Scott Elliott ParadigmLast changed 9/10 9:52A EDT
Scott Elliott, Ph.D. J.D.
Asst Director of Forensics, KCKCC
Years Judging: 30+
What you need to know 10 minutes before your round starts:
I will most definitely vote on topicality. Win the interpretation and violation, and I will vote negative. You are either topical or you are not. If you are not, you lose. See below for more detail.
That argument you always wanted to run, but were afraid to run it….this may be your day to throw the Hail Mary. I prefer impact turns and arguments that most judges dislike.
Affirmatives still have to win basic stock issues. I prefer counterplans and disads. But I also believe that the affirmative has a burden to defend the ontological, epistemological, pedagogical and ethical assumptions of the affirmative arguments they have chosen.
I have probably written, cut cards for and against, and coached teams about, the “cutting edge” argument you are thinking of running. I have also voted for it and against it depending upon how that argument is deployed in the round.
I am not intimidated nor persuaded by team reputation, verbal abuse, physical assaults or threats. If you won, I am willing to take the heat and I do not care about the community’s reaction. I have friends outside the debate community and I have my dogs. I don’t need to be your buddy and I certainly do not care about my social standing within this so-called “community.”
Engage in overly abusive discourse in the round, threats, intimidation, or actual assaults of an opponent, another judge, or audience members and you will not only lose the round, but you can pretty much write off my ballot for the rest of your career. These organizations won’t do much about it, but I will I do what I can to stop the downward spiral of this activity.
Why such a hard ass about topicality?
Argumentation theory 101 says that in order to engage in argumentation, people need to be able first agree on the subject to be debated and to agree that they could be wrong. Academic debate is a voluntary activity in which a community of educators and students gather to engage in competitive argumentation. The community chooses the subject to be debated. There are various organizations and formats to choose from. If you don’t like what was chosen, find another organization, or go to a local bar and pick a fight with someone.
I feel like I have an obligation to this activity that transcends the students in the actual round. When CEDA first merged with NDT, there were over 300 programs in CEDA. Now I estimate there are less than 50 active programs. CEDA used to have as many as 300 teams debate at Nationals. Now we are lucky to get 100. The 2016 NDT could barely find 68 varsity teams that could meet the criteria for entry. Why? Unlike some people, I do not believe it has to do with the research burdens of debate. I think it comes down to the fact that we as judges have allowed policy debate to become a shitshow. It really has become worse than I have ever seen in 36 years. Audience members have been assaulted. Judges have been intimidated and physical confrontations have occurred. The organizations don’t do anything substantial to stop it. Frankly, such behavior would never be tolerated in other organizations. The atmosphere in CEDA/NDT has become so toxic that few people want to play the game anymore. If it continues, both organizations will cease to be viable. Worse, these bad practices are spilling over into the other organizations as refugees from CEDA become settler-colonialists in Parliamentary debate and NFA-LD debate. The excesses of CEDA are spreading like a cancer in high school debate, LD, and Parli. I find it shameful.
I really, honestly, believe that Topicality is one major check on these abusive practices for a lot of reasons. If you are negative, and the Affirmative is not topical, do not get sucked into the rabbit hole of their 2AC “impact turns to T” blocks. Your smartest move would be to ignore those arguments and stick me to my judging philosophy. Some smart teams are already doing it to the chagrin of 2ACs. If your AFF is not topical, do not place me on your pref sheets. Here are some of the big reasons that I believe trump your personal identity, ontology, epistemology, social warrior activism, and pedagogy:
1. Limits have to exist to prevent the affirmative from strategically choosing negative’s ground. The function of an affirmative “case” is to critique the status quo. Imagine a world in which we allow the first team to speak the unlimited and unchecked ability to choose not only their own ground, but also the negative’s ground. (Hint, it exists in D3 and it sucks.) The burden of rejoinder requires the negative to answer in some fashion the affirmative. When the affirmative gets to choose all the terms of debate, what they will and will not defend, only an idiot would choose to give their opponent fair ground to debate.
2. Cherry picking. Twenty years ago, I drunkenly joked that if I were allowed to argue anything I wanted, I would run “Rape Bad” and “Slavery Bad” every round. Well it is not a joke anymore. The function of an agreed resolution is to provide negative teams with predictable, stable, and DEFENDABLE ground for a debate. Teams strategically choose to create arguments to win debates. No check literally allows the affirmative to pick the best argumentative ground and avoid any negative ground for debate. I find, ‘competing methodologies” and “the case list gives you notice” debates to be unpersuasive. Disclosure does not create ground. The impact is that people literally quit debate, never join debate, or programs flat out leave the organization that tolerates this bullshit and they join organizations that enforce topicality by rule.
3. The topic is not about you. And the topic should NOT be about you. A lot of the rhetorical violence, threats, hurt feelings, intimidation, and out and out physical violence stems from people arguing about their personal identity. Contrary to your blocks, it really isn’t all about you. And, frankly, if you are using debate as a method of affirming yourself, your culture, your identity, etc., you need to have an intervention. Debate is a horrible and pathological place for you to place your sense of self. Just say no. If people would debate the topic, they would probably not get so personally involved in an argument that they literally hurt other people. What the hell is wrong with you people? You really think threatening some undergrad, hitting some elderly person, assaulting a judge accomplishes anything positive? Maybe topicality should be a voting issue if it means that people not take this activity---and themselves--so seriously.
4. Not everybody is a privileged as you, or your program, or your coaching staff. Not everyone is as stupidly obsessed with winning a tournament, or justifying your own existence through debate as you are. More importantly, some people want to engage in academic policy debate and have another life. They want to go for a walk or run. They want to be able to go out on a date. They want to see their family. They want to pet their dogs. They want to make “A’s” in biochem so they can become doctors that actually save lives. A stable topic, as badly written as this horrible one is, gives these students an opportunity to balance debate with a healthy life. This outweighs all of your tears, your self-affirmation through my ballot (kinda sick that you require that type of external validation from some white dude pressing a button on a computer), or your ontology. I wish to god a debater would just say, “You are not topical; here is the violation; it’s a voter because I should not have to research this shit and to do so would mean I don’t get to spend time with my friends; vote for friendship.” I will gladly vote for your friendship impacts over social death, and every other impact I have ever seen used to justify why affirmatives get to cheat.
Aff. Win a topical plan, or defend the entire resolution. I will still vote negative on presumption. Prove your basic elements first. Inherency, (uniqueness for an advantage over the status quo) is still a voter. Solvency is still a voter. Win an advantage that outweighs the disadvantages by the end of the debate. Be prepared to defend your ontological, epistemological, ethical, and pedagogical assumptions. In other words, I will definitely vote for a “Kritik.” Impact framing is an issue for me. Feel free to use the critical portions to shift standard assumption about how I should weigh impacts. Example: if you win that individual species survival is more important than the lives of individuals within a specific species, I will have no problem voting for a team that saves the snail darter at the expense of a few billion humans starving to death or a regional nuclear war. It is up to the debaters to argue how impacts are evaluated…human util, deep ecology util, deonotological, etc. are open to debate. Regarding Kritik alternatives—most of them are horribly vague, do not solve for anything, and are virtually worthless. But, people never argue against them. Read disads to their alt. Permutations are good ideas to test competition. The idea that you cannot perm methodologies is a joke---you know and I know it. Test whether the arguments are really mutually exclusive---i.e. a real reason to reject the affirmative. Point out double turns and performative contradictions…then impact them out.
I prefer explanations how disads outweigh or turn case. If you can impact turn, that is fine with me. If you can internal link turn a position, that’s fine too.
My personal tastes in debate. I am open to a lot of arguments my colleagues have already written off. I prefer to test almost all assumptions. Please deny warming occurs. Fine with me. Run Ice Age. Please run Malthus (I actually believe a lot of these arguments in my personal life). Please read Rights Malthus (I really am an unapologetic eco-fascist in my personal life). Please read nihilism. Please read human extinction good, wipeout, etc. Read E-prime, I do not care. Read veganism, I do not care. Please impact out advantages, disads or Kritiks by explaining how it will impact my dogs. I really, truly do not care for the majority of people in this activity nor do I care for the vast majority of humanity. But I do care about my dogs.
Memorable examples of ways teams have unexpectedly picked up my ballot:
1) Voted for Baylor one time because Emory misspelled their plan text;
2) Voted for Emporia once because their plan wiped-out the universe, destroying all life (you had to be there);
3) Voted numerous times on anthro kritiks, De-Dev, Cap K's, anarchy, malthus, space, aliens A-Life, etc.;
4) voted for a counter-performance because it made me feel more emotional than the 1AC narrative;
5) voted for porn good turns;
6) voted for genocide reduces overpopulation turns;
7) did not vote, but the team won, because they took my ballot filled it out, gave themselves the win and double 30's;
8) voted once on a triple turn--link turned, impact turned, and turned back the impact turn (had to be there);
9) voted on inherency;
10) voted on foul language in a round--both ways--foul language bad and "yeah, we said F***, but that's good" turns;
11) voted for veganism K while eating a cheeseburger.
One last point: All of you need to flow the round. The speech document they flash over to you is not the debater's actual speech. Look. Listen. You may be surprised what the other team is actually saying.