Theory in Theory by Paul Dorasil and Clifford Chad Henson

Theory in Theory

Paul Dorasil

Clifford Chad Henson

INTRODUCTION

Recently, reigning TOC champion Rebecca Kuang wrote a criticism of theory debate in Victory Briefs Daily.  In addition to comments on the Victory Briefs website, Carlton Bone responded on NSD Update.  This article is an attempt to provide a perspective on theory debate that benefits from both authors having experienced the problems that existed in high school Lincoln Douglas debate prior to the introduction of theory debate and those that were generated as a result of this introduction.

 

HISTORY

Prior to the introduction of theory, blatantly unfair practices were common and handled (or mishandled) by explicit or implicit judge intervention.  The alternative to today’s introduction of debate theory by debaters in debate rounds was the application of the judge’s own theoretical preferences after the round.  This happened typically without the opportunity for the debaters to know these preferences (through the publication of judging paradigms that now exist) or select their judges on the basis of paradigmatic differences (through MPJ).

We often hear debaters say things along the lines of “A judge shouldn’t vote on a bad theory argument.” or “A judge shouldn’t vote on an abusive position.”  Debaters do not seem to realize that asking judges to do these things requires them to use their own discretion in ways that are unpredictable for both debaters.  We are here to warn you all to not go down that road.  We have been down that road.  We know where it leads.  You do not want to debate in that world.  As you might imagine, many judges excluded things like “all kritiks,” “all counterplans,” and anything that did not reduce to whether morality or justice is more important.  If these seem like reasonable standards, nothing we say here will change your mind.  If this kind of judging deeply concerns you (as it concerns us), then our community needs to develop a clear conception of what a theory argument is, what it should do, and thus when it should be used.

 

FAIRNESS

Between two undifferentiated debaters, affirmative and negative, no person should have any expectation regarding which will win the round.  This, and nothing  more, is what is meant by “fairness.” A “fair” debate round is analogous to the flip of a “fair” coin: we know nothing but that there are two sides, and the two sides have an equal likelihood of being selected.  The formal rules and unstated assumptions debaters and judges bring with them to the round should be such that the debate is fair.  Debate theory that tends toward this is “good” theory while debate theory that tends away from or distracts from this is “bad” theory.

Similarly, a debate topic that results in one side or the other being significantly advantaged is a “bad” topic.  This is why we see theory arguments are more prevalent with “bad” topics.  Debaters must use theory arguments to adjust the balance.  Topicality, as another species of theory, is the effort to make the topic as fair as its wording will allow.  An interpretation of the topic that generates fair debate is a “good” interpretation while an interpretation that generates unfair debate is a “bad” interpretation.

It is currently en vogue, and has been for a long time in college, to ask who determines what is fair, and by what standard. It is almost certainly true that characteristics of debaters and judges will influence the likelihood that one side wins; the authors of this article have documented that judges at the TOC prefer debaters from their region, and it may be that there are racial and sex-based imbalances that we were not able to detect taking place at tournaments other than those we examined. If information about debaters and judges provides a reason for people to have an ex ante expectation regarding the winner of the round, to the extent this creates a problem, it is not a problem of debate theory.  Structural problems such as resource disparities or a lack of minority representation are serious and should be addressed.  However, theory arguments are not and have never been an effective means of addressing these problems.  Indeed, only by making debate rounds otherwise fair will we be able to isolate the effects of these problems in order to address them.

In an ideal debate world, debate theory is such that a perfectly fair topic would yield a perfectly fair debate round.  All unfair positions would either be obviously non-topical or interpret the topic in such a way that it becomes a worse (less fair) topic than it can be.  For example, if the only way to fairly debate a topic is to ban counterplans, then we should ban counterplans.  And if we generally operate under the assumption that counterplans are not banned, then we should regard such a topic as bad (unfair).  Since we can’t change the debate topic during the debate round, we have to use theory arguments to exclude arguments that are unfair given the topic.  This implies that an argument as to why a particular practice is unfair must relate to how that practice makes fair debate of a particular topic impossible.  Therefore, as Kuang suggests, generic theory shells that do not relate to a topic in any way should be viewed with suspicion and contempt. This does not mean that judges should reject them a priori.  Rather, debaters should be able to easily answer them.

However, it may also be that with respect to norm setting, some debate practices will tend toward fairness given a wider range of topics or would make it easier for fair topics to be written.  Thus, some so-called generic theory arguments are reasons to reject/permit an entire species of argument irrespective of the topic.  For example, it may be that banning performance (or topical counterplans, or linear disadvantages) as an argument type would make debate fairer, irrespective of the topic or the range of topics that are debated in practice.  Reasonable people may disagree on which norms are preferable.  But this is exactly why the discussion relevant to the outcome of the debate round should take place within the context of the debate round: leaving the norms of debate to in-round resolution gives debaters a say proportionate to their skill and level of participation in debate, and (presumably) coaches a say proportionate to their ability to train large numbers of skilled debaters. This is better than giving judges an unconstrained influence proportionate to their happening to end up in the back of the room.

 

VOTING ISSUES AND REVERSE VOTING ISSUES

Debaters should always tell judges exactly how a theory argument should function in the round.  This function should be one of the primary focuses of the theory debate. One remedy may be excluding an argument from the debate round while another remedy may be voting a debater down for engaging in a particularly unfair practice.  Specifically, debaters should explain exactly how a particular remedy will result in either a fairer debate round or a fairer debate norm.  The choice of remedy is also strategic in nature.  What theory does within our construct is say that a particular argument or case position should be excluded from debate.  But excluding a good argument is just as bad as including a bad one. So, punishments should be reciprocal.  A debater whose proposed norm would exclude a good argument should be punished exactly the same way as a debater whose proposed norm would include a bad argument.  If a theory argument calls for a debater to be dropped, then it seems reasonable that answering the argument should result in the initial debater being dropped in order to promote reciprocity.  Alternatively, if the theory argument only asks the judge to exclude a single contention, then reciprocity would not imply that answering the theory argument merits a reverse voting issue.  Debaters essentially place bets on theory arguments when they select voters.

Regardless of the remedy, it must relate to fairness because that is the singular goal of theory argumentation.  Education is a joke of a voting issue.  It has nothing to do with the purpose of theory and has created confusion within the community.  That confusion has generated much of the frustration that Ms. Kuang legitimately voiced.  When a good theory argument deters debaters from running unfair case positions, it increases fairness in the activity necessarily. However, there is no such thing as an anti-educational argument.  So, no argument should be excluded on the basis that it is anti-educational.  And no unfair argument should be included on the basis that it is education because it can always be substituted by a fair argument that provides an equal amount of education.

CONLUSION

Theory has two roles.  The first role of theory is to provide a background set of norms that make it easy to write fair topics leading to fair debate.  The second role of theory is topic-specific, to adjust that background set of norms when the topic would yield unfair debate given only those background norms with no adjustment.  Debaters and judges should keep these roles in mind when writing, running, and evaluating theory arguments.  This implies eschewing education as a voting issue and treating voting issues as strategically placed bets, which necessitates that judges use the same thresholds for reverse voting issues as they do for voting issues.

We have a profound desire to know that when we leave the activity, it will be better than it was when we arrived.  We have seen debate improve as an activity during our tenure as competitors, judges, and coaches.  However, a sufficiently strong backlash against theory could reverse the progress that has been made over the past fifteen years. It is important that debaters remember that debate theory is inherently neither liberal nor conservative, friendly to neither large nor small schools, performance- or fiat-focused debaters, but has been considered the friend (and enemy) of each of these groups at various times. Whatever your beliefs about what is good for debate, debate theory is the vehicle with which, if you are right, you should be able to convince others – and thereby gain a strategic advantage.

 

  • Pingback: Premier Debate Today – Theory Advocates – Bob Overing()

  • Pingback: Premier Debate Today – Is disclosure theory different? — Bob Overing()

  • Bob Overing

    RE: reverse voting issues and norm-setting

    “But excluding a good argument is just as bad as including a bad one. So, punishments should be reciprocal. A debater whose proposed norm would exclude a good argument should be punished exactly the same way as a debater whose proposed norm would include a bad argument.”

    When a debater proposes a new rule and is wrong, why should (s)he be punished? If the counter-interpretation is won, then there is no ground loss to the respondent.

    Maybe the argument is reliant on the view that theory is about norm-setting, which seems wrong to me. I think we can understand theory’s function apart from norms. I.e., theory establishes the rules for a *particular* debate. Here are some questions/qualms I have about the norms view:

    A) Why is initiating a theory debate an attempt to create an out-of-round norm any more than reading a perm on a counterplan?

    B) The norms approach also seems to encourage intervention: a judge might be reluctant to vote for a debater if it sets a particular norm that (s)he personally disagrees with.

    C) If a debater can win simply by forwarding the best norm, then can’t the aff be “evidence is good, and that’s a good norm, so affirm?”

    • Raymond Zhang

      Can you please explain the A) more, i’m confused about the comparison.

    • Chad Henson

      1. A debater who proposes a new rule that should not be a rule has advocated making debate worse (less fair). If any advocacy should be punished with a loss, it seems that this should. Moreover, a theory argument is effectively calling one’s opponent a cheater – saying that there is a rule or norm in place that your opponent has violated to your detriment, and that an appropriate punishment attaches to this.

      2. You correctly identify that our argument relies on theory as norm-setting. Theory is norm-setting, both as a theoretical matter (the interpretation is a rule that derives its justifications – standards – from things common across debate rounds) and as a practical matter (arguments that keep dropping to theory will stop getting run). There are minor exceptions to first point (Greenhill Hege DA, Celebration K from circa 2005-2006), but not the second.

      The alternative that you offer is that theory establishes a norm only for a particular debate. Taken literally, that is an incoherent position: forming a norm requires repetition, and a single debate only takes place once. Assuming that you mean that theory establishes the *rules* for a particular debate, the position is no longer incoherent, but seems plainly (a) false and (b) undesirable. On the false point, the practical function of theory being run across rounds is the establishment of a norm, to the extent that the theory debates are resolved consistently (i.e., one side is right), and a controversy to the extent that theory debates are resolved inconsistently (i.e., resolution of the theory debate is almost entirely random or a function of debater skill rather than a function of the side of the debate taken). On the undesirable point, it seems relatively uncontroversial that the vast majority of us do not like to debate or judge theory debates. I actually don’t mind it much occasionally, and was one of the initial advocates of theory debate as the alternative to the shitty world that existed pre-theory, but the proportion of rounds coming down to theory is getting ridiculous. If there are no expectations for the conduct of the round (i.e., “norms”) that are stable across rounds, then every round regardless of topic becomes a 45-minute discussion of what the rules ought to be to the extent the debaters don’t happen to agree. To the extent that people think this is a good way for debate to be, I have little to say, just like I have little to say to people who want my conception of what is good for debate (or Dave McGinnis’s, Aaron Timmons’s, or Jane Boyd’s) to govern what happens in rounds regardless of what the debaters say or do. I’m talking to the other 95% of you who would like to debate the topic, advance your pet project, or engage in interpretive dance.

      A. A little more clarification on this point would be helpful. A perm on a CP is a test of competition: an argument that the plan does not in fact have the opportunity cost asserted by the negative. The perm on the CP only sets (or rather relies upon) the norm that the perm of the CP is an acceptable answer to it.

      B. It is true that a willful judge may ignore their responsibility to adjudicate the round fairly between two debaters because they dislike the consequences of theory disputes. These judges should be hanged (or at least shunned), just like all judges who willfully vote on matters extrinsic to the arguments presented in the debate round. Debate is about the debaters, not the judges. Our time has come and gone. Only when something in-round happens that precludes a fair resolution by the debaters involved, or would have a direct effect on non-participants who cannot themselves offset this, should a judge intervene like that. And in case it’s not clear, I’m talking about things like physical violence (can’t debate a punch), illegal activities (school’s insurance), or giving a 3NR (tournament schedule). But more to the point, willful judges will be willful judges – they have an incentive to do the things you talk about now (i.e., the direct effect on the likelihood that they will have to hear things they don’t like) that is stronger than the marginal one norm setting provides. Moreover, for that very reason, norm-setting is inevitable – the existence of judges who will not/only vote for an argument decreases/increases the likelihood that debaters will cut such arguments.

      C. That is not the standard our position establishes. It is not that the person who puts forth the best norm wins. It is that someone who *violates* the best norm loses, and someone who would *punish* a debater who *does* adhere to the best norm loses (assuming that the win was the “bet” placed on the theory). If someone advocates “evidence good,” the other side could… read evidence.

      • Bob Overing

        1-

        “If any advocacy should be punished with a loss, it seems that this should”

        Why?

        “a theory argument is effectively calling one’s opponent a cheater”

        Yes, we punish cheaters. Why should someone be punished for a wrongful accusation? There’s obviously a difference between doing something unfair and calling someone’s practice unfair. The former IS unfair and the latter is not…

        You say under C) that “someone who *violates* the best norm loses.” (I’m not sure why the norm view is concerned only with creating better norms when they’re violated in the particular debate. If theory should set norms, then what if this one debater complies but generally, debaters do not. Wouldn’t your norms view argue that it’s good to vote for the debater in favor of the preferable norm, even if there’s no violation?) This does not entail that someone who tries to establish a bad norm loses. Focus here should be on the violation – a debater reading a theory interp does not violate a rule for debate. There is no rule that says “don’t question established norms.” That would be absurd (I could elaborate here).

        2-

        I’m not contesting that norms do exist and result from theory debates, but I don’t think that a model based on norms is necessary or desirable for evaluating said debates.

        The A) point is to question what the dividing line is between arguments which establish norms and those that don’t. Clearly, all arguments are capable of norm-setting. If your explanation that we should want to establish good norms (through dropping the debater if the norm proposed is bad enough), then if a counterplan, value, or piece of evidence is bad enough, a debater should lose on face to set a norm. The norm model seems needlessly complex – why can’t a judge evaluate the debate at hand rather than consider all the possible normative effects of the outcome?

        B) If theory is about setting norms, then wouldn’t judges-as-educators be concerned with which norms are set? If an abhorrent (perhaps massively unfair) argument wins in this particular round, according to the norms view, then a judge probably *should* reject it to avoid the deleterious effects on norms. Your response is that judges who intervene will
        intervene. That’s not responsive to my argument that the norms view allows for or even condones that kind of intervention because it defends that judges should be concerned with theoretical norms.

        D) How do debaters know when norms are violated? How can we tell what is or is not a norm? When the norm is unclear (which is often – that’s one of the causes of lots of theory debates), then isn’t the solution to just debate out the issue in the particular round?

        • Chad Henson

          “I’m not contesting that norms do exist and result from theory debates, but I don’t think that a model based on norms is necessary or desirable for evaluating said debates.”

          It may be that we don’t disagree as much as I initially thought. Norms result from theory debates. We agree on that. I would go further: theory debate is an exercise in debater-driven norm setting. This is evident from the structure of a theory shell: the interpretation/proposed rule, the violation of that rule, the reasons why that rule is good, and the appropriate punishment for violating it. The interpretation, in order to generate standards, will need to appeal to one or more goals of debate. Paul and I make the case that the only goal of debate to which it can meaningfully appeal is fairness. A good interpretation is one that, if it became a widely accepted norm, would make debate approach fairness relative to the non-existence of a rule or a specific counter-interpretation. Whether this standard is met should be decided on the flow rather than based on the judge’s preconceptions regarding preferable norms. If that was unclear before, I’m sorry for the lack of clarity.

          If the result is that the two of us (and I assume from numerous upvotes that many share your position) only disagree about RVIs and we’re otherwise in agreement that theory should be and is an effort to articulate stable rules that generate fairness across debate rounds, then I walk away happy. 🙂 RVIs are an interesting issue, but not the central point of this article. The central point was to defend the use and value of theory to include/exclude arguments and provide a singular basis on which those arguments should be included/excluded. With that said…

          1. Calling someone’s practice unfair, when it is not, is an effort to cause the judge to punish this person in a way that they do not deserve to be punished. The extent of the punishment is the “bet” placed. If you would cause a person to be punished when they do not deserve punishment, you wrong that person and yourself deserve punishment. How much? As much as you would wrongfully inflict on others.

          2/A. The logic of my position does not extend to voting up people who propose good norms acontextually. The difference between theory arguments and these other positions you mention is that theory arguments are an effort to IMPOSE a norm – the proposal/identification of a rule associated with a penalty for failure to follow it. If someone runs a States CP, they aren’t attempting to impose a norm that States CPs are legit – they are simply seeing if they can get away with one. Where the issue is not brought up in the round, no norm-setting question arises. The States CP may not encounter theory because it is non-controversial, or because it is bad and easily defeated without recourse to theory, or for any number of other reasons. When someone seeks to exclude a States CP on theoretical grounds, they are making the argument that there is something about the nature of the debate process that makes the States CP an inappropriate argument to run. It is the wrongful imposition of a norm that justifies the RVI.

          2/B. The role of the judge under my theory framework is to adjudicate a given debate, not to set norms. The norm-setting is done by the debaters, over time, in many rounds. The norm that the judge should vote for is the norm that, given the arguments articulated in the rounds, the arguments indicate that the judge should vote for. If judges don’t accept non-intervention (to the extent possible) as a side constraint, then they’re bad judges and I have nothing to say about them. I haven’t articulated a theory for designed to make evil people less evil, but rather a way for debaters to conceptualize theory debate and reasons why a particular conception of fairness is central to doing that while avoiding the problems of old conceptions of fairness. I hope these bad, evil judges don’t read what I write and skew it to suit their own inflated opinions of themselves and their role. To the extent that they do, I propose shooting them. To summarize: (1) Debate theory is and should be structured as a norm-setting exercise; and (2) the “goodness” of a norm should be evaluated in terms of the definition of fairness set forth above; but (3) Judges should vote exclusively on the arguments presented in the round to the extent possible.

          2/D. Paul and I are in favor of theory debate, not opposed to it. When a debater does something bad, their opponent should identify this through a standard theory argument, as happens now. This is the case whether the debater is arguing for a new norm or trying to enforce a norm that is broadly accepted now. Sometimes, there will be hotly contested issues about what the norm should be, as was the case when debaters first started specifying advocacies in LD. There will be many theory debates on them. Eventually, one side will come to win those debates consistently, and there will be a new norm, and the next generation of debaters won’t know that the issue was ever controversial.

          If you’re talking about the “backdrop of norms” idea in theory – that a specific practice should be evaluated given the existence of generally accepted practices now, I suppose that is also open to debate. Since it is now relatively uncontroversial that affirmatives have the right to specify an advocacy within some range (e.g., have a plan), theory debate about whether kritiks linking off of topic-specified agents are acceptable should assume that plans are acceptable or specify otherwise. If the debaters disagreed about whether the AFF has the option to specify an advocacy, and it doesn’t get brought up until a theory debate on the kritik, then that could get a bit messy. The debaters would have to hash that out as best they could and there would likely end up being some measure of judge input into the resolution of that issue, given the time structure of LD and the near-impossibility of sufficient back-and-forth to resolve the issue if it’s not dropped.

      • Bob Overing

        1-

        “If any advocacy should be punished with a loss, it seems that this should”

        Why?

        “a theory argument is effectively calling one’s opponent a cheater”

        Yes, we punish cheaters. Why should someone be punished for a wrongful accusation? There’s obviously a difference between doing something unfair and calling someone’s practice unfair. The former IS unfair and the latter is not…

        You say under C) that “someone who *violates* the best norm loses.” (I’m not sure why the norm view is concerned only with creating better norms when they’re violated in the particular debate. If theory should set norms, then what if this one debater complies but generally, debaters do not. Wouldn’t your norms view argue that it’s good to vote for the debater in favor of the preferable norm, even if there’s no violation?) This does not entail that someone who tries to establish a bad norm loses. Focus here should be on the violation – a debater reading a theory interp does not violate a rule for debate. There is no rule that says “don’t question established norms.” That would be absurd (I could elaborate here).

        2-

        I’m not contesting that norms do exist and result from theory debates, but I don’t think that a model based on norms is necessary or desirable for evaluating said debates.

        The A) point is to question what the dividing line is between arguments which establish norms and those that don’t. Clearly, all arguments are capable of norm-setting. If your explanation that we should want to establish good norms (through dropping the debater if the norm proposed is bad enough), then if a counterplan, value, or piece of evidence is bad enough, a debater should lose on face to set a norm. The norm model seems needlessly complex – why can’t a judge evaluate the debate at hand rather than consider all the possible normative effects of the outcome?

        B) If theory is about setting norms, then wouldn’t judges-as-educators be concerned with which norms are set? If an abhorrent (perhaps massively unfair) argument wins in this particular round, according to the norms view, then a judge probably *should* reject it to avoid the deleterious effects on norms. Your response is that judges who intervene will intervene. That’s not responsive to my argument that the norms view allows for or even condones that kind of intervention because it defends that judges should be concerned with theoretical norms.

        D) How do debaters know when norms are violated? How can we tell what is or is not a norm? When the norm is unclear (which is often – that’s one of the causes of lots of theory debates), then isn’t the solution to just debate out the issue in the particular round?

  • Raymond Zhang

    Hey, this is my first time posting on this forum so bare with me. I disagree that education is a joke of a voter. I think too often we focus on the strategic utility of debate that we do forget that this activity is based around education, and learning about the topic. In my opinion the lean towards fairness sees debater’s sole purpose is to win the round, while this is very important. I think we should step back and realize that students want to learn as well, and taking that away from the round would really push some people away from the activity. I do think fairness is a good voter, but i believe education cannot be forgotten.

    • Chad Henson

      I agree with you that education is important. I’ve worked as an educator myself. However, many things that are good are not voting issues in theory debate. Here are some difficulties with education as a voter.

      1. As difficult as fairness is to define without recourse to subjective values that will privilege one group over another, education is far more difficult to define. Education about different subjects, using different teaching/learning methods, at different times and in different ways will be preferred by different groups. Debate theory is at its most inclusive when it is at its most agnostic, and there is no way to be agnostic with regard to educational values. The same cannot be said of fairness, as illustrated above.

      2. Virtually any round is, in some sense, educational. It will encourage research and thinking about something by someone – if only how to beat back shitty theory arguments. Theory debates educate us about an activity we engage in. Postmodern criticism educates us about postmodern philosophy and criticism as an activity. Performance and narratives educate us about alternative approaches to argument, in addition to whatever the performance or narrative substantively contains. And traditional topical argument educates us about the topic. This is what Paul and I mean when we say that there is no such thing as anti-educational debate.

      3. Someone who engages in an activity or strategy one believes to be less than ideally educational has not harmed anyone. One cannot reasonably expect, much less claim a “right,” to a certain amount of education resulting from the round. In some rounds, debaters will make good and creative arguments nobody else has heard before; other rounds will be a rehash of arguments heard 20 times by everyone. The logic of voters for education extends far beyond the goals that we can expect theory to reasonably accomplish.

      4. Debaters have no incentive to be “uneducational.” A debater is no better off for behaving in a way contrary to educational objectives, since the education gained from debate is not finite, so there is little need to give debaters a win/loss incentive to promote education. By contrast, debaters have every reason to be unfair because the win/loss portion of debate is a zero-sum game.

      5. To value something means to be willing to give something up for it. In other words, education only matters in the theory context if education is voted on *even when* the requirements imposed by education are unfair. The voter for education says, in effect, “You should be willing to accept a less-than-even chance that you will win the round, to the advantage of your opponent, in order to ensure that education of a sort I value takes place.” This is precisely the sort of top-down imposition of educational norms that debate obtains its educational value by eschewing in favor of a participant-driven model. Ironically, imposed education strips debate of much of its educational value.

      • Raymond Zhang

        Hi Chad, thanks for responding. I will try and answer some of the points because I think i might be confused with some of the responses and I dont have answers to some of the responses lol.

        1. I think this is true, and this is hard to define education and prioritize which form is better. I think very similar to Rebar, i think there are different forms of education and it is up to the debater to convince you why their form of education is better in round.

        2. I dont think we have much “clash” on this. I do agree that even the most “uneducation” rounds have some education within it. But this could be said for fairness as well…

        3. I think I have fundamental disagreement with you on this point. I think each debater has a “right” to education. Of course you are right some rounds will just be reading blocks that you know the answer to and not that educational but I’m talking about practices that specifically cut off some education. IE theory justified frameworks might be objectionable because it means there will be less philosophy education within the round however theory justified frameworks might provide better topic specific education. ( I’m not taking a stance on it being good or bad merely using it as an example) Maybe a better example is K education vs topic education. Maybe aff runs a K that is completely not topical, neg would then run topicality. The debate would then be centered around whether K education would out weigh topic education.

        4. I think there are times where you will make strategic trade offs from educational ones. While those might be objectionable in terms of fairness as well, I think it can be justified to consider education also. Also i think if we were to incorporate education more it would give incentive to better debate in general. The heavy emphasis on fairness results in a theory debate as soon as it is just a little bit violated. IE Can you honestly say every singe NIB is unfair to the point where the debater cant win the round because of it? Even that NIB might be really educational?

        5. I am not completely sure what is objectionable about this. If a debater is able to provide in round why education outweighs fairness I think this conflict would resolve itself. Further more i think the current structure of LD leans towards fairness, and right now IMO a lot of practices are becoming more and more noneducational. Also education can check abusive arguments just as well. If a judge says I will not vote on theory, however I will also not vote on arguments that are not educational, do you think that will result in a bad debate?

        Another question I then have for you is, if education has been damaged within a round how should a debater handle it? Where would be the discussion of the destruction of education? If there was an argument that was completely fair but had little educational would would this be a good debate?

        Sorry some of these might not be directly answering your points and may seem to be me ranting.

        • Chad Henson

          1. If I thought this conflict were really resolvable “on the flow” in-round, I might agree with you that it’s just about the debaters arguing which form of education is better. The issue I have with this is that the “correct” answer is that there is no answer: different forms of education will be of differing values to different people, and as a practical matter it will come down to what sort of education the judge prefers if the judge has to resolve this conflict.

          2. We may have little clash on this, but what I said of education is decidedly not true of fairness. Fair is not a sliding scale; it is an ideal point. We approach fairness, but we do not get more fairness. There can’t be “some” fairness because one side has a 25% chance to win rather than a 0% chance to win. That is unfair. Moreover, unlike education, there is no tradeoff with fairness. More education in one area, given finite time and resources, trades off with education in another area. The same is not true of fairness.

          3. First, there are two huge problems for the position that there is a right to or expectation of a certain amount of education: (1) you can’t quantify education and (2) education as a voter doesn’t actually generate more of it to the extent that you can quantify it. The point you illustrate is an excellent example of why education collapses to judge preferences. There is no “correct” answer to the issue of topic-based versus critical education. This is fine if there is a general consensus that everyone wants to debate theory as an end, ad infinitum, but that’s not the case: the majority of judges hate listening to theory debates, and most debaters hate engaging in them. To the extent that people advocate caring for education, the type of education they care about is almost never education in argumentation theory, which is what the education voter will produce (has produced). The problem isn’t that we don’t all *want* norms that will enable us to debate the topic (or whatever), but that we disagree as to *what* those norms should be.

          4. I’m not sure what you’re saying on #4, but that may be because my original argument assumed quite a bit. I’ll make it clearer and see if that enables you to make a response I understand (or results in agreement).
          a. The only reason for a debater to engage in an un-educational practice, if they value wins and don’t hate themselves or their opponents, is because it gives them a strategic advantage. Because there is no incentive to engage in un-educational behavior, and hurting in-round education is its own punishment to the extent that the debater values education, there is no need for a mechanism to disincentivize un-educational practice.
          b. Because there is no other incentive to engage in an un-educational practice:
          b1. to the extent that the advantage is an illegitimate/unfair advantage, the fairness voter solves by eliminating the practice; and
          b2. to the extent that the advantage is a legitimate/fair advantage (i.e., approaches fairness), education as a voter will necessarily privilege one debater over another, making the judge complicit in further skewing debate.
          c. Debaters have a very good reason to engage in unfair practices, assuming the value set above. Therefore, unlike education, we need a mechanism to disincentivize this (theory).
          5. I think the previous answers clarify this, except as to your question about the judge both ignoring theory and ignoring *what the judge perceives to be* un-educational practice. The answer is YES! That is awful. It was debate 15 years ago, and it sucked. It’s carte blanche for every judge who dislikes performance and Ks to vote them down with the education fig leaf justification. It’s a world where debaters have an hour-long hard-fought round where the judge figures that the case just wan’t clearly topical and therefore un-educational.
          6. What to do if education has been damaged? First, I don’t think that’s a meaningfully possible scenario. Second, debaters should suck it up. The debate round is an inefficient vehicle for education, and the debater who really values education wouldn’t go to tournaments. They’d do all the research and then read more on the weekends. Between fairness and education, only one of these requires or is enhanced by a competitive setting.

          • Raymond Zhang

            Sorry I dont have enough time to answer all of these points, but i will try and group some of the common assumptions you make and do my best to say what is problematic about them. Hopefully this will promote further discussion. I would like to reinforce that my position is not that fairness isnt a good voter, but rather education is a equally important voter.

            If you dont have time to read the full response that is reasonable, i think we are both entitled to our opinion about the structure of the activity and 1 article and discussion wouldnt change that. But please read this, which is specifically referring to point 6. I find this to be a very problematic response to my question. The denial of this existing might be justified but I dont think its true that these cases dont exist. There are definitely debates I’ve had where people decided to be more strategic than educational, and I think I should be allowed to point that out. But my bigger problem is “debaters should suck it up. The debate round is an inefficient vehicle for education, and the debater who really values education wouldn’t go to tournaments. ” I find this statement and mindset very destructive to the community. I think as a community our response should never be leave the activity if you think something is wrong with it. Further more, can you imagine if a coach told this to incoming novice? That if you’re in debate just for the educational value then dont go to tournaments? I dont think we should every take competition away from anyone, because everyone regardless of what they value from the activity should be allowed to compete. Also, there is educational value to debating itself. Critical thinking, advocacy skills all those standards are true and important to the activity. Think back to when you’re a novice first entering into the activity? Did you care more about the fairness and winning the round? Or did you care more about learning from each round? Sorry, i may have perverted your stance a bit. But I dont think telling people they shouldn’t debate anymore because they care too much about learning is a right response.

            It seems to me that you’re main argument to way fairness is the best voter is that it can be achieved and there is an ideal “fair” round. I think this is problematic because:

            A. Does this mean that a judge has this obligation to try and preserve this ideal fairness? That seems to invite intervention (which i’m not totally against), but that means the same arguments of which you use to say this allows judges to drop args based on something they feel is right applies to fairness as well. Of course your answer would be that judges would be able to agree on 1 type of ideal fairness so that will be promote norms. But as Rebar pointed out there might be different types of fairness so that would mean there might not be a true ideal fairness.

            B. If the judge has no obligation to ideal fairness then it would seem that in round weighing would resolve this issue.

            C. Let us not forget that the world is not fair. Debaters have a certain talent limit and team resources. Some debaters will be faster because they are better naturally, some debaters will have better response because they are more talented. Would the judge then be obligated to set a max speed for the round? Or force a debater to dumb down in order to preserve a completely “fair” round? What about arguments that cant be turned? Say oppression bad arguments? One could easily argue that oppression bad arguments are unfair because you cant impact turn oppression bad, because the quality of ground is so shitty. Should the judge then allow fairness to disregard those arguments?

            The second issue is that there seems to be with that education allows for specific types to be prioritized. I would say that is not my advocacy, I’d promote all types of education. I think if you wanna have a specific debate about which form of education is superior in round weighing would resolve this.

            Also here is a scenario where I found fairness problematic. Say a debater runs a K/narrative that says the narrative or performance allows her/him to speak out against structure oppression of debate. Of course some would find this theoretically objectionable especially if it’s completely nontropical. The neg would then run a T shell. This put the judge in an awkward position in the end of the round to vote on T because are you really going to tell the debater running the narrative on how debate is structurally oppressive to him/her that they lose the round because they werent being fair?

            [Forgive me for my grammar mistakes i’m horrible at writing.]

          • Chad Henson

            I’m going to address four specific points.

            The first is your characterization of my position as telling people who value education to leave debate. To be clear, I do not do this. If someone values education, they are welcome to compete in debate. They are also welcome to compete in debate if they value money, or the glory of God, or physical prowess, or social activism. Their opponent, however, is not obliged to value any of these things, and they have to pursue these objectives without the cooperation of their opponent and without being rewarded by the judge I will happily grant that some minimal education takes place in round – all of it skills-based education that could be accomplished equally well outside a competitive tournament structure (i.e., intramural competition or practice in class). I believe debate *does* reward doing things that are educational in nature: research, writing, etc. This is a happy byproduct of the competitive structure, however; it is not the purpose of the competitive structure.

            As a minor aside, I note that in a perfectly fair round, the win would reward “skill at debate,” defined to include skill at research/writing, argument strategy, logical thinking, and whatever else goes into good debate. To the extent that the debate round is unfair, it rewards both “skill at debate” and “exploiting structural disadvantages” – hardly something most of us find valuable. Not only that, since one can increase one’s ability to exploit structural disadvantages, permitting the existence of structural disadvantages harms education because debaters will devote time to improving their opportunism rather than improving the things that we generally think of as “skill at debate.”

            The second point is the “what about the marginalized debater?” paragraph at the end. To answer your question, YES – I would force the debater who thinks they’re being marginalized to defend the fairness of their position within the structures of debate. I think that there is a vehicle to do this, and my position does not necessarily preclude a Warner/Louisville framework; it just makes clear on what grounds the framework needs to be objected to and defended. A debater could make a large number of arguments about why critique of debate is fair affirmative (or negative) ground across topics – at least one of which is that the existence of a stable debate ground is a safe “out” option when the topic is particularly shitty. They could also use the vehicle of the “undifferentiated debater” that I talked about in my response to Rebar. But, as a threshold issue, they have to be fair. The fact that you think life has dealt you a bad hand does not justify you shifting that bad hand onto others, and that is what the kind of position you articulate does *IF* it is an unfair position.

            Third, you extend Rebar’s “different types of fairness” argument for him, but that doesn’t apply. The type of fairness Paul and I identify is not the only sense in which something can be said to be fair, but it is (1) the only sense of fairness that theory debate is equipped to achieve and (2) an unqualified good. At present, the only “intervention” we would ask of judges is that they assume that this definition of fairness is what is meant unless otherwise specified. Generally, our argument is aimed at debaters running theory. With respect to judges, our goal is to *discourage* intervention against theoretical positions and *discourage* intervention against substantive positions as an alternative to theory.

            Fourth, your C point contains two arguments. The “life isn’t fair” position completely ignores the “undifferentiated debater” element of the fairness definition. Debaters who are of varying talents are no longer undifferentiated, and it is not only theoretically acceptable but *good* that bad debaters don’t have the same chance of winning that good debaters do. The second argument points out positions that might be unfair that (by assumption) you generally think are good to have in debate. I take no position on whether any given position is unfair. If it happens that the only fair arguments are those where both link and impact turns are reasonably possible, I suppose that debate should be confined to those arguments. That strikes me as highly unlikely. It also strikes me as an almost impossible argument to win within the fairness framework posited.

  • Rebar Niemi

    I might disagree that there is no such thing as an anti-educational argument. I think the argument about education gains not being worth fairness losses stands apart from that and is likely true in many cases.

    I think it is possible to construct an argument that a particular type of fairness loss is good however. Not all types of fairness are equal, and not all concepts of fairness should be valued or privileged. Fairness itself as a concept is not necessarily neutral, though often it by definition is.

    • Chad Henson

      Hey Rebar! Thanks for your comment on this. I’m interested in particular in how your last two sentences apply in the context of the definition of fairness Paul and I posit: that two undifferentiated debaters, affirmative and negative, should each have an equal expected likelihood of winning the round. The standard issues with fairness itself not being a neutral concept relate to debater differentiation – that minority, or female, or economically-disadvantaged, or small-school, or some other category of debater will be (dis)advantaged by one norm or another.

      I would posit (but not stick Paul with the argument) that theory qua theory can only deal with these issues through the definition of the undifferentiated debater. The undifferentiated debater might be some aspirational concept (i.e., what we want the typical debater to be like), a descriptive artifact (i.e., what the median/average/weighted_average debater is like), etc. It could even be that the first step in some kind of chain, where the “undifferentiated debater” is one of many “types” with given probabilities. But unless we’re willing to have different rules depending on who is doing the debating, just pointing out problems with various conceptions of fairness doesn’t seem to get around the basic goal that the one difference we know exists between the two debaters – the side each is randomly assigned – should NOT affect your likelihood of winning a round. Theory CAN and SHOULD achieve that objective.