Debating debates

Is it time to re-think debates?

We have lived for quite a long time in a culture here in the western world, where the consensus is often unspoken. While there may have been something friendly & cordial in our past, genuine collegiality is now the exception rather than the rule.

No I am not proposing cattle prods.

But maybe it’s also time to move past our fantasy of a gentleman’s agreement between contestants, given that no one behaves like a gentleman anymore.

I would point you to the NBA for an alternative. Why?

They have something called a shot clock, which is a way to regulate possession. You get your turn –not unlike what happens in a debate– but it’s limited to 24 seconds. If you can’t get it done in 24 seconds, if you are too cautious or if the other team’s defense is too good, the referee ends your opportunity, and the ball is given to the other team.

How would it work in a debate? suppose each contestant gets two minutes to answer a question from the moderator (and the mod is not a passive schlumph like what we saw in 2020 so far).

The clock runs. When your two minutes it up, the other person gets their turn.

If someone goes over time, it comes off the clock. So if for instance you do a Mike Pence and blather on for 30 or 45 seconds while the mod tries to stop you? that comes off your time for the next question, when instead of 2:00 minutes you get 1:30 or 1:15.

Simple right?

And the same could work with interruptions and heckling. If you disrupt 30 seconds of a reply, you lose 30 seconds of your own time.

Lest anyone say this isn’t how it works in Parliament: they have a Sergeant-at-arms lest The Speaker of the House is ignored.

Are we now fully into the era of reality TV, without any civility? Gameshows are the ultimate reality TV. If that’s the world we live in, why not give the mod a water pistol, to douse the transgressor?

I’m sure the prospect of a soaking wet comb-over would silence some people you can think of.

I wish there were a way to put the toothpaste back in the tube, to rewind to a time when people remembered decorum. Parliament demands it. Why shouldn’t we as well?

I regret the violence implicit in all of this. Wouldn’t it be amazing if debaters were required to listen to one another, and before replying, were required to spend 30 seconds paraphrasing the words of their opponent, to prove that they understand what’s being discussed? I can imagine a debate protocol where you are required to defend the point of view of your opponent. Joe Biden espousing the GOP ideals, Donald Trump defending Obamacare. Is that a mind-expanding exercise to dream of a debate as a kind of drama of identification?

I know what you’re thinking. “But that’s not what a debate is!”

(and here I’m recalling that Monty Python sketch, where John Cleese argues about argument)

Is this absurd enough for you yet? But at least they are not moderating debates with live ammo. I’m nostalgic just like Captain Hook, wanting to shout “bad form!”

Are we in a post-debate post-logic world?

Discourse is conversation ultimately, but if no one listens, is there a conversation?

This entry was posted in Books & Literature, Personal ruminations & essays, Politics, Popular music & culture, Sports. Bookmark the permalink.

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