Answering Ks with Katherine Fennell

Looking for introductory instruction or a review on responding to the K? NSD staff member and Philadelphia Assistant Co-Director Katherine Fennell utilizes a popular Kritik from the 2017-Jan/Feb Topic to illustrate a method to engage in the K debate.

It is not uncommon to find yourself scrolling through a speech doc during prep time, trying to understand a K that you’ve never heard of before. It is important to be able to generate responses to a K without having pre-written blocks. This article aims to provide an outline for how to generate responses to Ks.

Generating Responses to Ks in the 1AR

While it may be nerve wracking trying to come up with responses to a K, there’s no need to be intimidated! Going through this checklist of arguments in your mind is an easy way to generate responses to Ks. Your goal should be to generate at least one of each type of argument, because this makes it a lot harder for the 2NR to collapse to the K and gives the 2AR a lot of options to collapse to.

I will be using the example of Harvard-Westlake’s capitalism K from the 2017 Jan-Feb topic to discuss ways to generate responses. You can download the K here:

1. Link Defense

Link defense is why you don’t the link to the K. They say you link to the K, and you deny this link. It is often effective to draw distinctions between what the affirmative is talking about and what the K is criticizing. Let’s take the example of an affirmative with an extinction scenario, and a negative Fear of Death K. The negative’s link would be articulated like, “the affirmative’s orientation centers around the preservation of life at all costs, fearing the end of life. This causes mass genocide and oppression because fearing death allows people to scapegoat others to protect themselves.” The 1AR’s response could be something like, “No link – there is a distinction between fearing death and trying to prevent death. We do not fear death, but rather argue that nuclear war would cause mass suffering and most people would rather be alive than dead. We would be fearing death if we argued that death is scary, but that’s not what the aff says.”

Let’s take a look at the first link in the cap K, the Dean 14 card. This link talks about how capitalism is not solved via speech. Instead, capitalism fetishizes speech and thus we need to reject democratic institutions. A piece of link defense on this would be, “No link – We don’t fetishize speech. The affirmative says speech restrictions are bad because they block the exact types of resistance that the Dean 14 card advocates for — ie occupations and militant resistance. This isn’t the same as a ‘marketplace of idea’ or valuing speech for democratic communication.”

2. Impact Defense

Defensive arguments on the impact argue that the impact of the K isn’t as bad as it claims to be. Impact defense makes it a lot easier for you to weigh your affirmative impacts against the K’s. If the negative wins that their impacts outweigh the affirmative, or that the impact is the root cause of the affirmative, then the affirmative is in a difficult spot. Impact defense is necessary to access the affirmative’s impacts. To maintain access to unique advantages, the affirmative needs to argue that the negative’s impacts are not the root cause of the affirmative’s, or why the negative’s impacts don’t turn the affirmative.

The impact in the Harvard-Westlake cap K is Farbod 15. It says that capitalism is causing extinction, and massive wealth inequality. To generate impact defense against this claim, you could deny their argument, ie say that capitalism doesn’t cause extinction and wealth inequality, or say that extinction/wealthy inequality are inevitable. This argument could sound something like:

“On their Farbod 15 card – they say capitalism causes extinction but this is a brink impact – they need to win uniqueness. IE they need to explain why we are close to the brink but haven’t passed it yet. They haven’t won this. The card itself concedes that we are past the brink, and extinction is inevitable. It says, ‘We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction […] 200 species going extinct every day, a pace 1,000 times greater than the ‘natural’ extinction rate. The Earth has been warming rapidly’, which clearly indicates that the damage is already done. Especially given that this was from two years ago, so if there is a brink we are long past it. This means that the impact is nonunique – it’s going to happen no matter what. Thus, only the affirmative has unique offense.”

3. Offense

Offense can either be link turns or impact turns. A link turn is why your affirmative decreases the bad thing they are criticizing. For example, if you are answering a security K, you would argue that the affirmative decreases securitization. An impact turn is why the thing they are critiquing is actually good. An impact turn against a security K would be why securitization is good.

Be careful to avoid double turning yourself. A double turn is when you make both a link turn and an impact turn. A double turn is a reason to vote for your opponent (both on the K debate, but also on every other type of flow). For example, if you make a link turn of “my opponent increases capitalism, I decrease capitalism,” as well as an impact turn of “capitalism is good”, you have argued that your opponent increases capitalism, which is good.

Link Turn

To generate a link turn on the cap K, you would argue that ending speech restrictions on college campuses would decrease capitalism. Link turns should be compared and weighed against their link argument. This could sound like:

“On their link, turn – free speech is key to solve capitalism. Ending speech restrictions allows students to criticize capitalism via protests. In the world of the alternative, anti-capitalist activists will be silenced by university speech which kills any chance of solving capitalism. We can’t reject capitalism if the university shuts down any dissent. This outweighs – (a) Specificity – their evidence talks about freedom of speech generally while our evidence is specific to college campuses. Context is critical on this question because free speech might be bad in general, but that doesn’t mean it should only be restricted on college campuses. (b) Materialism – our impact is material, ie students literally being shut down and punished for protesting. Their impact is very abstract about the nature of capitalism, but that only matters if it causes material harms.”

Impact Turn

To generate an impact turn on this cap K, you could argue why capitalism is actually good. This would sound something like:

“Turn – capitalism is good. Empirics prove that capitalism increases quality of life by incentivizing technological advantages. [Insert X card]. And, this outweighs their impact: (a) Quality of life outweighs extinction. Even if capitalism will cause extinction, it is better to have a high quality of life and then human extinction than to have tons of poverty and genocide and continued existence. (b) Prefer empirics — our evidence cites statistics that capitalism lowers death rates and increases quality of life while theirs just makes abstract claims about capitalism. Empirics are the only verifiable measure of economic systems. Their abstract claims only matter if they result in oppression or violence, but our empirics disprove this.”

When answering a pessimism K, however, the impact turn would be a little different. The link turn would be why the affirmative better resolves the ontological oppression. The impact turn could be reasons why nihilism is bad, or why policy making is good, etc.

Disadvantages to the Alternative

            You want to generate reasons why the alternative is a bad thing, so that even if you lose the permutation, you could still weigh the disadvantage of the alternative versus the impacts of the K. The alternative of the cap K is “to abandon the affirmative’s hope for more discourse in favor of militant class struggle.” A disadvantage to this could sound something like, “Coalitions DA – Movements that focus purely on class kill coalitions against capitalism because it prevents analysis of racial injustice and allows racism to continue unchecked – empirically proven with the Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Bros movement.”

4. Permutations

Permutations argue that doing some combination of the affirmative and the negative advocacy together is the best option. The most effective permutations have three things: a permutation text, a net benefit, and an argument for why the perm shields the link.

A permutation text is the advocacy text of the permutation, or what permutation you are making. Instead of saying “Permutation, the aff is a good idea and doesn’t link into the K”, you would have to say what the perm is. “Permutation, do both,” or “Permutation, do the aff and then the negative,” etc.

A net benefit to the permutation is a reason why the permutation is better than the alternative itself. A net benefit is necessary because permutation debates are a question of whether the permutation is better than the alternative alone. If there is no unique reason to do the permutation, then the alternative is better and would win. 

To say the permutation shields the link is to say that the permutation avoids or resolves the links to the K.

An example of a permutation against the cap K would sound something like this:

“Permutation – do both. The net benefit is radical reform. The alternative cedes the political to capitalists by refusing to engage in any reform. By forcing anti-capitalists outside of the institutions, the people left in charge are the capitalists, able to pass policies that decrease economic regulation. The problem is institutional policies that don’t hold capitalists accountable, and simply rejecting capitalism will not solve this. Empirically proven via the failure of Occupy Wall Street. Being able to compromise with reforms is key to solve capitalism. And, the perm shields the link because we do not fetishize speech for the sake of communication, but value it for its ability to protest capitalism.”

Permutations as a Test of Competition vs. an Advocacy Shift.

There are two ways to view perms. The first way is viewing perms as a test of competition. If perms are a test of competition, then perms are not offensive reasons to vote for you, but rather defense on the competition. You still need a net benefit to the perm, because if there is no net benefit, the alt can still compete through disadvantages to the perm.

The second way to evaluate perms is by understanding them as advocacy shifts. This means that when the 1AR makes a perm, they have changed their advocacy from solely the 1AC plan to whatever the permutation text is. IE, the aff no longer defends their plan, they defend the permutation.

This debate rarely comes up, but it is important to understand the distinction. Most debaters and judges default to perms as a test of competition, because it appears theoretically illegitimate for the affirmative to be able to generate several conditional advocacies in the 1AR.

5. Alternative Solvency Deficit

            Solvency deficits on the alternative are arguments as to why the alternative can’t solve the impact of the K. These arguments are strategic because they press on what is often the weakest part of the K, solvency. If you win that the alternative doesn’t solve the impacts of the K, then there is little reason to vote negative.

            An example of an alternative solvency deficit on the capitalism K would be: “No alt solvency – individual rejections of capitalism cannot solve the overlying structures of capitalism that will continue regardless of an individual rejecting it. Even if you remove yourself from the structures of capitalism in favor of militant class structure, capitalism will just fill the void with other people.”


            It is important to note that not all 1ARs against the K should emphasize each type of argument equally. For example, if you think your best response to a K will be impact turning it, you can spend less time on link defense and permutations. On the other hand, if you think the best 2AR collapse will be going for a permutation with a net benefit and a no link, then you can spend less time on impact defense.

            The best way to improve your ability to generate responses to Ks is by doing drills. Find a K on the NSDA Wiki or in your backfiles, and give yourself a couple of minutes to generate as many responses as you can, and then give the speech. The goal is to make as many diverse arguments as possible, to make the 2NR harder and to give the 2AR options.

Katherine debated for Stuyvesant High School for four years and qualified to the Tournament of Champions her senior year. She has worked at NSD, NSD Philadelphia, and the Texas Debate Collective since 2017. She coaches students across the country. This year, her students have reached deep elimination rounds at the New York City Invitational, the Voices tournament, the Voices Round Robin, Greenhill, Scarsdale, and the University of Texas Longhorn Invitational, and have received top speaker awards at the New York City Invitational and St. Marks. They have amassed a total of 11 bids to the Tournament of Champions. Katherine is excited to work at NSD for her third summer because she loves helping students grow and challenge themselves.

Benjamin Koh