If you’re anything like me you’ve been seeing a lot of framework debates at recent tournaments. Whenever an argument is super common it goes through a process of development and evolution- people make changes, see how those changes work, and continue to revise their strategy to make it as effective as possible. In an effort to help nudge this process along I would like to go over some arguments made by both sides that are just terrible and explain why they are bad. This post combines a few reader questions about how to debate FW better along with some general insights unrelated to the request for input post.
Before we get into the specifics I want to talk a bit about why these arguments are made. No one really thinks these arguments are “good”, they think these arguments are “strategic”- as if those two things could somehow be separated. A lot of debaters, and some judges, think these arguments are “silver bullets”- something that if the other team drops it results in an auto win for the team advancing it. Why do they think this? Well because for many judges it can be a round winner if dropped- I have seen lots of judges latch on to one of these arguments as a lifeline- a way out of having to try and resolve a messy debate. I’m not even saying they are wrong for doing so, what I am trying to say is that the fact that judges latch onto these arguments is a symptom of a bigger problem- the rest of the debate sucks. No one rolls into a debate thinking ” I sure hope I get to make a 2 second decision on “topical version of the aff”” (ok that’s false there are definitely people who think that way) for the most part judges want to see good debates with lots of clash, not messy debates where dropped 1 liners are the deciding factor. So yes, occasionally these arguments can result in a win, however, making it so the rest of the debate sucks less will result in WAY MORE wins than trying to sprinkle throughout as many nonsensical 1 liners as possible
1. “other debates solve”
This argument is often advanced by both sides (aff and neg), and I have seen a few debates where it took up the majority of a cross-x period. Those are precious minutes of my life I could have spent watching paint dry or grass grow- activities that would of been more useful in a debate than making this argument. Here is why: framework, as is often debated now as a “method” argument, is a question about which mode of debate is more productive. In a strictly offense/defense paradigm, proving that other debates provide K/policy education is defense. It also cuts both ways- if other debates solve their offense, than other debates solve your offense as well. There is literally no conceivable way this argument can be made such that it is either offensive, or only applies to the other team. If framework is about picking what mode/kind/form of debate is best, then the argument basically boils down to
“Well, your kind of debate is better, but you like, do it in other rounds, so who cares if we destroy the value of this debate”
Pretty persuasive eh? This is one of the worst arguments, and one I cannot quite wrap my mind around why people would even think it was good. I guess the thinking has to be something like
“X skills/education has some sort of threshold, and other debates are enough to cross that threshold whereby people have the skills. Therefore it doesn’t matter what we do in this debate, the skills have already been acquired so…. yolo.”
Now, ignore for a second that the connection between the argument and a “threshold” has been articulated by no debater ever. Lets assume it was true that there were some sort of threshold whereby if you had XYZ debates you knew enough about the K to be critical or enough about policy to be organizing or something like that, would the “other rounds solve” argument make sense then? I don’t think so- because FW is a meta level issue about what debate should look like. The argument “we should get to do X, but no one else should because we need other debates to be Y to solve your offense” isn’t logically tenable. Implicit in most FW debates is a sort of competing interpretation standard that each side is responsible for the kind of debate their arguments encourage, and this breaks down the logic of “you can learn in other debates”. The judge, with the ballot, can’t control what goes on in other debates. They can, however, cast the ballot for the team who advances the best model of debate in the round they are currently adjudicating.
That this argument is never advanced with reference to a threshold, facts/statistics about what percentage of other debates would provide the skillz the other team wants etc. definitely mitigates the truth value of this argument, but under any scrutiny the logic of it cannot hold.
2. You can do X when you are the other side
This argument takes pretty much two forms. The neg will tell non topic affs they can read their argument as a neg. The aff will tell FW reading policy team that they can read their aff on the neg and defend the topic. This devolves into nonsense pretty quickly.
The only real reason the affirmative needs to defend a plan is that the aff speaks first- they need to establish the specifics of what we are talking about in a stable manner so the neg has ground. The reason they need to read a topical plan is so the neg can come to the round prepared. Everything else is total nonsense and this argument proves why.
“you can read your aff on the neg”
If that’s the case, then you should have to prepare to answer it when you are affirmative, that means you should be prepared to debate it. So what ground exactly are you losing other than the politics disad? At that point your FW arg boils down to “we need generics”- not too persuasive.
“you could read your aff against us”
Right, except for then you will say “perm” and that will be over pretty quick. There is a reason its an aff and not a neg- it proves something is true (affirms it even)- the it being the resolution. Affs make bad negs because they don’t negate stuff.
3. Topical version…
This is related to 2. Topical version can be a persuasive topicality argument in very limited circumstances. Those circumstances are when your T argument relates to the “mechanism” of the topic. Lets say the topic was Resolved: we should drive to the movies. The aff gets up and reads a plan that says “we should fly to the movies”. If the neg goes for T Drive and has a set of arguments that topic disads and counterplans relate to “drive” which is the topic mechanism, than the argument that there is a topical version that solves aff offense makes some sense- they are saying if you use the mandated mechanism that people prepare for you can still have a good debate about your case. Framework debates don’t really relate to competing mechanisms like this, they are about much larger differences of opinion about what debate/activism/pedagogy should be about. The larger the divide the less-sensical the middle ground position becomes. Lets look at an example I have seen no less than a million times this year
Aff: Middle passage
Aff: Our offense is talking about the government is bad
Neg: Topical version, you can talk about the government and the middle passage, this solves your talking about the government bad offense
Well… no, no it doesn’t. In fact, it links to the offense because, wait for it… it requires the aff to talk about the government. This isn’t an isolated example, in fact most teams are now writing their 1AC’s basically as a critique of framework with arguments like role playing bad, gov focus bad, “policy skillz bad” etc. Against these affs what on earth are you trying to accomplish by saying there is a middle ground? What is the middle ground between “x good” and “x bad” that you think you are claiming?
In addition, if there is some sort of topical version than you should be prepared to debate it. What are the crucial differences between this topical version and the non topical version they read? Again most likely it is only generics- since its topical you should have to prepare a specific strategy to the case which you will have to debate anyway.
4. “Why did you flip neg to go for X”
This one boggles my mind, mainly because every cx it is brought up or 2AC where it is made an argument the person speaking acts as if they have just discovered plutonium- that’s the magnitude of genius they think they are channeling. I can promise you its not that genius. People chose which side to be, when they win the flip, based on many concerns but most of them are competitive- they pick the side they think they are likely to win on. No matter what they read in the 1NC you could ask them why they flipped neg
“why’d you flip neg if you were going to run politics?” etc… Actually that is a pretty good question…
I think people think there is some sort of crucial difference when the neg is making a “fairness” argument. Why’d you flip neg if you knew we were going to be abusive bra? Well that is pretty much totally irrelevant. Do people actually think that matters? Lets say your 1AC contained a card with gendered language in it and a team flipped neg and then read g-lang. Would the 2AC argument “you knew it was in there and you flipped neg” carry any weight? I certainly hope not. Similarly, if the neg wins the premise of the argument that the affirmative did something unfair, why does it matter that they flipped neg? Would flipping neg justify severance perms because hey- they chose to be neg? Of course not. What side you pick is not about what arguments you believe are capital T truth for most- its about what side you think gives you the best chance to win. This can be influenced by a ton of factors
-team your debating and which debater is stronger
-your partner/what speeches they give
-how good your aff is/whether its inherent at that moment/if there is good uniqueness for the common neg args
-what the other teams neg is/how good your answers are
and on and on.
I’m guessing people who make this argument think, at their core, something along the lines of “topicality/FW are not arguments, they are whines. Why would you flip neg to intentionally whine?”. Which brings us to
5. T/FW isn’t a strategy.
This is pretty stupid. Every argument/choice you make in a debate is part of a strategy. When you debate a team who doesn’t read a plan, or a team who reads an affirmative that you think is non topical, you are faced with a choice: you can research a case specific strategy, or you can go for T or FW. Researching case specific strategies involves looking into the aff evidence base and devising something specific. Topicality/FW requires preparing a generic set of arguments. The purpose of T/FW is to balance the workload every debater has to undertake. Its not possible for any squad anywhere to research specific strategies to every single case. It doesn’t matter that “we’ve run this aff all year”- congrats for sticking with it. Unfortunately not everyone in the country just researches your case, they have to research dozens if not hundreds of cases run by every team in the country. There are plenty of policy affs that will never get a specific case neg cut to them because they just aren’t topical. Since they aren’t topical the research burden of cutting a strategy is higher because there is not very much overlap between their case and other topic arguments you may have prepared. When devising a research plan teams try to tackle the cases they will have the most trouble debating and that they are likely to debate first. No one has infinite resources or prep time. For cases that you are unlikely to debate or cases that are too far outside the heart of the topic teams rely on T or FW as a coping mechanism the same way they rely on the states cp to help limit the topic by making it so that they don’t have to research a million case negatives to cases with no fed key warrant. Does that make the states CP not a strategy? Yes… I mean, for the purposes of this article, no- of course not.
All the above is true, but there is also a second part that is crucial. Most teams who don’t debate the topic try and make their affirmatives as strategic as possible just the way policy teams do. One of the things this process entails is making it so that the negative has as little ground as possible against the case, severely limiting the non framework options available to the negative. Well… what the hell do you expect their strategy to be? When the affirmative
-doesn’t discuss the topic
-says as little as possible to avoid linking to things in the 1AC
-shifts their position from speech to speech to dodge links
-is one of dozens of teams doing the same strategy but with different arguments
What is the neg supposed to do? The flip side of the “why did you flip neg to go for FW” question is “why did you write an affirmative that offers no clash if you didn’t want to debate FW”. Its a giant joke the arguments many critical teams come up with that you could actually read against them- and then, as I have seen several times this year, when the neg actually reads one of those arguments the aff still goes for no link regardless of what they said earlier. Now obviously this isn’t what every non topic team does, but its what a lot of them do and you generally have to prepare your strategies planning for the worst not hoping to debate in candyland.