Intro to K Strategy: The 2NR
It is virtually impossible to go to a national circuit tournament in 2017 and not hear words like “racialized assemblage”, or “semiocapitalism”. With the increased popularity of critical literature, it is important for debaters to be able to execute strategic 2NRs. The goal of this article is to provide a general structure for 2NR strategy. This article does not address how to answer specific 1AR indicts to Ks, nor does it address under what conditions you should collapse to the K. Instead, I propose a way to start thinking about how to give a strategic K 2NR.
A K 2NR should start with an overview. This overview should begin with a quick explanation of the thesis of the K. This is critical when reading a very dense K. You need to make sure the judge knows what you are actually arguing, amidst the postmodern jargon that’s probably floating around.
After the explanation, the main purpose of this overview is impact framing and analysis. Your goal is to win framing (to determine what impacts matter), and then to win that you access those impacts better than the affirmative (and the perm) does. It is important to not explain your impacts in a vacuum. Your impact analysis should be comparative to the affirmative’s impacts. One of the easiest ways to control impacts is to argue that your K turns and outweighs the affirmative’s case. Hijacking the affirmative’s internal links leaves them with less access to their impacts.
Take a security K, for example. If you are debating against an affirmative with an economic collapse advantage, you can argue why the K turns the advantage. The 2NR could say, “The K turns case. Extend the self-fulfilling prophecy argument – Securitization causes you to create the very impacts that you are trying to avoid. When you securitize the threat of economic collapse, you instill fear and anxiety in the population. People fear a depression, which can cause a run on the bank and ultimately a collapse. Worst case scenario is that you win that econ collapse outweighs all other impacts, and you can still vote neg because we hijack your internal link.”
This self-fulling prophecy argument argues that the affirmative’s impacts will be reproduced by the mindset that the K criticizes. This is an example of what I will call a K ‘bomb’. Ks bombs are arguments that assist in strategic impact framing and analysis, and can be devastating for the affirmative if dropped. All K bombs have to do with excluding or hijacking affirmative impacts. Remember, your goal is to access the most important impacts, and trying to exclude your opponent’s. K bombs help you do this by non-uniquing or turning the affirmative’s impacts.
Let’s use the security K for another example. Security Ks often make a value to life argument. It is blown up in the 2NR to take out the affirmative impacts, articulated something like this: “No value to life – the aff’s orientation forces us to constantly be thinking about how to preserve life, never actually living. We become ‘slaves’ to consciousness, which destroys any value in the life. This takes out the extinction scenario – if there is no value to life, then there is no reason to stop extinction.” Value to life is a K bomb because it is terminal defense to the aff’s impacts.
Some other K bombs to utilize and watch out for:
Root Cause – Root cause arguments argue that the affirmative’s impacts are actually caused by the structure that the K criticizes. This is seen in identity politics v. capitalism debates. Take an ableism affirmative, for example. A capitalism K would say something like, “Capitalism is the root cause of ableism, because the idea of productivity was constructed as a result of capitalism, so to be disabled is to be unable to produce.” The value of this argument is that it turns the affirmative’s impacts. If you win that capitalism is the root cause, you need to end capitalism before you can solve ableism.
Floating PIKs – Floating PIKs are advocacies that are usually pretty vague in the 1NC and then blow up to PICs in the 2NR. It is usually hinted at in the 1NC. Saying something like, “the alternative is a rejection of the affirmative’s securitization. This is not to say that the affirmative’s advocacy is necessarily wrong, but rather we must discuss the representations first” might indicate that the alternative doesn’t preclude the affirmative policy. Going for a floating PIK is strategic because it non-uniques most of the affirmative offense, because the alternative does almost the same thing as the affirmative.
Serial Policy Failure – Serial policy failure arguments claim that without doing the analysis of the K, policy making will inevitably fail and reproduce problems. This is common in security Ks, which have an error replication argument. These argue that securitization causes us to inflate threats, which causes results in policies that address the wrong issues in the wrong ways. Thus, the only way to access effective policy making is by doing the alternative first. This takes out the affirmative’s impacts because it argues that the affirmative’s policy will only reproduce the harms.
Epistemology – Epistemology is the study of knowledge, or how we know things. Epistemology arguments argue that the affirmative’s starting point, or how it claims to know things, is flawed. This argument is common in capitalism Ks. Capitalism Ks make the argument that capitalism influences our epistemology to make itself appear natural and inevitable. This argument is strategic because it precludes the affirmative’s impacts – it says that the affirmative’s impacts are epistemologically suspect.
Ontology – Ontology is the study of being. The most popular use of ontology arguments are in pessimism arguments, like Wilderson or Edelman. These claim that certain bodies (black or queer bodies) are ontologically dead in civil society. This means that the oppression of black bodies or queer bodies exists at the level of being and can’t be resolved within civil society. This is used to outweigh the affirmative impacts (ie “gratuitous violence, or violence that is never ending and at the level of ontology, outweighs contingent violence, or violence that can be resolved, because gratuitous violence provides the very paradigm that contingent violence is able to exist upon.”)
Quick tip! Using examples is one of the easiest ways to make your K seem material, and to explain what you are critiquing. These examples could be historical examples, or related to current events. For example, if you are arguing why capitalism will inevitably coopt identity politics, your example could be about how makeup companies use the rhetoric of female empowerment to advertise their products.
A short side-note on answering impact turns: Impacts turns are usually only relevant under a consequentialist framing (oftentimes, Ks presume a consequentialist framing). If you read a capitalism K with an impact of “capitalism causes poverty,” and your opponent reads an impact turn that says “capitalism is good – solves warming which outweighs poverty”, then it just becomes a util debate. It requires evidence and internal link comparison, and impact weighing. This is not unbeatable, and might be your preferred way of debating. But, this isn’t always the most strategic way to read your K. One way to avoid this is to write a K that is not just a string of util impacts. Having a normative syllogism that justifies why capitalism is bad is not susceptible to impact turns. It doesn’t matter if capitalism solves global warming if your K isn’t utilitarian.
At this point in the 2NR, you should have given yourself a solid amount of impact framing and analysis. Now it is time to figure out how you get access to that impact – ie winning a link to the affirmative.
Link analysis is not over with the 1NC. The 1AR has probably made some no link arguments, so the 2NR is where you have to sell the link to your judge. This is where specifics come in. You do not want to say “you use the law, that links you to the K”, but what their specific policy is and why it’s an example of the link. You should have already articulated your general thesis (ex. The law is racist…), and now you have to continue applying it to the aff.
To do this, explain the links as disadvantages. The link isn’t just what they did, but what the independent impact of that is. If you are reading an afropessimism K with a link of political hope, this extension could sound like, “Extend the link of political hope – the 1AC has a desire to make the world better through reform – this continual strive is what naturalizes and traps antiblackness into a continual cycle of psychological violence and despair which kills any chance of solvency and recreates violence”. Notice the difference between that and “Extend Wilderson – you use the state, which is racist.” Extending links as disadvantages forces you to explain why the aff specifically is bad, and it makes answering perms substantially easier.
Link analysis doesn’t have to stop with why the 1AC links to the K. Oftentimes, 1ARs relink themselves into the K. If the 1AR against afropessimism says “no link, we don’t affirm the state, we just place demands on the state” and then reads a card that says “the state is good and is the only chance to create positive change in the world”, you’ve got yourself another link into the K. To solidify the link even more, you could say something like, “on the off chance that you believe that they didn’t link to the K in the 1NC, the 1AR just linked themselves even harder which means there are even more links now.”
Extend the alternative and explain how it interacts with the affirmative. You should be emphasizing what the alternative actually looks like, and how it solves the impacts of the K. Giving historical examples of the alternative is an easy way to make it appear concrete. Explain how the alt shields the link (how it resolves or avoids the link), and why its competitive with the affirmative. This should put you in a good position to answer permutations.
Responding to permutations is a question of comparing worlds. Why is the world of the alternative better than the world of the permutation? The answer to this question lies in impact comparison and weighing the net benefits versus the disadvantages. Remember, you are trying to win that you get access to the relevant impacts better than the permutation does. Because of this, referring back to K bombs as framing on the perm can help you exclude net benefits.
Let’s use the example of alternative solves case. If you win that the alternative solves case, then that non-uniques most of their net benefits. You could say something like, “Framing issue on the perm debate – if I win that the alt solves case then that non-uniques all the net benefits to the perms, because they are all impacts of the affirmative – if the alt solves everything that the affirmative does, there is no risk of a net benefit, so you should not risk the chance of a disadvantages by voting on the perm.”
It is helpful to give an overview with two or three general disadvantages to the permutations, and an explanation as to why the perms can’t solve the impact. This is a safety net, in case you accidently mishandle one of the perms.
When answering each perm, make sure to say:
(a) Why the permutation doesn’t shield the link or links even harder. This is necessary for you to get access to the main disadvantages to the perm. If they win that the perm shields the link, then links are no longer disadvantages.
(b) Defense on the net benefit and why the disadvantages outweigh. If their net benefit is an argument about using the state as a heuristic, you need to have arguments about why that doesn’t matter, or is non-unique, or is bad, as well as why the disadvantages to using the state outweighs.
Getting comfortable at executing these 2NRs will not happen immediately. Like any other skill, it requires time and effort. Flowing rounds online and giving the 2NR is one of the best ways to practice going for the K in a variety of situations. Redoing your own rounds and having practice rounds are other ways to practice these skills.