The Liberal Suffocation
The Liberal Suffocation
Parliamentary debating is dominated, to a point of suffocation, by liberal discourse. It’s nigh impossible to debate on the side of social conservatism, however well argued, due to the dogmatic bias of adjudicators towards arguments in the domain of free choice and ‘rights’. The expected depth of analysis expected, while arguing such vaguely liberal sounding ideas, is ostensibly much lesser. This also results in teams equivocating on such arguments and expecting to win, which they do, especially in emerging circuits. This results in a vicious cycle of sorts, where the same old arguments are rehashed repeatedly. It makes for an amusing investigation, to look into the ‘pet arguments’ of different circuits. The liberal bias, per se, is an anodyne facet of parliamentary debating. It is indeed extremely challenging to sound persuasive and reasonable while arguing socially conservative issues. This is, perhaps, because of the dogmatic incompatibility of these ideas with self-critical discourse. The issue is when this begins to erode any sort of criticism on typically liberal arguments. This results in a misinterpretation at best and a mutilation at worst of the same ideas by teams who are rewarded for vaguely associating themselves with those ideas. Thus, this acts counter productively in the development and refinement of liberal discourse itself. The expectation of in depth reflection and analysis for issues such as rights analysis, individual choice, the harm principle, the social contract and what have you is pathetically low. This has resulted in teams foisting these arguments, because empirically these arguments have been shown to win debates, into paradigms with no contextual relevance. The impact is much graver on adjudicators. In messy debates, the adjudicator is alerted by these ‘debate phrases’ and conjectures, not always faultily, that the team that has deployed them surely must be making the most sense. Thus the cycle recapitulates itself. With the spirit of these philosophically rich ideas sacrificed for cheap gamesmanship, liberal discourse in debating has become a regrettable travesty. I don’t think remedying this situation requires adjudicators and debaters to all take philosophy classes. Just an emphasis on the fallibility of such arguments made in the wrong context and with a lack of required analysis should suffice. The simple of rule of thumb being that if the jargon being dished out doesn’t make any sense, don’t buy it just because it happens to be a debate phrase. I understand that this is easier said than done, but I see very little consciousness of the same.
Since parliamentary debating traces its origins to western civilization, it is structurally more conducive to western liberal thought. However, in the absence of real conflict, or borrowing from Hegel, in the absence of an ‘anti-thesis’, there can be no refinement of the ‘thesis’ or synthesis of new ideas. This bias also makes debating and discourse vulnerable to pedantry. If not for anything else, but for more engaging and enjoyable debates this stagnation of thought must change.
As far as conservative arguments on issues are concerned, much like in our society, where the underlying logic and principles behind conservative philosophies have been entirely forgotten leaving blatant dogmas thinly buttressed by scant logic, debaters presenting these arguments almost never do justice to them. I believe that some share of blame for the bias against conservative argumentation lies with debaters that present them with thread bare analysis. This reminds me of something John Stuart Mill once said, "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."
On the use of ‘catch phrase’ arguments like social contract and others such, I don’t feel the problem is either unique to liberal arguments or attributed to the bias we speak of. It is an independent characteristic of our debate circuit, whereby arguments have brand value and in certain cases using a celebrity argument is perceived to fetch brownie points. There is a need to overcome this superficiality and promote deeper analysis in general. However I don’t agree with Karthik in so much as I don’t think the use of such arguments wins anyone debates. I frankly can’t think of one debate where stating the ‘harm principle’ or ‘social contract’ has won anyone a debate.
Now there’s one thing that has left me in a bit of a knot. Karthik talks about the existence of a liberal bias in the circuit when it comes to fiscal policy matters but then he goes on to deride the importance given to the welfare state theory. The problem with this is that fiscal liberalists demand greater state involvement in the economy and spending, whereas fiscal conservatives rally for smaller states and reduced government spending. So then the circuit seems to be leaning towards the conservative school of thought in this aspect. Whatever the case may be, the international debating circuit seems to be quite well balanced on this subject and affections towards the welfare state notion are prevalent in the Indian circuit as a result of the overarching philosophy on which the state of India was founded whereby a state is supposed to provide for its citizens by all means and so on. This rhetoric has permeated through propaganda into the social psyche and in the absence of adequate exposure to alternative models, has become the prevalent expectation from a state.
Summarizing, I agree that there is a certain extent of stagnation and there needs to be a push towards bringing more depth and greater analysis along with an open minded approach towards arguments, issues and philosophies. I don't think there is any set mechanism to achieve this, the only thing to be done is for every debater and adjudicator to consciously strive towards it...