In the previous article in this series, I broadly described hybrid and purist judging approaches, but I didn’t dive into comparing the approaches’ pros and cons. Thus, I will devote this article to outlining some of the main arguments I see for and against each approach.
Pros: relatively objective and consistent + can promote truth-seeking over persuasion
I think it’s crucial to explain at least some of my high school thought process as to why purism was superior. Basically, at its core I believed that purism tended to emphasize truth-seeking and logic over persuasive speaking, which made for better/more-ethical debaters. I also see it as far more likely to produce more-objective/consistent outcomes than judging based off of “impressions”: if a team dropped a key argument (and everything else was contested), that team generally should lose. It can’t be fair or educational if a team wins because a judge was already biased in their favor, right? And from a legal-logical perspective, I must question why a team that drops a key argument ought to win: if a syllogism is completely missing a critical premise, how can it be accepted as true? Is it very educational for someone to win a round even when they left huge holes in their reasoning unaddressed, just because they were able to distract a judge from their shortcomings? … And so on.
Ultimately, it was often a big, messy web of ideas and ideals which I never thoroughly formalized and challenged—even though I generally thought the reasoning was straightforward and rock-solid. That’s not to say this is all wrong; in fact, I still believe that many of those points carry weight. However, I had never really seen the “dark side” of purism nor did I have a lot of experience with the real world of communication/persuasion.
Con: potential for abuse/absurdity
It doesn’t take long to find examples of absurdity and abuse in debate rounds (at least outside of homeschool leagues). I frequently witness it firsthand as a judge, such as when teams try to claim that cases such as “ban corporal punishment in schools” will lead to nuclear war or when teams try to overwhelm opponents with vast quantities of dubious arguments in the hopes that the other team will fail to respond to something sneaky. Take for example a 20-second definition of “should” being “it is what the South Koreans think would be best for their country.” The other team overlooked this and focused on what a common-sense person would consider “the real substance” in the debate, leading the affirmative team to claim they had won the round by reading unchallenged evidence saying “[the South Koreans don’t want this missile defense system anymore].” Many of the arguments I’ve seen while judging non-homeschool policy debate are outlandish/unsupported but they can easily become the dominant strategy when a purist is judging. Yet, even some of the tactics I have written about, such as splitting the neg and impact calculus plants, can be taken too far or abused (although I still do not consider the latter to be inherently abusive and the former just tends to harm debate due to the inane speech time structure). In short, with a rigid set of rules based on semi-assumptive ideology rather than active testing and adjustment, it shouldn’t be surprising that people can find ways to game the system.
Con: Less real world applicability
Encouraging people to pursue and use truth is a valuable endeavor. But one fact of reality is that being right is not enough; you often must persuade others you are right. This might sound easy to accept in the abstract, but in practice it can mean focusing on persuasion at the expense of more research, argumentation, or precision. I still consider this a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, persuasion is often a crucial skill if you want to push truth forward.
Communication is often touted as one of the most valuable broad skills in the workplace and in leadership. As mentioned before, when I got to college and participated in public debates (in front of crowds), one thing I quickly noticed was how few people (including debaters) were judging based on the flow. This wasn’t a huge shock, but it did drive home the point that you should not expect your audiences to judge what you say even remotely like a purist judge would.
Having said all of this, I do still realize that debate is not meant to be a perfect model of the real world; some of the norms of debate help to counterbalance competitive debate’s inherent limits and expectations (e.g., mandated positions, speech limits, restrictions from interrupting, lack of dialogue between speakers and audience). Yet, I still believe that purism tends to go too far in comparison with some hybrid approaches.
Pro: reduces potential for abuse/absurdity
Having already described purism’s shortcomings in this regard, I will mainly just say that a hybrid method can at least mitigate some of these problems. It may not be perfect, but rejecting or even penalizing abusive tactics like subtle, tilted 20-second definitions can definitely help.
Pro: more real world applicability
By more-closely resembling the common educated person, hybrid judges will tend to teach debaters about what tactics do and do not work in the real world. For example, machine-gunning argument-tomatoes at an audience like they are some mindless slate wall in the hopes that something (regardless of how rotten) will stick is generally not an effective strategy at persuading people in the real world, even though purism often tolerates or even encourages this.
Broad response to pros: it can be more difficult to learn/teach and implement.
Part of the reason for this is that purist-exceptions such as those I described in the previous article (e.g., not voting on absurd and poorly-supported 20-second arguments, giving more weight to persuasiveness than purism would) are not meant to be strictly objective or easily definable: there is usually some grey area. This is primarily because the exceptions are calculated attempts to improve fairness and educational value, which are complicated and situational/dynamic questions in themselves.
Ultimately, I don’t see this as a fatal blow: if the judge in question is an experienced alumni and experienced judge they should not have much difficulty in implementing this; judges that aren’t highly experienced can learn or be taught some basic/mild tweaks to purism. Still, I do see that this can limit the benefits and broad accessibility of this judging method.
Con: it can be/feel less objective and consistent
This is partially related to the previous point, but I will go further and note that yes, sometimes a subjective decision can be made which was arguably misguided, and I will even agree that yes, it probably will happen more often than with purism. These situations can be very frustrating, and I wouldn’t want to encourage people to abandon truth-seeking for sophistry. However, in considering all of this it is worth noting that hybrid judges are still meant to be more flow-heavy than the average judge, so it is not like we are comparing purism to first-time community-judges; the subjectivity and inconsistency should not be that extreme.
Even though I have gradually shifted towards a hybrid style of judging (especially in non-homeschool leagues), I am not recommending that every reader should firmly choose one approach or the other. Rather, I think that judging pools should be a mixture of judging types, determined by contextual factors such as the debate format, details of the league, etc. Additionally, some judges may be better suited to certain approaches. Ultimately, this article is a recommendation against extremes—especially when (as in my case) they are not formally elaborated and then critically examined. And debaters: adapt to your judges.