Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Finn” is a pseudonym.
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The other half involves an openness to new ideas.
I can remember people commenting on a quotation I used in one of my policy debate cases. The quotation dealt with some random technical aspect of immigration policy — the content of which wasn’t an issue. The issue was that the card was from someone who worked at the Ayn Rand Institute, and Ayn Rand was an atheist. Therefore (these people said), I needed to be careful about using this card. I remember being concerned by these comments at the time, but now I see no foundation for them. Instead, I see a byproduct of the somewhat insular community which Christian speech and debate creates.
Because the community is distinctly conservative and distinctly Christian, and because the community is centered around the ability to communicate a message, some of the most popular messages are those that create a group mentality (Jonathan Haidt has some important research about the importance group loyalty plays in conservative groups; give his works a read if you’re interested). In other words, the messages that get to the top are those that create an us vs. them mentality: Christians in a culture war, liberals trying to destroy the Constitution, America becoming increasingly immoral, etc. Regardless of whether or not you believe these messages are true, it should be clear that the combination of these narratives with the homogenous nature of the speech and debate community creates a very real possibility for students to develop a fear of outside ideas.
I can remember the first time I met an openly gay person. I can remember watching his hands to make sure he didn’t have a knife.
I listened carefully as we were talking, lest some underhanded message corrupt me. I did my best to stay polite, yet slightly gruff and on my guard (I was 14 with a somewhat squeaky voice – a funny picture, no doubt). I was confused for a while after he left. I didn’t see any attempts to undermine my faith (we talked mostly about the weather), and he was phenomenally well-spoken. This reaction wasn’t just because I thought “gay” was bad – it was because I had created an “us vs. them” narrative in my head and begun to fear people along with the idea. I had prevented myself from engaging with a human person because of a narrative I had created as a result of my fear of an idea.
But there’s a deeper reason why a fear of ideas is bad. To illustrate it, I need to introduce the concept of Hegel’s dialectic.
Hegel, a German philosopher who lived between 1770 and 1831, taught that knowledge was achieved through a threefold process: the thesis, the antithesis, and the synthesis. Essentially, you begin with one idea, contradict it with another idea, and then get a result (the synthesis) which is closer to the actual truth than either of the originals. In other words: every set of ideas has something to teach us.
1. Students: you’re in high school. You have barely completed a fifth of your average life. You haven’t figured things out; you don’t have a perfect conception of God. That’s not a bad thing as long as your conception of God changes. If your faith and beliefs are not changing and developing, look carefully at speech and debate to ensure the insular community is not inhibiting the process described above.
2. For judges and parents: recognize that your kids are growing up. They’re going to be evaluating ideologies that you’re not comfortable with regardless of how much your try to shelter them. Competitors may advocate for ideas in debates that are contradictory to your own. That’s perfectly fine. Debate (particularly in the NCFCA and Stoa) is a safe environment. Your decision in a debate is feedback about the comparison between the two teams — not implementing a real philosophy or policy: occasionally you may vote for teams that you disagree with personally. Again, that’s fine.
In fact, one of the worst things you can do is to take a competitor aside in one of the infamous hallway conversations and tell them that the ideas are “dangerous” or discourage further interest in them. If you really believe that what you believe is true, then you should be comfortable with people exploring the arguments in a safe environment. Be their partner in discovery, not someone that holds them back from developing a broader understanding. Otherwise you may be surprised at what was suppressed when you are no longer there to restrain their intellects.
My time in the NCFCA was incredibly positive. I learned to speak professionally. I learned to analyze topics and arguments with an acuity that I couldn’t have achieved through any other method. I’m still involved in the homeschool debate scene because I want other people to experience this tremendous growth and development and get the maximal amount of benefit from it.
End of series.
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