“Neg-Neg” in LD?

If you missed David Glass’ article “Neg Neg Policy Debate Theory” in February’s Rostrum, it’s worth a look.
Glass suggests that it may be legitimate for Affirmative teams to defend a policy that would ordinarily be described as Negative ground. In this world, the Negative team may then defend either a separate counter-plan or even the topic’s ostensible Affirmative ground (that, in this instance, the 1AC has abandoned).

The essential premise is that, “it would allow for competing reasons as to why the resolution should be rejected.”

Several of the arguments for such an arrangement would seemingly apply to Lincoln Douglas practice as well. In LD, Affirmative debaters often face the burden of defending unappealing ground, facing an uphill battle from the outset. When this responsibility is compounded by disadvantageous speech times, it may be very difficult to win Aff ballots on some topics.

Already, many 1ACs seem to do everything they can to avoid defending the topic in any meaningful sense. If the opportunity to substantively defend a counter-plan diminished the need for Affirmative debaters to clutter their positions with blippy, preemptive defensive arguments, I suspect more than a few judges would relish a Neg-Neg debate.

There’s also something to be said for forcing the 1NC to clash. The burden of rejoinder is all but forgotten in today’s LD. As a result, the 1AC is often faced with having to not only defend the resolution, but also having to defend any presumption or tangential implication associated with the resolution. Perhaps the explosion of Negative ground should be curtailed by giving the 1AC equal access to that ground.

My feelings do, however, remain somewhat mixed. As successful as this model may be in theory, there are of course any number of practical hurdles that would emerge in implementation. At the very least, there’s little doubt that rather than accommodating the move, many Negative debaters will respond with exhaustive theoretical objections. Just as experimentation with AFC tends to merely reproduce debates about AFC, using Neg-Neg would almost certainly be hotly contested in our overly sensitive climate.

Additionally, I’m not convinced the advantages of a Neg-Neg model outweigh what I believe is a compelling interest in switch-sides debate. Any coach who’s worked with new debaters should note than one of the first and most transformative learning experiences for a student is adopting diametrically opposed positions on a topic. Allowing debaters to share in contestable premises could encourage conformity in an activity that is already short on innovation. Paradoxically, this radical departure from orthodox practice enables debaters to rely on conventional wisdom at the expense of difficult research and critical thinking.

Glass suggests that debaters ought not have to defend positions that are inconsistent with their own beliefs, but this seems to be one of the most useful virtues that debate provides a student. Much has already been written on these virtues, and there’s little question that a Neg-Neg trend would come at their expense. That’s not to say a debate about competing premises or policies isn’t itself valuable. But, that debate can and should happen even in a traditional Aff-Neg framework.

Without doubting the need to make life easier for affirmative debaters, I’m not yet convinced this is the best way to do so. Given the state of Affirmative strategy at our current juncture, however, perhaps it is worth a try.

  • Anonymous

    One old adage that I think has often been underestimated in LD is the notion that while a debater believes a particular side of the resolution to be bad/false/undesirable, there are arguments that they can find compelling. While the debater may dislike affirming a topic, there is merit in forcing them to defend the undesirable side of the topic with the arguments they find compelling or effective so as to better understand them. This I find to be educational, but obviously does not respond to the fairness concerns.That said, the notion of "switching sides" is an interesting one for fairness. Assuming a topic is immensely one sided, what options are available to the affirmative? I see three which depending on the definition could fall under neg-neg or simply affirming on grounds outside of those presented in the 1AC. The first is the "impact turn", or defending that the negative problems presented are desirable. In policy this strategy is certainly present, but not exactly standard. It isn't thought of as neg-neg, as the impact turns are perceived as an advantage of affirming. The problem here is that an aff must be strategically written so that impact turns are a viable option (the easiest being that some teams will defend affirmatives that can defend death good in later speeches). The second option is an emphasis on framework debates, where the affirmative defends a framework that excludes the impacts claimed by the negative, and defends a framework that "makes the most of their bad situation" (I have seen affs defend negative util as a means to do this to remarkable effectiveness). This would avoid the neg-neg discussion by affirming based on a very particular conception of what it means to affirm. The last option is to use unconventional interpretations of the topic to defend desirable ground. While there are of course problems here, where a topic is poorly worded or places a high burden on the aff it does help make the best of a bad situation. While these interpretations are not always the best for debate generally, they at least give the aff an option which is better for those concerned debaters than defending something they find to be undesirable.In an ideal world this would be resolved by finding better topics (I personally am surprised that of all topics domestic violence got recirculated, at least this quickly). This isn't always an option, mistakes happen even to the best and brightest on the topic committee. The marginal benefit is that when it does it breeds creativity and innovation which LD oftentimes lacks (emphasis on marginal).

  • Anonymous

    If the justification for this is that debaters shouldn't have to argue something they don't agree with, wouldn't that mean that the negative should able to affirm?Quite frankly, any movement in this direction will just lead to endless theory debates. That is good for no one. Topics might not always be the best, but debate is best when debaters debate the topic.