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.
We should focus on the public health controversy of the day, not run away from it. This is a preliminary proposal that can be fleshed out with time.
1AC Contest Cleanup
Space Elevator beats NTP 48 to 27. Bogota beat Solar Shield 42 to 31.
Let's wrap this up with a little rank choice voting.
On to the Neg fun.
Rona Impact Turns
We know someone was going to try to solve it or read it as a politics DA or something. That part is elementary. The real question is who had the best impact turns?
I rest my case.
Everyone seemed to think econ-based impacts were better than not. Didn’t understand it. Belarus >>. Japan >>>>.
Unilat, What Happened?
This didn’t really go down the way I thought it would. People were overly engrossed with hotlines for some reason. Ass. Were hotlines better than regular impact defense? No. Did people think so because CP’s must have magical powers? Seems like it.
Unilat did seem to successfully dampen enthusiasm for deep space and SPS.
But what was somewhat surprising was how people didn’t use the Unilat CP to bolster a space leadership/dominance type argument very often. When we consulted field experts on space they were very dismissive of Aff notions. They just said the US should win, the US should lead, Russia and China are very hard to cooperate with/not very interested in it. This notion did not really translate into debates clearly.
I thought it was going be impossible to win on T-Areas cause the Aff could say they’re in all of them and the Neg has to win they’re in none.
But look at T-STM in the Wake Octas, T-arms control is quantitative, and T-deep space. People did better than I anticipated.
Ugh, we devolved into a high school topic this year where so much talk revolved around link uniqueness. Yuck. Aff reading at least 5 cards about this (most of the time starting in the 1AC) then the Neg just folds. Boring.
The Neg did three main things to resolve this issue. First, they ignored it, went for a generic DA and lost. Second, they would try to read links about the plan but would fail and read some generic crap. Third, they would try to CP out of the issues, but didn’t think far enough ahead to answer perms, got confused, then lost.
That last one is where the most hope for the Neg was. They could have CP’ed new space policies that got derailed by cooperating (particularly against China where the espionage DA was better). They could have read links about mixed signals to answer the perm.
This also led people to veer, quite aggressively, into a swamp of process CP’s and internal net benefits. An unfortunate development, but it seemed like teams felt their hands were forced.
A revolutionary idea is they could have tried to read more DA’s to the plan. I will admit, this was impossible in some cases. But more possible then what happened.
No one really tried to impact turn relations and/or CBM type arguments that I recall? These kinds of turns are a bit speculative. Maybe people were self-deterred because they thought the Aff and Neg cards would sound too different. But definitely something worth trying given the dilemma the Neg was in.
Tankiest Generic Positions
1. the Multilat CP
2. the Japan DA
I do not know if there is a third argument. If you never gave a 2NR on these, what were you doing?
Worst positions to win a debate
These are in no particular order:
NSP 1.0 and agenda politics
Libya diplomatic capital
Juul DA (I understand getting seduced by a card that actually says cooperation is bad, but the position as a whole sucks)
Text only constitutional convention 1NC and space weather bipart DA after impeachment
Revisionism DA (is it a DA or merely an observation? What does it prove? Particularly concerning the plan being bad? No one knows, no one ever knew).
Record vs New Affs
This is one of the best metrics by which to judge your preparation. Beating a new aff is the pinnacle of performance. The main enjoyment I get out of topics is trying to pre-empt people’s new affs.
I believe Kentucky EH had the following experience with new Affs:
KY RR—NU JW breaks LOAC—EH wins
KY RR---Emory breaks planet defense---EH loses
Harvard elims---Michigan PR breaks exotic weapons---EH wins
Wake elims---Emory CM breaks ISS---EH loses
Indiana prelims---Minnesota breaks something about missile defense---EH wins
3-2. Not bad. Obviously the NDT is where the real new aff fireworks fly.
How would you have fared at the NDT?
How were you against deep space? What about arguably deep space like the Moon affs from the other day (but they might claim to be all the areas, who knows)?
Did you know about NTM? It was an aff most likely to be read by several schools.
Did you ever get a handle on planet defense? Cyber? Hypersonics? Known quantities with new touch up jobs come NDT time.
What was your fall back position if all else failed? Did you write new impacts to old DA’s? Did you have new generic arguments?
Did you find this card?
I think a lot of people really focus on the Aff come NDT time. They do this with varying degrees of success (mostly throwing up poop that’s only supposed to last one debate). I can see how that would warp or disincentive Neg prep. It feels like sometimes the Aff should run into a buzzsaw (breaking an aff into a prepared negative team or whiffing on a new generic being read against them), but it seems this doesn’t happen very much. Strange.
Best (policy) debates of the year
a. Finals of Georgetown---NU JW vs Cal FG---NU JW breaks 5G and Cal beats them breaking constitutional convention with a new internal net benefit.
b. Harvard Octafinals---Michigan PR vs Kentucky EH---Michigan PR breaks exotic weapons. Kentucky EH breaks the multilat cp, the India DA, the flags of convenience DA and a Kuril Islands impact to Russia politics. Kentucky wins on multilat. It goes on to be a season defining generic argument.
c. Texas Prelim---Michigan PR vs NU JW---Michigan PR reads LOAC, NU reads a DA about commercially hosted military payloads, Michigan straight turns the Japan DA, wackiness ensues.
d. Texas Prelim---Cal FG vs NU FL--- a hearty ASAT ban vs BMD throwdown all around.
e. Gtown Octas---Michigan JS vs Kansas MM---Kansas says asteroid mining. Michigan impact turns with the minerals cause catalytic converters which are bad. Kansas wins 3-0 on not our catalytic converters. A back and forth affair every speech according to those in the room.
The Only Neg Evidence Contest That Matters
I want to see your best CP/DA generic strategy that involves a middle power/intermediary. This is the gold standard of NDT preparation. You will not be able to light a candle to Kentucky’s submission in this category.
We are back with two things. The results for the polls from yesterday AND bonus matchups! We have 4 new 1AC's for which to gander. I am sure the infinite wisdom of the internet will judge them truly. I will save my wisdom and wit about the 1AC's for another time.
Bonus matchup #1:
Bonus matchup #2:
Cyber vs Hypersonics
Hypersonics WINS. 43 to 30.
Article IX vs NTM
NTM WINS. 65 to 60.
Lunar Heritage vs MMT
Lunar Heritage WINS. 44 to 37.
Lunar Archaeology vs Commercial RPO’s
Lunar Archaeology WINS. 53 to 40.
I am pleasently surprised that people took me up on proposal from yesterday. I am not suprrised that some people didn't play because they hate fun. But we have great slate here.
We have 8 submissions. I numbered them in the order I received them. I selected a random number to get a bye. That was Aff #3. The other 6 will duke it out in a partial quarters bracket. I randomly assigned the head to head matchups as well.
UPDATE---new 8th submission! Bye gone! Full quarters! Below!
Here is the Aff that got a bye (UPDATE it has a challenger
The final matchup:
Thanks to the people who submitted! I will reveal who said what after. I will be back tomorrow with another post + keeping this voting going.
We are back after a little COVID-19 and moving the entire TOC online delay. Trying something new, posting smaller posts more often. The Weebly comment system is pretty whatever. Catch the thread related to this post by adding me on Facebook if you would like to join the conversation. If you find yourself having long answers to some of the questions I pose, we could get those thoughts up on the blog as well.
I have a very humble request at the bottom of this post. If you love fun, please oblige. If you hate fun, just please stop reading now.
I feel I may have lulled people into a false sense of security by not saying some arguments are better than others in a while. Warning: I am going to mention some arguments that I think suck.
Rest assured, any critique is not intended to be mean spirited. It is only an attempt to improve one’s process with the benefit of hindsight. These counterfactual type questions have helped me learn a lot over the years.
The person I am most critical with is myself. I thought helping coach a team to win the NDT meant I had most things figured out. WRONG. I learned a lot this year again, mainly about how inadequate a lot of my previous efforts had been.
Nothing to despair about. Just need to learn more and keep trying hard. So, if I say something critical about something and it intersects with you, don’t take it as I am targeting you or being mean to you. Just my opinion, a starting point for discussion, a fun distraction from corona life and something we can probably learn from.
What did people do on the Aff?
I looked at 51 teams who went 5-3 or better at a major, counted up how many Affs each team read, and added that up. That yielded a dataset of 117 Affs read across those teams.
Note, I did not exclude the same Aff read by different partnerships on the same squad. So, I counted Dartmouth market share liability multiple times. The reason I did this is because I was thinking about this in terms of if you were Neg what was the likelihood of debating Russia, China or both in a given debate.
Who read the most Affs?
Same dataset of teams as above. What is a new Aff? After consulting fellow Kentucky debate coaches, we came up with the following:
1. Country combo’s mean new (Russia bmd, china bmd, Russia/china bmd are different).
2. Russia debris is one Aff (doesn’t matter if salvage, lasers or cap and trade etc.)
Average team in dataset read 2.3 Affs.
Honorable mention to Cal FG, Emory GS, Gtown BP, Kansas MS, Michigan JS, NU FL. They all read 4 by my count.
2nd place is Michigan PR, they read 6. China SSA, Russia/China SSA, Russia/China exotic weapons, Russia BMD, Russia/China LOAC, Russia/China ADRO.
1st place is NU JW, they read 8. China LOAC, Russia/China BMD, China BMD, Russia BMD, China 5G, Russia Lunar Gateway, China/Russia RPO’s, Russia/China arms control.
Rona destroys everything.
Let’s assume an online NDT happens. Fun fact, there would still be 5 days before round 1. An eternity in newly accelerated coronavirus time.
How trashed would arguments be? Economy impacts? Dead. Environment impacts? Solved, because no economy. Instability in countries? High. Foreign aggression? Low because of domestic issues, but maybe high when society collapses some.
Similar phenomena after Trump got elected where people just had files of Trump hoses/does not hose X thing.
But wow, solving rona with microgravity research on the ISS in round 6. What a fucking time that would be.
Where were the goofy tech affs
Cooperation parts of topic=boring, mostly stupid. Weird tech=fun, only thing unique about a space topic. You write a big enough fake 2AC to Unilat, you would have been in the clear.
Aff Innovator of the Year Award
Goes to Cal BW. First, they read planet defense unlike you cowards reading bullshit about arms control and K’s and whatever. Second, they showed up to every tournament with updated business and were ready to break new crap. Third, here is the funny list of stuff we had to put in the old case neg because of them:
Neutrinos internal link
Bangladesh nuclear power
Caucasus terrorism (all year for some reason)
What should people have done on the Aff?
Wtf people. Russia by itself at 27%??
China Neg > Russia Neg. Link uniqueness better. China says no. Japan DA. Those three things alone make it so you have to have a very good reason to pick China over Russia.
China and Russia at the same time?? Why? Terrible. What advantage credibly needs them both ex ante to solve? What advantage could be so good it is worth linking to a whole country worth of arguments? Answer: There isn’t one. Trilateral is a hop and a skip from getting dumpstered by the multilat CP.
If people were allowed to do it over, I hope they would land on the following:
1. China SSA---the no DA Aff is always on the short list of best Aff. It would have been too hopelessly boring for me, but objectively one of the best Affs because it has an advantage that is mostly true and little to no DA to it.
2. Russia Debris---didn’t live up to its potential in real life, but this well runs deep. You could have concocted at least 10 or so different versions. Different versions being you read a new plan, you read like one old debris advantage (that you keep changing the impact to) and you read one or two advantages based off the new plan. Salvage, cap and trade, lasers etc.
3. Russia Planet Defense---Emory and Cal demonstrated this area had some sauce to it.
Anyone who said arms control…you are a sucker. You gifted the Neg arguments for no reason. Space war is a terrible fucking advantage. One of the worst “core advantages” I have seen. By August I was thoroughly convinced space wars were not a thing. I would re-buy the legalization pot cartels advantage debate 100 times before the space war debate.
Anyone who said BMD…get a life. Every fucking topic with this BMD shit. BMD is a poor poor man’s NFU. Like I get it, an area that has a bounty of cards for both sides, it can’t be and isn’t that bad. But so fucking corny on a space topic. Sorry you didn’t have the fortitude to jump into the planet defense swamp.
Quarantine, transparency and fun
When it comes to end of the year transparency there are two opposing forces at work. On one hand, people love talking about what died in the box. I like hearing these stories because it lets me think about whether we would have been prepared, whether we missed something and how people developed an idea.
If it gratifies a person all the better. The little joys of debate. Let’s face it, the odds an argument doesn’t get read are higher than that it does (let alone the odds of winning a debate on said argument compared to losing in general or losing on that argument).
The other force is secrecy. I grew up in a college debate environment that felt dominated by secrecy, even after the year ended. Open source and paperless has chipped away at this a good bit, but I can picture people balking still.
We have a unique situation on our hands. No NDT. No real closure. Quarantine. So much time. So much boredom. We can do something about that. Here is my proposal.
Best new 1AC Game
What I am calling for is for you, loyal readers of Debate Musings, to submit to me a new 1AC (policy with a plan, K games can come later after I talk about that and we see if anyone cares about having fun) you had slated for the NDT. What I will do is create a random bracket of these 1AC’s and make them publicly accessible. We will then have them duke it out and let polls decide which 1AC to advance.
Here’s the thing. No one cares about what little thing you may expose by participating in this game. One, people may have already thought of your idea. Two, it is the space topic, when is this shit coming up again? Three, you can be transparent and win. Kentucky on executive power proves this. I think we were one of the most transparent teams in history (probably recklessly so) and we did fine.
But most importantly, we need to have some fun. I have lots of ideas like this for genres of arguments. So, let’s all participate, let’s chase some clout and let’s have a bit of an online festivus concerning what could have been at the Space NDT.
Hit me with those 1AC’s and let’s play who had the best one. The Kentucky submission is going to be a treat.
1. Will Online Debate Kill In-Person Debate?
This is one take I forgot to address in my last post. The argument is that proving online debate works means no university would fund debate travel.
First, I am not an expert in the subject because I don’t deal with department chairs, deans, provosts etc. Even then, a lot of programs are housed in different departments and have different institutional arrangements. Organizationally, debate teams aren’t one-size-fits-all. So, my speculations can be discounted on that account.
Then we get to a couple uniqueness things. First is budget pressure. It is high now. The alternative to cost reduction is not to keep giving debate teams money. It is to cancel them. This doesn’t answer the fact that online debate could simply accelerate the demise. I will answer this in a moment.
The second uniqueness question is the intersection of online learning and higher education. We aren’t breaking new ground here. Online learning was supposed to lead to the demise of higher education. And yet, we still have class in person. Why is that? Because there are issues with online learning. It’s not as good. Face-to-face learning is good. There are tons of cards about this.
Conferences are being cancelled. They are being done online. They are likely to happen in person at next available opportunity. Same thing with classes for the rest of the semester. For people who are looking for a justification to slash debate budgets, many examples of doing stuff online already serve as a pretense.
The conversation will not go like this:
Director of debate: Debate is really good, we should have a debate team.
Administrator: I agree.
Director: I need a lot of money.
Administrator: I don’t want to give you a lot of money, can you make do with less money? Do things online?
Director: There is no way to do online debate, money please.
Administrator: Wow, that person was a tough bargainer. OK.
So, two things about answering the budget DA and preventing accelerated collapse. One, you need to focus on proactive arguments about why face-to-face debate is good. There are cards, it is in line with the mission of most academic departments debate finds itself in etc. Two, instead of shunning online debate, it is likely to better to say you experimented with it, here are nuanced differences that make it less good. It is better to appear on the cutting edge of new forms of learning than to look like luddites.
3. Line by line
Novice debaters were frequently better at it than open debaters. Open debaters just read a bunch of random stuff at the top of flows, went out of order, did a terrible job signposting (by which I mean they said “they said” and then what followed was just a terrible paraphrasing of what the other side said) and little to no transition between what arguments they were answering.
Novices were holding it down by just, shockingly, going in order.
Also, number things! It’s good!
4. Hot breakfast
As a tournament-runner I worry about the hot breakfast because it seems like it has a smaller window to enjoy eating it. Bagels and donuts sit better for longer. I have also seen piles of extra food at Texas and ADA, which implies maybe people don’t care about it as much. But could be an ordering issue. Some people claim to really enjoy the hot breakfast more. Is there a small but passionate pro-hot breakfast segment of the debate tournament population? Are pastries and what not just the better option on average? The anecdotal evidence is unclear.
A very reasonable first take on the topic. There aren’t that many genuinely good cards on this topic, but the Chow articles clear the bar. But the people who read RPOs all year…SHAME. First, this Aff wasn’t that good. That was mainly a function of narrow/redundant advantage claims and inability to innovate. But the Neg also got pretty good pretty quick.
I feel like people in the early or middle part of their debate career might be tricked into thinking that an optimal way to approach future topics is find the next RPO case. DO NOT do it. Read a bigger Aff. Read one that is written about by more people. Be able to read lots of advantages. Have novel ways to create offense in the 2AC.
6. NSP PIC
President bans the plan. Congress does the plan. Supreme Court grants cert and expedites resolving the conflict.
A true monstrosity of a CP. The only thing worse than the CP is the fact that it simply bulldozed some teams in the second semester. Ghastly.
The text doesn’t say the Court rules for Congress?? Maybe they would rule for I don’t know, the president? Then the CP dies? But wait, if they just fiated the Court rules for Congress it gets way less competitive. Oh word, would that change any of the arguments in the 2NC? No?? Huh, weird.
The CP argues only the president can do NSP and that you topically can’t fiat Congress. When there is a Congressional law that bans cooperating with one of the countries in the topic. One of a cascading list of complaints that voids all potential for the CP to appeal to “better debates” or “better interp of the topic”
7. Six round tournaments and scheduling
The ADA tournament did two rounds on Friday. Five rounds on Saturday. Four rounds on Sunday with an awards banquet in between octafinals and quarterfinals. Daylight saving time taking an hour happened Saturday night.
This schedule was rough, not going to lie. ADA lets the host pick between being a Fri/Sat/Sun and Sat/Sun/Mon. I think tournaments should mainly be Sat/Sun/Mon. Friday start forces too much Thursday travel and an extra day of class missing.
I am torn about six versus eight prelim rounds. Six allows you to do 4-3-4. As yester year California tournaments prove that can be pretty nice for the quality of life (especially now that we do 2:15 decision times).
The two most common rejoinders are that teams look at tournaments from a dollar per debate perspective. More debates better. Another is if you have a 100 teams, six rounds doesn’t do the best job sorting. You also may have more 4-2’s missing on points than 5-3’s.
My personal hangup is by the end of the year there are so many arguments or teams my team doesn’t face directly. There is also an issue where despite the argument being present for most of the year it doesn’t seem like people fully grasp how to debate it. Cutting two prelims would exacerbate those issues.
8. Neg vs K Aff
Ironically the ADA tournament had a lot of instances of treacherous K debates.
First, in the quarters, Cal NR switches it up from noodiversity to talking about Stiegler and radical mediation. Oh we aren’t simulating a philosophy of the topic anymore? We are examining the constituent exclusions of the topic? Dope dope dope, those are totally the same thing. We should have seen the Stiegler Aff coming. Silly us.
Then Kansas read a biometric CP against Cal NR. Sorry plebes. Good tech good, bad tech bad. Next.
The next off was saying post-humanism was bad when the Aff said that. Oops. There was humanism good stuff going on on this page that maybe clashed with the Aff, but probably not because Cal NR loves saying not our humanism and it was a bit of a side show.
Which is all to say Cal NR is very good on the Aff. They put you in a spot where you have to answer oddly specific, particular and speculative thesis claims OR be very very good at navigating framework around said claims. Most teams don’t pull it off. Props to them for putting opponents in tough spots.
9. You’re Welcome Zahir
One of the few (the only?) people to be publicly admonished on this blog. I am glad to see you took the criticism to heart, stopped resting on your laurels and decided to try. The result has been winning the last three tournaments Emory GS has attended. It’s obviously 95% to Eugenia’s credit, but I did see a little extra pep in Zahir’s step this weekend. Well done.
This is a guest post from Kristen Lowe. She debated at Emory and now coaches at Dartmouth:
The first time I heard that the National Debate Tournament committee was considering canceling the NDT, I was endorphin-high and sweat-drenched stepping out of a weekend boxing class. As I checked my missed emails, texts, and Slack messages that had accumulated in my hour-long disappearance from the digital world, I saw a message in the Dartmouth slack that the coronavirus was prompting talks of NDT cancelation and stopped in my tracks. I wiped my glasses with my shirt, put them back on, and looked at the coaches’ channel again. My boss’s words were still there. They can’t do that, I thought, dead-still in the middle of a crosswalk. It’s the NDT.
Disoriented in my sense of disbelief, I screen-captured the message and immediately sent it to a trusted friend. “Omg have you seen this?” I asked. “Yeah…” he replied, saying nothing else. Dartmouth was not the only team talking about this.
I rushed home, furiously texting everyone I know. This can’t be real, I kept thinking, shaking my head to dislodge the possibility. But the closer I got to my apartment and the more people responded, the realer it started to feel. “A physical NDT will likely not be happening,” Turner said with certainty to another Dartmouth coach. By the time I’d hazardously paced the half mile back to my apartment, the situation was heavy and material. Perhaps something would happen online or maybe there would be a hybrid option of some physical debates and some digital ones. But one way or another, by the time I reached my living room, the 2020 NDT was gone.
I want to forwardly acknowledge at this point that I am not one of the people most affected by these events. My days as a competitor, my last debate, and my last NDT are all behind me, where they rest peacefully. The debaters in the class of 2020 are the unequivocal victims of this circumstance, and it is their needs and their voices to which we owe our ears and care. In particular, the handful of seniors for whom this would be both their first and last NDT are due an extra sliver of our collective empathy. It is an enormous feat to qualify for the National Debate Tournament, one that exacts a proportionately enormous toll on everyone who achieves it. Despite all the difference we experience when gathered as a debate community, all of us know the sacrifice it takes to show up that final weekend. The constellation of choices that advance people onto that stage are an incomparable set of missed professional and social opportunities, sleepless nights, and hard feelings. To the people who made the sacrifices and will never see the arena, we owe you our deepest respect and our gratitude. To the class of 2020, I hope not to distract from how you feel but to honor it.
Over the course of the past few days since the original announcement that the NDT might be canceled, I have had dozens of conversations with students and coaches and spent countless hours stewing in the implications of an alternative NDT or an NDT that does not happen. I have also tried to think deeply and open-mindedly about the range of opinions community members have about what should happen next.
To the people who think that cancelation is an outrage, that every risk is an acceptable one in order to have the NDT, and that the committee is fear-mongering: I hear you. The people who believe that it’s all inconsequential in comparison to the very real pandemic we are living through and the obligations we have to our institutions: I hear you too. Part of the difficulty in trying to make sense of this situation is that there is truth – emotional and factual – on both ends of the spectrum and in all the positions held in between. There is no good answer, and the stakes are high no matter how you slice it.
In the face of all of this, I come with a basket empty of takes about what the right thing to do is. Is a digital NDT preferable to a cancelation? What best preserves the sense of dignity and honors the depth of recognition this year’s debaters deserve? Does a digital NDT cheapen the thing altogether? Is it worth the logistics trouble? Is the daunting asterisk next to whatever makeshift NDT comes next so disheartening that we should sidestep it entirely? For the people in the final leg of the long race of a college debate career, is there anything we owe them more than just one last chance to debate and for us to stand there in whatever form we can at the finish line?
I don’t have good answers to any of these questions. And with the intimate knowledge I absorbed from my own last debate that control over the fates of people whom you hold dear is a burden not a privilege, in moments like this I am relieved to be a young coach, unburdened by the pain of calling the shots.
However, as a recent competitor with my own wounds from a debate career that was ended in the gnarly jaws of circumstance, I do have a particularly fine-tuned sense of empathy for all parties. It is hard to control the fates of others, but it is also hard to stand there helpless and uncertain while watching the levers of your future being pulled at. It is a very small crawl space between a gargantuan rock and a diamond-hard place. I have never stood in this specific space, but the contours of the situation have given rise to a set of familiarly shaped feelings that I’ve tried to spend the last three years processing about what it means for a debate career to end unexpectedly. As the people I love, value, and most belong to navigate this together, I want to share some of those feelings and what I have learned from wading through them.
First, it was never just about winning – even for the people who won the most. Were it just about the opportunity to put your name on the side of the trophy, we would all be jumping at any semblance of an NDT, no matter how haphazardly thrown together. However, our community’s collective agitation over the inconvenience of a digital competition reveals more than just a shared distaste for technology. In truth, the NDT probably could be held online. It would be distressing to execute and annoying to participate in, but it could be done. But for the seniors who do not want their last debate to happen online, we owe it to them to not simply interpret that hesitation as a prideful desire for an audience and a fully credentialed championship. Those are not the stakes despite our awkwardness in articulating vulnerably what else is on the table.
Second, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, the truth is that most of us end our debate careers feeling like the victims of chance rather than the victors of our long-waged campaign. You are welcome to believe that there is some unique cosmic injustice in losing a debate because of a lagging video stream or the lackluster acoustics of a university basement. But as I’ve learned through several years of sleep lost to hypotheticals that move an Emory team a 0.3 speaker point jump into a different place in the bracket, in reality many of us are subject to forces beyond our control in those final hours of our debate careers.
Some of us lose because of the panel, some of us lose because of the flip, some of us lose because of the case neg that our teammate was too busy with midterms to finish, and some of us lose because we never had the shot that someone with more time, more money, and more opportunity had. The coaching advice I offer every student at every chance I’m given is to always prepare in a way they are proud of at all costs. At the end of the day, it will not be about the loss – it ends up being the things you would have, could have, and should have done differently to control the variables and the time you spend wishing that you had. And if you had the great foresight and discipline to do all those things right, you just might encounter the uncomfortable truth that it was never just those things for any of us.
It is the seeding, the quality of sleep, the stomach pain we had in the octas, and temperature of the air, and in simpler words – chance. The nature of our activity is that we are all the victims of a million uncontrollables just hoping that if we sacrifice enough, we don’t have to be. Whether because of the coronavirus or the coin flip, every team except for one has to endure a conclusion to their career that they neither wanted nor foresaw. It is not the victory or the inability to guarantee it that is at stake. Because that is never what it was about either.
Third, I accordingly want to suggest to the class of 2020, that it is also not about your last debate. If the NDT is in fact canceled, you will have to deal with the painful realization that that moment is now behind you. That realization is also one that I know to be crushing. Regardless of when it happened, who was there, and what happened in the debate, we all deserve a final round where someone stands and claps for us. There are many people amongst you in this community, myself included, who know what the open wound of a silent conclusion feels like. There are also many of us who know what it feels like to have a last debate without knowing it and to have to look back and add grandeur to a situation that in its original happening possessed none. The journey of superimposing a conclusion onto a moment you didn’t know was one is tough and requires a great degree of revisionist creativity, but it is entirely possible, and many have done it. What you might find in the process is that it was never that single debate that mattered either. And whatever your last debate may be, know that it matters as much as the one that it could have been.
Finally, to the community in our larger parts, I want to suggest that with the knowledge that it was not a singular debate or chance at victory that was most painfully lost in this disaster, what we owe this year’s debaters is not just one last stab at victory.
After losing my final debate on a 3-0 to the bracket, here is what mattered: holding my best friend and beloved teammate when he lost his last debate the morning after. Sitting drunkenly and tiredly with the people who know me best and watching debates we had the audacity to boozily criticize even though we weren’t good enough to be in them. Laughing with people I didn’t know all that well who wanted to buy me a drink. Not paying for a single thing I drank that entire Monday. My last team dinner at an only OK Mexican restaurant in Kansas with the freshmen who came to that NDT with us to scout and the coaches I had come to cherish and depend on. Being hugged, over and over again by people I’d never hugged before. The emails that I re-read when I feel lost from many people saying “what you did mattered to me.” The tears I cried on behalf of fellow competitors who I wanted more for. And more than anything, the chance to sit in a hotel room that smelled painstakingly of boys at three in the morning with many of the students in my class. That moment gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to each other, and in doing so, recognize that each sacrifice we made was validation that no matter how it ended, we were all really, really lucky to have each other and to have something that we were capable of loving that terribly much.
Amidst all the competitive vim and the pomp of the affair, I believe this is what the NDT is about – not your last debate, but the moments after it. Moments in which people who know what you’ve lost remind you that you have not lost your place amongst them. It is the collection of those first few hours of being a “former debater,” that makes the NDT special because you are surrounded only by people who already know or will someday come to know that very unique ache. It is the place in debate where I believe we best care for each other, see each other, and feel belonging – the thing that I am inclined to postulate is what most of us are really after in the first place.
So to the debate community writ-large, I want to suggest that we owe this class above all else is not just an NDT, but vulnerability, compassion, recognition, belonging, and a ceremonious inauguration into our imperfect society of former debaters. What debaters choose to do is rare and it is special. It takes great courage, discipline, humility, and honesty. Those qualities and virtues do not dissipate when you cross the threshold, and if this year’s class cannot be invited into their next stage in this community in all of the glory and raucousness of a Monday night at the NDT, they deserve everything we can give them in its stead.
We owe them a venmo-ed drink or two on us, a verbal outpouring of recognition, and a nice email in lieu of a firm hug at the very least, but we desperately also owe them the maturity and thoughtfulness to acknowledge that it was never about the tournament, the last debate, or the win. It’s about knowing in those first seconds when your debater career is now behind you, that the place you belong in the debate community is not.
To all of the students who will or will not debate at this year’s NDT, what you’ve already done cannot be minimized by what otherwise might have been possible. It’s all chance, all luck, all fate if that’s what you believe in. The only thing that’s not is the people who are standing there to clap for you when it ends.
Loudly and with joy from our separate corners of this country, we will all still be here -- applauding you all the way home.
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.