LD Committee Releases Initial Topics for 2017-2018, Seeks Input

Birmingham, AL — The LD wording committee has released the final 20 topics being considered for the 2017-2018 list. The final list will be narrowed to 10. The committee is seeking input from students and coaches on a.) which of these 20 topics should make the final list and b.) and wording issues that can/should be correct.

  1. (In the United States,) non-human animals ought to have legally protected rights.
  2. Individuals have an obligation to value the common good over their own interests.
  3. Capital punishment is immoral
  4. In the United States, physician-assisted suicide ought to be legal for terminally ill patients.
  5. The United States ought to legalize the possession for personal use of illicit drugs.
  6. The United States ought to provide a universal basic income.
  7. The United States ought to adopt a Value Added Tax.
  8. In the United States, workers ought to have a civil right to unionize.
  9. In the United States, race ought not be a factor considered in the admission of students to public colleges and universities.
  10. In the United States, all citizens ought to be guaranteed free tuition to public colleges and universities.
  11. Wealthy nations have an obligation to provide official development assistance (to other nations).
  12. In a democracy, first past the post voting systems are unjust.
  13. A democracy ought to allow for ballot initiatives.
  14. In the United States, membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment ought to be illegal.
  15. In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.
  16. The United States ought to reinstate/adopt the Fairness Doctrine.
  17. Targeted killing by the United States is unjust.
  18. A democracy ought to require a strict separation of church and state.
  19. The non-therapeutic use of human enhancement technologies is immoral.
  20. United States trade policy ought to protect domestic industries from foreign competition.
  21. In the United States Criminal Justice System, plea bargaining ought to be prohibited.
  22. The United States ought to limit prosecutorial discretion.
  23. Individuals ought to value the cultural identity of others over their own freedom of expression.

  • Cameran Rynearson

    Ones I like: 4, 6, 9, 10, 21, 17, 19, 20
    Ones I don’t feel strongly about: 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 22, 23
    Ones I dislike: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 15, 16, 18
    Some Justifications for choices: 1. There’s a lot of philosophy ground here, about whether every living being deserves rights. It would be problematic to debate because the neg lowkey has to justify murder and abuse to animals.
    3/5. Waaayyy overdone.
    4. There’s a lot of stuff here, and it makes for a great philosophy debate. Only issue is about a reddit comment I saw that said Catholic schools could have trouble with this bc of religious views.
    6. I saw this as a CP on the housing topic and there were some cool justifications. It also leaves a lot of room for the aff to do what they want (dunno if this is necessarily good)
    9. There’s good arguments for both sides, may be slightly problematic because most kids r probs gonna just call each other racist with no backing.
    18. This could end up problematic for religious debaters.
    23. The main argument is going to be something along the lines of ‘cultural appropriation’ which not a lot of people outside of tumblr/IG agree actually exists. This is something you’d see argued online that has very little justification for aff other than feelings. I really dislike this one.

  • Grant Bent

    Personally love (4) physician assisted suicide. It will force students to discuss what exactly it is that makes death and killing bad, as well as the distinction between doing and allowing harm (and what constitutes harm). This topic and euthanasia generally is also a popular topic in introductory ethics courses, which means there will be a lot of easily accessible literature.

  • nevin gera

    I personally think UBI is by far the highest quality topic on this list. While many of these topics seem to be the recycled versions of topics from older years, (such as animal rights or separation of church and state) many of these topics would seem to lack clash (such as 23, 22, 21, 15, 14, 13 4, and, most egregiously, 2).

    UBI, much like the living wage topic which fostered great clash and ideological diversity through everything from Kant to Econ to postmodern literature, would be a fantastic choice.

    While topic 11 (the wealthy nation assistance resolution) seems slightly vague, it may produce some interesting plans/disads/T debates.

    While topic 17 (targeted killing) is a complete repeat of a 2012 topic, it does seem like it would nevertheless produce some interesting util/framework debates and maybe even some cool K’s/plan texts.

    Topic 20 (economic protectionism) seems quite interesting and politically relevant, as well as would produce some great util debates. There might be some disads to debating that topic on face, (such as the lack of framework/K ground) but overall is one of the better topics on this list.

    • Aryan Jasani

      good job nevin I agree with you!

  • justin mccleskey

    I Like: 6 10 11 16 21 22 7 8 16

    I wouldn’t prefer these but they’re decent: 21 22 5

    These seem unfair and have way to little ground for one side: 3 4 5 12 17 18 20

    These seem like they have little ground for both sides and would become tedious to find original arguments: 14 15

    Id love for these to become more specific: 11 (become US specific to help another specific poorer country) 12 (should be “in the United States, first past the poll voting systems ought to be ended”) 13 again should be US specific

    I would hate debating these: 9 (its completely unfair for the neg and would become very awkward to negate) 2 (its insanely too vague and even if it wasn’t it would boil down to basic arguments on the surface level) 19 (theres no ground on this topic and the sides would be science vs moral ideas which is probably ok for Big Questions but it would suck for LD) 23 (again the vagueness is a problem but also its just a weird one.

    mostly my only problems with most of these is vagueness and unfair ground but some aren’t even worth attempting to fix. The others though at the top of my list are pretty nice and id like debating those.

  • marshall thompson

    I seem to be having some difficulty getting this comment to stick, but will try this again.
    These are my thoughts on the topics I’m not as big a fan of.
    2 (common good)—This topic is better than some of these topics we have had in the past, because rather than just saying individuals have obligations to the common good it makes a comparative claim. However, I worry that the resolution’s burden is ambiguous. For example, does this mean that 51% of my income needs to be donated to public causes rather than my own interests? Does this mean that if for any thing I could use some resources to do more public good than I could get private good I am obligate to do so (that would be a radical implication, such that it might not be ethical for me to eat because I could always feed more in other parts of the world for that same amount of money). I think this debate will JUST be debates about burdens, and that is not fun to debate or to judge.
    4 (assisted suicide)—I REALLY don’t like this topic. So, the first problem is just that it is a REALLY difficult topic to debate well. Even when I was discussing this topic with graduate philosophy students in a bioethics class the debates tended to stall with arguments just being ships passing in the night. The reason for this is because this topic is not a comparison of values (do we value life or autonomy) instead it’s a debate about what it means to value life and autonomy. Its like two people both defending the value of life against the other, and disagreeing about what it means to value life. The problem is this means the debate comes down to excruciatingly nuanced articulations of what certain values consist in. This is clear if you just look at most of the articles on the topic. They basically all rehash the same core 5 arguments, and then fail to advance the debate in a meaningful way (but instead try to propose some way to dissolve, rather than solve, the conflict).
    Second, I am always worried about when suicide comes up in a debate topic. I think it has potential serious issues. For example, I don’t think I have the level of experience as a coach (or as a human) to know how to support a depressed student while they are researching about the ethics of suicide (in any form). Nor when they are confronting these issues in a competitive, and sometimes hostile setting. The topic does not provide a great platform to talk about mental health issues as a community (given that it is limited to discussions of terminally ill patients) but students will, on their own, come across issues that may be difficult, or even dangerous, to navigate as high schoolers.
    Even if my worry is overblown, the mere fact that this worry exists is going to cause similar community controversy as occurred during the domestic violence topic. And I don’t want a repeat of all the topic nullification stuff.
    7 (VAT)—strikes me as not very interesting
    9 (Affirmative Action)—I don’t know how you affirm on this topic without being extra-topical. Either the aff gets to pick any system that does not use race as a consideration (which will make debate extremely hard for the negative) or the debates become extremely generic as we don’t know what actual systems we are comparing.
    23 (cultural appropriation)—This topic does not make sense as worded. When I choose to appropriate culture I am not prioritizing my freedom of expression. I can be free to appropriate without appropriating. What I am prioritizing is whatever I am getting out of that appropriation. The wording as it currently stands basically says rather than debating about cultural appropriation we should debate about if individuals have a moral obligation to pressure the government to make cultural appropriation illegal (as only that would limit my freedom of expression).

  • AngryTheoryDebater

    & 19. All seem ok, not great but not bad

    This is very possibly the worst topic I have ever seen, not only is it vaguer than the NCFL resolution (I know I thought it was impossible) there are LITTERALLY NO REAL WORLD IMPACTS WHATSOEVER, sure maybe this topic sounded great to some coach from rural Montana but in flow rounds it would be undebabitable

    5 ( in front of parent judges) , and 18 in some circuits (read the south) seem like they might lead to some intervention

    6, 7, 8, 21, and 22 actually seem pretty good, I especially like 21 and 8

    23 is almost as bad as 2 but for mostly completely diffrent reasons. While its also pretty vague it seems like it is pointing to “Cultural Appropriation” which is probably one of the dumbest ideas I have heard all year, if this topic is selected prepare to here a bunch of Race K affs that dont even ingage in discourse and just argue that somehow painting the wrong kind of art or a white person using a boomerang is going to lead to the genocide of the black body.

    Most of the topics seem ok but please for the love of god DO NOT CHOOSE 2 OR 23

  • Sareli

    What does it mean to value the common good over one’s own interests? When do individuals have that obligation? Which individuals? This topic is too broad for much good debate, it would lead to a lot of definition arguments. This needs a qualifier: In cases where X, individuals have an obligation to value the common good over their own interests.
    This looks good, but make it an action: “The United States ought to abolish capital punishment.” That would open up a lot more aff ground (plans to abolish or replace it, more arguments about how it works in practice instead of in theory such as statistics about convicting the wrong person, constitutionality, etc.) and some neg ground (they could agree it’s immoral but say it does more good than harm).
    The phrasing is awkward. If possessing them is legal, they cannot possibly be illicit (defined by google as illegal)–it’s a logical impossibility. It could be “The United States ought to legalize the possession of recreational drugs.”
    The idea is neat, but this seems hard to affirm without being extra-topical. How can you possibly argue against race-based affirmative action without also arguing against other affirmative action?
    The phrasing is awkward. Who guarantees citizens free tuition? It might fix it to put it into active voice: “The United States ought to guarantee all citizens free tuition to public colleges and universities.”
    We just debated speech codes. Many of the obvious arguments about the Fairness Doctrine have to do with free speech. Let’s debate something else.
    I don’t even get what this is debate is supposed to look like. “Individuals ought to value. . .” is really awkward. Aff argues rights, neg argues community, they debate weighing of rights and community, but nobody actually resolves the question of what and individual ought to value.

  • JP Stuckert

    Positive feedback

    I think this one would get into some interesting and nuanced political debates, but I would actually specify US for this one. First, because it’s a big difference between state and federal policy which adds an interesting layer of complication. Second, because the current wording authorizes some bad a prioris like “democracy is defined as a system where we vote on issues not representatives… this means by definition we need ballot initiatives.” I also think there is a ton of research to be done in all sorts of areas on this topic and the context could help us mold that into good policy debates.
    i find this topic personally interesting, and it might have some interesting ground for politics DAs.
    targeted killing is a classic. it would be fun to hear that one again.

    Negative feedback

    i agree with Marshall on the problem here.
    i agree with Marshall on this as well.
    Don’t like VAT topic. The US already has a way of dealing with the double taxation problem with savings, and empirically there is very little evidence that our system or the European system is preferable; they’re just different. And it’s not like the topic gets to more interesting questions of whether we should tax the rich more for the sake of justice and accept the efficiency costs, or ignore justice in favor of an “a rising tide lifts all boats” approach.
    church/state is interesting but i think the issue is in this country everyone agrees to a separation they just think it means radically different things (i.e. one side says that laws cannot restrict actions rooted in religious reasons the other side says it means that religious reasons are not valid in public spaces). That debate isn’t captured by the topic wording.
    i think plea bargaining is interesting, but the arguments would probably get old quickly. It feels like every round would be “we literally cannot handle that many cases” vs. a few different iterations of arguing plea bargaining is incompatible with due process.

  • marshall thompson

    This second post is my negative thoughts:
    2—This topic is better than some of these topics we have had in the past, because rather than just saying individuals have obligations to the common good it makes a comparative claim. However, I worry that the resolution’s burden is ambiguous. For example, does this mean that 51% of my income needs to be donated to public causes rather than my own interests? Does this mean that if for any thing I could use some resources to do more public good than I could get private good I am obligate to do so (that would be a radical implication, such that it might not be ethical for me to eat because I could always feed more in other parts of the world for that same amount of money). I think this debate will JUST be debates about burdens, and that is not fun to debate or to judge.
    4—I REALLY don’t like this topic. So, the first problem is just that it is a REALLY difficult topic to debate well. Even when I was discussing this topic with graduate philosophy students in a bioethics class the debates tended to stall with arguments just being ships passing in the night. The reason for this is because this topic is not a comparison of values (do we value life or autonomy) instead it’s a debate about what it means to value life and autonomy. Its like two people both defending the value of life against the other, and disagreeing about what it means to value life. The problem is this means the debate comes down to excruciatingly nuanced articulations of what certain values consist in. This is clear if you just look at most of the articles on the topic. They basically all rehash the same core 5 arguments, and then fail to advance the debate in a meaningful way (but instead try to propose some way to dissolve, rather than solve, the conflict).
    Second, I am always worried about when suicide comes up in a debate topic. I think it has potential serious issues. For example, I don’t think I have the level of experience as a coach (or as a human) to know how to support a depressed student while they are researching about the ethics of suicide (in any form). Nor when they are confronting these issues in a competitive, and sometimes hostile setting. The topic does not provide a great platform to talk about mental health issues as a community (given that it is limited to discussions of terminally ill patients) but students will, on their own, come across issues that may be difficult, or even dangerous, to navigate as high schoolers.
    Even if my worry is overblown, the mere fact that this worry exists is going to cause similar community controversy as occurred during the domestic violence topic. And I don’t want a repeat of all the topic nullification stuff.
    7—VAT strikes me as not very interesting
    9—I don’t know how you affirm on this topic without being extra-topical. Either the aff gets to pick any system that does not use race as a consideration (which will make debate extremely hard for the negative) or the debates become extremely generic as we don’t know what actual systems we are comparing.
    23—This topic does not make sense as worded. When I choose to appropriate culture I am not prioritizing my freedom of expression. I can be free to appropriate without appropriating. What I am prioritizing is whatever I am getting out of that appropriation. The wording as it currently stands basically says rather than debating about cultural appropriation we should debate about if individuals have a moral obligation to pressure the government to make cultural appropriation illegal (as only that would limit my freedom of expression).

  • marshall thompson

    This second post is my positive thoughts:

    2—This topic is better than some of these topics we have had in the past, because rather than just saying individuals have obligations to the common good it makes a comparative claim. However, I worry that the resolution’s burden is ambiguous. For example, does this mean that 51% of my income needs to be donated to public causes rather than my own interests? Does this mean that if for any thing I could use some resources to do more public good than I could get private good I am obligate to do so (that would be a radical implication, such that it might not be ethical for me to eat because I could always feed more in other parts of the world for that same amount of money). I think this debate will JUST be debates about burdens, and that is not fun to debate or to judge.

    4—I REALLY don’t like this topic. So, the first problem is just that it is a REALLY difficult topic to debate well. Even when I was discussing this topic with graduate philosophy students in a bioethics class the debates tended to stall with arguments just being ships passing in the night. The reason for this is because this topic is not a comparison of values (do we value life or autonomy) instead it’s a debate about what it means to value life and autonomy. Its like two people both defending the value of life against the other, and disagreeing about what it means to value life. The problem is this means the debate comes down to excruciatingly nuanced articulations of what certain values consist in. This is clear if you just look at most of the articles on the topic. They basically all rehash the same core 5 arguments, and then fail to advance the debate in a meaningful way (but instead try to propose some way to dissolve, rather than solve, the conflict).
    Second, I am always worried about when suicide comes up in a debate topic. I think it has potential serious issues. For example, I don’t think I have the level of experience as a coach (or as a human) to know how to support a depressed student while they are researching about the ethics of suicide (in any form). Nor when they are confronting these issues in a competitive, and sometimes hostile setting. The topic does not provide a great platform to talk about mental health issues as a community (given that it is limited to discussions of terminally ill patients) but students will, on their own, come across issues that may be difficult, or even dangerous, to navigate.
    Even if my worry is overblown, the mere fact that this worry exists is going to cause similar community controversy as occurred during the domestic violence topic. And I don’t want a repeat of all the topic nullification stuff.

    7—VAT strikes me as not very interesting

    9—I don’t know how you affirm on this topic without being extra-topical. Either the aff gets to pick any system that does not use race as a consideration (which will make debate extremely hard for the negative) or the debates become extremely generic as we don’t know what actual systems we are comparing.

    23—This topic does not make sense as worded. When I choose to appropriate culture I am not prioritizing my freedom of expression. I can be free to appropriate without appropriating. What I am prioritizing is whatever I am getting out of that appropriation. The wording as it currently stands basically says rather than debating about cultural appropriation we should debate about if individuals have a moral obligation to pressure the government to make cultural appropriation illegal (as only that would limit my freedom of expression).

  • marshall thompson

    Overall a good list. This first post is my positive thoughts:
    I like 1, 3, 6, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22.
    Specifically, I really like UBI. living wage was a great topic in terms of philosophy/public policy balance and I think this would likely be even better.
    I also like both of the procedural democracy topics because they force more principled framework debate but debaters are not able to just recycle generic util/deont frameworks (compulsory voting is an example); even particular political philosophies will need to be significantly customized.
    Church and State I think is a really interesting topic. I think there are really difficult but important questions that are brought up by this topic. For example, how do we demarcate a religious belief vs. a moral belief (as we obviously cannot strictly separate ethics and state). There is also a lot of really interesting recent work (over the last few years) in the area of religious pluralism. For example, discussions about how democracy in many predominantly Islamic nations needs to find a way to be pluralistic in a way inclusive, rather than exclusive, of religion.
    I think genetic enhancement is a really cool topic area that we have not tried out much. I don’t know the literature very well, but I think it would be a cool place to research that does not really overlap with stuff debaters are used to.
    Both 21 and 22 would be great Nov/Dec topics.
    Development assistance is a pretty neat topic. Lots of interesting critical ground about international relations and aid systems, and pretty good traditional phil discussions (social contract, international reparations etc.). I worry it is a little broad, but it does seem like there are enough generic negs that would apply to most plans that its not too big a deal (not like development vs. environment).