Head To Head: Does AFC Bad Need a RVI? Yang Yi Versus John Scoggin

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This is Head to Head! Each week two people will argue back and forth on a controversial debate topic. They are presented with word restrictions and limits on time for when they must submit their responses. Each week the winner will be declared upon the posting of the next “Head to Head.” Vote and let us know who you thought won!

Question: Does AFC Bad Need a RVI?

Yang Yi will argue that AFC Bad does need one, and John Scoggin will argue that it does not.

Yang Yi: 

First off, I’d like to thank JScogg for taking the time to have this discussion with me. Not only will I think the discussion will benefit the community at large, I also appreciate the opportunity to hear and consider arguments from the opposite perspective.

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy as to whether theoretical arguments against affirmative framework choice, or AFC, are independently offensive or require an RVI. But I think its nonsensical to tailor the issue to just AFC or CX checks; rather, I think its more productive to question whether the concept of “offensive” counter-interps in general is legitimate or fall into the same category as traditional counter-interps (that is, they need an RVI to be legitimate). I believe that the use of the word “offensive” is misleading and that these counter-interps, like their traditional counterparts, do require RVIs in order to be truly offensive.

Now what differentiates a traditional counter-interp from an offensive one? Other than the replacement of the word “may” with “must” there doesn’t seem to be a discernible difference. For example, “the neg. MAY be allowed to contest the 1AC ethical framework” has simply been reworded into “the aff. MUST allow the neg. to contest the 1AC ethical framework.” For the most part, the standards level arguments remain stagnant as debaters read the same philosophical education or clash or ground arguments under either interp. Not to mention, the violation and voters certainly don’t change.

So, if all that changes is the interpretation, why is this problematic for “offensive” counter-interpretations as a whole? This comes down to one of the basic tenets of theory debate; that the standards must justify the interp. For instance, no one would argue that reading a shell stating that the aff. must defend implementation with standards justifying why presumption triggers are bad is a legitimate strategy (he reasons why presumption triggers are bad do not necessarily justify the aff. having to defend implementation). Thus, if the original standards justify the original interpretation (the neg. may be allowed to contest the 1AC ethical framework) and we change the interpretation to “must” without any change at the standards level, then the word “must” is just an unwarranted plank of the interpretation. The actual interpretation still operates under “may” which would require an RVI to be offensive.

Second, I think that it’s important to recognize the distinction between saying an argument that a debater reads is bad versus saying that a debater’s practice is bad. In the first scenario, one indicts the argument that the other debater is making, rather than the fact that that debater made said argument. For instance, if the aff. in the 1AR reads necessary but insufficient burdens bad and I counter with “debaters may read one necessary but insufficient burden,” then what I’ve criticized is his argument, that debaters should not read necessary but insufficient burdens. If I win my counter-interp in the end, the end result is that I get access to my arguments, but I think that very few people would think that the judge ought to vote neg. without winning an RVI.

Thus, in order for theory to be offensive, it needs to indict the practice of the other debater. It is insufficient to say that the other debater’s argument is bad, rather one needs to prove why the fact that the other debater made the argument was bad. That seems to be the definition of an RVI; his practice of reading theory was bad because it skewed the round for (insert argument for RVI here) reason. So either a) the “offensive” counter-interp. is meant to solely criticize the argument, say AFC, at which point it falls into the same problem that the “neg. may read one necessary but insufficient burden” shell fell into or b) it’s meant to criticize the other debater’s practice of reading a bad theoretical argument which is exactly what an RVI is meant to do.


John Scoggin: 

I want to offer Yang a similar thank you for participating in this discussion. In addition I want to thank Ben Koh and NSDupdate.com for spearheading this really cool initiative. I think that hearing both sides of an issue like this will really help readers come to an informed opinion on these types of issues and hopefully promote more in depth discussion of these issues in round. Additionally I think that hashing out some of these more nuanced theoretical discussions in public will help debaters that don’t have a lot of experience with theory see how these types of issues are thought out. Theory is unlike most substantive issues where one can simply look to the Internet for further information, so having some public stuff available should be a helpful resource.

It may surprise you to read that while I have the opposite view on the particular issue at hand, I agree with much of what Yang has to say on the issues regarding counter interpretations. I have slightly different reasoning on some of the issues but that is not pertinent to the matter at hand. The most relevant issue is whether or not the debater initiating theory against AFC is actually running a counter interpretation. I will argue that this is not the case, and that there is a growing school of thought that has negatively influenced our understanding of theory debates through incorrect labeling practices.

The start of the misunderstanding comes from a procedural understanding of theory being applied conceptually in unconventional ways. People learn in theory that the first argument in the theory debate is an interpretation, and the second argument is naturally a counter interpretation. Deciding what is the interp and what is the CI is not purely a matter of the order in which they were read but rather how they function in the round. Debunking the idea that ‘order read’ is the rule for labeling something the Interp or CI is easily done if we think of some examples of how this could be used. For example the aff could easily circumvent any topicality debate by saying something like “only X definition can be used in the round.” By adding a few words and using the order rule all topicality debates could be avoided, this functions as a good start to my line of argument because of how unintuitive that practice seems to be. Simply placing something in the AC doesn’t make it the interpretation, especially when you consider that the exact same argument could be made in the 1AR and the order rule would call that the CI.

The second pertinent point is that Yang correctly identifies a critical notion that underlies theory debate. He argues that offensive theory must indict a practice of the debater rather than an argument that they make. However reading AFC is a practice, identical in form to other practices that are legitimately criticized by theory, which is susceptible to theory. By default the negative has many strategic options available to them, one of which is to read a framework that is different from the aff’s framework, win that framework, and then win offense back to that framework. The aff substantively changes the burden structure of the round by limiting out the negative’s ability to read a different framework. Just like an unfair definition or burden in the round the aff has substantially altered negative ground in the round and it can be argued that alteration is severe enough to warrant dropping the debater. It is not difficult to determine the real ground loss that occurs when someone prevents a debater from running framework arguments. Now I should add that I think that there are legitimate reasons that outweigh the ground loss in some circumstances but that is not relevant to our discussion here.

In summation, I think that Yang makes a lot of really good points about the ideas behind what has been termed “offensive counter-interpretations.” However I think that AFC is not an example of an OCI and I think that the order rule of determining what is an interp and what is a counter interp is improper. I think if we use Yang’s own criteria for determining when theory should be offensive, it can be clearly seen that theory against AFC is offensive. Additionally I the ground loss is clear and easily definable, and that is the hallmark of where offensive theory comes from.


Yang Yi:

Being that John agrees with me on the fact that counter-interpretations cannot necessarily be “offensive,” I think the crux of whether AFC bad requires an RVI or not will depend on whether its necessarily an interpretation or a counter-interpretation.

While I agree with John that ordering may not matter, I think the reading of AFC in the 1AC is not the reading of a counter-interpretation, but an actual interpretation. Just because a theoretical argument is read in the AC and is preemptive in nature doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a counter-interpretation. For instance, if the aff. reads in the AC “all burdens must be necessary and sufficient,” or NIBs bad for short, I think few would argue that that is a counter-interpretation and that the reply, “debaters may read one necessary but insufficient burden,” is the interpretation. Other times, I agree with John. If the aff. gets up and reads “the aff. may run a plan,” I believe that just because they read it first doesn’t mean they are the interpretation.

So why is reading “the neg. must concede the aff. ethical framework,” more synonymous to the former rather than the latter case? I think an important concession John makes is that he states that the same AFC argument can be made in the 1AR. In this scenario, the aff. would get up and read their AC normally without AFC, the neg. would get up and refute the AC framework, and then the aff. in the 1AR would claim that practice of contesting the AC framework was unfair by introducing AFC in the 1AR. I don’t think that it’s reasonable to say that this 1AR theory is a counter-interp. because it directly indicts a neg. practice, that of refuting the aff. framework. But also, under the alternate scenario, we’d have to consider the new 1AR theory, “the neg. must concede the aff. ethical framework,” defensive and call the 2NR reply the interpretation. I think that this is extremely counter-intuitive because the neg. is the one defending their practice of contesting the 1AC framework whereas the aff. is the one indicting that practice. And under theory debates, the one who indicts a practice is the interpretation while the one that defends is the counter. I think that the same logic applies when AFC is read in the 1AC instead of the 1AR; all the theory debate has done is shifted over a speech so the 1AR is the 1AC and the 2NR becomes the 1N. The aff. is still the indicter, preemptively arguing that the neg. cannot contest their framework, and the neg. is still the defender, justifying their practice.

Second, I don’t find John’s argument, that reading AFC bad indicts a practice of the other debater rather than the argument itself compelling. I simply don’t think this is the case. The standards that come attached to a lot of AFC bad theory shells are reasons why AFC are bad, not reasons why my reading of AFC is bad. Standards such as philosophical education or ground are reasons why AFC is a bad interpretation for debate, not reasons why the other debater should not be allowed to defend that interpretation. It may be intuitive to assume that proving AFC is bad argument proves why reading AFC is bad, but I think its fallacious to assume one implies the other.

To illustrate my point more clearly, pretend the aff. in the 1AR reads “necessary burdens must be sufficient,” and the 2N counter with “debaters may read necessary but insufficient burdens.” I don’t think anyone would argue that the aff. is not the interp and the neg. is not the counter-interp. in this scenario. Now assume the neg.’s standard is that of philosophical education and that he/she convincingly wins the theory debate on that standard. If simply proving a theoretical argument is bad was sufficient to justify why the practice of the debater reading it was bad, then we’d have to drop the aff. even if the neg. provides no RVI

But this answer is deeply unsatisfying because it seems to undermine all the reasons the RVI was introduced in the first place, to indict the practice of the other debater. Reasons why someone’s theory argument is bad is not a reason why them reading it is bad. To indict a theory argument, one can read counter-standards such as ground or philosophical education. But to indict a practice, one needs to prove why the round was skewed by the reading of that theoretical argument, i.e. reciprocity (theory is no-risk), time skew (neg. spreads out the aff.), etc. And I believe that the reasons for AFC bad (philosophical education, ground, etc.) fall under the former, rather than the latter, category which is why absent an RVI, a judge should not pick them up on it.


John Scoggin:

If reading thousand word arguments regarding AFC is not your thing I encourage you to read the bolded portion of this response. First and foremost I want to remind the reader that the debate centers on whether or not theory in response to AFC in the 1AC is offensive and not whether it is theoretically possible for AFC to be offensive theory. Because of this Yang’s example regarding a situation in which AFC in the 1AR could be a voter is irrelevant to the issue at hand. But regardless of the relevance his example actually illustrates the point I am seeking to make perfectly.

We start from the counterintuitive position that AFC read in the 1AR would be an offensive issue. In this circumstance the argument that he is reading much more naturally results in drop the argument, because the ground of the affirmative remains unchanged in this scenario it seems like the most fair set of recourse would be to just get rid of the framework arguments. Additionally the 1AC was already read by the time the negative answered the framework and the aff merely has to win their case as they normally would in the round. This is distinct from many 1NC theoretical arguments because when the negative was choosing how to develop their strategy prior to the 1NC they were forced with the strategic choice of whether to operate under the unfair interpretation or to read theory on that interpretation. This is the logic of a standard theory voter, an argument skewed the objective evaluation of arguments on the flow and so the judge cannot determine who did the better debating on that level. The 1AR argument is conceptually distinct because dropping the arguments in this case reverts the round completely back to a fair state. The affirmative would then need to argue that just the fact that they had to spend time on the issue is a reason to drop the other debater, or other justifications along those lines. If that argument sounds familiar to you it is because that argument is the most commonly forwarded argument for an RVI. So again, any theoretical argument can be made offensive using this type of argument, the fact that there is a conceivable form of offensive response to a theory argument does not mean that initial theory argument is not offensive.

More importantly however Yang disputes that reading AFC bad indicts a practice. This is where the reader should decide what they think is correct, if AFC is a practice reading theory in response to it is legitimate, both of us have agreed to that. I will reiterate here that AFC is clearly a practice; it is the practice of preventing the negative from responding to the framework. It is a practice like anything else theory indicts it restricts the ground of the negative. Responding to the framework is something every debater is taught and knows how to do and is obviously default negative ground; AFC gets rid of that. While I think Yang brings up an interesting point regarding the philosophical education standard, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because I clearly demonstrated above how it is a practice. Additionally while this may apply to philosophical education I think it does not apply to philosophical ground, saying that a burdens level argument alters ground is the most obvious and accepted form of offensive theory argument in existence.

Additionally if Yang’s argument is that simply reading things in the 1AC does not constitute a practice that would lead to absurd and undesirable theory practices. An affirmative debater could stand up and read arguments such as, “neg can’t read an off case,” “neg can’t read a counterplan,” “neg cant run theory,” “neg can’t run a case,” “neg can’t try to win,” “skep flows aff,” “only aff can trigger skep,” with 0 accountability. In reality this view implicitly invokes the order rule which I’ve already debunked. The example that Yang gives about NIBs is also somewhat misleading. The example that he gives is not absurd in form but rather in content. Obviously saying no NIBs restricts negative ground, but there are compelling reasons to restrict that ground. In this way the argument he forwards is not flawed in form but in construct. Under any view of theory bad arguments can be made, we both agree that T is legitimate, but just because I can think of some horrible T arguments does not mean that T as a concept is flawed.

In summation I urge readers not to forget the question, “Is theory read against AFC offensive.” Yang and I have agreed on how we determine if theory is offensive, and I have clearly shown that these arguments meet that definition. It can be clearly seen that if we applied Yang’s logic of what is and what is not a practice it would lead to illogical and undesirable outcomes. My view of theory provides a neat definition for what is and is not offensive and allows theory to be used for its function as a check on abuse. If we start from the intuitive position that it is legitimate to respond to the framework it is clear that ground loss has occurred in this instance and it is legitimate to run theory to rectify that ground loss. Additionally Yang’s examples don’t apply to the situation at hand and I have offered compelling reasons why that is the case. I urge readers to carefully consider the arguments that I have forwarded here and use that understanding to construct more coherent theory debates in the future.

Yang Yi: 

Again I’d like to thank JScogg for having this discussion with me and Ben Koh for organizing it. Fantastic job guys. For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep this and the rest of my response as a whole as concise as possible. John’s first argument states that AFC bad in the 1AR is not an offensive theory argument, that is just a reason to reject the argument, but I fail to see why AFC is incompatible with reject the debater. Under his logic, if a debater were to read multiple aprioris, then any theory indicting that practice too would also be grounds to reject the aprioris. I don’t understand why we allow other theoretical arguments, even marginally abusive ones, be offensive and a reason to reject the debater and deny that to AFC when the abuse from answering the aff. framework could far outweigh. If the above is true, then I don’t see why this can’t be applied in the 1AC; as previously mentioned, all we do is shift the theory debate over a speech. If the aff. preemptively reads AFC as a shell in the 1AC with a fairness voter and drop the debater the neg. drops it while answering the AC framework, and the aff. fully extends it in the 1AR how is AFC not offensive? How is it any different than if the 1AR reads it and the 2NR drops it? Is AFC the counter-interpretation still when there is no response from the neg.?

More importantly, John himself states with regards to his strategy skew argument that “this is the logic of a standard theory voter, an argument skewed the objective evaluation of arguments on the flow and so the judge cannot determine who did the better debating on that level.” The key word is “voter” and the fact that its not “standards.” My thesis is that the standards level arguments such as ground and philosophical education do not justify why the practice of reading AFC is bad; I’ve already justified in my last speech why arguments specific to why the reading of the theory was bad would because those are functionally RVIs.

Finally, I think that Johns last point regarding the practice of AFC is not responsive to mine. He states that “I will reiterate here that AFC is clearly a practice; it is the practice of preventing the negative from responding to the framework.” Under that logic, NIBs bad is also a practice; it prevents the neg. from reading NIBs. I don’t deny that AFC is a theoretical practice, my contention is that there is a distinction between saying something is a bad theoretical practice and saying its bad to read that theoretical practice. Refer to my previous post; just because a theoretical argument is bad doesn’t mean the practice of reading it is bad. If the aff. gets up and reads “debaters may not read NIBs,” and the neg. reads a CI stating “debaters may read NIBs,” and the neg. wins that CI, then we have reason to believe that “debaters may not read NIBs” is a bad theoretical argument. As previously noted, that’s not a reason to justify the aff. without an RVI. Just because the aff. read a “false” theoretical argument doesn’t mean the practice itself was bad. I cannot stress this enough: a theoretical argument being bad does not imply the reading of it was bad. Thank you to everyone who has had the patience to wade through our thoughts. I think I speak for John here when I state that we intend to reciprocate, to consider your thoughts (should you choose to comment) just as much patience and consideration as you have given ours.

John Scoggin: 

I could delve further into the is AFC in the 1AR offensive but recall from my previous post that it does not matter to the argument at hand. Although Yang and I had previously agreed that all that matters is if AFC is a practice he now claims, “I don’t deny that AFC is a theoretical practice, my contention is that there is a distinction between saying something is a bad theoretical practice and saying its bad to read that theoretical practice.” Yang has never done enough to explain this distinction and recall that I gave powerful examples of the type of things that could be read in the AC if you have this definition of practice. Under this definition of practice debaters could read as many ridiculous interpretations in the aff as they wanted with no accountability. Ultimately I have successfully shown that AFC alters negative ground and that is a sufficient criterion for whether or not theory should be offensive.

Remember that I also dealt with the NIBs argument in my previous post. Yang tries to make his position sound intuitive by claiming the negative could run arguments like NIBs good offensively. I have already stated that this argument is not flawed in form, obviously it restricts NIB ground, but there are compelling reasons to do so and this is just a horrible argument. Remember every form of argument allows for horrible arguments to be made but that isn’t a reason that the model itself is flawed. We still use logic even though people can make really stupid arguments that are technically in compliance with rules of logic.

At the end of the day this argument is easy to decide, you can run theory on a practice that alters ground; AFC takes out the absolutely standard ground of the negative to engage the framework. Every debater is taught that framework refutation is basic strategy of the negative and this argument prevents you from doing that. Accordingly reading AFC bad can be offensive and it is offensive in the same way that any stock theory argument you can think of is.

I again want to thank Ben Koh for organizing this; as I said in my first post I think this could really be a helpful resource for those desiring to gain a deeper understanding of theoretical issues. I know that Ben has been recruiting people to participate in these discussions and I really would encourage people to take part for a few reasons. First and foremost I really do think that this could be the start of a very useful resource for younger debaters or lone wolf type debaters who are not exposed to this type of discussion in practice settings, and secondly I think that the process of community consensus building will go a long way to improving theory debates in the future. Lastly I want to give major thanks to Bob Overing, who has been immensely helpful not only with this particular article, but in helping to improve my general understanding of theory debate.


Who Won? [yop_poll id=”2″]


Think they made all the right arguments? Did they miss something? Are they wrong? Are they right? Let us know in the comments down below!

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