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Against Dogmatism In Debate by Joanne Park and Pacy Yan
The Opinions Expressed In This Post Are Those of the Author And Not Necessarily Those Of Victory Briefs.
Joanne Park is currently studying philosophy and mathematics at Columbia University and competed in Lincoln-Douglas debate for Archbishop Mitty High School. Pacy Yan is currently studying philosophy and bioethics at New York University and competed in Lincoln-Douglas debate for Stuyvesant High School.
The focus of this article will be the issue of dogmatism in Lincoln-Douglas debate. First, we will draw some broad strokes on the intuition for why dogmatism is bad—and what the current status of dogmatism is in debate. In order to do those, we will isolate what we find to be a key distinction between dogmatism and specialization of arguments. Then, we will develop this view by isolating how individual actors within the community tend to be dogmatic. After that, we will identify three individual reasons you should care, namely what we will call the instrumental, educational, and respect cases for minimizing dogmatism. Throughout the article, we will consider a few common objections in defense of dogmatic behavior.
We take on board that people are in the debate community partially because they enjoy the process of argumentation. They enjoy doing research about a variety of different issues, discussing competing areas of literature, and figuring out interactions between positions that do not have a clear answer. Liking debate has built into it a move towards liking controversy since, without controversy and disagreement, such an activity like debate would have no purpose and would not be able to exist at all.
A very boring kind of debate—and one that seems counterintuitive to liking debate—is if we only had debates about things we agree with. One step beyond this is our general intuition: there is something wrong and nonideal about a debate community that is filled with people who are dogmatic about certain kinds of debate. The “kinds” we have in mind are the different styles of debate delineated by argument or literature type—“policy,” “kritik,” “philosophy,” etc. The dogmatism we have in mind refers to the behavior of individual actors within the community regarding the superiority of individual kinds of debate over another. There are four different kinds of dogmatic behavior we take to be problematic:
Asserting, as if it should be taken as obvious, that certain kinds of debate are just more or less educational than others; or, that certain kinds of debate provide little to no educational value or that some provide lots of educational value.
Asserting that certain kinds of debaters are just of worse or better character than some by virtue of the kind of debate that they do.
Consistently refusing to consider the merits of other kinds of debates—or the shortcomings of some.
Making fun of kinds of debaters based on the kind of debater that they are with the implicit assumption that their form of debate is wrong.
This kind of behavior exists throughout every level of the LD community—and across the different kinds of debate. This behavior concretely shapes the behavior of many of those in the community: judges, debaters, and coaches sometimes refuse to or will basically never tolerate different kinds of debate. Many people simply refuse to properly engage with, properly adjudicate, and properly teach certain areas of literature or argumentation because it is not what they have preference towards. Members of the community—adults and high-schoolers alike—engage in Facebook flame wars and the demonization of other members of the community. Coaches and judges inculcate inflammatory and dogmatic beliefs into students over time. Some have even gone so far as to attempt to weed out certain kinds of debate. This kind of behavior, in our view, is on some level fundamentally incompatible with an activity that exists because of controversy—especially controversy over many issues for which there are not clear answers. It is an activity that thrives on openness, so bottle-necking the issues that we can discuss by attempting to stigmatize it or weed out elements is in tension with some of the values we consider to be central to this event.
For the rest of this article, we aim to provide reasons individuals should change both their dogmatic behavior and the behavior they have as a result of dogmatic behaviors. Before getting into it, we will first isolate an important distinction.
The Distinction Between Specialization and Dogmatism
Dogmatism, as detailed above, has something to do with repeated assertions about the merits of one kind of debate or debaters without proper warranting or adequately considering the merits of other kinds of debates. That is different from another phenomenon in debate we take to be common: specialization.
Specialization is defined as the act of focusing in and “getting good at” one kind of debate. Specialization is, for the most part, a product of complexity and the breadth of knowledge that is referred to in debate: it is very difficult to learn about all the different areas of LD debate and it is truly difficult to get good at all these different areas. Specializing is, in a broad way, aligning yourself with the kind of debate that interests you either educationally, strategically, or otherwise. You might choose to specialize for a wide-ranging set of reasons, including believing that the debate format you like is the best.
For the most part, we take the complexity of debate to be a good thing—a prime example of how this complexity arises is in the rise of policy-style and critical debate in LD. Most of us would admit that there are benefits to the introduction of those kinds of debate. Complexity is good since it encourages in-depth research, more critical thinking, and higher-level discussions. And, for the most part, we take specialization to be broadly value-neutral—it is not necessarily good or bad.
A way of understanding the difference is that specialization is mostly a self-directed act; you specialize based on your interests. Dogmatism, however, is other-directed; you hold dogmatic beliefs through comparing different debaters or kinds of debate. In other words, specialization acknowledges that you’re making a decision based on your opinion, while dogmatism takes those opinions to be objective facts.
Here is an analogy that will help with understanding the distinction: when you study at a college that cares about having a broadly liberal arts education, you are required to take a set of courses that often have nothing to do with what you specialize in, i.e. your major. These courses are commonly referred to as core or general education courses. Many of these subjects are not courses you are interested in but you are nonetheless required to engage in the courses to graduate and even more so if you want a good grade. There are no expectations that you will now adopt the content of these core courses into your major nor that you need to like the content of the courses. You are, nonetheless, required to take them.
This behavior is evidently all permissible. Not liking the content of the core classes and liking your major more is undoubtedly acceptable. You might even think that the area in which you major is more valuable in some way than the subjects you have to study in the core courses. However, this becomes very wrong when you take your preferences to be what is factually correct without proper warrant—and also very wrong when you begin to demonize other people for being interested in that of which you are not. It is academically distasteful if you, simply due to a lack of personal interest, refuse to take the content of these core courses seriously. It is generally the case that we believe that we have a duty to be respectful, recognize the possible shortcomings of our own beliefs, and at least accept a plurality of interests. All of that is compatible with specializing—and even with believing that your area of specialization is the best one. No matter how great you think your major is, it does not give you the right to condemn the content of other courses or the choices that other people have made.
The same thought applies to debate, especially if you view it as an educational activity. The academically and intellectually correct response to being subjected to learn things of which you do not have pre-existing interest is to “give it a shot”—try it out, engage with it, fairly consider it, and, even if you end up not liking it, respecting the right of those in the field to continue studying what it does. With that distinction in mind, we will now highlight the particular ways in which dogmatism is dominant among the different actors within the debate community.
Dogmatic behavior in judges manifests in a couple of ways. First, certain judges explicitly refuse to vote for a certain subset of arguments; these are the judges who write “tricks—no”, “I will never vote for condo bad”, or “If you read kritiks, strike me” on their paradigms. However, there is also a second type of dogmatic judge: the person who may not paradigmatically refuse to vote on arguments but will basically refuse to do so in application. Most of us probably know a judge like that: someone who says they aren’t opposed to voting for X argument, but basically never will. If you are having trouble picturing such a judge, imagine someone who, if your friends ask you how to adapt, you find yourself saying something like “their paradigm says they’re willing to vote on X, but that probably isn’t true. They have a really high threshold for voting on X.” Or, perhaps, judges who you know you will basically never win in front of when against an equally skilled opponent if you debate in a particular style.
Before we get into our argument, however, we will lay out two clarifications. First, a word of caution—there is a difference between thinking that you will never win because the judge would hack against the argument that you would like to read and thinking that you will never win because you won’t be able to beat another debater on something the judge is comfortable voting for. If you’re a policy-style debater who knows very little about critical debate, there is a difference between thinking that you’ll lose because the judge refuses to vote for “case outweighs” and thinking that you’ll lose because you won’t beat the K debater and the judge is willing to vote on those arguments. We are, of course, interested only in the former case. The latter is merely a question of skill.
Second, we do not mean to criticize judges who confess that they are less experienced with a certain style of debate and advise students to debate in a different way if possible. For example, a judge who did policy debate in high school may be less comfortable with tricks or philosophy, and a judge who did primarily philosophy debate may be less comfortable with kritiks. These judges are incredibly common, mostly due to the specialization point we outlined above: if, as debaters, individuals tend to pursue certain types of debate over others, it is only natural that that knowledge disparity exists after they graduate. The difference between these judges and the two cases we outlined in the beginning, then, is that these judges are generally willing to vote on arguments they are uncomfortable with if obviously won (i.e. in a debate that isn’t close). The latter category, on the other hand, refuses to vote on these arguments even if clearly mishandled or dropped. We acknowledge that there often isn’t a clear brightline for what constitutes “obviously won” (especially given that most debates require some level of subjective evaluation), but our concern is more with the mindset/intention of these judges. It matters, for example, whether the judges in question are making an honest attempt to be a better judge and adapt to the debaters or activity.
What is so bad about the behavior of judges who are genuinely dogmatic, then? The first kind of judge most likely sounds unappealing, especially if they refuse to vote for the types of arguments you enjoy. And, if you think that, then you likely feel uncomfortable with the thought that other people might rejoice in or support the dogmatism of this judge to refuse to vote on your argument. Furthermore, even if you personally may like the thought of a judge hacking against an argument you are trying to defeat, that personal victory directly trades off with someone else’s chances being harmed. It is indisputable that most of the debate circuit does not debate in the same way, so any dogmatism will inevitably harm a relatively large number of debaters. As someone who serves as an educator or adjudicator, it is wrong to impose your area of specialization on students in such a way, both in the sense that it is against the spirit of critical thinking and in the sense that it stifles students’ ability to find value in the activity. Going back to our earlier metaphor: it is one thing for a professor to explain to you their area of specialization, but another altogether for them to condemn you when you try to discuss other areas that you’re interested in.
Perhaps you now are having the following thought: what about the second kind of judge, the ones that are not openly opposed to arguments that they don’t like? Are those judges not better? We would argue no, because they are basically like the first judge, but with an air of being dishonest to themselves and others. These judges, in some ways, are worse (and much more common), for two reasons that we will briefly outline:
Elitism: this goes without saying. Knowing whether certain judges are truly opposed to certain positions despite expressing otherwise is something that one could only know from others telling them or from extended experience on the circuit. The more judges of this type there are, the harder it is for students who are inexperienced, just breaking into the activity, or lack connections.
Ambiguity: how do you adapt to a judge who isn’t even honest with themselves about their paradigm? There is already some level of guesswork involved with judge adaptation—what are you supposed to do when the judge is somewhere in between what their paradigm says and the opposite of what their paradigm says?
Another potential objection here may be “judge adaptation”, or that debaters have the obligation to adapt to the preferences of the judges, not vice versa. The argument that judges are justified in being dogmatic because debaters should learn to adapt to people who judge differently is, in our view, just a poor excuse for bad judging. Different teachers and classes have different teaching styles and formats and it is useful for students to learn to adapt to those. The benefits of such adaptation do not, however, justify teachers disregarding how their students learn best and what might be ways in which the material could be more engaging for students. In other words, the adaptation is bi-directional; teachers and students ought to meet each other halfway.
There is no reason to uniquely place the obligation to adapt onto debaters. It seems that the most plausible view involves judges and debaters adapting to each other. There are good reasons for this: first, if this is a good justification for dogmatism, then we are left with a particularly unsavory view of debate where debaters are limited in the kinds of things they can read. If one really wants to do philosophy debate but can only go to predominately west coast tournaments, luck is not in their favor. Of course, it is not impossible to succeed, but it is significantly harder. At the point where “judge adaptation” means being unable to read the arguments you want to read in many different rounds, something seems to be wrong.
Second, we think that judges owe something to debaters they are judging, even if it’s just out of courtesy. We take this to be a commonly held intuition. Debate is not about the judges; it should primarily be about the debaters doing the debating. Judges and coaches are meant to be tools through which debaters can do that debating. This is especially true if you think of debate as a business: debaters are the people investing money into debate and judges and coaches profit off of it. If we profit off of debaters, it seems as though we have a duty to respect what it is they want out of the activity. Why should you get to profit off of something if you do not respect those of whom you are profiting off of? Furthermore, even without the business analogy, we think that judges should, especially as adults, care about the debaters that they are judging, e.g. being cognizant of how they feel, monitoring the safety of the round, and being nice to them when giving feedback.
Finally, most debaters react to dogmatic judging not by adaptation, but by changing their prefs. In a world where certain judges absolutely refuse to evaluate entire styles of debate, most debaters are more likely to pore over their pref sheets instead of spending time modifying their prep. This undermines the entire purpose of adaptation, as debaters end up even more insulated than before—only debating in front of people who already agree with them.
Another objection here from judges may be that certain arguments simply do not meet their threshold for what constitutes an argument. We accept that, while people may have different brightlines for what a complete “argument” is, this still does not justify the kind of dogmatism we are talking about. Specifically, we distinguish between styles of debates and arguments within that style; for example, even if judge X might believe the “Good Samaritan Paradox” or agent counterplans are non-arguments, that does not then justify saying tricks or policy arguments writ large are non-arguments. Our case condemns views that characterize entire categories of arguments as being just good or bad arguments. We argue that any decision based on this logic should be justified with the merit of the argument, not the kind of argument you take it to be. In other words, you should not take it for granted that one argument’s badness trickles down to another; with our earlier example, the distinction would be that you can say “GSP is bad”, but not “GSP is bad so tricks are bad” or “tricks are bad so GSP is bad”. There needs to be good reason for you to generalize and the vast majority of cases probably do not count.
We argue that, even if it is the case that certain arguments may be bad (or not complete arguments), the burden is on the judge to justify that, rather than rely on pre-existing delineations of what arguments count. Finally, we agree that there is a separate, difficult question about how judges should evaluate arguments they may not think are “real”; however, that distinction is not quite the scope of the paper and making a judgement on that matter is not necessary to prove our argument.
Debaters tend to be dogmatic in two ways: in social contexts (through demonization) and in a competitive context (by refusing to learn and engage with arguments they dislike). Both are highly prevalent and—we argue—problematic.
Most individuals in the debate community are likely familiar with what demonization is and how it occurs. It has certainly become increasingly prevalent as the debate community’s internet presence has grown. With social media (primarily Facebook), a number of debate-oriented blogs, and even unofficial forums like Discord, members of the community have grown more vocal in their personal opinions about debate. While discourse over debate opinions is in no way intrinsically harmful, debaters have increasingly grown to see themselves as referendums on what styles of debate are “better” or “worse”.
When speaking about styles of debate, debaters are often more confident than modest. That is, they’re more likely to say “x form of debate is the worst” or “people should only read y arguments”, rather than “I’ve found that, generally, x style of debate is executed poorly”. Furthermore, these discussions are generally framed as a statement of fact, not opinion—even though they are very much the latter. We believe that these arguments are often unproductive, as debaters are inevitably going to disagree over which styles of debaters are best (because of their personal experiences and the specialization point discussed above). Thus, these conversations are, at best, useless and, at worst, drive wedges between entire groups of debaters, as denouncing entire styles of debate (and pronouncing them less intellectually enriching or valuable) either is or can be interpreted as personal attacks on debaters who practice those styles.
Personally, both of us have had a number of conversations with very talented debaters who argue that certain forms of debate should no longer exist and/or make claims that debaters of a certain style lack intelligence or skill. This is confusing to us: we all do an activity that’s relatively niche, and put a lot of time and effort into it—why not recognize that the others’ work is important and valuable? Not only is this behavior divisive, it also produces a culture of elitism: when groups of “good” debaters uncompromisingly argue their style of debate as the best, the work of debaters who do debate in a different style (who are less competitively successful) is discounted.
Furthermore, even if there is hypothetically a “best” form of debate, debaters are in no way qualified to adjudicate what that is. First, most debaters have only been participating in the activity for (usually) around 3-4 years. The LD meta is incredibly volatile; the popularity of certain arguments changes drastically in a matter of just 1-2 years. For instance, a lot of the high-level philosophy debate present around 2017 has declined in the last three years, while policy and kritiks have increased in popularity. A debater who started debating around 2018, for example, will have had less exposure to what good philosophy debating looks like, and is unlikely to have an accurate perception on the value of those debates.
Second, debaters are incredibly insulated in how they view debate because they filter their perception of the debate meta through their personal competitive experience. A debater who has spent three years working on policy skills will inevitably see policy as the “most valuable” for education, because that’s how they’ve gotten most of their insights about debate. This is best exemplified by debaters’ tendencies to see themselves as X types of debaters (e.g. the declaration that so-and-so is a “K debater” or “tricks debater”); thus, even when learning about other styles of debate, many are likely to approach that style with the understanding that they are already X type of debater. This is especially true given the regional divide in debate styles that’s indubitably present in the status quo: a debater who only went to Northeast tournaments will have a pretty different experience with how particular styles of debates are executed than a debater who exclusively debated in California.
Coaches, like debaters, also demonize and refuse to engage in positions they don’t like. We would argue this is uniquely bad since they hold an actual educational role in the activity, specifically for the students they teach. The majority of debaters’ opinions about debate come directly from the paradigmatic beliefs of their coaches. This form of demonization is similar to the kind we outlined in the Debaters section: speaking in absolutes, devaluing debaters’ efforts, and—most potently—deliberately omitting and/or condemning styles of debate from their curricula because they believe it to be less valuable.
This has become more prevalent as coaches, judges, and debaters from policy have begun to enter LD. At California bid tournaments almost half of the judging pool has a background in policy; likewise, many debate schools in this region have head coaches and assistant coaches who have done policy or continue to compete at the collegiate level. We certainly don’t take issue with this intermingling of policy and LD: policy and kritik style debating has astronomically evolved over the last few years precisely due to the influence of former policy debaters. Without a doubt, LD can and should learn a lot from the high-level, nuanced debating that seems to be a lot more present in policy.
Our concern, then, stems from the tension that has developed between individuals with and without policy debate backgrounds. Individuals who dislike the influx of policy influence argue that LD is “losing its identity” or denounce judge pools that have large amounts of policy judges, arguing against the mingling of these events. We have even seen certain judges who paradigmatically refuse to vote on policy-style arguments, telling debaters of that style to “go do policy”. On the other hand, some individuals who come from policy wholesale denounce a lot of the things that make LD unique, advocate for the eradication of philosophy or tricks style debate, and/or claim it to be the inferior event. This creates a sense of close-mindedness that further drives styles of debate (and sometimes, entire coastal regions) apart. LD is certainly an ever-changing, flexible event that will inevitably react to the policy meta, but it’s also an event that stands distinct from it. Trying to drive it in one direction only furthers demonization, robbing groups on both sides of the spectrum from valuable insights that the other can offer.
Why Should I Care?
Perhaps you’re reading this article and asking yourself, why do I care? I’ll still debate and/or judge and/or coach how I want, and the debate community isn’t going to change. While we agree that such macro level changes in the debate meta are difficult to achieve, we still think there are a couple of ways in which debaters, judges, and coaches can work to minimize dogmatism. Hopefully, this article has already motivated a part of you to care and that share our intuition that there is some tension between dogmatic behavior and the core values of debate. If you share the view that dogmatism is bad and attempting to be less dogmatic yourself is of little cost to you, then you have reason to try discouraging it. To cement that intuition, however, here are the explicit cases we give for why you have reason to minimize your own dogmatism:
The Instrumental Case
Our first case is the instrumental case—that becoming less dogmatic is of direct benefit to you and your personal goals and/or career. This is most obvious when we are arguing about debaters, who will inevitably encounter different styles of debate (and will have to beat them to reach high level competitive success). Thus, there is obvious value to start learning the nuances of styles of debate you may not specialize in. For example, even if you never plan on reading a kritik, spending a day thinking about and drilling how kritik debaters do the link debate (from the perspective of the kritik debater) will help you better predict how your aff debates against the kritik will go. If you practice going for an NC against util enough times, you’ll begin to realize how to most strategically defeat those positions as the util debater. But, if you prima facie reject those other styles of debate, you’ll never have an opportunity to gain these insights. If you practice going for a philosophical position a couple of times and decide that you hate it, that’s fine; at least you took time to expose yourself to how those kinds of arguments work. And chances are, once you learn the nuances of those arguments, you won’t.
We think this is especially important in the age of online debate. Over this past season, tournaments that were once primarily “east” or “west” coast tournaments have slowly lost that distinction. Because travel is no longer a relevant consideration, debaters and judges are free to attend whatever tournaments they want, which has, in turn, increased the diversity of argument styles at most national circuit tournaments. While both of us hope for in person debate’s return, this new trend in the meta seems like the best time to learn other styles of debate, as encountering different styles is more likely than ever.
For coaches, learn those styles of debate with your debater! The argument above illustrates why debaters who are less dogmatic are likely to be better; assuming that most if not all coaches partially decide to coach to improve their debaters’ skills, it seems intuitive that doing so makes you a better and more well-versed coach. Again, you do not have to coach every style of debate equally (though it would be impressive if you could)—just learn enough about those styles to engage and potentially even appreciate them.
The case for judges we find to be a little bit less intuitive, as there does not seem to be a direct personal benefit to judges becoming less dogmatic. However, we would argue that judges owe it to the activity, especially given many judges have been debaters in the past. This is for two reasons. First, we can appeal to what the role of the judge is: a fair and neutral arbitrator of a debate. We would argue that becoming less dogmatic will allow you as a judge to fulfill this role, as you are definitionally more neutral (and thus more fair). Second, most judges—to some extent—profit from debate. If it is true that decreased dogmatism makes debate more fruitful, it seems plausible to say judges are somewhat responsible for making an activity they profit from better.
The Educational Case
We take this case to be pretty straightforward: all kinds of debates are educational—yes, even what some may call tricks debate. Part of what motivates this belief is that debate is less fundamentally about content-based education and more about skills-based education. This view requires a longer, more developed article to develop, but the basic intuition is this: all formats of debate make obscure, debate-specific arguments that are often, at best, poor simulations of real discussions that people have in the real world. No matter how convoluted the link to a disadvantage is, how radical of a claim a kritik makes, or how counterintuitive some of the claims that phil debate promotes, we often accept those arguments as legitimate. This is not because we think of them as adequate reflections of how the real life analogues of those educational areas are, but because we think that it is useful for us to consider those positions in developing our skills in argumentation and critical thinking. Thus, we think there is value in figuring out how to respond to positions that are counterintuitive, even false, and that of which we do not agree with.
Furthermore, despite the apparent ridiculousness present in some of the arguments people make, we think individuals would be hard-pressed to really be able to defend a view that certain kinds of debate are totally devoid of education. For example, paradoxes, a commonly detested argument for being tricky, are a legitimate area of study within larger philosophical and mathematical literature – there are real people who dedicate a part of their study to figuring out how to solve, consider, and deal with paradoxes.
The Respect Case
If science is your favorite field of study, are you now justified in belittling, antagonizing, and demonizing the humanities? Certainly not—and we think that people who do so are, at best, annoying and, at worst, doing something really disrespectful. If you find the kind of debate you like valuable, that is not a good enough reason to scoff at the areas that other people find valuable. Even if you think that your field of study or your area of specialization is, in fact, the best one objectively, that still does not give you such a good reason.
We believe there are two explanations for this. First, there is reason to be epistemically suspect of your own beliefs that the field you enjoy is the best. To make such a judgement, you need some set criteria through which to determine what the best kind of debate is. Such criteria are difficult to come up with and probably requires some appeal to the intrinsic features of the activity. There is certainly no agreement among which criteria count and, unless you have a really good reason for believing in your criteria, you can see why we are skeptical. Even if we agreed that there are such criteria, the question of to what extent different debate forms meet or measure out in terms of such criteria is often difficult to determine and compare—and also subject to widespread disagreement. Different find different kinds of debate valuable and for reasons, many of which others do not share. Different people also find debate valuable for different reasons—many of which others do not share. There is a strong case here for plurality regarding the value of debate and the respective merits under which different forms of debates measure out.
Furthermore, we suspect that many of the claims that people make about the apparent superiority of certain debates over others are merely ways to hide the real reason they have this belief: they just like a certain kind of debate more for personal reasons. At the end of the day, is there really a fact about which formats are better than the other? Of course, we do not really have an answer to this question and, on some level, we do not see it as a worthwhile discussion to have due to the above-stated ambiguities and radical differences in beliefs. Our discussion sidesteps such a concern too: even if there is a fact about which is better, it does not appear as if we have the tools to make that sort of judgement.
The second explanation also brings into light why this sort of discussion is irrelevant to our argument—we are not attempting to make a factual judgement about whether there are facts about what debate is better. Even if there were, due to widespread disagreement, there is a strong case for respecting the rights of others to value debate and kinds of debate in different ways without significant interference from others, especially educators in the community. Not only should you be epistemically modest, but you owe it to other people to respect that of which they take to be valuable. If your friend has a teddy bear they find valuable for sentimental reasons, you do not need to find it valuable. It would be quite terrible of you to belittle or diminish your friend for valuing the teddy bear or to make fun of people who like teddy bears. People really do find different kinds of debate valuable and, in general, debate valuable for different reasons. You owe it out of respect to let them do that. Maybe there is a best kind of debate, maybe there is not. Fighting over Facebook and using backhanded tactics to try and artificially advantage your form of debate does not resolve that question—nor does it prove that the debate you like is better. All it reflects is your poor character.
Ultimately, we believe that all active members of the debate community should actively work to rid themselves of dogmatic ideology and behavior. It may be the case that you are reading this article and agree with our intuitions but are unsure whether you, personally, have acted dogmatically in the past. Many of you are probably tempted to point to debaters/community members on the opposite side of the argumentative spectrum and believe they’re the dogmatic ones. However, we implore you to engage in genuine self-reflection about comments you’ve made, conversations you’ve had, decisions you’ve given, and/or things you’ve taught. It can also be helpful to have open-minded conversations with community members who engage with a different style of debate than you do and reflect on the kinds of criteria you use to determine what arguments you do and do not like. It is likely that you, along with the vast majority of the community, hold dogma in some way or another; this article is not a condemnation or a call-out, but a call to re-evaluate your ideals for the sake of the broader debate community—and so you can get more out of debate in the long run.
Joanne Park is currently studying philosophy and mathematics at Columbia University, where they compete in both policy and APDA-style debate. They debated for four years at Archbishop Mitty High School in California, qualifying to the TOC, accumulating three career bids, championing the College Prep Invitational, and making it to late elims and getting speaker awards at several other bid tournaments. As a coach, they have coached multiple students to bid at the Tournament of Champions and help with publishing and brief-writing for Victory Briefs.
Pacy Yan studies philosophy and bioethics at NYU where she is a member of the C.E.D.A. Policy Debate Team, the Undergraduate Law Review, the Philosophy Forum, and CAS Student Council. She qualified for the TOC and received various speaker awards and Round Robin invites as a student. As a coach, Pacy has coached students to the elims of the TOC every year of coaching so far and has coached students to late elims of major tournaments.