Something is Really Wrong With 2Ns
By Anthony Trufanov
This is a public service announcement about advantage CP texts.
At the outset – I may use a text you wrote or read as an example. That’s not meant as a call-out. This behavior is somehow ubiquitous, and my only record of the behavior is a set of screenshots I’ve saved without teams attached.
With that out of the way:
Here are some ‘policy ideas’ that have been proposed this semester in our ‘policy debates’ to ‘solve AI innovation.’ I am quoting these verbatim from CP texts.
One would think it would be obvious why this is terrible, but apparently it needs unpacking.
What’s wrong with this picture
1. You are not saying anything.
Imagine a judge giving an RFD that starts with “the case was huge, but I didn’t end up thinking the AI race was a serious problem because I could just ‘scale up digital talent pipelines’ instead.” If you take a step back and think about this sentence with your normal, non-debate brain, you will realize that hearing that RFD means either the AFF team dropped the CP or someone in the room is having a stroke.
Translating the argument to a real-world conversation is a reasonable litmus test. Imagine writing a paper that will be graded by a professor which hand-waves concerns about innovation based on an unevidenced assertion that governments can simply ‘develop a data strategy that promotes innovation.’ Putting such an under-developed position in a paper will typically be worse than useless; it does nothing to advance your argument, and only serves as evidence of your shallow grasp of the issues you’re discussing.
An argument that is highly likely to annoy your judge and which can only help you if it is dropped by your opponent is a bad use of your time and conditionality exposure.
2. Everyone has already thought of that.
The government already knows it should scale up digital talent pipelines. It is already trying to promote innovation. Sometimes the way they go about doing this is not very good. But these CP texts do not change the bad ways governments are attacking problems now. They just reiterate that governments should attempt some solution.
What could the 2AC possibly be burdened with saying in response, beyond reasserting the importance of the plan? That the government shouldn’t try to solve the problem? It is surely not incumbent on the 2A to guess what random specific policy the 1N was talking about and answer it before the NEG ever explains what it is.
3. More broadly, they do not meaningfully foreclose the status quo.
For the NEG to transform something from a ‘would’ question to a ‘should’ question – thus precluding the AFF from responding by saying an actor ‘would’ not act in this way – the NEG must fiat that thing. A good way to determine what is being fiated by an advocacy is look at the inverse – what outcomes does the advocacy’s fiat foreclose?
For example, what is foreclosed by ‘increasing resources for R&D?’ Reducing those resources, as well as keeping them the same, are clearly barred. What about a new, 1 cent per decade tax break per million dollars of demonstrated R&D? This is trickier. This is clearly a possible way the CP could be done, but would obviously not meaningfully affect innovation.
What about ‘regulate the moon?’ The only scenario barred by this CP’s fiat is a completely unregulated moon. Literally any regulation imaginable – no matter how limited – would cross the bar.
To stop bad parts of the status quo, you need to identify what they are and change them. No one wants to give the NEG brownie points for a CP that, substantively, says little more than that the status quo is bad.
4. What did you think the 1N was going to say in CX?
Rhetorical question. Whatever the plan for CX was, save everyone some trouble and put it in the text. If your plan was to let your partner flop around like a fish to avoid answering the question, you should not make them introduce that argument.
Problem definition – what to do instead
What you are really revealing with texts like this is an unclear grasp of the problem you are trying to address. CP solvency operates by identifying parts of the status quo to change, changing them, and arguing that those changes are sufficient to solve the AFF’s harms.
If all you know about the AFF’s harms is that they exist, you will have little to say about them other than that you wish they didn’t. This is why I put ‘solve AI innovation’ in scare quotes; the phrase tells you next to nothing about what is wrong with the status quo.
To write better texts, you need to reach a more sophisticated understanding of the problem. To accomplish that, you need to ask better ‘why’ questions, and answer them with research.
Anthropocentric citizen suits are failing to enforce the Endangered Species Act. Why? Because they undervalue injuries to animals with impacts that are hard to trace to human interests. Why? Because judicial standards for determining whether someone has been injured have been fairly strict, in order to avoid limit standing to those which are proximate to the injury. These questions suggest you need to do some searches about standing reform.
AI innovation is low. Why? Is it because the liability risk is so difficult to underwrite that it scares investors away, irrespective of how good the reward might be? Is it because we have a workforce shortage? Why do we have a workforce shortage? Poor quality education? Students not choosing relevant education? Emigration? Do relevant experts find themselves making more money in other sectors? The answers to these questions will tell you what specifically needs to be done in order to ‘scale up digital talent pipelines.’ They could also reveal that ‘digital talent pipelines’ can’t be easily scaled up at all, which will point you to a line of attack against the case.
You can also approach the issue from the other direction. Suppose you are debating an AFF like cars. What has to have happened in order to solve the case? Advantage one is about not penalizing manufacturers when they exercised every reasonable precaution and damage still occurred. Advantage two is about penalizing manufacturers when they do not exercise every reasonable precaution to ensure autonomous car cybersecurity. We have already come across some liability schemes with these features on this topic, so the puzzle should not be hard to put together.
In short, ADV CPs – like any case defense – improve drastically in quality when they are grounded in deep understanding of the problem you are speaking about.
Answers to answers
There are a few underlying pathologies and perspectives that make people think vacuous texts are reasonable to introduce.
1. “The AFF internal link is bad, so the CP can be bad too.”
When the AFF reads a bad impact card, do you create a new off case page and cover it in verbal diarrhea for 40 seconds of 1NC time to make that point? No – you say that the impact card is bad, you explain why, you move on.
What NEG teams that make this excuse are actually talking about are internal links that are easy to fiat out of – those which the AFF is obviously not necessary, even if it is sufficient, to solve. This is a very specific type of defect. You know it when you see it. It usually comes up when the premise of the AFF advantage is that the AFF’s policy causes a different policy.
Most bad AFF internal links are bad because they are incoherent, not because they are easy to fiat. Usually something incoherent is actually harder to fiat, since it is difficult to describe the problem that needs to be prevented.
When you respond to an incoherent internal link with an incoherent CP, you are replicating the effect of pointing out that it is incoherent, but with extra stupid steps.
2. “The plan is incoherent too.”
Maybe you can introduce a vague CP text, provoke the AFF to make a theory argument about it, and cross-apply their theory argument to the plan text. Otherwise, I see no reason why a vague plan would make introducing a nonsense advantage CP a good idea.
Maybe you think that you can use the fact that the AFF is hand-waving the solvency debate to hand-wave the NEG solvency debate too. Again, I would suggest that instead of answering stupid with stupid and making the judge equally annoyed at everyone, you should answer stupid with smart and make the judge annoyed at the AFF and happy with you.
3. “But we have a card that is also vague.”
Not all cards are equal. Some cards are bad. If you have found an author whose bright idea is to solve AI workforce shortages by simply not having them, they, like you, are not contributing anything valuable to the discourse.
4. “What if they drop it.”
What if you hoot like an owl and they drop that? Either your judge will turn their brain off and vote for you on the pure line by line – as they would have irrespective of what noise you made in that section of your speech – or your judge will vote against you because you didn’t say anything.
Generally we are looking for arguments that improve our chances of winning relative to making random noises.
5. “Sandbagging helps the NEG.”
No, it doesn’t.
If the first time the argument is explained is the 1NC, you get the 2NC, 1NR, and 2NR to develop it, and the AFF gets the 2AC, 1AR, and 2AR to answer it. That is balanced.
If the first time the argument is explained is the block, you get a 2NR to do everything, while the AFF gets the 1AR and 2AR to answer it. This creates a 2:1 time imbalance against you and makes it so they get to answer your answers, and you don’t get to answer theirs.
6. “Sometimes it really is that simple.”
Am I saying that there are no problems in the world that can be solved by throwing money at them? Obviously not. But these problems are the vast minority. They are ones for which structural impediments to the problem’s resolution – whether legal, physical, cultural, or political – have mostly been resolved, leaving only the question of desire for execution.
You may have heard of this thing called strained supply chains. The more addled among you 2Ns might be scratching your heads, baffled at why the Biden administration hasn’t just ‘substantially scaled up supply chains’ or ‘overcame supply bottlenecks’ or something by now.
But most of you are not stupid. You probably know that the economy is complicated. ‘Supply chains’ is short-hand for a bewilderingly heterogenous set of processes, each of them unique and often mind-bogglingly challenging to optimize. Bottlenecks can come from raw materials you never even knew existed, basic components you’ve never thought about, the depth of our ports, the number of cranes equipped to unload freight containers, the capacity of roads and railroads to move those containers to their destinations.
The same dynamics can be seen in topics that 2Ns have become increasingly fond of ‘fiating out of.’ Energy policy is partly about economics, but it’s also about environmental permitting, zoning, federalism, the availability of raw materials to transform capital investment into economic output, the physical ability of different kinds of power generation to provide different grid services, and the availability of specialized labor to build energy infrastructure.
The cumulative effect of these complications does not just create a ‘solvency deficit.’ Instead, it makes the effect of such a vacuous text fundamentally unknowable. The range of policies that could be encompassed by such a CP is massive – the range of policy effects nearly infinite.
So no, 2N, it usually is not that simple. Sometimes it is. Your track records on identifying those cases are terrible, which is why I am calling for a total and complete shutdown until we can figure out what the hell is going on.
7. “I don’t know how to phrase it better or with more detail.”
Go back to the drawing board and cut a card. Sometimes when you have nothing to say, it is better to say nothing at all.
Is anyone earnestly defending this?
All of the defenses I could think of grant the premise that such CPs are vacuous and do not make a real argument, and reduce to some version of ‘stupid arguments are good if xyz.’ If someone has a justification for this pattern that does NOT grant that premise… I would genuinely be fascinated to hear what it is.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.