The Importance of Methods Debate in LD

 

By: Evan Zhao

“Method debates should continue to exist until either (a) everyone is obligated to read justifications for their model of debate or (b) no one has to contest their role of the ballot. Obviously, LD is a young form of debate especially when compared to college debates. But when we look to more developed forms of debates (ie CEDA), rappers and poets no longer read carded justifications for their role of the ballots and still are very prominent in CX. The mindset of the structured LD round with very structured, identical cases is a reflection of the phobia of change and identity in the high school classroom. It is a reflection of the necrophilous learning process where students’ own voices are snuffed out and replaced with that of the normal, the institutions. College CX also reflects a classroom: the college classroom, where students are more free in expression, critical thinking, self identification, and fluidity of learning– a biophilal learning process. The same mindset of standardized testing, the factory line of students, stopping and starting at the sound of the bell, permeates many people’s desires of what LD debate should be. People’s discomfort with change and identity is the root of this fear of performance and critical debates. Even when I read a nontraditional position, I am still forced to be the one to justify my position while traditional policymaking debaters get a free ROTB and have their model of debate implicitly accepted. This phobia of difference and identity is just another reflection of oppressive educational systems, one that is scared of the poet’s voice.”

– Evan Zhao in response to In Defense of Topical Switch-Side Debate

Too often do people immediately create blanket statements about debaters who debate in an unconventional way, whether refusing to affirm the resolution, affirming the resolution in a metaphorical sense, or utilizing the round as a place for challenging oppression.

This refusal to engage the positions presented by non-traditional debaters stems from the belief that their arguments have no place in LD. Many people oversimplify debates by presumptuously evaluating them under their own, often unjustified, model of debate. People thus indite responses to these arguments in terms of “fairness” or “education” on a theoretical level, also within their own model of debate. Oftentimes, we see method debaters fall prey to this mindset that the normal, conventional model of debate is the only model of debate that is functional.

What many people fail to realize is that method and role of the ballot arguments are not arguments that try to function under the conventional model of debate, where tricks, fairness, and stratagems are all that matter. Method and role of the ballot precede theoretical arguments by redefining what matters in the debate round in the first place. In explanation, if someone’s model redefines what constitutes a good debate (such as challenging patriarchy), complaining about fairness is meaningless before justifying a why that traditional conception of fairness matters.

1 – ENGAGING THE UNPREDICTABLE

To read theory against these debaters is to deny this exploration for a better future of the activity. Sure, in the short term of the 40-minute round, your goal might not be the enlightenment of the debate community; but rather, winning the ballot with whatever prep you have available to you. This competitive nature of debate does not mean you have to read 7 perms and 3 theory shells on these debaters. In fact, it would be un-strategic to, seeing as your impacts most likely no longer matter under the alternate model of debate, but you presume your own model is true anyways.

In the instance that you are affirming against a method debater, you probably find yourself stuck defending the less strategic, “mooted” AC offense that no longer seems to be relevant after the NC’s new method proposal. Your job is not to read theory to win. In fact, in the same way you would extemp a shell saying “ROTB args bad”, you can also extemp method arguments, poking flaws in the method provided by your opponent. Debaters who presume their own model of debate to be good also are flawed in their thoughtlessness and compliance with the norm. It seems rather unfair when you can just function under a model of debate with no other justifications beyond, “It’s what a lot of people do.” Thus, aff debaters who are debating under the “conventional” model of debate should oftentimes critically think about their own method and why it’s a good thing. Engaging in the method debate will also reveal to “conventional” debaters where the real flaws are in their model, and you might consider changing your own model of debate. The debater who better defends their model of debate will thus win the round, and if your model of debate is actually bad, then you should probably lose and learn from it.

In the instance that you are negating against a method debater, your ability to function educationally and critically is exponentially increased. As the negative, you definitely should not read 7 minutes of straight theory. You have endless opportunity to make the round a better educational experience while engaging and continuing the exploration that the aff initiates. Once again, you can extemp your own arguments against the aff’s method, or you could even try and negate under their method, if their method is something that does seem to be intuitively a good method. Afterwards, you could reflect on how well that method worked and discuss its setbacks and advantages. Another great, educational way to handle this situation is providing a countermethod, whether by extemping a countermethod you believe is a better model than the aff’s, or even just by reading your own prep about why the “conventional” model of debate is good. You could even use your own AC prep as leverage for a countermethod against the aff. For example, if a Wilderson position really seems to rub you the wrong way, just read a different framework. If your view of “affirming” is actually better than your opponents, then reading your AC would be a great way to contest that.

You’re a debater; use your quick-thinking mind to think of substantive arguments that either contest your opponent’s method or function under your opponent’s method. Either way, you will be forwarding the debate community towards a better future.

2 – LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD

One also mustn’t forget that models of debate don’t occur in a vacuum; they occur in context. Not every debater can walk into a round with huge files of aff and neg prep provided to them by their team and abundance of coaches. Sure, maybe an optimal model of debate for two wealthy, privileged, big-school boys is for each to read the same AC and NC that everyone else is reading, then to read pre-prepared theory, topicality, turns, DAs, et cetera and to see whose privilege is more prominent.

Topical education is not furthered under the conventionally accepted model of debate. A discussion around the topic is far more inclusive and educational than a topical discussion – a discussion within the topic. The educational value of repeating very similar rounds is very minimal. Many topics end up being limited to 3 or 4 affirmative positions, and a couple very predictable negative positions. Most debaters already understand these positions and their implications in terms of the resolution, so actually carrying out a debate round purely to throw stratagem around is not an educational activity in the least. The signing of the ballot then is just another little win for some well-off debater who played a game because his school and his background provided him with better cards than his opponent. Debaters claim that debating while functioning under a traditional model of debate generates lots of education, but at some point, reading the same blocks and frontlines every round becomes void of education, especially since topic education is mostly done before writing cases, while casually reading unscholarly articles about the topic. Finding a professor or specialist to confirm that education – then reading that same excerpt over and over again every round – is not education. It is just the very opposite – it is complacency and banality in the conventional model of debate. In fact, many people ignore the fact that critical education usually does not manifest itself in policy actions. Lots of people mistake the “political” to be strictly policy-oriented, but rather, knowing what practices are oppressive or bad in the real world leads to us being more aware about how we affect others in the real world. This “critical education” is much more applicable and prevalent to our lives as debaters and human beings, many of whom will not end up being politicians. If someone really wanted genuine policymaking practice, Congress has a comfortable seat open for them.

The fairness of the conventional model of debate is also called into question, and I’ve already mentioned some of the problems above. This conventional model of debate that values predictability and turn ground leaves large schools a huge advantage, more so than they already have. “Social unfairness” permeates into the realm of the debate world. For example, lone wolf debaters who can’t afford to go to a private school with a plethora of coaches and resources are at a disadvantage when it comes to the topical prep they have access to. And sometimes, nondisclosure and unpredictability is a way to solve back for this disparity. Lone wolf debaters can force big school debaters off their pre-prepped T, CPs, DAs, postfiat Ks, and make them engage in a debate that both sides can engage equally. Unpredictable and unconventional positions force debaters to debate on their feet rather than relying on words of their coaches or resources from their team. This is also the best way to determine who the “better debater” was, rather than the more privileged debater. Debaters can still leverage their own prep and their own model of debate in these debates, but rather than having prewritten extensions and frontlines for predictable arguments, they will be forced to engage, for example, using the strategies I provided in section 1.

3 – METHOD DEBATE IS STILL DEBATE

Method debaters get a lot of crap for being lazy, or for not debating the topic. People conclude that, because these debaters don’t play the game by the rules (no matter how meaningless the rules make the game) that they don’t win the game. People often use metaphors alluding to sports players, saying that they do not get trophies for generating discursive challenging of oppressive structures.

The distinction here is that debaters do not debate for physical activity (lol sports), practice of oration (spreading is nothing like Oratory), or for the sake of finding the truth of the resolution (because obviously both topical affs and topical negs win rounds). The purpose of debate is to generate an education while having a vigorous meeting of minds.

This vigorous, educational competition is still there (and maximized) when the method is contested, because alternate, more educational positions are opened up, and the value of the debate itself is contested.

Debating method is very similar to debating a philosophical framework, except it is probably more beneficial to debaters to debate method than philosophy. Offering a competing ROTB or method moves the debate community towards a better model of debate, one that maximizes acceptance, applicable education, and fairness for everyone. By voting for well justified models of debate, judges allow more acceptance and variety in the future of LD. Debaters who win their method and offense under their method deserve to be listened to, not immediately ignored and excluded. Judges, with their ballot, update the institutional norms of debate. So every time a methods debate is concluded, another ballot moves towards making debate a more purposeful activity rather than an exclusionary one. Judge support for acceptance and varying methods is crucial, and conservative hindrances and bigotry are the only things that hinder this progress and moot the purpose of these debates happening in the first place. So if you are one of those people who find methodology debate to be useless, you’re probably a part of the group that is making them useless.

Shout out to Paloma O’Connor and Adam Tomasi, for their feedback and support. Thanks to Sam Greenwald and Aimun Khan for the inspiration and motivation to write this article. Also, a special thanks to Emma Weddle for making significant, much-needed revisions!

  • rodrigo

    i think theres a distinction between
    “you should justify why your speech act wins you the round”
    and
    “you should justify every assumption in the 1ac”

    i do think debaters should be ready to justify the assumptions in the 1ac, but youre right i wouldnt say they /have/ to
    the role of the ballot however
    is an assumption central to the question of every debate
    and even if you think debaters shouldn’t justify it
    they should at least
    identify it

    how many affs identify a role of the ballot
    very few because they assume that there is an objective one
    the reality is that debate (especially now) is rapidly shifting and maybe there isnt an objective one
    you (or others) will say
    “the ballot is to determine who did the better debating”
    but in the age of electronic ballots
    even that isnt true, it just asks for a “winner” and a “loser”

    rules for fairness make sense outside of specific rounds, arguments otherwise are silly
    the rules of debate dont change in every debate round
    also there probably is a benefit to reading it in the 1ac i.e. saving the 1ar time
    the role of the ballot
    is always relevant?
    why do we pretend otherwise

    ” Its the same reason you don’t need to read reasons why racism is bad in a race aff,”
    i mean im obviously on the liberal side of the debate spectrum
    and i think debaters should always have to justify why their impacts are bad
    its not hard to justify why racism is bad
    so do it
    appealing to intuitions
    works outside of debate rounds but not inside them
    because if we allow debaters to appeal to intuitions
    we allow for them to appeal to /bad/ intuitions
    some people think its intuitive to be racist
    how do we draw the line between what intuitions are and are not valid
    justifying impacts is a good thing
    i think im in the minority here

    i think that addressed everything you mentioned
    idk
    i think its silly to say “the role of the ballot is intuitively exclusionary” which is what your argument collapses to

  • Anonymous

    @rodrigo

    I don’t think the idea of traditional debaters having to justify their ROTB makes sense. There are a couple clear disads to education and fairness. In 90 percent of debates in which the ROTB is contested, the time justifying a traditional ROTB trades off with time used for the actual substance debate. I don’t see the educational benefit of reading a uncontested ROTB. It also just seems to disadvantage the aff more. The time skew is already bad enough-making the aff functionally waste more time in the AC only makes it worse.

    The burden of proof is always on the debater going against intuition. For example, no one expects you to read reasons why death is bad in a util aff because thats what’s obviously intuitive-you could read those arguments in the 1ar if its contested, however. Clearly, it is intuitive that when we have a resolution that the debate is about whether its true or not-if you asked any novice that’s what they would assume. Your logic would seem to justify having to justify every assumption, which seems pretty awful. Its the same reason you don’t need to read reasons why racism is bad in a race aff, unless that is contested.

    In terms of your argument that it levels the playing field-I don’t think that makes sense. Rules for fairness only make sense contextualized within a given round. Since you probably do need to justify your method in the 1ar if you hit a prefiat k, it is completely reciprocal since both debaters are now justifying their method. There is no unique benefit to fairness to reading it in the AC not the 1ar. Giving the aff flexibility to wait a speech to decide which args are relevant is probably good to check back the neg’s ability to select a strat based on the AC.

  • rodrigo

    one last thought
    im not sure what the world of this alternative looks like
    but it kind of sounds to me like
    no one is justifying their role of the ballot and everyone just gets it accepted
    (i derive this from the part where you say “theory is bad because it denies rotb discussion” which seems to imply that it should never be excluded so it should always be assumed to be justified)
    this is a bad model
    the end goal shouldnt look like “my rotb is as implicit as a policy one is nowadays”
    it should be
    “everyone has to justify their rotb”
    levels out the playing field
    definite theoretical benefits to it
    idk
    just another thought

  • Evan Zhao

    @Traditional Debater(s): I wrote this article in one sitting quite a while ago, but it was only published yesterday. The antagonism is probably a bad thing and that’s something I’ll try to be wary of whenever talking about traditional debate. I wrote this article specifically with certain members of the debate community in mind (who had taken very explicitly exclusive stances about critical and unconventional debate). So if it comes of as antagonistic towards ALL traditional debaters, that was not my intention. The implication wasn’t that traditional debaters were bigots and are all bad, but rather, traditional debate bigots are bad. Sorry about the antagonistic nature of the article, cuz it was unintended.

  • Traditional Debater

    So, I don’t want to say anything that Rodrigo hasn’t already said since I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that debate should be more agonist rather than antagonist and I think Rodrigo is complete right. What I do want to add is my own perspective to how I viewed this article. For this, I’m adopting the perspective of a traditional debater (since in high school, that’s what I was). You may not have intended to sound antagonistic or exclusionary when writing this article, but when I read it, I very much got the impression that this article was bashing traditional debate. The quotes about how traditional debate was uneducational, the assumption that traditional debaters are conservative bigots, the idea that success in traditional debate is primarily the result of lots of coaches as opposed to hard work. All of these seem to attack the very form of debate that I choose to make a home, a safe space in. The way this article is constructed needlessly excludes debaters who debate traditionally. While in your comments, you imply that traditional debate is fine, within the article, I felt that it was personally attacking the type of debate that I did in high school. Traditional debate, to me, was my way of becoming a better advocate for issues in our world, it was my way of getting my voice heard when I lacked the resources to compete in the national circuit, it was what I put lots of hard work into, and to read this article about maximizing “acceptance” and “fairness” that implicitly excludes, or at least undersells, the type of debate that I cared a lot about just doesn’t make sense to me. One specific claim worries me though. It is the idea that “Topical education is not furthered under the conventionally accepted model of debate” and the subsequent claims underneath it. This basically sounds to me as if you’re saying that the hundreds and thousands of debaters who do local debate are wasting their time because all the education is recycled. Not only do I think this argument is false, but I also think it disparages the hard work that a lot of students put into traditional debate. Look, I’m all for more inclusion in debate: inclusion of arguments, inclusion of people. But I think that your “method” of becoming more inclusive sounds a little too exclusive to someone who debated traditionally.

  • Grant

    Interesting article. I think it’s great that the community is having this types of discussions and trying to find a positive medium for all debaters. Hopefully within the next few years we reach some kind of medium-ground in which no one, traditional, method, kritik, plan-oriented, is excluded or forced out of debate rounds. A debate-space in which all can interact with each other from different view points that are still accepting of the arguments, but questioning and engaging, is truly one in which we will be able to explore new horizions of pedagogy in LD debate.

  • Evan Zhao

    Most of it is mocking stances like “Performance debaters should go to Oratory.”
    Stock NCs are not bad. But if that’s the only thing that’s allowed in LD, that’s bad.

  • rodrigo

    (just things to think about)

  • rodrigo

    im sorry i just find it hard to mediate between claims like
    “If someone really wanted genuine policymaking practice, Congress has a comfortable seat open for them.”
    and “Policy education is probably a good thing”

    this is literally saying “if you want policy go to congress, get out of debate”
    i dont think critical debaters can say theyre being excluded and use this rhetoric
    and saying
    “i wrote this a long time ago” as a way out of that problematic dialogue just reifies the problem
    idk
    i obviously am in favor of more critical debate
    but this antagonism is a bad way of introducing it

    also like you implicitly say “conventional debate does not provide education” on the part about topic-specific education and its just reductive to say theres only 4 NC’s on each topic
    if you looked at the bulk of k debate 90% of k debaters probably only read 4 authors but that other 10 % is very valuable
    the same is true for topic-specific conventional debate
    for every 9 autonomy nc’s
    there’s 1 distinct, well-researched unique position
    and *indicting conventional debate as a model makes it impossible to access that education

  • Evan Zhao

    “i think this article is needlessly antagonistic towards “Traditional”/”conventional” models of debate
    assuming that only ” wealthy, privileged, big-school boys” can win rounds under a conventional model is just /false/ and is reductive of a model that still has positive potential for education
    the answer to a monolithic view of debate that has been proven problematic is not an alternative monolith, far from it”

    >The article probably does come off as antagonistic, but it’s an antagonism towards debaters who don’t accept other forms of debate, not towards traditional debaters. Traditional debate is probs much more educational than a lot of other methods people use.

    “the author of this article (and method debaters as a whole) should focus less on talking poorly about policy education
    and more about environments where all of these arguments can co-exist
    there are concrete net benefits to a policy education
    there are concrete net benefits to /good/ theory debate”

    >Policy education is probably a good thing, but whether it’s the only method that should be allowed to be used in LD is what some people contest. Coming from the Wisconsin debate circuit, I know that many still believe traditional debate is the only debate and that speaking over 50 wpm is sin. The problem is, not everyone is open to alternative forms of debate.

    “antagonism sucks and fuels the flame wars that say method debaters are trying to burn down debate
    /stop/ it”

    >This article was greatly a response to the anti-nontraditional-debate flood that’s been occurring recently, and if it came off as negative towards traditional debate, it was entirely unintentional. The point was, there are other ways to debate. Not that it was a bad way to debate.

    “please dont say youre not being antagonistic you literally call your opponents bigots
    and your last paragraph is like ” Judge support for acceptance and varying methods is crucial” but your article is literally built on “contemporary methods bad””

    >The only methods that are probably bad for debate are high theory that justifies atrocities and theoretical spikes that win by going dropped. The antagonism is a bad thing, but certainly members of the debate community have been bigoted and not taken well to new methods. Traditional debaters are not bigots.

    “youre right, complacency is bad
    youre right, monolithic conservative thought is bad
    monolithic liberal thought is /worse/ because its a bunch of leftists (not /you/ evan, but leftists in general) circle-jerking each other for being inclusionary by kicking the conservatives out
    method debaters shouldnt say “conservatives get out”
    thats a bad political methodology
    lastly
    when “conventional” debaters respond to non traditional debaters their strategy should be “optimize non traditional debate” instead of “Exclude non traditional debate”
    the same is true for the opposite
    critical debaters (method, micropol, whatever you want to call them) should not exclude traditional debate
    just /optimize/ it”

    >If someone reads a util AC, the NC should also engage in it, even if it is critically engaging. Conventional debates shouldn’t be shut down, and neither should unconventional debates.

    Also, thanks for the feedback checking back the article. Obviously the article is flawed. (Having written it a while ago, I honestly don’t remember most of it.) People have also pointed out some gendered language in the article.

  • “Method and role of the ballot precede theoretical arguments by redefining what matters in the debate round in the first place. In explanation, if someone’s model redefines what constitutes a good debate (such as challenging patriarchy), complaining about fairness is meaningless before justifying a why that traditional conception of fairness matters.”

    I’m confused by your claim as to why role of the ballot would automatically precede a theory objection in round. It seems to me that role of the ballot often appeals to many of the same ideals a theory shell does- ie the idea in the long term we ought to make the debate space inclusive to people, we ought to endorse methods that bring us some specific form of education we may not otherwise get etc. Now I understand the esoteric ways theory is run and the way fairness is conceptualized people may find problematic, but in the end, I don’t think critical debaters would disagree with theory debaters on the idea fairness and education(whatever you(as a non traditional debater) think those may mean) do matter.Of course if you read the role of the ballot it’s the job of the theory initiator to be able to answer it and link into the role of the ballot, but I think the claim the burden of proof rests solely on the theory debater to do so is at best unwarranted. If I conceded the role of the ballot and you conceded a theory shell of mine, it seems both of us have forwarded a conception of good debate that one of us has not adopted and both have not justified why our model is more important. Furthermore, it seems theory also articulates what it means to be a “good debate” by arguing a more educational and fair debate is a more enjoyable and “better” debate. I don’t think we should necessarily assume that theory comes before role of the ballot or vice versa, but I think it’s problematic to just label all theory in a seperate category as if it is completely mutually exclusive from how a role of the ballot argument functions. But on the article specifically

    On number one:
    “This competitive nature of debate does not mea nyou have to read 7 perms and 3 theory shells on these debaters.”

    First, I’m confused as to why you think perms are bad. Aren’t they substantive responses to many critical arguments? Second, I think a lot of arguments seem to rely on the assumption debaters who read theory don’t bother to engage at all which I don’t think it’s true ie your example of debaters going seven minutes on theory or reading three shells. Many debaters now realize it’s not strategic to go solely for theory and they usually at least somewhat engage via reading a K even if it’s a bad one just to have another layer to go for. Furthermore, I’m confused as to why reading theory would be equivalent to allowing me to presume a certain model of debate to be good that in your words is “unjustified”. You are free to read a counterinterpretation, or if you prefer to engage non traditionally weigh role of the ballot arguments/ indict the voters etc to beat back theory. Nonetheless, it seems I’m still equally bound to having to justify my “model for debate”, since I assume theory in this instance would be forwarding some norm for debate. To me, it seems the only instance where this would even be an issue is if the judge really hated non traditional debate and if I conceded a role of the ballot without proposing what you ought to do instead- ie debating the topic via a policy action they still voted you down. But that’s not a problem with debaters.

    On the second point, I think the fact topic education is not furthered by debating is more due to the fact people rehash arguments or just go with the flow but there are ways to be unique within the bounds of the topic. Also, many critical debaters rehash the same policy cards for policy backfiles and read the same recycled philosophy cards to justify their role of the ballot arguments, frameworks etc. Is this an inherent problem with non traditional debate? I don’t think so, so I don’t understand how you could make the claim debating within the bounds of the topic has such little value. Lastly, the claim non traditional forms of debate require less resources than reading disads, theory, or counterplans may be true in the long run, but in the short run the learning curve also excludes a ton of people- especially given the fact most people who join the activity/ don’t get to go to that many national tournaments already have a preconception about what debate should look like so even if you argued that conception is flawed, it’s still pretty hard to get people with little resources to learn about these alternative methods enough to be able to engage them.

  • rodrigo

    i think this article is needlessly antagonistic towards “Traditional”/”conventional” models of debate

    assuming that only ” wealthy, privileged, big-school boys” can win rounds under a conventional model is just /false/ and is reductive of a model that still has positive potential for education

    the answer to a monolithic view of debate that has been proven problematic is not an alternative monolith, far from it

    the author of this article (and method debaters as a whole) should focus less on talking poorly about policy education
    and more about environments where all of these arguments can co-exist
    there are concrete net benefits to a policy education
    there are concrete net benefits to /good/ theory debate

    antagonism sucks and fuels the flame wars that say method debaters are trying to burn down debate
    /stop/ it

    please dont say youre not being antagonistic you literally call your opponents bigots
    and your last paragraph is like ” Judge support for acceptance and varying methods is crucial” but your article is literally built on “contemporary methods bad”

    youre right, complacency is bad
    youre right, monolithic conservative thought is bad
    monolithic liberal thought is /worse/ because its a bunch of leftists (not /you/ evan, but leftists in general) circle-jerking each other for being inclusionary by kicking the conservatives out
    method debaters shouldnt say “conservatives get out”
    thats a bad political methodology

    lastly
    when “conventional” debaters respond to non traditional debaters their strategy should be “optimize non traditional debate” instead of “Exclude non traditional debate”
    the same is true for the opposite
    critical debaters (method, micropol, whatever you want to call them) should not exclude traditional debate
    just /optimize/ it

    (theory isnt bad and is often the best way to engage with method debaters)

  • Evan Zhao

    @Anon: The argument about theory is definitely premised on the notion of “traditional” theory. I know of a few good LD and policy debaters who can swing critical or creative theoretical frameworks around very well, which wouldn’t be a bad practice.

  • Anon

    I think your analysis for why theory doesn’t make sense against ROTB arguments is lacking. You seem to make three args-1 is that it doesn’t function under non-traditional methods 2 is that it is uneducational and therefore shouldn’t be done and 3 is that its unstrategic.

    Off the first,

    You’re argument seems to be premised on the idea that theory requires a traditional method. I don’t think this is true. Theory is NOT a method for debate. It is, by definition, what determines what is allowable in debate. This functions inside whatever method we are using. For example, no one would argue that theory doesn’t make sense because the role of the ballot is to vote for the best policy. Even though theory doesn’t determine the best policy, it is still a check on what is allowed under a policy making ROTB. For example, maybe conditional counterplans are not a legitimate way to choose the best policy. Similarly, under a kiritikal method, theory can still check what arguments are allowed. For example, if the role of the ballot is to vote for the debater with the best performance, a theory argument that said performances must be disclosed on the wiki would be a legitimate check on what is allowed under that role of the ballot. No one would argue that under a given ROTB literally anything is debatable- just as there need to be rules about how we debater under a policy making method there need to be rules about how we debate under the kritikal method. Theory provides these rules, regardless of the ROTB. You say that fairness is meaningless, but I don’t see how changing the role of the ballot is relevant to this. The fairness voter says that fairness is a constitutive part of a competitive activity-this has literally nothing to do with what method we are using, since either we we are participating in a competitive activity. I’ve never heard a fairness voter that says “Fairness is a voter because its necessary to prove the resolution true or false.” Of course, other things such as oppression impacts can be weighed against fairness, but this should be done as a reason to prefer a counter-interpretation, not as reasons why theory doesn’t make sense under the kritikal method. With the above example, the debater running the undisclosed performance still needs to be able to justify why not disclosing performances is legitimate, not why theory isn’t a part of their method, because a) there still need to be rules and b) fairness is still relevant. Perhaps the oppression arguments are more important, but that would only matter if there are reasons why being forced to disclose contributes to oppression, not simply reasons why the kritikal method is less oppressive than theory.

    On your second argument that reading theory against performative positions is less educational and therefore shouldn’t be done-this is just something each debater has to decide for herself. While it might be noble to do so, debaters don’t have an obligation to hinder their chances of winning to make the debate round better. Debaters are competitors and our primary job is to win.

    On your third point that reading theory is not strategic against these positions, I think it really depends. Sure, if you’re good at, say, running left, then maybe that is more strategic. But the fact is, people who run Wilderson every round are always going to know more about the lit than other debaters, as much as those other debaters try to engage. Sure, you can extemp arguments, but you’ll always be behind on this debate. For this reason, there are many instances where theory is simply the best strategic option.

  • Evan Zhao

    @Aimun: Traditional models of debate are not inherently bad, and there is definitely education coming from them. Whether or not that is the ONLY or the BEST way to debate is what is in question. Making your AC relevant to real-world things is probably the best way for util ACs to further pedagogy. Practices that should be frowned upon include esoteric philosophy ACs that justify atrocious actions or theoretical ACs that depend on spikes. That being said, negative debaters should also attempt to engage util ACs even if they are critical in nature. Anything else seems to have methodological value to it, and should be considered, including util debates.

  • Evan Zhao

    KIM I MISS YOU <3
    But your questions are totally relevant here.
    1. IMO links of omission or trans answers to fem positions seem to be missing the point, but are usually open to perms. Going further left can be useful and strategic if it actually presents a new method, but if the new method is something like, "Let's do the aff except also remember that trans people exist," then that seems to be a bad debate method. There's definitely something learned, but that doesn't seem to warrant a ballot, which is why I think perms in this case would be viable. Also, politics that don't target specific groups that are more inclusive seem to be better methods. Since methods are WAYS to combat oppression, at least to me, it seems like the focus should be less on which group we want to help most, but rather, how do we hinder oppression as a whole.
    2. Yeah, that would just be a bad method, unless it was truly something enlightening. It seems that intuitive arguments tend to be easier to win, and saying "I'm just gonna talk about kuaer politics (with 0 connection to the res) for 6 minutes because I can" doesn't seem to be a method that has intuition supporting it. T would definitely be responsive in these instances, but it basically acts as a way to challenge the method. Entirely nontopical affs seem to be bad methodology, and you can always challenge the method of the AC with a countermethod or by engaging in the method, if you really believe the AC is a good thing with a good method. If you debate the AC method, which happens to be juggling pens or something, you'll likely win if it's actually a bad method.

  • Aimun Khan

    Evan, tysm for reaching out and publishing this 😀

    I do have a question though: You highlight some very true flaws with a lot of debaters today, how can we improve rounds within our “traditional” model of debate rather than modifying the types of arguments we read? For instance, what can I do as a topical affirmative debater to pedagogically further the way I debate without changing the type of debater I am? Can my stock util AC be educational in some way?

    Also, props to you for taking an argument on comments and fleshing it out into a well-written article that helps teach everyone who reads it.

  • Kim Hsun

    Hey Evan, ilysm for this article and I hella appreciate you for writing this because I feel like a lot of these things are said in round but no one really gets the implication of them (ie: why your fairness voter really doesn’t matter). Much heart eyes.However, I have two questions that I think a lot of people who oppose critical arguments bring up and I think have a bit of merit, and I wanted to know your thoughts on them.
    1. Sometimes these kinds of debates get really personal or really specific– ie: if we outleft we just get more specific in groups instead of actually engaging in solvency. How do you think we can remedy the problem there (you were the one who introduced the concept of oppression olympics to me, I was wondering if you had any idea how to remedy that— even if I don’t think its true in the real world, that’s basically what happens when debaters engage) and how objective do you think these debates should be? Weirdly worded, but I think you get the point
    2. I understand that method debate shouldn’t necessarily be constrained to the resolution, but if the argument has no relevancy to the topic or has nothing to do with the topic lit, how should we engage? Do you think we should just talk about the argument in general and disregard the resolution, or is T justified in this case?
    Anyway, ilysm for this article again. I will def cut it and spread it around and I obviously think this kind of debate is the most important kind, regardless of my questions.

  • Ayman Quadir

    I agree, I like discussion about Islamaphobia, it is very dear to my heart.