Bridging the Gap: Dealing with the Kritik

Bridging the Gap: Dealing with the Kritik by David Joannides 

College policy now has a growing section of its population that solely debates about methods and performances to decrease racism rather than traditional policy-based plans. You may choose to ignore this article if you believe that this kind of debate will never catch on in LD; I predict that you will largely be wrong. LD, for better or worse, tends to adopt many arguments from high school policy. High school policy, for better or worse, tends to adopt many arguments from college policy. Looking at late elims of high school policy tournaments indicates a large number of debates involving the kind of kritiks that college policy now focuses on; kritiks about performances, identity and oppression. I don’t think LD will ever have the frequency of performance and kritik debate that exists in college policy, but it is nonetheless a strategy that will be utilized in LD in the future. Even now, debaters are already importing critical race literature, and many debaters are making race-based arguments. Further, whether you like it or not, last years TOC was won on arguments about race. This article will provide some strategies that LDers may not have considered for dealing with this type of argument. Much of the advice below will also apply to kritiks generally, rather than just race-based kritiks.


A common trope in these type of debates is arguments about fairness. This is a bit different in LD than in Policy, since most procedurals in policy focus on topicality and the aff defending a kind of plan. Nonetheless, LDers attempt to use fairness based arguments in debates about the role of the ballot and kritiks. I am in the camp that this is not the most strategic way to go. This is largely because these critical positions are nearly explicitly written with a premise in mind: the world is unfair for African-Americans/other groups, and the position seeks to change that. Many of the debates they have may revolve around this argument, so obviously they will prepare most for it. There is a ton of literature focused on how debate/”the real world” is unfair to people of color or other marginalized groups and these articles and books are often very persuasive. Even if you believe that these positions are unfair for whatever reason, it is simply not a strategic route to go. Imagine debating an affirmative that contains five minutes of reasons that utilitarianism is worse than deontology. Would you read a utilitarian nc? I should hope not. These positions are written in a similar way. Authors are writing in a way that uses very strong language to indicate that the world just isn’t fair to minority groups. While fairness arguments can often be persuasive, it is an argument that your opponent will be preparing heavily for. 


The easiest, and probably most educational, way to engage these arguments is to consider why they might be hurting their own cause, or possibly marginalizing another group, also referred to as “going further left”. Making arguments about why they marginalize another group allows you to concede large parts of their argument (that marginalization is the worst possible harm) and generate large amounts of offense. For example, take the September/October resolution. An affirmative may persuasively argue that compulsory voting is good in order to increase the number of minorities that vote. “Going further left” in this instance may look like a K of state engagement (that the state is necessarily an anti-black institution, so forcing minority engagement with the state is always wrong) or potentially a K that suggests that compulsory voting harms another group (the disabled/some religious group) and making arguments as to why that marginalized group is already at a huge disadvantage, perhaps combined with some arguments about intersectionality. This is far more persuasive than reading a skepticism NC or theory, both of which inherently deny that the problem (whether it is racism/sexist/etc.) is of the utmost importance. Framework preclusion can be helpful, but many of these debates will include arguments about the role of the ballot, which typically function on another level than debates about the nature of “ought” or moral statements.


There are other, more general examples of this kind of head-on engagement. For example, if a debater suggests that the best way to reduce racism is through the state, there is a litany of literature devoted to why the state is a bad way to go. Other well-developed positions might focus on the rhetoric that the debater chooses, which in these debaters can be very important. Many kritiks are written with strong, sometimes violent language. Such language is also heavily critiqued in the literature as unhelpful in building coalitions to resolve actions. Does your opponents critique construct a binary between sex, gender, national origin, or race? There are tons of articles that deal with this issue. A more general strategy is to discuss what your opponent does not talk about. Do they only focus on racism and perhaps shove things like sexism and anthropocentrism to the side? There are many kritiks that can be read which argue that ignoring certain issues in radical movements mean that they are doomed to fail.


In general, I hope this article helps debaters realize that sometimes the answer is not frivolous theory, and helps get debaters thinking about the different ways to substantively engage these positions. Though you should always try to do your own research, checking out college policy and high school policy disclosures for arguments of this type can introduce you to a large amount of literature. Obviously, theory and framework preclusion win rounds, and may continue to work for some time, but as this sort of kritikal debate becomes more common, debaters should think of more ways to engage that aren’t theory and framework. 


Finally, regardless of strategy concerns, this approach strikes me as far more educational. Few high schoolers get the opportunity to learn about and engage complex issues of social justice, and critical literature has not been incredibly common in LD debate in the past. Researching new arguments on an issue will expose you to whole new schools of thought that you may find very appealing. Further, debates that revolve around the kind of engagement that I have described encourage far more clash on important issues. No one enjoys or learns from debates where “two ships pass in the night,” and many kritik debates can fall into this trap if debaters just attempt to skirt by the K. Additionally, many debaters who read these positions are doing so because they very truly believe in their issue and are devoting large amounts of time to discuss and research things that they believe are extremely important. Independent of strategic concerns, everyone involved will enjoy these debates more when emphasis is placed on constructive engagement with important issues that personally affect many debaters.