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The Philosopher and the PragmatistThis weekend, we will begin our varsity debate season and this tournament is usually a very challenging one featuring competition from across the state. This evening in our debate practice class, we were reviewing the cases written by the LD debaters and trying the best we could to prep them for some of the different points of view which they may face. As a coach, I find it challenging because I would love to take some of them far deeper into the philosophical arguments than they could probably bear and I confess, some of my personal ideas are unconventional to say the least. Therefore, one must find a suitable balance between philosophy and pragmatism in order to avoid swamping some of the students in potentially confusing concepts which may in the long run prove to be of marginal value if the ideas cannot be adequately expressed to the judge. One particular young man is trying to make the transition from Policy debate to LD because his partner decided debate was not in his future. Whereas, policy debaters are frequently exposed to philosophical points of view, it has been a struggle for him to remember, a plan text is not exactly well-received in our conservative Lincoln-Douglas district. Tonight our assistant coach made a very interesting comment to him, "in LD one can debate utopia".
Utopian Health CareThe "utopia" remark, got me thinking specifically about the universal health care topic. The resolution allows the Affirmative to take a kind of Utopian position. When affirmative claims, the United States ought to guarantee universal health care, it permits one to create an evasive case which avoids a lot of the potential bothersome arguments one may expect from the Negative. For example, I may claim, "I am advocating a world in which universal health care is guaranteed but I am not claiming anyone should take advantage of it". Indeed, until someone actually does take advantage of the guaranteed health care, many of the disadvantage scenarios of the Negative can not occur; no resources are consumed, no one is coerced or dehumanized, no rights are infringed and no one is denied equality nor equal access.
Pragmatic Health CareAn idealized world where universal health care is guaranteed but no one takes advantage has no practical real-world value. It offers no practical advantages in which individuals actually receive treatment for their ailments, have their quality of life improved, nor can the state itself claim any particular advantages. In other words, there is no solvency for the harms which we assume exist in the status quo. Therefore, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the only health care that matters is one which has solvency and solvency comes at a price. In the pragmatist's world view, health care requires resources, in terms of commodities, services, personnel and time and all of these things cost money and governments only have so many ways to pay for the practical solution and maintain a universally accessible system. It is in this world, where the practical realities of solvency generate disadvantages and advantages that are measured in "real" gains and losses.
Affirmative FiatSomewhere between the two extremes the cases will fall and somewhere between the extremes the judge will take up a position of forced neutrality. I doubt too many debaters will take up a kind of Utopian position in which health care availability exists but no one uses it simply because the advantages are mainly negative in that they avoid disadvantages but there is little practical reason to support the position other than it meets the resolution on a superficial level. Nevertheless, I think it very reasonable to expect that some Affirmatives will advocate a world which fiats the impractical aspects of universal health care. For example, one may simply claim they provide universal health care and the resources needed to guarantee solvency are somehow provided. This position will argue the issue is not how to solve real-world problems of providing the care rather the philosophical question of whether nations have a duty to protect their citizens. This kind of fiat power in LD debate can be abusive because if the Affirmative can fiat solvency then the best Negative can do is try to frame a pre-fiat case against a hypothetical world or try to convince the judge there is no pragmatic reason to assume the Aff will solve without triggering real-world disadvantages. Fiating solvency is a theory issue and needs to be argued as part of the over-all Neg case.
And So...I guess for me the bottom line is to be on guard for Affirmative cases which create hypothetical worlds or philosophical frameworks and try to avoid disadvantages by either ignoring solvency or by fiating solvency. If nothing is solved, then why advocate for the Affirmative in the first place? Even in a philosophical framework which purely addresses the duties of nations, a pragmatic, real-world harm necessitates the duty to provide health care and so Neg should be able to find plenty of ground for debate. But, if Aff tries to avoid disadvantages by fiat, Such a position will steal your ground so make sure you have a strategy for answering this kind of case if Aff attempts to make it.
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