Notes on St Marks 2: The K part

A lot of the debates I saw at St Marks involved a 2NR on the K. Many of these debates were made harder for the neg because of decisions they made earlier in the round, so this post is going to discuss some structural/strategic tips on how to deploy K arguments more effectively.

1. The Grand Unified Theory- arguments oftentimes work together, synergistically, to put you in a better position. When your framework lines up with your alternative and your link and your impact you have a much stronger argument then when all those elements are totally disconnected. In many debates, the neg’s K is largely incoherent because it is assembled from various component parts that don’t work together. Lets look at some examples to illustrate this, lets start with the apocalyptic rhetoric K. This argument is a “reps” k in that it doesn’t link to the plan as much as it links to the affirmatives advantage descriptions. However, unlike other reps ks like security, usually it doesn’t question the “truth value” of the affirmatives claims-i.e. global warming is a big problem. Instead it is usually about whether or not the way the aff talks about a problem is a productive way to get other people to try and tackle that problem. Let’s categorize the arguments of the apoc k as usually read

-view as catastrophe causes apathy

-turns case

-dont do the aff reps

Now, what you want to do when reading a K is somehow package these arguments together in a way that each part helps/magnifies the effectiveness of the other levels. This requires some thought/effort. Since that is hard, usually what people do is just jam these into the format of other K’s in a way that makes no sense.

“The role of the judge is to be an academic”

…ok, why would an academic be concerned with whether or not fear based appeals mobilize people to act? Why more so than a policy maker? This FW arg works with epistemology Ks because they are about academic knowledge production. Sure you can read it with any K as an attempt to exclude policy offense, but you can do that with a different FW as well.

“The alternative is reject aff reps”

Well sure, I get it- your reading a K so you don’t endorse the thing you are king… bravo. This isn’t really an “alternative”- it serves no function in the debate- it doesn’t provide uniqueness, remedy some of the affs impacts etc.

“Turns Case”

Well, this runs into a little problem with uniqueness. Since warming is happening and no one really cares its pretty hard to “turn the case”

So how might we package these things a little bit better? Well first we need to think strategically. What is the major problem of K’s like this? As I see it there are 2

1. Fiat- the aff fiats something happen, this makes “apathy” arguments pretty stupid because they don’t need to “convince” anyone with their fear based appeals, they just wave a wand and the government does it

2. Impacts- turns case is not a viable strategy as your only or even as your primary impact. The uniqueness problem above is one reason, another reason is the aff will have specific solvency mechanisms (above fiat point) that will probably swamp your alternative.

So we need a “packaging” that overcomes fiat and establishes some good impacts/calculus so we can outweigh the case. Part of this is going to be mooting the aff’s access to plan based offense, and part of it needs to be introducing a different weighing paradigm for impact calculus.

Lets start with the framework. When thinking about frameworks the crucial piece of information to keep in mind is that different people prioritize different questions. This can be seen by looking at the average affirmative fw argument- the judge is a policy maker. The idea here is that policy analysts prioritize a set of questions -effectiveness, efficiency- that most k arguments don’t speak to because they are concerned with different questions. So when formulating your FW you want to think about who would prioritize the questions you are raising and why. So for apoc you could say something like:

The frameowrk for the debate should be which side advocates the better model for environmental activism

That sentence in and of itself is meaningless- its just a claim. Now you need to make arguments for why this is a good/valuable framework and why it would be productive for the debate. Here are some cards I think would support such a framework

The framework is more important than anything else SPECIFICALLY in the context of the environment- This card will torch them
Robert J. Brulle* Department of Culture and Communication Drexel University And J. Craig Jenkins Department of Sociology The Ohio State University 2k5
Our analysis of the limitations uses the perspective of discursive frame analysis. Language and cultural beliefs play an important role in shaping the practices of social movement organizations. The study of social movements from such a linguistic perspective has been formally developed as “frame analysis”. This approach focuses on the creation and maintenance of the common beliefs that define the reality in which a social movement exists (Benford and Snow 2000; Brulle 1994). As Zald (2000) and others (Rochon 1998; Garner 1996; Wilson 1973) argue, movements must first be understood in terms of the world view that defines the taken-for-granted reality in which a social movement exists, provides a history of the origins of the movement, its development, and its future agenda, as well as a collective identity for movement activists and guidelines for collective action. Research has shown that for the environmental movement, discursive frames are more critical to the activity of environmental groups than their resources or political alliances (Dalton 1994, Carmon and Balser 2002). In fact, frames structure and make meaningful the strategic decisions that movement leaders make about the nature of the problems they address and how they go about this. Within any social movement, there are generally multiple frames, which diverge in terms of their definition of problems, strategies and methods of organization. As Laclau and Mouffe (1985: 140) state: “plurality is not the phenomena to be explained, but the starting point of the analysis.”

We must investigate how ecological crisis is depicted BEFORE we debate specific solutions
Ekik Turk, director of the Estonian Institute, September 2004 (
Ecological crisis. Despite the unfathomable horrendousness conveyed by this phrase, there’s still something sublime in those words. The tragic beauty of fading away, perhaps, and the realization that on the threshold of environmental collapse we all stand together once again – brothers and sisters, equally helpless. Such universality commands awe and faith: thank God, there still is something in this world to be treated with absolute seriousness, even solemnity, something hardly anyone dares to joke about. Somehow, perhaps because the ongoing environmental devastation is so utterly logical and tangible, acknowledging this feels safe and comforting. Ecological crisis is something one can relate to on a rational level and it seems like it can also be solved by approaching it rationally: if we do this and stop doing that, like quit overconsuming, pay attention to recycling and don’t destroy any more rainforests, it should still be possible to avoid the unhappiest end, shouldn’t it? Not that most of us would start any of that tomorrow. Just knowing there is a chance and feeling that the situation can still be taken under control has a soothing effect. The realization that mankind has destined itself to extinction can be used as a reason or an excuse for pretty much anything: practising ecological fascism just as well as for leading a care-free hippie-lifestyle; for robber capitalism just as well as for giving up all of one’s belongings, etc. The question is not even about what’s the right thing to do now. First we need to reach a consensus on how do we acknowledge this crisis, how should it be formulated – or in this case, how should it be depicted?

Both cards make several arguments that could be expanded out in a 2NC block- but the important part is that they provide the basis for justifying a shift from a narrow/policy only analysis of environmental decision making in favor of a new model that focuses on framing/discourse.

Ok now we have a FW- how do we connect this to the alternative? Well an alternative that says “reject” is pretty stupid in this framework- thats not a model for environmental activism, its purely negative. In order to work well with this FW the alternative needs to suggest a different mode of environmental activism. Here is a card that I think is good

We need to rethink the dominant discursive frame of ecological horror stories in order to counter environmental conservatives
Robert J. Brulle* Department of Culture and Communication Drexel University And J. Craig Jenkins Department of Sociology The Ohio State University 2k5
What does this mean for the environmental movement? A first step in revitalizing the environmental movement is the restoration of political vision. There is a critical need for the environmental movement to reformulate itself as a substantive challenge to the cultural hegemony of the neo-conservatives and their religious conservative allies. The dominant discursive frames that have defined the environmental movement are limited and fail to connect to a larger political vision (Killingsworth and Palmer 1992:79, Evernden 1992:72). There is a need to substantially rethink and develop a cogent discourse for the environmental movement. It is well beyond one person’s capacity to articulate this frame. A revitalized environmental discourse needs to move beyond the traditional discourses and deal with the root causes of environmental degradation. This means shifting from a “scientifically inspired policy of revealing horror scenarios to a social-science based redirection of accountability” (Beck 1995:16). Holding social institutions accountable for the environmental consequences of their actions involves changing the social conditions in which decisions about the natural environment are made, including notions of private property rights. The movement also needs to bridge the divide between addressing localized problems and those that lack site-specific effects, such as global warming and the loss of biodiversity. While is partially a question of immediacy, it also speaks to the need to link environmentalism to a larger vision of a just and sustainable society and a return to the environmentalism of Thoreau, Carson and Commoner.

This card makes the argument that we should move away from the rhetoric of “horror stories” towards a rhetoric of accountability and that sets up your comparison- the alternative isn’t just reject the aff, its a different type of positive environmental discourse that you think will better mobilize coalitions to protect the environment.

This then transitions into the impact- in addition to “the case” you can argue that the affirmatives strategy is counterproductive for the environmental movement as a whole. This you can then use to generate external impacts outside warming- nuclear testing or any other issue tackled by environmental movements. Here is an example of a card you could read for that

Focus on specific environmental problems prevents broader coalitions from forming against the root causes of environmental destruction, and depoliticizes environmental debates by deferring to technocratic elites. This silences citizen voices and results in authoritarianism
Robert J. Brulle* Department of Culture and Communication Drexel University And J. Craig Jenkins Department of Sociology The Ohio State University 2k5
This progressive political tradition was replaced by a technicist discourse in the early 1970s (Kroll 2004). Environmentalism became identified with the scientific analysis of specific environmental problems, which were to be addressed by legal reforms and economic incentives (Taylor 1992: 27-50, Evernden 1992). Scientific experts became central in the “scientific management of the environment” (Taylor 1992: 50), mediating between science and politics, advising and convincing the public and decision-makers in government and industry of the need for remedial action (Diesing 1982: 243). In the early 1980s, a number of leading environmental organizations adopted the idea of ecological modernization through market mechanisms (Bernstein 2001). The basic idea is that as industrial processes develop, their ecological impacts can be reduced by market mechanisms (York et. al. 2003: 285). Instead of a bureaucratic “command and control” approach, markets can provide more efficient and effective responses. Emissions trading and similar market solutions are the preferred method of environmental regulation. Reform environmentalism is limited in addressing environmental problems in terms of piecemeal reforms. Rather than engaging the broader public, it focuses debates among professionals in the scientific, legal, and economic communities. This may provide technical solutions to specific problems but neglects the larger system, which lies behind the problem (see C. Wright Mills’ critique of professional pathologies [1943:168-169]). This hinders the creation of joint strategies and large-scale collective action. Second, this discourse has an unrealistic conception of information in the decision-making process. It assumes that providing information will automatically lead to changes in public opinion and, as a result, significant efforts toward environmental improvement. The core function of the environmental movement is education. This ignores the reality of corporate power. It also premises a naïve and unrealistic conception of public opinion. It assumes that neutral facts and scientific evidence will carry the debate of the day without taking into account the systematic distortion of public discourse. It assumes that education can automatically outweigh vested interests, economic pressures and the extensive ideological power of corporate interests (Deising 1982:239-248, Blühdorn 2000:4). The result is that “modern environmentalism – is politically naive and perhaps, irrelevant” (Taylor 1992:136). Third, reform environmentalism fosters an elite practice that limits public participation and the movement’s mobilization capacity. Framed by technical narratives, the social and normative issues involved in creation and solution of environmental degradation are subordinated to technical discussions (Backstrand 2004:101). Hence both citizens and decision makers play only bit parts, heeding the advice of the scientist. By creating a technocratic value-neutral discourse, it removes moral considerations from public policy, and limits public input. This “scientization of politics” (Habermas 1970:68) serves to delegitimate the voices of those who do not speak these specialized languages. Citizens are reduced to the status of a population to be managed, and there is no requirement for their involvement except to obtain their support. The political implications amounts to “authoritarian management of the environment and society” (Taylor 1992: 27-50, 49). Almost all liberal environmental organizations oligarchic structures and few have significant citizen participation (Brulle 2000). As discussed earlier, this significantly limits the mobilization capacity of these movement organizations.

and one more for good measure

Focus on big picture solutions like the plan obscures local causes of environmental destruction
Marc Landy Professor of Political Science at Boston College, & Charles Rubin Associate Professor of Political Science at Duquesne
University 2003
Environmental policymaking too often is driven by a mistaken focus on big culprit, big ticket, and big government solutions. Many of our most persistent environmental problems are local in nature and cause. A new way of thinking about protecting nature is needed to deal with these kinds of environmental challenges. Civic environmentalism abandons large-scale, command-and-control politics for workable local efforts. It recognizes that “the environment” is not a special realm reserved for experts and professional activists, but an essential aspect of public life – a place for citizens. This is especially important as we enter today’s new, more local phase in environmental policy, from non-point pollution control to regional ecosystem issues. The federal government cannot control these activities alone. Building effective solutions requires the work of communities and networks of communities in true partnership with national action. After outlining the implications of civic environmentalism for public policy, Professors Landy and Rubin led a discussion to identify issue areas for further examination to assess the broad applicability of civic environmentalism.

Fashioning a strategic vision for each individual critique is certainly time consuming but it will definitely increase your odds of success and help you deal with stock affirmative answers. Lets look at some of the common aff answers

1. Fear motivates
-this is only offense for them if they can also win that responsibility doesn’t motivate, otherwise the alternative solves

2. pragmatism
-your alternative is pragmatic

3. Extinction inevitable/case outweighs/try or die
-none of these assume you actually have a strategy that arguably solves better than fear

4. Plan is a good idea
-your FW renders issues related to the plan irrelevant
-you can always floating PIC your way out of this- do the plan but with responsibility rather than apoc


2. Debating the K like a disad. For the most part I am against this for 2 reasons

A. Most K’s are bad disads… thats why they are ks. Disads need uniqueness and links to the plan etc. Most k’s don’t fit in this mold well

B. Most judges who say “i like the K when debated as a disad” really mean ” i don’t like ks”.

In general I think k arguments are best/most effective when deployed within a well thought out K strategy like explained above. So what does it mean to debate the K like a disad? Well I asked people about this recently and they actually gave a lot of different answers we will look at individually.

A. More evidence, less talking- some people seemed to think that to debate it like a disad just meant reading as many cards as possible and eliminating analytic explanation. This is probably the one form of “debating like a disad” that I think makes sense some times- some judges like a lot of evidence, and some affirmative strategies (like impact turning neolib) require a more evidence focused neg response- its hard to just talk away a bunch of impact turns. So in a limited sense, reading more cards can often be a strategic choice. However, I think some people go to far with this – lets take the apoc K above. Once the aff reads 5 cards “apoc good” and you have read 5 cards “apoc bad”, just reading more cards is not the way to win this debate. You win it by making evidence comparisons, debating the warrants etc. This requires “talking” not card reading. So while a 2NC that reads a lot of evidence is often good, that sets up a large 2NR burden of explanation since none of that work was done earlier.

B. Debating in a policy framework- this is probably what most people mean when they say debate it like a disad- no “cheating”. Well this is not wise, not wise at all. If you aren’t going to cheat then read politics. If you are forced to defend the status quo vs a util case you are generally in trouble. Sure some people win rounds on the “rev DA” version of the cap K, but these are rare and usually a result of the affirmative screwing something up.

C. Changing the way you debate impacts- this usually means that you are going for an extinction impact and “turns case” as opposed to other K impacts like structural violence. This can certainly be a winnable strat, but if a smart affirmative combines impact defense with a good defense of their specific plan it can be tough. Why is the biopower from offshore wind the exact biopower that causes extinction? It probably isn’t. Issues like threshold and link uniqueness are oftentimes difficult nuts to crack barring some sort of fw argument and so debating impacts this way falls prey to a lot of the problems in B.

D. Being fast and technical- well you should strive to always do this, whether debating a K or a disad or T or anything else for that matter. Yes sometimes when explaining complex ideas on a K you want to slow down a bit, but you shouldn’t act as if every time you go for a K you have to go into pofo mode.

All that being said, there are definitely ways you want to adjust your K debating based on your judge/panel. This should be viewed more as a spectrum than a binary choice of “debate like a K or debate like a DA”. There are an infinite number of ways you could vary what you are doing but lets just focus on the overview for simplicity. When prepping a K i think it is valuable to have 3 or more overviews for different situations

A. Dumb it down- this overview would explain all the more complex parts of your argument in very plain language so that people who aren’t familiar with K’s/are resistant to them can understand. This may be the longest of all the overviews since it requires the most explanation

B. The middle of the road- this OV assumes your judge understands things like epistemology and focuses on the strategic deployment of those concepts rather than explaining what they are

C. The K hack- this overview probably makes very few arguments but nerds out on jokes/fancy fluff talk that super K judges like Bricker enjoy hearing.

You could similarly alter all your other blocks for those 3 molds or even more than 3


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