5 Arguments Debaters Love But That Really Make No Sense by Anne-Marie Hwang and Noah Simon

There is a wide range in the quality of arguments in debate. There are well researched meta-ethics, there are sophisticated critical positions, and then…and then there are these:

1. Politics DA’s: A Series of Unlikely Events

Here’s a pretty typical disadvantage link chain: Truth seeking means less attorney client privilege → corporations get angry → corporations don’t support Obama →  means Obama loses political capital →  Obama can’t pass immigration reform → US econ collapse →  global econ collapse. Wait, what’s missing? Oh, stick in Mead 98 (global econ collapse means extinction) and you’re done!

That’s a real case from last year’s November/December topic. And yes, for those of you keeping track at home, there has been a global economic collapse since Mead’s precognitive miracle in 1998 and we’re still here.

Brink answers aside, people who run politics DAs need to understand how bills pass to successfully defend them. Ever heard of a docket? Ever heard of Log Cabin Republicans, a subset of the Republican party that advocates for equal rights for the LGBTQ community? Ever heard that the “Green Lantern” image of the president is problematic and flawed?

In addition, the links are not intrinsic to the aff policy, since they rely on a domino effect of impossible-to-predict consequences that have little to do with the aff. There is a case to be made that the aff only defends consequences and links that are easily foreseeable or intended. After all, why should we be held responsible for the implications of Mitt Romney’s binders full of women? Most of these impact scenarios are triggered by crazy politicians doing crazy things, which has no strong basis in the affirmative post-fiat world.

Politics DAs tend to bastardize our Congressional procedures by ignoring subtle policymaking nuances. For example, the DA won’t happen unless the aff plan is even on the docket, because the plan requires a vote to pass (which brings up the question of fiat, but that’s a discussion to be had later). And think of House of Cards (or Scandal, for those who like their politics with a heaping side of soap): there are backdoor dealings–people owe each other favors, people want to side with the winners, etc.–so politics DAs don’t seem plausible, since they are based on generalized statements and predictable trends. Politics DAs try to make an objective statement about people’s subjective preferences — something that is usually bound to fail (cue polls). They boil down a complicated and nuanced system with countless moving parts and unknown variables into “this person likes this so this will happen.” It takes the kindergartener’s view of an impossibly dense and confusing process which makes predictions impossible at worst and silly at best. How likely is that House Republicans will slash FDA regulations? How likely is it that [insert law here] will cause Obama to lose all of his political capital? How can we quantify political capital? Does he have political capital now? Does he take out a loan of 15 political capital moneys every time tries to pass a bill? Who runs the political capital bank? The extinction scenarios and link chains are so highly specific that, even though they are generally absurd, the strategy is to hope that the opponents won’t have carded answers. Strength of link determines strength of impact, so anyone who reads one of these should take a step back and realize that the true value of PTX disads is quite low. These extinction scenarios often rely on such an intricate and multi-actor link chain that they are like taking shots in the dark without a target.

2. Bostrom: Intellectual Uncertainty

Besides the fact that I don’t know who doesn’t have a 10-point take-out of this card, Bostrom’s philosophical crown jewel is flawed for other reasons. His argument says that since we don’t know what matters, we should preserve our ability to seek moral truth. However, this presupposes a consequentialist obligation we have to achieve moral certainty. This can’t be leveraged to justify its own framework without first contextualizing what obligations we normatively have or else it will be circular logic.

Moreover, debaters conflate post and pre-fiat, since debaters like to say that extinction, a post-fiat impact, precludes the judges’ ability to evaluate the framework debate, a pre-fiat concern. Further, this assumes consequentialism is true, since as long as your opponent is winning some deontic framework, consequentialism doesn’t preclude but rather violates it. So, even if there is uncertainty on the framework debate, if there is greater certainty of a deontic violation, there is a weighing debate to be had between the two impacts.

In addition to the logical holes in the card, this card is usually run in conjunction with utilitarianism, even though util seems to contradict the premises of Bostrom’s argument. For example, extinction could easily minimize long-term pain by ending all suffering, or there could be some impact that produces so much happiness (e.g. a renewal of The Newsroom) that it outweighs any pain caused by extinction. It seems that there are a few missing links from maximizing pleasure to minimizing existential risk (e.g., that extinction is the worst pain, or that death is bad, or that negative util and positive util are synonymous). Before copy-pasting this to the bottom of an extinction scenario, we recommend that you double check the logical consistency that this card might or might not possess with your framework.

3. “Meta-Theory”: So Meta It Hurts

“Meta-theory always comes first” seems to be something that someone made up one day and everyone took to be true. Meta-theory is running theory on theory, such as the good ol’ “all interps must be positively worded,” and there’s no reason why this automatically precludes. It does come first in some scenarios, but usually, meta-theory is about practice. Just because there’s a reason why a theory shell was flawed doesn’t mean there’s no violation, so we still have to weigh abuse stories. If a negatively worded “neg must not run a counterplan” shell is conceded, that shows that the rule the shell is justifying is great; to say that the positively worded shell is a prior question seems nonsensical. Even if the meta-theoretical shell is won, we can imagine the original interp being shifted to accommodate the meta-theory interp while still retaining the first violation, so we are able to compare violations.

Just because it has a fancy label, that doesn’t mean that it comes first, since theory is meant to check abuse, so saying “meta-theory always comes first” is self-defeating. At the end of the day, all abuse is linked back to the same voter, so if there are 10 units of abuse coming off of the violation of the first shell but only 2 units of abuse coming off of the violation of the meta-theory shell, it seems that common sense weighing analysis would dictate what matters more, and not a race to the highest layer.

4. “All NC Interps Are Counter-Interps to Implicit AC Interps”: Yeah, right

Someone tell me this is a joke. This is the same as saying that all answers to the AC are counter-interps and hence require RVIs. Every argument in the AC can be twisted into an interpretation, since the AC is an interpretation of the topic. Even if you think that not everything in the AC is an “implicit AC interp,” there are still issues with this idea. First, don’t RVIs necessitate someone reading “drop the debater” in order to generate the “reverse” voting issue? This would mean that AC interps about what affirmatives can run suddenly become drop the debater issues for the negative even though it is impossible for them to meet an interp about what the AC should do, since neg interps would necessitate some violation on the affirmative front. And what happens to topicality? When the neg wins a T shell, that shows that the AC isn’t topical, so the aff offense is null. Why should the impact of the neg winning a T shell be a neg RVI when it’s not a voting issue for the aff to be topical and hence no “reverse” voting issue for the neg?

The biggest issue is that this spike is methodologically false. Interps are meant to exclude practices (even if positively worded, at the end of the day, they say that the aff/neg cannot do what they did) while counterinterps are meant to include practices. This is often overlooked in debate, which can make the interp-level debate quite muddled. So, since the “implicit AC interp” which the neg shell is indicting is meant to include action (e.g. the neg says that the aff can’t spec, meant to exclude action, which is the “counter-interp” to the aff “interp” that the aff may spec, a permission on action). It makes less sense to determine the function of norm-setting based on which interp came first, and we should probably instead look to the function of the rule.

5. “The Neg Needs to Quantify Unfairness” since it’s sooooo hard to affirm!!1!1!

Since when has fairness been quantifiable? Since when have statistics and whining about structural skews been enough to prove unfairness? Even if someone reads statistics about neg win bias, that’s not quantifying fairness–just win rates. The skew could be due to other factors, such as people’s strategies in round, how much they have prepped, etc. By claiming that both sides have to quantify unfairness puts an impossible burden on both debaters, making the argument irresolvable.

In addition, just because someone doesn’t quantify fairness and weigh it against some inherent skew doesn’t mean theory is a wash — if someone wins that you have been abusive, then there seems to be sufficient skews on both sides, so theory violations can be leveraged against the aff skew without quantifying it.


In conclusion, just because the tags of some of these arguments might sound fancy, that’s not necessarily a reason to read them without thinking it through beforehand.