Evaluating the KP debate experiment.

The results of the first attempt to host a debate between a right-focused blogger and left-focused blogger here at KP have been decidedly mixed. The idea was to show that reasonable people with opposing ideologies can have a civilised debate about matters of contemporary import in a common forum rather than slag each other across the blogosphere. Since I have good regard for Sagenz writing on strategic issues at New Minister in spite of the company he keeps over there (PM excepted and Gooner occasionally forgiven) and the fact that we disagree on 95% of everything political, I invited him to debate me here on the proposition that the Iraq invasion was a success. Kindly enough, he agreed, even while acknowledging that he was entering opposition turf in doing so.

I assumed that readers would focus on the merits of our arguments, using the ends-means/costs-benefits rationales that are the essence of strategic thought. I thought that the debate would centre on my short to medium negative appraisal versus Sage’s long term mixed success scenario, in which short term failures could lead to longer-term success from a US/Western standpoint. I assumed that people had read enough to look beyond the pretext for the invasion (WMDs), and that they were conversant in the ample literature directed to the topic.  I assume that people would leave their (anti-American and anti-Israeli, in particular) biases at home and concentrate on the merits of the argument as given. My assumptions were wrong.

Although there were a few good comments, what we mostly got was the usual partisan diatribes, several of which were clearly uninformed by a thorough read of what was written. Some were completely off-thread. Then there was the nitpicking troll from Japan who had little substantive to offer, another rant directed at me that actually was about something Sagenz wrote, capped off by the king of pompous armchair revolutionaries harping about me being vaingloriously mean to the troll. The bulk of the comments did not debate the merits of the arguments or even address the subject as specified. That was disappointing.

Even so, after expressing my unhappiness with Lew and Sagenz and hearing back from them, I would like to try the debate experiment again and invite people to submit topics and possible authors. I think that  because KP tries to keep things civilised, we can offer a good hosting platform for some worthwhile, stimulating and reasoned left versus right arguments. But ground rules for comments will be established so that if comments deviate from the subject matter as framed by the debate question, they will be deleted.

Surely this is a worthwhile venture and not to much to ask for people to stay within the margins of the debate as framed. If nothing else, doing so helps improve intellectual discipline because it forces both authors and readers to check their biases and assumptions at the door in the attempt to be concise and to the point.

18 thoughts on “Evaluating the KP debate experiment.

  1. Surely this is a worthwhile venture and not to much to ask for people to stay within the margins of the debate as framed.

    definitely a worthwhile venture, but i do think you need to allow people to argue that the framing of the debate is wrong, if that is indeed what they think. how you frame the argument often determines who looks right and who looks wrong after all! (note: i’m making this comment not having read many of the comments to the previous post, so am not arguing with the substance of your post).

  2. stargazer:

    I respectfully disagree. It is this blog collective’s perogative to frame the terms of the debate as we see fit. If people do not like the terms they do not need to comment. This is our “house” and we call the shots–commentators are guests and should abide by house rules.

    That having been said, I agree that those who frame debates often win them (something I have posted on in recent weeks). Even so, and although I cannot speak for Anita and Lew, I believe that we, as a collective, share an interest in elicting reasoned debate on objectively framed issues. Should we continue the debate series the idea is to pose an objective question and let two differing viewpoints be aired on the matter. Readers can either accept the terms of the debate or decline to comment.

  3. OK. Well I am intrigued. Do be careful what you wish for. For me, you posts are valuable – but if you are just playing with people, then you will lose respect. I am disappointed on one hand – but eager to carry on…

    Here’s my twenty cents: It is truly possible to abolish our slavery to nuclear weapons [or chemical, biological…] In other words, would the military-industrial complex be willing to give up them?????

  4. I certainly agree it’s a worthwhile venture. It may take a few goes to develop it into the kind of thing you’d like it to be, though. It’s a well-known fact that those of us who comment on blogs tend more towards being opinionated loudmouths than being the kind of people you’ll get well-informed debate from – after all, there’s a reason people like me use pseudonyms for blogging purposes.

    One though occurs: whatever the next debate is, it would probably be worth publicising it in advance. It only occurred to me today that it would have been worth mentioning on No Minister that one of its authors was participating in a debate over here, by which time I felt like it was really a bit late. Admittedly, some of our commenters definitely aren’t people you’d really like to see here, but there are plenty who are able to string an argument together. Along the same lines, DPF’s often willing to help out a fellow blogger with a bit of publicity, and Danyl might be willing to give you a plug to catch the near 100% of intelligent lefties who follow the Dim Post. A bit of advertising can go a long way.

    Re topics, I think a natural progression from the previous one would be the prospects for the US achieving its strategic objectives in Afghanistan (not that I’m even clear on exactly what these are). No ideas for potential opponents though, sorry!

  5. I respectfully disagree. It is this blog collective’s perogative to frame the terms of the debate as we see fit. If people do not like the terms they do not need to comment. This is our “house” and we call the shots–commentators are guests and should abide by house rules.

    I believe this is called condemning yourself to irrelevance.

  6. Quentin: I am not sure what your concern is. We have no intent or reason to “play” with people. The purpose of the debate series would be to tackle serious subjects in dispassioned fashion, without the usual frothing that tends to accompany contentious points of view.

    TomS: I cannot see how asking comments to focus on the merits of argument within the context of the question as framed would condemn KP to irrelevance. Also, remember that this is just a proposed debate series and does not cover all of the other posts offered, which certainly have and will allow for more latitude of commentary.

    PM: I had not thought of the advertising angle, but I think we need to establish a track record of good debate before doing so. That will take some time.

  7. Firstly thanks to Pablo for the opportunity.
    It was an interesting experiment. Publicising it more widely might not have lead to an increase in the quality of comments. Readers here are self selecting and interested in the higher quality of debate.

    I certainly hope the format continues but believe that it might be better to have opening statements, followed by a body and then conclusion rather than hope to achieve it all in one. the Economist and other media have done that quite successfully. Both Pablo and myself have forthcoming engagements that mean we could not commit to extended post and rebuttal when we started writing.

    The other interesting thing is that we were ahead of mainstream media and you lot were not ready for it. MSM seemed to wait for Obama to make a comment and react to that rather than our reaction to the physical exit of combat forces from Iraq.

    So I guess lessons learned include setting the context better.

    Pablo allowed me to read his post before I completed mine and it was eye opening for me that I did not feel completely able to rebut all of those short to medium term criticisms.

    The difficulty with the proposition that the US should have focused solely on Afghanistan is the likelihood the Afghanistan engagement will fail due to its recent history. The US could ill afford another Vietnam as it embarks on winning the clash of civilisations.

    The words are still there on the other post and I think I will head back and start the next phase of our debate rather than leave it to lie part finished.

    For those who add nothing to the thread I will probably ignore you.

    Cheers all

  8. I’m generally a fan of the Economist’s debate series, although I don’t always read them fully, so that would certainly be a good model to follow.

    Also if we do go down the path of advertising can we please please please not advertise on Kiwiblog? I don’t want to sound snobbish but I’m pretty sure I already know what the average Kiwiblog commenter has to say on the subject of Iraq, or Afghanistan, or indeed any other subject under the sun.*

    *It’s all the fault of those atheist lesbian communists, dontcha know

  9. Pablo: to me what you are really saying is if you want to frame a debate about the Emperor’s new clothes that excludes commenting he is in fact naked, then that is this blogs right. Which is fine – you and Sagenz can merrily discuss the Emporer’s fashion sense, just don’t be surprised if everyone else edges quietly towards the door.

  10. Tom, just ignoring the fact that the matters discussed aren’t objective or testable in the way that presence of clothing is, anyone wanting to make a legitimate and reasoned case that the emperor is in fact naked has options: post on their own blog, or write a guest post which, if it’s up to scratch, we’ll publish as the basis for its own discussion.


  11. Good idea. My submission: Whether NZ SAS should stay in Aghanistan. Alternatively, whether the PRT should stay.

  12. As an uninformed bystander, the comments can be more entertaining than the debate. The chosen topic doesn’t yet have a “correct” answer, so debates will not have winners or losers, but maybe it’s only all about the fun of participation in the debate anyway.

    I often see a factoid here, and then Google it to find more, and the new information often influences my position, as well as increasing my knowledge. The recent discussion on the US Military-Industrial Complex resulted in finding an annual chart for the USA that showed a decrease from 10% in of GDP in 1960 to 5% of GDP in 2013. Sometimes historical context helps…

    Maybe the Internet does help bystanders identify unsupported assertions easily, and thus move on.

  13. Bruce:

    Your comment about unsupprted assertions intrigues me. What were they? You make mention of GDP decrease from 10%GDP in 1960 to 5%GDP in 2013. GDP spent on what? Why the projection to 2013 not knowing what may occur between now and then? 1960 was the height of the Cold War with a full nuclear arms and space race going on–is there anything remotely similar going on now?

  14. It was a very interesting debate between Pablo and Sage. First impression is that it’s a very fruitful and learned exercise. One thought, it might help if both of you add a few links and references to your assertions. That is the beauty of a blog, that we can go elsewhere for further reading.

  15. Sorry for the delay in response, work intervened.

    The information appeared when I Googled ” USA military Industrial Complex GDP “, arriving at a site called
    http://www.usgovernmentspending.com . I assumed timelines were determined by the availability of data in suitable forms.

    I didn’t want to link to the site, as I have no idea of their agenda, if any. However, the information showed some interesting trends. The reason for looking?. In the comments of a recent thread, the 5% figure was provided, and I wondered about historical data. The intended point was that it’s easy for curious people to find background information after being exposed to an interesting debate. Sorry the point wasn’t clear.

    My comment about assertions in a separate paragraph was general. It’s probably because I’m a technical guy, and the esoteric discussions here usually involve precise language that I have no experience of.

    To me, unless referenced, opinions are unsubstantiated assertions, and WWW references may merely indicate the opinion is widely held, not that it’s correct. My ever-increasing distrust of the accuracy of MSM reports and the Blogosphere means I often use the Internet to solicit additional data.

    Referencing can make debates interesting, or very tedious, and should be like condiments. They are very useful when prior background information needs to be first assimilated, but some bloggers only reference their previous works, rather than superior brief sources for background. In that case, I find it better to move on, as I may stumble across a more palatable form of the topic elsewhere.

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