Monday, October 31, 2011

Policy Debate - A Guide to Cross-X

Cross-x, like flowing, is an art form that is best perfected by experience.  For novice debaters it is probably one of the most intense and terrifying parts of the round.  The best strategy for withstanding the interrogation of a seasoned debate veteran, is to thoroughly understand your case.  Make sure you know all of the parts of your affirmative, the structure, the links, the harms and advantages.  Make sure you understand the negative strategy you are using and familiarize yourself intimately with all of the parts and nuances of your disadvantages, counter-plans or other mechanisms you intend to use against the opponent. This knowledge becomes even more critical as the round progresses into the 2AC and 2NC speeches.  By the time the second round of constructive speeches begin, you and your partner should have a pretty clear idea among yourselves as to how you will proceed into the rebuttals; which arguments may be the most critical and which strategy may be the most effective in winning the judge.  This is where experience helps the most, coupled with a good sense of where the round is headed and how the judge will weigh her decision.

This guide will give practical suggestions for cross-x.  Most importantly, it will give you practical ideas how to effectively root out the underlying strategy of the opponents and feed information to your partner who must prepare for the next speech and hopefully the suggestions in this guide will help you expose some weaknesses in your opponent's case.  As you gain experience and intuition, the recommendations in this guide will become a part of your natural, policy debate skill set.

General rules and suggestions for any cross-x:
  • Always look at the judge (as if asking the judge the questions - in my opinion you should barely acknowledge your opponent).
  • Avoid doing things which waste time, and do not allow the opponent to waste time by looking for evidence or rifling through their cards.
  • Control the CX - don't let the opponent speak too long. Ask questions that can be answered simply.
  • Ask questions - don't have a long preamble to asking the question - be direct.
  • Adapt your questioning to the round. Change up the order in which you ask your questions, change the wording around so it does not appear you are doing rote questioning.
  • Don't be rude or have a condescending (looking down upon) attitude
  • Watch your time so you are sure to hit all of the major points.

2NC cross-x of 1AC -
Take a little prep only if necessary so your partner can clarify to you what he may need
First, quickly clarify any items missing from the flow this will help your partner get started sooner on prep for the next speech.

The plan text
  Ask about any words you don't understand.
  Ask who is the actor? (who will make the plan happen?)
  Question any resolutional issues.
  Ask how much will it cost?
  Ask, will everyone be in favor of doing the plan? 
  Question if the plan be politically popular?

Usually there is little you can gain from Inherency & Significance questions but occasionally something can come out. Mainly you will want to look at the harms.
  If the plan can do all this (avoid harms, gain advantages) why aren't we doing it now?
  This line of questioning is most effective if your judge says he is a "stock issues" judge.
  Why can't the SQ eventually solve the problems?
  (for a stock issues judge - you may want to determine the type of inherency 
  which exists and question it -
    Is there a barrier (law or resource issue) which prevents solvency in the SQ?
    Is there an attitude that is a barrier to solvency in the SQ?)
  Expose the harms (why must the plan be implemented now? 
  why can't we wait or not do it?)  
  For each harm -
    Ask how does the plan solve or avoid the harm?
    Question whether there other ways to solve the harm
    or is the plan the only way to solve it quickly?
    Ask why the problem won't go away on its own? 
    Ask if people are already working to solve the problem?

More often instead of specific harms, there are advantages which need to be understood.
For each advantage -
  Is the plan the only way to achieve the advantage? Why?
  (if yes) then ask if the advantage is inherent to the plan?
  (Note if the advantage is inherent to the plan and you take out solvency,
    then you take out their inherency which destroys their case)
  Ask how the plan achieves the advantage?
  When will the advantage happen? How long after the plan is implemented?
  Is there a chance the advantage will still not be realized?
  Will the plan completely realize the advantage? 
  (for example, if the plan claims a terrorism advantage,
  ask if the plan will completely solve terrorism or will terrorism still exist 
  and how much terrorism will still exist?)

Question the general claims
  For example - If they claim war will ensue:
  Ask how will that happen? when? why?

1AC cross-x of 1NC
Clarify any items missing from the flow this will help your partner get started sooner on prep for the next speech.

If topicality was attacked
  Clarify the violation
  Ask why the NEG definition is better than AFF?

For each disadvantage -
  Question the uniqueness? 
  Isn't the disad already happening now?
  How does the DA link to our plan?
  Is there anything else that cause the DA?
  Precisely what aspect of the plan triggers the DA?
  What's the threshold? (how much change is required to trigger the DA?)
  If there is a brink, what is the precise brink? 
  What exactly is required to push us over the brink?
  Every step (internal link) must have its own uniqueness and threshold, 
    ask about them if you think you have time
  How long before the DA triggers?
  Will it happen suddenly or over time?
  How bad will it be?

For each counter-plan
  Make sure you ask for the text of each counter-plan when they read one!
  Ask for the CP status (conditional, non-conditional, etc)
  Cross-x it as if you were the 2NC crossing the 1AC. (see above)
     a. question the topicality (it should be non-topical)
     b. question the solvency
  Ask what makes it competitive?
  Have them specify the net benefit 
  (90% of time it will be a DA that does not link to their CP)
  If the net-benefit is avoiding a DA (which it almost always is) 
  Question it like any DA (see above)

For each Kritik
  Ask them if it is an "a priori" issue?
  (meaning must it be considered first before anything else - 
   they will usually say it is)
  Ask them why it is a priori, what makes it critical to a high-school debate?
  Ask them why the judge or anyone should accept the underlying philosophy 
  behind the kritik?
  Ask them if the kritik only applies to your plan and if so 
  find out if is uniquely linked to your plan.

1NC cross-x of 2AC
Clarify any items missing from the flow this will help your partner get started sooner on prep for the next speech.
  Always ask for the text of any permutations.

  If you ran a counterplan and they introduce a permutation, 
  you want to understand this very well.
    Ask about the perm - how does it create a test for competitiveness?
    Question the perm evidence.

  If they ran turns of your disad links or impacts ask them to explain these.

2AC cross-x of 2NC
Clarify any items missing from the flow this will help your partner get started sooner on prep for the next speech.

  If they link disads to your perms use a disad line of questioning
  If they extend their disads with new link evidence, etc. 
  continue to question the link, uniqueness,etc.
  Focus on what you perceive as their most important arguments and question them.
  This CX, in general, is much more dependent on the flow. It is very important, however, 
  to understand their main arguments completely, before the rebuttals.
  Remember this cross-x breaks up the NEG block so the more effective your questions
  the more work you may be able to force upon the 1NR as they attempt to reduce 
  the impact of your penetrating cross examination!

Answering Cross-X
  • Look at the judge (I don't care what other debaters tell you - look at the judge only)
  • Be wary of traps
  • Don't waste time talking about things that are not related to your position. This is a common tactic to take you out of your area of expertise and set you up for traps.
  • Don't make absolutist or universal claims (using words like always, every, never, etc)
  • Remain confident and don't let them see you sweat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uniqueness in Disadvantages

The disadvantage is an argument presented by the negative (or opposing side) which explains why a proposal made by the affirmative results in some kind of negative consequences.  In policy debate, for example, the disad (or DA as it it often abbreviated) is comprised of three principle parts; uniqueness, link and impact. So naturally, the affirmative will attempt to diminsh the disad by trying to show it is not unique, it does not link in the way claimed by the negative or the impact is not really a bad thing after all.

Though the uniqueness and link evidence are usually presented separately, it is important to realize they are very closely connected.  The link is the evidence that shows how the argument is related to the affirmative plan or some aspect of the affirmative case. The best way to explain it is by way of example. Suppose the negative wants to prove the affirmative plan will alienate China which results in war with China. The negative will first claim the relationship with China is cooperative, in other words, there is no alienation in the status quo. Then the link evidence will prove the plan will upset the current situation and alienate China. Thus, the negative side establishes that before the plan, everything is going along well, but because of the plan, China will become alienated.  The uniqueness of the argument is seen in the claim that in the status quo, the relationship between the two countries is good.  Obviously, if the affirmative can show China is already feeling alienated, then the negative can not uniquely claim that the plan is what alienates China. Uniqueness, in policy debate terminology, is the current situation that will be uniquely altered by enacting the plan.

The next part of the disadvantage argument is typically the impact which is the negative consequence that will arise as a result of the change to the status quo which results uniquely from enacting the plan. In the example given previously, the negative consequence is war between the U.S. and China.  In time order, there is a chain of causes and effects:
  1. First there is the status quo (China and U.S. have a good relationship).
  2. Some event occurs (the plan is enacted)
  3. The event results in an effect (it alienates China)
  4. That effect becomes the cause of an impact (the first effect causes another effect, namely, the alienation of China leads to war)
So we can see an impact is a double cause and effect.  A cause results in an effect. That effect, in turn is a cause leading to another effect.  Enacting the plan results in alienation. The alienation leads to war.

The Implied Uniqueness
Notice how the first effect must uniquely arise from the cause, in this case, the alienation of China must uniquely result from the enacting of the plan.  As I shall discuss in more detail below, there must a unique relationship between cause and effect before one can claim causality.  Because there is a unique relationship between cause and effect, it follows the subsequent cause and effect must also be unique in order to establish causality.  In the example being discussed, enacting the plan uniquely alienates China. Therefore the alienation of China must uniquely lead to war.  This second, implied uniqueness is overlooked by debaters and coaches because disads are not typically recognized as cause-effect relations. This implied uniqueness represents another opportunity for the AFF to turn the link which results in the impact.

Cause and Effect
Any time there are two events and the second event is a consequence of the first it may be possible to claim there is a cause-effect relationship between the two events as long as certain criteria are met. Cause-effect; also known as causality, is a philosophical idea that is observed in many different kinds of applications.  The principle criteria state the effect must follow the cause in time, without intervening causes or effects and there must be a one-to-one relationship between the cause and effect. In other words, there must be a uniqueness whereby there is no other cause which gives rise to the effect.  If the effect does arise from other causes it is only because there is a common quality about the causes which uniquely gives rise to the effect. Because of this uniqueness, it can be said whenever the cause occurs the effect will follow.  Such a cause-effect relationship, therefore is unique and deterministic.  There is another kind of cause and effect relationship which is not deterministic but instead, probabilistic. In this kind of relationship, one may say every time this event occurs there is such and such probability a certain unique effect will arise.  I suggest obtaining Peter Unger’s,  “The Uniqueness in Causation”, American Philosophical Quarterly, July 1977 for a good explanation of the uniqueness quality fo the cause-effect relation.

Now, one need not fully comprehend the complexities of causality to understand that a debate disad is a cause-effect relationship. Therefore there must be uniqueness between the cause and effect. Since a disad is actually a two-step cause and effect relationship where some aspect of the plan is a cause resulting in an effect and this effect is interpreted as a cause resulting in the disadvantage, there must be uniqueness in each step.

Breaking-Down the DA - A Practical Example
There are of course, several ways to defeat the disadvantage that are repeated in policy debate lectures throughout the country: claim non-unique, uniqueness overwhelms the link, turn the link, or turn the impact and I leave it the ambitious to review the ways this is typically accomplished.  In my opinion, recognizing the double cause-effect relationship of the typical DA introduces other ways to attack the uniqueness claims and potentially expose a weakness and defeat a DA. 

The following practical example is extracted from the DDW 2011 Russia Disad evidence:

No space militarization now, Foust, 2011 (uniqueness)
Russia perceives exploration as military threat, Kislyakov, 2011 (link to the plan)
Russia militarization risks extinction, Rozoff, 2009 (impact)

Examining the DA as a sequence of cause-effect relations in time order:
There is no militarization of space (explicit uniqueness)
The plan is enacted and increased space exploration begins (cause)
Russia sees increased exploration as a military threat (effect)

Russia does not currently see the US as military threat (implied uniqueness)
Russia sees exploration as a military threat and militarizes in response (effect)
Russia militarization risks extinction (cause)

Notice in the first sequence of cause-effect, the NEG establishes a norm (there is no militarization in space), then provides a warrant that a significant increase in space exploration would be perceived as a military threat. AFF can undo the uniqueness evidence by any contrary evidence which shows there has been an ongoing militarization of space.  Additionally, since the NEG did not establish a threshold, AFF can claim the U.S. has been exploring space for nearly 50 years and since Russia has not militarized yet, the claim is empirically denied.

But notice, in the second sequence of cause-effect, the NEG has implied a norm that Russia does not currently see a military threat coming from the U.S.  We can see this uniqueness as necessary because we must establish that Russia’s perception of increased U.S. exploration is the unique cause which results in Russia’s militarization.  The AFF can attack the implied uniqueness by presenting evidence that Russia already sees a threat from the U.S. but has not militarized so the NEG can not uniquely claim the plan changes anything since Russia is already threatened.

By exposing the implied uniqueness, NEG can improve the DA:
No space militarization now (uniqueness)
Russia is concerned but not threatened by current U.S. capability (exposed uniqueness)
Further exploration will push Russia from concern to alarm (threshold/brink)
Russia perceives increased exploration as a military threat (link)
Russia militarization risks extinction (impact)

When a DA is viewed as a double cause-effect relationship, sometimes additional opportunities for exploiting the underlying uniqueness can be exposed.  This provides an additional avenue of attack for the AFF.  We can also see the NEG can strengthen the DA by explicitly exposing the underlying uniqueness and reduce the opportunity for AFF to claim non-unique or turn the link.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

LD - Kritiking the 2011 Nov/Dec Resolution - part 2 Kritiks

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

The Kritik / Theory of Resolved : Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need - part 2

Adapting Kritiks
Most kritiks used in LD debate have their roots in policy debate and were optimized for that genre of debate.  In Lincoln-Douglas, many debaters have simply carried these arguments complete with their policy-disad-like structure directly into LD.  The basic shell, of a kritik has been adopted but I am a firm believer there is a decided advantage to be realized if a debater (or a team) is willing to adapt the kritik to a specific resolution or class of resolutions.  In fact, very rarely can one jump over to the policy debate world, pull out a kritik, and run in Lincoln-Douglas.

Kritiks Centered on the Individual
Anthropocentrism Type Kritiks
As I pointed out in part 1 of this series, the resolution is very non-specific about who the "individuals" in the resolution are and from what group they belong.  Affirmatives that run a case specifying humans as the moral-agents are making an assumption about who the "individuals" must be.  This "human-centered" assumption is anthropocentric.  The anthropocentrism kritiks attack the assumption that humans need to be the "center" of the debate universe and thus question the underlying assumptions of affirmative.  It is not difficult to find cards which state that anthropocentrism is bad and has negative impacts on the human attitudes in dealing with the environment and other living creatures. The key to making this kritik work is the link. In my opinion, the link must attack the assumptions that only humans can provide assistance for people in need and must cover the assumption that only humans are capable of carrying out moral acts or be bound by moral obligation.  Is it possible to provide such links to an anthropocentrism bad argument? In my experience, it is possible to find evidence which says about anything one desires.

A related argument is the Ontological Kritik which questions our relationship with nature. Many of these are based on the work of Vogel and are usually directed toward human efforts to fix the environment so making links will be much more challenging. My suggestion would be, look to the work of Gideon Calder. He published a paper called, "Ethics and Social Ontology" in 2008 which may provide a satisfactory basis for the Ontological Kritik specifically directed toward this resolution.

Kritiks Centered on the Obligation
Coercion Type Kritiks
Obligations can be viewed as social pressures which restrict our freedoms or natural rights. We are coerced into fulfilling duties which are often placed upon us by the expectations of societies, cultures and religions and so the Coercion type kritiks address these issues.  The link should address the idea that moral obligations (or any kind of obligations) restrict the choices or people or limits their freedoms through various coercive mechanisms.  If the implication addresses the idea that such coercion is immoral the clash with the resolution and affirmative case is apparent.  Impact cards can usually be cut from policy debate coercion kritiks using authors such as Ernest Hemingway or David Hume which establish freedom as a supreme value that must be defended vigorously.

Kritiks Centered on the Exploitation of the Needy
Biopower and Exploitation Type Kritiks
On a certain level, it can easily be argued that people in need are in some way weaker than those who assist them and the benefactor exercises a measure of power over the beneficiary by inducing a return obligation, feelings of guilt or shame, and the knowledge of forever knowing he was aided by the benefactor.  There are many kritiks which can be used to attack the strong-weak relationship created in assisting the needy.  The Gift Kritik, for example was a policy debate kritik typically run against affirmatives advocating legislation which provides aid to foreign countries. While not directly linking to the current LD resolution, the underlying work of Arrigo and Williams entitled, "The (Im)Possibility of Democratic Justice and the "Gift" of the Majority" should be examined.  The paper addresses legislated equal rights for minorities, but it is rich with cards which illustrate the power of the benefactor over the beneficiary, labeling it "narcissistic hegemony". 

The Heidegger Kritik is another possibility but somewhat remote. Most of the Heidegger kritiks deal with some aspect of modern society, usually the technical, industrialized aspect and shows how it exploits the world around us.  Much of the premise of Heidegger can be retained if the link can be made that individuals under moral obligation are in such a position because of their technical, industrialized, modern society. Otherwise, I think one would need to discard many of the policy debate-type links in the Heidegger shells in favor of analytical links.

The Nietzsche Kritik tackles institutional biopower which, like Heidegger, will require substantial work to link to this resolution and expected affirmative cases.  Lovers of Nietzsche kritiks, however, are probably already aware Nietzsche wrote "On The Genealogy of Morals". His treatises on Good/Bad and Guilt/Bad Conscience are well suited to this resolution.

Kritiks in Lincoln-Douglas debate are controversial in many districts and in some cases may be a sure path to defeat if one is read during a round. Nevertheless, their impact on debate in general has been seen to be positive in some regards.  While I think some debaters see kritiks, with their often convoluted and complicated reasoning as a way to tally wins against less prepared opponents, I think a well-reasoned kritik with clear implications can be evaluated by most judges. Its really a matter of preference, whether they choose to allow the kritik.  Others have pointed out, and I agree, that many of the points presented in the kritik can be presented equally as well in a conventional case structure, argued within a traditional value/criterion framework.  The ideas presented in this series are starting points for the adventurous.

LD - Kritiking the 2011 Nov/Dec Resolution - part 1 Theory

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

The Kritik / Theory of Resolved : Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need - part 1

Affirmative Theory Arguments

An interesting case could probably be made the November/December 2011 Lincoln-Douglas debate resolution is not debatable for the affirmative. The implications for this are remarkable in that it leaves open the possibility of a theory argument which is aimed toward the assumptions built into the resolution as to the way it is worded.  I personally have never seen a kritik originate in the affirmative but theory arguments possibly could.  Typically a kritik is a negative argument (although it need not always be so) aimed toward the resolution or some characteristic of the affirmative constructive which questions the assumptions and points of view enjoined by the affirmative or inherent in the resolution. Theory and kritiks raise issues which demand answers before the debate can be continued and there is much to be critical of when looking at this resolution.  I will discuss specific kritiks which can be applied to this resolution in part 2 of this discussion.

I think at the outset, I should note NFL rules specifically forbid debates aimed specifically at the resolution and its suitability for debate.  However, each district takes its own approach to the NFL guidelines and toleration of certain kinds of arguments varies from locale to locale.  Having made that disclaimer, let’s examine some of the specific problems with the resolution.

The word, individuals is not qualified in any way. Since an individual is a single member of a group we are forced to assume the implied group is a set of human beings as opposed to a set of assistance animals such as seeing-eye dogs.  We make that assumption based on a prior assumption that only humans are capable of moral acts.  However, the assumption that only humans are moral-agents is disputed and controversial.  One need only look at the previous LD topic as an example.

Secondly, looking at the use of the word “individuals” in the resolution, one must assume, logically, the implied modifier is ALL individuals. That of course leads to the assumption, AFF has the burden to prove that all (assumed human) individuals have the moral obligation to aid the needy.  In principle, NEG need only show there is one individual who is not under the obligation in order to win, such as the needy person herself.  There can be no fairness is such a burden.

Moral / Moral Obligation
The discussion of what is moral has burdened philosophers for centuries and continues to this day.  The definition of moral is all important in this resolution and how moral actions are evaluated tends to lock the affirmative into one of a small collection of frameworks which are easily attacked by the negative.  It can be argued this is typical of many resolutions in LD and so it would be difficult to assert there is something patently unfair.  Nevertheless, in looking at the generally accepted definitions of morality as a determination of the rightness or wrongness of an action, it now becomes potentially problematic because there is no ground to limit what constitutes “rightness”. And if it can be shown under some set of evaluation criteria, that one is morally bound to perform an action, what are the conditions and bounds which limit the obligation?  The resolution does not specify any boundary conditions.  This means that at a given time, in a given place, under a given set of circumstances, one is morally bound to perform an action. But potentially, in a different time, place or circumstance, the moral duty is nullified.  So we can see, without boundary conditions negative need only show that a moral duty is inconsistent under another set of circumstances to win.  For example, what if, by giving aid, it hurts or endangers me or if I give to one, must I give to two, or three, or a million people?

People in Need
Once again affirmative must very carefully choose a definition for need. Need may or may not be synonymous with desire. In fact a need may be a very specific kind of desire even if one does not always desire what one needs nor need what one desires.  Need is not always directly related to the state of poverty (which itself is very time/place dependent).  Once again, the idea of need is not limited to time or place.  So, affirmative is under a very strong burden to universalize the meaning of need in order to avoid defeat by a single circumstance which changes the definition of need.

It is possible, I suppose, to make the assumption that one has a moral obligation to aid the needy any time or place they are in need and if the time or place changes and one is no longer in need, it does not change the principle that when need does exist the obligation to relieve it is present.  Need itself is a very subjective and vague concept apart from its dependencies.  Failure to establish a workable definition will make the affirmative burden just as vague and consequently difficult to debate.

One could make a very valid argument the resolution is impossible to affirm given the basic problems mentioned in the foregoing remarks.  Perhaps the affirmative, in some districts could create a winnable theory argument which addresses the fairness of assumptions.  I find the possibilities so compelling I may work out such a case just to study the plausibility.

For specific kritiks, see part 2 of this discussion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PF 2011 November Topic Analysis

For more about Public Forum Debate including topic analysis, strategies and links to evidence, *click here*.

Resolved: Direct popular vote should replace electoral vote in presidential elections.

This resolution contrasts the current electoral system (the presumption is, in the United States) with the concept of a direct election by majority of the popular vote.  But, the pro side is required to affirm the direct vote method is the one that should be used rather than the electoral system.  It is unfortunate, I think, the resolution did not specify "in the United States" since no doubt, many teams will find some way to exploit the oversight.

Background in the U.S.
In the United States, presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College. The Electoral College is comprised of representatives from each of the states who's task is to vote the will of the majority of their constituents. These delegates are distinct and independent from Congressional representatives though they are currently elected in each state by popular vote having been nominated by their state's political parties.  The 12th Amendment prescribes that each elector should cast a single vote for president and a single vote for vice-president and specifies that a simple majority is required to determine who wins the offices.  Additional provisions are given for dealing with alternative election methods in cases where a clear majority is undetermined.  The 23rd Amendment governs how many electors are allowed from each state.

The United States uses a form of plurality voting system (one in which there is a single winner for each seat). In such a system, the candidate who receives the majority of votes will win the seat.  In the United States, the selection is made indirectly as the popular vote gives the electorates instruction in how they should vote and so the seat is won by the majority vote of the electorates.  While the constitution specifies the use of electorates and determines how many are chosen in each state, it is within the domain of state's rights to decide how the electorates are chosen and how they should cast their votes.  In most states, if a candidate wins the majority in the state, then all of the delegates for the state are expected to cast the vote for the majority winner. At various times in history and presently, states have allowed electorates to vote according to the the majority vote in individual congressional districts.  Currently Maine and Nebraska use this method which allows them to split their electoral votes according to how the majority in the congressional districts voted.

Why the U.S. Electoral System was Created
At the time the U.S. Electoral system was proposed, the nation was a loose federation of 13 states, without political parties and very little infrastructure from which to carry out an effective campaign for election. Given these realities, the founding fathers were concerned about the mechanics of how to hold national elections in a way fair to the states.  The history of the formation of the indirect election method employed in the U.S. should be familiar to the debate student running this PF resolution.  The reasoning and various designs proposed are useful information for a thorough understanding of how the current system came to be. But most important is gaining an excellent understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the indirect method with respect to the direct, popular vote method of selecting a president.

Approach to the Resolution
Since the resolution is not asking us to compare the U.S. specific method of indirect elections (using the Electoral College) then one must consider the comparative advantages and disadvantages of one method versus the other. The weighing mechanism for determining if one is superior to the other will depend on the impact of the flaws as seen in actual practice. If the the flaws have not occurred in actual practice then, the theoretical impact must be examined by presenting a time-frame, probability and magnitude calculus.  Consider the following example. Suppose the debater wants to make the claim that a direct, popular vote method of election is subject to unfair manipulation by powerful minorities. If the debater can not show by example where this has happened in the recent past, then the claim must show even though it has not yet happened, there is a very good chance it will happen (probability) and it will happen very soon (time-frame) and when it does happen, it will be very bad (magnitude).

Flaws or advantages should be inherent in the method of election and not the implementation.  For example, Let's say "electoral vote" specifically refers to an indirect election process by an appointed set of delegates. The methodology specifies the delegates should vote according to majority vote of the population within the respective precincts of each delegate.  Now, if it is shown that many delegates fail to carry out the specification and choose to vote for candidates other than those determined by the popular votes of their precincts, then this not a failure that is inherent in the electoral voting method, rather it is a failure in how it is carried out, or implemented. Perhaps, there are insufficient controls in place to ensure the delegates carry out the task they were appointed to do.  This approach to argumentation can be very effective when defining a particular voting method.  The clever debater can claim, the problem is not because there is something inherently wrong with the methodology, rather there is something wrong with the way it was carried out, or implemented.  The way to effectively prove a method is inherently flawed is to show how the implementation always fails or most of the time fails in actual practice. This provides powerful proof the method may possess inherent flaws even if you are unsure what the precise problems are.

At a minimum, I think it is important to define the voting methods being compared by the resolution.  It must be clear what is meant when one says "direct popular vote" and "electoral vote".  I don't think the fact the resolution specifies "presidential elections" is particularly relevant. The definition of "should" or "should replace" implies there is a compelling reason to replace one with the other.  In LD, the definition of "should" can be significant so I think it would be worthwhile, supplying a definition.  While it seems clear that direct popular vote means a election process whereby the result is determined by a simple majority of total votes cast, there may be alternative definitions that can be exploited if the opponent fails to challenge the definition. The same holds true of electoral vote.  While it suggests indirect vote by delegates there may be alternative definitions which can be exploited.  Nevertheless, I think, trying to leverage obscure definitions will ony serve to disengage the judge, who will enter the round with prior experience and knowledge, no matter how incomplete that knowledge may be.

The PRO Burden
The PRO must prove that direct popular vote should replace electoral vote, what the definition of those terms ultimately turn out to be.  The questions, then, that PRO must answer is why should the latter be replaced and why is the former preferrable?  In the U.S. for example, there may be no compelling reason to not use electoral voting if it works, so PRO must show that it does not. Secondly, PRO must show that direct popular vote is preferrable over the existing method. This basically means it is not flawed, or it is less flawed, or its advantages out-weigh the flaws of either method.

The CON Burden
CON wins the round by showing that direct popular vote should not replace electoral voting. The questions CON must answer are why the is electoral system works and why the popular vote method is not a better alternative.  On the CON side, debates should explore, why, if the electoral system is flaw, is it still used in the United States, for example, and why did it survive a challenge in the 1970's?  This appoach, uses the U.S. as an example of a country which recently looked at the question and decided there is no compelling reason to change.

Monday, October 3, 2011

LD 2011 Nov/Dec Topic Analysis

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

This resolution demands one to establish definitions.  What is an individual, a moral obligation, what does assist mean and who are people in need? What does it mean to be in need?

Initially one may think an individual is a single entity or object and that would be true. But one must consider the idea of individuality has meaning when examined in the context of other individuals. For that reason, it is appropriate to understand what is the philosophical definition of an individual and his place in the community of individuals. With regard to this resolution, is there an innate quality to human individuals which imparts moral obligations or is it a by-product of the societal influences and personal experiences of the individual? When approaching this resolution, the definition of individual and the role of the individual within the community in which he or she interacts becomes critical to the case to be presented. Therefore an understanding of social contract theory (see Locke and Rousseau), the categorical imperative (see Kant) and existentialism (see Kierkegaard) is necessary to formulate a case and responses to your opponent's views.

Moral Obligation
The study of ethics leads one to many variant theories from which we derive moral theory and philosophy. At its most basic, I suppose, morality helps us to understand the rightness or wrongness of an action or an approach to a situation. For many today this moral correctness usually falls under a consequential or deontological framework. A distinction should be made between moral obligations (the thing we ought do in some cases) and moral duty (the thing we ought to do in all cases) and because an action is the morally correct thing to do does not necessarily mean the action is obligatory. For example, an individual may have a moral obligation to help a drowning person, but there is no legal duty to do so. So, a moral obligation is the action we hope one would take under reasonable circumstances. Nevertheless one could say that all legal duties are moral obligations since one has a moral obligation to obey the laws of the society in which one lives.

I think it would be worth time to study the tenets and criticisms of Divine Command Theory and Social Command Theory. These theories offer an explanation of why moral obligations exist. Immanuel Kant, for example and many of the early, modern philosophers, believed that God existed and it was He who helped us to live moral lives and doing so results in a divine reward of eternal happiness. So it is that God is a sovereign whose commands give rise to our moral obligations. Another view would hold that society itself or some aspect of society is the sovereign whose commands give rise to our moral obligations.  These obligations, include legal obligations which are commands issued under threat of sanction and non-legal obligations which result in a more positive result, namely social acceptance within the society.  Again, in the case of the drowning man, the moral obligation to attempt rescue may arise from the desire to avoid the derision of society if one had the means to effect a rescue and did not attempt it. To be sure, command theories are problematic since it is not always possible to identify who the sovereign behind the command really is and whether such a sovereign exists in the first place.

To assist means to provide help, support or aid. It is most often associated with work; one can assist another in accomplishing a task, or money; one can assist another in meeting a financial need. While the definition of assistance seems obvious enough, relative to this resolution is the question of whether the assistance needs to be direct assistance. Can it be indirect? For example, if I contribute money to a charitable organization which provides direct assistance, am I meeting the intent of the affirmative position in the resolution? It could be argued, the charitable organization would have limited or no ability to aid the needy if it were not for the contributions of individuals.  This kind of indirect assist is in contrast to direct assistance such as actually working side-by-side with a needy person, or physically handing the needy funds, food, medicine or similar kinds of aid.

People In Need
The definition of "people in need" may not be as intuitive as one may think.  What exactly does it mean to be a person in need?  Does being poor necessarily equate to being needy or does being needy necessarily equate to being poor? Most people realize there is a difference between wants and needs but it does not help us in defining need. When we think of what is needed to sustain human life, the list may include nutrition, water, oxygen and shelter. After that, we begin to analyze the factors which affect the quality of life. Given the four fundamental items required for life, one could conclude that a person who has access to life sustaining quantities of food, water and air and who has some shelter from the elements, is not needy no matter how poor.  This definition would suggest there may be very few truly needy people in the world, since even the most primitive are capable of sustaining life generation after generation.  Therefore, it seems we must accept a definition of need based on quality of life defined by societal norms.  In other words, a given society or community determines the minimal requirements for life within the community and those who do not meet the requirements are needy. So need, in this sense, can be defined as the difference between the minimal costs required to meet community standards of life minus the available resources the person possesses.  Costs, in this case, are not limited to financial costs such as the expense of goods and services, but also includes cost in terms of abstract requirements such as minimal educational requirements or physical capabilities to perform useful tasks, and so on. Expanding this definition farther, one defines need as the difference between the requirements to be a functional member of the community and the actual ability of the person to meet those requirements.  When a person fails to meet the minimal standards, the person may either be assisted or ostracized from the community. The decision to assist or reject is based on the community's ability and willingness to provide the needed assistance.

Need for the Resolution
I think it is always worthwhile to try to understand why the resolution was presented.  This type of analysis is useful in examining the negative ground.  To advocate there is a moral imperative to assist the needy implies a negative side exists. This would mean, either the needy are not being assisted in the status-quo, or there is reason not to do so, either conditionally or universally. On the other hand, it may be a question of moral imperative.  By this, I mean, in the status quo perhaps the needy are being assisted but not because there is a moral imperative to do so.  Perhaps, the needy are assisted for some type of personal gain or societal gain. Of course, that begs the question of whether moral reasoning is driven by something other than personal or societal gain.  If a person acts to assist a needy person because he or she feels that God requires it, then is the person doing it because he knows that pleasing God results in a happy reward? If the person assists another because he or she feels that society would look negatively on inaction does the person do so in order to avoid societal criticism and so it is to personal benefit?  These are tough questions to address because in many theories of moral obligation, the consideration of reward or punishment are motivations inherent in moral choice.  Another important consideration regards the universality of the resolution. To claim there is a moral obligation to assist persons in need, suggests the imperative is universal, meaning there are no exceptions to the rule.  The negative may ask themselves, if there are times when it is not moral to assist the needy or if there is an overarching reason not to do so, is that sufficient to negate?  In many jurisdictions and under most definitions of the applicable terminology, I would say yes.

Affirmative Burden
The affirmative, it seems, is charged with affirming there is a moral obligation to assist the needy, either directly or indirectly, regardless of consequences or circumstances.  In my opinion, this excludes those cases where a person acts out of impulse without regard to self, like the rescuer who dashes into a burning building to save a trapped victim without considering the personal risks.  In my opinion, to satisfy the resolution, the moral obligation requires a choice which after reasoned consideration is deemed to be the "right thing" to do.  But consider that moral obligation does not mean one must act on that obligation.  One may choose to violate one's own moral obligation and bear any consequences for doing so. Remember the example of the drowning man. There may be a moral obligation to try a rescue but it may not be prudent in consideration of the conditions or circumstances and so while failure to act does not diminish the moral obligation, affirmative claims there are times when obligation does not equate to duty.

Negative Burden
As usual, in LD, the negative burden is to show the affirmative is wrong; there is no moral obligation to assist the needy. There are many approaches to doing this. One could argue the topicality, and question whether there are truly needy people, or whether the choice to assist is based on some "moral" consideration or some other rationale. One may choose to argue the universality of the resolution and prove under some circumstances, it is not the correct thing to do but care must be used depending on how affirmative frames their case.  Arguing there is not a universal moral obligation is not the same as claiming at there is no duty to act or there may be over-riding considerations.  Instead, there must be a over-riding moral consideration.