TOC Final Round judge Vincent provides written RFD

Chris Vincent, director of forensics at Fern Creek High School, was on the top of the 2-1 decision for Rebecca Kuang in the final round of the TOC. Vincent, a college policy debater at the University of Louisville, graduated from Fern Creek in 2008. As a high schooler, he was a prolific policy debate competitor both in Kentucky and on the national circuit.

Mr. Vincent has provided his written reason for decision in the final round of the 2013 TOC.

In 2012, NSD Update published Dave McGinnis’ final round RFD from the NFL Nationals. We believe that these documents can provide valuable insight for both coaches and debaters as they prepare for the season’s major events.

Mr. Vincent’s RFD:

Tournament of Champions Final Round: Greenhill RK vs St Louis Park RS
Christopher Vincent RFD

I start with sending major congratulations to Greenhill’s Rebecca Kuang for winning the final round of Lincoln Douglas at the 2013 Tournament of Champions.  I would also like to extend congratulations to St Louis Parks Richard Shmikler. The round between Greenhill RK and St Louis Park RS was representative of the ideological differences that exists within our community, and was not only necessary, but timely and useful.  I am honored that I had the opportunity to judge this final round of the Tournament of Champions. I want to use this moment to explain how I reached my decision.

I voted Affirmative for Greenhill RK.

I think that the aff is winning an epistemological starting point question about how we explore and understand the material aspects of racism.  I differ with Sam as seeing racism as the most important impact in the round, but rather view the debate through a lens of how knowledge has been situated.  Racism is not the most important impact, but rather it is the epistemological starting point to deal with explicit acts of racism as the most important part of the debate.  At a big picture level I think that the aff is ahead on the need to deal with the material implication of racism both within the topic and within our debate community.  The negatives argument seems to come short of the way in which the AC is already explaining her argument.  The sentimentalism argument only argues the need to justify oppression is bad and is positioned from the perspective that the Aff assumes to know what it means to be oppressed.  The aff responds to both of these questions for me.  She contextualizes this to the way in which we talk about racism:

  1. The Curry evidence which she extends throughout the round, explains that this need to justify oppression, as morally bad, is the exact type of colorblind mentality that allows racist actions to manifest.  She is winning that the NC is the exact type of abstract ethical theory that calls for a justification that racism is bad, rather than actively doing something to address the act of racism itself.
  2. The NC advocacy is not exclusive to the advocacy of the AC.  While there is not an explicit permutation argument made, the aff is winning that she is already the justification, but takes it to the material level.

While many will try to characterize this in the realm of pre/post-fiat impacts, it is important to recognize the terminology used very specifically by the aff, which also changes the nature of this round and conversation.  The question of epistemological starting points is the difference between the materiality of racism vs. the theoretical advocacy of the NC.  While I grant the negative that he is a theoretical justification of why racism is bad, I don’t think he does enough work contextualizing that to the problem with his lack of materiality, especially with the negative claiming to solve racism.

The other meta-issue that the aff is winning is the “privilege disad.” This becomes a larger debate about debate, and she is winning some major things in this particular debate causing me to affirm:

  1. The first is that the neg is not concerned with the historical context of how racism exists.  Instead the negative tries to imagine a world of no racism, which only once again reinforces the notions of colorblindness.  Here I spent a lot of time lining that with the NC argument about “semantics preceding ontology/epistemology/metaethical standards” but it is not as sufficiently warranted as the aff does with the Leonardo evidence making it harder to evaluate.
  2. This leads me to the framework/ bullying theory debate.  While I don’t think the aff is particularly persuasive in labeling this as an explicit act of racism, I also don’t think the negative is particularly persuasive in demonstrating that the aff destroys critical thinking, and his pre-fiat bad args.  The Leonardo evidence is particularly compelling for me on these questions and it becomes another labeled voting issue.   Characterizing and skirting the discussions away from issues of race and privilege allows whites to remain complicit in their privilege.  This is where the debate is particularly messy.  While the negative is right that there are 6 conceded “line-by-line” arguments as to why the theoretical justification is good, he is missing the independent voter attached to the framework itself, and the way in which the Curry evidence speaks to those larger questions.  The 2AR characterizes the round as a “Debate about debate” meaning that there are larger epistemological questions that must be resolved as to how we engage discussions of race.  This debate was never about the individual arguments, but rather about a larger metaconversation about our refusal as a community to talk about the materiality of racism.

The negative winning the round rests upon the assumption that I buy the theoretical justification for racism bad is necessary.  At the end of the round I am convinced that the aff does not need to prove that, and is in fact demonstrating the practical implications of racism.  There are several examples in the round that are particularly useful for examining this, especially in relation to the privilege da.  The first is in cross-x when Rebecca asks Richard if he is accountable for oppression.  His refusal to answer the question directly, played into the aff argument that whites are unable to see how they maintain their privilege and distance themselves from responsibility.  Also, she is making several inroads as to why his conception of debate assumes that the resolution starts from a fair playing field, despite the fact that debate does not.  The examples as to why there is not black representation at the TOC, or a single black judge on the finals panel, demonstrates the uneven playing field that already exists in the debate space.  This coupled with the Wise evidence, on how debate is filled with privilege, demonstrates the need to examine how we construct our epistemology.  Since the aff is winning a better epistemological starting point, I affirm.

I want to conclude with some larger thoughts I had about the debate itself and more broadly how our community is shaped.  I was willing to vote on the epistemological starting point’s argument in the final round of the Tournament of Champions, while Ari was not.  I think some of this speaks to how we as a community reflect ideological differences and some to the way the round went down.   While I don’t believe neither side was doing a particularly great job with the link level of the debate, I am more persuaded by the arguments that Greenhill is making at the end of the round and am willing to evaluate the way in which the neg interacts when confronted with explicit acts of racism.  I have seen Ari pick up a student of mine running a very similar argument related to knowledge production and know that he is willing to.  However, this round did two things.  The first is that it demonstrated that when pushed into the corner and forced to choose without an explicit role of the ballot and role of the judge framing, judges will choose the position that they are most familiar with and least uncomfortable with.  While this is probably the assumption you have also made about me, I believe that it leads to a conversation about us as judges and educators.  It is time that we move beyond the belief that we are objective judges or even objective beings when we judge rounds.  This was the thing that I believe shaped the other two judges more so than mine, because we start from the assumption that we are viewing the round objectively.  The reality of it is that we are not.  We are shaped by our own social interactions, and all possess strong feelings when it comes to race/racism.  This is what I believe makes this debate round particularly more educational than many, is because Rebecca’s position asks us to challenge those assumptions to explore the material effects and our own assumptions.

The question becomes whether or not this particular argument should win the final round of the TOC.  The answer is yes.  First, it is yes simply because in my mind she legitimately won the debate.  While everyone is right, there were 6 conceded arguments, she legitimately wins a starting point argument which shapes why those 6 arguments do not actually matter.  Secondly, most will characterize this as a micro-political position winning, and miss the more important part of this advocacy.  This debate was ABOUT DEBATE, which means that yes it is an educational conversation simply because it is about the very thing we do and the very way we engage every weekend throughout the season.  This argument is not micro-political but is instead tied to us within the larger social system, something that many are likely to miss.  What better place than the final round of the TOC to engage in substantive discussion about the things we believe to be true?

The last three things I want to think about are three particular pieces of evidence that there was no response to in the round:
1) The Curry evidence says we must stop looking for a theoretical justification to explain why certain things are morally bad.  The perfect example was when Rebecca said why don’t you ask the two black men in this room if the Criminal Justice System is bad.  No one breathed on this.

2) Leonardo says whites are always allowed to remain complicit in their privilege.  The ability to distance yourself from responsibility or accountability for oppression only allows that complicity to remain in place.  The negative’s refusal to answer whether or not he is accountable for oppression reflects the two positions within our community.  His hesitancy comes from a perspective that attempts to alleviate any sense of responsibility, while feeding back into the same cycle.

3) The Wise evidence says debate itself is very privileged and that the educational benefits we get are almost always in the research phase.  Rebecca is asking important questions about what this means based on the three individuals signing their ballot.  Ari, Sam, and myself are not black, which raises questions as to why there is not a single black judge on the final panel.  There is a question to be made as to why there is no black representation at the TOC in LD, when there are arguably several perfectly qualified students.

I conclude by asking the same thing I asked to the St Louis Park coach and student which is this: why do your six conceded responses matter in relation to these three arguments and in a world in which she wins theory only distances ourselves.  The answer is they simply do not.  On the flip side, why is it that he is not forced to answer these three meta arguments about debate itself.  The answer is found in the advocacy of the AC.  The neg starts from a place of flawed epistemology that already predisposition’s his perspective on race.

I conclude by saying I am honored that I was able to judge this round, and anticipate that it will shape a larger conversation about the practical implications of talking about race within the LD debate space, and for moving beyond strategies centered on abstract ethical theories, to in turn talk about something real and tangible.

-Christopher Vincent