By Anthony Trufanov
In every aspect of being a 2A, there are two structuring levels: the tactical level (what cards to read in what order, whether or not to make a theory argument, what advantage to extend in the 2AR – what you do with the tools you have brought to the debate) and the strategic level (which tools you choose to bring to the debate in the first place). Today I’ll talk about the first strategic question any 2A has to answer – which AFF to bring to a debate or tournament, and how to decide. This will be the first of several resources in the pipeline that will blend general advice with a practical illustration by offering a glimpse into the black box of AFF-writing, unpacking the process I will use to produce my GDDI starter pack AFF for the criminal justice topic in written and video form.
Part 1 – Being a 2A: A Theorization
Throughout your debate career you have probably heard many different “rules” and “principles” for what a good AFF should do. You may have been told that it is “better” to write an AFF that is “true.” You may have heard that your 1AC should place more emphasis on robust internal links than on well-developed, plausible terminal impacts. You might believe that only “high quality” evidence belongs in the 2AC. You may write off “squirrely” AFFs because you believe that it is better to leverage evidence from the core of the topic against negative positions. You might assume that solvency cards from books are inherently better than those from random articles on the internet. You might hold as axiomatic that your AFF needs to have an “angle” in a clash of civilizations debate.
There is a time and a place for all of these principles and pieces of advice, but none of it amounts to an overarching philosophy that you should carry into your AFF-writing if you are trying to maximize your AFF win-rate.
Instead, you should follow a much simpler principle: To maximize your win-rate, every decision you make must improve your odds of winning by more than the alternatives.
You probably think this statement is self-evident while simultaneously not realizing or adhering to its fullest implications. Keeping this statement in the back of your mind will help you remember that any other “rule,” “best practice,” or otherwise that you may have been taught to follow is not an end in itself – instead, it is an approximation for the pattern of behavior that is likely to produce the most wins the majority of the time.
This principle should not be treated as a blank check to substitute your judgement for the judgement of those more experienced than you. Brutal, honest self-reflexiveness is a vital element of implementing this advice. Part of that means acknowledging if, all else being equal, a decision recommended by your coach is going to be better than a decision you make yourself 95% of the time. Part of that means recognizing what you don’t know. Part of that means reckoning honestly with your limitations as a debater and preparing in ways that help you overcome those limitations in the long-run while minimizing their effect in the short-run. Part of that means that when your first draft of a 1AC serves up a pile of slop and a mentor or judge tells you to burn it down and start over, you have the courage and humility to shed your pride, look at your work through their eyes, and make improvements.
But this idea should also be used to remind yourself not to die on ideological hills when doing so requires a trade-off with winning debates. No belief should be above scrutiny. If you have over-highlighted a 2AC card to the point of regularly undercovering vital offensive arguments because you are proud of how good it is, change the highlighting. If you have under-highlighted all of your cards so you can make 30 answers to a DA and keep losing because your cards don’t say anything, you should highlight them more.
It should also be used to remind you that few principles will apply to an equal extent in every round. If we assumed away limits to debate preparation and fact retention, the ideal 2A would never read the same 1AC twice – not simply because novelty is inherently good (it isn’t – like everything else, novelty has a time and a place), but because the best version of every 1AC is the one that takes advantage of a NEG team’s argumentative proclivities.
In short, never do something uncritically. Always ask: why am I doing this, and how does it help me win?
With that in mind, let’s get into the concrete aspects. I will not spell out the effects of every possible contingency because there are too many and doing so could fill a book. Instead, these examples should serve to illustrate the sort of questions you need to ask yourself, and how those questions might inform your AFF strategy.
Know Your Goals
One question that’s important to ask yourself explicitly concerns your goals for debate, and what you want to get out of it. Not everyone approaches debate from a win-maximizing perspective. If you are doing debate for friends or clout, that is perfectly fine. But if that is the case, pretending to yourself and others that you are primarily in it to win it can only hurt you by siphoning finite energy from the outcomes you care about into those that you don’t.
People who claim to literally ONLY care about maximizing wins are deceiving themselves – wins alone do not produce fulfillment and they do not justify the inordinate amount of time investment it takes to get them. Everyone has competing priorities and obligations – that is good and healthy.
What we are talking about is how to extract the best competitive outcomes from whatever intellectual and emotional bandwidth you are willing and able to invest, given the constraints you choose to set for yourself. Your precise preferred balance of debate work and other parts of your life can have a big effect on what advice you can implement and what advice you cannot.
This requires being realistic. If you are prepping to win the TOC, realistically you should show up to the tournament with 3-4 completed new AFFs tailored against specific opponents or categories of opponents. If you are prepping to clear, you need 1-2. Writing three or four AFFs will reduce your odds of clearing relative to writing one or two, because writing the third and fourth trades off with polishing the first and second. If your goals are in the 1-2 range, you will probably do worse if you lie to yourself and overshoot.
Obviously, people can over or underperform their goals no matter how self-aware they are. Tournaments are unpredictable; that’s part of what makes them fun. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t gains to be had from prepping in a way that takes advantage of the most likely outcomes.
Know Your Limits
Who you are as a debater, student, and young adult should shape your choice of AFF.
How much time are you willing to put in over the course of the season? Enough to have a new AFF for your prospective season-long nemesis every time you debate? A new advantage? Just enough to write a single 1AC that you will never update again? The responses your AFF will draw the first time your opponent sees it will likely differ radically from the responses it draws the second or third time. The first time it is read, an AFF written for the long-haul might be less likely to win than a “worse” AFF designed to take maximum advantage of surprise. An AFF written to win one debate that ends up lasting for four tournaments because you got lazy is likely to produce worse results than if you had been honest with yourself and written something with endurance.
Are you the kind of debater who is good at picking up a file for the first time and giving a great speech about it five minutes later, or are you the kind of debater who achieves greatness through dozens of rounds of practice? The first kind of debater will be able to take greater advantage of rotating through new arguments. The second kind of debater will be able to take greater advantage of commanding the details of an idea they explore over the course of the season.
Is a team that is way better than you reading the same AFF as you, and consistently choosing an impact that you aren’t? It could be that they are getting lucky or winning despite their choices. It could be that they know something you don’t.
Are you a sophomore who can’t research but wants to learn? Read an AFF that requires you to research.
Is early March before the TOC the first time you are writing a file by yourself? You should not expect to win TOC elims on the first argument you produce. Your time is better spent polishing what you know, scouting, pillaging the wiki, and highlighting.
Are you a slower or faster spreader than your competition? If you are slower, do speaking drills, and in the meantime, choose an AFF that forces your opponents into arguments that limit their ability to abuse their speed advantage, like topicality or theory-intensive counterplans. If you are faster, still do speaking drills, and choose an AFF that puts a sea of cards at your disposal.
What parts of the topic interest you? If you’re personally interested in something, you will be more invested in researching it and more passionate in talking about it, as well as generally knowing more about it than your opponents. If feeling engaged by your work has a big effect on your productivity, choose an AFF that gives you VTL when you read about it.
Know Your Opponents
If you have decided that you are willing and able to do AFF prep in a way that targets specific opponents, you have your work cut out for you. The same questions that you would use to diagnose and preempt your weaknesses can help you discover and exploit your opponents’.
The most common genre of weakness is argumentative dependence or predictability. Does your opponent always read a politics DA and not extend it? Choose an AFF that gives you the option to straight turn it.
Does your opponent always throw out similar analytical advantage CPs (throw money at x, ban y, nuke z)? Think of the most likely ones about your AFF and preempt them through highlighting, evidence selection, and block-writing.
Do your opponent’s 1NC vs new AFFs always include three process CPs that compete off of a similar premise? Script out a response and save yourself some 2AC time.
Are you favored to win against your opponent, and by how much? If you have a 5-0 season head-to-head record, reading an AFF that improves your chances only if the 1NC presents a very specific argument that the NEG has only said 70% of the time would be unwise. Choose a less risky strategy. If you have an 0-5 record, roll the dice.
Putting this idea into practice doesn’t require writing a different AFF for every team – for any reasonable pool, that is an unreasonable expectation. Instead, it requires targeting categories of teams – slow teams, T-dependent teams, politics-reliant teams, etc.
You can even do this if you read one AFF all season. Modularizing your 2AC and 1AR blocks allows you to tailor argument length and selection in a way that responds to the NEG’s preferences.
Know Your Prefs and Your Judges
A lot of ink has been spilled on judge adaptation in the context of individual debates. What is less discussed is judge adaptation that occurs before you see a pairing and go to a tournament.
In the same way that you can categorize opponents by their attributes, you can categorize judges. Suppose you are targeting a team. You can look at who has judged your debates against them, and their debates against teams like you. If you both travel to roughly the same national circuit tournaments it is likely to be a recurring cast of characters.
Suppose 40% of this group taught at the UM camp and the UM groupthink du jour says that the states CP is illegitimate. It may be worth prepping an AFF with a worse response to the States CP, or a version of your States CP 2AC with a heavier emphasis on theory, so that you can take advantage of the opportunity if it arises.
Suppose 60% are college judges who have no idea what the topic is. Avoid super technical AFFs. Also think about avoiding the core of the topic in general, since getting people who know nothing about a topic to vote on T is harder when they are not programmed by community norms.
These are just some examples. Your answers to different questions about yourself, your opponents, and your judges may lead you in contradictory directions. The point is that there is no ONE answer to these questions that applies to everyone, or even to every debate.
Know Your Argument
In every second of speech time, you have one mission: choosing words that maximize the positive impact on the judge’s decision-making. This begins in the 1AC.
One question to ask is about 1AC structure. Is there a greater premium on selling the narrative of your ADVs, or on maximizing card-reading time? Either way, there is no single best tag for a card – each tag is additive, building on those that came before, and laying groundwork for those that come after. In a narratively driven 1AC, your tags have to tell a story that evolves as the 1AC progresses. In a card-text-maximizing 1AC, you may wish to minimize repetition through devices such as lists or omission of warrants.
Your card selection should also be contextual. Too often, debaters lean heavily on a generic set of impact evidence. But – for example – there is no single best impact card to proliferation. There might be a card that is the best at explaining why nuclear proliferation would be very bad. But if your internal link to stopping prolif is sanctions, your bigger issue is the intuitive judge reaction that sanctions have a poor track record at preventing nuclearization. You would be better served by a prolif card that describes a harm proportional to your sanctions internal link, and explains why specific types or examples of prolif are suited to resolution by sanctions in a way that recent examples like North Korea are not.
If you are reading a pre-2020 impact to economic decline in your 1AC, you are doing it wrong. You need a piece of evidence that anticipates and preempts the coronavirus objection by saying a further decline would be worse. If you do not have that you are wasting your and everyone else’s time.
Are you planning to rely on the robustness of your impact evidence in a 2AR against a K? Highlight the parts of the evidence that speak to the methodology behind your impact card.
Part 2 – Choosing My GDDI Starter Pack AFF
At this point, I am going to get specific, and talk about how I went about choosing my starter pack AFF for the GDDI.
Obviously, a lot of the above does not play a role. I am not writing this AFF for myself, for a specific opponent, or for a specific judge. There are pedagogical imperatives at play. However, it is still worth talking through some of the relevant strategic decisions to be made.
The first step is to know something about the topic. Do some background reading. Do some broad searches. Refer to camp topic lectures, camp files, and camp T files, but don’t defer to them.
Generate a mental map of NEG responses to the topic. What do they have in common? What are the best arguments? The worst?
Write down your thinking at each stage. Track what you learn and what ideas occur to you. Your memory is not as good as you think it is.
From like two hours of googling the topic as well as general debate intuition, I have a rough idea about some T arguments that might be a thing:
- T “Enact” = Congress
- T Criminal Justice = Criminal Justice System
- T Criminal Justice Reform = Softening
- T Policing = Local
- T Policing = Cops Not Other Regs
- T Sentencing = Systematic
- Did not care enough about forensic science to google it in the first two hours
Some primary flavors of generics seem to have emerged as well:
- Flavors of States CP (don’t really know what these are yet other than just states do the AFF vs federal mandate AFFs) + Federalism DA
- Process CPs that compete off of “enact” – definitely agent CPs, I have a vague notion that this word will be a really good process word for the NEG generally so having a strong process defense will be important
- 2020 DA
- Abolition K / Movements DA
- Legalism K
- Something about agency overstretch… idk what but NEGs will find a way
- The classic NEG vs courts swamp but maybe better cause courts AFFs will be about rights
Assess the relative quality of these positions and how it will shape your preparation. This requires some research. Once the regular season starts you can get some idea of the answer based on what went down at camps. I am relying a lot on my knowledge about the world/experience in debate.
I am worried about kritiks of reformism and incrementalism. This slate of policy NEG options sucks – some creativity and actual NEGs will be necessary, and I am not optimistic that most people can/will make that happen. I think it might be bad enough that even teams that would never typically go the K route will be forced to do so by the nature of the topic. I want some ability to throw a wrinkle into the general reformism formula.
I am also worried about states and federalism. I remember learning on the surveillance topic that the vast majority of policing and sentencing occurs at the state level, so solving stuff comprehensively/at scale will require a lot of preemption. Seems to hard counter any AFF that preempts the states in order to make them do something. I know from AP gov that state police powers is a phrase that describes a lot of state powers and has spillovers to some important areas like public health, which is a big deal right now. An actual doctrinal spillover argument is always a recipe for great federalism impacts.
T “enact” seems good. That word has historically been used successfully to exclude non-Congress AFFs. Some Congress key arguments will be important.
T “sentencing” = systematic seems okay. One of my first thoughts when reading the resolution had been that decriminalizing anything would be T. I still kind of think the groupthink will arrive there, but I’m gonna table that idea pending a better reading of community norms.
T “policing” seems terrible. The T cards I have read make me think that limiting the scope of that will be difficult. There are very broad, strongly worded interpretation cards. The community might settle on wanting badly to find a limit, but this seems like the kind of thing where the AFF will be allowed to get away with a lot in practice.
A few others of these positions are not scary, but I can reliably anticipate them being in a lot of 1NCs. There will be a premium on writing an AFF that can exploit this, whether through a quick dismissal that generates a time asymmetry, or that can generate a unique genre of offense. Not really possible to operationalize at this preliminary stage but a thing to stay on the lookout for. I am primarily looking to do this to the politics DA and the 2020 DA.
Well, at least there’s an easy way to circumvent the states swamp: just write an AFF about federal agency criminal justice. I do some further googling and it quickly becomes obvious that saying policing is only local is totally untenable.
Also, there are a lot of super aggro cards saying policing and police are different? About how private police do policing? How policing includes just like caring about the general well-being of the public? This seems like it would require a pretty broad T interp… but also it is too galaxy brain for a starter pack. Putting a pin in this.
As a side-note, I’m about six hours of searches in at this point. Settling on an AFF idea typically takes me about half of the time that it takes to write the actual AFF, unless the AFF just falls in my lap.
In this case I get lucky, and the AFF kind of does fall in my lap. I’m an avid listener of the National Security Law Podcast, and a recent episode discussed what Trump has recently described as “Obamagate” – FBI surveillance of a Trump campaign worker, Carter Page, under the purview of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. One of the podcast’s hosts, Steve Vladeck, mentioned an ACLU proposal to reform criminal prosecutions reliant on FISA-derived evidence as a means of exerting what he called “hydraulic pressure” on the intelligence-gathering process to be more diligent about record-keeping. I read an AFF about intelligence politicization at my last NDT and know that there are strong Congress key arguments for resolving intelligence politicization, and that such AFFs are great at generating link offense against politics. Because this is a federal process AFF, there are good, built-in states CP answers. As for the K, there are tons of arguments for why surveillance reform is necessary to open space for critical alternatives, which can be offense when coupled with defenses of engaging the legal system.
I say that I got lucky that an AFF fell in my lap, but I get lucky pretty often. I read a lot. I have seen many AFFs deployed and thought about their strengths and weaknesses. Since 2014, I have written 47 AFFs encompassing 10 topics. Commonalities and lessons frequently inform my more recent work. My intuitive read on whether something “is a thing” has gotten reasonably good.
However, a few things worry me based on my experience with AFFs in this genre. First, while intelligence politicization is a great impact, credibly solving it is very difficult. You have to affect Trump’s behavior in a predictable way – a baseline improbable proposition considering he is a total freak. Second, this AFF is mostly not about criminal justice – it is about using criminal justice to affect the FBI. There had better be a beefy set of reasons not to just alter FBI process directly. Third is T. We are talking about prosecutors – is that policing? My hunch is yes because I don’t think policing means anything, but answering this question will be among the first things on my plate. With any luck I’ll be able to say it is sentencing too.
Tune in next time to see how I begin to address these problems.
I have an external hard drive that is mainly used for storing old debate videos. I had this debate in .VOB which I think is some sort of old digital DVD format. Converted to mp4 and merged the 4 files together. A great debate including four all time debaters. I think the 1AR is one of the best speeches I have ever heard.
I now work with the author of the 1AC (Casey). Most 2007 files don't really hold up since the internet and technology have gotten so much better, but this 1AC is really close to what we think is a modern iteration.
Hope you enjoy the blast from the past!
By Anthony Trufanov
Like all arguments, stupid counterplans wax and wane in their popularity over time as people crack the code on how to defeat them and then forget as these counterplans fall out of favor. High school debate is unfortunately on the part of the cycle where people have forgotten, and stupid counterplans have started gaining currency again. One such argument (which I will discuss below) made an appearance in the TOC finals. It seemed like a lot of minds were blown on the live stream chat, the tell-tale sign of a generation of trolls and imitators getting it through their heads that this is good negative strategy. Hopefully by refreshing people’s memory we can shorten this part of the cycle and stop people from thinking this style of argument is cool.
What do I mean by stupid CPs? I am talking about CPs that rely on NEG fiat in order to manufacture an opportunity cost where none would otherwise exist. I am not talking about most process CPs per se, although some process CPs do fall under this category. What I am talking about is mainly stuff like this:
The United States federal government should use nuclear weapons against the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China if and only if [plan].
In the TOC finals, MBA had a pretty sloppy perm selection in the 2AC, but eventually landed on a correct perm in the 1AR and justified it by saying that functionally intrinsic but textually non-intrinsic perms are good. This is a reasonable approach, but missed an even simpler approach that was also on the table – arguing that the perm was not functionally intrinsic in the first place.
Why is it better to make a non-intrinsic perm instead of saying “intrinsic perms are OK” or “functionally intrinsic but textually non-intrinsic perms are good”? Two reasons:
1. Complexity. The NEG will always say that the AFF’s standard is arbitrary and snowballs into all intrinsicness, which is bad. It is very hard to justify the notion that the AFF should get to add literally anything to their perm. It is far simpler to avoid the debate about drawing arbitrary lines around intrinsicness, and simply say the perm is not intrinsic.
2. Textual competition is nonsense. The premise of textual competition is that the meaning of words is irrelevant, all that matters is the letters on the page. No real decision-maker thinks in these terms – it is just a contrivance that was made up in order to exclude counterplans that include every word in their plan text when theory was not getting the job done. It ignores syntax and context. It leads to letting in absurd results like word PIKs that replace words in the plan with synonyms, or excluding perms because the words the perm uses to describe combining the plan and CP are not drawn from the plan and CP texts. Introducing this standard is unnecessary, lends credence to a fundamentally poor method of evaluating competition, and is risky, as imprecisely worded permutation texts often fail to meet their own textual standards.
To fully unpack why a functionally non-intrinsic perm that solves the net benefit always exists when a CP is artificially competitive, we have to go back to basics.
How CPs work
The NEG wins if they prove the AFF is net bad. There is a link, which is something that the plan results in, and that link has an impact, which is a reason that result is bad, and that result outweighs the benefits of doing the plan.
The logic of a CP is only slightly different than the logic of a DA. Instead of the link being an outcome of the plan, the link can also be an argument that the plan forecloses a better approach – what we call an “opportunity cost.” This can include doing the opposite of the AFF to achieve some positive effect (e.g. increase arms sales with climate offsets to solve warming), solving the case some other way to avoid a disadvantage (e.g. suspend delivery + the industrial base DA), or utilizing the absence of the plan to compel some kind of outcome (e.g. the conditions CP). These examples share a key element: adding the plan is impossible or doing so has some negative outcome.
How intrinsic perms work
The phrase “intrinsic perms” derives from intrinsicness as a theory argument about DA links. Under this theory, if a reason the CP is net beneficial can be preserved without forgoing the plan, the net benefit to the CP is not intrinsic to the non-plan, and therefore not a reason the plan should not be done. Such “intrinsic perms” take an action not included in the plan or CP to avoid the opportunity cost.
Why aren’t perms against artificially competitive CPs intrinsic?
In artificially competitive CPs the negative effect of the plan is entirely a construct produced by the wording of the CP. Any reasonable person presented with the plan and CP would see a way to avoid the opportunity cost presented. However, the NEG obscures this through grammar that makes it look like no combination would avoid the net benefit.
This is entirely a rhetorical sleight of hand that coopts the language of intrinsicness in service of a totally different concept. There is not a NEG link argument that the perm is advancing an intrinsicness argument about – after all, the NEG has not said anything about the plan causes something bad! This is simple to illustrate:
Plan: The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
CP: The United States federal government should use nuclear weapons against the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China if and only if the United States federal government reduces arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The NEG would then read evidence that Russia might be nuked now and the CP stops that but including the plan would nuke Russia which would be bad.
Take a step back. What is the opportunity foreclosed by including the plan? The opportunity to not use nuclear weapons while not doing the plan? Technically yes, but that’s irrelevant – the whole point is that the net benefit has nothing to do with not doing the plan, and is entirely about not using nuclear weapons, which is an action the CP does that can be permuted.
“But the perm adds a WORLD that didn’t exist before – one where the plan happens and nukes aren’t used,” the NEG might claim at this point.
That is drivel. To state the obvious, literally any perm that includes the plan and all or part of a CP creates a “world” that is not included by either the plan or CP alone. In an artificially competitive CP, like with any other non-competitive CP, actions prescribed by the CP can be combined with actions prescribed by the plan to create a new “world” that avoids the net benefit.
A slightly more precise wording of this objection might be “the perm introduces a decision calculus for nuking Russia that neither the plan nor CP presents.” But this is also wrong. “Not nuking Russia” is an action. The CP introduces “not nuking Russia” as an option that is available for the USFG to take. Nothing about the plan precludes taking the option to “not nuke Russia.” True, the perm does not include the CP’s decision calculus – that’s because it doesn’t include any decision calculus, only the end action of not nuking Russia.
A final objection might be that no part of the CP says “not to nuke Russia” – it only describes exclusive conditions under which TO nuke Russia. But that is obviously pedantic. The only reason the CP alone is better than the plan alone is that it prevents a nuclear attack which would happen now by acting to stop it. That is a function that can be permuted.
The above discussion also misses the forest for the trees somewhat. So what if it is debatable that “not nuking Russia” is an independent function? The normative case for such an understanding of CP functions is obvious and overwhelming. “Use nuclear weapons against the Russian Federation” is just a stand-in; the forced trade-off could be with literally anything. It is obviously illogical and pedagogically vapid to make the AFF debate literally any nonsensical opportunity cost the NEG might dream up. And it’s not like the NEG will present a counterinterpretation of what constitutes a function anyway.
That’s all well and good. How can a 2A operationalize any of this?
Crafting a 2AC permutation
Before I get into examples, I want to point out something that these examples will have in common: all of them will have a full permutation text. You should also do this. The NEG will have a block to “perm: do both” that will rely on spinning the words you said in a way that is favorable to their understanding of CP competition. Saying a full text blocks them from doing this and gets them off their blocks, both of which are good for you.
You will also notice that there are a lot of examples. You should not say this many. They are hard to flow and there are diminishing returns because many of them share theoretical justifications.
I will use the following CP from the TOC finals:
Plan: The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
CP: The United States federal government should anchor space elevator funding to (the monetary value of Foreign Military Sales over two years minus 76,587,800,000) * 2 million.
The way this CP works is that the current value of the formula is $2 trillion, but the plan would diminish the monetary value of FMS over two years such that FMS – 76,587,800,000 < 0, meaning that doing the plan text and CP text together would not allocate $2 trillion to a space elevator. Space elevators are good for reasons.
Crafting a legitimate perm requires you to think critically about the functions of the plan and CP. The NEG wants you to think of the CP as one action: fund a space elevator according to the CP’s formula. However, hidden within that are several other actions that can be permuted.
One way to break it down is to separate the calculation from the funding. Step one of the CP is to calculate the amount of money that should be allocated to the space elevator. Step two is to give the space elevator $2 trillion. If you do the plan and spend $2 trillion on a space elevator, you are permuting the part of the CP that gives money to the space elevator. The NEG will say this is intrinsic, because it uses a different formula. That is wrong – the perm doesn’t use any formula, it just allocates the same amount of money as the CP to a space elevator. This is undoubtedly a step of the CP – the answer to the question “does the CP allocate $2 trillion to space elevator investment” is undeniably yes. The NEG would then be forced to rely exclusively on textual competition standards to argue that synonyms aren’t synonyms, putting them in the same theoretical boat as a Word PIK team. This yields the permutation:
The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia and allocate $2 trillion to space elevator investment.
Another way to break it down is to separate the calculation into its component parts – literally the mathematical “functions” it performs. Step one of the CP is to find the monetary value of FMS over two years – let’s call that number α. Step two of the CP is to subtract 76,587,800,000. Steps 3 through 2,000,003 add the result of that calculation to itself. Step 2,000,004 allocates the resulting sum of money to space elevator investment. This yields any number of perms, for example:
The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia and anchor space elevator funding to α * 2 million.
The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia and anchor space elevator funding to α * 20. (only perform 20 of the CP’s 2 million addition functions – avoiding a potential budget DA)
Arguably another step involves retrieving the monetary value of Foreign Military Sales over two years and converting it into a number – that’s distinct from and precedes the specific mathematical operation performed by the CP, which is: (76,588,800,000 – 76,587,800,000)* 2 million. Permuting all parts of the CP except the part that looks up the total FMS for the past two years yields:
The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia and anchor space elevator funding to (76,588,800,000 – 76,587,800,000)* 2 million.
You can also think at a higher level of abstraction. The CP includes the step of funding the space elevator – specifying the level is a distinct action. This yields:
The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia and fund a space elevator.
You could go even further. Step one of the CP is to “anchor space elevator funding,” and the steps after that specify what the funding should be anchored to. “Anchoring” – connecting space elevator funding to a firm metric – is a premise the CP clearly includes.
Anchoring alone arguably solves the net benefit
Google.com dictionary no date
verb: anchor; 3rd person present: anchors; past tense: anchored; past participle: anchored; gerund or present participle: anchoring
1. moor (a ship) to the sea bottom with an anchor.
"the ship was anchored in the lee of the island"
secure firmly in position.
"the tail is used as a hook with which the fish anchors itself to coral"
provide with a firm basis or foundation.
"it is important that policy be anchored to some acceptable theoretical basis"
The United States federal government should reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia and anchor space elevator funding.
Hopefully the above will give you all the tools you need to see through the NEG’s smoke and mirrors when they present an artificially competitive CP, as well as put you in the correct mindset to devise bullet-proof permutations against a wide variety of other CP strategies.
By Eric Short
I’m leaving debate. There, I said it. While ripping off the band-aid makes the process easier, as an introduction, the sting lingers in its awkwardness. All the better, then, that this is goodbye. I know you don’t believe me; I’ve left before and since returned, the proverbial prodigal son of debate. I hope you can forgive me, as I have this habit of returning to the activity I started nearly 25 years ago. But I am leaving debate, and before I embark on the journey (again), I want to muse about my time in debate, and what better place than Debate Musings! However, instead of curating this site as a museum with ramblings about policy debate (Lincolns words, not mine), I want to take seriously the possibility of muse until you are so utterly unamused with my wordplay that you curse my name to all nine Muses. In that vein, this reflection won’t correspond to success or failure, friend or foe. These are not even my favorite moments from debate. Rather, they represent my (messy and out of order) attempt to make sense of my debating musings and why I am leaving.
Four years ago, when I began coaching at Niles West, Val McIntosh, Brad Meloche and I started the Olive Garden Trio. There is no story here, this is the amuse bouche, a little food served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. Bon Appetit!
The year prior, Maddie Langr and Erica Duff (Wake DL) were mooing at tournaments. Yes, moo, like the cow. I still have no idea how or why this originated, but the moos would echo down the halls of every tournament, and soon I mooed back. I have embraced that mood ever since, even though I’m still uncertain of it’s meaning.
After my senior year of high school (a lady never reveals her age), I thought I had left debate forever. I graduated and left for college to study engineering. My last high school debate was against a team from Montgomery Bell Academy at NFL Nationals (The TOC of South Dakota debate). We got absolutely wrecked in that debate, and MBA went on to lose to Glenbrook North in the finals. “At least we lost to a great team,” I thought at the time. A few months later I opened The Rostrum (required reading for debaters in South Dakota) to an article titled “The Scars of Winning,” written by one of the GBN debaters, Dan Shalmon. “At least we didn’t have to lose to him,” I thought after I googled his name + results. A legend.
Engineering lasted for about a semester. I was homesick, not for my family, but for debate, so I left South Dakota and transferred to the University of Northern Iowa, where the website said “we welcome novice debaters.” I (wrongly) assumed my lack of national circuit experience in high school qualified me to the novice division. Cate Palczewski, my college debate coach and muse in her own right, had other plans. UNI hosted the college season opener (yes, GSU has not always been the first travel weekend), and she told me to go watch Berkeley LS to see what good college debate looked like. It took me three rounds of watching to realize the S in Berkeley LS was Dan. I watched every debate of his at that tournament, trying to figure out how to get better. Observing was the only way I ever knew Dan, as he was in the “twice won the Copeland” bracket and I was in the “barely got four wins at a major” bracket.
During my sophomore year of college, I told Cate my goal was to win a speaker award at the NDT. I never qualified. Many, many years later I did get to judge a break round at the NDT on a panel with Dan, during which I mused why teams who wanted him to judge would also want me. A legend. We voted the same way.
Ten years ago, writing arguments for Wayzata High School, I stumbled across and then became obsessed with the theories of Luce Irigaray. 1000 pages of evidence later, I had a critique that links to almost every critique. Her theories of wonder (muse?) and difference influence my debate thinking still, even if my teams do not read her in debates. Her critical inhabitation of other theories to demonstrate their internal inconsistencies has been a motivating force in how I approach writing negs to k affs.
My Slack profile currently reads “K, gay, and lay whisperer” for whatever that is worth. But I have now spent way too many hours (weeks? months?) in the depths of databases like Project Muse. I need a break. I’m leaving debate because I don’t belong here. Don’t worry, I survived my imposter syndrome years ago, crying, alone in the rental car in a parking lot in Bloomington, IN after a very stressful Monday of judging at the National Debate Tournament. This is not “I don’t belong here” but instead “I don’t belong here,” I belong somewhere else. I don’t belong here, in that debate and I have taken everything we can from each other.
For 25 years, I have been a muse bemused. See, muse (I couldn’t help the alphabetics there) isn’t just about reminiscing, though the memories are great. To muse is to become confused yet eloquent and thoughtful; to feel like an imposter and nonetheless be an inspiration; to become absorbed in though, but to still find your way home. Leaving debate is a way to correct for those internal inconsistencies that musing surmises.
The last high school debate I coached was against a team from MBA (I guess debate is more cyclical than linear). I had judged this team earlier in the tournament and mused “that is what great debate looks like!” But, isn’t great debating itself a muse? Debate motivates us to be better. Debate forces us to dream and deliberate. Debate is the mood you make it. Moo!
All these years, I had the parable wrong. In debate, I’ve squandered my mental and physical health, and the return home is to friends, to family, and to a social life. My many returns to debate symbolized not my return home, but to the extravagance at the expense of all those other relations (in every Irigarayan sense of the word). That’s not to say it has to be that way, as the Olive Garden Trio continues to teach me (thanks Brad and Val!)
Dan was right in his article; I just didn’t know how to read it in high school. Debate hard and nurture harder. Or, as Cate used to tell us before every debate, “Have fun, be smart, listen to your partner, don’t fuck up, and if you do, fuck up less than the other team.” If you do that, debate will give you something to muse about.
An entire topic’s worth of takes in one post? Let’s get to it.
However, I always have to say (one would think people have gotten the drill by now) how these posts need to be read. I am not dunking on 16-year-olds. I am here to give props where I think people earn them and to tell people how to do debate better. It is ultimately just my opinion, though if you look at the scoreboard in high school and college since September 2018 you might see a common theme that warrants listening.
Bad Camp Affs Means Nothing
High school policy debate is very interesting given the existence of debate camp and its evolution with open evidence project. The spirit of open source is great. What people do with the information is not great.
What you see on the NDCA evidence project means very little. Where did these files come from? One to eight students spend like a week researching. Adults chip in sparingly. Oversight is aggressively ad hoc and filtering for quality is avoided in favor of publishing everything to preserve feelings. Argument selection and strategic choices are deemphasized in favor of brute force card-cutting. The end result is usually a poorly thought out pile of slop.
I think smarter teams know this. They probably do try to look at files, take out good cards and delete bad ones. However, what I think is happening is that people see a file of all slop and conclude that area is trash.
The other thing at work at camps is people are saving their best ideas and arguments for the regular season. This pretty much guarantees the camp version will never arrive at the best version of anything.
The livestream chat of the semifinals and finals of the TOC is instructive on this. MBA read an aff that conditioned sales to Mexico on human rights accountability. The chat couldn’t believe a conditions aff was being read (more on this later). The camp files on Mexico were all about guns going into Mexico. Camp did conclude (correctly) that this version of a Mexico aff sucks because there is no good way to control the flow of guns into Mexico.
That isn’t the aff we read. “Lots of guns in Mexico” doesn’t matter because the internal link is about justice systems being able to hold human rights violators accountable. These systems solve corruption better too, so it solves advantage 2. Turns out there was a Mexico aff after all.
We read drones in finals. The chat opened the 1AC and said “wow, this is like not that bad.” Of course it is not that bad! It is the finals of the TOC. We weren’t planning to win it with slop. Everyone thought China fill-in zapped the aff because that was true of the poorly thought-out camp version . However, we had several China models the plan cards, cards that say China’s drones suck/countries have buyer’s remorse, and impact scenarios not implicated by fill-in. Another instance of folks writing off an area for no real reason.
Aff Selection Was Terrible
I do not understand this. Usually high schoolers are very reliable at not defending the biggest Affs and avoiding links. The exact opposite seemed to happen on this topic. People read Saudi Arabia and Taiwan for so many debates. I like big Affs so that part was cool.
It doesn’t make it strategic though. The Aff should have simply dominated this topic. The fact that you could proliferate single country and/or conditions affs in combination with politics being terrible meant the Aff should have never lost an important debate.
What Aff teams decided to do instead was read arguments that linked to reasonable DA’s like assurance. Why so many Japan and Europe affs? Why Saudi Arabia and Taiwan for the entire year? Why India? That is not to say any of these areas were on-face terrible. You could craft strategic versions. The point is you didn’t have to bother, you could have read things that linked to absolutely nothing.
Process affs also missed the mark because they never had any reason why reducing the sale was key to any of the process-based offense.
The four kind of affs you should have been hunting for:
a. we should completely break up with a country that is not an ally
b. the US is forcing this sale on the country, the country doesn’t really want it, the sale does bad stuff/trades off with other things.
If you just rotated through the above you probably would never lose.
People Give You Big Affs But You Don’t Innovate? Shame!
The Neg really compounded the error. I hate it when people complain about Neg ground. One part of it is agenda DA nostalgia when those debates weren’t that hot. The other part, which reveals the bullshit of the opinion, is when given an aff you can really sink your teeth into and Neg the hell out of it, people didn’t fucking do it.
There were five pretty prominent areas: Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, Europe (mainly BMD) and India. The Neg innovation across these areas was terrible.
First, you don’t have to always go for the assurance DA. You could cut other stuff. Shout out to Westminster. They had a clear pulse on this front. They broke many new Neg arguments across these areas.
Second, when you do read the assurance DA you can provide variety. Similar to how you read new impacts on the Aff hoping the Neg drops them, throwing Aff teams curveballs is a good way to win more. Wadsworth 19 and the re-reading of said card is not the gold fucking standard.
Why So Much Saudi Arabia?
I didn’t do debate camp this summer. I started a little slower and behind. I thought Saudi Arabia would be a good aff based on the college military presence. Then I read all the camp files. Then I did a little searching. Then I gave up on that assessment. I became a Taiwan guy. You saw how that worked out.
I just don’t get the appeal. Yemen war escalates? Sucks. Could you read a bunch of advantages? Not really. Did people figure out the relations DA? Didn’t seem like it.
I will concede Neg innovation on this front was basically non-existent. I know some people who claim to be deep in the Saudi lit disagree with me on this, but I just thought this area was Neg-leaning and Negs did the least innovating here.
Naming T After the Author. Again.
I swear on all that is holy if we do this shit again next year, I am going to lose it. Not only is calling T by an author name always stupid (which has been going on for four years now) this iteration was the worst. T-Pearson (a stupid name) was the worst staple T argument in the last 5 years.
This was in EVERY 1NC. Like I will give you a $100 if you show me a 1NC speech doc against a policy aff that did not have this card in it.
The odds of winning on this argument were ZERO. It was fucking terrible. There is no way on God’s green Earth this is the way the topic should work. You would have done more productive work filling the speech with variations of SPEC arguments.
Conditions: No One Knew Anything
The Aff could definitely condition sales. This was a butt crush T wise. There were many many viable countries. I think HR condition all arms sales and Egypt were the only two camp affs that conditioned sales. A crime to the notion of previewing the topic.
Condition affs would have been better debate. Positive vs negative. State department resources becomes a real factor. Relations DA’s. Spillover DA’s about countries thinking they are next. That would have been reasonable debate.
Condition CP’s need real net benefits with real impacts. You can’t just read we should leverage the Aff and call it a CP. You have to complete the strategy. Don’t think anyone ever did.
Taiwan Was Good. Not That Good.
BM lost one debate with the Taiwan aff to spark. That was it.
We highlighted three things differently compared to camp. First, Heer 19 and structural parity arguments. Nobody ever answered this part. It was supposed to be sneaky the first couple tournaments, not all year. Second, good relations solve war/encroachment. This is where not innovating on the Neg and only going for deterrence/assurance bit you. You forgot what you were taught on the China topic about such an argument. Third, Yoder 19, concessions now are good because we can still contain later. Revealing Chinese thinking though a concession is key. It obviously paired very well with structural parity. Nobody answered this part either.
Blamo! Doing a couple of targeted reforms can also cause you to have really high winning rates.
Stop Reading CP’s Without Cards
It isn’t smart. It makes you look dumb. Things that you can’t beat a good team on that make you look dumb when you do them should be avoided. I am not saying don’t read CP’s based in 1AC evidence. That can be smart. I am talking about the advantage CP you think “is smart.” I am talking about reading con con with no evidence. Stop it.
Wiki is Garbage. Please Fix.
I promise high school debate would be a lot better if everyone was open source. It doesn’t tradeoff with winning (MBA the last 4 years proves). It makes it so much better. If you only post cites, you suck, sorry. If you don’t post every round, also sucky. Get with the program.
Stop Reading Double-Digit Off
I am sure you could trace this trend to who did it first to make it cool. It is really, really stupid. First, you aren’t even really doing it because you are inflating the total with stupid procedurals and no card CP’s that don’t make any sense. It is not like you have 10+ things that are unique, actually link and provide a path to win all at the same time.
It also seems to just melt the brains of the Neg. I would hope in a world where a judge would instantly vote against you if you read more than 8 you would spend your time coming up with 8 that didn’t suck, and you would answer the case. That’s what we are looking for. 7 to 8 real arguments and answering the case. You can even do it against new affs if you prepare well. Give it a try.
2A’s—if you are a real debater you should practice against this double digit off scenario. The first time you might copy and paste 10 2AC blocks and try to read straight down. That time is going to suck. What you need to do:
a. figure out how you can answer multiple pages with the same argument
b. streamline redundancies, mainly on T and CP theory stuff
c. swap long cards for shorter cards
d. When you read a card in the 2AC that should mean you can read a lot more in the 1AR if the block collapses and win a debate on that argument. If you read a card and it doesn’t meet that standard, you are fucking up.
e. Make smart analytics that completely answer an argument.
f. straight turn the throw away stuff
g. make analytics you can read cards on later.
Practice that a few times and this lots of off strategy melts away. It also has the added benefit of if you write blocks like this and the Neg reads a reasonable number of off the 2AC can drop the hammer with double digit distinct answers. This is contrary to the current industry standard of six total answers, maybe four of which are different.
People seem to be writing 2ACs, but I am not sure they know exactly what that entails. Your goal should be to say the Neg is wrong. It shouldn’t be to “be skeptical” about the Neg. It shouldn’t be to nitpick the Neg. It shouldn’t be to read cards that tangentially relate to the Neg. You should read cards that address the thesis of the Neg argument and say it is incorrect. Offensive arguments would be cool too.
You research all the possible answers you could make to a thing. You then rank them in order of goodness. You then think about what the Neg is going to say in response. You then figure out what in total you need to win the argument evidence-wise. You then figure out how to distribute that evidence between the 1AC/2AC/1AR so as to not drop other important stuff while setting up the 1AR’s ability to choose and vertically develop 2AC arguments
You do this again and again for every Aff you write until the end of time. It is the 2A life. It is not for everyone. Don’t half-ass it though. That’s no fun for anyone.
New Age Debate Memes
If you ever interact with other speech and debate events, you figure out pretty quickly that they have their own lingo and they sound funny. I am sure if your parents hear you talk about policy debate, they think you sound like a freak. In my debating time the big risk was you would use too much debate jargon substituting for real arguments. A dead giveaway for someone like this is if they ever say the phrase internal link turn earnestly. Debate has rotted their brain.
I don’t think debate-specific jargon is the real issue recently. The issue is people have taken academic-sounding phrases and turned them into memes and buzzwords. Speeches are lacking in any real substance because it is full of words like miscalc, escalate, sacred commitments, revisionism, etc.
You aren’t actually saying anything. This gets really funny when the archetypical 2N stands up in CX and asks “what countries would go to war” and then crickets. Or the Aff says some countries and then 2N raises an eyebrow and asks “geez idk, wars cost a lot why would they do that?” Then crickets again.
I don’t fault anyone for debating like this. The subjects at hand are very complex and folks are just high schoolers after all. Also, good teams sound like this so I should sound like this, I get it. One of the best ways to win college debates fast as you transition is learning more about the world so you can call out bullshit. People in college basically self-filter out crap arguments because the other side reliably points out the weakness. This is not the case in high school. There is a big win percentage edge to be gained if you can do this.
A corollary to this is: rehearse explaining your shit. Practicing real CX’s against a coach should still be a thing. Knowing who would go to war and why is a real thing you need to explain. “Somebody miscalcs and it escalates cuz nationalism and sacred commitments” is drivel.
Dan has been mad about the following point in high school and college all year. Here is his take below:
Judging debates that revolved around this premise was unspeakably bad for my value to life. I’m not really sure how it started, but someone at camp told everyone that the surest way to win a debate was to spam as many cards as possible regarding whether or not China/Russia was “revisionist”.
It seemed like the following argument became a generic DA on the topic that everyone took seriously: Card 1 – china is revisionist and evil, Card 2 – nuke war. This was awful. Whoever told you this at camp should be held publicly responsible for the damage they’ve done to the community’s collective intelligence. It seemed like every debate I judged about Taiwan included 6 cards on each side about whether China was “revisionist”, and the team that won the debate was the team that read the most.
This is totally ridiculous – “revisionism” isn’t some permanent and fixed category that determines every action a state will take, it’s a strategy that certain actors within certain states sometimes utilize for specific goals. Whether or not powerful actors within China, for example, will take “revisionist” actions regarding the plan is entirely a question of link evidence and arguments. This was the real tragedy about these debates – both sides read usually 1 or less link cards, but read a million revisionism cards!
NONE OF IT MATTERS without detailed and specific link/internal link debating. And even then – states can want to “revise” the global order and still make security-based calculations in their regional spheres of influence that are entirely separated from their “revisionist” global ambitions – so winning that China is “revisionist” vs the Taiwan F-16s aff means basically nothing absent link evidence connecting F-16 sales to broader Chinese adventurism (and evidence saying such a thing is bad for strategic stability). If you were one of the people who told kids this was a thing at camp, you should feel bad for misleading everyone.
The TOC was High Caliber
People brought their A game. It seemed liked entourages were easier to access because people had time and it was cheap (no travel) so people could focus more on the args. Nobody who showed up slouched.
Special congrats to Kent Denver. Closing out a quarterfinal at the TOC is a monumental accomplishment for a program.
Thank you to all the folks who popped in to judge as hires. It might have been for the cash, but I think the more likely explanation is your love of the game. You helped create some of the most preferred panels in TOC history.
High School History
102-5. Won New Trier, St. Marks, Glenbrooks RR, Emory, CPS RR, Berkeley and the TOC. Finals of Ghill RR, Ghill and Glenbrooks. Won 49 straight debates since the finals of Glenbrooks. Didn’t lose in the second semester. I am open to suggestions of a team that had a more dominant single season in high school history compared to MBA BM.
Aden made it to the TOC 4 times. He was in the Quarters, Semifinals, Finals and Champion.
Aden as a freshman was 4-0 vs Peninsula TW and McDonough JN, the two TOC finalists that year.
During his sophomore (education), junior (immigration) and senior (arms sales) topic, Aden did the following:
Won: the Ghill RR (2x), New Trier, St. Marks (2x), Michigan (2x), Glenbrooks RR (3x), MBA, Pace RR, Emory (2x), Cal RR (2x), Pine Crest, Berkeley (2x), NDCA and the TOC.
Finals: Ghill RR, Ghill (2x), Glenbrooks, the TOC.
He set the record for Baker points his junior year and then broke it his senior year.
If anyone wants to offer up a more accomplished high school debater, I am listening. The fact that he continued to have the fire and remained inclusive of teammates and so humble is astonishing. I have flexed way more in this post than Aden has probably done in his entire life.
It has been incredible to be able to help him these last 4 years. I won’t forget it.
Feedback from yesterday’s post was interesting. It definitely taught me that we all don’t share identical social media feeds and screenshots would help a lot. Also have to keep the writing in these posts tight when trying make a narrow argument, lest the asides get taken as the main point. There isn’t much to debate about, people said reasonable things generally and the dispute would be about degree of link to what I actually said and intended to say. Ultimately, poor writing on my part if the way it hits people is very far from my intention. That's on me, not them.
Some folks said voting was a civic responsibility and seemed to imply that responsibility should extend to engaging nonvoters (maybe I am reading into this last part). I would have to hear more about that. Not well read enough for that mere statement to mean anything to me.
I am here to talk about what I found to be a novel defense of Vote Blue, No Matter Who that came as a reaction to yesterday’s post. I thought it worth passing along.
I stated yesterday that a vote mattering is the odds it proves pivotal in the election (causing a tie or breaking a tie). There is reasonable consensus that this number approaches zero. A more nuanced way to think about voting via political science is the following:
People choose to vote based on the probability their vote is pivotal, their direct utility from voting (civic duty, social network pressure) and the costs of voting (be they psychological or economic transaction costs). So, if someone is going to vote the direct utility of voting has to outweigh the costs because the probability of being pivotal is not adding anything.
Here are the two main studies that establish that social pressure works:
Taking those insights, the defense of Vote Blue, No Matter Who as a social media talking point:
1. Social pressure from peers about voting is a pivotal factor in getting people to vote. Also, one of the cheapest ways to impact things.
2. Voting becomes habitual, once people do it once they are more likely to do it in the future across many elections
3. Boosting turnout helps Democrats’ chance of victory.
4. The average Democratic candidate is better than the average GOP candidate for the purposes of mitigating harm regardless of the election in question.
5. Thus, pressuring people from nonvoters into habitual voters is likely to improve the chances Democrats win over time which is good because they do less harm than GOP candidates. The mantra “Shut up about voting” would forfeit the above.
This is certainly a more coherent case for voting backed up by social science than I was aware of yesterday. Here are some clarifications.
What is “social pressure”
Highlights from the articles:
“Exposing a person’s voting record to his or her neighbors turns out to be an order of magnitude more effective than conventional pieces of partisan or nonpartisan direct mail”
“Personal, unhurried appeals are usually far superior to impersonal, mechanical and rushed communications (Gerber and Green 2000).”
The field experiments communicated to voters one of four options:
A. Do your civic duty
B. You are being studied, but the results are going to be confidential/no one will know if you voted or not.
C. We’ll tell other people who live in your house whether you voted or not.
D. We will tell your neighbors if you voted or not.
B, C and D all increase the social pressure. D had the biggest impact on getting people to vote.
All to say, internet randoms talking at each other probably doesn’t do anything. The person has to be in your network/a social leader to make social pressure work. I would say the social media posts I see are a mixed bag. Some are earnest/targeted at a peer. A good chunk is just shouting into the void/sharing polarizing stories or drivel from blue checkmarks .
Biden is as bad or worse than Trump
These arguments likely fall flat in the final estimation. Don’t get me wrong, Biden sucks. It is just very difficult to suck more than Trump. A Biden administration would save more lives (while still doing bad things) than a Trump administration. I am open to arguments on these fronts, but it seems like a high bar to clear.
For instance, you could say I am not going to vote, the Democrats will eventually lose enough elections and they will change course much closer to my policy/candidate preferences. How likely is that to work out? Unclear. Are there spillover effects from propagating notions that disengage and disaffect people? There does seem to be backing for such a notion.
It branches into a murky conversation about structural change that is beyond my current scope.
Biden is a rapist and that’s a d-rule
I find this argument to be eminently reasonable. What percentage of No Biden voters holds this particular view is unclear. The above framework is mainly geared toward Bernie supporters who don’t want to vote for neoliberal shills.
I did ask for someone’s response to this position and a summary is:
a. You don’t vote for people as people.
b. You vote for the candidate who has the least distance between their position and your ideal policy standpoint.
c. You are making a strategic choice to reduce harm
That is not the most inspiring slogan for a candidate. Wouldn’t want to put it on a sticker. It does, however, bolster the idea that Biden is going to need some extra turnout juice from social pressure to mitigate adverse enthusiasm gap concerns.
I do not like either major national party. Neither of them endorses a politics with which I personally identify. We need new organizations.
However, for what it’s worth, when faced with a choice in November about which party will do less harm, I will formally submit my opinion on the matter, and it will be that Democrats do less harm (we have a Democratic governor in Kentucky who won by like 5,000 votes who is mitigating the hell out of harm right now despite not being a full blown comrade).
Will I vote for Biden despite the accusations of sexual assault? Probably not. I live in Kentucky so my vote on that matter does nothing. I want other people to vote for Biden (mainly in PA, WI and MI and a couple other states) for harm reduction (but maybe someone will flip me on that). I am going to need some more thoughtful takes on the matter because I am not there yet and Biden probably needs all the help he can get.
My social media feed has been a dumpster fire since Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign. There are two main camps. First, people saying they will never vote for Biden (myriad of reasons, but him being a rapist seems to top the list). Second, people saying you must vote for Biden because Trump is bad. I imagine this bottom-of-the-barrel discourse will continue off-and-on for the next seven months.
This conversation is stupid, but not for the reasons stated to date (from my vantage point, at least). Let’s investigate and see if we can shut people the hell up, or at least move the conversation onto things that matter.
Let’s start with the Biden over Trump people. A vote for not Biden is a vote for Trump. Everyone has to band together and vote for Biden. Something something Bernie bros. Something something suck it up. The ultimate implication being that every vote matters and every vote not for Biden is courting disaster.
The issue with this position is math. A very common definition of a vote ‘mattering’ is the odds it results in a tie or breaks a tie. Here are some bullet points on that notion:
The only way you can make the math work in favor of voting is if you shift to expected value/utility theory. If there is a trillion dollars of difference between Trump and Biden and you have a 1 in 10 million chance of swinging the entire election, the expected value of your vote is +$100,000.
Issues with that: One, impossible to really calculate. Two, promotes a sort of existential risk/precautionary principle/utility maximizing style of reasoning that you really wouldn’t care about in other areas of life. Three, a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 was won by proving that humans are very bad at the expected utility thing. The real kicker is that ultimately, when an outcome or event is the same regardless of your participation, your participation did not matter.
Does that mean voting does nothing? Certainly not. It does do something. What it does is say something about the person casting the vote. For the reluctant Biden voter, it expresses that they are fine voting for imperfection/lesser of two evils to promote a notion of the common good. Never Biden people jump in at this point and start explaining why Biden is bad (possibly as bad as Trump, maybe worse based on some takes I saw).
Here, again, we have the same issue. Granting the illusion that someone’s vote for Biden matters and saying Biden is bad is not doing anything, for the same reason trying to guilt Never Biden people into voting is stupid. In the realm of social media, you are not haggling over any political influence/power that can register on any scale. Everyone was always already merely expressing themselves with their voting preference, not allocating units of political power. The winner of the election gets all the political power if they get to 270 electoral votes and your vote doesn’t do anything about that.
So, when someone says “I am never in my life going to vote for a rapist,” the response should be “good for you, I hope that helps you/makes you happy.” Responding with “but what about judges/kids in cages/tax credits” is delusional. One vote has nothing to do with any of that.
As a complete aside, politicians should just earn the vote from voters. If they do a bad job, that’s on the politician, not the voter. Nobody owes their vote to anybody. One of the main selling points of Biden was his electability, so he should be able to persuade voters. No one has to do it on social media for him.
I need to clean up several things at this point, because if we have some Reluctant Biden people reading they are likely losing their shit.
Mobilizing people to vote could have an impact (the more votes you are responsible for, the better odds you have). Clogging social media doesn’t do any of that. Face-to-face contact or phone calls are necessary—that’s studies. Could one individual divorced from a broader organization/strategy ever mobilize enough voters to make it worth the effort? Probably not.
If everyone thought voting didn’t matter, then no one would vote. True! Except, every election ever proves that people do not think like that! They vote for reasons other than the “purely rational” ones recognized by social sciences. Some would call it irrational. A paradox, even. They vote to express themselves, or because they have made a calculation about what their immediate peer group/social circle will think about them.
Another issue with the “all voting will collapse” argument is that elections have not been going so hot. Voters are very low information. A lot of them are consistently racist/xenophobic. If I could trick 100 Trump voters into not voting by saying it is stupid, that’s pretty good bang for the buck. Oh no! All voting will collapse if you point out math! Whatever will society do without more 2016’s or centrists or neoliberal assholes??
Voting can be good. Especially if it were way easier to do. Like what if the US was like Estonia and you could vote online? Pretty cool. It can bring a noticeable amount of personal satisfaction. It can generate social capital for an individual that they can invest into other endeavors. It can signal a sense of belonging to a community, like when you clap at a performance or shout at a game.
The tradeoffs are real, though. In some states, you have to wait an hour or longer to vote on average. Ridiculous, almost impossible to justify for care-takers or working-class people. For God’s fucking sake people in Wisconsin were forced to risk their lives to vote. It says a lot about them as people, and I respect their character even though the math was not in their favor.
The real time sink is the pointless typing at your computer, the consumption of articles, and the emotional toll it takes when you read someone say something that pisses you off because you think it influences an election.
I am not saying people have no agency or political power. It is a question of scale. Go out and contribute to a political organization that can achieve enough scale to make a thing happen in the long-term while creating a network of care in the short-term. Never Biden vs Reluctant Biden contributes nothing to that other than getting everyone pissed off at each other and exhausting them to the point it doesn’t happen.
I have some takes as they concern critical debate in 2020. I wanted to prove these notions come from a place of good faith, that they are not reactionary. I’ve put in my time. So, like with any good critical discussion I provided a genealogy first. The history section may not be necessary, so if you just want the takes, skip below it.
History with the K
It was September 2008. Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy the previous Monday. This fact did not resonate with me whatsoever. I was too busy focusing on my first college tournament, where I was debating JV at GSU. The topic was reducing agriculture subsides, the cards were on paper, and we had a biofuels affirmative of unknown origin (I don’t remember where the original cards came from, but this was when Gonzaga happened the weekend before and involved a lot of potential bid teams so we stole their cards aggressively).
Round 1 we debated Case Western (that is a university in Ohio that used to have a policy team). They read the Global Local K. How did I know it was the Global Local K? Certainly not from prior knowledge. I did high school debate in Colorado, where they had 4-minute rebuttals at the time. K’s weren’t really a thing, although I was introduced to the idea at the two summer camps I attended. The only one-off debate I had ever experienced was at camp; I think that happened once or twice and mainly involved the Cap K.
I cracked the code on Global Local because the file header said Global Local when they passed us cards. I dug around my accordions, found “Global Local Answers,” read some, two hours of nonsense ensued, and we emerged victorious. College debate proved very easy as we proceeded to go a casual 15-0 on ballots. We even defeated another one-off team from Florida State in the finals, although it was the Cap K and hard to distinguish from de-dev.
But rocky waters lay ahead for Liberty GW. Fast forward to the Richmond tournament (Richmond was another school that used to have policy debate and hosted a substantial regional tournament – the kind with three divisions, attended by the whole district and a few schools from just outside, and an overall strong weekend).
Round 2 we were Aff vs Pittsburgh. They hit us with the big Nietzsche. I imagine it wasn’t much more sophisticated than suffering good. Did I know what May 2k5 was? Sure didn’t. We took the hard L. My coaches tried to explain to 18-year-old me what a Nietzsche was for what felt like an eternity. It did not take. A typical irrational hatred of critical arguments from getting popped on something you are too dense to understand was starting to develop.
The lumps didn’t stop there. Round 7, Aff against Binghamton. They went for Heidegger. I flopped around for two hours trying to figure out what technological thought and calculative reasoning is. Didn’t go well. Another L against a German K! My JV world was falling apart. A brief reprieve when we debated the same team in the semifinals, they read a Heidegger aff with a plan and we beat them on ASPEC. Fucking love 2008 debate.
The dynamic between myself and K debates didn’t change very much over four years. It was bad. Lots of people go through undergrad not being good at researching critical subjects. I compounded that problem by not really having any clue what people were saying. I don’t know how I filled up speeches. I don’t know why judges didn’t always vote against us when we were Aff and why they gave me higher than a 26.
The funny thing was, it wasn’t that big of a deal at the time. Looking back on the first semester of the nukes topic (2009-2010), I believe we went to 6 tournaments and had 11 debates involving critical stuff out of 48 total. On immigration it was 7 out of 32 in the first semester. We are talking less than 25% of the debates. For a team that just wanted to figure out how to clear at a major and then get lucky, being terrible at K stuff only hindered us some, didn’t derail everything. Did we lose on rocks are people, knocking us out of our junior year NDT? Yup. Did we win the first NDT elim in Liberty history by beating the imperialism K? Yes, we did (somehow).
A related trend was developing during my time in undergrad: identity debates, which are commonplace now. By no means a definitive history, but this is what I recall from my vantage. Red White and Black drops in 2010. Liberty FH is an early adopter (not sure if it ever got read during the nukes topic, don’t remember that part). Wilderson is definitely a thing on the immigration topic. I remember very clearly practice debating FH in those early days and they kept saying “the black body.” I kept asking if they were talking about black people or something else and the answer never clarified anything for me (this could be on me, this could be on Eddie Fitzgerald being obtuse as hell (love you Eddie)).
I would say I held normal, wildly mistaken views concerning how race and racism worked for the first 19 or 20 years of my life, being a product of the public education system in America and all. The first presidential election I voted in I voted for Obama. I thought that cleared up a lot of racism. I thought you actively had to hate people of color. I thought it was interpersonal, I thought you had to be explicit in your bias, etc. Structural racism, afterlife of slavery, time accumulates, etc. did not cross my path or resonate until the debates I had my junior and senior year of college.
Fast forward to my first year out of college. I was the argument coach for Liberty. It was the energy production topic. I set out to cut my first K thing, the neolib K. In the grand scheme of things, it is hot garbage. In the scheme of first tries? Eh, still garbage.
The thing that makes this topic critical is what I learn from judging. In the octafinals of Kentucky I judge WGA DF vs Wake HQ. It’s me, Fisher and EShort. I had watched some debates in my undergrad days when a policy team was answering the K, but never really sought out framework debates.
This debate obviously blows my mind. What am I doing here? What is happening? K’s are stupid/sleight of hand. Ugh, I remember the L’s on Nietzsche and Anthro and Heidegger and Complexity and on and on. Get me out of here. I am an aspiring policy hack after all.
I watch the debate and a few minutes in, as I am looking things over, it dawns on me: “oh shit, WGA probably should win.” I’d given an RFD like this before, let’s see how this goes. 2-1 for the Aff. Fisher and I sit EShort (sidebar: WGA DF was so fucking good. I always appreciate them because we debated them at Wake when we were seniors and they were frosh and they explained to me what Wilderson was in a way I actually understood for the first time).
I judged a lot of WGA DF that year. They taught me a lot about the back and forth on framework. In an NDT prelim they just read original poetry and then a Sexton card and then sat down. I was like damn are we taking this too far? Whatever, 3-0 Aff.
The other noteworthy experience from this topic took place at Northwestern when I judged Oklahoma CL (Rashid and George) for the first time. Never seen them debate before. Not really sure who they are. George got up and started rapping the 1AC. This doesn’t strike me as odd, lots of 1AC’s started with music, rapping, or poems at the beginning. In my experience it was unclear if they typically ended up mattering later in the debate, but nothing too wild going on.
After about 90 seconds it dawned on me, he was not going to stop rapping. This was the whole thing. And OU CL continues to rap throughout the entire debate. They made their arguments about code switching and told me, for the first time, not to judge the debate like a white person. They maybe read one card formally. Maybe. Never seen anything like it up until that point.
First year out ended. Moved from Liberty to Kentucky. Judged a little Oklahoma, Towson and West Georgia. Still didn’t know how to research K’s. Any insight I have as a coach is coming from judging K debates. In the spring of the war powers topic I thought a few things. First, I had a crisis of confidence on the viability of framework as a strategy. Everybody goes through this phase. Second, I wanted to learn what K’s actually said. As a corollary I wanted to cut cards to answer them. This mainly involved reading books where somebody explains an author (not reading the author directly).
Through this process I stumbled upon Jean Baudrillard: Against Banality by William Pawlett. I read this book three or four times to grasp what the fuck was being said. That was necessary since I was starting from a pretty low/caveman baseline. The other thing I did was consult my good buddy Paul Johnson frequently (sidebar: PJ kicks ass. He is a professor at Pittsburgh. Great guy. Pretty verbose academic at this point so we were hit and miss on explaining Baudrillard to an idiot like me. I would love for debate to be structured in such a way that folks like PJ could be a little more involved in some way.)
This turns into the first K I cut against K’s. You can check the receipts too. Before Michigan KM made Pawlett cards a household thing, there is a debate at Harvard between Wake and Kentucky with Varda judging. Kentucky wins this debate on the Baudrillard K of identity. I claim we were the first squad to read Pawlett. I am not 100% on this but feel pretty good about it. After this debate Varda asks where these cards come from, GN tells them Lincoln did it and I have been judging so much Baylor ever since.
During the next three topics (legalization, military presence and climate), I was mostly free riding off of Donnie who was cutting all of our K stuff. I chipped in here and there, but nothing substantial of note. I had gotten over the hump of being able to cut K cards at all. I had turned the corner on being able to actually explain the ideas behind K’s. I could read people’s articles and know what is going on. Was becoming less of a clash judge in this period, more of a policy debates + Baylor judge (judged a lot of Harvard BS it felt like on legalization too). Donnie moved on after climate and I then free rode/chipped in lightly with BT over the next two topics (healthcare and executive power).
What does this very long story have to do with anything? Due to BT retiring and adding Casey and Caitlin this was the first year I could do some specializing and I focused predominantly on K stuff. I have some thoughts about it. Before I shared them, I wanted people to have a richer context of my history.
The takeaways from the history lesson: I began from a position of profound ignorance. There was soooo much I didn’t know. I appreciate the critical element of debate being present to force me to figure such things out. It definitely made me a lot smarter of a person, even though it took me a while to figure it out. The other thing to note is, I have put in the work/time. Whenever we used to talk about K stuff on Facebook (when that was in fashion) there would always be someone playing the “go read the books” card. I have read the fucking books. I have judged the debates. I have watched the debates. I have coached people to wins. I have coached people to L’s and thought about why. All to say, these thoughts aren’t really reactionary, but a product of spending a good amount of time dwelling on the issues, even if, ultimately, just one person’s opinion.
A large amount of time was spent figuring out what people said. What you get from the wiki is a bit of a crapshoot. How much people update and how much they include (only 1AC’s, just cites, etc.) varies a lot.
And as we all know, the bigger issue is that the crux of a debate comes out towards the middle of a round, usually tied to a card previously read and not a new card. The 2AC applying the 1AC or the block making their moves on framing, framework or impact calc arguments to nullify parts of the 1AC.
You mainly get this in the form of what people remember, a rough translation indeed.
I felt we had a reasonable idea of what people said. I would give us about a B+. I would say we dedicated noticeable resources to that pursuit. Squads with less coaches dedicated to the grind could not reasonably duplicate it in my mind.
Framework debates were boring, but why?
I don’t think framework debates have to be boring. I think they were pretty interesting on healthcare and resulted in good back and forth.
One might counter and say going for framework is up to the Neg and it is inherently boring, therefore it is the Neg’s fault. I don’t agree with the premise, but for now let’s assume it is boring on face. The only justification left for the Neg is if they are forced into it.
I think the Neg has demonstrated a reasonable willingness to go for other stuff when presented with the opportunity. Teams win on heg good, space weapons good, satellites good etc. The issue with this is it mainly depends on the good graces of the Aff team. “We will defend X” “You can say Y” etc. is a strange way to divide ground. Sometimes I learn something is an impact turn to the 1AC in cross-x that I would not fathom based off the tags and cards in said 1AC.
The better way to divide ground is likely to lock in a floor for what an Aff has to defend that is controversial. It seems better than dividing ground based off the whims of the Aff, and in a way that obviates all uniqueness and link questions to devolve into a “random impact good/bad” debate.
But isn’t the Neg just being lazy going for framework? Maybe. It is difficult to figure out what is going on (that is above). You would also have to write a specific idea that improves your chances of winning more than framework. This is a high bar. Not simply because cards and premises can change swiftly (thanks Cal NR), but when pushed, Aff teams are going to do what Aff teams do. Dodge, dodge, perm, not our thing.
Like I get it, sometimes the Neg accusations are wildly off base. And there is no judgement here for when an Aff team tries to limit what a Neg can say. That’s just good strategy. But what Neg teams are unlikely to do is engage in work that requires nailing down the meaning of an abstraction to generate speculative link arguments when the link to another position is guaranteed.
And let’s not assume that these 1AC’s are works of art that just can’t get no engagement. People blame the Aff for shallow debates by accusing them of “dodging links” and “being noncontroversial,” but I think this analysis is a little superficial.
My issue with the K Affs I read this year (and I read them all) is that they weren’t interesting. Space was a shoehorned conversation. Why the resolution was bad was not very intrinsic or thought-provoking. The 1AC did not set up intricate inroads to problematizing framework.
I am sympathetic; this topic didn’t give people much to work with. It had a weird list of space stuff and then had this IR kind of conversation about working with enemies.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that space policy is stupid. No one cares (although Grondin 7 is a heater, good job dml). I am surprised more people weren’t up front about saying fuck talking about this. Or went deeper and tried to come up with something more intricate and specific to space. But it seemed people settled in the unsatisfactory middle.
I thought Aff teams were worse at Framework this year
In typical debate musings fashion, I didn’t muse on this at all. I collected a lot of data on the question. I looked at the last 5 topics (so starting with military and ending with space).
I looked at when a first-round team did not read a plan vs another first round team that went for framework. I logged all the results. Here is what happened:
Executive power and space have been bullish years for framework. This doesn’t really prove anything as to why this is occurring. I can definitely see the argument that climate and healthcare were better at producing the types of Affs people like to read and having them be high quality. However, I would say the issue is bigger because of a lack of adaptation by Aff teams (forcing models that may not work as well given the subject matter on exec power and space). Lack of adaptation is usually my answer no matter the debate circumstance.
Where was this Aff?
I am really surprised that (to my knowledge) no one went for talking about space is stupid. Space is ass, white fantasy playground, we have real problems on Earth, ignore this topic, the debate centrism that caused this topic is bad, sometimes a topic is worse than no topic when it is stupid etc. There was no answer, so I am quite shocked no one went hard on this line of argument.
Heg Good Aff
This encapsulates the state of affairs pretty clearly. The heg good aff is pretty easy to put together. Low hanging fruit approach through and through. The bigger shame comes from Neg teams that allowed this to continue. People are only doing it because it works. Lazy strategy countered by suboptimal debating is a travesty.
Boooooooo. Let it die. People like voting for Nathan Rice, not that one card about sabotage and prolif good. Booooo.
The Cap K is Incredible
The Cap K is a huge component of the upcoming high school topic (criminal justice reform) so I will save my rants for the camp setting. This argument is very good. It is criminally underrated by the Neg. Aff answers are most always poop (probably because they have not been pushed on the argument enough). The fact that to answer framework better you usually have to open yourself up to cap K links is a delight. I will go to bat for this argument any day. I take most people’s objection to be disingenuous crap, we all know the argument is true and the Aff is never always already the perm (which is stupid, the links were about the 1AC, saying the Aff is the perm still maintains the 1AC is a part of it, this phrasing conveys negative meaning).
Hardest to prepare for
Aff vs Baylor RW. Baudrillard or Wilderson is a weird range. Picking an Aff that works against both simultaneously is very difficult.
What would the NDT have looked like?
Here is DML’s K Aff:
Durrani 19 is an incredible article. DML clearly fleshes it out very well here. The card that China is into Bogota is awesome. Griffin 18 is a real nice one for the fiat-based arguments Neg teams love.
Here is my take on a similar concept:
I was more into the arguments about how the Moon Treaty is radical than going as deep on Bogota specifically. This Aff dovetails with my love of the Cap K because it bans space capitalism and the 2AC was going to read cards one usually reads on the Neg to say K Affs are capitalist.
Here is another Aff concept:
Cool stuff with this Aff: First, it exploits that cooperation can just be talking. Second, when the Neg says you can’t have ethical space flight/you have to solve oppression on Earth first, the Aff can agree and thus ban spaceflight.
I liked the Moon Treaty Aff for us, but here was our better one:
Give solar power to everyone. A team from Kansas did this throughout the year, but they didn’t quite have the debates I anticipated. Climate change not really coming up a lot on the topic. The climate topic was a long time ago/hard to remember (but we could look it up and double check). Hopefully provoked people spending time on SPS bad arguments that aren’t super credible. The main thing that was anticipated was accusations of colonialism (space stuff, rare earth stuff, Western savior, etc.) You can see the 1AC splits its time between defending the climate change part and defending the energy poverty/solving it is colonialism part.
1. Making the wiki more useful.
Full text of evidence. Reporting more rounds. Reporting beyond 1AC/1NC. I am not a wiki K guy (your wiki sucks so much you should lose, a thing that has actually won debates before), but the reasoning is there. Transaction costs do have tradeoffs.
Wiki should be a virtuous cycle where people self-report because they want access to as much information from their opponents. Kind of surprised the wiki hasn’t death spiraled through teams wanting their opponents to jump through a bunch of hoops and reporting less.
2. More experimenting with critical arguments and plans.
I think people are way too dismissive of what can be done here. Hopefully the stars align at Kentucky where we can give this a go.
3. If no plan, cooler framework answers.
Tighten up the 1AC and 2AC. Make me feel something again.
4. More identity-based arguments that are topic-specific, less ontologically-based ones.
Many ways these things can be packaged. I am not even saying don’t advocate pessimism. But as the flurry of Aff retorts indicate, there are many ways to interpret and practice pessimism. There are lots of different reasons to endorse pessimism. Spice. It. Up.
I have never had more very good answers to any position than I do for Afro-pessimism. And I get it, Wilderson cards are down (but maybe will resurge? https://www.amazon.com/Afropessimism-Frank-Wilderson-III/dp/163149614X). I don’t think it is a stark departure to read the article that explains and cites Wilderson using Baudrillard words.
5. Less Baudrillard vs plans. MORE Baudrillard vs not plans.
6. Give it a rest with fiat-based arguments.
I will say I may be losing something in translation here. If I judged a team going for a K would I think that a big crux of their strategy is to dismiss the plan because fiat isn’t real? I am not sure. But the reports I get from debates suggest that this is frequently a central issue.
Boring! K debate is fun because you can find cards about anything (or close enough to make the arg). I mean literally anything. Every idea is on the table if you dig in the journals long enough.
I just don’t get what the point that is trying to be made is. People can use debate to figure out what ideas they think are good, what values they want to hold and what courses of action they do or do not want to encourage. It seems reasonable to say a good way to parse that out is you imagine a course of action and you anticipate positive and negative effects. It is easy, it is valuable, it is what 1AC’s do. What are we fucking talking about here?
There are cool things people could be saying about rhetorical/communication strategy, ideology, theories of power, epistemology, etc. that are all much more interesting things in which to invest time. They can even establish that the judge should position themselves in such a way where what the plan is being sold as should not the starting point.
It was an interesting year to be sure. I think I can do it better and smarter the next go-around, COVID-19 willing. Appreciate all the opponents who kept me occupied.
NTMs! The math:
Who submitted what:
Article IX---Kentucky (Truf)
Commercial RPO's (Marban)
Hyersponics---George Mason AH
Lunar Arachaeology---Dartmouth (Raam)
Lunar Heritage---Northwestern (Teja)
Solar Shield---Berkeley (Fleming)
Space Elevators---Kentucky (Truf)
There is a lot of craft in designing a new Aff. A lot of tedious work. A beautiful thing when done well.
Interesting NTM's won. I would say it was one of the more known quantities. Overall innovativeness of the selections could have been higher. Possible people were running on fumes for ideas given the subject matter.
The fact that Article IX lost, really demonstrates the fact that we cannot have nice things.
By: Genevieve Hackman
The past week and a half have felt like the Twilight zone. In some ways, none of the bad stuff feels real yet. I hear the words that people are saying but they don’t resonate. Everything has moved so quickly around me, but I feel like I am walking through water. My thoughts are slow and interrupted halfway through, and although I am going through the motions I can’t honestly say I remember any of what happened in the first couple of days of the pandemic. In the last few days, I have been able to catch a breath, process the thoughts, and feel the feelings.
I’m heartbroken that I lost my last NDT. So many words have been said about the value of the NDT and all of them are right. The NDT is a time to come together as a community, a time to feel the power that debate gives you for the last time, and a time to mourn and celebrate your career with the only people in the world who could possibly understand what it has meant to you. For me, it was the suddenness of the end that really, really got me. I know the NDT was soon, but I thought I had three more weeks of late nights in the library or debate office, of practice speeches and card cutting, of strategizing and being a part of the most incredible team I could have hoped for. One of the most powerful parts of debate for me has always been the trips to and from a tournament: hours-long car rides and sleep-deprived strategy sessions mixed in with delirious jokes and tense conversations about what is to come. These are the memories that make my whole body feel warm when I live in them. I am immensely sad that I do not get the last trip to treasure as a memory for the rest of my life.
I spent awhile reflecting on what I wanted to say in this post. We have spent a lot of time as a team joking around about everyone having to move through the stages of grief in light of the information. Day one, everyone denied it was a problem. The outbreak wouldn’t be that bad, there is no way they would cancel. Then we were all mad. Every single thing said on the internet, whether I agreed with it or not, pissed me off. My first draft of this post was just, “the discourse fucking sucks.” That was all I had. Then, bargaining. Online NDT? Delay the NDT? Figure something, anything out? I settled into what I expected to be a lengthy depressive state pretty quickly upon returning from our team’s last trip to Vegas. I had the good fortune of some pretty incredible friends and coaches who had countless comforting words, comforting food, and finally comforting silence to keep me company in what felt like an unbeatable wave of sadness.
Unexpectedly, I would say I am in a place of acceptance now. It is over. Seven years (more for some!) of the best, most frustrating, most rewarding activity I could imagine, and it is over. I had no idea when I was deciding in September if this was going to be my senior year that the stakes of that decision were my last NDT. I was tempted to renege, back off and do it all again. But as I thought about going through the motions one more year, it felt wrong. I didn’t want another year of tournaments. I wanted the chance to say goodbye to this activity.
In the time since the news, which feels like a decade but has been only one week, I have thought a lot about what debate meant to me. It has been very little consolation for losing my last tournament, given the anticipation and preparation for what was to come, but there is so much debate has given me that has nothing to do with this NDT. If you’re anything like me, your minutes-before-sleep, dreams, and drifting off in the daytime is full of things you wish you had done differently. One different sentence, a different card, a different strategic choice. I haven’t opened the flows from my last debate or watched the tape of my 2NR because I know I will have to spend sleepless nights with the words I didn’t say echoing in my head. However, there is one regret that I keep circling back to: that there were times when I let debate be reduced to a matter of going through the motions.
There are times when debate just doesn’t click – that’s natural. It is such a rigorous and time-consuming activity, there have to be days when you take a breath and just do what you know you have to do. There will inevitably be days when the things you have to do are boring and hard. When the research isn’t clicking, a concept doesn’t make sense to you, when a W against a specific team feels like it keeps slipping through your fingers by the smallest of margins. One of my coaches calls it ‘being in the suck’ – just the sucky, irritating part of debate. The thing I am describing – going through the motions – is different. It’s half-assing the presets at a regional, showing up to team meetings to stare at a wall, or going to the office to do nothing productive. You are there, but you aren’t doing anything. When I look back at my years in debate, I think there were too many times that I was just going through the motions. At the time, it seemed inconsequential. Maybe it meant I didn’t live up to my full potential, but I was tired, so tired and knew that there was going to be another tournament. Another time when I could debate, and maybe that time I could be well rested, maybe then I’ll feel more prepared. The stars will align, and it will be better than it was today and then, then I will debate with all of the fire that I have on my best days. I regret that so much. There is nothing that can replicate the feeling of that fire and this time…there weren’t more debates. Sometimes, I don’t think I could help just going through the motions. This year has been a wave of unexpected stress and change and I can’t say my mental health has been at its peak. But there were many times that I think I could have, should have, would have been better, and those are the times that are at the forefront of my memory.
So, I think that I wanted the takeaways from this post to be two-fold. First, I want to encourage everyone who still has time in debate to catch themselves when they are just going through the motions. I don’t want to make the mistake of suggesting that is always bad, but rather that it is a thing to reflect upon. Take a second, think about why you feel the way you do and what the best path forward is. I think a lot of the time, the best path forward will be treating every debate like it’s the finals of the NDT. Hindsight is 20/20, and I’m sure this is different for everyone, but my hindsight says that I would feel a lot better if I had done that. Times are changing. You really can’t be sure when your last debate will be, and the value of debating each one like it’s your last is so high compared to the costs in retrospect. Every debate has the potential to spark that fire, and if this one doesn’t, then think about what you can do differently so that it does. I know I had a tendency to blame the opponent/judge/time of day/state/thing I had for breakfast/side of the bed I work up on for debates I didn’t enjoy (don’t get me wrong; I also did a healthy dose of berating myself), but if I could do it again, I would think about what I could do to change that for the next debate. What modification of strategy, trying new things, writing new args, etc could I do to make the next debate feel better for me? I know that this message - live life to the fullest! – will make me sound like a little bit of a broken record, but it’s worth saying again and it’s worth hearing again on the chance that this is the time it means something to you.
The second takeaway is to forgive yourself. Part of the reason I wrote this was to force myself to move past my focus on a single thought – that I didn’t do enough – and move on to forgiveness. I am forgiving myself for not treating every debate like my last until it became conspicuous that it might be true. There were a lot of things left on my to-do list for the NDT. There were a lot of times, especially in the past months, that I have convinced myself to go through the motions. This is my public statement that that…is okay. I am still the kick-ass, confident debater that I remember from the best days and the best debates. To anyone who has been feeling the same about the way things ended for them: it’s okay for you too! Your best debates weren’t errors at the margins, they were the culmination of years of incredibly hard work. No matter when they came in your career, they are still valuable, incredible demonstrations of everything we have put into the activity.
I’m certain everyone is experiencing different things right now. I’m sure that for many people, these words won’t help, and I don’t want to suggest that the ‘senior’s experience’ is universal. There also has been such limited time to process. So much is going on in the world that it could be months before we get the chance to feel the full weight of the end of debate. Maybe I’ll revise my opinions then. But this is my two cents on what debate has felt like for me for the past week. To all of the other seniors: I admire you all endlessly, have constantly aspired to be better because of you, and I wish we could have done it one more time.
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.