Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Extreme Debating! (not spelled Xtreme on purpose)

Recently, I started reading a bit about formal debate too (well, I read the Wiki on it a bit, and read some transcripts from the religious site Reasonable Faith), and I've found that people always seem to stage debates that would usually last no more than twenty minutes or half an hour. As much as this seems to make sense, given it takes mental endurance to debate coherently and to listen attentively, there's always more to be said afterward (from my limited to moderate experience at school and reading online). At the end of formal debate, both sides shake hands and agree to disagree (more or less). The threads are left hanging, and that's usually fine.

Now, what if there were some sort of formal debating style that involved dramatically extended times? Into the realm of hours? Now, to start, I can come up with myriad reasons why this wouldn't work (as hoped for), but I'll bear with myself for now. The idea in progress:

If there were a six hour debating style, and each side would be composed of a single speaker (the main belligerents), and a bunch of research and support positions. These support positions would be critical; they'd have access to such things as the Internet with various database subscriptions (as required), and non-digital source material. There may even be practical demonstrations to be made, provided they are very thoroughly screened for transparency and relevance. These could be showcased on any time that the side using the demonstration is allowed to speak (overrun would have to be negotiated with the opposition, who would have the right to refuse it). An audience that may comment is also important, as well as a moderator. Preparation in advance would be lengthy and intense: first, each team would be given a month in advance to prepare (if that's when the competitors first even learned of this competition, preparation would likely involve mental and physical conditioning too). Sources are only barred if they aren't legally allowable in the country in which the debate is held (if held in a country with weak human rights, well, let's just hope there wasn't too much crap involved in information gathering...) Any source may then be challenged during the debate. If one party is completely dissatisfied with a certain source and cannot be convinced of otherwise, I'm not sure how that would be resolved.

The debate itself would be structured, but there would be sections that would be more and less orderly. The first, say, half and hour would be split into specific speaking times; a traditional sectioning of time. Each side would be given only a few minutes per section, as is common. After initial introductions and rebuttals, there would be a short period of free argument; in this part, it would be very important that the two debaters have respect for the others time and words, and the moderator would be permitted to stop someone if they're making too strong an attempt to dominate by interruption or is disallowing their opponent to speak for too long. Following this section, there would be a question period for the audience, and this might last a solid few minutes. After that, the moderator would ask a few questions that are presumably as unbiased as possible, and each debater would have a couple of minutes to respond. Finally, each debater would get a few minutes that are supposed to be focused on clarifications and pointing out concepts that they think their opponents are fundamentally failing to understand about their arguments. Each side would get a rebuttal/reiteration of around the same time. After this round, there would be an intermission of a few minutes to around fifteen for each side to regroup. The whole process would have taken, maybe, an hour to an hour and a half.

For now, I'm thinking that that format would be repeated several times until the end of the debate. Also, what I consider to be a staple of this debate: it's meant for formal debating where both sides actually disagree with each other over something, not a competition where each side must argue what is given to them, unfailingly. The idea is that each side and everyone attending wouldn't only learn new things, but acknowledge them. The central aim would be that the arguments would become sophisticated enough that entirely new thinking may be introduced, and possibly strong concessions on one side or both. Although it's incredibly difficult to overcome the most ingrained views that come out after a few hours of arguing, one hopes that both parties approach the case as objectively as they can, but extended postulating is increasingly fine as the debate drags and (relatively) solid information begins running thin. At any point in the debate, one side may even concede it is wrong, to any degree; this should not be frowned upon at all when done honestly.

Well, that's all I can think of for now. Maybe I'll do some work on this later, maybe I won't. I'm still in the midst of exams, and in two days I'll have two at once. After that, I'll have only one more. Almost there...

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