Effective Topical Limits

This year’s Jan/Feb LD topic has come with many theoretical issues that debaters have abused to avoid topical discussion in favor of hyper specific theory interpretations used to get easy wins.  Amongst these are: solvency advocate shells, fiat abuse claims, and many topicality interpretations.  Perhaps the most foreign topicality argument, for LD, is effects topicality.  This argument suggests that the affirmative must not advocate a plan that takes multiple steps to arrive at a topical action i.e. a plan is not topical in its direct policy or mandate but alleviates harms associated with the topic through a variety of internal links.

Suppose the resolution reads: The US should give animals the same rights as humans.  An effects topical affirmative might have the government offer financial incentives to companies to treat animals better.  That kind of affirmative might indirectly help reduce the suffering of animals but the policy itself does not, only the effect of the policy does.  Usually, the reason why negative debaters read effects topicality is because they believe the affirmative has severely under-limited the scope of the topic and thereby unfairly increased affirmative ground.  Similarly, effects topical positions would likely no link from core neg disad or K ground.

Now, the reason I didn’t use an affirmative on our current topic to demonstrate effects topicality is because this resolution requires a more nuanced understanding of effects topicality.  Indeed, it seems as if our current resolution necessitates some form of effects topicality.  The reason is that this topic requires the affirmative to meet two criteria (an increase in environmental protection and a decrease in resource extraction).  Since protection and extraction are likely to always be in conflict, as the resolution suggests, an increase in one would necessarily have the effect of decreasing the other.  In this way, any topical affirmative will have to be effects topical to some degree, to satisfy the two conditions.  

However, there are different types of effects topical positions on the topic, some of which are arguably indefensible.  There seem to be three: 1) prohibitions on extraction that cause environmental protection 2) environmental protections that cause limits on extraction and 3) a policy that causes both.  The first seems to be the most acceptable, it is a policy that directly affects extraction and indirectly affects protection.  An example might be to ban the mining of X mineral because of its environmental harm.  The second, seems to introduce extra-topical issues.  For instance, an aff that creates a marine protected zone does indeed stop extraction, but it also likely does much more.  Because such a policy is labeled as environmental protection the affirmative can claim it’s topical, but can also arguably garner extra-topical advantages.  Even if the affirmative does not garner extra topical advantages it could be argued that such a policy is under limiting anyways, and places an unfair research burden on the negative.  The third, seems to be an even more severe version of the second.  A plan that says china should change its entire energy consumption would likely fall under this category and is an example of pure effects topicality that the resolution does not necessitate, whereas the first two seem to be required by the resolution’s wording.  However, it is clear that type one is theoretically preferable to type two as it provides much more reasonable limits on the resolution.

It is clear that the resolution is cripplingly large, a lesson perhaps future topic committees should learn from.  Given its scale, it is necessary that the community comes up with acceptable limits of what constitutes a topical position.  However, before we all jump on the YOLO theory train and try to exclude as many positions as possible we should consider that this topic is unique in what it demands the affirmative fiat.  We are talking about nations with governments that would probably never pass any plan that severely reduces resource extraction, but that doesn’t mean the affirmative shouldn’t be allowed to fiat such a policy on a resolution that requires the affirmative to do as such.  Saying the affirmative doesn’t have a solvency advocate because their author says “X policy is bad” and not that “X policy is bad and we should ban it” is nonsense when we consider that the literature base already assumes the unlikelihood of a real ban.  

It seems as if this topic should allow for more lenient understandings of what constitutes a “solvency advocate.”  Saying the affirmative is effects topical, or that meeting a negative theory interpretation proves the affirmative is effects topical doesn’t mean anything on a topic that requires certain forms of effects topicality.  Since certain forms of effects topical positions on this topic are worse than others, I suggest crafting nuanced interpretations about those distinctions instead of reading generic effects topicality bad.  Such an argument, I hope, will be phased out within a few more tournaments.  The point is that before we establish completely arbitrary limits on the topic we should first recognize what this topic requires from affirmatives and from there establish reasonable and effective topical limits to ease our burden on an unreasonably large topic.


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