telling me you can’t go find the afro-optimists who answer the afro-pessimists? It astounds me. I don’t get it. So I think step one is; shut up about complaining about framework and do some [ed] research. There is black literature being produced every moment of every day. There is a whole area of the library, sections of the stacks, with relevant information that might be useful for you. Go read some African American history, go find the little out about Africa and Chattel Slavery and the slave trade. It is so simple to me that I don’t understand why the debate community is refusing to do research.

Odekirk: Yeah, fair.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: So how about we just start there? Step 1: do some research.

Odekirk: Yeah.

Dr. Reid-Binkley: Now here is the fear. If that was the only answer, the debate community would do research, but it would be just to cut cards and nothing really would change. So it can’t stop at research, but that is literally step one: go do some reading. That would really help you have a language and a vocabulary for talking when you are engaging these teams that will produce very good debates.  So when people say that they don’t think that what performance/movement teams are doing is intellectual, it’s because they have already decided that they are anti-intellectual. Whereas they are very much so intellectuals, as a matter of fact they are few of the debaters in our community producing scholarship rather than regurgitating it. Our very frame of reference on how to engage in debate is about the regurgitation of information, rather than the production of it. That is where I think we have gone wrong, which is also why we are not having good – we are not able to advertise to our administrations in a way that makes debate something that administrations really really want to support and fully fund. And the reason is because we made it such this isolated solipsistic game that people who are really interested in knowledge production don’t necessarily see their relationship to it. We are losing tenure stream jobs for debate directors in our community. The reason is because our community is becoming more and more disconnected from the academy. What we can do in terms of how we produce scholarship for debate, in debate rounds, is that we need to change our focus from the regurgitation of information that is already produced in the academy to an engagement with it so that we are producing new knowledge. So rather than saying the only way you can have a plan for what to do different with democracy assistance is to find what the USFG has already defined it as, and get authors who, you have to find a solvency advocate for whatever change you are going to make. So somebody has already produced that idea and gotten it into print. Stupid! Stupid. We are so smart, this community of people, I have never been around smarter people than the people in the debate community. That’s why I find it exciting. Because I’m really smart, so I enjoy talking to other smart people. And, we are just not making use of the intelligence, the intellectual power that is at a debate tournament, especially when you get to the top of the game, it is amazingly powerful. I have met graduate students and professors that are nowhere near as smart as some of our undergraduates their senior year at the height of their ability to compete. Just have not.

Odekirk: Amen.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: Given that this is the case, why are we not producing knew knowledge? Rather than coming at a plan as I have to have a solvency advocate who has already defined this, and I have to define this in the context of exactly how the USFG has previously defined it. I think we should be producing new arguments about what democracy assistance should look like and be like through the USFG. So rather than having a solvency advocate you would have evidentiary support to change parts of your argument. Just like writing an academic paper. If all academic papers were was regurgitation of someone else’s argument, it would never get published. The whole point of academic scholarship is for you to identify what’s being said in the field or around a particular issue and what’s missing from that, and then you do something to demonstrate why that thing that’s missing in that scholarship should be there, and you make an argument about how we need to expand our understanding of this situation. Does that make sense to you? So it doesn’t make sense that the ways we in which we engage in policy making is to simply chain it out to what something else someone has already thought of. When we have all this intellectual power, we should be producing new policy. That would be the change. That would change our very way of thinking about what the game is that we are playing, and what its potential connection is to both the academy but also politics. And that would create the space for teams who want to talk about anti-blackness or teams that want to talk about the defining nature of gender and how we engage in policy. It would allow all these different things because our very frame of reference for understanding what the game is that we are engaging in would change, it would open up fields of literature, it would make sense that people are saying we need a three tier methodology where we look at organic intellectuals we look at other scholars and we look at our personal experience, guess what, that’s how you write a [ed] academic paper now.

Odekirk: Strong.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: How about you just get with the program?

Odekirk: Its so obvious, but I’ve never seen it. You are so right, but I’m having a major ‘a-ha moment’ right now, to be honest. You are so [ed] right. Its also so been there my whole life, but I have literally never thought that, and.. duh.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: Yeah, that’s how I feel about it, like duh! Know what I mean? Then we have a much better argument to make to our administrations about the significance of our programs, we can start connecting debate tournament final rounds to what’s going on in public policy research institutions. What we produce could literally provide an entrance for our arguments to actually affect public policy because of the intellectual power our community holds. Why are we not making use of the things that would get our programs support? It doesn’t make sense to me. That’s why debate is collapsing to this very small small small society. Once that collapse between the NDT and CEDA happened, have you watched the community shrink over time? It just has gotten smaller. And it will continue to get smaller, because we will continue to disconnect ourselves from the academy. But why are we not in conversations on a consistent basis with our authors? Duh!? This is why whats happening in black debate. Is more fascinating than what is happening anywhere else. I’m really interested in Spurlock interviewing Spanos about debate. Im interested in the fact that Damiyr & Miguel, members of the Towson squad, me and some other black debate people got invited by Dylan Rodriguez to appear at the American Studies Conference to talk about what’s happening in debate and activism and scholarship around blackness in issues like prison, etc. I’m interested in that, because these scholars are like ‘woah, yall are talking about this stuff here?’ and they are like watching video links of the students debating, and like they’re on our Resistance homepage. I have created a Facebook Resistance page that’s private that all of the movement and its coalition members are on. So, I get requests, I put you on if you are a coalition member, Wilderson is on there, Dylan Rodriguez is on there, Sexton is on there, you know what I mean? And, we just…that’s what debate should look like. Academics should be participating, they shouldn’t control it, but you should be able to come talk to us in our theories about the topic. How about that? You don’t need to write evidence for you about the Arab Spring for me to describe to you why my work on African American culture and hip hop are relevant to thinking about what’s going on in the Arab Spring. I simply am teaching you to chain my theory through another example. That’s how you write an academic paper. You take somebody else’s theory, and you don’t just map it exactly on to what it is that you are working on. You have to figure out what the relationship is between the two. That’s the kind of stuff we could produce as a community, every year, on topics. We just are not taking advantage of that. And, in that process, because of how we have defined debate, it is exclusionary. We do have these ideal debaters who look like white males, white straight men with money and class, and those white men who don’t fit that, are few and far between. They often get up there, but they still is sort of like a little weird, because you don’t perform white masculinity middle to upper class in an appropriate manner, so they are cool with you, but you’re still freaky. We make those kinds of judgments because we are just so insulated. Our thinking is so small. Smaller than it what we should and could be. And, that’s my debate future. That’s my vision of what it could look like, my dream that lets me walk around at tournaments and be okay with the fact that supposedly I’m despised by the elites, higher-ups in the community, and people that used to be my friends, and that would speak to me on a regular basis and that I would run up to and hug, avoid my eyes in the hallway. Or that I’m not qualified to write about debate, but neither is Spanos because he was an outsider, but I’m not qualified to write about it because I’m an insider. But, Casey Harrigan, and Jarrod Atchison, and Pannetta are…there is no question of their qualifications. I’m sorry, I thought I got a PhD from the number one program in rhetoric in the country. I’m sorry, I thought that was the case. I thought I was a national award winning scholar, for my writing, published writing. I thought that was the case, and that would make me somehow qualified to talk about debate a little bit… but, clearly not. But, once your black. Once you say your black, then your biased.

Odekirk: you’re biased.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: You’re biased

Odekirk: Subjective

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: Yup, your subjective, your opinion doesn’t matter.

Odekirk: not objective.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: right, despite the fact that you are an award winning author and a scholar and you actually get published writing. Your opinion doesn’t matter.

Odekirk: OK, I just want to say thanks, obviously we couldn’t do this without talking to you. And, uh, you know, through out the course of these guys (LMU) run, and I’m just going to speak for myself, I just would like to talk to you more about all this [ed]. And uh… if something comes up, we may need to consult you.

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: You both should feel free to use me as a resource. I am a resource. The good thing the debate community has done in ostracizing me is to let me be available to coach the kids. I be with Towson, I be with West Georgia, I be chatting with Louisville, you know what I’m sayin’, I be down with Emporia. So it has let me be free to watch the movement teams. There is a synergistic relationship, I am the only coach that moves between those teams easily. Amongst on all their coaching staffs.

Odekirk: Feel free to move on to this [ed].

Dr. Reid-Brinkley: Of course, if that’s cool with you, I love what you do.



3nr’s Recommended K Article?

Posted in Manifestoes with tags , , , , , , , on September 4, 2010 by izak

I should preface this post by saying I have nothing but the utmost respect for Scotty P and it was one of my favorite pastimes to watch him in outrounds (which I had no chance of being in, of course) smash people with 50 Derrida cards in the neg block. But I must take issue with one of his recent posts.

The 3nr has posted a “recommended K article” regarding security studies. Full citation is Kolodziej, Edward, “Renaissance in Security Studies? Caveat Lector!” in International Studies Quarterly 36.4 pp. 421-438. While the article is a good read when you want to get to know the sort of structure of security studies and what it may exclude, there isn’t card one in the piece which could be read on the negative because the article ultimately assumes an epistemology whereby all of the concerns that the article raises about “mainstream” or “renaissance” security studies could be subsumed by security studies itself. In other words, I am not objecting to the article’s content itself–Kolodziej’s writing is clear and he summarizes his largely valid concerns about realist security studies lucidly–but rather its utility as a “K article.”

The article takes issue with a so-called “renaissance” in security studies proclaimed by Stephen M. Walt. Kolodziej argues that Walt’s proclamation “analytically…limits the objects of study [to the state and state concerns about security],” “normatively…focuses exclusively on American national security,” and “methodologically…restricts security studies to a highly restrictive and largely traditional array of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches [read: realism and neo-realism].” Now Kolodziej’s problem isn’t necessarily with realism (indeed, he claims in the closing paragraphs of the article that “realism is not on trial”) nor with security studies per se. Rather, he feels that security scholars have focused too much on the state (as opposed to non-state actors) and the threat of violence (as opposed to “positive sanctions”, psychological factors, or behavioral realities) when trying to come up with theories of war and peace.

The article recommends, then, five or six things that security studies ought to include when formulating its theories: it should be more accomodating to alternative visions of “reality,” it should be explicit about its behavioral and normative commitments, it should include more work from the social sciences, it should include non-Western experience, and finally it should let the problem determine the scope of theory rather than the other way around. None of this is really good as K evidence–rather, it makes up the overall argument for the permutation. Now, that doesn’t mean that this is good evidence–Kolodziej simply assumes that all of these concerns can and should be subsumed under the security rhetoric rather than arguing for the possibility of such a synthesis–but this is the working assumption of the article.

And isn’t this precisely what much of what Dillon or Der Derian or Campbell would critique? I can already see what Dillon would say, that this sort of move is just another demonstration of the merely technical virtuosity of the modern administration of life and calculability–including more things in the banalizing process of calculation doesn’t really ameliorate the impact of calculation proper (a standard move in ontological critique: changing the appearances of things without “making appearance appear”). Der Derian would probably say something Nietzschean about how this move doesn’t come from a height of feeling or a lightning bolt or something else pregnant with suggestiveness but ultimately leaves one wanting more (a standard move in psychological critique: that you’ve got the wrong feelings in your heart when you do stuff). Or Campbell might say something about how our ethical obligation to the other transcends the sort of “study-focus” of the article, that one needs no material study about how the world is in order to get behind this obligation (standard move of ethical critique: that you justify something anethically). In any case, the article hardly provides any good K evidence unless you count decent permutation evidence as K evidence.

The middle of the article could be “spun” for link cards as it outlines some of the shortcomings of realism’s exclusions of the social sciences, normative inquiry, and non-Western experience. However, the impact articulated in the article amounts to nothing more than “you couldn’t have predicted the end of the Cold War,” and one is already working too hard to get an impact from their critique of neo-realism if this is the route one has to take.

To all of these concerns about the content of the article, add the fact that its from 1992 and much better critiques of the shortcomings of neorealism have since emerged (i.e., critiques of neo-realism in its own right as well as critiques from outside the tradition like Dillon or Der Derian) and one wonders if this is really a K article to be recommended.

In conclusion, I offer better recommended K reading, especially for international topics:
Kelly, M.G.E. “Foucault, Globalisation, and Imperialism,” in Theoria 57.123, pp. 1-26.

I would also like to pose a question to the audience. The 3nr did a piece a while back where they tried to list good IR K articles and journals. I think such an attempt is a little facile, especially for someone trying to map out actual academic concerns about the discipline rather than mine text for cards. So I would like to ask: which “K articles” and books do you find particularly foundational to critical IR studies? Of course, Ashley and Walker’s work in the late 80’s/early 90’s is widely regarded as the seminal in-journal articulation of “critical IR”, but beyond this what do you think?

My final goal here would be able to create a reading list for people interested in the K. One would break up the reading lists according to topic and we’d have the ability to refer to the archive whenever someone comes asking us where to begin research on a particular K. So, let’s start compiling the first “Critical IR Research Archive”!

The post is not a lie.

Friends and Debate

Posted in Know Your History, Manifestoes, tactics with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by kevin kuswa

Toni is totally on target (in addition to being awesome)!

Friendships, people!  That’s a huge (and maybe the longest lasting) part of debate and cannot be overestimated.  Sure, everyone is getting ready for workshop tournaments, the college topic is now out, and the usual preseason excitement is in the air, but competition does not and cannot occur in a void.  Fight the drones of information accumulation and depersonalized indexing with some good belly laughs, a few stories, a break or two, and maybe just some mutual eye-contact of understanding that says: “yup, we’re in the bizarre experience together and we very well might be supporting each other and traversing this planet with each other for the long haul.”

In short, don’t get caught up in the stress and pressure, though, without stopping to thank your partner, your coaches, and all the friends that make debate a part of your life and the lives of others.


You all know this—that’s why you’re on this web site and working with others to improve—and you may have even caught “the bug.”  You are reading messages about “putting the K in Debate” because you love debate (or you like it a whole heck of lot).  Part of that energy and emotion is because of the friends you make and the people you reach and, once again, that cannot be overestimated.  It matters far more than the win/loss and can often be forgotten if not nurtured and cultivated.

Think about your friends in debate for a moment and give a little thanks to those nearby…if you do that every so often, things should go well.  Appreciation is contagious.

Kritiking is Debating is Kritiking

Posted in Manifestoes with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2010 by kevin kuswa

Ok, Zak of the “eye,” let’s roll.  These arguments do not require some sort of flight from clash or refusal to flow.  Let’s flow the “Kritik is Esoteric” post, a brilliant message by the way, and see where we are.  “Where are you and where do want to be in ___ years?”  Take Ode’s phabulous advice and jump on in….starting with:

Initiate the Liar’s paradox and lie.  It is not a lie because it says it is.  The point here is that the critique involves paradox—and it does.  The argument that “we need to jump out of debate” to understand our own positionality is a simultaneous call  to “jump further into it.”  This is certainly paradoxical, a conundrum of the best kind because there is no way out if you do not want to quit.  Do not quit.  Good Marxists work hard.

From the ability to lie about not lying, we travel through an excursus on self-referential action.  The snow is white because it refers to itself as Snow White.  This sounds too flimsy, too relative, too “we said it, therefore it is true” kind of feel.  This feel finds itself rescued, suddenly and provocatively, with the claim of the post:

The Kritik is Esoteric.

What?  Why?  Does this not feed those who would unfairly catalog the kritik and push it to the periphery, to the outside?  Those detractors need not feed—at least they should not feed on the carcasses of innovators who pushed the critique into the plausible, the mainstream, the non-esoteric. 

The Kritik is Esoteric…to some, Intrinsic to Others.  Kritik is Debate, To Kritik is a verb, To Kritik is to Argue…with convention and get up again and again and again to argue more.  Strauss to Socrates requires Socrates’ dying, being executed.  He had big thoughts and conceived of the picture and the frame, not the philosopher who is a historian of people thinking…

The kritik is Debate is Kritik is Esoteric.

 The contention here—and it is a good one—is that the Kritik has a “meta” distinct from the “meta” offered by counterplans and disadvantages.  This is a place tio stop and think and explore.  What is the “meta” coming from most counterplans and DAs?  Primarily the meta is that of an imagined policy-maker outside the room making decisions in the abstract, one of which is to decide whether the hypothetical adoption of the legislation represented by the plan is a good idea.  The “meta” of the critique (or the style of critiquing), by contrast, is that debaters are who they are.  Debaters are debaters and that is why they matter—the things they say are coming from scholars, students, intellectuals, thinkers—DEBATERS—and therefore matter.  The matter of things, things matter.  Debaters can make argument from themselves about others as long as the starting point is recognized.  Kritik is Acknowledgement.

This is the climax of izak’s wonderful post.  It is hidden but uncovered, silent but forceful: the chain of thinkers is not crucial, but it sets up the idea that critiquing involves a link to the debate itself, a process of assessing the consequences or value of “in-round speech-acts.”  Critiquing does not begin with a claim about something taking place outside the round.  This is basic, but revolutionary.  It means standpoint comes first and the question of what the government should do in some unknown future is secondary.   Yup.  This paragraph is key.

Now we back off and wind down, asserting a few more points but really letting the earlier ones digest.  Hopefully, it will come out ok even if it is more of the same.  Deep Ecology and meat eating are compatible if the meat is part of the cycle of life and death and interconnected with the consumers of the flesh.  Eskimos eating meat is different than the rush for cheap caloric intake through what we call fast food.  CAFO meat is not all meat, if it matters.  The point made and well-phrased, here: what do we do with this?  Doing is thinking is being is not esoteric.

Another hidden truth: the meta is the same, even the eternal recurrence of the same, and we cannot separate, nor should we.  Esotericism is timeframe, magnitude, and impact.  Account for these beginnings and start the steamy stream of lies.

This post is a lie if you want it to be.

The Esoteric and Critique

Posted in Manifestoes with tags , , , , on June 10, 2010 by izak

Critique is paradox. It demands that we change ourselves and yet settles for the ballot.

Let us consider the statement, “I lie.” Strange things happen in self-referential situations: if the statement is true, then it is false. Conversely, if the statement is false (here one must remember that this is precisely what the statement is saying), then it is true. Thus, one may conclude that the Liar Statement is true if and only if it is false. Given some noncontroversial assumption of excluded middles (i.e., the assumption that the statement has to be either true or false), then we can further conclude that the statement is both true and false. Despite over two thousand years of attention, philosophy is yet to agree on on a way out of the paradox.

A popular solution, inspired by Tarski’s Undefinability Theorem [see his “The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages,” in Logic, Semantics, and Metamathematics (Clarendon Press: 1956)] is to postulate that self-reference is a special case in classical logic. That is, the statement isn’t speaking about the natural world whose truth could be assessed by Tarski’s archetypal account of truth: the sentence “snow is white” is true iff snow is white (a strange parallel to the opening of the Tractatus). Rather, the statement is speaking about language itself—so the solution to the paradox is to assume that language refers to the world and metalanguage refers to language. If the Liar’s Paradox is a statement in the metalanguage, then it seems that its truth value is neither true or false, so the contradiction mentioned above does not arise (this is essentially a mangled and over-simplified version of Kripke’s argument in “Outline of a Theory of Truth,” inJournal of Philosophy 72).

So what does this have to do with the K? One cannot divorce critique from the context in which it occurs—there is always something negative and destructive about the process of critique, and this is the sense in which we can speak of the parasitic structure of critique. “Theory” was once the same way—it was a response to arguments in debate as they were formulated, and it destroyed old paradigms of evaluation and competition before founding more familiar forms of debate we encounter today. I don’t know if “Conditionality Bad” had to overcome the hurdle of the framework argument in its own heyday, but the K makes a parallel move: critique is not merely talk—it is talk about talk.

A distinction between arguments that occur in debate and arguments that occur about debate should therefore be drawn for the moment. I do not think that this is controversial—at one point, before the advent of “competing interpretations” as a whole framework for evaluating theory arguments, “Conditionality Bad” was more an accusation that the other team didn’t so much as say something bad but rather did something which should not have been allowed. Abuse, abuse! And the K? Zero-point, zero-point!

This is a long, rambling way to introduce the main thesis of this post: the critique is, by necessity, esoteric. I think that it is easy enough to show (in four short paragraphs, no less) that the critique is different from other arguments insofar that it is a meta-argument (an argument about argument). We can grant that other arguments like disads and counterplans are often supported by meta-argumentation (the notion that the winning uniqueness argument is the one that post-datesassumes the meta-argument that this is how we are supposed to value uniqueness claims), but this is a trivial observation as the very nature of argumentation is to sift out “poor” argumentation by reference to argumentation itself. What makes the meta-argumentation of critique different from the meta-argumentation in vanilla disad or counterplan debates is its esotericism. It is easy enough to show that, as debaters, we can both debate and debate about debate. However, what the critique is allowed to say is qualitatively different from what theory about disads and counterplans already say about how we should argue.

Enter the scholarship of Leo Strauss. Okay, only some of his work—I’ll “strategically” dismiss arguments like Drury’s that Strauss was illiberal and elitist. I want to focus on his notion that philosophy is esoteric. Let us consider Strauss’s conception of the birth of political philosophy: the execution of Socrates. Strauss makes a distinction between scholars (those of us who, while generally calling ourselves philosophers, meticulously catalog and reference the works of greater minds) and great thinkers (e.g., a Socrates, someone who boldly and creatively addresses “big problems”).

In his Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss maintains that in order to get by, many great thinkers have hidden their “true teachings” in their writings. This might be to get around religious or political persecution, or this might be a pedagogical tactic used to engage the reader in dialogue. In any case, the real meaning of a philosophy is hidden—and I would submit that this love of hiding comes from the fact that politics must be protected from political philosophy as the latter rightly engages those “big problems” which threaten to undo the masses’ fascination with prevailing political mythologies (and here, perhaps I am reading too much Nietzsche into the question—that the belief in progress Nietzsche encountered in his own time was soon to become yet another fable, and that the only way “out” so to speak was to embrace these kinds of fable instead of running toward the oh-so-deadly truth).

Esotericisms abound: Aristotle wrote the way he did because he feared that “Athens might sin against philosophy yet a second time”; Pseudo-Dionysus could not publish under his (her??) own name because of the radical nature of religion outlined there; Augustine had to write to give political justification for the fall of Rome; Descartes (and much of modern philosophy, perhaps) had to make sure to write a scientific philosophy with just enough room in it left for God (and into what strange shapes this God is twisted!–the principium individuationis, the ground of “practical” reason, Nature itself, one big-ass monad, Geist, even a corpse). Worse still, one can always find an esotericism if one looks hard enough.

Thus what the critique is allowed to say about debate is absolutely key to understanding what makes the critique different from other arguments. If critique becomes too radical, a framework argument can easily exclude it from accessing the ballot. If critique is too conservative, a framework argument can easily include the object of critique (generally speaking, the aff) so as to either permute or outweigh the critique. This is what makes critique different—it is not the fact that the argument has an alternative (that is a counterplan) or that the impact is about rights or genocide (that is a disad) but rather that the link is to something that was done in the debate round rather than to something which is advocated (the plan). In other words, if the framework argument does not apply, then one hasn’t found critique.

And this is a strange situation, no doubt, for a community whose mission is the clarification of personal values and the progress of argumentation in general. I am reminded of some old CX-L posts from a former Oak Harbor debater which detailed his/her revulsion at seeing peers eating meat after having read about the Deep Eco K. This debater also probably would have gotten ulcers after reading too much Lifton, but luckily a commitment to eating well probably prevented this. At the end of the day, these posts (which, as a novice debater, I excitedly read in rounds as “K cards”) mused on an interesting version of the Liar’s Paradox in debate. If someone read the Deep Eco K on you and one of the links was to the fact you ate meat, how would the judge handle this? Worse still, let us say that despite running the Deep Eco K you in fact ate meat (and, say, are totally unaware of critical defenses of meat-eating in the literature such at Plumwood’s criticism of vegetarianism) and a “performative contradiction” argument was made regarding the permutability of this link. How would the judge handle this? Nowadays, the personal lives of debaters are shielded from the ballot through the employment of framework arguments: the judge probably reasonably asks him/herself “What does this link have to do with the plan?” Despite all of the excellent scholarship done on the question of standpoint epistemologies, it seems as if debaters are rarely willing to bring their standpoints into the debate unless there is some positive strategic value (and thus the confession becomes just another appendage of the permutation).

I do not like the position critique therefore finds itself in debate. Truly radical notions about transforming not only debate but the people who participate in the activity are marginalized via discussions of the plan. Now, I understand that the plan itself is generally a proposal to change how people live their lives in the status quo. But herein lies the problem: as commentators on the status quo, we often divorce ourselves from both the way we construct and are constructed by the status quo. That is, one of the greatest assumptions of the framework argument—that it is possible to judge a debate round “objectively” in the sense that we could consider the round itself as a special or unique kind of writing about the status quo—defeats the framework argument outright. That is, if objectivity were possible for the critic, then the special kind of link forwarded by the critique becomes “more true” than the arguments made within traditional debate. Granted, this relies on the assumption that the critique’s link argument is won, but this is perhaps the strategic beauty of the critique (the link is almost always there—it is a matter of outweighing which is a problem) The permutation is just an apology for the object of critique, not a defense.

A strategic aside, then. Consider the situation where a straight-up affirmative runs up against a “performance” neg. Usually, on the permutation, the negative will say that the affirmative isn’t a performance (whether this implies mutual exclusivity or something is usually left for me as a judge to decide). This argument demonstrates the neg’s inability to come to terms with the theoretical implications of performance theories: if the neg is right, everything is a performance. In fact, one of the main internal links to the performance K’s impact is that certain performances are excluded from the banner of legitimacy in the status quo—so the neg replicates this structural harm of the status quo via their argumentation in the debate round. The correct answer should be that the affirmative did in fact perform their argument but that this performance is a bad one. Given the tension between making normative statements and the monolithic nature of the kind of links people like to run nowadays, I can understand why some would be loathe to make this kind of argument. It gets worse when a team like Weber State refuses to make their religious arguments about the other team—debate is particularly American in that we have a strange tendency to simply assume that “different strokes for different folks” is a ethico-political yardstick for evaluation. Weber runs the God K and the other team doesn’t think for a moment that their personal beliefs really have a part to play in the debate round. It gets worse still when a team runs a Nietzsche K and their opponent’s response to the “no value to life” contention is “blunts, bitches, and forties” (perhaps I am too jaded by what children think the value to life is nowadays)–and they generally get away with this!

To return to the topic of esotericism, then, the critique necessarily esoteric for two reasons. First, it uncovers the hidden truth of the object of critique (the link level). Second, it itself contains a hidden truth which must love to hide lest the critique become the object of political persecution (what OD calls the “assimilationist model” of critique). I am not advocating a return to the old equation of arm+brick+window… (though, given all the commentary on esotericism in this post, I wonder if I can even be taken seriously at this point). Rather, I am calling on all those so-called critique debaters to account for their beginnings, to ask themselves why they debate the way they do. Then, I am calling for more lies. Every critique should be called the Lie. Everyone should understand that when critique actually happens in the debate round, nobody is allowed to recognize it.

This post is a lie.

Defining Kritik vs. Practicing Kritik

Posted in Manifestoes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2009 by Scott Odekirk
my eyesWhat does it mean to “kritik” in debate?
The word kritik, like many words in debate, is taken from another context and made meaningful uniquely for our game. To really understand what a kritik is you have to see it in practice, or better yet, you could practice it. For me a kritik cannot agree with the decision-making frame of fiat. The first kritik was based on this idea (Mike Hester, another author of this blog, will write about the first argument called a kritik later). Too often, kritiks are explained as linear disadvantages with “complicated alternatives” that “counterplan in” uniqueness. This view is pushed heavily on the Wikipedia page devoted to the kritik. If this blog accomplishes anything, I hope it is at least a counter to the crap posing as information on that wiki page. Feel free to check out the drivel at Whoever wrote this is clearly a Cointelpro agent ( In any case, to frame Ks in these terms (I will hereby refer to this disad-counterplan way of looking at the K as the “assimilationist view”) already cedes too many taken-for-granted assumptions. The assimilationist view usually sees the K as testing the affirmative at the level of “what the world looks like after the plan passes,” much like a disad does. The assimilationist view expects Ks to “weigh” alongside traditional DA impacts, which has lead to the “this justifies nuclear extermination” line of argument. The assimilationist view treats the “K alt” as a sweeping use of “attitudinal fiat” in which we evaluate the alternative as if everyone in the world adopted the mindset of the criticism. This “alt-centered” approach to the K frames the debate in terms solvency (which is good for the aff), plan passage, and traditional impact calculus. This “utopian alt” reading makes the K highly susceptible to permutation and the ever-dreaded “alt-uniqueness-doublebind.” Most importantly it keeps the judge focused on meta-strategic decision-making (i.e. how best to solve problems at a societal level). On my view, any K which allows itself to be framed in such a manner is not actually a K at all. At this stage I will forward a basic, and provisional, definition of “the K”: an argument which criticizes the core assumptions of the affirmative in which the impacts are weighed outside the fiat frame. Undoubtedly this definition will change for me tomorrow, but this is mainly due to the dynamic and fluctuating nature of the K. Ultimately I privilege a frame-centered, rather than an alt-centered, view of the kritik (more on “working the frame” to come). The K does not gain strength from its definition as some arguments do. Just by defining the parts of a DA we can see its beauty. Part of its brilliance comes from its clarity and logical consistency (see Adrienne Brovero’s lecture on the Politics DA, it blew me away). The K, on the contrary, operates less by definition and more by practice. For the K: Doing Is Better Than Saying (more on this in later posts, from many different authors). This blog seeks to make the K rather define it; we seek to practice the K rather than explain it or figure it out.
How do I practice… practicing the K?
Really it comes down to one sentence, one fundamental premise, if you will. It goes like this:
Take up
The K is about taking up perspectives. The K debater seeks out new and different perspectives to take up and try on. We must be willing, when taking up different paradigms, to look out from each perspective at an entirely different world (see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). It is only when we do this that we can begin to perceive how views born from different methods of scholarship fundamentally clash. Even to defeat the K we must be willing to take up differing perspectives. All of the best framework debaters can only come up with successful responses at the second level of the debate when they have considered the critical arguments they face on their own terms. Those who are unwilling to take alternative perspectives up are waiting for the slaughter in a debate universe that includes the kritik.
Take up reading
The best debaters who run the K (and for that matter most of the best debaters) are at least perceived to be well read. Becoming well read cannot happen simply by reading online articles. One of my problems with the shift towards electronic debate is that it seems to undervalue books (here is where the e-innovators cry out in disgust and cite the effectiveness of questia). You have to read books to really become a well-versed and intelligent reader. Books are more in depth, they go into more detail, and they are supported by more research. It takes a lot more analytic knowledge (more on this later as well) to figure out a book than to figure out an article. If you want to get smarter, read a book. If you want to get better at explaining your Biopower K, read a book by Foucault. And there is nothing like the dead tree copy, trust me. And this isn’t about cutting cards. Reading a book helps you get smarter, which assists you in a K debate a lot, but it also provides you interesting examples and anecdotes that you may never cut but might be just the thing you need to explain a tough concept in the 2nc cross-ex or hammer down the case turn when you don’t have a specific card. Plus, a lot of our args are old; sometimes you need paper books to find them. Even if you don’t believe me, read a book.
Take up reading and writing
Writing is a skill too often overlooked by debate. Consider that there are two forms of knowledge: synthetic and analytic. Synthetic knowledge is all about experience; it is based on what we observe in the world. Our usual preparation focuses heavily on synthetic knowledge. When we cut cards we gather facts and quotations that provide evidence for how the status quo is and what it could become. Conversely, analytic knowledge is more like logic. This type of knowledge is about our understanding of how arguments and evidence interrelate. We use our analytic knowledge more in the construction of a file than the gathering of cards. This is also the form of knowledge most used in a debate round. Analytic knowledge helps us to better explain and synthesize our arguments; it helps us compare our arguments to the opposing ones. Writing helps us cultivate, more directly, our analytic knowledge. As a K debater writing skills can be the difference between a good speech and a bad one. Ks often times try to communicate complex ideas in the face of ready-made and well-trained concepts. In order to do this we must be skilled with turn-of-phrase, encapsulation, and rhetoric. A debater with writing skills can make intricate propositions about the meaning of life seem simple enough to vote on. Try this: write an essay about your argument, make it long, make it heavy with citations, and ask an English teacher to proofread it. Try this (one of my new favorites), the “Explain a Book Drill”: read a book, almost any book, find somebody and explain it to them in 7 minutes exactly, find another person, explain it to them in 10, find another person, explain it to them in 4, read another book, repeat.
Take up reading and writing for the purpose of revolutionizing debate

Some people I greatly respect disagree with me on this, but, I think any good K debater has to have revolutionary purpose. This can take many forms; the words revolutionary and purpose are laden with much baggage and a wide array of interpretations. That is ok. I have seen successful debaters who were radically committed to humor and others who tried to make debate a space for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is not to say that a good K debater ought not to be motivated by winning. Without the prospect of winning and losing we wouldn’t be here. But the choice to run K arguments (as your primary focus) must also be inspired by something other than winning. If all you care about is winning than there are host of arguments that are more marketable and have a more proven track record (once again I will direct you to Brovero’s DA lecture). This is also not to say that you have to care, or be some bleeding heart, a gamesplayer could be motivated to be a K debater by an unexplainable commitment to being different, or to see if something that shouldn’t win, can. In terms of debate, curiosity is not far from revolutionary purpose. In any case, some part of the good K debater wants to leave debate a little differently than it was before they started speaking.

Take up reading and writing for the purpose of revolutionizing debate, with the full knowledge of failure.

Look, having purpose is one thing, but we have to know our role. The assimilationist view is so prevalent because it comes from debate’s most basic nature. Debate accommodates; it continually tries to incorporate difference within its beautiful notions of clash (this is debate’s strength and why I love it). As Foucault taught us, all resistance becomes the natural compliment of the thing it wishes to oppose. Over a decade ago, Bill Shanahan told us that “debate is already dead.” Perhaps he is right. Perhaps we are only replaying what has come before, but this, for some reason does not dissuade me. We do this despite being called lazy. We do this despite having to justify the legitimacy of our methods. We do this because it is trying to kill us. And if we risk becoming debate’s underside, its belligerent compliment, than I (and others) will take up the challenge.