Category Archives: Lincoln-Douglas

listening to the subaltern: concluding the jan-feb LD topic

With only a few weeks remaining on the national high school debate topic, “Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.”, I wanted to conclude with a couple of observations based on comments and questions encountered with the cases my team has shared with the debate circuit.

We’ve run several affirmatives, such as our appropriation of Derrida’s “Beast and the Sovereign” that works through one of his last published works, engaging allegory, fable and other forms of storytelling to make serious questions about the integrity of the social contract so many accept without any question. We’ve engaged Levinas and Zizek in an examination of the site of ethical and moral construction, challenging the naive assumption that all individuals (or really any, for that matter) have access to universal notions for the pre-determination of the morality of a contemplated and premeditated act.

We’ve also engaged negative positions that, to confess, have been deconstructive rather than “truth testing” (a word we had to bend to have some chance of engaging the critical thinking of many who were misled in their education toward believing their metaphysics were unquestionable). By unconcealing and illuminating the centerings implicit in the resolution’s words “deliberate” and “permissible,” we brought attention to potentially undesirable and problematic epistemological and cultural packages that travel along with these signifiers.

What is common to each of the cases is that they tend to challenge the ~framework (let’s refer to this framing/enframing with the tilda to distance it from the commonly used term of framework that refers to a type of debate argument often found in policy rounds between critical and policymaker paradigms). Returning to LD after more than twenty years, I was shocked to discover a proto-religion had taken hold of the event I had loved and excelled within in high school. A new metaphysic of “Value & Criterion” had attained imperial authority and commanded over the interpretation of many a judge and debater, a doxology that emerged well after I had departed the mid-1980s high school LD scene. Some rather suspicious characters were found within this realm: Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hume and a few others. While of certain historical philosophical interest, they commanded a presence within this frozen snowglobe of an event, delimiting that which was legitimate and acceptable to the sovereign form.

What was most curious was the rigor of its structuralist approach; I often felt as if I was back in undergraduate music theory being told that “all composers use figured bass notation and then a formula of rules they depart from in order to compose their music”… a claim that’s quite difficult to reconcile with the existence of the music of Charles Ives, John Cage, Witold Lutoslawski and numerous other composers I personally identified with. Realizing the significant pedagogical and epistemological harm that was being inscribed upon our debate community, we worked through elements of resonance and dissonance to introduce arguments that, as Deleuze was likened to say of his philosophical adversaries, they would recognize immediately as their own yet be horrified when they realized the extent of the mutation.

I’m pretty sure from some of the judge reactions we’ve had that we’ve been successful in this effect.

Subsequently, the general “theme” of our argumentation has been one where we’ve attempted to approximate a formalist construction (meaning “trying to make our argument look and feel somewhat similar to something the LD structuralists would recognize as ‘valid’, without utilizing their form; think of the proto-Ridleys in Alien Resurrection as a not-but-becoming-abject form approach). We’ve also attempted to create substantial instability in the framing itself (think of the black cat that walks past twice in the first Matrix movie, or the warping and bending of fields under stress). Stressing words in the resolution, shifting the intensity of the resolutional world from visual to infrared or ultraviolet, or moving the ontoepistemological center of the ethical-interpretive event (e.g. where is the site of the reading of the act, to which it can be determined to be ethical or moral) have been aspects of this ~framework stressing and bending, deterritorializing and reterritorializing. To those who have felt the worldview shift in the round, this is very much intended.

Behind this work across strata, there are a few aspects within the approach that merit clarification. I’ll address these around some of the recurring questions we’ve gotten:

Isn’t your case being parametric?
This was a puzzling question for me at first, as Jay can attest from my difficulty at first explaining why it is and isn’t. Akin to Derrida’s explanation that rather than claim the written word was not suspect (to the claim that the spoken is more true and pure than the written), Derrida’s analysis in Of Grammatology is instead to illustrate how both written and spoken word are troubled. Parametrics can only exist when one assumes there can be a totalizing universal that can then be sliced down into a parametric. On this level of believing in universalizations of the debate resolution, this is an assumption that goes unchallenged by most within the current structuralist LD paradigm, but by no means is an appropriate assumption to hold unquestioned. To argue that there are no universals and universal cases, however, is the easy and less-than-interesting answer. The more interesting discussion is the deconstructive analysis, which suggests that instead, ALL LD cases are parametric. To run a Kant affirmative on the domestic abuse topic is to reject 2300 years of Western philosophical tradition, save for a very tiny portion of the Enlightenment epoch, and construct a normative “worldview” from this myopic framing. This parametrization is even more violent when it is considered that we haven’t even included substantial bases of Indian, Chinese and other non-“Western” philosophical traditions (We enjoy debating Spivak and Sloterdijk for many reasons, one of which is the occasional reference to the Mahabharata and other epics).

When decentering from the epistemologies of certain dead white-male European traditions, it can be understood that a case based on Hobbes, Locke and Kant is exceptionally parametric. Our construction of ethics from the perspective of a viciously abused child is also parametric; in fact, one would suggest that from the perspective of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and Heidegger’s ontology, we’re going to have great difficulty constructing any reading of the topic through a case that is not parametric. Whether we’re intentioning through the construction of a young child or an dead philosopher, both texts attain precise phenomenological and epistemological coordinates, narrowing the interpretation through a parametric lens. Rather than claim the illegitimacy of the pervasive and nonunique parametric, the more intelligent question becomes one of comparative coordinates.

I’d briefly note that we could even have some etymological fun in examining the baggage that comes along with the word “parametric”, para: along-side, beside, beyond-or-past (paraphysics), by extension; metric: pertaining to a meter, measured. Of a certain ghost-like presence that isn’t before us, but a specter stepping along-side us in a haunting, taunting manner, applying measurement and scrutiny. When in the company of such judgmental spirits, I’m certain many a devious LD structuralist would rather avoid having their imperialist baggage inspected, their sins accounted.

You’re breaking rules by making us defend the entire resolution
This was a recent and most unfortunate interpretation. One of the core components of counterplan theory in contemporary argumentation and debate theory is the concept of a PIC, or plan-inclusive counterplan. In this argumentative analysis, a word of the resolution is tested in order to stress it and force its advocacy or defense. This is a vital test in both debate and poststructuralism; in the former, a problematic word may be covered over and its debate avoided, with assumptions generally accepted by the debaters often on both sides. In the latter, it’s often the grounds for exploring problematic centerings, biases and cultural-epistemological skews.

Consider a real world application: a new policy is being proposed by the ruling demographic that makes clear sense to those intending it to do good will. But due to a difference in cultural interpretation, a word in the policy may be interpreted differently and have devastating results when it is implemented upon a broader demographic. Would we not want to test certain words, especially when these words have had a history to leading to systemic discrimination, exploitation, and even subjugation, violence and genocide? This becomes even more vital when we’re discussing norms; the cultural interpretation of a word for the construction of a social value can hardly be considered universal in interpretation as the mere historical construction of a word’s meaning is intricately connected to the historico-social production that shaped its rough, resonant form. Words like “permissibility,” for instance, may seem neutral to dominant majorities but when encountered by a minority, is consistently associated with a sovereign who “insists on being the one who gets to permit.” Permissibility, obtaining a permit, isn’t a conscious concern for those who have their papers in order and have paid the sovereign’s fee. Words like “permissible” and “deliberate” are far from neutral and demand careful questioning, particularly when issues of ethics and morality are of our concern.

Once again, the more interesting exploration of the “rule breaking” question is not in the linear defense to the problematic charge, but rather how the charge is impotent while also pertaining to all negative cases debated. As each affirmative constructs an ontoepistemological world (a world conceptualized from a specific ontological coordinate within a framed manifold of epistemological potentiality), each world is an advocacy of a “truth” (or “meaningfully explanatory and predictive resonance of sufficient signal and limited noise”). Each word in the resolution is traced in a highly specific way – either intentionally or not – enveloping certain signifieds within its border while willfully leaving other signifieds out. Consider the resolution:

Resolved: All human beings should be protected by the state from death.

Should an affirmative be questioned on their advocacy of this resolution if their trace of the “human beings” signifier intentionally leaves out “those deemed not human”? Daniel Goldhagen’s important 1997 work Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust addresses this very tracing and suggests the definition of Jewish individuals as “rats, vermin, not humans,” as evidenced throughout generations of anti-Semitic German literature, may have profoundly contributed to the societal “moral permissibility” of allowing millions of Jews, Roma, and other peoples to be sent to their death. Is requiring the Affirmative to defend the evidence of a problematic trace fair grounds? Or rule breaking? And if it’s the latter, to quote a remarkable debate coach and friend Dana Christensen, wouldn’t we have an obligation to challenge and break these rules? I’d suggest there may be a more important debate regarding moral obligations underpinning the framing of debate rules if that were indeed the case.

Aren’t you cheating by not debating the resolution?
This infrequent question has perhaps been the source of greater disappointment than the rest. Hearing a few judges (not the majority, fortunately) repeatedly claim that “I think you’re doing shady things by debating these cases that really aren’t about the resolution” shows the failure of our academic project in debate more than anything. Consider that on the topic of women being domestically abused, raped and murdered, some in our LD world would immediately run to a handful of very dead, old white guys to serve as authorities over what is and isn’t moral. This observation was the very grounds for one of our cases, as we are quite certain that the first thing that pops into the mind of a woman or child about to be violently beaten and even possibly killed, is not: “What would Immanuel Kant say?”

Doesn’t this racing for the “Good Book” of the Enlightenment when faced with a contemporary crisis suggest the slightest bit for concern? Are we really that disconnected and insensitive to an other’s plight? Is this a snow globe of privilege and pedigree? If we have vital projects like Women Under Siege and remarkable artistic, poetic expressions from subaltern women through movements such as the RAWA in Afghanistan, how could one feel comfortable silencing these voices in our experience? Should LD become a “Dead White European Males Only” zone?

I’m certainly understanding of the remarkable contribution this narrow pedigree of thinkers provided for us; Deleuze, Spivak and Derrida (three of my favorite thinkers) repeatedly acknowledge their tributes to the work that they had done, but remarkably, continue the evolution of thought forward. The real statement made in that question is not an accusation but rather a defense: Why are you encouraging thinking in our debate experience when I was told that rote skills, memorization, and drills were all that was needed to succeed. Why are you intending to threaten my legitimacy by rendering me obsolete?

To this final charge, I am indeed guilty. As one aligned profoundly with Ranciére’s pedagogical project, and working intimately in the world of systemic risk, I am firmly convinced that unless we advance our systems of learning to encourage and engage our young people with critical and creative thought, there is sufficient reason to doubt humanity’s long-term survival. The problems we face today are ones that memorization and rote drills cannot solve, nor “depth over breadth” approaches to a silo’ed education. Inter-and-multidisciplinary approaches, crossings of borders, infusions of poetry and aesthetics into science and literature, and continued engagements and challenges of the assumed frameworks, are necessary for our future generations to have a chance at resolving the problems that contemporary thought cannot reconcile.


morality of the victim’s act: thoughts on the 2012 jan-feb lincoln-douglas debate topic

Having judged the January-February 2012 LD topic at Blake a few weekends ago, and being asked to provide topic analysis for some in our debate community, I’ve assembled the few thoughts below to provide some possibilities for exploration. Given the resolution:

Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.

Let’s first take a look at some of the opportunities a quick and informal topological analysis of the resolution provides. Typically when encountering a new resolution, I like to “chunk it apart” to look at conceptual areas. For instance, this resolution seems to present at least four large chunks:

morally permissible: we’re talking morality, again, sigh. Rant on this NFL ontotheological bad habit later.
victims: broad and open to considerable interpretation as we’ll discuss.
deliberate deadly force: not accidental, in rage, but premeditated.
repeated domestic violence: note the repeated frequency; definitions of domestic violence will be important

As mentioned, I tend to first chunk a resolution and then deconstruct off of the conceptual chunks. I’ll then push the interplay further; e.g. what does one chunk’s interpretation effectuate with respect to the others. In the prior resolution, I chunked it into triads and ended up examining “left chunk” “middle chunk” and “right chunk” debates, and did analysis on the first two tournaments to see where the focus appeared to be. Because LD debate is an extremely normative practice, meaning judges interpretations mean much more than your creativity (as we’ve seen from Blake ballots indicating we dominated the technical debate, but the judge just refused to believe in our underlying premise), you will want to monitor how your reading of the resolution resonates with how the circuit tends to norm it. LD is particularly hostile to experiments and interpretations outside its highly hegemonic normative doxology.

Chunking and Deconstructing
Ranting aside, let’s play with this resolution’s chunks.

1. Morality: An early decision we have to make is how we’re going to handle the concept of morality. I will rant again here that the NFL has no business imposing theological concepts upon what should be a secular practice. Debaters have no business preaching, nor do they want to be preached to. Any sufficient reading of moral theory will provide the grounding into theology. Subsequently, we avoid this problem and interpret morality through a poststructural reading as “ethics” (Todd May, an Anglo-American analytical philosopher who has crossed the bridge repeatedly into the Continental world, with respect by both, deals with this particular issue carefully and competently). So, we tend to understand that we’re making a determination of ethics through this re-reading and will be prepared to defend this interpretation through May or others. Because of the capacity for a rather toxic, otherizing debate, I recommend that religion simply be left aside in debate as it only serves to polarize, divide and will never persuade or convince.

2. Victims: The resolution expects us to talk about domestic abuse victims. We have a bit of latitude to play here but I’d strongly encourage us to think about the profound normative shaping the LD community tends to have on its tolerance (or the lack thereof) in interpretations. In CX debate, squirrel cases, parametrics and radical interpretations may have a judge shaking their head partially in amusement at the courage of the team running them and daring a topicality and framework challenge, but it’s usually left to the debaters to define. Rarely is this tolerance and respect for interpretive creativity permitted in LD. LD has established norms and forms and you’re expected to comply; variance either invites judge hostility or rejection. It’s unfortunate, given the mountains of pedagogical theory and research that shows this very reaction to be quite damaging to the educational process. But deal with the reality and be prepared for its consequence; my own interpretation has been to push the edges a bit but recognize we have a Luddite audience with very little tolerance for new forms. I’m reminded of a former Omaha Symphony conductor who said he’d love to perform much more contemporary literature, but his audience would hang him. So he’d play a bit of what they wanted to hear (Beethoven, Mozart) and occasionally push their ears a little (Shostakovich, Mahler, Stravinsky, which was 50-100 years old at the time and still considered too edgy and avant garde; this should help one understand why much of the LD practice in Minnesota hasn’t yet evolved past Immanual Kant’s philosophy which is amusingly treated as contemporary and theoretically relevant, rather than historically curious).

So with your victims analysis, you’ll want to resonate as it’s an easy place to find commonality with your judge and their restrictive normative and interpretive worldview. Children, women and other diminished individuals in domestic power relationships are givens and are likely to do well with the majority of the judging community. I’d particularly love to see this pushed, but wouldn’t advise it before other judges. Victims in other minoritarian relationships are particularly interesting topics: the subaltern (ala Gayatri Spivak’s remarkable thinking), victims in same-sex abusive relationships, and other more difficult terrain is intellectually interesting but again, may move you out of your judges comfort zone. To think of the big stick cases, I’d suggest women victims of male abuse is the most accepted interpretation, followed by children (this coincides with what I saw at Blake; children were actually quite rare).

3. Repeated violence to the victim: Shifting the topic order (since we need to talk about this next in my analysis), we need to understand what defines the victim as one. You’re going to need to think about this and draw some brightlines as there is debate on this interpretive ground. Do I have to actually physically abuse, or is verbal abuse ok? What about the threat of abuse? This represents some rather fascinating ground, but again, your judging may not go there with you (we brought a Lacanian negative that deals with a worldview of psychology that is quite predominant outside the U.S., and explains that even with the killing of an abuser, the site is constructed in the victims head and the killing will never remove that site of violence; killing is not an alt. Judges hated it and refused to engage it as a possibility). Using the “What is a typical middle class teacher/educator interpretation of what would be abuse” model, you can and should look for a big stick interpretation here. Beating the holy crap out of someone, leaving the bleeding, breaking limbs, cigarette burns and all the horrifying imagery seems to meet the threshold of the normative readings of the resolution; repeated incidents appears to be key.

4. Deliberate deadly force: You’re going to need to think about whether actual killing is part of your case conception, or merely the right. Much of the debate I’ve judged on this topic so far merely insists it is a right that shouldn’t be taken away, but doesn’t go so far to necessitate it. That’s probably an intelligent debate and literature definitely supports it.

Chunk Interplay
Looking at the interplay between the chunks and looking toward the effectual intolerance of the general judging normative practice, I’d suggest that you have at most a single degree of freedom in your case construction, necessitating the remainder of the chunks fall firmly within the norms. There’s not a lot of reason to push the edge on chunk #4 (deliberate deadly force), nor with #3 (repeated violence), you probably can and should stay safe and work with a morality=ethics interpretation given the community doesn’t seem to want to debate theology (except when it does via ontotheological philosophers which might explain Kant’s popularity in Minnesota), and this leaves you with an independence on the victims interpretation. This becomes a sort of plane that the case would want to function and resonate within.

Again, this is how I’ve read the topic. Play with the technique, theory and interpretation and engage in your own dérive (make your own detour!). I’ll continue based on these assumptions and share a bit of what I’ve seen in judging.

Case Assemblages

Let’s talk about some actual case constructs, both ideas I’ve played with as well as a few seen and judged:

I. Feminism
Remarkably, this topic has seemed to be somewhat open to a feminist aff strategy. I’ve judged it at Blake and feel that at a minimum, a third-generation feminist grounding will probably resonate well on the topic, depending on how traditional your feminist authors and their associated movements tend to register with your judge. You will probably have little difficulty with a liberal feminist interpretation. Given a single degree of freedom, lock down to a conservative reading on all the chunks except victim, and then construct the victim as female against a violent individual or system, and interpret the ethical justifying calculus through feminist theory. This is actually an intelligent and conservative debate on the topic. Before most judges, they’re unlikely to reject it given most actual human beings with intelligence and compassion tend to recognize feminist issues as legitimate. With a critical judge, there are some remarkably interesting debates to be had here.

Liberal Feminism: Many of the policy Fem K files will have decent materials here, and you’ll probably find a few LD files around too. I’m far from qualified to speak to this tradition as it is usually the object of structuralist and identitaritarian criticisms from the postmodern and poststructural schools (ask a liberal feminist if she recognizes a genetically and anatomically configured male to identify and construct their gender as female-in-male-body, but then elect to engage in “lesbian” relations with genetically-female bodies, and you’ll find extremely rigid structures that reject these constructions and demand anatomy of males fix their gender constructions).

Anarchist and Radical Feminism: This is a remarkably interesting terrain and connects strongly with the right of the victim to use deadly force. You’re probably facing an uphill battle with mainstream judges. I’d love to judge it (and there may be something coming out from us on this interpretation…).

Black Feminism: Another wonderful plateau that I’d love to see debated; it advances thinking that has tremendous pedagogical value. Uphill climb, though perhaps a little less than the anarchist and radical “tradition”.

Postcolonial and Third-World Feminism: This plateau requires two degrees of freedom, per my topic analysis. You’re going to have to open the interpretation of the victim to a broader and more abstract subject, such as Gayatri Spivak’s subaltern. You’ll also need to deal with the abuser and quite likely (re)construct it as a structural, systemic violence, to which the subaltern should have a moral(ethical) action of deadly violence against it. This is a complicated case and very uphill for most judges. It’s also in the area of poststructural postcolonialism that I tend to stay up night reading, unable to put down, and would freak out if I were to judge it being run well. If you’re marginally curious about this area (or even a decent human being and want to read something all decent intelligent human beings should read, then check out this short but necessary journal article by Spivak, called “Can the Subaltern Speak?“. Hint: This is where the concept “black women don’t need to be defended from black men by white men” originates).

Postmodern Feminism: Running Butler, Haraway and others from this “tradition” will probably work well in front of a critical-receptive judge. Strangely, the mainstreamer judges don’t seem to accept concepts such as gender being constructed, and they are quite often oblivious of the presence of biopower’s productive influences on social systems, structures, language, discourse, etc. Foucault, Derrida, Lacan and others have much to say in this greater resonance to postmodernism but is a fierce uphill climb before all but the receptive.

(concluding the section on feminism, I’ve absolutely neglected a great deal of thinking, including tremendous thinkers like Irigaray, but ask you to take your own dérive and create your own path here; it is a responsible and remarkably ethical debate to bring, even if you do end up with close minded judges in the end).

Child Abuse: This is a good plateau for a non-critical topic, with literature ( and scribd) that deals with issues of children killing abusive parents, children with schizophrenia (linked in some research to this abuse), etc. We debate a case in this area and I think it provides for an intelligent big stick, given that we have to ask how we construct what is moral and ethical. As a poststructuralist, I do all I can to help people in society become aware of the myth of the universals they tend to believe protect them from the monsters out there (when actually, as Sloterdijk observes in his just-translated masterpiece Spheres: Bubbles, the opposite is quite true. Humans who believe in universals for protection are much like the baby chick that is born out of the shell, sees the chaos and complexity of the world out there, and rejects it, shoving its head back into the shell that had such unifying simplicity. This lasts until the fox walks up to an oblivious chick with its head hidden in the shell, ass stuck up high in the air, and chomps the little chick down for dinner). In our interpretation in this area, we look at where ethics (morality) should be interpreted. Do you want to be a sick universalizing bastard and condemn a little child as immoral and going to hell because she or he didn’t consult Immanual Kant’s three critiques and deem what was the moral universal before lashing out after being violently raped the 30th time? This approach seems to resonate, though I’d encourage you not to copy, but dérive, explore, play and make the idea of “where is the morality being constructed?” your own. An opportunity for this follows.

Prostitutes, drug addicts and other social “undesirables”: Society has a lot of people it tends to look the other way when they get violently abused. Throw-away people, as some might deem. Approached ethically and sensitively, this provides for a powerful debate that any judge with a pulse would feel like a total asshole for rejecting. This is tremendously important to note: you don’t approach these topics with trickery, nor with a will to win. You approach them because they are stories that need to be told, in spite of our preference for not noticing them as we step around them on the city streets or drive past them as they suffer in a rural trailer. Is a woman forced into prostitution morally just in striking back when she’s violently and repeatedly abused? Are you a debater willing to stand up for someone most others refuse to even think about? In this case, I think the key again is to look at “who is the moral judge” – by creating this kind of debate, it becomes disgusting to impose some dead white European like Kant and his preachy, problematic universals. “Well, you’re not moral because you didn’t consult Kant.” Ugh. You don’t have to dislike Kant to see problems with this rationale.

So far, I’ve talked about chunks and cases. What seems to matter more on this topic is the ethics-within; attributes of the plane that the debate is constructed within. A conversation I had during the Dowling tournament with Millard West head coach Fred Robertson seems to be relevant to this meta-debate discussion.

As we talked about the new January-February topic, and my disgust in having yet another “morality” topic (per the rant above on its appropriateness in secular debate praxis), Fred shared an interesting observation. Per my recollection, Fred said something to the effect of “You know, the last topic was a disappointment. It’s a serious issue and I think the framers wanted to see an actually discussion of the topic, but instead they got mostly theory debates. I’d love to see someone just debate the resolution.” If you know Fred, he’s a remarkably intelligent and compassionate human being that wants to see the best for people. I thought Fred’s analysis on the old topic was impeccable: I’d see 70% of an affirmative case arguing pre-empts, standards for the Neg, and a dozen other setups for a theory debate, and then with less than two or three minutes, a shell of an affirmative case.

I felt that Fred not only had a point, but that perhaps there were others out there that agreed with Fred. I thought I sensed that in several other coaches and judges in our region and recommended that we try to actually debate the resolution on this very serious topic. At Blake, this feeling was very much validated. There is a tremendous opening for running narratives, telling stories, or setting up a basic case debate and being prepared to demand the same from the Neg. No theory trickery; this is a real issue. But to do this, you have to be original. You don’t need complicated theory arguments or difficult philosophy; actually, I’d suggest those work against you in this approach.

Factoring the Personal: A Warning
I do need to discuss a complication on this topic which has to do with individuals personally affected by the topic. In the Iowa circuit, we have the case of a debater who is a victim of domestic abuse and has made tremendous progress in moving forward from it. You need to approach this round and your opponent with compassion and care and not make this a personal topic, ever. You may not know that someone debating abuse in the abstract might actually have been (or is still being) abused. You don’t know that the very evening after the debate concludes, your opponent may face the possibility of going home to encounter these abstractions and universals in the very real manifestation of violence in their household.

It’s for this reason that I am strongly angered with anti-ethical advocacy of any sort and don’t respond to those games (I’ve encountered a “rape is constructed in the victim’s mind” argument once in cross-x debate on a negative argument made by two novice boys at an Iowa tournament in policy three years ago, mocking a sensitive and responsible case two girls were running, which resulted in zero speaks, a loss, and an ejection warning. These are always interesting things to have to explain to a fellow head coach; usually they agree with the consequence).

That said, the extreme cases are fortunately rare, but we need to acknowledge that in the case of abuse, it’s less rare. You need to approach each round with an ethics of compassion and care for your opponent and be responsible enough to not construct polarizing situations that may wound and hurt.

Intending not to end on a minor chord, your case has a capacity to create a meaningful moment of real discussion and exploration. Approached as an exploration of the difficulty of the minoritarian subject embodied within the resolution, you have a tremendous opportunity to construct and share a view into the phenomenon and experience of that other. I’ve been particularly critical of some of my judging colleagues for their apparent unawareness in the consequentiality of their normative practices, but would also acknowledge that their behavior is nonunique and quite consistent with the broader societal experience. In spite of that uphill climb we might face when intending to debate more aggressive thinkings, I have found that most of the LD judging community intends to be decent, compassionate human beings. If you approach the debate in a commensurate manner and bring a creative, thoughtful and sincere discussion, you’re probably going to do just fine. Don’t be about the win; let the win occur when it finds a resonance and a thoughtful debate.

I’d engage questions in the feedback area if you have them. Good luck debating and don’t be afraid to write that second case on something less common, for that rainy day you encounter a judge who might just love to see it debated.

Post-Structural Judging Paradigms

A work in progress that I’ve been remiss in communicating is my effort on communicating a post-structural interpretation of policy debate. I’ve had many discussions through post-round criticism and out-of-round discussion regarding this interpretation but as a serious work-in-progress, it’s expression has been notably absent.

Having squirreled three times this year (once in policy, twice in LD), I’ve paid careful attention to the panel presented and the nature of the squirrel. I’ve felt that this analysis would be beneficial in the representation and communication of my paradigm; something any person seriously concerned about the pedagogy of debate would be mindful of. This weekend’s squirrel at Westside (Nebraska) in novice policy semifinals was for a Barstow team, against a Millard West team I had just previously voted up in quarterfinals. The squirrel and its post-round discussion by all three judges illuminated the source of difference. As Deleuze would say, it was an intensive difference, not extensive difference.

Beyond Stable Meaning
A clear difference in my approach to the round is in the stability of meaning. Derrida illuminated serious problems in post-Socratic meaning through his deconstruction of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Rousseau and others who embraced logocentrism (spoken word as true and the written as shady and questionable). Curiously, logocentrism continues to be a dynamic in the round, but an even greater question of hermeneutics (theory of interpretation) comes into play in many rounds where it is assumed that Enlightenment’s scientific approach to reason will unveil the absolute and error-free truth of the warrant. It is this Enlightenment hermeneutic that I’m terribly at odds with and tends to present the clinamen for the squirrel (clinamen is represented here as the least deviation from the laminar flow that gives rise to the vortex of a different order — a new conclusion and an independent outcome, as approximated from Michel Serres’s interpretation of Lucretius as expressed in Genesis, The Natural Contract, and Angels: A Modern Myth).

In my interpretation of the warrant, I’m fully comfortable with warrants being signified and re-signified through a system of volatile and dynamic meaning. Stable meaning is a myth: walk in the shoes of a risk manager in a global corporation and you’ll experience first-hand the extreme uncertainties of “Things that are Stable and Not Risky” go radical on you and give clinametic rise to the “unexpected” vortex of the existential-risk black swan. Meaning is shifting, unstable, uncertain and filled with noise.

Subsequently, I approach the presentation of warrants (evidence) as within this system of instability. I find it relevant to apply the claim signified to the warrant, especially given that the claim is usually made at reasonable speeds and the warrant delivered at a velocity far beyond. I find this to be pedagogically consistent, given that in the executive decision-maker climate, most warrants are rarely questioned and claims accepted unless there is reason to question the provider of the warrant. Senior executives tend to rely on the claim presented (and expect tacit representation of warrant) given that the ethical construct is one based predominantly on trust; get the warrant wrong and you usually won’t be along very long.

The Hermeneutic Experienced
An instantiation of this difference follows: Imagine an critical affirmative 2AC presents Berube’s wonderful 1997 warrant that claims that deontological impacts must be evaluated first (that delicious “Five horsemen of the apocalypse” card by former USC debate coach and CEDA theory guru Dr. David Berube). But imagine further that the affirmative claims the card says that “Beer solves poverty.” Now certainly my judging panel of policymakers and college-attending judges will recognize this card and find that claim to be absurd. As soon as the Negative puts the most minor of offenses on the flow (say, referring to their 1NC utilitarianism card and giving a warrantless claim that it’s a better card, and leaving it that), my fellow judges will gladly leap into Interventionland, determining the “beer solves poverty” claim to be fictional and failing to access the “real truth” that’s within the Berube card.

I contest that this is blatant, un-creative hermeneutics. First of all, to make this leap to a “fixed truth of the Berube card” destroys the potentiality of Derrida and deconstructionism. It goes well beyond that, in fact, denying the capacity for the counter-read. It deprives the 2AC from uncovering a new approach to meaning of the Berube evidence. But furthermore, it’s exceptionally interventionist and, I dare say, disqualifies a judge who makes this leap from claiming to be tabula rasa (on this note, I’d suggest that such paradigms are mythical in a system of fluid, unstable meaning).

Instead, I see the 2AC resignification of the Berube as an establishment of a temporary point of order — a footprint (Michel Serres) to which the affirmative seeks to instantiate a new local order of meaning. When presented, I see the least interventionist hermeneutic model as one that accepts this resignification until there is counter-advocacy sufficient to disrupt and re-re-signify.

The Hermeneutic Applied
So how does a team apply and integrate this hermeneutic? First of all, as I explain to any team approaching a panel, I strongly recommend playing the numbers. I’m a game player as are many, and advise teams to work the numbers. If two of the judges are college age policymakers and I’m the questionable third (as Michel Serres would proudly associate), play to the majority. But should you encounter my paradigm in the solitary, or have the capacity to integrate it with your advocacy to the judging panel, the following method may be beneficial.

Consider our Berube scenario: the 2AC has given us a counter-read (regardless of whether this was innovative, shady or outright confused). The Negative should recognize that I will accept the new system of signification absent a reasonable challenge. But what constitutes that challenge? Certainly not a 5-second analytic saying “The 2AC gives their Berube 97 but our 1NC Smithee ’08 is better.” Instead, draw out the Berube, re-re-signify it, or contrast it with the Smithee ’08. Best of all, contrast it, provide me a hermeneutic micro-framework of how to interpret the decision between the two cards, and call for the cards to be read through that framework at the end of the round should they be material to the ballot. I find this approach to be least interventionist in a system of unstable meaning and find great comfort evaluating the competing hermeneutic framework debate (at which even I conclude that we have to “fish or cut bait” and determine a temporary moment of stability through the hermeneutic framework in order to derive a ballot). I typically find that framework through the process of locating resonance-of-meaning and finding that resonance as a signification of a temporary order capable of offering and sustaining the hermeneutic model. This resonance model itself is something that merits further elaboration and exploration in a future post.

A Young Person’s Guide to Managing Critical Thought

One of the greatest challenges to a high school debater who wishes to evolve to the level of a true varsity is an internal challenge: handling the mental barrier which precludes the effective handling of critical thought. This barrier is particularly problematic for policy and Lincoln-Douglas debaters in that it restrains their advocacy, causing their arguments to be noticeably insincere. In close rounds, this superficiality results in a loss, as the judge will more carefully measure the consistency, quality and integrity of the debater’s advocacy presented.

Judging competitive rounds, I’ll frequently observe this problem, such as a debater mishandling a Heidegger kritik by running competing arguments in conjunction with the kritik that horribly conflict with the philosopher’s underpinning message, or in opposing debaters trivializing the thought of a Baudrillard or Zizek as “unintelligible crazy crap.” Both cases indicate a problem in conceptualizing the critical argument, finding its coherent place. Yet in discussions with these debaters after the round, a more fundamental problem lurks below the debater’s conscious mind and prevents comprehension of the philosophical idea, in spite of their better efforts. It is to this barrier I speak.

The Conscious Objection to the Kritik
On the surface, kritiks are strange arguments. Consider my team’s experiment with the running of post-humanist philosophy (Michel Serres “The Parasite” on the Negative, and our Kurzweil, Young and Garreau “Transhumanist Manifesto” on the Affirmative) at policy debate novice nationals. Opposing teams refused to engage the arguments seriously, disparaging and trivializing significantly serious and worthy philosophical thought*. Judges that claimed to be tabula rasa lied**, imposing personal preconditions that rejected even to the point of refusing to flow our arguments (and mind you, these were “national circuit” judges, not soccer moms). Some have described the critical affirmative as “rape of debate,” even when a policy option is presented. Our rejection to thought-that-challenges is substantial.

The curious thing about this visceral, emotional rejection of thought-that-challenges is in its obvious and apparent dishonesty. If we took a moment to reflect upon why our current policy-of-self /is/, we would trace each meme that defines our worldview back to philosophy. How do we encounter consumerism? Do we embrace a work ethic? Do we want that new iPod? Should iPod music be free or should we have to buy them from recording labels? Should I cheat on that test? Is a little bit of plagiarism acceptable, especially when everyone else at school does it? All of these thoughts operating within our personal worldview and through our society’s policy are derived from the instantiation of specific philosophical thought. The very fact that we have the concept of a teenager that continues in an educational program, exempt from the workforce, is a relatively new and radical thought as opposed to the experience of history. Merely one-hundred years ago, teenage debaters would be in the mill or in the fields, toiling away through the identity of non-child. Teen, as a concept, did not exist***.

Yet we find it difficult when we handle these philosophical ideas. Indeed, we respond to them with the primitive response of “fight or flight.” Reject the challenging thought outright in its legitimacy and otherize it, or run away from it, quitting critical argumentation or even the activity itself.

The Unconscious Objection to the Kritik
Lurking beneath superficial objection is a conflict within the debater’s self-identity. Numerous critical arguments encountered in the policy and values debate world challenge the culture from which the debater originates. Baudrillard will question the legitimacy of American foreign policy and the integrity of our news media in the portrayal of it all as nothing but war pornography. Zizek will invert Christianity’s compassionate message of “turning the other cheek” into an expression of a greater violence against the Other which can never be overcome. Heidegger, if approached more than superficially, may challenge the way we define ourselves in the world, and Derrida will challenge our very capacity to understand.

To the unprepared, these ideas will cause problems. If approached with significant, sincere intent to comprehend, yet carried out without prior preparation, they can damage and shatter the debater’s worldview, resulting in visceral rejection even of debate itself. Or the other extreme can occur, radicalizing the debater’s thought toward the encountered view at the expense of the connection of existing culture, relationship and community. As either extreme is highly damaging, most debaters address the problem through the formation of cultural immunities: they create antibodies that kill off questioning thought and protect the identity-that-is.

A Third Alternative
Instead of the binary fight-or-flight choice of identity-shattering comprehension versus numbing rejection of critical thought, a third alternative exists which allows for deep comprehension without significant risk to the debater. To explain this concept, we first need to lay some information theory ground through the appropriation of posthumanist analogy.

Borrowing from the technology sciences, the concept of a computer operating system kernel is useful for our third-way model. As the mind of the computer system, the kernel controls the management of memory, execution of tasks and jobs, and interaction with interfaces to its user, others (networks) and its own body (hardware). Operating system designers originally created kernels that were thick or fat, loading them up with great volumes of technology culture. These kernels were good at operating within their specific region, but had great difficulty when appropriated to unanticipated realms. For instance, these fat creatures were great at running a personal computer and serving up web pages, emails and office documents, but they performed horribly when asked to fly fighter jets, run soda vending machines or route traffic on the Internet. They named these fat and singular-purpose (singular-culture) entities Monolithic Kernels.

An alternative approach to the monolithic is the Microkernel. This technology being is one which is exceptionally lightweight, bringing only a bare minimum of technology culture and corresponding baggage. As the kernel is a space within which instructions, definitions and culture require protection (in order to prevent against challenges to its fundamental integrity), this lightweight version places the core of identity within a tight package. All the other stuff that might be occasionally needed but wasn’t absolutely critical to the kernel’s existence and identity was placed outside, in objects called Loadable Kernel Modules (we’ll refer to them as Loadable Modules)

For the varsity critical debater, the microkernel paradigm provides a powerful solution to comprehending formerly dangerous critical thought without jeopardizing the integrity of identity. Interestingly, this transition begins immediately with the very recognition that one can have a microkernel, as this discovery immediately partitions the mind of the debater and defines two spaces: that which is core-to-identity (and thus within the Microkernel), and that which is external-to-identity (and thus a Loadable Module).

For those that have read this far, congratulations! By conceiving of the mere potential for defining your thought in this manner, you possess a microkernel. The memetic infection is already complete. (This instant solvency should suggest something of the power of information theory and memetics to the critical debater).

Hacking Yourself
From this point forward, the practice becomes one of identification, categorization and application. A good example of this process is as follows:

  1. Identification: What beliefs do I have? In every day life, when I make a decision (even the most inane, like “how much mustard should I put on my hot dog”), what values do I express in that decision? Where does that value come from? Is there an underpinning philosophical believe I hold that creates that value?
  2. Categorization: For each of the beliefs I have identified, is this belief something that is incredibly foundational to my existence? If I discarded it, what would that mean to my definition of me? How would it affect my connections to others in my life that are meaningful to me? Considering that each belief that is put into my microkernel, I become more and more unwieldy and inflexible, can I define my self in a most minimal form and allow the rest of my identity to be held as a Loadable Module, to which I invoke and execute when I need it?
  3. Application: For all else that is non-core and external to my microkernel, can I identify it and package it in Loadable Modules? For instance, if I am both an athlete and a debater, I am sure there are times where my Athlete culture is not needed in the debate world, and am even more certain that my Debate culture is problematic in the Athlete world. Likewise, I would probably not load my CriticalDebater module at church or at grandmas and argue Nietzsche. I recognize that while I behave as different persons in these different environments, these are all Loadable Modules which I can load and unload as needed. They do not affect the microkernel-that-is-me.

As one can observe, there is substantial utility in creating a protected microkernel that shields identity, while creating the framework for loadable modules to be invoked as needed given the appropriately self-determined circumstance. In my case, the approach has allowed me to seriously evaluate post-modern, post-anarchist, deconstructionist, existentialist and posthumanist thought at a deep and serious level, while remaining intellectually consistent and true in self-discourse. That I’m a Kierkegaardian-influenced person of faith is not jeopardized when I load modules of those who question the very core of Christianity, for instance. As a loadable module, I’m able to examine the critical thought, utilize it for the local condition (e.g. evaluating a debate round, making a business risk assessment), and then if and only if I choose, appropriate small parts of it to my microkernel should I find that thought to be foundational to my core.

With application and practice using the existing topography of one’s self experience and cultural package, our daily engagement with reality allows us to reinforce this microkernel paradigm. In our experience at home, school, work, debate and elsewhere, the following questions help us refine the paradigm:

Q: What modules do I have loaded right now?
Q: Do I run them all the time, or in certain circumstances?
Q: If I run them all the time, is it possible I’ve made this part of my kernel and monolith-ized myself?
Q: If I don’t run it all the time, what places do I find myself running it?
Q: If I shut them all down and only had my microkernel, how would I behave in this environment?
Q: Do I have loadable modules that I don’t like? Nervous or troublesome behaviors?
Q: Can I segment and control or sever those undesired loadable modules?
Q: What new modules can I download (from culture, books, community) and play with?

The last question is a particularly powerful one as it provides the framework for evaluating critical thought. Consider the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari in their deeply significant work, A Thousand Plateaus. Can I create a new module, call it “D&G World” and begin to populate it with their ideas? Should I study Marx, can I create a Marx module, populate it with my Marx studies, and then load it to play with?

In loading/unloading these modules, we find that the greater our definition and precision of our modules, the more utility we gain from the use and combination of modules. For instance, Deleuze describes that he took the worlds of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, loaded them, snuck up behind them and accosted the ideas (recoding the modules) and created entirely new offspring through the process.

It is through this approach that the debater can deeply engage critical thought and gain comprehension, load and unload, examine, play and torment powerful ideas without risk to identity.

Next Steps
Understanding that the approach prescribed here merely opens a door and gives one a less world-shattering method of seriously engaging critical thought, the practitioner should realize that this is merely the beginning, the first room in the world of memetics, information theory and other wonderful applied ontological practice. For the critical debater that wants to take this practice further, especially in the outward application of these techniques to their advocacy, I strongly recommend the reading of Unruh and Wilson’s “The Art of Memetics,” currently available for PDF download and well worth the inexpensive order directly from the authors. (Warning: memetics is an active practice of information theory and strategy, and subsequently will introduce the student to powerful capabilities that capable of both positive and negative change.)

Long-Term Application
A final comment regarding the utility of this paradigm is necessary. By developing the capacity to load and unload specific perspectives and worlds-of-thought, you will develop a skill that has tremendous utility as an analyst, especially in strategic spaces. Numerous professions greatly desire this capability. In my own profession as an information risk manager, this paradigm has helped me to uncover numerous major risks to my employer that had been previously undetected. Those who proceeded me in examining the risk environment used monolithic and inflexible thought paradigm, e.g. that of an auditor/examiner, or that of the system/network administrator. Through both world-views, the risks that existed were invisible from their vantage point. However, an accomplished hacker or criminal organization would potentially uncover that hidden risk as they characteristically do not approach a system from a typical vantage point. By evaluating the environment through multiple paradigms (via loading the corresponding modules), the risks became immediately clear.

This skill is equally valuable in forecasting consumer behavior, creating corporate strategies specific to potential future scenarios and carrying out countless other applications where the assignment is to either assess the status quo from a nonstandard vantage point, or to anticipate how to design an system for a future environment we haven’t encountered yet. In fact, its utility is relevant toward any situation where we wish to examine our environment (past, present or future) from any other vantage point than the one we’re presently in.

Postscript: One final comment that didn’t make the original posting is very relevant. Many will find that this paradigm and approach will greatly accelerate the process of engaging, comprehending and applying new areas of thought. In educational and professional environments, we’re often asked to take on a new assignment, evaluate from new view. When seen through the lens of “adding another module” and then using the existing framework to apply and test, one can rapidly bring on new capabilities. The microkernel approach embraces “framework reuse” which greatly speeds one’s effort in engaging and utilizing new areas of thought.

* The Transhumanist Manifesto addressed the pending end-of-humanity as we know it through the realm of the Singularity, actually affecting each and every one of us should the increasing body of work addressing this potentiality be true. This topic is by no means obscure, having found increasing popularity on NPR and other mainstream sources. Contrast this to the significance of an imaginary single space-based solar satellite proposed by a high school debater using fiat to an end that will never actually occur. In a sense, critical affirmative vs. policymaker inverts the reality of discourse, where the only absurd and silly argument in the room is the pretend policymaker plan. Fiat makes for unreliable cars and even less reliable discourse.

**There are two types of tab judges: Those that have preconditions (and thus are not tab), and those that lie. For a more honest alternative, embrace the information theorist paradigm and embrace preconditions, subjectivity of position and noise.

*** Actually, we don’t even need one-hundred years of history to find this truth. My very own paternal grandfather left home at age 13 and crossed the country hitching freight trains to work sheep ranches in Montana in order to send money home to his mother and his sisters during the Great Depression. I enjoy reminding my children of this fact when they’re less than eager to help around the house (a rare occurrence, I should add).

Public Forum & Judging Paradigms

The world of public forum (PF) debate survived my judging this weekend at the Lincoln Northstar tournament thanks to a non-squirrel ballot in a well executed, highly competitive semifinals round. However, the experience only raised further question about the impact judging plays in debate. While I’ve judged more than 60 policy rounds and 16 Lincoln-Douglas rounds this year, this was my first PF one. As my earlier posts on the influence of judging on the quality of debate have examined, it’s been my conjecture that the debate community could embrace a more effective model of judge paradigm disclosure in order to further the values of education, enjoyment and real-world adaptation. Indeed, I’ve argued that the role of judge adaptation is enhanced through the development of more proficient judge classification models, more consistent pre-round paradigm disclosure, and post-round ballot disclosure with the explanation of the reason for decision through that paradigm lens.

I’ve contended that policy debate, in particular, suffers from the failure of the “pre-round judging paradigm exchange” and causes poor adaptation. The result is a mismatched round, where one or more teams may argue down the wrong path. The result is a surprising ballot which leaves teams feeling robbed and the debate experience diminished. For instance, several exceptional central Iowa teams were surprised by this judge’s particular view that solvency is still an affirmative burden, even when the round has gone critical on both the affirmative and negative. The result of this mismatch is a minimized learning experience, especially when post-round disclosure and criticism through the paradigm is not provided. Debaters fail to adapt, frustration increases and eventually alternative uses of weekend time are contemplated.

Adaptation’s Role in the Real World

I’ve suggested that there is a highly relevant real-world application of this judging paradigm issue that, through its application and development in debate, has a powerful educational capacity in the preparation of high school students for professional life. A year and a half ago, I struggled through “judge adaptation” with my then new boss, the Chief Information Security Officer of First Data – United States. A remarkably gifted and exceptionally insightful man, I initially found myself confounded in one-on-ones and meetings with my new boss as my presentations tended to only increase his confusion and raise further questions than answer them. After some significant agony, I remembered the role of judge adaptation and worked diligently to examine how my style of presentation was not corresponding to his paradigm. However, I’m confident that had I not figured that adaptation out, my capacity to be successful in my position would have been significantly impaired. (Many thanks to my friend Jarra Keskessa for his excellent advice that helped me in that particular adaptation exercise!)

So with this weekend’s PF judging experience, I’ve returned to revisit the paradigm question. As a debate format that embraces greater emphasis on presentation, understandable speaking speeds and laymen judges, PF seems like a great format that includes a larger population of students into the debate world. However, as a coach who has seen ballots written by soccer moms that advise my students that “You did a better job arguing but I just believe that alternative fuels are necessary for cars and just can’t vote for someone who argues otherwise” throws me into fits. Countless academic papers over 70 years about the harms of judge intervention in debate are thrown into the barrel for incineration.

Questions of the PF Judge Paradigm

With the preface that I’m certainly inexperienced at the PF world and know that it is coached and practiced with great results by some of my coaching friends and their teams, I would suggest that the format could benefit from further consideration of paradigm issues that, while not unique and exclusive to this format, appear to be significantly more prevalent to it:

1. No communication of judging paradigms before the round: This appears to be an explicit aspect of the PF culture, though it finds periodic placement in LD and policy. The team is left with no capacity to adapt to a judge, except for prior judging experience. A risk manager would suggest that this creates a distorted market where “winners win and losers lose” – indeed, I can vouch for this factor in the policy circuit and would suggest it is even more profound in PF. Also, cross-apply my real-world “boss adaptation” comments from above. We pre-disclose judging standards before risk assessments, university accreditation reviews and even set these expectations before a Wal-Mart auto technician conducts their “15-point checkup” on the car, yet leave this aspect mysteriously absent in many debates. The debate becomes an analog to an essay test graded on criteria not provided prior to the exam.

2. Lack of classical qualitative deconstruction in the judges examination of the round: How does the judge make his/her decision? As a policymaker, I closely integrate flow-based argumentation with the standards and theories of policy debate. However, I find many PF judges making minimal notes (or worse, purely aesthetic judgment inclusive of personal biases), and gravitating toward messages that resonate with their personal experience. Indeed, the round is decided on “which team made ME believe in their story,” a model which may have a value, but is arguably interventionist through the inclusion of self and allegedly harmful (Berube 1994, Day 1966) unless structures are provided to allow the debaters to know what ME they need to appeal to in the round. Granted, some degree of intervention must occur in the round, but Day and Berube have provided compelling justification to keep that to the greatest minimum, and in doing so, openly disclose that scope of intended intervention through the paradigm. This is a practice consistently found in the world of governance, risk and compliance, where the views of the expert assessor may have a detrimental impact if not carefully identified and disclosed.

3. Failure to disclose the judges decision in the round: On an emotional level, non-disclosure strikes me as a cowardly way to make a decision. It takes courage and conviction in your paradigm to disclose to two exceptional, closely matched teams after a heated semi-finals or finals round. “Real judges” put their paradigm to the test, and through this disclosure process, actually become part of the learning experience themselves. Yesterday’s comments after an outstanding varsity LD semifinals by the ever-sharp judge Adelle Burk caused me further examine my LD model (in particular, how I examine non-status quo negative alternatives), even though we both voted for the same debater. Without this disclosure, debaters are left guessing at how to reach the judge. Combined with the lack of pre-round paradigm disclosure, they’re left playing a game of process-elimination: keep trying things until you finally pick up a ballot, and then see if you can repeat the experience. Furthermore, disclosure itself facilitates discovery. In the business unit risk assessments I conduct for First Data, risk findings are communicated openly and honestly with the assessed business before presentation to executive management. This not only invites consensus, but expands the representation of reality beyond the assessor’s mind. This is a critical test in the discovery process and deserves a fundamental role in high school debate.

4. Absence of greater judging guidance: PF embraces the laymen judge, and in doing so, makes a tremendous assumption that a layman judge is more qualified to discover and discern quality in the round. This may be an appropriate assumption backed by educational research, but it should be disclosed as it is fundamental to the determination of winners and losers.

I’m determined to explore the PF world with greater intensity this next year as we will be expanding its role in our school’s debate program. In the mean time, these are several issues I’ll be wrestling with as I try to evaluate the role of judging paradigm.

Reforming Lincoln Douglas Debate – Part II

Building upon the assumptions addressed in Part I, I think we should revisit the purpose of LD debate to make sure any proposals are consistent with the intent of the format. Citing from the ever disparaged Wikipedia (but sufficient for our discussion here): Lincoln Douglas debate (commonly abbreviated as LD Debate, or simply LD) is sometimes also called values debate because it traditionally places a heavy emphasis on logic, ethical values, and philosophy.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate
While LD claims to have that values and philosophy emphasis, my argument is that the current 32-minute format (not including prep) with speed/compression highly discouraged in many circuits does not allow for sufficient discovery in logic, ethical values and philosophy. Instead of advocating speed, which many would argue would further alienate the format from its audience (as well as leaving it little more than 1-person CX kritik debate), I propose a different direction: restructure the speech format and provide an appropriate amount of time for deeper discovery.

Before presenting my model, I should detail some observations I’ve made in judging rounds about how time is actually used so that we can seek optimization as well as expansion. Simply doubling speech times will not help us if the structure is inefficient. Some consistent findings include:

  • First speeches: AC is canned as expected, and so is 50% to 70% of the NC. As introductory speeches, both need to state the debater’s position, major arguments and framework respective to the resolution and the debate.
  • Cross-Ex: I’ve seen some make effective use but in almost every round judged, I feel as if at least a minute of time was unnecessary. Never have I felt time pressure in cross-ex.
  • Rebuttals: The current format is problematic for the Aff, splitting its time as book-ends around a seven minute negative rebuttal. The aff has no capacity to provide any meaningful analysis and depth.

Given those dynamics, I’ve drafted out a model which I believe optimizes some of the inefficiencies while providing expansion in areas to encourage greater depth so that ethical analysis and the discussion of logic and philosophy can occur at a more substantial level.

Model: Values-60 Format (Lincoln Douglas Debate, 60 minute one-person debate)

Time allocation:
AFF: 20 minutes
NEG: 20 minutes
CX: 10 minutes
PREP: 10 minutes (5 per team)

Model dynamics:
1. Shortened Initial Affirmatives: Canned constructive speeches can be done in a shorter duration in order to allow for depth and exploration in later speeches. The initial constructives are intended as opening speeches to state each speaker’s position.
2. Second Constructives: Provide both Aff and Neg constructive speech time to introduce arguments. In LD today, the Aff can never truly respond constructively to a Neg’s position with new, critical arguments against their position, seriously impairing debate. Indeed, how can LD support a values approach that declares no presumption to either side when the affirmative has no capacity to ever constructively address the Negative values? Second constructives are critical to viable LD.
3. Shortened initial CX: These initial blocks are for clarification on definitions and cases, as well as to ensure clash on the second affirmatives.
4. Extended rebuttals: With a single debater being given times in rebuttal greater than policy, the need for speed should be reduced. No longer a constructive round, spread should be contained by the extent of ground established in the constructives. Instead, extensive analysis of the values and underlying philosophical framework should be encouraged with this time.

Speech Distribution
1AC (5 min): Opening speech for the affirmative outlining their position in the round.
CX (2 min): Clarification of definitions, case, etc. on the Aff case.
1NC (5 min): Opening speech for the negative outlining their position in the round.
CX (2 min): Clarification for the Aff on the Neg case.
2AC (6 min): Aff constructive development and responses to Neg. Aff should begin framing the core issues for the round in their framework.
CX (3 min)
2NC (7 min): Neg constructive development and responses to Aff. Neg should be selecting its core issues within its framework to carry into rebuttals.
CX (3 min)
1AR (4 min): First affirmative rebuttal to provide rebuttal analysis.
NR (8 min): Negative rebuttal to provide analysis and then give judging rationale.
2AR (5 min): Second affirmative rebuttal to wrap up analysis vs. neg rebuttal and provide its judging rationale.

Total speaking time for each debater: 20 minutes (compared to 13 minutes per individual in CX).

Goal: Through the format outlined above, it would be intended that following the introduction of both debaters cases, second constructives allow each debater to take off the gloves and get into the debate round. The opponents case should be fully examined (given the time, a direct refutation is possible, leaving several minutes for analysis and comparison to their case). Those speeches alone should encourage clash and separate readers from debaters. In the 1AR, the affirmative has a short time to give their input on where the round is at following the second constructive exploration, giving the judge their perception on what major issues the debate is focused on. The negative has a single rebuttal, giving it both the analysis time of the 1AR and the round framework (“voters” but hopefully in a more developed format than many rounds tend to express in the current short-timeframe model) advanced by the negative. This leaves the final affirmative rebuttal, limited by the time budget to specifically advancing its framework and having brief differentiation between its model and that of the negative.

Reforming Lincoln Douglas Debate – Part I

Many have written of the continued decline in the quality of Lincoln-Douglas debate. Having been in the circuit of initial LD’ers in Nebraska in the mid-1980s and coaching policy, PF and LD today, I find myself concurring with the observation. Judging varsity and novice in the upper Midwest, I’ve grown equally frustrated with the “canned” quality of LD debate, walking away from a great number of debates feeling empty. Having thought about this phenomenon earlier in the season, I conducted an informal survey following each round where I asked:

1. What was the aesthetic quality satisfaction I received from the round? Exceptional? High? Moderate? Low? Dismal? (I like scales of five as prospect theory suggests that its a model we approximating humans can relate and relatively rely upon).
2. What was the perceived communication quality of the debaters in the round (again, using the same scale)?
3. What was the perceived intellectual capacity of the debaters in the round?
4. If there was any sense of deficiency in the aesthetic quality, could either the communication or intellectual capacity dynamics have contributed to this perceived shortcoming?
5. If neither quality could have improved the round, what could have?

Interestingly, I not only encountered more than 50% of rounds in the overall aesthetic quality category of moderate or lower, but I consistently found that as the judge, I felt that neither communication quality nor intellectual capacity of the debaters could have significantly improved the aesthetic quality. Indeed, it appeared that something else was damaging the perceived quality. Wondering if it was my perception alone, I began to reach out to other judges and coaches who were active in LD and found they too sensed something significant lacking from the quality of debate. I returned to my notes over the rounds judged using my post-round assessment criteria and took a look at item #5 for guidance and found a consistent theme: In the rounds where quality was less than moderate, I often left wanting more exploration of the ideas being addressed in the debate. In a sense, I felt robbed by a superficial debate where neither debater explored what they set off to accomplish.

As one who also actively coaches policy and loves K debate, I contrasted the observation with my round experiences from policy. Why is it that an hour of policy leaves me feeling rather intellectually satisfied while 30 minutes of LD leaves me feeling empty – especially when the debaters are remarkably good? I find this particularly remarkable given that my debate passion was in LD and not policy. I have to believe the information compression dynamic (using speed/spread) of policy, which provides a judge with a 3-5 hour debate if conducted at conversational speaking rates, provides enough content-time for the exploration of issues by both teams. Having socialized the observation and gotten consistent feedback from other coaches, it appeared that more depth and exploration was indeed needed in LD. But given the desire to keep LD free from extreme policy speed, we’re at a disadvantage in that we can’t use compression (via speed) to expand the debate. Could LD be enhanced without embracing speed and spread? In a following post, I’ll share a draft format for enhanced LD debate and provide some commentary around the structure and purpose for the length of each speech.