By Josh Clark
Scott Phillip’s recently wrote an excellent article that described what the norms for speech doc etiquette should be. His article was very apt and timely. If you have not gotten a chance to read it, I’ve attached the link to it here. I agree with and echo nearly all of the arguments he gave. I would like to diverge on one issue though, and that is the jumping of analytical arguments. It is my contention that you should try and withhold those arguments from your opponents when it is strategic. (However, NEVER omit tags to cards. They are needed to follow the basic flow of the round)
One of my ‘old man’ critiques of current paperless debate is that fewer and fewer students flow. I think this decreases ‘debate’ because we aren’t listening to each other; we are just receiving and responding to speech docs with other speech docs. Last year I judged on a panel with a younger, respected critic who stopped listening to the debate in the negative block and just started reading and lining up the speech docs. If this is what debate is coming to, we can skip the plane rides and just send each other briefs to respond to and let a judge just read through our prepared arguments to decide a winner. I believe a huge portion of debate is and should still be persuasion and ‘on the fly’ analytical arguments. These arguments, if presented well, can win debates and help establish valuable speaking and critical thinking skills. The presentation of the debate, no matter how eclectic our style has become, is still a determining factor of who wins and loses high level debates.
Now, none of the problems I listed above are necessarily destroyed by jumping your analytical arguments to your opponents, but I believe that doing so would push us closer to that form of debate. A huge value of debate is listening and responding. Too often debaters are not even listening to their opponents. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have a top 15 team in the country answer two pieces of evidence at the bottom of a 2ac that were never even read in the speech. The focus needs to be less on what you’ve written and more on what you are saying. I believe omitting analytical arguments could help return that focus to what we say and force students to flow more effectively. This may aid in bridging the gap of what ‘old people’ like me think was better when I debated with the wealth of information and evidence you have at your fingertips in the ‘paper-less debate era’.
Secondly, I do not believe the other team has any right to your analytical arguments. The sharing of evidence with teams and coaches started out as a way to verify that you were not falsifying evidence. With increased rate of delivery, students started using prep and speech time to be able to decipher more closely what your expert authors were writing in the context of debate. This increased the quality of debate, like Scott said. Author and evidence comparison make debates substantially better. I do not think that this extends to analytical debates. Preparing pre-written arguments before the debate and during prep time should be encouraged and not discouraged. Forcing students to jump those arguments would punish the prepared and their arguments could be answered more in depth, even if the opposing team had not been listening or flowing your speech. Again, I do not think you should be able to win a debate without listening and flowing. No distinction should be made between the arguments you present on the fly and the ones you type on your laptop. If the other team isn’t flowing, it should work to the other team’s advantage and teams should win for being better at that basic skill. A good form of trying to win is to challenge the other team’s flowing. The quality of debate may suffer in the short term, but would improve in the long term once an emphasis is reestablished on the importance of flowing.
Now, the concerns. Scott mentioned, and rightly so, that many aff (and neg) theory arguments are incomprehensible and the opposing team should have a right to answer them by reading them. I agree that some theory arguments are too short to constitute an argument, but I disagree with the solution. Competitors should be much more willing to call out poorly worded and too short theory arguments for what they are: Non-arguments. Judges will be receptive to that. I reward teams that highlight arguments they have supposedly “dropped” by saying that it had been too short of an argument without a warrant and that was the reason they were unable to answer it. I think almost all judges would do the same. Two worded permutations are not arguments. If they don’t explain how they resolve the link to the net benefit, they are not arguments. “The politics DA is intrinsic” is not an argument. You must say why it is intrinsic and why that matters for it to constitute an argument. Saying “Vote No” means nothing. Instead of encouraging students to jump these poorly worded arguments, I think we should be saying they must make better arguments. If the bar is set higher on what constitutes an argument, then teams should have no problem flowing these arguments as they are read or made. I also think that requiring students to jump analytical arguments would promote lack of clarity, because it would matter less because they jumped the argument so everyone should have gotten it. Increasing clarity and slowing down a bit is what should be encouraged, and I believe that jumping analytical could become a scapegoat for lack of clarity.
Also, judges should NOT examine analytical arguments as parts of their decisions. Judges should only read evidence and understand the context of the debate based on how they heard and flowed it while they were listening. I realize that there is a uniqueness problem to my claim, because the judge could be understanding what the evidence says for the first time while reading it. However, I do not think that judges should be able to revisit analytical arguments that were typed and give those priority over analytical arguments that weren’t. When it comes to analytical arguments, I think a judge should be constrained to what they heard in the debate. Exceptions might be extended to CP texts, K alternatives, Perm texts and Topicality interpretations. These exceptions may seem to develop an arbitrary norm, but these things are generally mandated to be presented in written form so that they cannot morph throughout the debate. They are also points of competition that other teams construct the crux of their strategies against. The social norm is that these must be written down. It’s not a necessity that any other analytical argument be written down. For that reason, judges should only evaluate what they hear. If they didn’t hear the argument or understand it, then more work should have been done by the debater to make sure they did. I think judges should stick to only reading evidence when deciding at the end of a round, and leave analytical arguments for what they were presented and made note of during the debates.
I do not think a valid reason for omitting analytical arguments is that other teams will prepare against them, however, I do not think it’s your job to tell other teams what your analytical arguments are either. Speech doc transparency seems to be the future and maybe the present. A card read in Round 1, may be ready by 10 other teams by round 4. There seems to be less “intellectual property” outside of reading your evidence for the very first time. I think there should be a different standard for analytical arguments. I think we should maintain SOMETHING that an opposing team must do to process and regurgitate evidence they’ve grabbed (the cite from?) other teams. I think we should dissuade teams from poaching others’ analytical arguments and at minimum, force them to write their own. This is not the deciding factor on why you shouldn’t share analytical arguments, but I do feel like debaters should remain a partial owner of the prep work they put into files. That prep work should largely benefit their squad and none other. I also think this would increase the education of students who are processing evidence they’ve recut, or taken full text, from other teams. Debates are improved when students are forced to write their own analytical arguments for positions.
For these reasons, I think you should keep your analytical arguments and not feel compelled to jump them to the other team. You have to be careful, because omitting them definitely counts as your prep time. You should consider what you are gaining and what you are losing with regards to that valuable prep time when deciding what to omit. In short, be clear, make complete arguments and flow. This should alleviate the need for everyone to jump analytical arguments.