Revisiting Intuitions; AFC Bad and RVI’s by Salim Damerdji

Theory debates are notably esoteric and the debate over whether AFC Bad requires an RVI is case in point. Ultimately, the discussion of this topic has been held back by an overreliance on jargon and a lack of confidence in common sense.

The content of this article won’t directly address last year’s Head-to-Head debate [1], but I’ll hopefully persuade debaters who voted for John that there’s a way to believe AFC Bad doesn’t need an RVI without tying themselves to John’s untenable model for determining which interps are offensive. While I’m willing to discuss the two models in the comment section, I won’t delve further into this for now. I’ll assume AFC Bad is an OCI.

It’s commonly understood that an OCI requires an RVI. In my view, people like John claim, “AFC Bad is not an OCI” to avoid the seemingly impending conclusion that this then requires an RVI. The solution to this problem is to concede AFC Bad is an OCI, but does not require an RVI to justify its offensive plank. I believe this coincides tremendously with our intuitions.

The crux of my position is this: an RVI is not equivalent to every claim that initiating false theory is abusive. The conclusion that “AFC Bad requires an RVI” only seems agreeable when we conflate the two through abstract jargon.

By winning AFC creates bad debate, the neg can impact this back to a fairness voter. “Look,” the neg could claim, “This round would have been prohibitively abusive with AFC; the judge couldn’t have accurately adjudicated the better debater had I not read this shell. I had no option but to read theory, so vote here to rectify the irreparable skew on substance.”

This argument seems a lot less controversial than an RVI since this line of reasoning is analogous to a fairness voter on T. The aff framed the round such that, absent your shell, the judge couldn’t determine the better debater.

Bear in mind that this argument is not confined to AFC. Every spike that frames the round unfairly could be the target of a similar shell.

Why exactly is this distinct from an RVI?

First, for AFC Bad, the offensive plank is as follows:

Substance is irreparably skewed since I had to run theory to thwart the potential world where we debated under the unfair interp.

For an RVI, this potential world could never exist since the original shell was drop the debater. Consequently, the stories are distinct.

Second, let’s assume an awesome CX established the 1AR can’t extend AFC to drop the debater. RVI’s are constrained to be reciprocal voting issues and normally don’t apply to drop the argument shells. The offensive plank I just outlined could still justify drop the debater because there’s no proportionality constraint; it just claims substance was framed in an unfair way, which triggers the voter.

Hopefully I’ve justified two conclusions. First, AFC Bad is an OCI, but the offensive plank isn’t an RVI. The plank is analogous to a fairness voter on T: the aff’s framing for the round would have created unfair debate had theory not been introduced. Second, the conclusion that AFC Bad requires an RVI emerges from an over-reliance on abstract jargon. Even if an OCI usually entails an RVI, it doesn’t always entail one. We should trust our intuitions more.

[1] http://nsdupdate.com/2013/head-to-head-does-afc-bad-need-a-rvi-yang-yi-versus-john-scoggin/

  • mitton

    i hate theory

    how can fairness be a voter when you have to spend thousands of dollars to go to camp to understand what this article is even talking about.

    how is education a voter when you spend all but 30 seconds of the 1n on theoretical violations.

    don’t get me wrong, i think debate should be both fair and educational, but the amount of t being run on the national circuit is getting out of hand

    • Salim Damerdji

      I think the other thread started by jagiggle answers this question.

      But to address your specific concerns, I think you’re conflating two different uses of the word fair. In a theory context, fairness is meant to be a way for the judge to accurately evaluating who did the better debating. Outside of competitions, fairness usually takes on an egalitarian connotation. It’s unfair, in some sense of the word, that some schools get to spend an hour a day doing debate, that some debaters have to struggle harder to get to the competition because of race, gender, or affluence. But these egalitarian concerns simply don’t interact with a conception of fairness that merely evaluates who, in fact, did the better debating. They just operate on different layers.

      I also think theory has some educational value even if it’s not optimal. (I also don’t think it’s that clear education should be a voter, but whevs.) Theory forces people to think on their feet and come up with their own arguments instead of relying on what an author said. I also explained some other benefits of theory in the other thread with nick smith and jagiggle.

      • Raymond Zhang

        I’m rather interested. What exactly is fairness? If fairness is some sort of definition before the round started then it seems to be that it is relevant that those things mitton has mentioned before should be considered.

        And second if my position is the status quo is inherently oppressive, and fairness is apart of the status quo then why would the judge listen to these fairness arguments.(This is really off topic and not relevant.)

        • Nick Smith

          I don’t think theory fairness and general fairness are necessarily different. If one is willing to accept fairness as consistency with due/dessert (mmmm cake) then I think that theory and IRL fairness are one in the same.

          Given that debate is a competitive event both debaters deserve an equitable shot at winning the round and shouldn’t have to overcome their opponent being unduly advantaged.

          The following would be a fair/justified in-round advantage:

          Debater X works way harder than debater Y preparing for a tournament. Presumably debater X is at an advantage in a debate versus debater Y because they know their evidence like the back of their hand when debater Y was just given a case by a teammate. The advantage gained by debater X presumably would be deserved (aka fair) since A) both debaters had the opportunity to do prep beforehand and B) it is not super controversial to say that hard work should be rewarded.

          Alternative scenario where an in-round advantage is unfair/unjustified:

          Debater P reads a plan that is 1) crazy narrow 2) isn’t disclosed 3) isn’t really in any of the topic lit 4) doesn’t have a solvency advocate 5) changes the specifics of implementation/enforcement/etc on the plan mid round (holy crap is this debater abusive!). Debater Q can’t really engage the substance of the plan because there was nothing close to a reasonable expectation that they be knowledgable on anything even remotely related to the content of the plan. This is an undeserved advantage that debater P where competitive equity is being unjustifiably disrupted.

          Out of round instance of unfairness:

          Debater/Person R comes from a socioeconomically disadvantaged family/neighborhood/school district/debate program. Debater/Person R has a coach that’s a teacher in the district that just wants an extra stipend. Debater/Person R’s district doesn’t give a shit about debater R etc… Debater/Person S has a father who is the King of the Milky Way. Debater/Person S goes to a top tier private school where the instructors are better/brighter than those at decent state colleges. Debater/Person S’s school has a sick forensics program and his/her father also decide to hire debater S a legion of private coaches that are versed in the way of the circuit. Debater/Person S did nothing to deserve their advantages in debate/life/whatever and debater/person R did nothing to justify having to overcome so many obstacles.

          • Raymond Zhang

            Alright, in that case then i think that mitton’s argument is very warranted. That somehow the community sees fairness as a voter, and in certain instances the only voter while there are real world structural barriers that preference debaters who have run theory.

          • Salim Damerdji

            I really don’t understand how this engages my comment at all. My point is that there’s a distinction between in-round fairness and out-of-round fairness. In-round fairness helps the judge determine who did the better debating. (It’s more of a jurisdictional issue, in that way.) A fair competition does not require both debaters have equal amounts of preparation before round or equal hardships in order to get to the competition. A fair competition just means the judge could accurately access who did the better debating. The two conceptions of fairness do not interact. How could being lost in Las Vegas for 8 hours (public transport sucks in las vegas 🙁 ) before Golden Desert interact with me reading a NBIB?

            So yes, I acknowledge it’s easy to conflate two types of fairness, but that’s just incorrect to do.

          • Raymond Zhang

            Where do we draw the line between out of round fairness and in round fairness? It seems like to me the judge has to make a decision on their own where the in round fairness. Where is the line clearly drawn?

          • Salim Damerdji

            Are you serious? Since when have judges started randomly getting befuddled while evaluating a line-by-line just because one debater was dealing with divorce?

          • Raymond Zhang

            I am very serious. Where exactly is the line clearly drawn? Yes sure, maybe personal problems of debaters maybe not of affected the round but what is the fair way to judge a round? This seems to be building on some pre-existing knowledge of what a fair judge is.

          • Salim Damerdji

            Most judges implicitly accept that she will vote for the debater who wins that the judge should vote for them. Once again, the “clearly drawn line” is that judges should evaluate arguments won in-round as opposed to evaluating external factors on their own.

          • Raymond Zhang

            Okay, so i guess that is fine but that seems to imply that fairness can only drop the argument not the debater.

          • Salim Damerdji

            What?

          • Raymond Zhang

            If the judge only have to evaluate things that are fair/unfair in the round then why would the judge need to drop the debater? it would seem that simply not evaluating the argument would be sufficient.

          • Salim Damerdji

            Right, fairness matters. That’s wholly distinct from reject the arg vs reject the debater. I’m not sure why this is relevant.

          • Raymond Zhang

            So, then you’d agree that fairness can never be a voter?

            Actually i’m kind of confused. What do you mean, thats wholly distinct?

          • Nick Smith

            To pervert an example stolen from David McGinnis which is usually a response to fairness is a voter he says “if fairness isn’t a voter then what stops debaters from hip checking (i think) their opponents going into round”

            So you think that most judges would/should be willing to, for example, vote for an aff debater that wins a round by smashing their opponents computer right before the 1N so they can’t read their case?

            Or, with the example of the 2012 jan/feb topic, do you think that judges would/should simply evaluate the flow if a debater intentionally set off their opponent that they know to have a family history of repeated domestic violence to gain an advantage to win the round?

          • Nick Smith

            These may be extreme examples but take a simpler one that I’ve brought up before and that happens quite often at tournaments (especially mid-level bid tournaments):

            Theory God Xerxes is debating [insert novice/local debater/underprivileged debater]. You think it’s totally alright for the judge to vote for Xerxes even though Xerxes is basically excluding the opponent from the round intentionally to secure an easy ballot?

            If this is what debate is or what debate should be then I think it is a pretty unsafe space and is probably much more harmful than good.

          • Salim Damerdji

            It’s not unfair to read something your opponent can’t engage. Obviously novices haven’t had a shot to read wide canons of philosophy, but it’s not unfair for someone to read Kant against them. And yes, I think judges are required to vote for Xerxes even if they feel so inclined to reprimand Xerxes after the round ends. I really don’t buy this argument that safe spaces are defined by who gets the win. Safe spaces are places where people support you and call out assholes. Why does that necessitate a ballot?

          • Nick Smith

            I think it is unfair if you read something your opponent can’t engage if you do so with the intent/knowledge that you’re going to be excluding them.

            It’s not unfair that a novice was just needlessly deprived of an educational opportunity? Really? Xerxes could have just done the better debating in an accessible way and allowed the novice to gain useful experience. Instead the judge ends up stammering during the RFD struggling to get the novice to just understand what happened to them.

            Also would you not intervene against the debater that’s inflicting real emotional harm on their opponent?

            And in response to the the Kant stuff:

            A) a novice is much more likely to know some kant than theory since 1) they’re much more likely to debate kant than theory 2) you can find critique of pure reason in a library but there sure as hell isn’t an LD theory book, at least at the libraries that I frequent.

            B) A novice may be able to answer Kant through basic reasoning skills but there is no way they’re gonna win on the flow with theory even if they’re coming up with decent arguments due to the complexity of theory. I’ve seen significantly less experienced debater win framework debates. I’ve never seen a novice or a local debater out tech a Xerxes on a theory debate.

            I don’t think that you honestly believe that people don’t quit debate, leave LD, depart from the circuit, and/or hate the circuit because they’ve been screwed over by a stupid theory debate one too many times.

            Safe spaces aren’t defined by who gets the win. But reinforcing behaviors that harm the community or exclude certain voices is definitely not my idea of a safe space. Why would Xerxes ever stop being a prick if there’s no tangible consequences to him and only the potential to benefit. I’m sure we can all think of a few wildly successful debaters in recent history that have been pretty major assholes and were told so countless times… after they got their win from the judge.

            And putting aside “safe space” stuff I just don’t get how you can think that a model of debate that theoretically is exclusionary and actually does exclude people en masse is something we SHOULD want.

          • Nick Smith

            I think that you’re the one that is conflating two distinct concepts right now.

            If fairness truly only matters because it’s a jurisdictional issue then the terminal impact of that shell (i.e. the voter) should just be jurisdiction. Linking a standard to fairness and then arguing why the judge doesn’t have the jurisdiction to vote on unfair arguments seems to add an unnecessary step in the link chain.

            Before you edited your comment you had the “the ballot asks you to vote for the better debater not the better cheater” but this can also be interpreted as saying that the judge shouldn’t encourage unfair practices by voting for the debater that’s winning on the flow through unfair means. I agree that debaters do make pretty much exactly the type fairness argument that you’re describing but I think that’s them mislabeling their argument, not an alternative context specific interpretation of the concept of fairness.

            There are also the arguments for why fairness is a voter like “people won’t want to play a game that’s rigged” etc… so I don’t think its fair to say that just because one fairness justification appeals to jurisdiction that means theory fairness is jurisdictional and general fairness is something else. Fairness is fairness imo

            I agree that if one debater does more prep/knows their cases better they have an advantage going into a round versus someone who got handed cases by a teammate 30 seconds earlier. However this is an instance where the advantage is earned/deserved so it isn’t unfair even under my interpretation of fairness for one debater to have better prep than another. Both debaters presumably had the opportunity to prepare for the round and the one that capitalized on it is due the advantage it gives them. This becomes a different issue when we start talking about a debater that comes from a school that doesn’t give a shit about debater and a debater that has the resources to go to 8 weeks of camp a summer and hire a small army of private coaches but I’m not going to get into this right now.

            Here’s an alternative example of where out of round fairness can interact with in round fairness.

            Debater A lacks access and opportunities to know all the ins and outs of theory debates. Debater B reads one of their many mutually exhaustive theory or T shells. Debater A’s out of round disadvantage is functionally barring them from having a chance to access the ballot should the judge evaluate theory under competing interps. I think it is WILDLY unfair to award B the ballot solely because they out-tech’d their opponent on a layer of the flow that’s incredibly esoteric and inaccessible to some. I’d be VERY sympathetic to debater A saying that just because they lose on the micro-strategic portion of the flow does not mean that the judge should drop them on theory. If debater A then did a sufficient job demonstrating how the violation in the shell from debater B was BS then I think it would be unfair to vote on the theory shell just because debater B speaks some secret code.

      • James McElwain

        Theory forces people to think on their feet and come up with their own arguments instead of relying on what an author said.

        This is totally non-unique and true of every kind of debate argumentation except empirical claims. Even when debating empirical claims, debaters are encouraged to think on their feet in the comparison of evidence, if not explicit “arguments”. You literally just why any debate is value, without any specification as to why theory debate is valuable educationally.

        • Salim Damerdji

          You’re understating how much of a role evidence plays in other realms of debate. No one reads a DA or a K without cards and certainly no one extemps either of those positions. In fact, most of those positions are almost entirely carded and the rounds are often determined by how good the evidence is. So yeah, I definitely think theory offers a good way to generate arguments independent of what authors say

          • James McElwain

            It’s still a non-unique educational advantage to theory debate unless you’re willing to suggest that debates in which carded evidence is read never have clash. The claim that evidence based debate is scriptocentric is entirely non-unique–coaches don’t write extensive frontlines for theory positions?

            Further, even if we grant that theory debate has a significant comparative advantage in generating clash, which is by no means self-evident, you’re doing no comparison to the obvious disadvantage that theory debate is non-substantive.

            There is obviously a non-zero educational value to theory debate. But you yourself admit that theory is not optimal education. I’m challenging the idea that good clash generated by theory should ever be an end in itself. Topic education outweighs, and the entire point of theory is supposed to be to protect clash on substance.

          • Raymond Zhang

            Personally i find theory debate to be interesting because it is the pure game of debate. Theory is unique to debate and allows debaters to exercise their knowledge of how the game is played (which also makes it no accessible to some debaters).

            But here is something that i believe is missing from LD debate.Theory in policy is an all or nothing strat either go all out in the 2AR/2NR or the judge probably wont vote on it. What that does is forces debaters to show every instance of abuse within the round and show to the judge how debating has become impossible without theory. I think that gives theory a unique holistic view of how the debate round is played out and explained. I also admit that its probably not an unique argument for theory education, but I think theory does provide educational benefits that can be warranted.

          • Salim Damerdji

            “I’m challenging the idea that good clash generated by theory should ever be an end in itself.”
            When did I ever suggest I defend this?

            Anyhow, we’re both competent enough to realize educational value isn’t a binary. Debates with carded evidence have comparatively less independently generated arguments. (I’m not sure what else constitutes a substantive debate.) I haven’t, despite your insistence, claimed theory debates are perfect at this.

  • John Scoggin

    Before I can engage more thoroughly in this discussion it is important that we start on equal footing.

    First, I find the term OCI to be confusing and rely on a unjustified model of theory debate. A CI is by default a defensive posture to theory which defines the competing rule that a debater defends. The default understanding of theory says that to make a CI offensive one must win RVI arguments. If you believe that this is not true please explain what you find to be the difference between a CI that is inherently offense versus one that requires an RVI.

    Second, while it may be somewhat difficult to determine when a theory interpretation is offensive, flaws with my vision are dwarfed by the fatal flaws that exist with other forwarded models. I can repost or respond to further arguments, but the only two suggestions anyone has mentioned to me are the “semantic model” or the “first read” model which both are easily and intuitively dismissed. I am prepared to defend a model of theory debate which seeks to comply with established norms on T.

    Third, while I admit there may be subtle differences between these kinds of debates, absent another better justified model of theoretical debate it makes sense to apply our intuitions about topicality to all theory debates. If one takes this approach it is very easy to see how we would treat this issue: AFC defines what it means to affirm and establishes the parameters under which the negative should debate. In this sense it is most similar to a definition. It is then easy to see that AFC is the definition, AFC bad is T (proposing a definition of neg can contest framework) and voting for AFC good would require an RVI.

    Fourth, the article correctly points out that AFC bad links to fairness is ways similar to other theory arguments, this is because it is an interp. It should be also obvious that I agree this logic applies to other spikes.

    Fifth, I generally agree with the logic of this article and I understand why the thousands of words in the original argument as well as the thousands in the comments could be confusing. My only real issue with the article is that it seeks to apply correct theoretical intuitions to a bunk theoretical model.

    • Salim Damerdji

      1) So the difference is the wording.

      CI: I may read a plan.

      OCI: You must not prohibit me from reading a plan.

      Which creates two implications:

      A) The neg can violate the OCI, not the CI. I don’t think anyone actually believes a CI becomes offensive just because an RVI is attached onto the end. The RVI is its own offensive abuse story since it claims it’s unfair or uneducational to read false theory.

      B) An OCI requires an offensive plank. The plank I offered in the post is an example of an offensive plank that is not an RVI. But most of the time, you’re right. There is functionally no difference with an OCI whose offensive plank is an RVI and a CI with an RVI attached at the end.

      2) I don’t think anyone actually defends the “first read” model. The way I was taught theory (by good ‘ole NSD) was more in line with the semantic model that Yang and Jeff argued for in the other thread.

      3) Your position seems to have shifted a bit since the last thread. (I ctrl + f’d “practices” and got zero results.) Now it seems to be “neg theory is always offensive,” which I hope you wouldn’t actually defend. If the AC reads Skep Bad, they’ve laid out the parameters under which the neg can negate. In your mind that would entail “The neg must not read skep” is a a c-inerp, which seems obviously flawed.

      Something should be an offensive shell when it outlines what your opponent must do. Something should be a c-inerp when it outlines what you can do. My article seems to get at the core of a lot of your intuitions about theory, (I even model my plank based on a fairness voter for T) so I’m not totally sure what your model even gets us.

      • Nick Smith

        With regards to #1 I don’t think the only difference HAS to be semantic although I’ve heard a number of people that espouse this particular view. I’ll try my best to frame my thoughts with the same rhetoric used in the post for the purpose of clarity although I think conventional LD theory nomenclature is needlessly confusing/convoluted. However, it may be the case that I’m just operating under a different understanding of what demarcates an OCI from a regular CI,

        Presumably if the difference is only semantic the possible standards/offense of a vanilla CI and an “OCI” would/could always be identical.

        But there are instances where the standards would/should be different between a CI and an OCI (if the offered standards are ACTUALLY offense to the particular interpretation) making it not merely a semantic difference but also a substantive one. Take the following example (and of course the wording of these interps would be different in a real round):

        Neg Interp: “Debaters must run a non-consequentialist FW”
        With the violation being that the aff standard was utilitarianism which is consequentialist.

        CI: “Debaters may run a consequentalist FW”
        The aff meets this interpretation since they ran util, but the neg doesn’t violate with the NC or shell since the CI is only permissive and doesn’t place conditions on how the neg may run theory.

        OCI: “Debaters must run a consequentalist FW”
        The neg would presumably violate this OCI as long as the NC did not violate their initial shell. There MAY also be an argument that the initial interp is a reason the neg should be dropped since the debate world they advocate for in their shell would be deprived of some fairness/educational/etc benefit of only having debates under a consequentalist FW.

        The CI might have standards that speak to breadth of philosophical education or advantages to educational autonomy with respect to offering different types of FW. The offense in these standards would be unique to this particular shell since the above OCI wouldn’t offer the same breadth of philosophical education/educational autonomy with regards to FW selection.

        The OCI may have standards that say non-consequentialist FWs are just the result of confabulation and the subsequent discussion that would occur under them is devoid of any educational value. Or the standards may argue that some aspect of consequentialist FWs always ensures the best quality of ground/equal division of ground. This offense would be unique to the OCI since the debate world offered in the CI would permit for non-consequentialist FWs and thus would lack the complete educational clarity or ground fairness that the OCI boasts.

        • Salim Damerdji

          I never claimed the distinction is merely semantic. I said the change in wording caused two implications on the theory debate. I agree that it’s significant that OCI’s can be violated (that’s why they’re offensive) and that the abuse story should include distinct planks. As an aside, I think most people conceptualize an OCI as:

          “The neg must not prohibit the aff from running a non-consequentialist FW”

          So this type of interp has distinct planks from the original c-inerp “I may read a non-consequentialist FW” because the interp must also justify why it’s bad to read false theory shells. Normally, that takes the form an RVI justification. In which case, normal OCI’s are futile because they trivially change the RVI from being tacked on after the shell ends into the standards portion of the shell.

          Huh, I never realized “Debaters must run a consequentialist FW” could be an alternate way of reading an OCI. Why don’t people read that type of OCI? I’ve never seen that in-round or discussed at camp. IIRC RL’s article used the example of “I must read a plan” which I now realize is a strawperson of what you’re saying. I don’t think my post speaks to that type of OCI, so whoops for grouping it in :/

          • Nick Smith

            Maybe it’s a term of art thing but I don’t know if I think “The neg must not prohibit the aff from running a non-consequentialist FW” is merely an offensive counterinterpretation.

            In the loose sense it is a counter interpretation that generates offense enough to vote on the shell but this particular interp seems to goes a step beyond that. This interp should be considered meta theory because the shell is challenging the legitimacy of the opponent reading the initial shell in the first place (i.e. theory about the theory arguments your opponent must & didn’t or may not make & did).

            The violation of for the interp “The neg must not prohibit the aff from running a non-consequentialist FW” would be the initial theory shell while the violation of my alternative formulate of OCIs would be that neg substance since I doubt they’d read that shell if they themselves also violated.

          • Salim Damerdji

            Yeah I mean, I didn’t really come up with the name. I agree with you entirely, though. One plank for an OCI (“You must not prohibit me from a plan”) is just an RVI, which is a meta-theory, in a sense. So yeah the two variation of OCI’s indict different things, one is theory and the other is substance.

      • John Scoggin

        Whether or not there are flaws with my model it still seems significantly better than the semantic model. The cases that result from the semantic model just choose which abusive practices they want to do in their aff and phrase them in the way that the semantic model suggests is an interp. It seems obviously wrong that any abusive practice can be made into an interp.

        I also never said neg theory is always offensive, don’t know where you got that. I just suggested that when approaching theory debates and trying to find the interp you would use intuitions from T. Only the aff has to be topical, but both debaters have to be fair so that one part of topicality obviously does not apply.

        • Salim Damerdji

          For reference:
          CI: I may read a plan.
          OCI: You must not prohibit me from reading a plan.

          Under the semantic model, sure, the CI could be altered into an OCI. But I’ve already explained why making something an OCI doesn’t magically make it offensive. You need to justify the offensive plank. In most cases, that’s an RVI because an RVI explains why it’s wrong to read false theory or, synonymously, why it would be wrong for “you [to] prohibit me from reading a plan” if I’ve won plans are good. So yes, we agree. You don’t get magical offense.

          Also, my argument from the last comment was more reasonable than you give credit for:
          “If the AC reads Skep Bad, they’ve laid out the parameters under which the neg can negate. In your mind that would entail “The neg must not read skep” is a a c-inerp, which seems obviously flawed.”

          If that’s at all unclear, I’m indicting your view that:
          “AFC… establishes the parameters under which the negative should debate. In this sense it is most similar to a definition.”

          • John Scoggin

            I figured it out. I believe the source of the confusion is that you think that I am defending “Aff may not prohibit neg from contesting framework.” That is a horrible interp for arguing AFC bad. My rejection of the semantic model is not just theoretical, I also don’t use the interps/CIs that it would suggest. This statement you make is true:

            “By winning AFC creates bad debate, the neg can impact this back to a fairness voter. “Look,” the neg could claim, “This round would have been prohibitively abusive with AFC; the judge couldn’t have accurately adjudicated the better debater had I not read this shell.”

            AFC in the aff changes the victory condition from vote for debater with most significant impacts under argued-for framing, to vote for the debater with most significant impacts under X framework. A good negative interpretation would reassert the fair victory condition, isolate the alteration as the violation and then support it with standards. It seems kind of pointless to argue about whether the “OCI” needs an RVI when there just seems to be a normal theory shell that can be run against AFC that is clearly offensive without need for an RVI.

            The short version is the point of departure is at the very top, my vision of AFC bad would not use the phrasing of the “OCI.”

          • Salim Damerdji

            By not contesting whether normal OCI’s require an RVI, you’ve conceded that your #1 concern against the semantic model doesn’t matter. I can agree shells don’t magically become offensive purely by wording, they only become offensive if an RVI is in the shell to justify the plank “you should be punished for reading false theory.”

            Given that I combine all our intuitions on T into the semantic model, the only debate left is whether there’s a risk your model is a bad way to structure interps.

            It seems like your interp would be “I define negation as winning that the better justified framework negates,” For an attempt at creating a more intuitive model based on T, this winds up being profoundly counter-intuitive. No one reads interps like this. In round, debaters would inevitably be challenged to explain how this makes sense. They’ll probably be forced to go through the justification you and I agree on in the article. Ultimately, merely changing the interp is an awkward and redundant step.

            Your model doesn’t even makes sense semantically. Negation already is a word with its own definition. What you’re actually claiming is that there are certain capacities neg should have. In turn, the interp becomes trivially distinct from “The neg may contest the aff framework.” If the two are equivalent, there can’t be two different implications. This was precisely your earlier criticism that a mere changing of the interp shouldn’t make something magically offensive.

            My previous concern about “nbibs bad” in the AC still applies. If the AC reads Skep Bad, they’ve laid out the parameters under which the neg can negate. In your mind that would entail “The neg must not read skep” is a a c-inerp, which seems obviously flawed.

  • Jagiggle

    Goddamn is theory debate esoteric. Not saying its always bad, or even that the conclusions this article come to are wrong, but why does LD feel the need to waste so much time on it.

    • Anon

      Judges vote for it, debaters will run it. If judges started voting for super-theory, (isn’t that kind of RVIs?) all the cool kids would start running it as well.

      Plus its fun, don’t hate

    • Salim Damerdji

      Most debate rounds have at least one shell, so it seems clear enough why people would want to discuss these issues.

      You’re right though, it definitely sucks that theory debate is esoteric. To be fair though, my post wasn’t meant to be an intro to this issue. (Jeff’s first comment on http://nsdupdate.com/archives/5931 is much better at that.)

      What exactly do you think the solution is?

      • Jagiggle

        I agree with you that people want to discuss these issues. I don’t mean to underscore your article.

        I don’t know what the solution is. Perhaps interesting substantive/critical ways to answer theory could be interesting. Engaging the theory on the theoretical level would probably just fuel the fire.

        • Salim Damerdji

          Judges usually groan after hearing “text before theory” or “skep takes out theory” or “K’s of theory” or any other variant of fairness is not a voter. Everyone agrees debaters should have recourse against multiple a priori’s, but that “must read a CP” is bad for debate. I think you’re better off reading better versions of reasonability, so that way we can avoid frivolous theory but still agree multiple a priori’s are bad.

          • Jagiggle

            Eh. From my experience the debate just moves to a theory debate of reasonability v . competing interps. Even if I win reasonability, I will have only proven that theory is the only appropriate response to theory. Also, yeah, run theory when someone’s being abusive, no problems there.

            But in the case of frivolous theory we should engage in it on a level that exposes it for what it is: pointless, ivory tower, jargon-filled bs.

            One of the justifications I’ve heard for running theory is that someone should be able to defend all aspects of their advocacy, including whether or not it is fair/educational. If they don’t they should lose. But that should apply to debaters running theory too. Can they defend the fact that their advocacy excludes less-well-off debaters? Can they defend that the way they debate only reintrenches the win-at-all-cost method of debate LD is becoming where arguments are meaningless, while wins are all that are important?

            Debate is only meaningful in that it creates advocates/individuals who are conscious of all the impacts of their actions. Including the real-world ones.

            Sorry for the ramble.

          • Salim Damerdji

            “Even if I win reasonability, I will have only proven that theory is the only appropriate response to theory”

            Untrue. You’ve shown true theory beats bad theory. And frankly, theory is a debate about rules for debate. Yes, if you believe there should be a rule limiting the number of times someone cites dumb rules, that is a theory argument.

          • Jagiggle

            Slightly missed the point of my response. But I’m not saying “there should be a rule limiting the number of times someone cites dumb rules”, I’m saying people should be able to answer theory without theory.

          • Salim Damerdji

            “Also, yeah, run theory when someone’s being abusive, no problems there.”
            Sounds like you’re not casting off all theory. In which case, yes, you are suggesting there should be a limit. I think my last comment is still pertinent.

      • Anon

        I remember there was some discussion a couple years back about possibly agreeing on theory norms before the round began.

        I’m curious as to if anyone actually ever tried it and what the judge thought about it.

        • Salim Damerdji

          Yeah, Adler wrote an article about it a while back. I think Catterton preached it before that article, though.

          I tried pre-round interps before r1 and r7 of the TOC this year since I knew I’d be better off in a substance debate against brentwood and it’d be easy to ask specific questions about defending whole-res. Adler and Bob were the judges in those respective rounds. I’m pretty sure Nag also did this last year in toc elims against Eckholm.

          I think most judges don’t care all that much. The only concern I’ve heard is that it’d take too much time and push back the tournament schedule. Obviously, the interps clarified shouldn’t be every single interp. Preferably you could just ask “what interps would you want me to abide by that a lot of common affs bite into?” or “Can I defend a whole-res Kant aff?”

      • Nick Smith

        People may want to discuss these issues because most rounds have theory. But I don’t think that’s because these issues are important topics that merit a discussion (especially in the context of a debate round but also outside of rounds). This is not to say that there are no theory arguments that need to be addressed in or out of round. There certainly are instances where debaters are being wildly abusive or robbing their opponent of any modicum of educational value from a round.

        I think that theory debates/discussions have become so prevalent and complex through argumentative evolution because:

        A) The majority-accepted evaluative paradigm for theory encourages the utilization of theory for strategic purposes. When most (or a huge number) of circuit judges will drop a debater whose violation was that they made an argument bumped them from 50/50 access to the ballot to skewed 50.1/49.9 and they didn’t deserve that bump. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the abuse A) didn’t need to actually occur (*cough* potential abuse) and B) didn’t need to be true as long as it is won on the flow (my opponent dropped this 8 word spike in my shell read at 450wpm, which means you disregard the 3 minutes they spent on theory in their last speech… this is a dumb argument but they
        dropped it so you must vote for me on theory, Ms./Mr. Judge). I know that I’m guilty of this and am in the process of reevaluating my approach to adjudicating theory debates.

        B) Our open-door approach to theory encourages some/many debaters to become “theory debaters” or at least spend a disproportionate/inappropriate portion of their preparatory efforts on developing theory skills/prep rather than spending time on the substance of our various resolutions. Why spend time getting good at debating the constitutional basis of attorney-client privilege (I doubt that time invested will carry over to discussion of extraction and
        environmental protection as well as theory prep) when you can hone your theory skills know that you can always bust out one of your mutually exhaustive shells that your opponent will inevitably violate? Did they run a plan – check – plans bad shell… Did they run deont – check – gotta run util shell

        C) The tabula rasa mentality towards theory offers debaters an alternative to having to think on their feet and generate responses to positions they’re unprepared/underprepared to engage. Why try to engage the opponent’s novel argument when one can simply
        run theory? The fact that people still ready theory to positions criticizing anti-blackness (ESPECIALLY positions that actually address the resolution at the same time) really concerns me. There most likely are cases where novel/unconventional positions can’t be substantively engaged but this certainly isn’t always the case.

        I think the solution to the ever-increasing complexity of theory debates must come from A) judges in round and B) coaches out of round. Theory doesn’t need to be merely an exercise in complex intellectual or game-playing masturbation. Just imagine the beautiful world where theory actually functions as a REAL check on abusive/uneducational practices. I’m currently in the process of writing down and hashing out my vision to take us to this promise land but it seems to me that the most effective way to reduce the complexity of theory is to have coaches teach theory differently and judges judge theory differently. We should teach (and subsequently reinforce these teachings through the decisions that judges make in rounds) theory not as an ever evolving game-playing component of debate but rather as a way to make sure students get a fair shake at getting what is theirs when their opponent desires otherwise.

        SPIKE: I know all the “reasonability, the only POSSIBLE alternative to conventional competing interps, causes judge intervention which magnifies the unfairness” and am not interested in having these tired arguments rehashed.

        That…. or we select our own little Noah Webster to inscribe each theory term/concept/paradigm/argument with precise definitions/explanations upon stone tablets for the viewing those courageous enough to risk a pilgrimage to study & interpret. Either approach is good by me.

        • mcgin029

          “The fact that people still ready theory to positions criticizing anti-blackness (ESPECIALLY positions that actually address the resolution at the same time) really concerns me. There most likely are cases where novel/unconventional positions really can’t be substantively engaged but this certainly isn’t always the case.”

          I kinda agree with your thesis but I disagree quite fervently with this bit. It seems to me that “debaters must debate the resolution” is a thoroughly reasonable theory shell. Nothing against the schools / students / coaches who run kritiks of anti-Blackness or any other non topical or quasi-topical position. Also, there is such a thing as a false topicality claim. I understand trying to avoid the T debate by framing your position as a topical advocacy but those positions usually stretch the definitions of terms so far out that they violate T limits more or less the same way that a straight up “I refuse to debate the resolution” kritik would do.

          So, yeah, I agree that “theory” as a field of study and form of argumentation, unto itself, is silly, and that it is best used as a check against actually substantively abusive argument practices. But that can only happen in a world where debaters consciously elect to debate the core of the topic.

          • mcgin029

            Put another way, I don’t think that “forget about the resolution, I’m going to advocate that X patently offensive practice is wrong, and vote for me if you agree” is a fair approach to debate. T is a voter.

          • mcgin029

            Also — the bare possibility of substantive engagement isn’t sufficient. “Your position literally cannot be engaged” can’t be the only acceptable T link — under that standard, debate ceases to be debate.

          • Nick Smith

            “Also — the bare possibility of substantive engagement isn’t sufficient. “Your position literally cannot be engaged” can’t be the only acceptable T link — under that standard, debate ceases to be debate.”

            I think you’re probably right here. I’m think there’s probably a better brightline for when it is appropriate or sensible for there to be a theory debate/discussion.

          • Anon

            I’ve always wondered about micropolitical or K affs that advocate some position not pertaining to the resolution. Or maybe even ACs that have to deal with the topic but simply advocate for the ballot rather than nessesarly affirm (vote for me because I’m talking about envirommental protection)

            What if the other debater just took the AC and read it verbatim? Is the Affs offense in that case just that he read it first or that he has the case on his laptop so he can read it again?

            The ballot says I vote aff or neg, not for x debater or y debater (or at least thats the side I circle). If you aren’t winning as the aff but onyl as debnater x, I don’t see how you actually get offsense to the ballot.

            Not entirely what dave was talking about but I’m sure the same argument could be made why simply advocating an inerp is offense. If side doesn’t matter anymore, why can’t the neg just toss his case and say “yeah I agree”. If its no longer about making the current round reciprocal and just making debate better nobody as any unique offense.

            I guess its just debaters are just throwing out a million ways as to why theory matters so that the judge and opponent just say “tl;dr I vote on marginal fairness “. I don’t think anyone actually actually reads the voter section they copypaste, and they really should.

          • Ryan Teehan

            If the Neg just rereads the aff, they have failed to meet the burden of rejoinder and they lose.

          • Jagiggle

            Most K affs/micropolitical affs don’t tell judges to vote for them simply because they spread some message to make debate better, but rather have some kind of advocacy. If the neg just stood up and read back the AC it would just prove the aff advocacy true and the judge should vote aff.

          • Nick Smith

            “I kinda agree with your thesis but I disagree quite fervently with this bit.”

            I personally am on the fence with regards to non-topical affs (I think I’m cool with, or at least tolerant of, a neg with specific links to aff performance/arguments that are argued to be racist/misogynistic/etc).

            I’m inclined to agree that debate isn’t always as welcoming to certain voices (whether it’s based on race, class, religion, etc…) as it is to others. I won’t speak to whether I think this is a product of active/subconscious bias/prejudice or leftover consequences of previous injustices. Perhaps if more people substantively engaged these types of positions rather than running theory we’d be able to generate a community norm as to the general permissibility of non-topical advocacies. Or not, who knows

            I’m in total agreement with you when it comes to silly stuff like, “I’m going to read a math textbook in chinese to protest the Keystone XL pipeline” though

          • Nick Smith

            “Also, there is such a thing as a false topicality claim. I ‘understand trying to avoid the T debate by framing your position as a topical advocacy but those positions usually stretch the definitions of terms so far out that they violate T limits more or less the same way that a straight up “I refuse to debate the resolution” kritik would do.”

            I agree that there are false topicality claims but I think there are a fair amount of unconventional positions that don’t rely on false topicality claims.

            I’ll avoid using the student’s name since I haven’t asked for their permission (lets call this student Schopenhauer) but here’s an example where I think that an unconventional argument (in the sense that it wasn’t just stock stuff like net-benefits, property rights, or whatever) was almost always needlessly answered with theory. These positions weren’t as unconventional as some of Schopenhauer’s previous positions (although all of Schopenhauer’s positions were quite similar in structure/content to the following positions) but most people are aware of the colonialism arguments on this topic so I think it illustrates my point best.

            Schopenhauer ran cases on both sides about indigenous knowledge. The aff argument was that resource extraction harms indigenous communities in a variety of ways/was an example of harmful neo-colonialism and EP properly respected indigenous ways of knowing. The neg argument was that the concept of environmental protection was detrimental to indigenous communities and is an example of neo-colonialism.

            I don’t think it was outlandish to hope/expect debaters to engage these positions substantively (like one of your students successfully did at Westside *wink*hint*wink&) but an obscenely high percentage of rounds Schopenhauer had against competitively successful debaters were just tired theory debates. If debaters wanted to do well on the Jan/Feb topic this year it SHOULD have been worth their time to prep some answers to colonialism but wasn’t always necessary since our willingness to accept theory is too high.

          • Nick Smith

            PS- sorry Salim if you find my rants a bit off topic… the current state of theory, generally speaking, leaves a sour taste in my mouth that I sometimes feel the uncontrollable urge to spit out 🙂

          • Salim Damerdji

            sometimes spec gives me indigestion. i know the pain, comrade

        • Salim Damerdji

          Put in context of the meta-debate right now, my writing of this article and simultaneous distaste for frivolous theory (Yes, I actually agree with you.) might make more sense. Two trends for affs are popular:
          1) Theory spike-ridden affs that throw in the towel on substance before it even happens
          2) LARP affs that don’t want to engage a framework debate and so exclude it with AFC or UFC or parameters.

          My post’s in-round implication is that the neg can more easily punish these attempts to avoid substance. I think that’s a good thing in terms of making theory less prevalent.

          So yeah, I agree some variant of reasonability is probably true. Frivolous theory sucks. Coaches should teach their kids how to read reasonability. Etc. But a few things:

          A) I’m not sure why people assume this, but even if theory were less prevalent, it wouldn’t be less esoteric. We’d have the same remnants of jargon, but with none of the understanding.

          B) Judge intervention is bad, mmmmmkay. Hashing out these arguments in-round is way more empowering than judges saying “we know what’s best for you.” No one ever does this for any other part of the flow. I think functional ought cases are inane, kill framework debate, and kill turn ground, but I couldn’t intervene against it. We’re supposed to vote for better advocators, not advocacies. And frankly, Interventionist judges mostly end up not judging rounds since they just are not pref’d highly.

          C) Theory is esoteric, but it’s also worthwhile. Wrestling and innovating with these complex, abstract ideas is a far more rewarding, original pursuit than just cutting more cards about attorney-client privilege. Also, I think one of the most rewarding parts of LD actually stems from theory debates. An amazing halfback can never hope to change the game of football. But if you’re good enough at debate, there’s always this glorious possibility that people will *gasp* care about the things you say and will actually change the way they debate and teach their kids how to debate.

          • Nick Smith

            “A) I’m not sure why people assume this, but even if theory were less prevalent, it wouldn’t be less esoteric. We’d have the same remnants of jargon, but with none of the understanding.”

            If theory were not evaluated just like any other argument on the flow but rather as a way to punish genuine in-round abuse then there would be no incentive to approach theory as merely a question of strategy or as a game of argumentative hide and seek. I don’t think reasonability, as it is currently understood, is the ideal theory evaluation paradigm but it would make it so debaters 1) aren’t functionally precluded from winning the round vs. debaters formally trained in the art of theory (or that are just better trained) and 2) making a small micro-strategic mistake on the theory flow doesn’t get in the way of the judge remedying abuse or ignoring frivolous theory.

            “B) Judge intervention is bad, mmmmmkay. Hashing out these arguments in-round is way more empowering than judges saying “we know what’s best for you.” No one ever does this for any other part of the flow. I think functional ought cases are inane, kill framework debate, and kill turn ground, but I couldn’t intervene against it. We’re supposed to vote for better advocators, not advocacies. And frankly, Interventionist judges mostly end up not judging rounds since they just are not pref’d highly.”

            This is one of the focal points of what I’m currently writing but just a few quick points. 1) Intervention on substance is different then intervention on theory in my opinion – in virtually all other competitive activities the ref/judge/whoever is empowered to disrupt the competition to ensure proper play 2) very precisely outlining how one evaluates theory on judgephilosophies and before round, if asked, would remedy most of the harm 3)

            I think a model where theory is evaluated completely tabula rasa is exclusionary as A) it greatly privileges those with access to more circuit resources (camps, seasoned circuit coaches, etc.) since LD theory norms are often unwritten and always disparate B) it gives a way for circuit debaters to LITERALLY never lose vs those who aren’t trained for theory debates (rounds where circuit debaters run theory solely because they know their opponent can’t respond due to being inexperienced or being a local debater make me sick)

            “C) Theory is esoteric, but it’s also worthwhile. Wrestling and innovating with these complex, abstract ideas is a far more rewarding, original pursuit than just cutting more cards about attorney-client privilege. Also, I think one of the most rewarding parts of LD actually stems from theory debates. An amazing halfback can never hope to change the game of football. But if you’re good enough at debate, there’s always this glorious possibility that people will *gasp* care about the things you say and will actually change the way they debate and teach their kids how to debate.”

            I have lots of thoughts on this but limited time. I think that the portability of theory skills gets destroyed by that of research/argument generation/substantive prep/etc. Also, I almost never hear novel thoughts in theory debates in my experience. It’s the same game-playing recitation of one sentence warrants “reciprocity is key to fairness because both debaters need equal access to the ballot”. A few rare theory debates I think are actually thoughtful but incredibly rare (near unicorn status level rare).

  • Martin Sigalow

    I just hope that this somehow becomes a big enough flamewar to distract from the other one #firefighterSalim

    • Salim Damerdji

      We’re all obligated to do our part

  • Jacob Nails

    I don’t see the importance of establishing what technically is/isn’t an RVI. If the negative argues that voting on AFC OCIs rectifies NC time skew and deters AFC, a 1AR that responds “Yes, but that’s technically an RVI” hasn’t defused either of the warrants.

    The various arguments for and against RVIs will apply more or less well to specific cases. Comparing the balance of offense in each case seems like a better practice than establishing a categorical rule (always/never RVIs) and evaluating whether the specific case comports with that rule.

    • Salim Damerdji

      You and I agree quite a bit. I don’t think whether something is technically an RVI matters all that much. My point was that RVI’s are a lot more theoretically controversial than a fairness voter on T, which my argument is akin to. That’s why I sidestep the usual RVI’s bad dump. (Keep in mind, there’s a possibility you meet the original interp, but still read the OCI. How could anyone justifiably think an RVI’s bad dump applies then?)

      I also don’t understand how the second paragraph indicts what i’ve written.

      • Jacob Nails

        I don’t think anything I’ve written indicts the article per se or refutes the premise that AFC OCIs are distinct from RVIs. I’m only questioning the importance of the distinction.

        In response to your rhetorical question, an RVIs dump might still apply even if AFC OCIs aren’t technically RVIs. For example, they might still create a chilling effect against legitimate AC spikes. Establishing that the OCI voter is not an RVI does not, in itself, refute this claim.

        • Salim Damerdji

          I don’t think I’m making some trivial distinction here. The chilling effect might actually be one of the few RVI bad args that also applies here, so I don’t think it’s too concerning. (And come on, the chilling effect is such a blughudf argument.) Chilling effect takes out normal T fairness voters (since it takes out my arg) but no one seems to make this argument.

  • Rebar Niemi

    Excellent article – short and sweet. Well done Salim.

    I feel like people conflate OCI with “intepretation that is mutually exclusive”

    Two mutually exclusive interpretations can both link to voters they could both link to same voter. You weigh between the abuse.

    LDers recently have decided that competing interps means an extremely narrow and overly semantic method of debate that is largely about labeling your arguments correctly – even if they are bad arguments or artificially compete with the original intepretation.

    I think your article reveals that much of these distinctions (OCI vs just an interp that competes in this case, voters vs rvis) require more contortion to have a sense-making debate than simply going to a model of competing interpretations that is based on competition and net benefits much in the same way a counterplan debate occurs. If an interpretation is competitive and has a net benefit (obviously one can argue that some offensive planks are not competitive aka the original interp solves that abuse – and then argue that the marginal offense to the competing interp is outweighed) and is linked to a voter there is no need for it to be labeled in some particular fashion so long as the debater articulates its function and impact.