The Corrosion of High School Debate—And How It Mirrors American Politics

Not exactly. Then it becomes “my data can beat up your data.” On any problem of substance that people are going to strongly disagree about over time, shit is not easy, and there are no clear easy answers that data immediately points to. And people who do think there are easy answers are, uh … kind of the problem?

1 Like

It’s more “the replicability and applicability of my data can beat your data”.

Science is ultimately tested by empiricism; although non-scientific biases can exert strong influence in the short term, in the longer term flawed findings are excluded by reality.

Scientists who base future experiments on prior errors find that their experiments don’t work properly; this creates a selective pressure towards the more accurate theory over the long term. That’s what eventually killed phlogiston theory; it made it impossible to do advanced chemistry successfully.

Longino’s Science as Social Knowledge is the standard modern book on this. It’s good stuff.


But debate is almost never a good way of finding the right answer. It’s a good way of distributing the right answer, but getting it in the first place requires other methods.

They’re perenially troublesome, but they aren’t the source of the current problem.

The current problem is fascism. To which there are answers, but they are very much not easy.

1 Like

I find this semantically pointless. Someone having the right answer but no one else believing them is a “tree falls in the forest” situation. The history of science is full of correct people like Galileo without the ability to convince everyone else, and people like Aristotle, who was wrong about much, but was so convincing everyone thought he was right for nearly 2000 years. Distribution is arguably at least as important as discovery.

Indeed. While I was watching “Stranger Things” with my SO, who has never played D&D, the opening scene where they almost finish a campaign in 12 hours, I made a brief footnote that 12 hours is a pretty good accomplishment and these kids clearly have their shit together.


My pet theory about many conservative, Libertarian and Objectivist leaders is that a lot of them are bitter high school debate club nerds and failed student council presidents getting their revenge on all the “cool kids” and girls who didn’t recognise their intellectual superiority (or, in reality, saw them for the arrogant pricks they were). “I’ll show them,” they think, and proceed to turn their rhetorical training toward a political career designed to make the “Coastal elites” and other “lesser and undeserving” people as miserable as possible.

Prime examples include Newt Gingrich, Stephen Miller, and Ted Cruz. You could see Cruz’s inner debate club nerd come out during the GOP primary debates, where he was treating the moderators as if they were judges who could hand him a win and giving little thought to the studio or home audiences.


I still take umbrage at the implication that Policy Debate is currently intended to be an accurate portrayal of public debate. I also contend that the current strategies are at least 30 years old at this point, and represent an entrenched and conscious effort to keep things that way.

It’s a game with rules and a win-condition. Ergo, it has a meta-game to how it’s played that may not make sense to people who don’t play the game a lot. All games with significant organized play develop a meta. Check out chess and football for more examples.

I agree that this particular meta is toxic to teams without access to good research sources and lots of time to prep (we had literal 30 gallon tubs full of folders filled with citations).

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.