The 5 Most Annoying Framework Arguments by Stephen Babb

More and more, the average case framework appears to serve three primary functions.
First, it numbs the judge’s mind into submission and apathy. This is of course an essential step in preparing said judge for whatever shenanigans are to come—a way of saying, “Don’t get your hopes up.” For their part, this is the point at which most judges passively fall in line, waive a white flag and feign interest in a debate about debate (or a debate about debating about debate).

Second, it sends one’s opponent an unmistakable message, namely that—out of a paralyzing fear of topic-centered debate—the following spectacle will be characterized by unyielding sophistry. Framework-heavy debaters often fancy themselves masters of gamesmanship, cynical realists forced to embrace unsavory strategies in the lawless state of nature that is high school debate. “If I don’t do it, someone else will,” they say. And so it is that a wayward norm is born, a norm signaled in the first 30 seconds of most speeches. Indeed, the framework has become a harbinger of nonsense to come.

Third, the fashionable framework obviously aims to establish a competitive advantage. Never mind that such an advantage is largely illusory and reified by backward-looking punditry nostalgically romanticizing last year’s most heralded gimmicks. Never mind that any real marginal advantage comes at the expense of pedagogical dignity. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

One would think the debate community—of all communities—would be weary of any doctrine that so blindly accepts a policy of preemption. But sure enough, as if trained by Donald Rumsfeld himself, the trendy debater views speech-time as the last possible opportunity to prevent any and all possible threats from coming to fruition. On this account, the prospect of an opponent making an argument that wasn’t already responded to in advance qualifies as an existential threat.

The framework fetish is itself annoying in a way that few things can ever hope to be. However, five particular arguments stand out by virtue of their total disregard for all that is good and fair in this world:

1. “Accept the 1AC’s interpretation, because the Affirmative speaks first and therefore may set the terms of the debate.”

Who made this rule, and exactly which terms are 1ACs entitled to dictate? This would appear to be about five different kinds of logical fallacies, but in general, there’s too little analysis for these utterances to even qualify as arguments. They are neither logical nor illogical—they are simply claims made in the hope that opponents don’t hear them. If our community had settled norms on this, perhaps we’d be getting somewhere. But if that were the case, why put this in the 1AC to begin with?

2. “Accept the Affirmative definitions unless they are clearly abusive.”

Well, let’s let the topicality debate settle that. That is, after all, the point of having a topicality debate. Presumably, questions about whether or not definitions are reasonable or better interpretations are resolved in due time. At no point does this initial barrage of instructions have any meaningful impact on a well-argued T debate.

3. “If the round if unclear, presume Affirmative because of structural time disadvantages.”

First of all, if you knew there was a good chance the round would become unclear and did an inadequate job of preventing that confusion, then why should I reward you? Here’s a tip: if you’re worried a debate’s going to be unclear, then stop wasting so much time making weak preemptory arguments amidst indecipherable rapid-blip delivery. Instead, spend that time making good arguments about why I should actually vote for your position.

Second, do we really want judges thinking through the indeterminate multitude of advantages and disadvantages that each debater faces? Maybe there’s nothing immanently controversial about assessing time disparity, but the precedent strikes me as somewhat problematic. Should I also take pity on you for having a subpar coach? Should I quietly penalize debaters who otherwise have it easy in life?

4. “If skepticism is true, then everything is morally permissible and you should affirm.”

This is probably a bad argument on its merits. If morality is unintelligible, then we wouldn’t use it to describe things in the first place. Moreover, any such statement that we did make would surely qualify as the last possible thing that I’d “affirm”. I’d be more inclined to wonder why we are having such a painfully vacuous conversation in the first place and do everything within my power to award a double-loss.

The most annoying part of this argument, however, is that it’s a cheap short-cut for a more substantive response that just isn’t that hard to make. The overwhelmingly vast majority of human beings do not proceed in their day-to-day lives as irrationally extreme skeptics. If you can’t articulate why that’s the case and/or why that’s a preferable state of affairs, you probably shouldn’t win the debate (even if–thanks to a woefully unclear delivery—such a skepticism trigger was dropped).

5. “Prefer my interpretation because it’s more fair/educational…”

Than what? Until someone has raised objection and advanced an alternative, theoretical advantages seem a bit premature. If the 1AC is doing something overtly controversial, perhaps it makes sense to preemptively justify the legitimacy of the practice. Even then, however, it would be much easier to do so once the specific objections have been explained. These kinds of non-comparative attempts at preemptive comparison lead to all manner of headaches, particularly exchanges in which justifications for an interpretation are extended into a 1AR with little to no mention of the 1N’s arguments. This is what happens when debates become sloppy exercises in anticipation as opposed to responsive engagement.