At the request of a few readers I’m going to skip ahead in my planned outline for the articles about the reps K and discuss the “floating pic”-an argument that has been making a comeback in big way this year. I’m not a huge lets sit around and reminisce about debate history kind of person, I’m much more of a tell everyone today why they are worse than I was kind of person, but I think that for this particular argument understanding how it came about may help people to grasp the concepts.
Around 1999ish people in college debate were starting to read more and more critical arguments. Then a topic came up in college debate that dealt with removing sanctions. This gave K debaters a bit of a problem in that critical literature is overwhelmingly against sanctions. No matter what the affirmative’s advantages war, the link turn of “we lift sanctions” could be enough to defeat almost any critique. At this time, born of necessity, the floating pic and early forms of the representations K started to pick up steam. The basic premise of the floating pic was that you could endorse the affirmative’s plan action, lifting sanctions, without having to endorse their advantages/1AC justifications for WHY we should lift sanctions. As an example, lets say the affirmative read an advantage about poverty/Iraqi children dying from sanctions and it included several graphic depictions of the situation on the ground in Iraq. The negative could counter with what has become known as the “compassion fatigue” or “disaster pornography” critique. This argument argues that explicit depictions of suffering elsewhere initially inspire empathy but when we are bombarded with them constantly that empathy quickly transforms into apathy, and the end result is we end up doing nothing to help the people we see suffering. In this way it is very similar to the Ec0-Doomsaying/Enviro Apocalypse K people are reading this year. A debate could look something like this
1AC: Sanctions are hurting Iraqi Children
1NC: Depictions of suffering don’t promote change they stop it
2AC: … but we fiat change
The floating pic was a way around this dilemma- it said the negative could advocate the plan but for different reasons- i.e. maybe we should repeal sanctions on moral grounds because sanctions use people as a means to an end. Since the pic lifts sanctions it solves for affirmative advantages but also avoids the kritik. Now, the term itself “floating pic” comes from the idea that this isn’t really a “pic” in the traditional sense. A pic is a CP that does some,but not all, of the affirmative plan usually. So for example
1AC: The USFG should do A, B, and C
1NC: Counterplan- the USFG should do A, and B, but not C- the net benefit is then C bad
This counterplan has a clear text, and the text is different from the plan text. A “floating pic” usually did not start with a text, and if it did have a text it would not be one that clearly was different from the plan text in this manner. So , the text was sort of “floating” out there- without being clearly defined. Floating pic was a pejorative, used to denigrate the “shifty” nature of many kritik alternatives. The idea being that if the negative pulled some sort of shenanigan and attempted to advocate parts of the plan. While kritiks had previously tried to coopt parts of the affirmative advocacy, the label “floating pic” usually referred to these “do the plan with a different justification” strategies (at least initially).
As you can infer from this description, floating pics made the most sense when the negative’s link arguments were not about the plan, and this continues to be true today. When you read links to the plan trying to make a floating pic becomes a lot more #dicey because its not really clear what you are doing- what parts of the plan are you endorsing, how do you exclude the parts that your links apply to etc. One debate I saw this year the negative read a Heidegger critique with a “management” 1NC link argument that claimed the affirmative plan tried to regulate and control nature. Later in the debate the negative tried to turn the plan into a floating pic- which left me pretty confused. Since they had read links to the plan I was now unclear as to what exactly they were advocating- what was being included and what was not. This isn’t to say that you can’t have a floating pic unless you only have links to the advantages, but it gets a lot less clear theoretically what you are doing and how it could be legitimate.
So to recap, a “floating” pic usually
-does not have a clear text- whether or not the K is even being run as a floating pic is often ambiguous
-agrees with the affirmative plan but objects to some or all of the justifications/advantages/representations the affirmative presented in the 1AC
So how can you tell if the other team is reading a floating pic? Detecting a floating pic becomes a lot easier once you know what to look for. Usually the negative will start out with a 1NC alternative that is something like “reject the affirmatives XYZ”. This is straightforward enough. Then in the 2NC they will use some sort of ambiguous language that could be interpreted in a number of ways but that stands out to people who have seen/run/been victim to the floating pic in the past. Some examples could be:
“The plan and the alternative aren’t mutually exclusive”
“We don’t have to win the plan is bad, just that the way the 1AC framed it was problematic”
“the 2AC dropped the floating pic…”
The key thing to understand about floating pics is that rarely does the neg come out and say “next off case the floating pic”- they are usually trying ti slip it past the affirmative so that any of the myriad of reasonable objections to the floating pic are not made. This is why I have always advocated anytime you debate a K going over the checklist in CX right off the bat. This can be addressed in one rapid fire question if you just say
“Did your K make any of the following arguments: epistemology, ontology, reps first, floating pic, v2l?”
Most judges are not so checked out that they will let the neg say in CX that the are not a floating pic and then give them credit for it being a floating pic later in the debate. People often say to me “but if I ask that question I will look stupid”. Nothing could be further from the truth. You know what looks stupid? Losing to a floating pic. Asking a cross-x question is really, really not stupid at all because everyone who has been around debate for 5 or more seconds understands the inherent shadyness of arguments like floating pics. I have been on panels where one judge will say “oh I obviously go the floating pic in the 2NC” and another judge will say “I had no idea it was a floating pic”. This is because the neg has to walk a tightrope- make it clear enough that the judge gets it but hopefully not so clear that the affirmative understands it as well.
I’ve written before about how to try and recover from a “dropped” floating pic, what I would like to address next is how to deal with it when you know it was made in the last speech. Basically, IMHO floating pics are indefensible vs a pics bad style theory argument. Most people think the do AB but not C CP example above is pretty legitimate. Most people think that counterplans like consult or condition that result in the whole plan are not legitimate, the few who do think those counterplans change something about the way the aff is implemented (certainty, immediacy) that is rooted in definitions of words in the resolution. The number of people who think that in an even debate between both sides on whether or not floating pics are legitimate the neg should prevail is very, very small. Basically you would want to make some/all of the following arguments
-floating pics create a moving target- with no text/firm definition the aff can’t generate a predictable/coherent strategy
-floating pics artificially inflate the worth of bad disads by rigging impact comparison/if the K is important it can be run on its own
-partially plan inclusive alternative solve their offense while avoiding ours
There are a million more “pics bad” style arguments you could make but most of them our silly (they stole our IPR) or repetitive (we can’t get offense…). Most of the common neg arguments for PICS don’t make sense in this context making it a crush for the aff
-Real world- this should be self evidently false
-Lit checks- the neg may have a card that says “framing is important” but almost never do they have a card defending doing the plan for different reasons
If you can think of a different argument you can’t think of an answer to post it in the comments