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The Poison Ivy League Part 43-Good and Evil at Brown, 2004

May 3, 2011

The following week’s Brown tournament was just a bit more well-attended than Columbia, at 90 teams. To the enthusiasm of the crowd, the tournament director announced that he would be breaking to octo-finals. Today, this procedure has become established practice at several universities’ tournaments, but it was something of a novelty in 2004. In the earlier days of the circuit, competitions evidently often broke directly to semi-finals.

Fresh from their victory at Columbia, the members of Harvard A broke to outrounds and managed to carve their way through them one by one, always on Government. They defeated Alexander in octofinals and the terrifying combined forces of Antony and a fine debater from Cornell in quarter-finals; to their credit, they were armed with the confidence to run more open cases than they had at Columbia. They then found themselves hitting a team from the University of Chicago in semis. Scipio and Fabius had auctioned off their casebook to the class of rising seniors, and Kimel had inherited the gem about whether vote-selling was ethical. Jason and he ran it to great success against Chicago. The example of Scipio was strong in Kimel’s mind that round, particularly when he answered one of his opponents’ arguments with a direct retort from the former President. To the point that Immanuel Kant would look down on any action that couldn’t be successfully universalized, Kimel responded, “what does it matter what Immanuel Kant thought?” This was a fair enough question, since Chicago never showed the relevance of his philosophy to the round beyond asserting its importance. At their best, Kimel and Jason advanced to the final round of the tournament. The Sullas had fallen in quarter-finals, and Harvard C, Petronius and Josephus, in octo-finals.

In finals, hitting Cato and Titus, Kimel and Jason ran the case Opp choice whether someone founding a religion should teach that humankind is naturally good or stained with inherent evil. Cornell chose to defend the side of natural goodness. Kimel and Jason convincingly defeated their opponents after an interesting hour spent over-generalizing on the philosophies of several faiths. Cornell argued that religions should promote the fundamental benevolence of God, and that the problem of evil could be explained away by the presence of demons. Kimel successfully pointed out that if on his side of the House God deliberately created evil, Titus’s world was one in which an equally ill-tempered deity deliberately manufactured monsters. This was a flashy highlight of the round, as the catching of logical contradictions often is. In the minds of most judges, however, Harvard seized victory on the pragmatic argument that a religion could best win adherents by presenting itself as a unique means of cleansing the soul of inadequency—God might have made evil humans, but he also provided a potential exit for them through the unique vehicle of the religion. In the eyes of Jason, the nature of humankind’s wickedness could be equated with the cold self-interest of individualism. For his part, Kimel mentioned that a religion that taught that there was virtue in all men and women might as well be a pagan philosophy–only a faith that humbled someone before God could win true religious fervor and inspire followers to christen their children.

The round is available online, and since it was chosen as the demonstration round for a Nationals competition, it has been well analyzed by a variety of judges. A viewing will confirm Kimel’s popularity with the crowd, who groaned in sympathy with him when he so much as frowned; his off-handed affability and carefully affected shows of modesty had evidently won him many friends on APDA. Though he spoke well enough, his posture was hunched and ungainly, and careful observers can hear him abuse the word “right?” as a crutch throughout the round, an unfortunate verbal tic which he might have easily eliminated if he’d had the courage to watch himself debate on tape before his graduation. Other than this, Petronius delivers a delightful floor speech that shows off his style well. A halting subsequent effort by an anonymous speaker takes up so much of the video’s time, however, that Kimel’s PMR is unfortunately cut off. Nevertheless, in the eyes of most observers, what survives of it confirms that Harvard A merited its victory on a 9-2 decision, and, for the time being at least, the coveted honor of First Place TOTY.

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