Friday, December 01, 2006

Homeland Security thread

For those working on the Homeland Security piece, let's use this post as an open thread as we put together the article. I'd like to begin by working out two tentative thesis statements for the piece: first, an esoteric thesis that states what we'd like the readers to "read between the lines," and second, an exoteric thesis that states what the article, when read literally and unironically, should say. This terminology is itself ironic, as it was developed by Leo Strauss, the godfather of neoconservatism.

My own belief is that we should:

1) make it abundantly obvious the piece is meant to be read ironically (rather than trying to pull a Sokal-esque "hoax"), and
2) direct the bulk of the venom toward the "terrorist" debate coaches who enable and encourage the "extremism" of discourse in policy debate.

Here's a first stab at an "esoteric" thesis: As academics continually confront the right wing "liberalism enables terrorism" meme, the events surrounding the 1954 debate topic might be instructive in demonstrating the importance of free and vigorous inquiry in both debate and academia. Whatcha think?



cate! said...

here's a preliminary thought:

Damien's characterization about the performative approach as being over-conformity got me to thinking.

Zizek's explanation as to why overconformity is important is because he says that the law always allows for people to break it in minor ways (speeding, for example). if it were absolute, we'd revolt.

now, in 1954 the debate community was accepted as public discourse. its acceptance of taking both sides in a polarized debate made it unacceptable to the powers that be. in its refusal to bend, it exposed the Law to be an ass; that is, it showed that our democracy based on freedom of speech DE JURE did not actually accept free speech because it threatened the sovereign.

now, as debate has become an insular and privileged space, we can say what we want without being an actual threat to the Law. the "safe place" of the debate world by right should be the safe place for all speech in American democracy, and yet it is relegated to a corner and allowed to stay there only because it has not "real" impact on the rest of the world. it is the hypocrisy that allows the Law (as unaccepting of free speech as opposed to general american values) to thrive, the wiggle room, if you will.

the power of overconforming to the Law is that it reveals this hypocrisy, but it will only work if we dare to transgress the boundaries of our insular safe space.

the upshot to the debate community is, what is the point of carving out a safe space if our whole civic humanist raison d'etre is that ideally, DEMOCRATIC DELIBERATION means that all the world is a safe space? what is the value of speaking openly and learning from it if we can only do it locked in a room on the Harvard campus while the Ann Coulters of the world get to go where they please?

now, if people are uncomfortable with the performative aspect (which i am sympathetic to, but not without arguments for a more brash tactic), i think we can make the argument framed as "we should...." without doing it ourselves. we can even be reflexive as to why we did not just take the plunge on our own.

i also think this argument has space to be made without zizek.

a provocation,


Drowning Wave said...

To continue with the exoteric discussion, here's a basic outline of what might be included in the paper (liberally borrowed from Gordo's notes):

I. Question of what is sayable

A. Pose the question: What space is left available for views that don't conform to official interpretations of the national interest?

B. Historical analysis of how this space was restricted during the Cold War; fear of a "fifth column" during Cold War made some perceive "subversive" citizen speech as threat to homeland security

C. Parallels to similar trends in "War on Terror."

II. Role of Quirin, Hamdan, and military tribunals in struggles over what is sayable

A. Bush/Gonzalez legal justification for military commissions based on Quirin precedent.

B. Collective amnesia about this precedent; Justice Frankfurter's doubts about it, as expressed in correspondence with student.

C. Connection between debate community and McCarthyism: "debate about debate" on 1954 China topic, controversy over switch-side debating. NYT coverage and SCA involvement. Successful appearance of Duke debaters on Murrow's "See it Now" program, followed by Murrow's famous attack on McCarthy and subsequent censure of McCarthy in the Senate.

D. Former Dartmouth debater Neal Katyal is lead counsel in Hamdan. Appearance on Colbert Report reveals ways in which citizen rights are abridged by existence of military commissions.

III. Discussion of possibilities for current contest round debates on Quirin to have same effect.

A. Review of topic and how prison narratives, etc. attempt to challenge Gitmo, military commissions.

B. Engagement with Greene/Hicks' take on limitations of political benefits of switch-side debating.

C. Anecdotes about debaters and run-ins with homeland security concerns:
1. Damien's question to Ann Coulter and her response, "They have a right to debate, I have a right to call them traitors."
2. Marshall U. Administration's advisement to debate team to include electronic disclaimers about research involving incendiary language.
3. Ben Attias being asked to put away readings on way to Alta, followed by confiscation of materials on flight home and visit by federal marshals.
4. West Point final round judged by military officers.
5. Omri almost having his evidence blown up by a bomb squad due to Hebrew bumper stickers mistaken for Arabic.

D. Intercollegiate debate as isolated "safe space" and how this view cuts against political efficacy. (Newman speech; Cate's post speaks to this well.)

Please use this thread to discuss what changes should be made to the outline, and what parts you'd like to work on. Before the end of the week, I'll be delegating individual assignments via email backchannels.

p.s. we'll keep discussion of the "esoteric" angle alive via email


John Rief said...


I like the outline a lot; however, I question our ability to lay all of these issues out effectively in a single piece. This is probably obvious to everyone, but I thought I would just throw that out there anyway in order to stir the pot and see what directions people are considering at this point.

I particularly like the collecitve memory (Hasain) and cultural technology (Greene and Hicks) angles given that these theoretical vantage points will allow for a rich comparison between the 1954 debate community and the 2006 debate community. The importance of the comparison seems to be the critical break with a concern over the public debates that parallel and inform the internalist / technical contest round.

I suppose that we need some kind of payoff other than the simple call out in the exoteric model. For instance, we might suggest that the public engagement of the 1954 example is critical to framing public interventions by the debate community today. The downside is that this does feed into Cate's analysis that Greene and Hicks seem critical of the civic humanist model of public deliberation of which the switch-sides technology seems to be a part. I do want to throw it out there again, however, that Darrin mentioned he is not so critical of this tradition as perhaps Ron is so there is definitely a way to use the article as a theoretical point of departure without accepting a complete rejection of the importance of switching sides and the models of public deliberation that might rely on this ethic.

It is interesting to consider the ways in which the switch sides model might change once it enters into the public. Instead of being a technology which enforces the practice of changing sides in given debates, it seems more like an ethic of engagement in which all sides are at least initially give a change to engage. It also seems to be at the heart of what we might call a Gadamerian mode of deliberation that enforces a ethic of interpretive charity by admitting that those on alternative sides of a public controversy has something to add to our own knowledge and the develoment of our own public advocacies (text-analogues). Don't read me the wrong way, I am not suggesting that we throw another theoretical intervention into the mix, I guess I just want everyone to consider the possibility of embracing, to a certain extent, the importance of the model of citizenship that debate teaches. We can choose to go a different direction, but why reject the notion that debate might have something to add to the deliberative techniques of the public sphere in the current moment. A recognition of the ways in which debate took part in a defeat of the McCarthyist distaste for open public debate and dialogue might open space for individuals to transverse the laboratory / public divide for positive effect.

Either way, if I were to pick a portion of the outline that I like, I would immediately point to the Greene and Hicks and collective memory portions of the paper.

Question: How are we planning to integrate the examples listed in the outline (e.g. Attias, Omri, Coutler, etc.) into a 2000 word piece along with all the theory we are interested in working through? Are we considering footnotes or the selection of one of them that we think is most effective for our purposes?



Drowning Wave said...

What if we were to think of the narrative arc of the article as follows:

Advocacy in policy debate rounds mirrors, and on occasion influences, larger public discussion on what is sayable. While some see competitive debate as a forum for broader social change, others would have it remain an isolated "safe space" where debaters are free to experiment with ideas without facing "real world" consequences. But as some examples show, there is no such thing as consequence-free debating; "national/homeland security" concerns continually impinge upon the debate community. The debate community should embrace and amplify student interventions into politics, with the caveat that we should be careful to avoid some of the excesses that Greene and Hicks point out. The technique of switch-side debating is central to this efficacy.

I see this as a vigorous defense of humanism in both debate and the broader public sphere, with some qualifications.

I also think this is eminently doable in a 1500-word piece. For instance, we don't need to give every detail of each example of debaters' encounters with "national security" interests, just the basic facts and some brief commentary to tie the examples together. We certainly need to concise, though.


John Rief said...


I really like your description of the potential arguments in the piece. I agree with you that there seems to be a tension between the notion of debate as "laboratory" and debate as "catalyst for actual social change." I think one of the questions that Greene and Hicks force us to ask is whether the technologies of debate (most specifically switch-sides) actually cause social change or whether these feed larger exceptionalist notions of American democractic deliberation. I think there is a way to couch our statements about debate that challenges the exceptionalist trajectory. What seems to be the problem for Greene and Hicks is the way in which the deliberative model debate offers is constantly utilized as a justification for exporting American democracy elsewhere ("changing one subject (regime) at a time" . . . etc.). However, criticizing the current configuration of the nationwide "debate" over national security by applying principles followed in the contest round seems to undercut this rhetorical gesture. In other words, reality does not fit the rhetorical maneuverings of the administration (something like Gordon's claim in the Team B Intelligence article as I read it).

I think that your brief mapping of the paper suggests that this kind of move is possible without necessarily accepting the fact that debate is the one true answer to the question. Rather, debate becomes a tool of rhetorical (or argumentative) criticism which helps to portray the current difficulties of adequately dealing with the national security issues we seem to be concerned about (erosion of privacy rights, freedom of speech, etc.).

As I said before, I'm game for dealing with the Greene and Hicks argument, especially as this links up with a criticism of the current configuration of the public debate about national security. I look forward to hearing your final decisions on the direction of the paper and the role that you would like me to play.



Drowning Wave said...


Thanks for bringing us back to the substance of the Greene/Hicks objection, which speaks disturbingly well to the current political milieu--the silencing of real democratic input at home in order to spread so-called "democracy" abroad at the barrel of a gun. This is something we'll need to deal with forcefully. I think we can make a good case that the total and devastating failure of attempts to use the American military to impose "democracy" abroad stems from a lack of democratic engagement (and particularly, the unwillingness of the corporate media to amplify doubts about the war during the run-up to the Iraq war), rather than us having too much pride in our system of government.

It will take a little bit of massaging to show how "switch-side" debating (and not just more and better public deliberation) is specifically relevant here. One angle: JUDGMENT is key in switch-side debate. When the corporate media simply reports "both sides" of a story in the typical he said/she said manner, the audience is left to assume that each side has equal validity, and that someone else will be the uh, decider. Instead of just saying "Bush says he has a strong case for war; protesters disagree," the media has a responsibility to exercise judgment and evaluate the actual case being made on each side.

This argument has been made a thousand times by media critics, but I don't have a good cite at hand. Can anyone offer one?

Other thoughts on why switch-side debating provides a positive model for public deliberation?


cw said...


I know that the 'both sides' argument is made by Deborah Tannen in The Argument Culture. It is also made to an extent by Ross Gelbspan in the global warming debate, and by Chris Mooney in the Republican War on Science. I don't have my books handy for page numbers, but could get them easily if this is what we are looking for.


cate! said...

Man y'all, check out what i found:

“During the winter of 1954-1955, college debate teams throughout the United States had assigned to them the subject: ‘Should the United States Recognize Communist China?” The topic was obviously a rather foolhardy choice considering the recent military clash between armies of the two nations in Korea, and the temper of domestic politics. At that juncture in time, the subject of recognition of Communist China was not ‘debatable’ in the United States. That it was not was illustrated even within the forensic fraternity: West Point, Annapolis, the other Service academies and a number of Roman Catholic colleges refused to permit their teams to debate the topic

We can, however, be thankful for the brashness of those who, in 1954, chose the highly controversial theme, since the debate began the involvement of speech professor Robert P. Newman in the subject of United States’ recognition policy toward the Chinese People’s Republic. Seven years later we have his book on the subject; it is an excellent contribution to the continuing debate.


I find myself in complete agreement with the author. He has done a superb job of presenting all salient aspects of a tough, and politically touchy, problem in our foreign and domestic politics. I doubt, however, if the American public is much closer to accepting his conclusions today than it was to listening to the collegiate debaters in 1954.”

Stauffer, Robert B., University of Hawaii.

Reviewed Work(s): Recognition of Communist China? by Robert P. Newman
The American Political Science Review > Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 145-146