Monday, 4 August 2008

Imaginary Debate Review

A good debate can be likened to a game of chess. Taking this simile further, truly exceptional debaters are like grandmasters, anticipating their opponent’s future actions several moves before they have occurred, trapping them into positions of weakness with the Queen of Syllogism and the Rook of Logical Infallibility. Before long, the Counterpositional King is held in the checkmate of self contradiction, and the debate is handed to a worthy victor.

I was lucky enough to witness one such contest week, in a public forum, and it was clear from the onset that this was a debate that could be likened to the famed Fischer-Spasky chess matches of the 1970s. For such was the argumentative ├ęclat of each party that I was left breathless with heady appreciation.

The debate began with the position “You never let me do anything”. Taking the ‘pro’ stance on this was Veronica Blatherwick, while her mother, Rebecca, took the ‘anti’ stance. The location of the debate was the exterior of the Safeway Supermarket in Ashdon-Under-Lyme, a very public site which allowed the maximum number of people to enjoy two capable debaters at the height of their powers.

The began conventionally, with Rebecca outlining examples contrary to her daughter’s position, including letter her go to that party at Graham’s house instead of visiting her Nan after she’d had that fall. Veronica countered this with a list of examples supporting her own position, such as not going to Thorpe Theme Park and not being allowed beer with her pub lunch.

While these tactics are less than outstanding, they formed the basis for a thrilling discussive competition that included all the staples of a momentous debate. The oft-misused Jenkins Forward-Reversal was utilised to great success by Veronica, while Rebecca showed herself to be a master of the Rogue Phoenix Gambit, a technique first described in Sun Tzu’s famed “The Art of War of Words”.

The contest reeled like a drunken Irishman before the older combatant created a negative retraction from her opponent, forcing her to acknowledge various instances where Veronica’s own neglect had led to the removal of privileges. Known by experts as “Wittgenstein’s Knob”, subsequent personal research has failed to yield a better example of this debating manoeuvre.

Sensing herself on the ropes, Veronica threw out one final desperate gambit, the “You never loved me; I bet you’re not even my real mother” technique. Opinions are divided as to how best deal with this tactic. Conservative thought rests on the “Stop being silly” rejoinder, which does have a risk of ending the debate on a stalemate. Here, though, Rebecca desired no such result and, sensing the weakness of her opponent, called her bluff: “It’s true. You’re adopted. Your real mother didn’t want you so I got stuck with you.”

As a debate-winning manoeuvre, this is unbeatable, and all witnesses agreed that Rebecca ended the argument as clear victor. Whether the price of that victory – long-term emotional damage and seething resentment on the part of the loser – was worth it, remains to be seen.

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