I haven’t focused a lot on public debates throughout this blog, and since I’m planning on finishing writing it soon, I wanted to write a post about public debate. Since most of us are not able to be involved in the debate team in high schools or colleges, I think it’s important that people know other ways to be involved in what is probably the most educational and useful activity their is. Thus, it’s important for people to be involved with public debate.
Other than the educational value of public debate, the activity has importance in that it involves the community in an issue that is important to them, thus strengthening deliberative democracy. Deliberative democracy is especially important considering how easy it is for citizens to have their rights taken away, thus making it important for people to be express their opinions and have their voices heard.
So how do you get involved in public debates? There are a couple ways to do so. First, you should contact your local government offices and see if they have any information. Figure out what the main issues are affecting your community and figure out if someone has organized an event around discussing it. If no one has, you could even organize your own public debate to invite members of the community to discuss the issue. Additionally, if you live in a community with a college close-by, chances are you have access to some kind of debate organization that holds public debates. My school certainly holds numerous public debates each year in which several members of the community show up and participate in what quickly becomes an educational discussion about an issue affecting the community.
Since it’s so important and definitely possible to be involved in public debates, I strongly suggest that you get involved.
Throughout the time that I maintain this blog, I plan to write several posts about why debating is good (obviously, since this blog is about the value of debate and deliberative democracy). The first reason why debate is good– you learn from it.
Debate allows individuals to learn about a multitude of issues that they wouldn’t learn about otherwise. These discussions allow one to test notions and ideas in order to learn what other people think about them and see how they stand to logic. They allow one to learn various arguments and counter-arguments in order to strengthen and better understand their arguments. In actual debate, the topic is either so broad that it covers a large amount of information, or it changes so frequently that you’re forced to research a myriad of different topics. This produces a unique knowledge base that is difficult to acquire from other places and activities. Thus, debate is an incredibly educational activity.
Something that I find incredibly frustrating during a discussion is the lack of an argument that people generally have. The fact of the matter is that the general public sphere either doesn’t know what an argument is, or doesn’t decide to use a complete argument when arguing.
An argument is not a shouting match, or attempting to trick somebody into thinking something different, or personal attacks. An argument consists of at least one premise and a conclusion that logically follows from the premise. A premise is something that the person presenting the argument assumes to be true (“I am a person” or “The United States of America is a country”). A conclusion is the final statement that a person has been attempting to prove (“therefore, same-sex marriage should be legal” or “therefore, the government should stop borrowing money from China”). The conclusion must logically follow from the premise, as that’s the only way to prove that the conclusion is true (“I am a person”, “therefore I am a cat” is NOT a logical argument, for example).
This is an important distinction to make– absent underlying premises and logic, it is impossible to argue against an argument because there are no foundations for the claim being made. It is impossible for me to dispute that it is someone’s opinion that abortion be ruled illegal in the United States, because that is in fact that person’s opinion. And just because someone holds that opinion doesn’t make it the correct policy for the United States to follow– there is not a logical reason for the government to follow one person’s opinion.
So let’s all try to make actual arguments when we’re deliberating within the public sphere.