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A poverty of mind and expression
The exchange on obscenity and equal opportunity reveals some deep divisions
in our culture. Tom Murphy's posting reflects much of my thinking on the
issue, and I believe Jim Hanson's observations are on target. Jim Hanson's
critique was professionally made, and some in our community should feel
shame for their responses to his remarks. I do, however, believe some
arguments were presented by Mike Korcok and others that are in need of response.
1. Profanity, freedom, and social justice. More often than not, those who
curse and use an abundance of scatological language to express their ideas
reflect a deep poverty of mind and expression. No progressive social
advocate that I have studied (Malcom X. Martin Luther King, Jr., Chief Wilma
Mankiller, Hanan Ashrari, etc.) lace or laced their public rhetoric with
scatological referents. Taylor Branch in his book _Parting the Waters_ (I
know it is bad manners to cite books in the age of lexus-nexis) details
some of the modest successes of the civil rights movement, and in his
discussion of the movement's discourse, profanity is not mentioned as a
No serious scholar or teacher of debate wants students to emulate
toastmasters or use a bland style. However, how are the causes of social
justice and education achieved when debaters are taught and encouraged to
read lexis-nexus factoids at a 280 words per minute shrill monotone that
is laced with the language of excrement and sexual violence? That is the
issue. While we do not want to teach an eloquence that reflects a white
male norm, we do that when we teach and reinforce the dominant style which I
have just described. Roam the halls during rounds at Heart of America and
at Nationals, and you will hear most debaters speaking the same way, at the
same tone, and the same words per minute, and many using profanity that
transforms the debate classroom into a pig sty. Diversity, indeed.
Adolescent males find that cursing is fun and that it shocks. Should the
debate classroom be the place where adolescent males discover their
masculinity and then bay their discovery to the world. Perhaps they have
the right; but there are other rights as well; such as those of the debate
judge and others who find scatological words disgusting, hurtful and violent.
I wish to be clear: the argument against scatological language is not only
about aesthetics. Such language is often a prelude and a precursor to
physical violence. Kent Colbert's empirical research provides us with clear
evidence that debate can teach verbal aggressiveness VA (and cursing is one
manifestation of verbal aggression). VA is highly correlated with physical
violence. While I applaud Will Baker and others would have us move debate
beyond the confines of the tournament setting, I shudder to think that we
may give the disenfranchised and the dispossessed another activity which
could be used to promote violence. Sheldon Hackney's notion of a "Drive-bye
Debates" is relevant here.
2. Who speaks for Whom? Randi Vickers resents that profanity in the debate
classroom has become a feminist issue and asks us not to protect her dainty
ears. Randi, your ears not the issue, and you don't speak for my women
students who tell me that when men use sexually violent curse words that it
puts them at a competitive disadvantage and that they are hurt, and that
male, tabula rasa critics will not intervene. You don't speak for the
hundreds of women who responded to the Louge, Simmerly, and Stepp survey
that reveals sexual harassment to be a "serious problem" in our community.
I am troubled by the tendency that some have to "reason by tokenism." Yes,
some women have done well and have broken at some national tournaments, but
the data collected by Louge et. al., reveals that women and people of color
rarely succeed or break in our culture, and those that do are rare exceptions.
A footnote on proof: Again, I can match my anecdotes with other anecdotes.
I have, however, offered the results of carefully conducted empirical
studies to support my generalizations. As such, I am hopeful that we can
move beyond solipsism and argument by tokenism in order to discover the
prevalent patterns in our culture.
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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