Apologies friends, the TOC is a hell of a drug. We have 8 submissions from people who like fun. We are going to do this rank choiced voting style. Let's see who wins clout and glory!
By Anthony Trufanov
In 1991, T.A. McKinney, an accomplished Kentucky Wildcat of an earlier generation, wrote an essay for the Wake Forest Debater’s Research Guide entitled “Rehabilitating Intrinsicness,” which laid out the case for holding disadvantages to a higher standard of causality. The essay has aged like fine wine; while debate has shifted in many meaningful respects, McKinney’s paper remains well-argued and relevant to this day. Nevertheless, the article largely failed in its goal of popularizing intrinsicness. The state of affairs McKinney described in his introduction—of “widespread hostility to intrinsicness on the part of judges,” or of “weak-kneed affirmative teams who abandon ship in the face of four or five meekly mumbled negative objections”—persists to this day.
This response is too often reactionary, grounded in received wisdom from coaches or peers who are themselves several generations removed from the last time the concept received a fair hearing. This follow-up is my attempt to pick up McKinney’s project where he left it: to rehabilitate the idea of intrinsicness, or the “minor repair,” in a form that could be suitable to debate in 2021.
My primary argument is that reasonable and beneficial intrinsicness arguments founder when presented in debates due to debaters’ inability to articulate a principled distinction between permissible and impermissible “minor repairs.” As a result, debaters are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A methodology for parsing good intrinsicness tests from bad is needed.
Fortunately, we need not look far for a viable approach. After all, debaters and judges, collectively, have decades of experience debating the legitimate boundaries of non-resolutional fiat when the negative introduces it! Instead of inventing a taxonomy of intrinsicness tests out of whole cloth, I propose an adaptation of counterplan theory to limit the power of the AFF to articulate minor repairs. Under this framework:
Before getting into our discussion, we must define our terms. At the most basic level, intrinsicness asks the question: in evaluating the plan’s merits, which consequences are relevant to consider? There are several ways to approach this discussion.
Merriam-Webster defines intrinsicness as “belonging to the essential nature or constitution of a thing”; in other words, it is “the intuitive idea that a property is intrinsic roughly if it is necessary to a thing being what it is”. At face value, this idea would seem to invite an age-old ethical debate concerning the difference between an act’s inherent properties and its consequences, and an even older phenomenological discussion about whether it is possible to ascertain the essence of things, or whether such an essence exists in the first place. Staying true to this common usage might lead us to conclude that intrinsicness theory gestures to similar ideas to any framing contention about deontology and causality, which might be found in hundreds of popular high school 1ACs. Such a line of argument might claim that the goodness or badness of an act inheres from its intrinsic qualities rather than from its indirect results.
However, this is not what AFF debaters usually say today when they bring up intrinsicness in a 2AC. Instead, AFF debaters invoke intrinsicness as a proxy for a different notion: that there should be a uniform standard for causality, applied reciprocally to AFF and NEG teams. More specifically, they argue that for consequence y to be considered a salient cost or benefit of plan x, the presence of x must be both a sufficient and necessary condition for the presence of y:
Benefits of the Intrinsicness Standard—Reciprocity
Having clarified the terms of the discussion, let’s delve into why such a change is needed. There are three compelling justifications for restoring the core elements of the intrinsicness standard.
The first justification for restoring an intrinsicness standard is consistency and AFF/NEG reciprocity. The problem is straightforward: the relevance of causal relationships should not be contingent on which team brings them up. To see why, let’s return to the agenda trade-off DA. Isn’t it quite strange that the saliency of the plan’s popularity and its effect on presidential political capital varies so dramatically by side? When introduced by the NEG, such an argument typically draws multiple minutes of 2AC refutation. However, when submitted by the AFF, such an argument would draw nothing but a chuckle and a one-sentence counterplan text. While AFF and NEG debating differs in many ways, one would think that fundamental causality, at least, would remain relatively constant.
Zooming out, we find an even more confusing picture. Intrinsicness is already pervasive in policy debates, albeit concealed under different names. Few would be especially troubled by a court AFF that did not specify its agent in the plan text making an agent-based no link argument against an agenda crowd-out politics DA, even though such an argument could just as easily be rephrased as “not intrinsic: not all worlds which contain plan x contain DA y, because some worlds containing x use a judicial actor.” Hardly any would object to an AFF team utilizing a basic “permutation: do both” argument to argue that a CP solves the link to a DA, even though such an argument could be rewritten as “not intrinsic: not all worlds which contain plan x contain DA y, because worlds containing both x and CP z do not contain y.”
The current standard for causality in debate, then, is more a confusing and nonsensical patchwork than a logical framework for cost-benefit analysis:
Benefits of the Intrinsicness Standard—Real World
The second justification for restoring an intrinsicness standard is that it is real world. Simply put, decision-makers frequently invoke intrinsicness standards as a reason for dismissing objections to proposals for change, ranging from policy discussions to more mundane decisions in our day-to-day. It would surely be unreasonable to reject the option of going outside during winter because it is cold without having even considered the option to put on a coat. McKinney’s article on intrinsicness provides another real-world example, in which a CIA lecturer rejects the “Soviet economic collapse” disadvantage to cracking down on Soviet IP theft because economic risk can be solved through aid. Many more examples could be offered, but even these few should suffice to illustrate the pervasiveness of the intrinsicness standard in the evaluation of real-world disadvantages.
Benefits of the Intrinsicness Standard—Quality of Clash
The final justification for restoring an intrinsicness standard for NEG arguments is the quality of clash. Clash occurs when two sides disagree with each other. This is the essence of debate—two sides argue about an issue, exchange evidence and ideas, and, in the process, hopefully come to an improved understanding. There are many schools of thought on what constitutes high-quality clash. However, one reasonable way to discern good clash from bad is to compare the objections raised by NEG teams to those raised by the NEG literature base. Put another way—would a topic area expert crafting a 1NC arrive at a similar set of themes as the NEG team? If debate purports to carry educational value, one should expect there to be some resemblance between policy debates and real-world debates about policies between experts familiar with the critical points of clash on an issue.
While it is difficult to demonstrate this in any rigorous or scientific way, I believe policy NEG teams are, broadly speaking, falling well short of this metric. A peek under the hood of most high school teams’ file collections over the last few years would reveal precious few disadvantage arguments at all, to say nothing of disadvantages with intrinsic links. Even fewer teams can claim to have a file unrelated to politics—midterms, agenda, rider, and horse-trading arguments likely accounted for a significant portion, if not a majority, of disadvantage arguments introduced in a 1NC in recent years.
To check this intuition, I surveyed the 2NR strategies of the teams ranked top 25 on the Coaches’ Poll against policy affirmatives. I chose this sample because teams in the top 25 are more likely to maintain good disclosure practices and because teams in the top 25 likely have the most effective preparation practices. I excluded rounds in which the 2NR was not specified in the round report and did not investigate rounds where disclosure was missing.
The results essentially confirmed my suspicions. Excluding teams that usually go for kritiks, 20% of arguments appearing in policy or “flex” teams’ 2NRs were some flavor of politics DA. Politics arguments were almost four times as common as broad topic arguments like the federalism DA, the crime DA, or the separation of powers DA, and four times as common as specific DAs about the affirmative being debated. While politics DAs were sometimes coupled with specific CPs about the affirmative (usually advantage CPs), it was far more common to see politics accompanied by an agent CP strategy, commonly with zero specific evidence.
None of this is an accident. Instead, politics has become a stand-in that teams rely on to replace actual research about the topic. To be clear, there is no judgment for debaters who do this. By my count, teams attending the policy TOC in 2021 had read, between them, about 80 different categories of AFFs (each “category” defined as a grouping of AFFs for which specific NEG research would not generally overlap), to say nothing of new AFFs presented at the actual tournament. The impulse to relieve the burden by abandoning the pursuit of specific NEG strategies is entirely understandable. Individual teams or debaters who internalize all of the costs of the extra work but do not internalize all of the benefits of higher quality debates are unlikely to abandon this calculus without being compelled to do so by the forward march of debate theory.
Reading a paragraph like that would probably make any serious NEG researcher shudder. Am I really suggesting that NEGs should be deprived of their most popular tools for managing complexity on a topic where even the most industrious NEG researchers could not keep up? Who, other than an unhinged 2A with no concern for the free time of embattled 2Ns nationwide, would write something like that? I admit, this is the objection to intrinsicness that I found the most persuasive at first. Upon closer inspection, however, even this objection falters.
First, this is not actually an objection to intrinsicness; it is an objection to broad topics! NEG teams had no trouble crafting intrinsic objections to establishing National Health Insurance, describing the economic harms of a national Cap-and-Trade scheme, or illustrating the damage a no-first-use policy would do to nuclear deterrence. Many students who participated in high-level debates on these issues remember those rounds fondly for their depth, detail, and intellectual stimulation. Good topics—those with narrow and balanced ground—enable plenty of engagement even without the padding offered by non-intrinsic objections.
“Be that as it may,” you might be thinking, “but the flawed topic process, especially in high school, cannot produce resolutions like this consistently.” That is not the right way to approach the issue. As a famous legal axiom reminds us, “hard cases make bad law.” Considering the most recent high school topics, the temptation to prioritize NEG ground above everything else is understandably strong. But lowering the bar for what counts as a relevant NEG link argument is a poor solution. It does not create “good” policy debates; it simply raises the tolerance for non-sequiturs from NEG teams. Conceding that intrinsicness would be more logical but rejecting it for the sake of debatability would justify any other distortions to help the NEG. Why not arbitrarily reduce the importance of uniqueness for NEG arguments, as in public forum, just to make it easier to negate?
This illusion of balance is not free—it comes at the cost of coherent, logical argumentation on topics that would have supported it, in the rare cases when they come up. It is a travesty that any debates on the national health insurance topic were decided by the rider DA. Even worse, forgoing intrinsicness does broader damage by masking the imbalanced and poorly calibrated nature of high school topics through nonsensical 1NC padding that would never withstand scrutiny in a serious discussion. This steam valve lessens pressure for the only real solution: greater discipline by the topic committee in choosing limiting language for AFF teams.
Fortunately, teams do not have to wait for the topic committee to dramatically improve before making intrinsicness a mainstream expectation for the NEG. Instead, debaters can use topicality as a dynamic tool to adjust the scope of topics until it is in line with the updated division of NEG ground. The best topicality debaters go into considerable detail concerning their vision for what debates on the topic should look like. If an intrinsicness standard is introduced, these debaters will point to the rising bar for NEG arguments to make their case for limiting interpretations more compelling. This can even occur on “poorly written” topics, since debatability can outweigh precision or predictability when the stakes are sufficiently dire. In some ways, such topicality arguments distort the “reality” of debates about a topic much in the same way as non-intrinsic disadvantages. But distorting a topic is a better solution than distorting the role of the NEG. Topics change every year, but the role of the NEG is forever.
I recognize that implementing a stricter intrinsicness standard in a way that “syncs up” with a higher quality topic would not be easy. However, the inability to attain buy-in for a vision of debate has never been a valid reason to reject a theory interpretation. The implementation question is far from trivial, of course. However, for the purposes of this paper, if the sequencing issue is your only remaining objection and you agree that the vision of debate I am describing would be superior to the status quo, consider yourself convinced.
Second, concerns about NEG ground are overblown. Teams are already finding ways to limit their reliance on non-intrinsic disadvantages, even if not intentionally, simply because non-intrinsic objections are often weaker. Looking back to our 2NR breakdown from earlier, we can see a variety of positions that could survive an intrinsicness objection: elections DAs, court legitimacy DAs, topic generics like the crime DA or federalism DA, impact turns, kritiks, and topicality arguments accounted for 60% of arguments that appeared in 2NRs! Minneapolis South, the team ranked #1, was a model in this respect. They are the only team that went for case-specific offense more often than they went for the politics DA. Most of their 2NRs contained a topicality argument or kritik.
Current 2NR breakdown data is an imperfect indicator, however. The historical record shows that NEGs find a way; it is not as if NEG researchers would roll over and give up in response to a demand for more specificity. Perhaps more case NEGs and case-specific strategies would be written. Perhaps researchers would make more intentional efforts to approach that ever-elusive goal of applying core NEG themes to specific examples. Perhaps people would delve into the literature instead of accelerating the casual mockery of the separation of powers that traditionally occurs in agent CP texts. I do not know the optimal percentage of case-specific DA and CP 2NRs as a share of all 2NR positions, but it is surely greater than 8%.
Minor prep adjustments can also rescue many arguments from the intrinsicness dustbin. NEG teams should simply prep disadvantages or other responses to the minor repair! Imagine you have a court precedent DA, arguing that the plan’s ruling spills over to other areas, which would result in something bad. Much like a court precedent ADV, your DA would have to reckon with the “distinguish” test—why not make the plan’s ruling, and distinguish the precedent DA’s impact? An AFF reading a precedent advantage must make additional arguments about why consistent and coherent precedent is beneficial—whether for business confidence, for clarity of law, or for any other reason. A NEG team reading a DA could easily say something similar.
Thinking about intrinsicness arguments as a mirror image of CPs provides a helpful way of thinking about this issue. Remember—AFF teams are already held to this standard, and few would argue that CPs should be banned because the threshold they create is too burdensome. This is partly because the solvency of counterplans and intrinsicness tests is not a binary proposition; CPs can solve some of a case, and intrinsicness tests solve some of a DA link. Consider a relations ADV or DA. Just as AFFs can respond to relations ADV CPs by explaining why the plan is a vital issue in the relationship, NEGs can respond to relations intrinsicness tests by explaining that the plan still does significant net damage. This move would refocus the debate on what is really at issue: whether the plan is an element of the best policy option and whether the addition of the plan creates a net cost or a net benefit.
Having summarized the benefits of intrinsicness, let us go through some common, and some not so common, objections.
Responding to Objections—“AFF Fiat Power is Limited to the Resolution”
Many common objections to intrinsicness—including this one—rest on the belief that an intrinsicness test is an advocacy, or becomes a component of the AFF’s broader advocacy, or requires AFF fiat to implement. This is incorrect.
Remember—intrinsicness tests merely say that NEG’s offensive argument is not relevant because it is easy to remedy without forgoing the plan and its benefits. This does not mean voting AFF causes the intrinsicness test to happen and does not mean the intrinsicness test becomes part of the AFF’s proposal; it only means that certain downsides to the plan are ruled out from consideration because they would be easy to fix if the plan were enacted. A disadvantage to the intrinsicness test would not be a reason to reject the plan, only a reason that the repair proposed for the original disadvantage would not be viable. Similarly, advantages to the intrinsicness test are not reasons the plan is good. A close analogy is an AFF permutation, which also solves NEG offense, but cannot produce AFF offense, and whose undesirability cannot, by itself, serve as a reason to reject the plan.
A related set of objections also fails for this reason. Intrinsicness is not a “moving target”—nothing is “moving” because the core advocacy remains static, and addenda are closer to “no link” arguments than to advocacies. Intrinsicness is also not argumentatively irresponsible since the AFF is not jettisoning any part of its original proposal. While the AFF does get to discard intrinsicness tests at will, this is reciprocal to conditionality on the NEG. It is also no different than not extending “no link” arguments on the AFF or not extending a permutation.
Even if one is not convinced by this distinction, the form of fiat ostensibly being used by an intrinsicness test is entirely unobjectionable. The view that the judge’s fiat power comes exclusively from the resolution is outdated; how else do we explain NEG CPs, AFF perms, K ALTs, and K AFFs? Fiat is nothing more than the intellectual practice of imagining a different world for the instrumental purpose of determining whether the AFF is net beneficial or net costly. For reasons explained above, intrinsicness serves this purpose by helping parse relevant consequences from irrelevant ones.
Lastly, even if this argument is correct, it is not a reason to reject intrinsicness categorically, only a reason to reject non-topical intrinsicness. Topical intrinsicness tests, helping teams deal with arguments like the sentencing horse-trading DA or the incremental reform trades off with comprehensive reform DA, should still be permissible since the fiat used by the remedy originates from the topic.
Responding to Objections—“Non-Reciprocity is Justified by the Inherency Burden”
This argument comes from a profoundly anachronistic conception of the AFF inherency burden. Per this argument, the inherency burden requires the AFF team to prove that harms being described are inherent (or intrinsic) to the status quo policy—in other words, that harms “inhere” to the status quo, creating an “inherent and compelling need” for change. This phrasing of the inherency burden is an old chestnut, invoked in stock issues debates as early as 1965 by Paul Newman.
However, even Newman’s contemporaries called such conceptions of inherency into question, instead describing inherency as requiring AFF teams to prove that something “other than a mere quantitative change in the current way of doing things… is needed to solve the problem”. The latter definition, requiring “other than quantitative” change, does not, by itself, suggest that AFF harms must persist irrespective of all conceivable non-plan adjustments before they can be considered relevant. This should be obvious since inherency considerably predates the popularization of the CP.
Even if Newman’s description were correct, however, it would not justify differential treatment of AFF and NEG link arguments for two reasons. First, even the most strictly interpreted inherency burden would not justify lowering the standard for NEG arguments. Inherency might require the AFF to prove its harms inhere to the non-plan, but this, by itself, says nothing (beyond serving as one basis for presumption) about what is required of the NEG. Second, a tenuous connection to one of the burdens of proof does not outweigh the overwhelming pedagogical advantages of forcing the NEG to engage with a higher level of specificity. Inherency is not a suicide pact; the stock issues should evolve to match the demands of the times. There is precedent for such changes. After all, few hold AFF teams to the standards set out by attitudinal, structural, or philosophical inherency. To the extent that the inherency burden cuts against requiring NEG link arguments to be intrinsic, it is the inherency burden, rather than the intrinsicness requirement, that should give way.
Responding to Objections—“The Judge is a Single Policymaker, And Therefore Cannot Count On The Passage of the Remedy”
This argument is puzzling. Why would the judge be a single policymaker or Congressperson? There is no basis in the topic or the AFF or NEG burdens for such a judge role. Moreover, this interpretation is belied by practices that contemporary debate takes for granted. Non-policy advocacies that could not be endorsed by a member of Congress, or agent CPs that compare the efficacy of Congressional action to action by the executive branch, the courts, or even the states, could not be logically evaluated by a single policymaker. Moreover, if the judge is a single policymaker, it is unclear why they should be empowered to implement the plan in the first place. There are, after all, few things that any individual within the government can accomplish through fiat.
AFF teams frequently misstep when answering this argument, forgoing the opportunity to point out the arbitrariness of this interpretation in order to argue that the judge is, in fact, the entire United States federal government. Aside from being equally arbitrary, this interpretation has the added downside of being incoherent. What does it even mean for the judge to “be” the United States federal government?
It is much simpler to abandon the charade that judges are “role-playing” as anyone or anything and treat judges as what they are: human educators whose job is to determine the winner of a debate round by endorsing a normative statement. So conceived, judge fiat power does not derive from anywhere; fiat is simply the imagination of change, and judges can vote for CPs, ALTs, and perms because the imagination of change is a simple human capacity with which they are endowed. Judges are therefore perfectly capable of voting AFF and giving an RFD that sounds something like: “the plan would be net beneficial because cost y would be easy to address through repair z.”
Responding to Objections—“The Judge’s Role Alternates Between a Policymaker Constrained By The Topic and an Unconstrained Policymaker Depending on Which Direction They Vote”
This interpretation is more subtle and superficially less arbitrary since it purports to originate in the topic. However, this interpretation, too, fails.
First, its justifications are specious. Either this interpretation relies on the notion that intrinsicness is circumscribed by the topic (an objection addressed above—intrinsicness neither uses fiat nor amends the plan, so it should not be topic-bound), or it arbitrarily limits the cognitive powers of the judge in the interests of fairness (an interest better served by limiting the topic).
Second, this interpretation is still arbitrary and divorced from reality. It still does not account for the presence of kritiks or non-resolutional AFFs. It is also inaccurate since the judge’s power to decide between normative statements is, as a descriptive matter, not limited; they may support any proposal they wish to support.
Responding to Objections—“Non-Reciprocity is Justified by the AFF’s Choice of the Focus of the Debate & Infinite Prep”
At root, this is a NEG ground argument in disguise. The appropriate solution is to narrow the AFF’s choice of debate focus through narrow topic-writing or topicality rather than lowering the bar for NEG link arguments.
A variation on this argument concerning the AFF’s infinite prep is slightly more threatening. Unlimited prep does justify, to some degree, the differential in standards for each side; after all, the AFF should theoretically come up with the perfect proposal and should not require “minor repairs.” There are two problems with this justification. First, the imperfections at issue are not the result of shoddy prep. Instead, they result from topical constraints that prevent the AFF from specifying their solutions for the plan’s adverse effects in advance. It is therefore inappropriate to punish the AFF for imperfections in their proposals. Second, this presumes that an intrinsicness test amends the AFF’s proposal to eliminate a defect. For reasons explained above, this is not the case.
At a minimum, shouldn’t the ability to choose the perfect topical proposal rule out topical intrinsicness remedies? No. First, it would be bizarre and unintuitive to allow the AFF non-topical remedies while barring topical ones. Second, this assumes, once again, that the remedy modifies the AFF’s proposal. The AFF did not add the topical remedy to their proposal because they are not proposing it; they are merely arguing that a judge could endorse an additional topical step if it furthered an end they wished to preserve through their vote.
Taking a broader view, one might expand this genre of argument to include general questions of AFF and NEG parity. I will not venture into this discussion; it is a bottomless rabbit hole. All I will say is that it is unclear why such considerations, at their most abstract, should inform our understanding of causality. As with abstract notions of NEG ground, lowering the bar for NEG link arguments is a poorly-tailored and unnecessary solution when narrower remedies for side disparities, such as topicality, are available.
Responding to Objections—“Teams Would Choose Egregious Intrinsicness Tests”
The beauty of my proposal is that it provides a toolkit for NEG teams to argue against specific egregious intrinsicness tests without claiming that the intrinsicness standard is conceptually flawed. An intrinsicness test to do the AFF and have Russia not go to war with the US to solve a US-Russia war impact would be easy to dismiss by saying international intrinsicness tests are illegitimate. Using the possibility of a Russia-actor intrinsicness test as an argument against intrinsicness is no different than using the possibility of a Russia CP to argue that there should be no CPs. Just as good CPs can be distinguished from bad, bad tests can be dismissed while retaining good ones.
Problematic uses of facially legitimate intrinsicness tests can be disputed as well. One common concern is that intrinsicness would be used to kick out of straight-turned ADVs. This is not a reason to jettison intrinsicness, only a reason to ban the practice of using intrinsicness tests to get out of straight turns. The practice is clearly bad—equally so when NEG teams do it to their own straight-turned DAs.
There are two rationales to reject this behavior. First, the introduction of an ADV or DA carries the implication of a sufficient and necessary causal relationship, which the team that introduced the argument cannot “take back” after introducing it. Second, bold strategic choices should be rewarded; it should not be possible to override them with one sentence. These concerns can easily be addressed directly and do not require abandoning intrinsicness any more than they require banning CPs.
Responding to Objections—“The Politics DA is Good to Read About”
Despite being the most popular response to the intrinsicness test, this argument is a total non-starter. That a disadvantage spices up the discourse in some way could literally not be less relevant to the threshold for linkage between a policy and an outcome.
If this consideration was dispositive, shouldn’t we also reject counterplans that solve a politics advantage on theoretical grounds? More broadly, shouldn’t we then reject any counterplan that solves an advantage someone could argue is educational to read about? Obviously not. No judge would vote for such an argument. It is clearly absurd to pretend things are relevant to whether the plan is good or bad just because they are interesting to read about.
But even assuming for the sake of argument that this notion could conceivably withstand scrutiny, the objection still fails.
First, politics DAs are stupid. They do not teach you anything valuable. They only brainwash you to buy into a bankrupt horse-race model of political journalism that breeds cynicism and polarization while conveying little, if any, substantive information about the contents of popular proposals. They instill a zero-sum mentality that inculcates reflexive centrism and convinces people their political demands are impossible. Can anyone who debated the stimulus or infrastructure DA actually break down, in detail, what is contained within those packages, beyond “yes/no gas tax,” “yes/no checks,” and “yes/no spending money on (green) roads”? Maybe they could do this better than a random person off the street, but not by much. There is an excellent video by former Wake Forest debater Carlos Maza on this subject.
Second, you do not need politics DAs to follow the news. You can just do it. You will get more out of your news diet if you aren’t reading it through the lens of Joe Biden’s political capital. Any former debater will tell you this. If you only have an outlook on politics because of your uniqueness research, your motives are not sustainable, and the outcomes will be totally hopeless anyway.
Third, you could read an intrinsic politics DA. You could read elections. The electorate’s response to the plan is not automatically remediable via an intrinsicness test in the same way that an agenda DA might be. Certainly, the AFF could introduce an additional policy to offset the perception of the plan. Such an argument could be addressed by high-quality, specific link evidence about the plan’s effect on the election, coupled with a CP to reciprocally interrogate the plan’s necessity.
Responding to Objections—“Intrinsicness is Blippy”
This argument is a truism—incomplete thoughts make poor arguments. That is why most intrinsicness arguments currently advanced by debaters would be inadequate under my proposal.
The main impetus for this proposal was reciprocity; this lens offers a good way to think about the “blippiness” objection as well. The NEG can’t defeat an AFF advantage simply by saying that it is not intrinsic and should therefore be rejected—they must introduce a complete CP argument, with a text, solvency arguments, and net benefit. Just as CPs with full texts and solvency arguments make a “non-blippy” intrinsicness argument about an advantage, intrinsicness tests with full texts and solvency arguments are “non-blippy,” solve sandbagging, and ensure ideas are sufficiently fleshed-out to debate.
Responding to Objections—“Infinitely Regressive”
The final objection to intrinsicness that I will address is that it contains the possibility for infinite regression; conceivably, an AFF team could introduce a test, a NEG team could respond by reading a DA to this test, an AFF team could introduce a new test against the new NEG DA, and so on until the 2AR ends the debate with the last move. McKinney’s original article adequately dispenses with this objection, however. This chain of infinite regression is a pure hypothetical that has never occurred and is difficult to even imagine. Moreover, this objection links equally to CPs (one might 2NC CP out of 2AC offense against a 1NC CP, prompting new 1AR offense, prompting a new 2NR CP, prompting new 2AR offense).
Similar scenarios are even possible without resorting to exotic notions like new 2NR CPs—an impact turn debate can also result in regression, with new turns being introduced all the way until the 2AR as each speech impact turns the previous one. This also never happens, but the potential for such a cycle to occur is inherent to finite debate events in which it is accepted that new arguments in the last constructive can be answered by new arguments in rebuttals.
At worst, this objection is solved by limiting the introduction of intrinsicness tests to constructive speeches. It does not necessitate discarding intrinsicness altogether.
At the end of the day, it is essential to remember what detractors of intrinsicness are requesting: to get away with lower quality in their research, less specificity in their evidence and analysis, and a double standard between themselves and their opponents. Many arguments against intrinsicness presented by frantic NEG block speeches on politics fail to provide reasons for their position that do not equally implicate the use of CPs. While there are some justifications for treating the AFF and NEG differently in this context, those justifications are thin and often used as an ex-post rationalization for a reactionary position with little support. By mirroring theoretical limits on NEG CPs for AFF intrinsicness tests, teams can raise the bar for the salience of NEG objections, thus elevating the discourse without letting the most egregious examples of intrinsicness tests through the door.
As a final note, I want to briefly mention kritik links. I have not talked about these in this essay; I hope that someone better positioned to comment on the mechanics of linkage in kritiks of policy and kritikal AFFs alike will eventually do so. While it may be possible to transpose the language of intrinsicness into K debates and simply evaluate linkage as a question of necessary connection rather than necessary and sufficient causality, doing so begs the question of many common NEG framework arguments which are beyond the scope of this piece to address. For now, suffice it to say that the proposed standard should not be automatically applied to kritikal discussions, as doing so without interrogation would prematurely discard potentially distinguishable NEG objections.
 T. A. McKinney 91, “Rehabilitating Intrinsicness,” in Addressing Homelessness: Social Services in the 1990s, the Wake Forest Debater’s Research Guide, retrieved from the Digital Speech and Debate Initiative Theory Library
 I considered suggesting that intrinsicness tests should be allowed to generate offense insofar as that offense requires the presence of the plan. I decided in favor of a categorical rule for two reasons. First, because the latter formulation would effectively obviate the sufficiency requirement for advantages, undermining the benefits of strict intrinsicness requirements for AFF/NEG reciprocity. Second, because allowing intrinsicness tests to generate offense would blur the otherwise clear line between an intrinsicness test and a conditional plan amendment.
 Merriam-Webster no date, “Intrinsic,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intrinsic
 Dan W. Brock 73, “Recent Work in Utilitarianism,” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 4, [North American Philosophical Publications, University of Illinois Press], 1973, pp. 241–276
 McKinney, pp 5-6
 See the appendix for a more detailed breakdown.
 Robert P. Newman 65, “The Inherent and Compelling Need,” Journal of the American Forensic Association, 2, 66-71.
A. N. Kruger, cited by Kathryn M. Olson 8, “The Practical Importance of Inherency Analysis for Public Advocates: Rhetorical Leadership in Framing a Supportive Social Climate for Education Reforms,” Journal of Applied Communication Research, No. 36, Iss. 2, 219-241.
 Carlos Maza 19, @gaywonk, “Why You Still Don’t Understand the Green New Deal,” 03/11/2019, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpqFaf8vQfk
 McKinney, page 3
Appendix - 2NRs by Coaches Poll Teams, 20-21
Breakdown of 2NRs against policy AFFs by teams ranked in the top 25 by the last Coaches Poll of the 20-21 high school policy debate season. Totals calculated by “2NR / argument”—a 2NR containing two Politics DAs, for example, counts as two “politics 2NRs,” even though they occurred in the same speech.
Breakdown of 2NRs by teams that go for Kritiks against policy AFFs in less than 80% of debates ranked in the top 25 by the last Coaches Poll of the 20-21 high school policy debate season (excluding North Broward DR, Coppell CK, GBS JM, Lexington BY, and Berkeley Prep KZ). Same method as above.
The NDT is over. Many seasons have come to an end. Everyone can take a breath. You made it to the end. An honest to goodness season occurred over zoom. There are no asterisks here. People found a way to work hard when some were never in the same room as their coaches or teammates all season. Really incredible. There will be more earnest posts in the future, particularly about the future of debate, but for now here is what caught my eye.
If you were an oddsmaker and you wanted to improve your chances of your team winning, debaters like IanM are top 5 draft picks.
College novice to NDT elims. Warms my cold dead heart every time. How many other folks are there on college campuses who never knew what debate was in high school that could have a similar story?
I grew out of imprinting initials on cards a few years ago. I would wager it was correct to do so. Two justifications for it are: imprinting is accountability (what if IanM cut Drezner 15 or whatever it was??) and makes it easier to figure out exactly how much work someone is doing. At Liberty I found this useful because with a novice-based team it clarified how much work was required at varying levels of seriousness.
The downside is it looks bad, it signals information to your opponents (most isn’t helpful, but the earnest argument is “oh look they only go for cards they cut, none tagged by other people, so I will change coverage accordingly”) and leads to clout-chasing toxicity within a team. You can tell who cuts a lot of cards and who doesn’t anyway – imprinting cards and keeping score is unnecessary.
So, I think the downside outweighs, but I like the signaling done by the IanMs and KENs of the world who are cutting a lot of cards for their team.
2. Kelly Phil
She debated on a flipped schedule while in Taiwan for a tournament that lasts like 12 days and made it to quarters?? I hazard to say we may not see anything quite like that again at the NDT. Incredible work from the frosh.
3. 11 judge panels
What better way to hedge than let 11 people judge your debates? 11 chances to roll the dice! I love the chaos potential. The best part is that this 11 judge panel clocked a very reasonable decision time compared to some of these other elimination panels.
4. Dartmouth cards
I love that they are all formatted different. I like how they don’t look like other teams’. I like how the length is totally random. Would I be so bold as to put money on the quality of card that I am getting? I sure wouldn’t. Sometimes you get something awesome, sometimes you get two lines of a Raam fever dream. But it is the journey that matters!
5. 8-0, 19 ballots
My debate career was not the most storied. One fun fact is that my senior year, I went 6-2 with 12 ballots at the NDT. I believe that is the only time that score has been registered.
So when I saw 8-0 with 19 registered by Kansas BF, I thought that surely a jackpot had been hit and a unique NDT score had been registered.
Not so! In 1977, Northwestern Love and Singer also registered an 8-0 with 19 ballots. They beat Middle Tennessee and lost to Redlands in the quarters (NDT cleared to octafinals in this era).
For the real history nerds out there, 8-0 with 18 was done twice too. Michigan SW (Stoughton and Wexler (of HRIA CP fame)) in 1998 and in 2003 by Georgia PR (Powers and Ramachandrappa)
6. Flexy Peens
I would stake my life on two claims. First, everything said about flexible response seemed banal. There are O’Hanlon cards on every topic, don’t fall prey to their siren song. Second, Peens was the best area to be affirmative. If you know you know.
I was very conflicted when Georgetown read flexible response for Peens. It is like this:
But an affirmative.
7. Maraj 20
I would read up on Louis Maraj’s CV and the people they cite and who cite them. I would speculate it could be the next big thing, a la Grove 20.
8. Fucking Fleming
T-there are only four affirmatives. It is the quarters of the NDT. Everyone is sitting around past the four-hour mark waiting for Fleming to decide. What would the payout have to be for you to stake anything against Fleming sitting on the bottom of a 4-1? I think it was clear what was going to happen after about 20 minutes.
Seriously though, let’s time elims at like 3 hours, maybe 3:15. Gotta cap those diminishing returns somewhere. I guess we can exempt the finals.
I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that everyone has an opinion on the way schedules work. The issue we run into in debate is that we aren’t great at dialogue and hashing out a consensus. I think we can do it! We can make progress on schedules.
The first question: what is the baseline amount of time needed in a preround? I propose 30 minutes. I am sure this does not comport to the way some teams handle their business now, but as a bar any team could learn to live and thrive with, 30 mins of prep before a debate is adequate.
The real thing to hash out is what values warrant deviating from that baseline. For example:
Round 7 and 8 largely determine who clears. Should there be more prep time?
Some rounds are impacted by food breaks. More time?
Elims are more important to prelims. Should prep time for round 2 and the octafinals be the same?
You can’t be eliminated from the tournament in round 1 or 2 (you could draw the line to include round 3 maybe). Tournaments (mine included) apply the same prep to all rounds. I can’t say this maximizes any value beyond like…if you set the bar at like 40 minutes and do it consistently then people do not complain. I can’t say it is achieving good values though.
The rub is that the days are very long, and we have to reckon with it.
10. So much topicality, so little topic
Ugh, I won’t beat a dead horse. I am not going to go for broke. It is not in the cards. But wowza – so much topicality about nothing. It will never not be funny that this was supposed to be the DA’s topic.
11. More History
Non-male top speakers before 2021: Patricia Stallings from Houston in 1957, Gloria Cabada from Wake Forest in 1988, Stephanie Spies and Ryan Beiermeister from Northwestern back to back in 2011 and 2012, Natalie Knez from Georgetown in 2018.
Black top speakers before 2021: Rashid Campbell from Oklahoma in 2014, and Devane Murphy from Rutgers in 2017.
Azja Butler from Kansas is the sixth non-male top speaker, the third Black top speaker and the first ever Black woman to win top speaker at the NDT. One of the reasons the NDT always gets the juices flowing, even for people out of the activity for decades, is that the NDT is what shapes the history books more than anything.
As a debate lifer I do not think you can recognize the special team efforts required to carve out a place in history enough. Special kudos to Jyleesa Hampton. She started coaching in 2015-16, and you would be hard pressed to find a coach whose teams have put up better results.
Other fun ones you may not have ventured to guess. Kansas had the top two speakers BUT they were not partners. A school has definitely had the top two speakers before (Rutgers MN, Harvard BS, NU BK, NU GS to be precise). This is the first time a school had the top two speakers from different partnerships. No amount of going for T-substantial could hold Nate Martin down!
The other, more obvious historymaker is Pitt MO. This blog has been on the record that the heg good affirmative was not what it seemed against the K, and if equally debated the Neg should find a way to win. I believe that is what happened in the doubles vs Emory.
It would be difficult to find an NDT semis performance this impressive, given the combination of their low seeding with the strength of opposition faced. The college policy alums Facebook page certainly did dig up some interesting examples. Kansas BR in 2016, as a non-bid team that made the finals, is certainly up there.
Trevor Wells from Facebook: Harvard KT (Karem & Tushnet), 1992. 11th bid, 15th seed. Beat the #18 seed (Pittsburgh BR) in the doubles, and then unleased some huge wins in the octas (Texas GM, the #2 seed and #5 bid), quarters (Wayne State AG, the #10 seed and #12 FRALB [which seems so low in retrospect; those guys were fire]), and semifinals (Dartmouth AL, the #3 seed and #1 FRALB), before losing a 6-1 decision in the final to Georgetown AK (the #8 seed).
The only other history note I have at the moment: 3 of the semifinals teams had a Black debater on it. Easily could be the first time such a thing has happened.
12. Unbroken Aff Bracket
The people in the trenches report they were unenthused by the affirmatives that were broken at the NDT. Too predictable. Too banal. By popular demand – if you want to send me a 1AC for an affirmative that was unbroken at the NDT, I will create a Bracket (with a capital B that…) and let the good people decide if there are any true innovators among us. Let the chips fall where they may. Everyone put their cards on the table. Cowards can’t block warriors.
Very surreal NDT. Congratulations if your season concluded. You made it.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.