Thursday, June 21, 2007

Language, Law, and the End of the World as We Know It

My friends and family know that I do take pride in being a collegiate cross-ex debater. Mostly, I take pride in being good at it, though I had begun to detest the state of cross-ex debate by the time I left it. It thrived on spewing, the act of speaking your case or your rebuttal so quickly that it would be difficult for your opponents to pick up on each point -- and if they drop a point, you win. It also thrived of language -- using very strict definitions to prove that a case/rebuttal was relevant (or topical) based on the words used. Finally, it thrived on nuclear war. The goal of any team would be to prove to the judge that it would be the end of the world as we know it if the judge accepts your opponents case. Nuclear war is the easiest way to end the world, so any debater can link nuclear war from pudding pops (my favorite case) to pesticides. Towards the end, my partner and I ended up running a winning critique against our opponents that basically said that promoting the use of nuclear war as the fall out option would itself result in nuclear war.

We built most of course case off prejudicial cases (primarily sexual harassment) that demonstrated how use of words like "babe," "chick," "honey" in professional settings lent itself to women being taken less seriously as professionals. Eliminating the words, and defining them as harassment, elevated the standing of women. Similarly, we argued, eliminating people's propensity to use nuclear war as the go-to option elevated its legitimacy as a solution and anyone or any case that did so was itself propagating nuclear war.

A Nebraska judge recently used similar logic to ban "rape," "sexual assault," "sexual assault kit," "assailant," and "victim" during a rape case. According to Judget Cheavront, those words are prejudicial and emotional -- they assume guilt and set the jury up to assume guilt as well. He mandated that the act in question be referred to as "sex." This too is problematic, and perhaps as prejudicial, because most people define and understand sex as CONSENSUAL between two people.

Is the judge creating a level playing field? Or is he casting aspersions and preventing a case to be made? (One other tid bit is that the jury members, use to hearing the banned words, were not told that the words were indeed banned). Is the judge charged with ensuring that the rules of debate are adhered to in a court of law or is it his charge ensure that a debate is as 'fact' driven as possible?