Monday, April 23, 2007

Mostly about Democracy and Debate

I tried something new this week. Yesterday I got up at 5 AM, which if you know me is unheard of. By 7 AM I was at a lovely, large old Methodist church in Colorado Springs (that has an organ, hosts an orchestra regularly, and has books - old, interesting books - almost everywhere) to help judge a speech and debate tournament.

Sum of my experience in the field? I like to argue, and I think logically. I have heard speeches and wished I could give the speakers pointers. And I have given speeches, in the form of Bible lessons - but without much thought to speaking clearly and presenting well. I've never seen or participated in a debate tournament, let alone judged.

But my recruiter assured me that my lack of experience was fine, that they would train me, and that they would feed me well. This was before I agreed, and before she told me it was in Colorado Springs or that I would have to be there so early. Oh well. They did feed me chocolate.

The topic being debated was whether "Democracy is overvalued by the US government." Having already heard my young recruiter disucssing this as she prepared for the debate, I'd had time to contemplate my position. Since I read the Federalist Papers right after high school, watched Gods and Generals and did some additional thought and reading on the nature and history of governments (especially our government), I am of the belief that democracy is a deceptively dangerous political system. Founded on flattering principles, beginning with aims for the good of the whole while defending the individual, democracy has historically been proven unsustainable. The nature of man makes democracy lead to selfish socialism, majority oppression of minorities, and eventually a tyranny.

Our founding fathers - being experts in history, law, and theology - established
America (after an experiment in confederacy) as a constitutional republic. Since that day more and more democratic principles have been applied in the federal government and in the sub-governments found in states, cities, and counties (or their equivalents). This tendency toward pure democracy, endorsed by the statements of current government leaders and the American obsession with individual rights and equality - as well as assumed and accepted distrust of leaders is worrisome in that it erodes the republican system leaving a slippery slope to unchecked democracy and all that historically follows.

In the first two rounds I judged, however, the arguments affirming that the United States government overvalues government were weak were not carried out as well in the debate format as that of the negative case. Against my subjective opinion, I was forced to vote an objective win for the negative cases. I didn't find their arguments personally converting, and would have loved to be their opponent so I could bring up my points.

However, in the semi-finals I got to watch (not judge) a friend carry the affirmative case and do an excellent job, incorporating many of my personal views and a few other points of which I had not thought. Her case was supported by excellent quotation, definitions, and hotly contested examples.

The opponent, representing the negative (US does not overvalue democracy) spent most of her time making assertions, including direct contradictions of her opponent without giving sufficient reasons, illustrations, or examples. Such is my biased memory. Her reasoning perhaps betrays a personal favor of the affirmative side of the issue, since the arguments for her negative case involved a statement that eminent domain does not remove the natural right of private property ownership since a citizen may take the money granted them by the government to purchase another piece of land (until, as my friend pointed out, the government deems it best to confiscate that land as well). The main example and statistic used by the debater representing the negative case was that of El Salvador, which during its war had one of the worst human rights violation records in the world. Since the United States stabilized the country by aiding in an establishment of democracy there, the human rights protections have risen to make El Salvador one of the best countries (in that field) in the world. However, she was unable to identify the type of government in El Salvador before their war, and conceded that the warring region of Iraq today is home to a democracy, and there human rights (measured at least in lives of noncombatants) are not being protected in a way that would make Iraq reach the top of the list.

The statistic used often in the debates I heard is that out of the countries in the world, two-thirds are good on human rights. Of those, all are democracies. Of the remaining third, where human rights are ill-protected, none are democracies. I would question this: who is calling these countries democracies? The United States, for example, is not a democracy but a republic (if you will remember your Pledge to the American Flag at least). England also is not a democracy, but a parliamentary "monarchy." In England there is the democratically elected house of representatives, a Prime Minister elected, I believe, in a similar way, and a heritage-based aristocratic branch of the legislature, the House of Lords. Any more with the UN and "global communities" and the favor with which democracy is viewed, "democracy" is used to name any "good country," as the "global community sees fit." It is not necessarily referring to the actual philosophies of government applied in the nation.

My friend did not win her debate according to the majority of the five judges scoring her round. Oh well. She did qualify for nationals, though.

I also got to judge speeches, which I found much more exhausting. In the format used on Saturday I sat through eight approximately ten-minute speeches per round in a general category but of no specific topic or style. As I went I had to grade each speech by rating them each of about twenty areas, identify their topic, put a two- or three- sentence comment on each ballot, and keep a running ranking. While I heard many good speeches on remarkably relevant (to my personal/spiritual walk) topics, the process was exhausting.

The event was fun, and it was neat to see all these talented Christian students who even in the hallways were debating other things. It's been hard to shake my critical attitude and ear for logic, today, though. I left Colorado Springs for an hour and a half drive home at seven o'clock, twelve hours after I arrived. Needless to say I was tired.

To God be all glory.

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