Peter Zhang

Debate Thoughts, Vol. 2

I’m back. I have ten further thoughts on debate. Sludge through for some free cards and food for thought.

  1. Philosophy should be rigorous. It needs more cards, better arguments, and more depth of clash.

    The best K debaters are a pleasure to judge because they genuinely know their literature. Their speech docs reflect that too, with lengthy cards that actually support the tag. Yes, there are still quirky K tricks and strategic ambiguities, but good scholarship is a priority. A lot of the change, I suspect, has been imported from policy camps and backfiles.

    I can’t say the same for philosophy. If you gave me an average Kant framework from 2015 and a random Kant aff from Harvard 2021, the biggest difference would probably be the formatting. In terms of content, I’d bet that today’s phil debaters know less than their predecessors: Kant frameworks that conclude in the “categorical imperative,” huge util dumps that don’t say anything, and terrible Frankensteins of old frameworks.

    Don’t get me wrong—framework debate never paralleled real academic discussions, and evidence standards have definitely improved. But the past few years have seen a race to the margins, with more and more tricks like “indexicals” and fewer and fewer people who actually know what Ripstein says. Framework debate shouldn’t be the “thing that busy debaters small schools, and grimy Northeastern gremlins do.” Framework debaters should hit the books.

    As a example of what I mean…

  2. Performativity—excuse me? Every time I open a “[Philosopher besides Kant] AC” and find a reason-to-prefer tagged “Performativity,” my temples tense up. Repeated observational studies suggest that the ensuing neurobiological mechanisms bias me towards depressing the affirmative’s speaker points.

    A small sampling of what I mean from a cursory search of this year’s wiki1:

    “2 Performativity – disengaging from the practice of debate in which you exist means the judge no longer has an ability to vote for you which either proves the framework is binding or is an independent reason you should lose. Additionally, the nature of challenging and constructing arguments presupposes being in a practice that provides normative obligations. Arguing only makes sense in terms of a practice of argumentation.”

    “2 Performativity – You’ve engaged in a practice that necessitates polling, since the literal act of voting is required, as the judge decides which person they are convinced to advance. This makes it a constitutive feature of the round. Two additional implications: A) winning my meta-ethic proves truth testing is inescapable and B) Performativity: by abiding by speech times, order, and the fact the aff speaks first in debate they have already conceded institutional obligations exist and are binding.”

    “2. Performativity- in the debate space we both take our own perspectives of the world and attempt to prove ourselves right, causing conflict that’s only resolved once the judge adjudicates what is correct from the position of a sovereign”

    “~2~ Performativity– only recognizing each other as equal opponents who learn from each other best maximizes education in LD and allows for debate.”

    “1~ Performativity- Responding to our framework concedes the validity of agonism since that in and of itself is a process of contestation that agonism would say is valuable and necessary for spaces like debate to function.”

    This could be a good argument. It was first posited by libertarian philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe as “Argumentation Ethics” and it has some intuitive appeal. The argument goes something like: 1) Justification requires testing through argument; 2) Argument requires independence from others; 3) Those negative rights cannot be contingent on consequences. That’s why it doesn’t instantly lose to “conflate pre-post fiat distinction.” Here’s a decent cut, response, and frontline to it.

  3. SSD thumps limits. I probably haven’t thought about this enough, but doesn’t SSD non-uniques the limits impact to framework? If the team reading framework tells the K aff to read the same exact argument on the negative, then obviously the same kritik will come up anyway. There’s seems to be a tradeoff. Any plausible limits arguments would have to the take the stance that kritiks are equally bad if read on the negative. Granted, a perfectly plausible case can be made for why topical affs are less shifty, but anyone reading a limits standard should probably think carefully about this.

  4. PIC out of the topic. Why not? K affs that maintain a vague attachment to the topic are just inviting you to do this. Perhaps: Endorse affirmative sans their discussion of lethal autonomous weapons.

    The more radical the aff, the easier it is to explain why the topical portion of the aff is peripheral and disingenuous. Even more strategic would be to read it with framework. If they impact turn the PIC, that proves the TVA. If they impact turn framework, it bolsters the PIC. If they read a perm, that proves shiftiness. And so on.

  5. Integrate wiki pages into Tabroom. Wouldn’t that be nice? Just short field while registering for a tournament where you can link your Aff and Neg wiki pages. It’d save a lot of time and symbolically reinforce disclosure as a norm.

  6. Make the judge root for you. I consider myself a flow judge, and I really try to maintain that title. But for me and—I’ll bet my Lacan file—many other “flow” judges, other factors play a heavy role in biasing decisions. For me, being nice is a deal-breaker. I find it super hard to want to vote for someone who is rude in cross or snarky in their speeches. Another factor is effort. I love it when debaters obviously have put a ton of time into drilling and prepping. It’s a sheer delight to judge, and I find myself wanted to reward it. It’s another bias I’m trying to control.

    For fantastic strategic advice informed by psychology, watch this video (unsurprisingly, from Bill Batterman).

    P.S. If you want to pref me lower, I actually wouldn’t mind. Especially if you’re rude or don’t work hard.

  7. Moen. He responds to the common criticisms of hedonism later in the article. Here’s a file with responses to “masochism”, “instrumentally valuable”, etc.

  8. Round reports: good or bad for depth? I had an interesting conversation about round reports the other day. The main effect seems to be a competitive incentive to avoid putting stuff you won’t go for in the 1NC. If your opponent knows that you’ll never go for that dumb spec shell, then they’ll spend no time at all 2-point-ing it and you’ll suffer a poor time tradeoff. But it’s not at all clear whether this is a good or bad thing. Assuming depth is a good thing, there seem to be two competing pressures. First, for each individual round, the incentive is for the 1NC to be slimmer and contain defensible positions. There’s probably an in-round education benefit in terms of depth. At the same time, there’s a competitive incentive against being a one-trick pony. If your round reports show that you’ll go for anything—shoe’s theory, SetCol, Kant—then maybe you can plausibly put all of those in the 1NC. That might set corrosive long-term norms.

  9. Dogmatism paradox is funny. And, it needs to be a mainstay aff trick. Quoting from Harman’s translation of Kripke:

    If I know that h is true, I know that any evidence against h is evidence against something that is true; I know that such evidence is misleading. But I should disregard evidence that I know is misleading. So, once I know that h is true, I am in a position to disregard any future evidence that seems to tell against h. (1973, 148)

    See the connection? The aff should argue that since the judge already knows the 1AC is true, anything that the 1NC says is misleading and should be ignored. Powerful. Here’s my cut.

  10. Curry’s paradox is wrong. It’s one of the most popular justifications for trivialism and it goes something like this:

    Consider the statement p: “If p is true, then you ought to vote aff.” We will prove this statement.

    Suppose p is true. Then, it is the case that “if p is true, then you ought to vote aff.” So, you ought to vote aff.

    Notice that from the above, by supposing p, we proved that you ought to vote aff. Therefore, it is true that “If p is true, then you ought to vote aff,” i.e. p.

    Since p is indeed true, you ought to vote aff.

    Take a moment to digest it. Convince yourself that there aren’t any obvious logical missteps. It’s a classic self-reference paradox, similar to the related Liar’s Paradox (“this statement is false”). Ruminating on it will make your brain hurt so I’ll relay two ideas I learned from Adam Brown.

    First, Curry’s paradox is not a well-formed statement. In other words, we could “substitute” p into the statement and rewrite it “If ‘if p is true, then you ought to vote aff’ is true, then you ought to vote aff.” We could do it again, “If ‘if ‘if p is true, then you ought to vote aff’ is true, then you ought to vote aff’ is true, then you ought to vote aff.” And so on, so that we have “If ‘if ‘if ‘if …’’’’”” ad infimum. p is not suitable for evaluation.

    Second, we can just as easily disprove p. Let’s say that as the negative, I prove that you ought to vote neg. Then, it is not the case that you ought to vote aff. So, p can’t be true. Ta da!

    I hope one day to have serial epiphanies like Adam. Great stuff!

Here are my last set of thoughts, in case you’re interested.

  1. These excerpts were sourced from a Wittgenstein AC, Polls AC, Hobbes NC, Butler AC,and Agonism AC, respectively. 

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