Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

P-Con

with 4 comments

I spent a year in Collegiate Debate, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in school. I often lament that not everyone had the same experience. Debate is excellent for training one to think and communicate quickly and critically, It is an introduction to logic class on steroids, and it inbeds the information it teaches is a very permanent part of the brain.

To this day I can communicate with debaters more quickly and easily than almost any type of person. Both of us have been trained how to relate universal implications of intricate government decisions in 5 minutes or less, so when the topic of Nuclear disarmament comes up and they can say “Nuke Prolif increases MAD which reduces GTNW’s likleyhood” and I’ll know exactly what they mean. Then I can say “Martyrdom”  and they’ll know exactly what I mean. Debate over.

That means when we’re in a group arguing about whether to go to Panera or Carl’s for lunch she can say “CP Chipotle”  and I can say “No disads” and we can turn the car around and start heading there before anyone else has figured out what just happened.

It’s a beautiful thing.

One particularly powerful concept from debate is called “P-Con” it stands for Performative Contradiction. Here’s how it works:

Suppose you get the short end of the stick and are assigned to defend some terrible proposition. Maybe you are against a stimulus bill which, though expensive, is really the only choice we are to prevent the stock market from crashing. Well you know it, and you know the other team knows it and is preparing all sorts of arguments against any criticisms you can come up with for the bill because after all wasting money is better than everybody starving.

Suppose then that you get a brilliant idea, instead of opposing the bill on the grounds that it’s insufficient somehow, or to expensive, or full of pork, you oppose it on the grounds that it will save the terrible american capitalistic system, and in doing so, you render all of their preparation useless.

Suppose you speak passionately from the podium about the evils of capitalism and the free market society. You demonstrate that our rampant consumerism is destroying the planet and multiple third world countries, you enrapture the audience until they are eating out of your hand believing that if they continue to worship the almighty dollar they will never truly be free, and the only thing we can do to save ourself is crash the economy as soon as possible!

Then suppose your opposition asks as a POI “Say where did you get those sunglasses?”

“Oakley why?”

“P-Con”

You just lost the debate.

The reason is because it’s now obvious to everyone that you don’t believe a word you are saying (and if anyone missed it. your opponent will be sure to make it clear to them in his next speech) His argument, which he offered simply by saying that half a word  “P-Con” is that by reviling yourself as a person who shops for designer eyewear you have betrayed a truth within your heart that you cannot possibly be the anti-capitalistic hippi you claim to be, so even if he doesn’t show your argument is false, you have proven it by persisting to live in contradiction to it.

And it really is that brutal, P-Con, you lose! This debate is now about your sunglasses.

This comes up in other ways also:

Suppose you are assigned to defend same-sex marraige and you happen to mention that “this is a way to ensure equality for the gays”

“The Gays?” did you mean “The GLBT Community?” P-Con, You Lose.

Suppose you have built yourself halfway into a Kritik about profanity, and the evils thereof, but you happen to stub your toe as you return to your seat, shouting an expletive.

“What do you just say?” P-Con, You Lose.

I can’t tell you mow many times I’ve wanted to explain this to non-debaters.

Say I’m arguing about theology with some friends of mine within earshot of a freshman girl from Point-Loma

“Ummmm… Excuse me, but like, Arguing is stupid! It’s like, not like, you’re going to convince one another”

“Oh Yeah, arguing is stupid huh? Would you like to argue about it?” P-Con! now leave me alone!

Here’s the point, and I know I took a long time to get to it, but I was having fun.

Most people do not have the vocabulary to describe what I just described, and if you are a Christian, and you try to tell people about Christ, and you try to counter their arguments You might very well win. Christianity is true which comes in really handy for winning arguments about it. But if you don’t live as if it’s true, If you are a nasty selfish argumentative person, they will not believe you.

Even if you’re just a little xenophobic, or just a little hypocritical, or you got drunk that one time and kissed that girl you shouldn’t have… They won’t believe you.

They might not be able to explain why not, They might not know why not, They might offer other objections that they do understand to what you’re saying, but if you do not get your life straight those objections will never run out, and the people you talk to about Jesus will never believe you, because your life and your words form a performative contradiction so they know that you don’t really believe what you are telling them to.

P-Con, You lose

Key:
Nuke Prolif: Nuclear Proliferation- The spread of nuclear weapons technology to new countries.
MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction- The concept that you won’t destroy me if you know destroying me would also destroy you
GNTW: Global Thermal Nuclear War-  WWIII which most debaters can show is likely to happen if the other team gets their way, regardless of what that team is arguing for
CP: Counter Plan- An option that had not yet been considered
Disad: Disadvantage- A negative result of the plan coming to fruition
POI: Point of Information- A question asked during the middle of a debate round by ones opponents
Kritik: a Critique- We debaters refuse to use the hegemonic male-dominated spelling of the word critique because it is just another tool the white man uses to keep us down!
Point Loma: Point Loma Nazarene University- A Christian College on the beach in San Diego, California.
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Written by RyanGaffney

September 28, 2010 at 7:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. I really enjoyed this one. Good insight. I wish my debate mindset as stuck with me as well, but I only spent 1 semester thus engaged.

    Katie Brooks

    September 30, 2010 at 12:07 am

    • Thanks Katie,

      I’m thinking about making a series out of these. But this one wasn’t terribly popular, We’ll have to see.

      ryangaffney

      October 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm

  2. So, out of curiousity, would you then recommend not arguing the merits or inherent Truth of Christianity, or being perfect, free from sin, ie God? 😉

    If not arguing about the merits and inherent Truth of Christianity is, then, not the way to win converts for the cause of Christ, how would you suggest evangelizing to the lost?

    As this post is present on your blog, I’m guessing that you’re not a fan of the idea of universal salvation. This brings up a whole host of other questions, potentially to follow.

    MB

    October 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    • No by all means rationally defend Christianity! just don’t be such a hypocrite when you do it. And remain aware that when someone seems to be unreceptive, that that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve hardened their heart and hate the truth. it could very well mean you just don’t have any credibility to them, and that could be very much your fault.

      As to universalism. I would affirm the same distinction Miroslav Volf… And I’ll just leave it at that until i have time to devote a full post to it

      ryangaffney

      October 14, 2010 at 4:35 pm


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