NSD Update ‘State of Debate’ Round Table, Part II

Ari: A frenetic weekend of tournament results and adorable prom asks (she said yes!) may have overshadowed NSD Update’s Part I ‘State of Debate’ Round Table on current trends in Lincoln-Douglas debate, so you should read Friday’s post if you haven’t already. Part II features the same group of discussants: Eric Palmer, Larry Liu, Emily Massey, and Jeff Liu.

Part III’s Round Table will feature a couple additional participants selected from the most thoughtful coach-submitted feedback. Comment away!

3. Some have argued that positions that shift debate away from the empirical dimensions of the topic, such as moral skepticism positions and arguably some framework-oriented positions, undermine the educational value of debate. Should all rounds be about the empirical dimensions of the topic, or should debaters be able to shift the debate in another direction if they choose to do so?

Eric: Undoubtedly, debate about the empirical dimensions of the topic is of great significance. But I see nothing wrong with a debater choosing to turn the round into a question about the truth of moral judgments as such. There is considerable value in educating students about this issue, I think, since dealing with the threat of moral skepticism helps one to develop one’s understanding of the foundations of morality (the view in question should really be called “moral nihilism” and not “moral skepticism” since skepticism usually implies a kind of epistemological worry, while error theoretic arguments typically argue that moral judgments are systematically false, not merely unknowable). Skeptical arguments also have a kind of indirect value, because consideration of those arguments can affect our ultimate choice of moral theory. There is some reason to think that Kantian and otherwise constitutivist views in meta-ethics are better placed to avert the threat of moral skepticism, and such views tend to support more or less deontological views at the level of normative ethics. So working through the problems posed by skeptical arguments might lead debaters to better substantive views in ethics.

That said, I think the way moral skepticism is run in debate rounds is generally abusive. A skeptical position in effect imposes a necessary but insufficient burden on the affirmative, but this problem can be remedied if the negative debater only goes for the skepticism position, and concedes the substance of the affirmative case (with the exception of framework arguments that directly bear on the truth of the skeptical position). If the negative debater does this, the abusive effects of the skeptical position are muted: winning defense on the position is sufficient for the affirmative debater to win the round, so the skeptical position becomes functionally sufficient.

Emily: One of the best things about debate is that there are hardly any prescribed rules. Nothing else, in high school or beyond, offers so much opportunity for intellectual creativity. (Perhaps this is why so many great debaters are not straight-A students.) So fundamentally, I oppose limiting the arguments debaters can make. Moralizing about arguments makes debate a lot more like school and a lot less fun.

For another thing, different people are drawn to different types of arguments. Some find empirical questions uninteresting but love philosophy – don’t we want them to debate, too?

Moreover, the reliance on argument in debate is what gives it intellectual value. Debate teaches that argument is the only way to justify one’s views. Deeming certain issues beyond question runs counter to this basic idea. So if you think nihilism is false or certain philosophical questions are irrelevant to debate about the resolution, then you must be able to justify that.

Finally, there’s already an activity devoted to considering the empirical dimensions of topics: policy debate. I see no need to make LD into “short policy.” Sure, LDers can make policy-type arguments, but why restrict them to those kinds of arguments?

Larry: There’s obviously a place for both empirical and philosophical argument. Some philosophical positions and empirical positions are more plausible than others and some arguments also carry more strategic value than others; what arguments should be run shouldn’t be determined by dogmatism but rather by a combination of argument quality and strategic value.

Jeff: I think as coaches we should encourage debaters to be open-minded and versatile. We should discourage dogmatism of any kind, whether that’s close-mindedness to learning about the empirical dimensions of the topic or close-mindedness to learning about philosophy. Both aspects help debaters become well-rounded, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and open-minded people, and those seem to be the traits that an activity based on argument should promote.

4. Another common refrain in the present day LD community is that philosophical positions detract from the educational mission of debate, which, according to this position, is supposed to be to mold debaters into informed citizens, and the kind of people who might someday be policymakers. Is this right?

Eric: I find this argument suspect. If “molding students into informed citizens and potential policymakers” means forcing them to think about moral issues through the jaundiced lens of consequentialism, then I want no part in it. I would not really feel comfortable with an activity that was somehow premised on turning students into worse people. My hope is that LD, insofar as it is premised on the examination of questions of a distinctively ethical character, should do something to make help make students into better people per se, and not just people who are well-suited to occupy positions of political consequence. And I would hope that students who do end up holding various roles in government bring with them the right sort of values, and so I would hope, ideally, that they had thought through some abstract moral considerations that might bring them to the right sorts of views (this assuming that they are not already persons of virtue, in which case I do not know that abstract reflection will benefit them).

The notion that the style of debate we have inherited from policy is somehow more true to the “real world” and actual policy making strikes me as dubious. Real policymakers do not suppose that their primary task in all instances is to consider the likelihood that their actions could lead to human annihilation, since there are not very many political decisions that are more than tangentially connected with this kind of outcome. And real policymakers are not, as a general rule, concerned with what Heidegger, Foucault, or any other so-called “critical” author has to say about the issues they consider.

I should also note that the assumption that policy making is distinctively consequentialist seems to me to be wildly mistaken. Hiroshima excepted, we do not commonly think that the slaughter of the innocent in war is justified, even where more lives might be saved. Our understanding of the laws of war seems to better accord with something like the Doctrine of Double Effect than anything else. We also generally take it for granted that persons enjoy fundamental human rights, and that these rights constrain the formation of policy (again, excepting some unfortunate cases like the Bush administration’s endorsement of torture), and we accept that forms of discrimination like racism and sexism are unequivocally wrong, regardless of the consequences. One might think that these dimensions of ordinary political thinking can be accommodated by rule consequentialism, and that may be true in many cases, but it still stands to reason that there are people in politics who do not accept propositions of this kind simply because of the desirable consequences associated with the adoption of a rule. Many suppose, I would think, that racism is wrong in itself, and not just because of the benefits of avoiding the additional social costs imposed by racial discrimination. John McCain’s opposition to torture, to cite one more prominent example, seems premised primarily on principle, not consequences.

Beyond this, I’ve always thought the idea that the purpose of debate is to produce people suited for political life was presumptuous. Why do my students need to aspire to a government post? Why can’t they be doctors, philosophers, or artists? And if they are entitled to choose that kind of career, why shouldn’t there be room in debate for the consideration of issues that might be of importance to them? A doctor plausibly needs to be equipped with some understanding of non-consequentialist ethics since we do, after all, care about things like patient consent, and we do not, after all, murder the innocent in order to redistribute their organs to the needy.

The use of theory arguments and paradigmatic choices to discourage non-consequentialist or otherwise philosophical arguments has always struck me as stemming from a kind of anti-intellectual prejudice. If you want to make consequentialist arguments of the sort favored in policy debate, then why not defend consequentialism, or at least try to link your arguments into the framework proposed by your opponent, e.g. by pointing out that Kantian ethics supports positive obligations and then winning defense on your opponent’s arguments alleging violations of the basic duties of justice? If you really believe that we ought to evaluate moral and political questions from that kind of standpoint, then why not try to defend it?

Emily: Agreed. I would add that many of the biggest debates in politics seem to be philosophical disagreements about the role of government: Is gay marriage the province of civil authority? Does a mandate to purchase health care infringe on personal liberty? If we care primarily about preparing students to go into politics (though, like Eric, I don’t see why we should), we should encourage philosophical debate. You don’t learn how to debate the role of government by taking the truth of one side for granted in every round.

Larry: The underlying assumption in this argument, and an argument also commonly made in round, seems faulty. I think the value from debate stems not from the fact that we are learning to mimic policymaking or that we will eventually major in philosophy or political science or go to law school, or any other predictive claim of that sort, but rather from the skills that it teaches us.

Debate is a great activity because it allows us to meet and interact with different people from all around the country. It’s a great activity because it teaches us research skills, discipline and integrity in academia, and organization. It teaches us how to think on our feet, to present results in front of an audience, and most importantly, to be confident and successful human beings. What is great about debate is completely and utterly divorced from the content of the arguments themselves.

Jeff: I am not sure anyone really thinks that philosophical positions, just by the fact that they are philosophical, detract from the educational mission of debate. I’ve often heard people say things like “I really hate that no one EVER talks about the topic” or “these framework debates are killing real debate!” But when pushed on those views, I think most of those people take a more reasonable line. They don’t hate philosophy debate per se or think that everyone who does debate should go into politics. Really, I think they are just expressing frustration regarding the number of bad, recycled arguments that are often found in today’s framework debates; I imagine that those same people find bad empirical debate to be almost equally frustrating. Both kinds of debate are educational, because they both help debaters become more well-informed and open-minded, which are traits that serve people well in any career choice.

Many thanks to our discussants in Parts I and II:

Eric Palmer coaches at Walt Whitman and is a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He has coached a dozen debaters to elimination rounds at the Tournament of Champions, including a TOC champion.

Jeff Liu coaches at La Jolla. He is a former TOC champion and studies engineering and philosophy at Auburn University.

Larry Liu is a prolific national-circuit coach and former TOC champion. He studies engineering and economics at Auburn University.

Emily Massey is an assistant coach at Scarsdale. She attends Yale University, where she studies philosophy.

Full profiles of today’s discussants can be found at http://nsdebate.org/faculty/

  • Rebar Niemi

    I would love to be a part of pt. 3. Hopefully dis be thoughtful enough.

    I keep coming back to the statement Jeff opens with: we should resist dogmatisms of all kinds. There is perhaps no greater lesson than the history of the United States, the world, and debate as an activity that even the most well intentioned dogmatic stances produce ultimately untoward effects. I will not rehash the endless examples here.

    I find myself increasingly compelled by the stance that debate is intended to include some lesson regarding decision-making as it is understood in a real world sense. My bone to pick is the way in which real world decision-making is given content by most. Creative and artistic decisions are real-world. Strategic, tactical, and game theoretic decisions are real-world. Social, personal, and political decisions are real world. Students WILL DO THESE THINGS AND BREATHE. To those who circumscribe debate via something like “advocacy skills,” (and I would tend to agree with those who claim this term includes a fairly arbitrary ‘pure policy’ connotation that is at least partly inaccurate), or some other method of deeming certain types of arguments or tactics simply beyond the pale (categorically unfair/uneducational versus situationally unfair/uneducational):

    1. I refuse to believe we’ve figured out the ideal form of debate in HS LD. All forms of debate continually progress and grow. You wanna be a dinosaur holding a stack of calcified rules be my guest, but you’re limiting yourself and everyone around you. At the same time, rule-bringers and law-abiders are important members of our community who we should not shun. I propose that those conflicts that occur in round need not divide us ideologically – who ever heard of a staunch ideologue committed to switch-sides debate as a format?

    2. At the same time, I struggle to rationalize the use of some arguments that I regularly teach and suggest to students. On the one hand I think all args, be they “must run a plan” or performances, have some educational and competitive value insofar as I think the underlying lesson they teach is a conceptual but important one: there is a natural ecology of arguments to be navigated, explored, and exploited. I think learning how to understand and participate in the creation of abstract systems is crucially important as a sort of “meta-educational” skill. Not only does it demonstrate and contribute to learning in and of itself, but the continual invention of arguments (many of which are “abusive”) does more to drive student learning. The more complex the ecology, the higher the level of commitment it requires to fully understand. Still, much of this learning contributes to so called “terrible debates” and vapid, unfair, uneducational strategies.

    3. I feel like judges do so much unconscious filtering that there’s really no need to add on a conscious “bad args” filter. Trust me, bad args get punished in the long game even if they win a few here or there. I also feel like this quest to banish the “bad args” is perhaps more pernicious of a purge than originally thought. I respect the choice of those who reserve the right to filter “bad args” but I do not do so myself, or I attempt to put as minimal a filter on as possible. We should be wary of overfitting a needlessly complex and arbitrary model of debate to the actual activity

    4. Stances on issues like this are the kinds of things that should go in paradigms very explicitly. I applaud every judge who has a “I don’t vote for X” list and actually is detailed about it. Many judges do this without forewarning debaters much and that seems divergent from the purpose of putting a paradigm online so that ppl can pref you accurately – you don’t wanna see them and they don’t wanna see you.

    I definitely want debate to keep progressing, I wanna see crazier and cooler stuff. Frankly I think the problem with most skeptical/unfair positions is that they are unfair or uneducational in such dull ways. Like please if you are going to be unfair/uneducational in front of me do it with some style. But sometimes you still lose hella hard on thry even if you got style. AND THAT’S HOW IT SHOULD BE. Debate should be playful, kids should feel free to experiment and be creative, and we should never forget we do not yet know what debate can do.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with this post – especially the last sentiment about dull debates and this one: “there is a natural ecology of arguments to be navigated, explored, and exploited.” Much of the arguments I forward here (and in particular, my response to the “Competing Interpretations” article last year) are guided by this principle. Argumentative evolutions will come and fade and change over time — it’s up to the debaters (not the judges) to explore and find what works for them and what wins.

      Paradigmatic changes may also occur, but I think the best way for them to happen is based on persuasive arguments within individual rounds.

  • Guest

    I was probably wrong about advocacy skills. It happens. The great thing about debate is it gives us the confidence to express beliefs without the fear of looking dumb.

  • I was probably wrong about advocacy skills. It happens. The great thing about debate is it gives us the confidence to express our beliefs without the fear of looking dumb.

    • I had technical difficulties where my comment wasn’t showing up. That’s why I repeated myself multiple times.

  • Guest

    I was probably incorrect regarding the concept of advocacy skills. It happens. Debate is a great activity because it teaches us to reconsider beliefs we hold that may be false, and to have the confidence to express beliefs/arguments without the fear of looking dumb. That’s also the benefit of commenting on this website when the very state of debate is the subject!

  • I think a related question to #4 is what the role of the

    “advocacy skills” voter entails. Debaters who make this argument
    often assert that this on face excludes skepticism (and possibly
    non-consequentialist moral theories?), but I never see this claim warranted
    particularly well. I think that the arguments that we run in debate
    rounds do not significantly affect our advocacies skills as all arguments
    encourage critical thinking skills that can be easily converted to advocscy. I
    think that advocating skepticism can minimally be consistent with “advocacy
    skills” if not actually help develop articulate and well-informed policy

    First, a crucial part of advocacy skills is critical thinking,
    which is necessary in order to analyze propositions and then advocate for
    them. Developing skeptical arguments requires analyzing the necessary
    steps for developing a moral theory and then choosing which premises to press
    on. A well-developed skeptical argument considers the strength,
    intuitiveness, and other factors of premises before strategically electing to
    argue against a premise (or premises) to produce skeptical conclusions.
    Additionally, debaters must analyze how their skeptical arguments interact with
    their opponent’s arguments and unique approaches to developing moral
    theories. Therefore, there are critical thinking skills involved at the
    micro level of creating skeptical arguments and the macro level of interacting
    arguments across the flow. The high level of intellectual rigor develops
    critical thinking skills to analyze any issue to advocate. And, since we do not
    expect debaters to advocate what they truly believe in (as debaters can’t
    choose to defend only one side of the resolution), these skills are very
    valuable to analyzing and developing advocacies.

    Additionally, skeptical arguments can broaden debaters’
    perspectives and think outside the box. Considering what a world where
    skepticism is true would look like as a hypothetical model can give a deeper
    appreciation to the harms of anarchy, chaos, and human tragedy and give a
    deeper appreciation of developing moral theories. Furthermore, thinking
    in a skeptical mindset and can make seemingly irrational political actions slightly
    more understandable. To be clear, this is not an endorsement of any such
    actions but rather an attempt to justify why we should think about these issues
    to possibly form conclusions. Do I think that we can derive skepticism
    and then come up with a solution in 45 minutes, no. But I do think that
    the critical thinking skills developed though running these positions are
    valuable and can help students become policymakers if they want.

    To be clear, I agree with Eric and Emily that there is no reason
    to assume debate ought to prepare students to be policymakers, but I also think
    that debating skepticism can teach debaters skills that allow them to advocate
    and become policy makers if they so choose. (I am taking an internship this
    summer on Capitol Hill and running skepticism helped me develop skills that I
    used to attain this position and will use to work in Washington.) This
    post is not intended to encourage debaters to solely run skepticism or to say
    that running skepticism is the quickest way to becoming a policy maker.
    This post should demonstrate that there are some educational or “advocacy
    skills” benefits that come from running positions like skepticism.

    • I agree that skepticism can have educational benefits in the way that you describe (critical thinking, understanding why people disagree with us about public policy, etc.). I also wouldn’t deny the possibility of truth being relative. However, if the advocacy skills voter is true (and I’m not responding to take a stance on whether it is), skepticism would be inconsistent (although you may be right that this conclusion doesn’t get warranted very well, I can’t say for sure). Even if entertaining the possibility of relativism can help us better justify policies, in a debate context it’s inconsistent with the voter. No policymaker can justifiably say that they have no moral obligations to people, especially citizens. In a debate context, skepticism is often read to justify the existence of no moral obligations. “Everything is permissible” would not good public policy; it’s not even a real policy. “Skep is true” might be something you advocate, but it’s not an advocacy in the sense that people who read these voters articulate it (advocacy=policy).

      As a caveat, I think reading skep in round is totally okay if it’s not contested by paradigmatic/theoretical args. I’ve broken skepticism before, and I’m not here to force consequentialism on anybody. However, going for advocacy skills against skepticism is logically coherent strategy, whether anyone here doesn’t like it according to personal preference.

      • As a further caveat, the term “advocacy skills” may be misleading since one could argue that skep is k2 said skills, but to my knowledge the way it’s articulated is that you need to advocate a policy in itself, which seems to be a prereq.

        • This “Guest” comment was from me that, after I deleted it for being unnecessary, resurfaced as “guest” instead of “Adam Tomasi”. #techprobz

      • lone_wolf_at_law

        why is it ever assumed that advocacy=policy? i have literally never heard it articulated that way. the voter you describe seems to be more one of policy making educational than advocacy skills. if the argument is “advocacy skills means that debaters get better at defending their advocacy”, then there is no reason skepticism would be excluded. regardless of that, josh’s argument appeals to the terminal impact of advocacy skills. the reason it may be articulated as advocacy=policy is because we should become better policy makers, but josh’s claim is that skepticism accesses that impact.

        • It’s assumed that advocacy=policy because “everything is permissible” is not a course of action that a government would pursue. Again, no policymaker can justifiably suggest that they have no moral obligations to people. The argument that people make regarding advocacy skills is that debate should assume policymaking-focus rather than abstract thought experiments. “Skep k2 critical thinking” is not a reason skep can be incorporated under advocacy skills. That would definitely be a reason skep is k2 education which can be weighed against warrants for advocacy skills voters. However, it’s false to suggest it’s consistent with the voter.

          • lone_wolf_at_law

            i remain unaware of why advocacy skills ever only meant something that a government does

          • Because that’s how it’s articulated by people who run this voter. For example, Greenhill read this voter last year. Their claim wasn’t “you have to defend something that involves critical thinking.” “Advocacy skills” in a debate context means defending/advocating a policy option rather than some abstract thought experiment with no clear pragmatic/political implication.

          • lone_wolf_at_law

            this is cpy-pasted frm what greenhill had n the circuitdebater wiki last year:

            “Voting issue — Advocacy skills is the
            only unique impact to debate

            A] Only my model of debate encourages a
            unique skillset. It teaches debaters how to make the best kind
            of decisions and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of taking an

            B] Promotes a portable skill that
            debaters will value once they leave the activity. Optimal
            decision-making is crucial to becoming a good lawyer,
            interviewing for jobs, or even persuading people in general by
            knowing what are the merits and disadvantages of a particular action.
            This is offense b/c their model encourages bad skills outside of the

            want to revise your interpretation?

          • How about you revise yours.

            “It teaches debaters how to make the best kind
            of decisions and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of taking an

            This is clearly about policymaking-focus which skep is inconsistent with.

          • I understand why “advocacy skills” intuitively might seem to imply policymaking, but there is no justification for why “the best kind of decisions” would imply weighing “advantages and disadvantages of taking an action.” This is a 1 sentence assertion that seems to imply a utilitarian policymaking viewpoint. But this needs to be justified. The very point of a moral theory is to justify how to make moral decisions, and asserting that this the best way to weigh choices takes a lot for granted. I think a greater problem is if this voter is used to exclude ethical arguments and say we should debate plans only (I am not sure whether or not this happens but that would clearly be unjustified). The point of my post is to illuminate the weakness of the voter in its current form and suggest that skepticism could be consistent unless debaters advocating advocacy skills warrant their argument.

            It is very unclear what “advocacy skills” means or entails. My first interpretation was that it was broad and could be advocating for anything later in life. In which case the critical thinking skills that all arguments, including skeptical ones, provide seem to be consistent with the voter.

            However, if advocacy skills is purely about policy-making. First, that is not clear. That needs to be justified. Second, skepticism might be construed to say the point of advocacy skills is irrelevant. There is a debate to be had about whether or not an unwarranted voter ought to be able exclude an argument that questions its warrants. Alternatively, skepticism might be seen as an in round advocacy that develops critical thinking skills but does not spill over to your beliefs about real world decision making. Since debate forces you to defend both sides of an issue, it would seem absurd to assume debaters believe everything they say in a round. I ran skepticism a lot, but I obviously don’t believe it is true. It broadened my perspective and helped me develop analytic tools to analyze other issues, including policymaking.

          • Also, how about the fact that what occurs in debate rounds bears very little resemblance to real policy-making? Congress doesn’t sit around talking about the extinction of the species and is often behaves in a very non-utilitarian manner. Standing up in congress and telling your fellow congressmen that if we don’t pass healthcare reform then AIDS will become airborne and we’ll all be dead will get you about as much respect as saying that the bill doesn’t matter because morality is indeterminate.

      • Keep in mind that debating things like Skep also gives one advocacy skills. The “skills” that once uses to advocate for something almost certainly involve justifying why what one is doing is a good thing. If one is unable to answer skeptical arguments, I daresay they’re a really shitty advocate. Skep k2 advo skillz.

        A little part of me dies every time I hear how poorly 99.9% of “advocacy skills” arguments are made.

        • and a little part of me dies every time i hear the same arguments being made for skepticism or “everything is permissible.”

          let’s not pretend that one form of argumentation is holistically superior to the other.

          • A little part of me also dies every time I hear how poorly 99.9% of skep args are made. I had to add that to my paradigm since people kept thinking I’d hack for it…Nobody’s pretending.

      • Guest

        Adam, I think you are conflating “advocacy skills” and policy-making. While perhaps there is an argument for a policy-making approach to exclude skeptical arguments (although what happens in a debate round is a far cry from any semblance of real policy-making),

      • Guest

        Adam, I think you’re conflating “advocacy skills” and policymaking. While there is a fairly convincing argument that a policymaking paradigm has little room for skepticism (although “policymaking” in a debate round is a far cry from anything that actually happens), there seems to be no reason why a debater cannot enhance their advocacy skills by advancing a skeptical position and I think Josh gave a bunch of good reasons why skeptical positions could actually improve advocacy skills.

    • larry951liu

      I think a better question is why advocacy skills is a voter to begin with. Why don’t we make reciprocity, predictability, strat skew, clash, and real world education independent voters as well while we’re at it?

  • keinobjekt

    This begs the question: what the fuck are the “right sort of values” and the “right sorts of views” in the first place? I am very uncomfortable with the idea that there is some sort of prior frame for determining what kinds of arguments promote the “right” sort of values/views and what arguments do not.

    • It’s important that we are able to critically examine our assumptions, but I’m uncomfortable with the degree of relativism implied by your first paragraph. If we can’t identify some pedagogical virtues, then what is the point of trying to teach? I can tell my students that rational reasoning from premises is a virtue of argumentation, but there are critical authors who call that into question. So, do I have no right to assert that critical reasoning is a virtue? If not, then how in the world do I teach someone how to debate at all? I also think virtues like academic honesty, personal integrity, and respect for the dignity of others should all be taken as givens, but, again, uncritical acceptance of those ideals can be resisted from a relativist position. Who am I to say that everyone should be treated with dignity? What if the concept of dignity itself is just a tool of oppression, etc. etc. ?

      As to your third paragraph, I think there are good reasons why debaters rarely respond to arguments by saying they are “stupid.” First, calling something stupid is rarely credited as a flowable response. Second, the reason why many arguments are stupid is because they are intended to structure the round in such a way that it is either much more difficult or impossible for one of the debaters to win — to wit, unfair.

      Your criticism here loses coherence. How can you acknowledge that some argument can be objectivley “bad or illogical” but reject the idea that we consider some arguments “non-valuable” which “should be excluded from the scope of legitimate argumentation”? Wouldn’t you consider an argument that falls into Category A to be, by virtue of that, also in Category B? If not, what do you mean by “bad or illogical”?

      • keinobjekt

        The ability to teach students virtues like academic integrity and personal honesty seems to be totally non-specific to different the types of argumentation used in debate. Rather, the claim originally presented was that debating Kant rather than accepting consequentialism as a baseline moral theory makes students better people, or more specifically promotes the adoption of “the right sorts of values.” That’s an empirical claim without an empirical warrant. Do you seriously believe that you cannot teach a student doing bad plan debate to be an honest person?

        I am not suggesting that “critical thinking” is some how a problematic assumption held by the debate community. Rather, I do not believe that bad role playing frameworks should be judged normatively as instrumentally worse in teaching students these virtues than some other form of debate and thus excluded.

        My third paragraph is speculative in drawing a causal lin between valuing certain kinds of argumentation more than others and the prevailance of theory debate in LD. I’ll rephrase: there’s a tendency in LD to muddle the categories of bad arguments, illogical arguments, and unfair arguments. I think when discussing arguments, there is far too much conceptual slippage from the first category into the third. While there certainly is overlap between these categories, they are not coextensive with eachother.

        Edit: Reading your reply to Bob, it seems that we both agree to a large extent. Perhaps I am not expressing myself well. I am not defending non-sensical arguments, but rather arguing that the means of promoting better argumentation is not to attempt to purify the interiority of LD debate by creating a hierarchy of different styles of debate.

        • This makes sense. I was reading the first paragraph of your first post as an indictment of the notion that there can be any identifiable virtues in argumentation. That struck me as overly relativistic. I think I understand your position better now.

          I’ll leave it to Eric to defend his position, which I take to involve a much more specific idea of ethical values in debate. But bear in mind that in the context of the article, Eric is referring to people who argue that, per AFC, we should be teaching students exclusively to be consequentialist policy makers. Eric has noted before that while he disagrees personally with that perspective he doesn’t reflexively vote against consequentialism.

        • I think you’ve misunderstood me. My claim was not that we should not have policymaking debates. What I was addressing was a line of thought that says something like: policymakers are all utilitarians, and since we want our students to be policymakers, we should make them run utilitarian arguments in the hopes that they will internalize that style of moral reasoning and become effective policymakers. I don’t think trying to train people to be utilitarians is desirable. That doesn’t mean that I think trying to train people to be Kantians is desirable (though I think it is often good to expose people to non-consequentialist moral thought). In truth, I am skeptical about the idea that debate has some obvious connection with living well, or acquiring practical wisdom. I do not think most teachers of debate are particularly well equipped to teach students about this kind of thing (knowing how to argue, or how to teach others how to argue, does not have much to do with being a good person). So when I say that I hope that students who wind up occupying positions of political consequence bring with them the right sort of values, I am not assuming that debate will play some pivotal role in bringing this about. I am only rejecting the idea that debate education should be aimed at trying to ram consequentialism down student’s throats.

      • keinobjekt

        Ok, here’s why we agree. You suggest that the categories of bad, illogical, and unfair arguments are coextensive and determined by the primary criterion of whether they make sense. While we likely have different definitions of what ‘makes sense’, I don’t disagree. The problem is, this isn’t currently the case: as you note, illogical and unfair arguments are encouraged as good or strategic arguments.

        Here’s my problem with Eric’s argument that role playing doesn’t promote the “right sort of values” (and I may be misappropriating the intent of his words): While certain policy making frameworks may not be well thought out arguments, I do not believe they are on face illogical or unfair, and thus am uncomfortable characterizing them as ‘bad’ or lacking value as this suggest prior frame for determining the value of arguments beyond simply whether they make sense or not.

        In other words, if the goal is to unite the categories of bad and unfair arguments, it doesn’t seem productive to start creating hierarchies of arguments as good/bad that are not obviously illogical or unfair. If you want logic/sense to be a limiting criterion for argumentation, that’s fine, but leave it there, and be clear to emphasize the importance not just of logically valid argumentation but of being able to articulate why positions are sound as well.

        • Also this didn’t sound remotely antagonistic. A wonder to behold. 🙂

  • Speakin’ da truth

    Coach Liu! and Coach Liu!

  • I don’t mean to regress, but I’ve been thinking about the exchange between Eric and Emily a lot over the last two days.

    Eric argued that judges should feel free to use logical consistency as an internal filter to arguments, rejecting patently illogical arguments as part of their decision regardless of whether the opponent points them out and/or explains how or why they are illogical.

    Emily disagreed, suggesting that a truly “tab” judge would not make these distinctions, and that a debater who cannot point out that an argument is illogical should be able to lose to the argument.

    On first blush, I’m sympathetic to Emily’s point. The danger of the kind of judge intervention that Eric is talking about is the danger of ALL judge intervention — that is, it leaves the judge free to decide what constitutes an “illogical” argument. While conscientious people trained in philosophy might be able to limit the range of claims they would exclude using such a filter, the danger is the judge whose conception of logic and illogic are less well-developed. Liberated to exclude “illogical” arguments, such judges would likely just start ignoring arguments they don’t like or disagree with.

    Of course one might point out that this is nonunique — bad, interventionist judges are going to be bad, interventionist judges regardless. But on the national circuit at least I think the community norm against intervention restrains some judges from inserting themselves into rounds where they might make mistakes, even under Eric’s interpretation of proper judging. Allowing the norm against intervention to degrade by embracing, community wide, the automatic rejection of “illogical” arguments would lead to more random intervention.

    On the other hand, though, it seems that on some level Eric has to be correct and that judges’ failure to filter arguments may be a serious problem in the activity.

    Consider a hypothetical situation, one which reflects some recent strategic developments in LD fairly well:

    Take two debaters, A and B. In Round 1, A, on the negative, reads six arguments couched in the language of “formal logic” — you know, the stuff with all of the mathematical-sounding notation, the kind of thing Christian Tarsney used to write. Since these arguments are formally logical, their evaluation is not a subjective matter. In this case, take it as given that each of the six arguments suffers from a terrible failure that would be obvious to anyone trained in formal logic.

    B is not deeply trained in formal logic but is able to recognize intuitively that there are errors in the logic of the arguments. However, lacking a deep understanding of both the form and function of formal logic, B finds that he cannot explain to the judge precisely how and why each of the six arguments is nonfunctional in the 4 minute 1AR while still having time to extend the AC. And, of course, he can’t figure out how to TURN the six arguments, even though they are conceivably turnable.

    Now take it as given that the judge is sufficiently well-learned in formal logic that she is aware that the arguments are terribly specious. Which world of debate is better — the one where the judge disregards the six arguments, or the one where the judge gives them credence despite their obvious failures?

    Now add a variable. Consider for a moment the world where A does not understand the formal logic he is running. It has been written for him by a college-student coach or copy-pasted from a misunderstood article. He’s just reading the case and then re-reading the dropped arguments as extensions.

    If the judge votes for A based on this performance, what, if anything, is accomplished?

    What would be accomplished in the alternate world where A is well-read in formal logic and understands perfectly well how and why his arguments fail, but runs them cynically?

    What about a world where the judge doesn’t understand formal logic, but votes for the arguments just because they appear to be dropped, or because he wants to seem “cool” to the national circuit crowd?

    It strikes me that education in general and debate specifically are not well-served by a norm that permits debaters to win rounds as a result of running large numbers of patently flawed arguments. It is much easier, and less time-consuming, to make a bad argument than it is to explain why the argument is bad. Many coaches and camp counselors, in fact, teach this as a strategy — “a bad argument isn’t bad if it takes longer to refute than it does to make.” The phrase “time suck” sounds terribly unpleasant, but for most status quo debaters this type of argument is virtuous.

    But while they may be good strategy in the status quo, given the judging norms that exist, this approach creates a terrible world of debate. It motivates students to make large numbers of poor arguments and punishes debaters who, despite any understanding of the arguments, are precluded from responding by the sheer volume of the arguments, combined with the complexity of explanation required to refute them. After all, most judges are not willing to accept, “Look to their first argument, it’s illogical” as a response.

    I conclude that debate judges need to be more willing to filter arguments than they currently are, and that this norm needs to become well-enough accepted that debaters feel comfortable disregarding obviously flawed arguments with perhaps only a brief reference to them in rebuttal.

    The alternative status quo world is one of perverse incentives that proliferate bad argumentation which leads to bad debates and to a failure of the most basic educational goals of the activity.

    • I don’t think this is a reason for the judge to have a “filter” for certain arguments. But rather, the debater’s bad choice of argumentation should be clearly reflected in their speaks, so they will hit better debaters who can catch their bluff and as a result, the bad debater will lose. This should be the whole point of the speaker points system.

      • Well, first, this kind of thing is common at the highest levels of debate. That’s the whole point of the problem — because judges evaluate rounds without filters like this, it is actually more strategic, and therefore more successful, to make bad arguments than good ones. So while I don’t disagree that judges can reasonably punish debaters for making specious arguments (and many do), dropping the debater to the bottom of the bracket isn’t going to solve the problem.

        Second, my point has to do with how the community conceptualizes what is “good debate.” In the status quo, people who are objectively worse at making arguments are able to use strategies that defy logic and are uneducational to defeat people who are better at making arguments. And, too many debaters who could be making good arguments react to this trend as though it is an arms race, and adopt similar strategies. The challenge of becoming better at debate becomes a contest to see who can run the largest number of the wankiest arguments. That’s why so many high-powered rounds are such clusterf***s these days.

        If we think that this is a reasonable approach to the activity, then there’s no problem. I don’t think it’s reasonable.

        • 1- Why would it be more strategic to make a quick bad argument as opposed to a quick good argument?
          2- Do you actually think on balance that the debaters who succeed the most make more bad arguments than good ones? (If bad arguments are most strategic given status quo judging, then those who win the most, i.e. have the best strategies, are making the worst arguments, right?)

          3- Can you provide some examples of these “wankiest” arguments? (Maybe it’s because our circuits don’t overlap much, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about)

          • 1) First, because it is more difficult to make a “good” argument quickly, because you have to take time to explain reasons why the argument is true. Second, because it is easier to come up with bad arguments than with good ones. The requirements of logic are barriers to argumentation. Lift those requirements and the floodgates to nonsense open.

            2) I think most successful debaters today will forward self-consciously terrible arguments in the service of winning rounds. It may be the case that the terrible arguments are there as backstops in case their better case arguments are challenged (“Skip the contention, go to the conceded underview…”).

            Also, to be clear, I don’t think this is the fault of the students or even the coaches in the activity. This is a structural problem, like speaker point inflation. In a world where everyone is doing it, it’s hard to get ahead without playing along.

            And, we should acknowledge that there is certainly not going to be agreement on what constitutes a “bad argument.” I offered the example of faulty formal logic because those flaws are objectively identifiable. But, for example, I would include most iterations of AFC in my list of “bad arguments” while other coaches and judges would not. That, of course, is one of the dangers of the position I lay out.

            3. Examples. Hmm.

            Well, setting aside arguments that I just think are silly but which are potentially defensible, like AFC…

            One of my favorite debaters ever is Catherine Tarsney. She used to make this argument that involved a terrible misread of a card that the phrase “ought not” means “it is not the case that you ought to,” as opposed to “it is the case that you ought not to,” as a way of arguing that permissibility affirms on “ought not” resolutions. Thus, “You ought not kick puppies” means “you can kick puppies if you want, but you don’t have to.” A lot of rounds were won on that argument, as I recall, and as far as issues like grammar and semantics are objectively verifiable, that argument is simply nonsense. (Catherine knows I think this… we went around and around about it in, like, 2009.)

            I don’t want to put words in Catherine’s mouth, but I also recall that when I would call her out on the blatant nonsense of the argument, one of her defenses was, “But people don’t know how to respond to it, so it wins.” (Her other defense, as I recall, was, “But that’s what the card says.”)

            If you were to take a look at the frameworks of most debate cases these days I think you’d find that reasoning of that level and type is fairly common.

            One-sentence paragraph theory spikes, for example, are often counted as “arguments” in modern debate rounds, although outside of LD, we would be hard pressed to explain to anyone familiar with the rules of argumentation how they qualify.

            And, the nature of the paragraph theory is often self-consciously abusive. I’ve heard students from a variety of schools refer to the practice of “experimenting with really abusive theory frameworks” as a practice in the activity.

            I see an ethic at play both at camps and at tournaments that the identifying characteristic of a quality argument has more to do with its ability to win than with its ability to withstand any amount of reasoned scrutiny. The phrase, “debate is a game” is bandied about in defense of this general idea. Once you unmoor standards for argumentation from the basic requirement that they make sense and embrace, rather, the requirement that you can get judges to vote on them — and then, further, when each year’s judge pool is made up largely of debaters from the previous year’s senior class — then, what you have is not an evolutionary development of argument styles, but rather a race to the bottom in terms of argument quality.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Dave. I have a few reactions. First, I’ve never
      encountered a situation this extreme (the obviousness of the neg’s sophistry,
      the aff’s total inability to explain why the arguments are illogical) in a real
      round. So I don’t know how much intervention it justifies in practice. Second,
      since the neg in this situation is effectively making arguments in a language–formal logic–that the aff doesn’t understand, the aff should run theory. Or, if the aff can understand the neg’s arguments, then I bet his explanation of why they’re illogical would suffice to take them out, even if it’s not also couched in the language of formal logic.

      Finally, the example misleadingly portrays the neg’s arguments in isolation from the AC. But this isn’t how debate works (assuming the neg’s arguments aren’t pre-standards, in which case the aff could again run theory. Also assuming the neg’s arguments aren’t themselves theory shells–I’ll get to that possibility after this.) Say the neg’s six arguments are objections to the aff standard. Then they clash with the aff’s justifications for his standard as well as with any other aff answers to the neg standard. The neg doesn’t automatically win the standards debate by extending one of his arguments, even if it’s dropped. All the aff has to do is extend a better argument for his standard. Ideally the aff would tell the judge why his argument is better (this could even be something like “my argument is more developed; his is a one-sentence blip”), but even if he doesn’t, he still wins the standards debate as long as the neg isn’t comparing arguments here either.

      Incidentally, I agree to a certain extent that there are problems with current judging practices. One problem is that some judges automatically prefer neg arguments on the standards debate. As I’ve argued, this is not tab.

      As promised–what if the neg arguments in your example are theory shells? For one thing, I don’t see why it’s so hard to explain why a theory shell is illogical. It shouldn’t take more time than it took the neg to read the shell, considering the neg had to read an interp, violation, standards, and (for at least one shell) voter. Or you could go for drop the arg, always a true argument. But let’s say I’m wrong and it really does take too much time. Then the aff should make that argument and go for an RVI! This argument is better than the one most debaters make, that they had to spend time answering theory—what they should say is that they had to spend more time than the neg. Or, the aff could even argue that the time imbalance is a reason the judge shouldn’t be tab on the lower-level theory debate. Basically, a debate similar to the one we’re having should be had in rounds. If your opponent does something bad, you always have theory as recourse.

      • “Or you could go for drop the arg, always a true argument.” Woah.

        • Yes, I’ve been contemplating a response to the post as a whole, but for someone who is advocating non-intervention, that sentence is pretty amazing.

      • “You should lose because I was fair and/or talked about the topic” is not, and never has been, a persuasive argument. Don’t know why so many smart people seem to disagree.

        • Paras Kumar

          Because you’re iteration of the argument doesn’t tell the whole story. It isn’t, “you should lose because I was fair”, but rather, “there needs to be some repercussion for bringing up no-risk issues that are game over for the aff”. The only responsive and not stupid answer I’ve heard to a well-articulated RVI is that its not non-reciprocal because the 1ar can run theory too. But I think that a) this isn’t viable within the time constraints of LD since the 1ar is too short, b) it devolves every round into theory, whereas the RVI deters people from running theory (though I agree the deterrence effect is unverifiable, I just think from personal experience this is true), c) RVI’s meet because it’s literally “running theory” in the 1ar, i.e. you read a new interp that sets a rule for debate that presumably the 1N is violating (assuming in CX they don’t agree theory is an RVI), and d) it puts the onus on the wrong side. People claiming others are cheaters should be held to higher standards, and arguments like “you should lose because i was fair [which is a really bad version of the RVI]” do just that.

          • Paras Kumar

            I should also add that all my concerns would be solved for if we made LD rounds longer. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need for an RVI. But unfortunately, our world is not ideal.

          • a) Time skew can’t be the answer to everything. This probably means things like util would be unfair, e.g., if the neg has two good disads, since the 1AR doesn’t have enough time to cover. I’ve seen a number of good 1AR theory debaters engage NC theory within the time limits this season and last. And if there’s time to win a counter-interp and read RVIs, then there’s time to efficiently answer theory, especially if the interp is wrong, which is a precondition for winning the RVI anyway.

            b) No impact. Why is theory debate bad? Check out Ross’s analysis in the comments section of the “Avoiding Frivolous Theory” article last year, which is pretty good on this question; theory’s great for critical thinking and fresh debates after we’ve all heard Lipsey and Cullen 07 (or perhaps, the argument against sanctions on Iran) for the nth time. Also your claim is certainly empirically denied – many if not most circuit judges accept/lean toward the RVI (I should know) and many debaters read RVIs in the aff, yet I don’t think theory’s prevalence has declined recently (probably because of lots of other unfair things affs do).

            c) This gets at the “offensive counter-interp” question. Very few counter interpretations do what you’re saying, which is prove that the initial act of running theory is unfair (necessary to prove a 1N violation of the 1AR theory argument). I’ve never seen a counter-interp that doesn’t just justify the initial practice, which just begs the question of the RVI debate. Also, if theory is already reciprocal, then the RVI is unnecessary or even harmful since it gives the aff, then, two potential theory outs — 1AR can choose theory or the RVI, but the neg doesn’t necessarily get that choice (if the RVI is run, there’s nothing for the 2NR to RVI).

            d) Why should we presume that the aff is fair? In a world where lots of affs have (possibly) unfair tricks, spikes, contingencies, etc. (i.e., the world we live in), it doesn’t make sense to give these affs the benefit of the doubt. And even if these affs are fair, then they should have to prove it! We shouldn’t change our standards/thresholds for abuse based on an unverified presumption. Reciprocity also answers this: both debaters have to prove they’re fair if their fairness is called into question. Additionally, this seems to be a problem with an offense-defense paradigm (calling for “higher standards” seems to be a response to “risk of offense” scenarios”), not the lack of an RVI. Finally, an additional disad to the RVI here: it tilts the scales too much in favor of the good theory debater who can then abuse their power if the onus is on the opponent to prove a “higher standard” for a fairness voter.

            PS – I appreciate the compliment.

          • Paras Kumar

            Bob and Alex,

            RE: Time skew

            1. This response is silly and misses the point. There’s a clear bright line for which time skews are unfair and which are not. For example, reading 2 disads (god forbid!) and engaging util without running theory (a strategy we both know you didn’t like Bob) is not an unfair skew of time. The bright line is couched in reciprocity; skews of time that are non-reciprocal should be considered abusive. I agree that there are varying levels of abuse and this might be a reason why theory shouldn’t be a reason to vote in the first place but rather a reason to exclude arguments (which would render the RVI useless since you can’t have reverse voting issue if it isn’t a voting issue in the first place), but that’s a different conversation that we should have another time.

            I’d love to talk more about reciprocity as a bright line for delineating time skew at a later time, but I think it meets the 2 biggest concerns for bright lines which is verifiability and objectivity.

            RE: No Impact

            1. I’m not saying theory is bad. I love theory. It is way more fun to judge than most iterations of the util or framework debate I’ve seen in my 2 years as a judge (I can think of maybe 5 good util rounds I’ve judged). The issue isn’t whether theory is “bad”, but rather whether if it is “unfair”. My position is that when the neg chooses to run theory, there needs to be argumentative responsibility, and the RVI helps provide for that (this is where Alex’s points come in and he’s on the money about a lot of things–I’ll get to that in a bit). If we can agree that the RVI provides that argumentative responsibility (which we may not be able to do), than it is absolutely essential to ensuring people don’t abuse theory. Again, this is also where the “aff can run theory to solve, you don’t need an RVI to achieve argumentative responsibility” argument could become really important, since whether the RVI is absolutely essential depends on how viable the alternative of reading theory against something the 1N did (which btw is what an RVI is…) is. If the alt’s not viable, then the RVI is essential to preventing the neg from reading a functional no-risk issue that is game over. My suggestion is that the viability of the alt is compromised by the length of our debate rounds. Policy doesn’t need an RVI because its way longer and the STRATEGIC VALUE of running a stupid argument is much smaller. In LD, if you read enough bad arguments, the lack of speech times makes it very possible you’ll win.

            I’m not sure my claim has been empirically denied–your version of empirics is laughable. Empirics need a hypothesis, systematic and consistent approach to recording results, and a sound statistical knowledge, among other things. I think my claim is empirically unverifiable. What I can tell you is that less kids ran theory against me my senior year because every time the neg read theory that wasn’t longer than 5 minutes and my judge wasn’t Jscogg or the like (love you john), I ran a CI and RVI and collapsed to theory. I think people like Jacob or you or Eric or Catherine or etc. etc. etc. had similar experiences re: neg’s reading theory against you. Again, there needs to be a structured approach to figuring this shit out, because you and I get an F on author qualification.

            RE: 3rd Point

            1. What? I’m suggesting the 1ar run a counter-interp (that’s defensive) and than ANOTHER interp (such as mine) which BECOMES offensive IF you win the counter-interp. Yes, this forces the 2ar to win 2 layers to the theory debate. Yes, offensive counter-interps as you discuss them are probably unwarranted planks of the counter-interp.

            2. I agree completely with the last half of your point. Specifically, “two potential theory outs — 1AR can choose theory or the RVI, but the neg doesn’t necessarily get that choice”. I disagree with whether this is bad. I’ve addressed pretty in depth how you choosing theory as an option in LD isn’t very viable, and even if you can, that choice is strategically much less enticing than choosing an RVI (should Alex be wrong). So really, the aff only gets one choice. This also is silly because you aren’t thinking about the comp ability of the interps. Why in the world would you read an RVI and a separate theory shell? The only reason this would happen is if your RVI was “only I get an RVI”. Otherwise, the RVI would extend to both debaters and become functionally useless. It would be a strategic blunder to do both.

            RE: 4th Point

            1. You are right! In a world where aff’s have unfair tricks, spikes, contingencies, etc., we CAN AND SHOULD READ THEORY AGAINST THE AFF EVERY SINGLE TIME! These affs are going to have a tough time winning the counter-interpretation, which you correctly point out as a condition for accessing the RVI. So, who gives a shit that theory is an RVI? Theory can be an RVI and it won’t matter because the counter-interp will always be behind on the substance of the issue.

            Here’s an example of an interp that I think would make the counter-interp very difficult to defend (as with most of my thoughts and work, equal credit goes to jpritt):

            A) Interp–All claims in the affirmative case that justify neither the framework nor offense back to that framework must be structurally delineated from other arguments by numbering, lettering, or a separate section of the caseand must contain an explanation of intended functionality of that claim. In other words, your blippy spikes are terrible for debate. To summarize, your spikes must a) be clearly delineated from every other argument and spike in the AC and b) explain all potential functionality.

            B) Violation–this is confirmed in CX.

            C) Standards–
            1) Argument development – blippy spikes are never fully developed arguments. A fully developed argument includes a claim, warrant and impact and these arguments never have impacts. Further, the arguments are always going to be poor in nature because of how short they are. Labeling the function of arguments and delineating arguments solves the problem by allowing the negative to understand what it’s up against and formulate a coherent strategy.

            Argument development links to fairness. When arguments are not clearly presented, the negative debater cannot formulate a coherent strategy. There is almost always an argument hidden somewhere in the AC that can mean game over in five seconds if conceded.

            Argument development also links to education. Having blippy one sentence spikes destroys substantive clash. The debate becomes about the ten second way out of the round, rather than about actually engaging in and discussing the topic. The fact that these arguments have no topical relevance in the 1AC compounds the problem. We learn in debate by debating about the topic, that’s why we change topics every two months.

            And, Blippy spikes also decrease critical thinking because the affirmative doesn’t have to think about my position, rather they simply extend one sentence and move on and I can’t formulate a strategy no matter how much I think because I have no idea about the potential implication of arguments. This links to education on another level because debate should also teach us critical thinking skills

            ^^I think in a world where this shell is ran, theory should be an RVI. Because I think in a world where any shell is ran and LD is 5 speeches long, THEORY SHOULD ALWAYS BE AN RVI!

            Does this mean super abusive kids will start abusing the RVI? Lol, maybe. I hope not. That ain’t upto me. I can’t debate for every kid. I can’t control for kids being really bad at theory. All I’m saying is that you should be able to win NIBs bad or multiple contingent standards bad against an aff that employs these strategies in an obviously shady way. And if you can’t, you need to think more about this issue theoretically and from both sides and decide if these strategies really are fair for debate.

            So yes, it tilts the scale in favor of you vs. most debaters. But no, it does not tilt the scale in favor for you vs. Eric LeGried. You can have the RVI if you want to read an aff that’s unfair (from my recollection, you’re affs weren’t really unfair at all, so maybe an aff like this wouldn’t be something you wrote personally), and I’ll take Eric (or vice versa with you two flipping roles). Whoever has to defend the unfair AC will probably get humiliated, which is saying something cuz you two are two of the best theory debaters LD has ever seen.

            RE: ALEX

            “Anybody who has the strategic and technical chops to sit on a theory argument for 6 minutes in the 2NR is not going to lose to an RVI, at least not absent a judge who is highly predisposed to vote on one.”

            You’re points are exactly what I would’ve said to me. I shouldn’t have been brash and said 3 words about the RVI solving the issue of getting screwed on theory by the neg. Let me elaborate:

            You are making an empirical claim without an empirical warrant. We need to stop discussing what people in this community find strategic using “empirical data” expressed as “anybody” or “most people”. Are we kidding? That’s not empirical data! Empirics form from specific examples. Without analyzing those specific examples, you can’t form a sound methodology.

            I can’t speak for anyone else’s specific example, but I can speak for mine. Would you say that Steven Adler and Jake Sonnenberg had the strategic and technical chops to sit on a theory argument for 6 minutes in the 2N? I would say they would, because I saw them do it like thugs several times. But, when we had rounds where I ran an RVI and collapsed to theory, both of them dumped on the RVI. I picked up Matt Wilson, Nikhil Bharghava, Ankur (I think–blanking on the judge), and Michael Overing. In fact, not once did I lose the RVI debate to anyone ever. Does that mean I won the theory debate and the round? NO! I lost 2/4 ballots to Jake and Steven on theory. But I lost 0/4 ballots to Jake and Steven on the RVI. The point is: if you are really passionate about not getting fucked every time the neg reads theory and you get technically fast enough and can group a bunch of short arguments effectively, you can win the RVI! Does this mean you win? Hell nah! I wish man, haha. The point is, it can be done, it has be done, and it will be done by some people in the future (again, if you want help with this hit me up). It just won’t be done by everyone, which is why we assign winners and losers. I also think it’s really important for my peers to speak about their experiences so we can start accumulating some actual data.

            Real quick side-track thought for anyone actually following this conversation: Is reading an RVI and collapsing to theory a strategic decision for the aff from the standpoint of time tradeoffs? Maybe. I’d say it depends on who you are and what you are good at. In most cases, probably not. The rough formula I would use to measure this would be: Judge x how bullshit the shell is x strength of opponent on theory in that order. It’s probably best to beat theory at the voter or with a plain old interp if the 1N does a poor job on substance and you can win substance. This is again a very fascinating conversation that has many perspectives that I’d love to hear and discuss later.


            The point of my specific example about myself (I tried not to sound like a douchebag, hope i didn’t) is that it is an empirical denial to your claims. Now, if I were to offer these empirics up in a court or debate round or formal setting, you’d rightfully laugh at me because the sample size of my “empirical denial” is 1. More work needs to be done. But the point is, it can be done, and if I were debating a round, given that my formula came up favorable, I’d probably continue running the RVI because I truly believe that it’s the best strategy. You haven’t convinced me otherwise, though I’m open to conversation.

            Last, and most importantly, the easiest answer to your response are judges. If we as a community decide that we want to keep LD 5 speeches long, we as a community need to have a conversation about the role of theory. I vote we establish a norm saying something along the lines of my interp in the RVI shell I posted for all the reasons outlined above. Please don’t underestimate the importance of this point–if a norm is created making RVI a 2-way street, affs will be much better off and we will start seeing better theory debates as well as substantive debates.

            Less people will run stupid ass shit. The quality of theory debates will increase because we can truly focus on the abuse in round.

            The irony about my position is that I really think it’s a plan B. Plan A should be to make the debate round longer. Every minute we increase the debate round by is another minute in which the aff can explain why the theory argument is stupid AND STILL WIN SUBSTANCE! This is where we should learn seriously and have an honest and critical dialogue with people in the LD community from a policy background (such as Scott Phillips, Greg Achten, Tim Case, Mike Bietz, among others). I think these people can offer real insights on the impact of increasing the number of speeches and length of speeches on theory debates. It’s not like theory debate in policy debate is substantively different from theory in LD. Theory is theory is theory. They still discuss ground, literature, fairness, education, etc., but they just do it in a significantly different manner than LD does.

            Bottom line: the RVI is the 2nd best solution to 1ar’s answering theory. Best solution is to increase speech times. But should we continue to have a 5 speech event, there’s no question the RVI is necessary. Theory without the RVI makes affirming unnecessarily hard, especially when you debate someone like larry or jeff or moerner who were masters at NC, T/Theory, 5-8 developed fwk responses, and 3-4 developed turns on the aff. What are you going to do in that 1ar? Beat theory and turn the NC? Beat theory, beat fwk dump, and the turns? That 1AR sucks a lot more than it would normally because they ran theory! If we create a norm making theory an RVI, it’ll force debaters who were good at theory to at least reconsider there decision to run theory because now the 1ar collapse to theory is sufficient for these debaters to lose! Again, this does not make it so that affs will become abusive. If it’s abusive, win the interp! Why is that so hard to do? It’s abusive!

            I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that if that norm had existed, I would NOT have ran some shells that I did purely as a time suck in front of judges like jscoggs, or diehl, or dan mayers,

            This is my last comment. I have too much ochem to do. I actually can’t believe I just typed this much shit out about debate jargon. I’m not gonna check this thread till after tuesday, so please email me and we can talk about this later!


            PS: I didn’t even mention education. Though it’s probably not as important in an actual debate round as education, I think there needs to be a more critical examination of the educational values to this community. Eric, Emily, Jeff, and Larry should be commended for taking the time to talk about that shit. We need to more critically assess education. This is a really long conversation on which I have a lot of thoughts, but on the surface it seems like education can be a really good tiebreaker on the theory debate when the fairness debate is tied. A good example of this is something this thread originally mentioned about skepticism. When someone reads skep bad with only a reciprocity standard [<–why would you ever do that??? please, don't do that! that's so unstrategic] and someone says you could've done it too so its reciprocal, technically this person is correct and that solves the reciprocity claim (which is why you should couch reciprocity in terms of ground or clash and also read a separate standard about how skepticism moots the value of everything in the AC below the framework). This argument would make the fairness debate a tie, but education can be a good way to resolve whether skepticism should be included (I'm undecided on this issue, I think Eric brings up a lot more points).

            PPS: Long live the RVI


          • You have some kind of weird views about how theory functions (e.g. that reciprocity is an insufficient argument against skepticism), and couching them in aggressive terms (e.g. all caps, “laughable,” “This response is silly”) doesn’t make them any better. Let the args do the talking.

            a) Time skew

            You again fail to articulate what that bright line would be. Why would 2, 3, or 4 disads be any more reciprocal than 1 theory shell? Seems like the aff would have a pretty hard time responding and winning on either layer of that debate. Also, this just begs the question once again – you say that time skews that are unreciprocal is bad, sure, but you’re deviating from a model that’s already reciprocal, i.e. both debaters can run theory. New argument here: especially given the amount of theory and spikes in the affs, the AC+1AR has more than enough time to engage in the theory debate. Your examples from before about being able to sit on any part of the shell in the 2NR are probably true for any argument (a good disad debater could sit on the impacts for 6 minutes…) and are solved in a world where the AC is actually fair / can prove that it’s fair.

            b) Impacts

            How can theory be unfair? This is the claim that baffles me most. Theory is a response to unfairness: everyone has the prima facie burden to be fair. This is like claiming a disad to the aff on the util debate is unfair. It’s just another argument that may or may not be right. This one just happens to appeal to values that most of us agree are more important (i.e., there’s little disagreement about the importance of fairness, but it’s easier to dismiss a disad on the grounds of framework). And before you say that disads are turnable, theory is too if you can show that the neg violated or impact turn fairness.

            You didn’t answer the part of my post where I said that the aff CAN run theory. If you’re fair, it shouldn’t be hard to prove given AC+1AR time. Again (this went unanswered), if there’s time to win a counter-interp and read RVIs, then there’s time to efficiently answer theory and/or run theory and weigh. My explanation in a) is more support. Also, it’s probably easier to run theory and be on the right side of the issue since a lot of more neg heavy strategies we would normally find abusive (skep, other forms of up layering, abuse of fiat, abusive counterplan strategies, etc). Sure, we can both agree that ideally, LD would have more speeches. Regarding your claim that bad arguments win: sure, sometimes, it’s certainly not the case that bad arguments win more often than not on account of the time skew. That also is probably a product of debaters failing to adapt to these “bad arguments” rather than the structure of the activity benefitting them. Ultimately, the better debaters win because they can beat these bad arguments regardless of their side.

            Gee nice ad hom. Clearly, I don’t know what empirics are. Moving on, maybe the deterrent effect is probably bad; I don’t think we should lower our standards so both poor and effective theory debaters have another weapon in their arsenal that enable them to be more unfair. In summary, if you’re fair, prove it; if not, then you don’t deserve the RVI because it incentivizes strategies that justify unfair practices – e.g. 4 minutes of theory + RVI in the 1AR. Even if the neg’s on the right side of the issue (warning, opinion: e.g. my TOC octas round last year where I defended no skep triggers), the neg has to run a hugely long shell to hedge against 1AR strategies that justify the abuse (e.g. long prepared RVIs, blipstorms, etc.)

            I personally think our author quals are pretty good. We’ve had more rounds debating or judging these issues than most people, and there’s no/little LD literature that discusses anything like this conversation, so it’s not like there’s a better alternative (who, in your mind, would be qualified to speak on RVIs in LD?)

            c) You can run theory too

            Let me know if I’m missing something; seems like the only place you say 1AR choosing theory isn’t viable is in the time skew section (you said you addressed this “in depth,” so I’m wondering if there’s anything else). Still, if the aff has time to win two layers of theory debate, then I don’t think time skew’s such a problem. Why can’t the aff just run a new theory shell on the neg (if it’s so easy to generate frivolous abuse stories)?

            You misunderstand my argument. It’s not that the 1AR’s would run both, but that it could, meaning that it gets to choose between the two. This is a similar argument as to why skep triggers / skepticism is bad, which I’d think you tend to agree with, because yes, while the debater might choose to just go for skep (seemingly making the debate 1 to 1 in burden structures), they have the option of going for either, which gives them a strategic advantage. The 1AR in your world can choose whether or not the counter-interp or potential new interp is better, a tactical luxury the 2NR doesn’t get if the RVI is chosen.

            d) Presumption

            I think our differing experiences probably inform a lot of the argument that’s going on here, and this is where those differences are obvious. You say “These affs are going to have a tough time winning the counter interpretation” and “Does this mean super abusive kids will start abusing the RVI?” The answer is yes, it’s already happened. I’ve been in / judged a number of debates where RVIs and extensive theory blocks are used to justify abusive practices. Your spikes shell doesn’t cut it in a world where there’s a 4 minute counter-interp strategy or a huge blipstorm of I-meets and theory-not-a-voter. Unfair debaters are the ones who utilize the RVI in the status quo, at least in the rounds I’ve been in/watched. I think anyone around the national circuit the last two seasons in particular could think of debaters from certain schools in the Sunshine State or New York suburbs who have benefited from the RVI as a deterrent or game-winner in the 1AR when reasonably, their practices could be called unfair. Yes, the stellar theory debater can still beat these strategies, but it requires more work in the NC (which it shouldn’t) and allows mediocre theory debaters with extensive prep-outs to do more damage than they otherwise would.

            PS – good luck with ochem

          • You say: “How can theory be unfair? This is the claim that baffles me most. Theory is a response to unfairness: everyone has the prima facie burden to be fair. This is like claiming a disad to the aff on the util debate is unfair. It’s just another argument that may or may not be right.”

            I’m puzzled at where you draw the line for “arguments that can be unfair” such that it includes skep triggers but excludes theory and disadvantages. It seems like skep triggers are also “just another argument that may or may not be right”, like a disadvantage. Of the 3, the odd one out seems to be theory. It makes a claim about the structure of the debate.

            You say the aff can read theory, too, but isn’t that just what the RVI does? In a round where the neg reads a stock NC, a theory shell, and answers to the AC framework, the only real abuse is that there’s a no risk theory shell that will make the 1AR a lot more pressed for time. The aff could read 1ar theory arguing that unnecessary theory is unfair, but how different is that from the RVI?

          • We can have a separate debate about skep triggers if that’d make you happy; I use them as an example because they’re a common strategy that most people would find abusive. The difference here is actually pretty simple. It is expected that debaters are fair. That is, a debater can expect walking into any round that they will have to be fair in order to win. Skep triggers do not raise the question of a burden normally assumed to be a prima facie obligation in any debate round. They alter the playing field by creating multiple conditional, often bidirectional outs for one debater. No one expects to have to fulfill those nibs because they’re imposed by the debater, not the structure of the activity, which requires fairness.

            I’ve answered “RVI = aff theory” multiple times. Please read my posts before responding. For your convenience, I’ll summarize a few of the arguments here. (For those of you who did read my posts above, I’m sorry for the redundancies – from “Fifth” on there may be new material). First is that theory is already reciprocal, so any deviation is probably going to introduce a structure that benefits the debater initiating the deviation. That is, a 2-2 or 3-3 burden structure is probably going to be less fair and definitely less verifiably fair than a 1-1 burden structure (i.e., both debaters should be fair and can indict each other’s fairness). Second is that the 1AR’s ability to have both new theory and an RVI is unfair, since it has a strategic option that the 2NR doesn’t necessarily have. This is elaborated upon above. Third is that this takes out the only viable answer I see to “aff can read theory too,” which is time skew, since if you have time for a fleshed out counter-interp and RVI shell, you can certainly read theory on the negative. You state time pressure as an argument but don’t respond to any of the arguments made on the posts above. Fourth is that great theory debaters can abuse the RVI in a way they can’t abuse theory (since RVIs have a possible deterrent effect). Also, mediocre theory debaters have an advantage since prep matters more when you can blipstorm I-meets / a 4 minute counter-interp to justify your abusive practices; they do much more damage with the RVI. Fifth is that there may be value in testing the fairness of the aff, even if it’s wrong. (I don’t think we should assume the theory to be “unnecessary” anyway, but if we have to…) Like testing a policy via different counter-advocacies and disadvantages, the fairness of the aff can only be ensured through tests such as neg theory.

            Basically, your post is, “why not RVI,” which should never be the question when introducing a new voting structure for debate. And an additional new argument here: saying RVIs unfairly changes how we evaluate arguments, since defense becomes offense. Reasons the theoretical disad isn’t true (that is, taking out one of the links) becomes a reason to vote aff, which is never how we evaluate arguments on the rest of the flow. This deviation is harmful since it invites judges to change how they evaluate arguments arbitrarily and probably has unpredictable impacts. It’s also unreciprocal since the person running theory can only win via offense, but the debater responding can win via offense or defense on the theory flow.

            In before I-meet + RVI blipstormers down vote me.

          • Yes, I read your posts before responding.This wasn’t a comprehensive defense of RVIs. As I said, I was responding to the “Aff can just read theory” argument. There might be other reasons against RVIs, but I don’t have anything new to add there that hasn’t been covered. I’ll defer to Paras on those.

            You say the reason that theory is fair is because aff can read theory, too. My point was that in many rounds, where the NC is stock, predictable, and turnable, the best theory available to the aff is “neg may not run unnecessary theory.” An RVI just seems like a truncated version of this 1AR theory shell. It’s just a piece of theory offense. The 2-to-1 advantage from reading 1ar theory and an RVI is no different than the 2-to-1 advantage from reading two 1ar theory shells. The RVI only adds one more theory argument to an incredibly large number the aff could read.

            Regarding your 5 arguments, 1-2 are what I am responding to. 3-5 are separate problems with RVIs. They might be good reasons to reject RVIs, but I don’t think “aff can read 1ar theory” is.

          • No, the RVI advantage is distinct since there are two routes to the ballot, which the 2NR doesn’t have access to. Yes, maybe the RVI is a better strategic option in some cases, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t two possible routes, which is the basis for my reciprocity claim (#2). My #1 still answers this, since it’s about different win-conditions, not how easy/hard each one might be in a given round situation. The aff still CAN read theory (and many affs do). In answer to “the neg might have been too fair to run theory”: theory can always be run, as proven by the fact that the RVI forwarder tends to claim that NC theory is “unnecessary” or “frivolous.” If the neg can do it, then the aff can engage on the same level.

            Also, “aff can read 1AR theory” isn’t a positive reason for the RVI; it’s a response to reciprocity arguments.

          • Ok, this is a very long post and there is a whole lot going on here. I promise that I will write a detailed response at some point (maybe as a post, maybe in article form). The cliffs notes version is that I agree with you that we need a change in judging norms, but I disagree with you that the judging norm should be to make theory a two-way street. Your arguments in defense of the RVI do not seem to indicate that the RVI is a good idea on its own merits, but rather that the RVI has an important place in LD as a counterbalance to other abusive practices and structural skews. My point is that the judging norms that make those practices viable in the first place are problematic, and that we should fix those norms rather than embracing prophylactic devices like the RVI that are not defensible in an analytical vacuum (because, after all, you shouldn’t win just because you were topical and/or fair, and “time skew” and “strategy skew” are artifacts of the competitive viability of arguments, not an actual imbalance in speaking time or asymmetrical burdens of proof or persuasion).

        • Paras Kumar

          Here’s my opinion of a better articulated RVI (please don’t copy this shell, I wrote it from scratch):

          A. Interpretation- The affirmative/negative must grant me that theory is an RVI; that is, if I win enough defense to show I am not unfair, I win the ballot on theory.

          B. Violation: I asked my opponent if theory is an RVI and they said no.

          C. Standards-

          1) Time skew- Theory skews time because it comes the before substantive debate and operates on a level that precludes it, meaning that the entire 6 minute AC is functionally useless and I only have 7 useful minutes of speech. A bad division of time violates fairness
          because arguments don’t matter if you don’t have time to make them. Time skew is the most important standard in the round because if you don’t have time to make arguments, you can’t debate, making it a prerequisite to all other standards.

          2) Reciprocity- Since theory comes before all other arguments, I have to beat theory AND win the case debate, while my opponent only has to win the theory debate OR the case debate, meaning they can choose
          which layer of the round they want to collapse into in the next speech while I have to go for both in this speech. This is the definition of non-reciprocal strategies: I have to win both but s/he has to win either. This also skews time because no matter how I handle the 1ar/2N, the 2N/2AR can make half of it not matter. This gives them the full value of their 13 minutes of speech time, while large chunks of my speech time are becoming functionally useless.

          Reciprocity is key to fairness because it ensures both debaters have an equitable shot at winning the round.

          D. Voter- Cross apply the fairness voter.

          E. Preempts-

          First, saying that I shouldn’t win for being fair begs the question of the RVI. The RVI provides substantive theoretical justifications for WHY I should win for being fair. I am challenging the key assumption behind
          that argument.

          Second, saying that RVI’s put me ahead because I can bait
          abuse is non-unique. If theory isn’t an RVI, the negative can and will always run theory as a strategy to win the ballot. Think about debaters like Eric Legried and Nate Socolof (love you both).

          • Mathew Pregasen

            The common and pretty well justified response is that theory is not this objective super power argument. It’s like any other argument. What makes it special? Well actually, in the present state of debate, theory requires a near 5 parts to be effective, taking out 1 part is enough to defeat the shell. That is, you need to win the violation, the standard, the link to the voter, the voter impact, and the reason to intervene (plus others like coherency of the interp but thats just frivolous). So technically theory functions at a 1/5 skew to the person running it. I know people might be skeptical of such, but maybe because we tend to be overly defensive about theory and spend too much time about it in the first place and then “feel” the need to have this RVI debate.

          • Paras Kumar

            I’m not denying that there are very effective methods at beating theory quickly (I’d be happy to drill these with anyone interested), but what I’m saying is that a good neg theory debater (like eric, or nate, or bob) will not let you get away with beating them on 1 part of the theory shell because they will sit on it for 6 minutes in the 2N and you will lose, almost every time. The RVI solves.

          • Anybody who has the strategic and technical chops to sit on a theory argument for 6 minutes in the 2NR is not going to lose to an RVI, at least not absent a judge who is highly predisposed to vote on one. I have more serious concerns with your defense of RVIs (both on their merits and because I think the pro-RVI line of thought is symptomatic of some deeper pathologies with national circuit LD) but I am currently brief-writing so I will save a longer response for later.

        • I haven’t read through all of this, but I’m just going to assume that Paras is right, and everyone else is wrong.

        • My argument was that it’s not that hard to beat a truly illogical theory shell, so you don’t need an RVI. I only mentioned the RVI because if I’m wrong and there really is something unfair, uneducational, or otherwise abusive about the neg running illogical theory shells, then the aff can make that argument. We don’t need the judge to intervene. Maybe you think an RVI is the wrong remedy – that’s fine, the aff can argue for some other remedy (I mentioned one other possibility in my post). It’s clear, though, that as a judge, one can’t consistently (a) be persuaded that there’s something abusive about the neg running illogical theory shells and (b) hold that any aff arguments to that effect are unpersuasive.

          • Yeah, but we want to have an RVI debate.

          • Oh yeah, I know, I was just responding to Alex.