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