And I think the ritualized competitive debates you see in high school and college do a disservice to the broader society that contains them.
This is largely in response to this video, which, being titled Why Debates Suck, isn't something I disagree with too much – I think the idea that people would use debates as a method of figuring out who's 'correct' is pretty... strange... and I'm glad more people are warning against that. And she does spend a lot of time criticizing people for being rude, which is sort of my jam, but there's not much we can learn from that (unless you've been being rude like that in 'debates' before). She's essentially right that the debates she's describing are usually a waste of time, and there are plenty of reasons to decline to engage in them.
But outside of the scholastic-competitive-ideological arena, most debates aren't competitive-organized-speaking (which do have the problems she describes) – they are joint press conferences, offering little to the viewer. They often lack what people tune in for: a complex understanding of someone's viewpoint. But they don't have to be like that, and sometimes aren't.
I don't wish to explain the structure of the system that produced her viewpoint – as experienced as it is – but just imagine how off-putting Ted Cruz is, even to people who agree with him. He doesn't do his beliefs justice, I think it's fair to say, and he is a coward so busy pandering that he'd never convince anyone of anything.
This is not real life.
So I'd like to focus on policy debates as seen in the wild, and what they can be without too much effort.
I want to see ideas fight and use that exposure to find the ideas that speak to my values best. That's why I listen to or watch debates. The goal of that, when I think about it, is in having the ideas oppose each other and interrogation of the failings of an argument, not necessarily on its merits (this isn't the venue for scholarship) but in their values. There's no point in watching someone with an incoherent philosophy, and there's no point in watching people who ignore the dispute – in both cases, you pick up the same by just watching their youtube channel, no debate needed. I want two people who look at the world and come to different conclusions to show my why. Then, I can figure out what way of analyzing the world makes the most sense for me and my values.
Some debates work in a way that diverges from this exact ideal – The Soho Forum declares a winner, for instance, but as I've said before that doesn't mean they're correct. Frequently more of the audience agrees with both sides at the end compared to the beginning. Everyone can learn from a well-handled debate, even when you already had a strong opinion. Winning a debate is a local phenomenon, occurring in each individual's mind, not a global one.
Most political debates would better be served by campaign ads EXCEPT the That's Unconstitutional/Just Say Yes thing – that was a legit conflict of values moment, and perhaps the only useful one lately. I think there are a lot of people who feel like each side is important – that clarification of values is why they're on the stage (as an aside, I'm terrified that the DNC thinks the appropriate response to, in their eyes, an immoral dangerous president, is to put someone in power who would dramatically expand the power of the president).
There's also the bizarre idea that people should seek to find common ground in debates – I think this is a largely wrong-headed attempt to extend what we demand of people beyond engagement with facts, but that's all okay. We shouldn't all agree on what we demand of others in personal context. But fundamentally, we shouldn't reject a process that's terrible, if that's solely the result of a terrible rule-set. Let's just use better rules, with better moderators.