Value Debate: Why Not?


Article by Ty Joplin

When I first started debating in the national circuit, pre-standards were all the rage. I didn’t get much out of Texas, but in the Wild West of debate, they were ran furiously; often piled 10-high above the standard. Then came the wave of theory, and now we seem to be witnessing the rise of pre-fiat arguments. These argument-type trends climb up the ladder of layers, vying for that top spot where only one decisive point at that peek is needed to win the round. But as debaters make that climb to win at the top-most layer, it seems a peg of that ladder has gone overlooked; the value-debate peg.

Nobody ever debates the value; a value is slurred onto the case as a formality before zooming into the framework (“I valumralitydefinedasdues”). This negligence is a genuine puzzle; I have no idea why we’re overlooking a layer of the debate that comes prior to contention level, standards, and meta-ethics. There is so much potential for intelligent, technical strategy that goes untapped, and it seems like it is for no good reason. And for all the snarky comments some of us aim against the more traditional debate style, it seems the old-fashioned way at least got this layer right.


I am sure we were all taught values at some point. They are like a beacon of light for the case, and the standard is that mechanism to achieve the value’s end-goal. By all means technically, the value is the neck of the bottle, which if taken out, defeats the whole case minus a few lingering pieces that could be used as makeshift shanks (read: theoretical justifications for the standard maybe, skep triggers and so on). But overall, there are many new options for the flow debate if we began treating the value like a separate layer: a case could be de-linked from the resolution, that 3-minute meta-ethic could stand irrelevant if it’s justifying a standard that doesn’t link to a value, that value could be bad for the debate theoretically, it could have a faulty definition at which case we should defer to a different one, it could be that the value and standard are functionally identical, making the case have no mechanism to achieve its own prime goal. These are just a few of the types of arguments that would wake judges up from the incessant drones of all-theory rounds or rounds where judges have to vote for who totally-does-not-help that subjugated people the best.


Moreover, the value layer is much more debatable than we currently give it credit: justice and morality really aren’t the same things if you find enough cards that say so, and they aren’t the only values you can have.  If we opened up the possibility to debate the value more, we’ll inevitably see a flowering of creative values that could be compelling, interesting to hear, and strategic. In other words, the reason why the layer has been thus far ignored is not because of any fault of the layer itself, but because the national circuit so far just hasn’t given it enough thought. So why not take a few moments in every round to have a solid value, then argue against the opponent’s? What’s stopping people from reading a dump file on the aff value, or taking out a case with an under-developed value in 15 seconds? (I doubt many judges will buy an extension of “I valumralitydefinedasdues” through ink).


With the emergence of theory and pre-fiat as popular arguments, there really aren’t any more places to go higher. We’ve hit the top, but by all means we’ve missed some key areas thanks to our myopic bias towards anything upwards on the flow. But even so, the value debate is pretty high up there, so it’s astonishing that we’ve left it virtually untouched. The value layer may be that new, fun, and exciting layer we’ve been looking for all along.