Critical Problems: Going for the Kritik
By Grant Brown
There is a serious problem in the current way kritikal arguments are utilized in Lincoln-Douglas debate. I have judged fifty-nine debates this year, counting camp tournaments, and approximately five had a solid 2NR on the K. Debates involving the K are troubled by a lack of explanation, extension, nuance, ability to collapse, and even debating. For example, it has become common to only extend a K if it is functionally dropped, using it to take out theory or outweigh the case, with little explanation of warrants or content. Or, even worse, Ks are commonly extended entirely through ink, answering affirmative responses with mere repetition of link stories or taglines.
These are all troubling trends. Kritiks hold the capacity to deliver unto us some of the most intriguing debates that the activity has to offer, putting into dialogue authors that never would have communicated before, exploring the assumptions we commonly accept as fact, and expanding strategic avenues in a variety of ways. It could merely be that I expect too much from debaters, but I am skeptical of that defense. I have observed, and heard tell, of plenty of nuanced and technical debates regarding Kantian philosophy, the semantics and minutia of a theoretical rule, and the details of policy proposals. It seems reasonable that this standard, which is regularly met in other styles, be applied to kritikal debates as well.
Therefore, my hope here is not to write another article that casts doom on the activity, gives debaters another source of meta-critique cards, or even tells individuals what style of debate is preferable. I merely want to offer some suggestions as someone who has had a decent amount of experience, and success, with kritikal arguments in Lincoln-Douglas debate. Therefore, in this article I will sketch out some strategic notes, potential modifications, and tips-and-tricks to better execute a kritik, get higher speaks, and bring home a few more wins.
Before the Tournament/Round
This first set of recommendations pertain to preparation before the tournament and before rounds.
- Write Extensions.
Yes, even if you are well-read and great at explaining your argument. This simple, yet crucial, tip is either ignored or executed poorly by a great many debaters. Writing extensions has a plethora of benefits, especially in dense and confusing kritik debates.
Primarily, it allows a succinct and coherent explanation of your content and implications. Even if you’re great on your feet, and especially if you’re not, why not transfer your explanations into a refined, polished, and easy to deliver package to save yourself some stress? This thwarts the all too common rambling 2NR that wastes three minutes explaining things. Furthermore, this gives you much more time to clean up the rest of the debate, utilizing core arguments that you’ve already developed to quickly deal with 1AR responses. Thinking of your 2NR as a minute or two of quick and mastered extensions and then five minutes of argumentation is truly empowering and is a force to be reckoned with. Additionally, you never have to worry about little issues such as “Did I extend the alternative and/or the role of the ballot?” or “Did I make that implication that I always go for?” By virtue of your extensions, you can rest assured you did.
However, not all extensions are made alike, and the above benefits are a bit idealized. If your extensions are too long or poorly written, you’ve wasted your time. Ensure that you are pulling out particular warrants from cards, explaining them in depth, and with examples. Dropping a few buzzwords that only make sense to you and Gilles Deleuze might be sufficient if the judge is going to study your extensions like a scholar, but is entirely insufficient for the pragmatic purposes of a debate round. Additionally, explain the implications of your arguments in the extensions. How does it turn the case? How does it prove a solvency deficit? Those additions can easily take your extensions from good to great.
As a final note, to be clear, I’m not proposing that every argument be made in a generic extension. You should ensure that you are doing comparative work in regards to the specific affirmative at hand. I always, to have the best of both worlds, edited by extensions before important rounds, or in case negatives, to apply to the affirmative.
- Read the Affirmative – With Depth!
All of this advice also goes for cutting case negatives to common strategies.
If you’ve receiving pairings and have an idea of what the affirmative is going to be, you should carefully read through taglines, and if available, cards. This gives you a leg up by being able to contextualize your link stories, alternatives, and general strategy around the specificity of a particular affirmative. That’s pretty common and well-utilized advice, but what many do not do is go the extra mile. While reading through cards and tags, isolate quotes that exemplify the issues you want to raise with the affirmative. This can help reduce the vagueness of your link story, in both the 1NC and the 2NR, and enables a strong defense against no-links while giving a judge a clear and concrete point of contestation. It is particularly strategy to bring these quotations up in cross-examination, to begin laying out the issues you’ll make important as early as possible.
- Cut more cards.
This one is very obvious, but never taken serious. I have seen dozens of students, myself included at points, go through tournaments reading the same exact link card against every affirmative. If you’re the affirmative this should have you jumping for joy! There’s simply no way that a link card is specific enough to every affirmative on the topic to be an ace-in-the-hole. While this might get you through prelims, I can assure you that it won’t cut it in elimination rounds. There people have their coaches running at full speed, their eyes peeled, and are usually better debaters than the ones you’ve faced before.
The solution to this problem is simple: cut more cards. If you’re reading books and articles before the tournament, and come across something that explains a contestation between your kritik and another theory, cut it. Even if it’s not the particular link you’re looking for. This habit allows you to develop immense files with tons of diverse links. Plus, while it might seem narrow at the time, you’d be surprised at how generalizable those types of finds can become. Additionally, if you have a night before an elim or an hour/flight before a round, go find a card specific to the affirmative! I can recall cutting around twenty link cards from the Invisible Committee as I read one of their books. One was particularly strange and about the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness project and how it exemplified late capitalism. A year or two later, someone read an equally strange argument about zombies and I had a specific card and strategy ready to go. I also recall having a panel that I was a bit unsure swaying with my usual generic links. I had a flight before the round and I dedicated the hour to cutting a more specific link for the kritik I knew I wanted to read; I won on a 3-0, greatly aided by the specificity of that link card.
Recommendations – In Round
The second set of recommendations pertain to in round, speech based strategy.
- Read Less, Argue More.
There are two tendencies that I am attempting to isolate in this portion:
The first is reading multiple off-cases. You should, if you believe that you have a good strategy and can sufficient win a link, feel comfortable going 1-off. This is a truly dying art that I cannot immediately recall judging this year. Only reading one position allows a much more developed 1NC in which you can engage in comparison, narrow the debate, and set up a positional strategy early on. Much of this is lost when reading a K with a DA, Theory, another K, or a CP. You are left having to be vague in your responses, or merely falling onto generics, because you’re not sure what the 2NR will contain. This is ruinous to a potentially fantastic strategy by not allowing yourself the commitment that it may deserve.
The second is reading too many cards on the K. It has become common, perhaps to mimic policy debaters, to shotgun every card in the toolbox into the 1NC. This is lazy and unstrategic. Unlike policy, where this strategy is viable, LD does not have the sufficient speeches to parse down links and develop the debate more. You end up spreading yourself too thin, undercover the case, and having a less strategic strategy. You should pick out a few (one to two) links, an impact, an alternative, and, if necessary, a role of the ballot, and then call it a day. It is always better to have more time to read case defense or turns, answer framework, and do more comparison to give the 1AR less options.
This is good advice in general. You should never go for more than one position in the 2NR, be it a K, theory, or a CP. However it is also important advice on a smaller scale, in the context of a kritik. Ks can be complicated, they can have a lot of nuance from many different links, to a plethora of impact stories, to a multi-faceted alternative. The key to giving a great speech is being confident in your ability to pick out which of those are truly necessary and strategic. It is a common mistake to extend three links in a very lackluster way, which gives the 2AR a lot of leeway on extending the arguments you inevitably answer poorly. You should instead extend a singular link and spend a lot of time doing comparison, weighing, and nuanced explanation. Additionally, you don’t need to explain the entirety of the theory behind your super broad alternative, be it based in assemblage theory, psychoanalysis, or Marxism. Explain the general backing and then pick which components are most important. This adds clarity, avoids unnecessary complications and confusions, and gives you a stronger basis for a 2NR.
It seems that many K debaters are completely immune to this advice. They will read the same argument, and explain it in the same way, regardless of who is in the back of the room. I implore you, if you want to get better and have less head-scratching decisions, to adapt. This is especially necessary in the age of LD where so many students are reading complicated critical theory. It makes no sense, whatsoever, no matter how cool you think might sound, to explain Derrida as if there is a literary scholar from France in the back of the room when in reality it is a person who only coaches and has familiarity with plan-based LARP debate. Explain in context, if your judge is very familiar with Fanon, and you’re reading Deleuze, find points of similarity and draw upon those to guide understanding. The same goes for any variety of situations. I remember, on multiple occasions, successfully winning lay judges on Baudrillard merely because of my willingness to adapt, change the verbiage, and explain.
The kritik is a terrifying beast. It is a lot like an old blunderbuss. If loaded, prepared, and fired properly your opponent will be leaving the battlefield looking like swiss cheese. However, if it is not, they will merely beat you over the head with the steel firearm and send you calling for a medic. These tips, I hope, provide you some tools to go from hospital bed to war hero. Or, in less metaphorical terms, from losing and being laughed out of the room, to winning and being considered a serious opponent.
GRANT BROWN, LD EDITOR, NSD UPDATE STAFF WRITER
Swarthmore College ’21
Grant Brown debated for Millard North in Omaha, Nebraska. As a debater he accumulated twelve career bids, reaching elimination rounds at Dowling, Iowa Caucus, Valley, Harvard, Glenbrooks, Apple Valley, and Blake. He qualified thrice to the Tournament of Champions, clearing twice, reaching semifinals his senior year, he likewise cleared to elimination rounds twice at the NSDA National Tournament. Grant is currently an Assistant Coach at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida, his students have closed out Valley, championed Bronx, and reached late elimination rounds of Yale and the Valley RR, acquiring a total of 10 bids so far this year. He is currently pursuing degrees in Religion and Philosophy at Swarthmore College.