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.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.