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NCDD-DISCUSSION  August 2010, Week 3

NCDD-DISCUSSION August 2010, Week 3

Subject:

Re: Seeking help on a new course in participatory democracy

From:

Martin Carcasson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Martin Carcasson <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 17 Aug 2010 14:14:44 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (30 lines)

Before I attended NCDD 2008 and talked with Kai and Pete, I was among those that tended to attack a straw person version of debate while making the case for deliberation. While I was never a debater, I did teach Argumentation and Debate for years before I found D&D, and then struggled with how to teach debate based on my new found deliberative perspective. Kai and Pete helped me see the irony of the situation (attacking debate in the name of deliberation by using bad debate tactics). Since then, I've started focusing more on the broader term of "interactive communication" in my work, under which I would include debate, deliberation, and dialogue as three primary forms. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and each works better for particular situations (as Barnett argued). Often, we need each to improve the other. Debate can be particularly used before or after deliberation, for example, and dialogue often has to precede both.

Most of our public discourse is woefully one-sided and unilateral, whether it is through mass media, talk radio, forwarded emails, newspaper message boards, bumper stickers, blogs, or a bad conversation where neither side is actually listening. When we actually get some back and forth, it is primarily through bad debate, essentially people talking past each other and attacking positions nobody holds. Such communication makes it very difficult to do the hard work required of democracy, such as working through the tough choices and tradeoffs that are so critical to public decision-making and problem-solving. Such communication leads to polarization, cynicism, apathy, and, ultimately, bad decisions.

High quality deliberation is certainly a good antidote to the problems of bad unilateral communication, but good, principled debate as outlined by Pete can be as well in its own ways. It can lead to very productive and insightful interaction that clarify issues and help us cut through the chaff and get to the heart of the issues. 

I like Pete's point about the audience being key to debates. This is also a weakness that we need to think through some more. If debate is seen as simply a spectator sport, its value is minimized. Debate needs to be understood by the audience as a process being performed by the debaters for their benefit, but they need to actively mentally engaged for that process to be fruitful. A principled debate can provide very valuable information to those struggling with an issue, but if people just watch to see who "wins" and who has the best one-liners that value will be lost. 

At Colorado State University, I've been able to transform our old "Argumentation and Debate" class into a Public Argumentation class. They still do a debate (hopefully, a productive, principled one), but then shift and turn their debate topic into a deliberation, and produce an "NIF-style" discussion guide on their issue. In the class, they are thus exposed to both debate and deliberation as key tools for community decision making, develop an understanding of the pros and cons of each, and gain the skills to encourage high quality in both.

Bottom line, I strongly agree with Pete that we need to find ways to improve debate and have it included as a viable community tool alongside deliberation and dialogue for situations for call for it, rather than just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Having more deliberation folks thinking about how to rehabilitate debate and make it work better, by minimizing its drawbacks and maximizing its advantages, is clearly a worthy endeavor. 

Martin




Martín Carcasson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies
Director, Center for Public Deliberation
210 Eddy Building, 1783 Campus Delivery
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO  80523-1783

(970) 491-5628
Center website: www.cpd.colostate.edu

---

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