Consider this a follow up to this post or maybe to this older one. A former high school debate coach, who now works as the editor of a conservative think tank’s blog site, says that long before most people in the public had heard of Critical Race Theory (CRT) it was already ruining high school debates.
He describes the basics of high school debate as two teams, the Affirmative team which presents an argument on an assigned topic and the Negative team which tries to undercut that argument. But the author says that about a decade ago, some teams realized they could win debates by criticizing the team making the argument rather than the argument itself:
This kind of argument is called a kritik—debate jargon for employing critical theory (including, and especially, critical race theory) to undermine not the plan you’re supposed to be refuting, but the very legitimacy of liberal society, Western history and even debate itself…
Here’s what I saw first-hand. One of my teams, two Senior girls, went into a round as the Affirmative team. I don’t recall the topic that year (a decade ago), but I do remember them emerging from the round in tears. They lost—and were told they lost—because the Negative team argued they should lose. As two white, privileged students from a private school, Neg claimed, the Affirmative team embodied everything wrong with America.
I thought there had to be some mistake. But when I saw the ballot a couple of hours later, it was true. The judge wrote that in the interest of social justice, he handed the win to the Negative team—even though Neg offered not a single argument against the Aff plan.
He describes another debate in which one of the debaters for the Negative team left as the debate started and returned at the end with a jar full of coins he’d raised for climate change. He argued that real action should win over pointless debate and his team won.
What happens when two teams use critical theory on each other? Well, it looks a lot like woke college students arguing over who gets to speak at a meeting.
I’ve watched those rounds devolved into a morass of intersectionality. “You may be female, but I’m Hispanic.” You may be Hispanic, but I have a learning disability.” “Your school spends more per-student than mine.”
As for the non-woke debaters still trying argue without resorting to CRT, they have no way to push back against the attacks against them. Robin DiAngelo has taught them that attempts to debate these issues are futile. The author concludes, “CRT isn’t a “way of talking about race,” it’s a way to shut down discussion completely.”
All of this is in keeping with what James Lindsay said last year about the reasons woke people aren’t interested in debate.
Debate and conversation, especially when they rely upon reason, rationality, science, evidence, epistemic adequacy, and other Enlightenment-based tools of persuasion are the very thing they think produced injustice in the world in the first place. Those are not their methods and they reject them. Their methods are, instead, storytelling and counter-storytelling, appealing to emotions and subjectively interpreted lived experience, and problematizing arguments morally, on their moral terms.
As I said at the time, “the social justice warriors at Evergreen State College didn’t have a hope of out-arguing Professor Bret Weinstein on any topic. But by showing up as a group they could label him a racist and demand his firing. The goal wasn’t enlightenment, it was power.”