There were two pretty funny reactions after I started this blog. The first was that I was trading off with other websites. Everyone knows people, particularly debate people, have limited bandwidth for clicking on things. And concentration of viewpoints in one place was necessary for…something.
The second was related to the content. My first series of posts didn’t really talk about critiques that much. This criticism seemed to misunderstand the blog’s purpose. I wasn’t attempting to cater to a particular audience, but was using talking about debate in more freeing ways as a form of catharsis. Like I stated yesterday, I love debate and really enjoy the people who put so much time into this activity. But I am not usually able to say as much as I would like to folks at debate tournaments face-to-face, and the modes of socializing that happen at debate tournaments aren’t really for me.
To be fair, I was throwing my posts on CPD to free ride and see how many clicks I could get, so that may have generated a sense of justification for those criticisms since CPD (God help us) is the place where deliberations about debate public goods happen. So I stopped doing that.
Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there. If you missed part one you can find it here.
Similar thing today except this time it’s about preparing vs critiques. So after Northwestern what was our thinking?
The first thing that was big related to the NFU Aff. I thought K teams’ business vs NFU through the first two tournaments of the year was not up to snuff. But starting at Gonzaga the docs and the results kept getting better. NFU is a pretty good Aff, but by the second semester the tight Neg docs and critical mass of experience debating it made me worried. So for important K debates we were going to switch Affs. But to what?
The origin of the first Aff is kinda funny. We debated Cal NR at Northwestern. Their Aff at the time was about Empire and debt. Baylor TZ said the executive was bad for affect reasons. Wake EF’s Aff about black deference seemed to defend a broad restriction on executive power based on some rounds I watched. So I wanted to pursue a defense of executive power that hadn’t come up to date.
This is where Ideen Saiedian enters the story. Ideen debated for USC, is a great guy and I follow him on twitter. He tweets frequently about Iran and Syria, particularly relating to leftist hypocrisy concerning US intervention and engagement in the region. This interested me and I explored further. So thanks for educating me Ideen!
This led to a literature base of folks critiquing forms of anti-imperialism. Most of these folks seemed to advocate some form of US intervention in Syria. The arguments these folks made shed new insight for me on binary thinking and flattening critique. They gave me new angles and vocabulary to articulate these ideas in a debate.
For those interested in source material:
Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution
Syria And The Left: The Pitfalls Of Anti-Imperialism
Syria and the 'Anti-Imperialism' of Idiots
Syria and the Left," Jacobin
A Foreign Policy for the Left
Syria and the Problem of Left Solidarity
Indefensible Democracy, Counterrevolution, And The Rhetoric Of Anti-Imperialism
Aleppo, barbarism, and the anti-imperialism of fools
So this started as a Neg position, but given the topic was everything it became easy to make this a trade Aff about arming the Free Syrian Army.
The main teams we had in mind with this Aff were Wake EF and OU PW. There was a reasonable amount of institutional memory of how an Aff about foreign policy centered on activist demands from another country plays out given our experience on the military presence topic reading an Aff about Okinawa and basing.
Wake EF’s NDT innovation was very interesting for this argument. Still a structural argument, but with a different implication concerning a more direct material race war. Made for a pretty interesting final round hypothetical. Would they continue with that idea given this Aff is guns good? What would their main link arguments be on the fly? Getting the guns from other sources was a no go because the USFG is heavily policing arms flows for ISIS reasons.
If the Neg went for an argument that concluded don’t give Syrians guns because of “residual link logic” concerning the US being bad, the 1AC was specific about saying that was bad. What would the counter to that have been? Like I said above, historically when we have read an Aff like this the debate was heavily shaped by fungibility and pornotroping, but I wonder what other angle of attacks would have been figured out.
The other Aff we had was mostly designed for OU JS and settlerism arguments. The Aff was sanctioning Russia good. First, we are in a political/hybrid war with Russia that we are losing and it could escalate. Second, cards about how lumping together the US and Russia is bad. Third, Russia spreads bad ideologies worse. Fourth, analytics centered on US experiences do a really poor job of explaining Russia state formation and what they are about. Basically a thread that said the Neg had to have cards specific to Russia. Finally, a card that said you can’t really appreciate how true these arguments are if you don’t speak Russian so default to Truf. That last one was kind of a troll, but did have a reasonable card behind it.
Bing AY we were going to read NFU. They had reasonable stuff against it, but their potential range was a worry. They started incorporating Spanos and Baudrillard trolls, so who knows what they would say against a new Aff. Felt similarly against Cal NR.
Liberty HT was a unique case given argument focus and stylistic choices. We had two Neg debates with them in the first semester. Neither of the other two Affs really answer the questions Liberty raises about portability and efficacy of scholarship, so it was NFU by default. Being Aff against them at ADA and learning the ropes was a huge help.
Now let’s talk about Neg prep. I enjoyed this part a lot. First, I looked at every K team. Anything could happen and I did not want to be surprised. Also for a team like HR that was going to be finding a way to scrap for 5 wins and be hovering in the middle of the tournament. . .that means more than half your debates could be against the K. For example, of teams that went 4-4 or better here are those that had more than 5 K debates in prelims:
But on the flip side BT only had one in prelims! Which is to say, you have to be prepared for everything, but there is only so much time in the day. That means you have to try to make smart choices, and you also have to plan to get lucky and dodge some areas you didn’t cover (K or policy, doesn’t matter).
So what to do? First, what subject matters are prevalent. Here was my list going into the tournament:
Nuclear/Psychoanalysis, Afro-pessimism, melodrama, affect, Asian internment, postmemory, coloring, surveillance/ableism/medicalization, queer anarchy, opacity, disability/ableism sans surveillance, dark sousveillance, settlerism/nukes, surveillance on queer people, settler colonialism with no nukes, black feminism, Derrida/nukes, choreosonics, poetic negritude, nukes with no psychoanalysis and no Derrida, black joy/poesis, psychoanalysis/exec power/Trump, black deference, empire/imperialism, cybernetics, English language bad, racist surveillance, surveillance and Chicanas, black anality, Harney/Moten/undercommons.
Soooo, a bit of a spectrum here. Two of the biggest standouts in terms of frequency are antiblackness and arguments about surveillance. But that is a lot of mechanisms attached to antiblackness and the relative strength of the ontological claims is pretty different.
The next two questions that came up were what do we want to accomplish and what have other folks been doing?
A goal at the outset was to diversify what we were reading as much as we could. Trying to get to three to five off instead of the more traditional two. So, in the context of surveillance that would be like framework, a K, a topic education style DA related to the way they critiqued surveillance and a surveillance good argument.
What were other people doing? Lot of folks going for framework, but they all aren’t doing it the same way. Some did it with not a lot of evidence and said standard stuff (Harvard, Emory, Kansas). Michigan read the classic dml style cards. He has been cutting cards that read like this for five or six years. My issue is they are never about the topic and are limits good cards, but not great at drawing the line to insulate oneself from counter-interps. I think you can just say 90% of the arguments you would get from reading the long card.
Berkeley also takes an interesting approach. They read cards about citizen literacy and engagement and what not. My issue with those cards were they weren’t clear at describing something close to what a topical debate is as being necessary to learn the literacy.
I like extra stuff on framework beyond the procedural stuff, but I feel like it needs to be closely tied to the topic and needs to let you generate a positive and alternative vision for what debate can be about compared to the Aff. That notion led me to the following articles:
Policy Roundtable: The Future of Progressive Foreign Policy
Is the Left Ready to Handle National Security
The state of Leftist foreign policy
A Foreign Policy for the Left,
This formed the basis of a new topic education argument. We also had the business about Syria/humanitarian intervention and anti-imperialism that linked to some old business and maybe new K Affs would link more to it.
Turned my attention to surveillance next. We had a handful of cards about negative critique, can’t be sweeping about surveillance, government surveillance is dictated by practice and norm entrepreneurs so have to design a surveillance system in a context instead of more abstract yes/no style critique. Did not get around to figuring out how to make surveillance benevolent. I saw some folks try to recycle stuff from healthcare but didn’t really know stuff about it that topic and wasn’t going to figure it out here.
I borrowed heavily from others to improve our settler colonialism business. Dartmouth and Michigan have good stuff! Something I am going to research more personally over the summer.
So that left the major outstanding question of antiblackness and the various mechanisms associated with it. If only I had the time to see if I could invent something new. I probably couldn’t but one of these days I am going to hit pause on the policy cards and only cut K cards.
I do this thing all the time, but I particularly do it for K debate. Everybody is out here doing serious research. Who knows how many hours are put into a given subject matter? By February, the debate community has been thinking about antiblackness and how it intersects with whatever the topic is for hundreds of cumulative hours. So my goal is to not start my own understanding from scratch, but to get a fuller appreciation of what people have done to date, because it reflects so much time in trial and error compared to what I could ever do on my own. So when people tell you that wiki surfing is making you bad because you just copy and paste, tell them they are wrong because you are doing it in a way where you are trying to master complexity, not just plug and chug the first doc you come across (if you are doing the latter, stop it).
The evidence on both sides seems pretty reasonable/balanced. There were no innovative wagons I wanted to jump on. I made sure our arguments about capitalism, existentialism and Wendy Brown were up to date and called it a day. It seemed like the cards were not the issue, but information asymmetries and execution.
It seems like folks focusing on the strong ontology version of the argument are doing themselves a disservice because you don’t need to get into a totalizing debate that is hard to prove to win that, chances are, someone doing something in America is going to end up having a racist implication. Probabilistically speaking, given the history that comes up in these debates, public policy bolstering racial hierarchy is a reasonable bet.
And the other side frequently doesn’t have cards or mechanisms to resolve that issue (for example single payer was a good Aff because it had multiple ways to help alleviate hierarchy and had good case studies to back it up. I can’t say the same thing necessarily for NFU or surveillance Affs). But the other side does have a lot (and I mean a lot of cards at this point) that are pretty on point answering the strong ontology claim. I just think it is messier to water down what you are saying after you start (which I see teams do a good amount of the time), but doesn’t seem necessary to get to a specific speech about the Aff. The perm becomes a little better I guess, but if you get a little more specific that should easily compensate.
So didn’t really get there on having 4 or 5 off versus stuff. Didn’t cut the sick postmemory Neg. Did get up to like 3.5 in most situations.
Random other thoughts:
1. Does trying to write other arguments disprove that you don’t have ground on framework? No. The Neg should not be treating ground as a yes/no question, but a question of quality and how hard one has to work to acquire it. The external topic restraint is a ground-generating mechanism. If the Aff can cherry pick by going outside the topic to make it easier to answer what’s in the topic that makes ground worse under that interpretation. It also has to do with the fact that K Affs operate at a high level of abstraction. There is nothing wrong with that per say, but the issue becomes when one’s goal is to win a debate. That puts a high premium on argument avoidance and abstractions are perfect for that because their meaning is not as clearly fixed and the interpretation can change from speech to speech, debate to debate.
They don’t even have to be that self-interested for this dynamic to play out. Academically speaking, fluidity is preferred over fixity/static interpretations so the content of an idea has a sort of natural ebb and flow to it. Academically engaging, but possibly not the best basis for a debate if side equalization is anywhere on the priority list.
Hey high schooler, don’t turn that into a card. You should lose if you do that. Oh, shit is this a card now too? I have to get out of here.
2. Execution matters so much more than evidence in critical debates. True or False? False. Not really because judges are out here comparing cards and checking in. But the cards give you a vocabulary, so you don’t have to sound like a debate meme in the moment. And if they are good cards, they are giving you ways to understand the implications of arguments so you can evolve past buzzwords into fully fleshed out ideas with clear impacts. This is why pursuing research concerning these debates is important. And just because they read a card that has been in circulation for a minute doesn’t mean either side is stagnant or it is just the eternal return of clash debates. The innovations don’t really come from whole new positions, but rather new packaging, two or three sentences at a time.
3. The wiki would help, but there is a sort of naturally occurring information asymmetry generated by these debates. I aggressively scouted what these debates were about. Some of them have a handful of cards, some less. But the real action is in the speeches, in the packaging, in the interpretations. The feedback from debaters in the room and judges is hit or miss. Can’t watch ‘em all at tournaments. Video is unreliable. I don’t really have a solution to this and I am not saying it is a huge pressing problem. When people look at the wiki and want more it couldn’t hurt, but I don’t think that is the real source of an understanding gap.
The issues are very complex, a given debater can fit within a wide spectrum of quality in terms of explanation, they can lead to many different implications, you cannot port them to the masses in a speech doc like a politics 1NR. Not saying it is bad, but it does raise the bar of necessary prep. So the grind continues.
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK and coach with Montgomery Bell Academy. This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.