Structural Abuse, Substantive Advantages Part 2 of 3 by Salim Damerdji

In Structural Abuse, Substantive Advantages Part 2, Salim takes his argument into direct clash with Overing’s. 

3.1 Recap

Legitimate theory indicts abuse, not strategy. This raises the question: what’s the difference?

The Burdens View claims that structural abuse – that is, real abuse – consists in establishing more winning conditions for yourself than for your opponent. In part one, I argued that The Burdens View fails for two reasons: it lacks a principled justification, and it deflates its own way of distinguishing abuse from strategy.

So much for The Burdens View. In part three we will see if we can revive the view with some modifications. But for now, our attention turns to Overing’s view[i]. Structural abuse gives one side “an arbitrary advantage” and so prevents an “impartial decision about who is more skilled”[ii]. In contrast, substantive advantages flow from debate skill and, consequently, matter to an impartial evaluation of skill. To delineate between arbitrary advantages and advantages that express debate skill, Overing must tease out which skills inherent to the notion of “good debating.” In short, structural abuse occurs when one debater gains an advantage “from a tactic that does not reflect an intrinsic debate skill.”[iii]

3.2 Contingent and Intrinsic Skills

So, what is “good debating”? Marshall Thompson offers some vocabulary. Contingent skills “help win rounds given the way debate is played.” Intrinsic skills are skills that “debate should be set up to reward.” In the status quo, debate activities reward debaters with deep voices. But in an ideal world of debate, this would not be rewarded. Thus, talking in a deep voice is a contingent skill, not an intrinsic skill[iv]. Overing concludes that “an unfair advantage is gained from a tactic that does not reflect an intrinsic debate skill.”

There are two proposed tests that help flesh out what skills are intrinsic to the idea of “good debating.”

Thompson’s test is this: [v] we should ask if “someone who has mastered every debate skill but the one in question could be said to have perfected debate.”

Overing’s test is this: [vi] we should ask if the skill is found across debate events because “if it’s a good tactic everywhere there’s debating, then it just seems like good debating.”

Thompson’s test seems overly demanding for his own purposes. Perfect debating, to my mind, requires a great deal of contingent skills[vii]; perfect debaters should be prepared to win in suboptimal settings, i.e. with judges with quirky preferences or in circuits with questionable norms. Thus, the number of contingent skills encapsulated under the banner of “intrinsic skill” are too extensive to exclude any common practice.

(It is interesting to note that Thompson’s arguments against spikes seems far less plausible when the reader mentally translates ‘good debating’ as ‘good LD debating.’ Perhaps perfection at ‘good debating’ does not require you to flow a dozen blippy spikes. But surely perfection at ‘good LD debating’ does encompass flowing blippy spikes. After all, perfection is a high bar. The take-away is the same as before: in the context of LD, perfecting debate requires a great deal of merely contingent skills that may not be required in an ideal debate format.)

Perhaps Thompson would try to side-step this concern by saying that we should determine which skills are key to debate mastery in an ideal, not sub-optimal, world of debate. If so, then he cannot maintain his test as formulated since his test is about “perfect debating,” period. If he merely meant “perfect debating in an ideal world of debate,” then his test does not convey much information: I am not sure what an ideal world of debate looks like, let alone what perfection entails in that world.

The point of this whole project, as I understand it, is to bypass traditional theory debates. Typically, debaters argue “this practice is not fair or educational, so it does not constitute ‘good debating.’” But here the aim is to argue “this practice does not test ‘good debating’ at all, so it can’t be fair or educational.” The problem for Thompson is that his test will not succeed without some notion of a perfect world of debate that is presumably informed by fairness and education considerations[viii].

Overing’s test avoids those challenges. He can bypass traditional theory considerations because his test does not ask about what happens in an ideal world of LD[ix]. You could say his test is more modest in this way. Yet, it has its own shortcomings as well. There are only a handful of competitive events with insular communities that we can compare to LD, so our data set is somewhat limited. While Overing sees the prevalence of a practice across events as evidence of shared wisdom, others may see it as evidence that progressive coaches in one activity (policy) port their norms into other activities (LD or Parli).

Moreover, it seems like Overing’s test still has the difficulty of distinguishing between contingent skills and intrinsic skills when we try to identify the intrinsic skills tested in other activities. For instance, consider the deep voice example from at the start of this section. Many activities reward deep voices. Per Overing’s test, talking in a deep voice is a skill required by “good debating.” This seems far off the mark. We yield similar results when we consider practices like “cheating when we know we can get away with it” or “presenting bad evidence in a misleadingly favorable light.”

Let’s move on to more general problems with this project.

First, it seems absurd to think benefits from contingent debate skills are unfair. To take Marshall’s case about flowing, his argument justifies that being exceptionally good at flowing is, in fact, unfair because you’ll accrue benefits unrelated to “good debating.” If you cleverly circle voting issues on the flow and, in turn, give a crystal-clear overview, you have abused your opponent.

Second, it is worth recalling Chris Kymn’s In-Round View:[x]

“The ballot is a question of who did the better debating within a given round… In any competitive activity, no match is ever meant to determine that one team is always better than another (if such a concept is possible). The in-round constraint also explains the concepts of “upsets” that inevitably occur in sports or debate rounds”

This applies here too because Overing seems committed to saying that it is unfair to get an advantage in-round from a sub-optimal skill. Perhaps reading four theory shells is not “good debating,” but unbeknownst to Tom it’s the best way of answering Tom’s opponent since they haven’t practiced answering four shells before. Here, a contingent skill – knowing how to answer four shells – determines who wins. Yet, Overing’s model curiously claims this is abusive.

Third, every seemingly unfair position is evidence of an intrinsic skill: strategy. Writing a position that is harder to beat is evidence of a skill that should be rewarded. If structural abuse corresponds to practices that are not evidence of an intrinsic skill, then structural abuse does not exist; every practice is, at least, evidence of some degree of strategy[xi].

Fourth, the concept of “good debating” is an inherently fuzzy one. It might sound agreeable to everyone to stop bad debating, but what this means is less clear. We could develop a dozen more tests like Overing’s and I doubt we would have a different understanding of what constitutes “good debating.” There may be obvious cases of practices that don’t test good debating – like chucking your opponent’s laptop out the window – but we don’t need any tests to know that. Though the concept of “good debating” can do work for us when it comes to noncontroversial, extreme cases, I’m skeptical the notion can do much work for controversial cases like disclosure.

3.3 Moral Decency versus Debater Decency

I suggested just now that the concept of “good debating” is clear enough to exclude extreme practices like chucking your opponent’s laptop out the window. We can also appeal to basic moral decency to exclude these sorts of practices.

There are many basic moral norms that every participant agrees to. For instance, debaters don’t put viruses onto their opponent’s computer or rip up their opponent’s flow or chuck their opponent’s laptop out of the window. These norms reflect basic levels of moral decency; no one has to theorize about the nature of morality or about the nature of debate to know that you shouldn’t do those things. I think it is easy to justify punishing debaters who violate these norms.

First, I’ve argued before that even though the rules of LD are non-optional from an internal perspective, extreme cases of unethical action can justify leaving that internal perspective[xii]. In other words, if you see someone’s laptop sail through the window, you have strong enough reason to stop playing the game of LD and instead punish the troubled teen who did that.

Second, basic moral decency is non-optional for typical human beings. It unfair that only sociopaths could benefit from ripping up their opponent’s flow. Other people have a conscience.

We can punish violations of basic moral norms even when the violation happened before the round. So, if someone hacks their opponent’s Dropbox before the round, a judge aware of the situation should stop the round and not evaluate the line-by-line. I bring this example up because it’s the most compelling example Overing gives for why we should punish pre-round events that affect evaluations of in-round debate skill. I’m suggesting we can draw a different conclusion: we should punish these pre-round events not because they affect evaluations of in-round debate skill, but because they violate norms of basic moral decency.

To justify his view, Overing gives an example about PEDs being excluded from sports because they distort evaluations of intrinsic skill in their respective sports. This glosses over something important. In sports where using PEDs is considered cheating, those sports ban PEDs and test for them. But in Mr Olympia, the international bodybuilding competition, there is no drug testing and everyone takes steroids because it’s the only way they can compete on an equal playing field[xiii]. No one would say Arnold Schwarzenegger, the face of bodybuilding, was a cheater. Point being, pre-round events only constitute cheating when those events violate agreed upon rules of the activity. For LD, that would mean something like tournament rules saying what practices are and are not allowed. For the Greenhill tournament, that means mandatory disclosure. For every other tournament in the country, that does not mean mandatory disclosure.

The up-shot of this is that I can offer a better account than Bob for why it both seems unfair for someone to have a bunch of coaches and why this is not unfair in the sense relevant to justify a ballot story. But first, let’s motivate why this case is a problem for Overing at all. ‘Good debating’ does not seem to encompass parroting back arguments that a coach wrote before the round. It seems unfair that Debater A has three coaches help her before the round, whereas Debater B has no coach. In reply, Overing claims that coaches gather evidence, and reading good evidence tests your opponent’s ability to answer them. But by his own metric, it is not enough to test your opponent’s intrinsic skills; “an unfair advantage is gained from a tactic that does not reflect an intrinsic debate skill” (emphasis added)[xiv]. Put differently, hiring a coach must reflect an intrinsic debate skill – and that notion is preposterous.

I share Kymn’s intuition that it is unfair to be the lonewolf prepping against a big school debater with a huge coaching staff. (I would hope most people agree.) But it still is not the sort of unfairness relevant to a fairness voter. The coaching staff is evidence that your opponent came to be the better debater through unfair means, not that unfairness skews the judge’s evaluation of who ends up doing the better debating. This point generalizes. To quote Kymn:

“the theory shell is a qualifier on the judgment that the opponent came into the round a good debater. But if we accept the innocuous premise that the ballot is about debating in a given round, such a qualifier is irrelevant to the determination of the ballot.”[xv]

And so it is with disclosure. The non-disclosing debater will, all else equal, enter the round as the better debater because their arguments will be harder to answer. Perhaps they gained this advantage through an unfair means, but this is not relevant to the judge’s evaluation of who does the better debating in the round.

In summary, there are two types of pre-round actions we can punish in LD: those that violate tournament rules, and those that violate basic notions of moral decency. All other pre-round events are fair game. Non-disclosure, like having a huge coaching staff, is just one of many ways a debater can acquire an advantage and thereby enter the round as a better debater than they otherwise would have.

3.4 Wrap-up

In all, I’ve identified unique problems associated with Thompson’s test and Overing’s test for delineating intrinsic skills from contingent skills. But no matter which test you can devise, there are five more general problems with the project Overing is trying to pursue:

1) There are cases where it seems perfectly fine to benefit from a contingent debate skill.

2) The model makes it abusive to get an advantage from sub-optimal strategies.

3) No practice is structural abuse since practices always express some level of skill.

4) The notion of ‘good debating’ is too fuzzy to be helpful with grey area cases, which is every interesting case.

5) With few exceptions, ‘good debating’ does not necessitate pre-round events like disclosure to transpire.

Stay tuned for part three where I’ll go into discussion for alternative ways of combatting frivolous theory.

[i] I said before that I would discuss why disclosure does not test or express intrinsic debate skills. But Rahul Gosain’s recent article does a better job at that than I could have done. http://www.vbriefly.com/2017/01/22/intrinsic-skills-and-non-disclosure-a-reply-to-bob-by-rahul-gosain

[ii] http://premierdebatetoday.com/2015/01/14/substantivestructural-fairness-by-bob-overing-and-john-scoggin/

[iii] http://premierdebatetoday.com/2016/12/29/holiday-disclosure-post-1/

[iv] There may be a point where a debater’s voice does, in fact, affect their ability to be the better debater. If your voice is as high-pitched as a dog whistle, surely the fact that your arguments are incomprehensible means you are far from a perfect debater.

[v] http://premierdebatetoday.com/2016/03/15/on-spikes-and-bob-with-a-hint-of-norse-gods-marshall-thompson/

[vi] From the comment section. http://premierdebatetoday.com/2016/03/15/on-spikes-and-bob-with-a-hint-of-norse-gods-marshall-thompson/

[vii] Needless to say, flowing well is probably part of being a perfect debater.

[viii] To be sure, Thompson’s arguments against spikes could still stand even if this specific way of hashing out “good debating” fails. I do not wish to engage the debate over spikes; I’m more interested in Overing’s use of this test to show what constitutes structural abuse.

[ix] Notably, Thompson is quite clear that intrinsic skills are skills that should be rewarded in an ideal world of debate. Overing, by contrast, says “perhaps in an ideal world of LD debate” (emphasis added). I think this suggests that Overing anticipated the sort of objection that I’ve levied against Thompson’s view

[x] http://nsdupdate.com/2015/10/29/slaying-the-dragon-an-argument-against-out-of-round-theory-by-chris-kymn/

[xi] Chris Kymn suggested this argument to me. As he mentioned, it’s similar to the argument Emily Massey makes here: http://nsdupdate.com/2013/11/11/head-to-head-theoretically-justified-frameworks/#comment-1120577454

[xii] http://nsdupdate.com/2016/09/21/head-2-head-is-the-judge-an-educator/

[xiii] Perhaps this isn’t an ideal example. Mr Olympia does technically ban steroids, but it’s only to deflect legal responsibility. No one thinks the ban is meant to be obeyed; they agree to not have testing.

[xiv] http://premierdebatetoday.com/2016/12/29/holiday-disclosure-post-1/

[xv] http://nsdupdate.com/2015/10/29/slaying-the-dragon-an-argument-against-out-of-round-theory-by-chris-kymn/

  • marshall thompson

    I had forgotten to follow up with the other three arguments against my position, sorry about that.
    Anyway, here are my thoughts:
    re second argument about in-round skill/
    My position is not that it is unfair to gain an advantage from a contingent skill (you are right to point out that that would be absurd), my point is that it is that we should construct debate norms to make sure that rounds are determined by intrinsic skills as often as possible. Looking at the flowing example in the previous thread may help clarify this (its not like its unfair to use your contingent skill of flowing, its just that debate should not be set up to reward contingent skills that much). If thats true, then one of the virtues of my account is that it better explains how a debater can win ‘in-round’ without even debating the best in an intrinsic since (because the judge makes a decision based on the norms established in round, even if those are non-ideal).
    Now, its also worth noting that I don’t think the example is of a contingent skill. The reasons a debater would be bad at answering four shells is either because they are inefficient, bad at grouping, poor time trade off, or bad at arguing about the norms and rules of debate. All of those indicate a failure of intrinsic skill (I don’t see some special skill at play in this context). And that might also explain why intuitions don’t seem to side well with my account on this issue (because i think they do with clearly contingent skills like circling things on the flow).

    re third argument about strategy/
    This was one of the arguments Bob made against the view. And I think it just involves failure to make an important distinction:
    “Yes, case construction is an intrinsic skill, BUT, use of spikes in case construction is a contingent skill that begs the question of whether spikes are part of a good debate case (intrinsically speaking). Strategic thinking is an intrinsic skill, but strategic use of spikes is a contingent skill based on if spike based strategies are a good debate strategy (intrinsically speaking). ”

    re fourth argument about fuzziness/
    The concept is surely fuzzy. Though I think most of the correct concepts within almost all normative domains are fuzzy. Sure, clarity might be an advantage to some views, but I think it is unlikely to be a mark of true views. One way to illustrate this is to remember that the mark of a good analysis is not that its clear in every case, but that the analysis captures clearly the clear cases, and fuzzily the fuzzy cases (that is the mark of an analysis that is correctly tracking the real issue). That does not mean that the analysis is not helpful, because by clarifying the analysis it allows arguments to be tracking the real distinction which is extremely helpful in advancing arguments about these issues.

  • So Blade

    Salim, I really have trouble understanding why this would be a good test for determining sub v. structural abuse. I should read more about Bob v. Marshall’s tests for determining structural abuse, so you may find that my comment is more critique without alternative, a claim you would probably be correct in making. (Though I’m sure I could make my position and stance more clear after your second article is published, who knows).

    I will start with what I find to be the most obvious problem with this view: the limits standard and non-topical aff’s. And by “non-topical” I don’t even mean an aff that doesn’t meet a topicality argument, but i mean an aff that legit refuses to use an actor to pass the resolution (whether generally or a plan) in their 1AC. The aff hasn’t “created more win conditions than their opponent.” They may read a plan text that is entirely unrelated to the resolution, they still allow for K links and turns and framework. None of that is effected and thus the burdens view (I will call it BV) wouldn’t consider this to be bad. Now maybe I misinterpret the phrase “more win conditions” since the term “conditions” seems a bit vague here, so I am open for you to clarify.

    But I don’t really think I have. The articulation made as to why BV would condemn non-topical aff’s was something like: “If the aff’s topicality interpretation permits truism affs that no reasonable person would find debatable, this is evidence that the aff’s topicality interpretation is not what the resolution meant.” This seems problematic for a laundry list of reasons: it begs the question of a “truism/debateable,” assumes there is a counter-interp, and relies on a ‘framer’s choice’ argument of the way the resolution should be debated. Let’s go one by one.

    Truism/Debateable
    The claim of having an interp that “permits truism affs that no reasonable person would find debatable” seems to have some grounding in a question of quality ground, which you later indict as not being a concern of structural fairness. Second, it ignores that an aff can be blatantly non-topical but also still be very debateable. For instance I hit an aff in a college policy round that didn’t defend a policy passed by the USFG to mitigate climate change. (That is the topic.) The 2AC’s counter interp was: “he topic is the subject of the discussion, but it doesn’t control the discussion. ‘Affirmative’ means the team that speaks first and last, not the team that advocates ‘for the topic.’ We are a discussion of the topic even if we don’t advocate a topical policy.” So, while the AC briefly discussed climate change, their advocacy in the 1AC was: “THUS, Isabella and I affirm Maroonage as a method of destabilizing the static notion of space and time and the mythology of democracy.”
    Now my team has a decent amount of prep to “Maroonage” as a method. We read a K with a direct link and of course, Topicality. There is plenty of lit that talks about why maroonage is bad. The point I’m making, using this anecdote is that, their counter-interp is not a truism. Not by a long shot. It’s very debatable and so if their aff advocacy, yet despite this, I’m confident that you would still consider an aff like this to be abusive despite the fact that BV wouldn’t call it abusive. If you think this is an irrelevant anecdote because it’s college policy, I don’t see why. I hit multiple non-topical aff’s during my LD career and many of them had contrived counter-interps like the one presented here.
    I will use another example. Take HW’s infamous IPV aff from 2015-16, topicality was run against it nearly every round. Their counter-interp was (based on what they read aganist us): “The AFF may ban handguns for stalking crimes and IPV dating violence offenders if they have a qualified solvency advocate in the lit.” Now I don’t know about you or anyone else, but saying “no” to banning handguns for offenders of stalking and IPV violence just seems like a “no duh” kind of policy. Maybe I am mistaken, but I think a “reasonable person” would consider such a policy to be rather true.

    The question of counter-interps.
    This is a much shorter point. But during my LD career a lot of those non-topical aff’s I hit didn’t even read a counter-interp in the 1ar, they just impact turned fairness. That is another reason why appealing to the “truism of the counter-interp” is a bad option, since a counter-interp may not even exist. Moreover, if the aff wins reasonability, then we would give a lot less weight to the question of the counter-interp entirely. (Though this does depend on your understanding of reasonability).

    Framer’s Choice and what the resolution means.
    When you say the phrase: “…the aff’s topicality interpretation is not what the resolution meant.” The obvious question is…who knows what the resolution ‘meant.’ This is totally unverifiable. We’d have to ask the NFL panel what they meant when creating the resolution, something that has never been done before. It also seems to beg the question of why the purpose of the resolution matters in the first place. I will use the living wage topic as an example, since that was the last time I remember ‘framer’s intent’ being commonly used. For instance, if NFL did come out and say “oh we meant living wage as in a minimum wage for firms contracting with municipal governments” because everyone was running living wage as a generic raise in minimum wage, why should we care what the NFL said on the matter? Particularly when the latter option (defining Living wage as minimum wage) provides more topic lit, ground, and is more predictable. Take grammar and semantics out of the equation, just assume the resolution of the topic semantically supported defining living wage as minimum. So the only reason we would define the living wage as a firms doing work with municipal governments was because the NFL said that’s what they meant. Does that matter? And if it does, does it matter enough to outweigh all the other benefits of using the definition as minimum wage?

  • marshall thompson

    So, I think you misunderstand the position that I tried to advance last year. Now, this might be because you are not trying to address my argument, but instead the way Bob adapted my arguments (I have not put much thought into if those are correct or incorrect uses), but on the off chance that was not your intent I want to try and clarify my thoughts on this issue.
    First, I never was trying to suggest that the illustration about debate mastery was intended to be a ‘test’ of intrinsic vs instrumental skill. Instead it was merely intended to be a nice illustration of why a world where we do not allow 2nr responses to spikes means we do not assess ‘good debating’ as well as a we do in a world which does allow 2nr responses. I still find it a compelling illustration.
    There is a far more fundamental reason why the illustration cannot be used as a test:
    The illustration of a perfect debater cannot be used as a test of good debating for the same reason that the illustration of a perfectly virtuous agent cannot be used as a test of right action. Suppose I’m trying to decide if I should ask a wise older person for moral advice. The perfectly virtuous agent would not have to ask for advice, but I do. Therefore, the right action in this context is something other than what the perfectly virtuous agent would do (because part of right decision making is accounting for my own imperfections). Similarly, you cannot use mastery of debate as a test for debate skills, because one of the important skills in debate is finding ways to overcome your own weaknesses (for example, if I’m better at philosophy than util debate good debating may require me to find a way to keep the debate on the framework level, however this is not a skill that a ‘perfect’ debater would need).
    Now, you then make two points about the inadequacy of my tests. First you claim that ‘good debating’ is too expansive because the ability to respond to non-ideal contingency is an important skill and second that ‘good LD debating’ would include content not included in ‘good debating’ which would undermine my objection to spikes.
    This leads me to think that you don’t understand the structure of my argument. It is in response to precisely issues of this sort that lead me to introduce the ‘intrinsic’ vs. ‘instrumental’ distinction. Obviously, in LD as it is currently practiced being able to respond to spikes is an important skill to debate well. I repeatedly acknowledge this much. I teach my debaters how to respond to spikes and I think that they are better at LD to the extent that they are able to do so.
    However, there is a difference between the question of who did the better debating within a round under a certain set of conditions, and the question of what conditions best facilitate good debating. These are two different concepts. And unless we can differentiate these concepts it will seem impossible to have discussions about things like ‘paradigms.’ I can say my judging paradigm is better than Bob’s because it better tests better debating. But if I can say that, then I CANNOT mean the former concept (because part of that definition of good debating is adapting to Bob’s paradigm).
    If this distinction is right, then ‘good debating’ is to expansive if you mean the former notion of ‘good debating’ but not if you mean the latter. Second, ‘good LD debating’ does include all the present contingents that go into LD debate. But that is not helpful if we are trying to answer the question ‘how should we change LD debate’ which is why we do not appeal to ‘good LD debating’ to answer that question.
    Thus, the problem with your understanding of my account (and possible with Bob’s understanding of my account) is that you are trying to use the ‘test’ to illustrate the concept of ‘intrinsic’ vs. ‘instrumental’ skills. But as was clear in my article, the conceptual order is the opposite, we use that distinction to clarify the concept of ‘good debate’ that we appeal to when talking about changing debate (when we talk about paradigms, theory debates or tournaments requiring things like disclosure).
    Now, if I have succeeded in making the proceding machinery clear, we can now explain how I would respond to the following objection:
    “To take Marshall’s case about flowing, his argument justifies that being exceptionally good at flowing is, in fact, unfair because you’ll accrue benefits unrelated to ‘good debating.’ If you cleverly circle voting issues on the flow and, in turn, give a crystal-clear overview, you have abused your opponent.”
    It should be clear that this is not what my position implies. Being able to give good overviews is an intrinsic part of good debating, and if circling your flow helps you give good overviews (without trading off with important intrinsic debate skills) then there is no problem with it. After all good debaters use the opportunities they are given to better organize their own thoughts. However, let’s say there was a way we could change debate which would allow debaters to make just as good overviews, but which equalized the skills created by circling (say currently debaters are not allowed to bring stamps of circles into the round and we are deciding if we should change the rules to allow it) then my position says you should make that change. It is a contingent fact that good overviews require being able to draw circles, if we can make it so that contingent part of good debating goes away but we still allow debaters to get just as good at making overview then my view says that is a change for the better.
    I hope that clarification is enough to explain why my position does not seem to have the problems you are suggesting. Let me know if you disagree because it may be that I am misreading your objections (given that you frame them as answers to Bob rather than me directly).

    • Salim Damerdji

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Marshall. As suggested in endnote viii and in the title, my article is targeted at how Overing uses your view. I agree with you that it’s somewhat of an open question whether Overing’s adaptation of your view is true to the spirit of your view.
      That said, I happen to agree with Overing that you proposed debate mastery as a test for intrinsic skills. Bear in mind that Overing explicitly says neither his test nor yours is meant to be a necessary or sufficient condition for intrinsic skills. Rather, passing the test is just some evidence that a skill is intrinsic to ‘good debating.’ That’s surely how you used the debate mastery argument in your Norse Gods article. Of course, I agree with you that there are problems with using debate mastery as a test for intrinsic skills; I argue this in the above article.
      Curiously, the rest of your comment abandons defending the debate mastery test. But obviously, my gripes with the debate mastery test won’t address the larger project you’re after. It’s for this reason that you’re being uncharitable when you suggest my attacks on the debate mastery test misunderstand your larger project: my attacks on the debate mastery test were not meant to be attacks on your larger project! The four arguments labeled as ‘more general problems with the project’ do that.
      You answered the first of the four more general problems. I’ll quote the problem again:
      “First, it seems absurd to think benefits from contingent debate skills are unfair. To take Marshall’s case about flowing, his argument justifies that being exceptionally good at flowing is, in fact, unfair because you’ll accrue benefits unrelated to ‘good debating.’ If you cleverly circle voting issues on the flow and, in turn, give a crystal-clear overview, you have abused your opponent.”
      Your reply seems a bit unclear. First you say that ‘there is no problem’ with having a contingent skill (good flowing) help you with an intrinsic skill (giving good overviews). But then you backtrack and say it would be preferable, if possible, to prevent flowing from helping with giving good overviews. So, which is it? Is there no problem? Or should we try to fix a problem?
      I assume the latter. But if that’s the case, the reductio still goes through. Most people won’t agree with you that it’s an unfortunate and regrettable state that debaters should benefit from exceptionally good flowing.

      • marshall thompson

        I don’t see why you would think the ‘debate mastery’ illustration is intended to be a test of ‘intrinsic’ vs. ‘instrumental.’ I don’t even introduce the intrinsic/instrumental distinction until several paragraphs after I give the debate mastery illustration. ‘Debate mastery’ was intended to illustrate our intuitions about ‘good debate.’ But then I note that our concept of good debate is ambiguous (even as captured by the illustration) and requires disambiguation by appeal to intrinsic/instrumental skill distinction. Perhaps the dialectic of my article was unclear.
        The interpretive question though is less interesting than the substantive question about the adequacy of my project.
        I did not intend to imply that it would be preferable ‘to prevent flowing from helping with giving good overviews.’ What I was trying to explain is that it would be preferable if we could ensure that flowing was not NECESSARY to help give good overviews.
        And this is surely intuitive. You say ” Most people won’t agree with you that it’s an unfortunate and regrettable state that debaters should benefit from exceptionally good flowing.” But I think people will agree with me. Suppose there was an easy way to help debaters who could not flow well debate better (i.e. let people flow on laptops, allow them to bring stamps into rounds to help them circle things even though they cannot draw circles, encouraging a norm to flash speech docs etc.). To illustrate the intuition, suppose this does not trade off with any other ‘intrinsic debate skills.’ Now suppose currently there is a learning disabled debater who is brilliant and creative but cannot keep track of rounds on the flow. And at tournaments with these changes this debater consistently reaches late elims and at tournaments that do not allow these changes the debater fails to break. Surely, we think that these changes are therefore changes for the better. Sure, they make it so that flowing skill has a smaller influence on success, but that is all to the good, because flowing was only a skill we prize and value instrumentally not intrinsically!
        I didn’t realize you thought that the other three arguments were intended to problematize my larger project so I did not address them. I will do so, but will do it in a separate thread to try and disentangle thee discussion should you want to respond.