This is part one of a multi-part series.
Lincoln-Douglas (LD) 101 - IntroThis year I have begun the process of indoctrinating a new group of novices into the wonderful world of LD Debate. Let's face it, very few incoming freshman high school debaters are prepared to debate (argue, yes, debate? No.) let alone ask them to frame their debates around a value criterion framework. That's the time half of them leave thinking they will find shelter in speech world. Frankly, it's been a while since I have started day-one with a group of potential novice LD debaters. Previously, an assistant coach took on the responsibilities of breaking in the novices and judging by some of the outcomes, she did a fine job. Since I am pretty much dealing with the entire team alone, this year (I do have a worthy part-time PF assistant) I have been revisiting my lectures and materials. Therefore, I thought, why not put it out there for the world to see? For this reason, I will be publishing a series of posts dealing with the values and philosophies common to LD debate. It will be geared toward the novice debater competing in a traditional LD circuit.
Lincoln-Douglas in traditional tournament circuits and as seen in the National Forensics League National Tournament finals, is built upon a "values" framework. In other words, debaters will structure their cases so they are defending some lofty values all humans hold dear, such as life, justice, morality, etc. And sometimes, in fact quite often, debaters reference the philosophies of great thinkers to help support their positions. To be sure, there are many, many philosophers and many ideas and justifications for how humans think, act, reason, and react but fortunately, in Lincoln-Douglas debate there are a limited number of basic philosophies which appear over and over in debates throughout the year and by gaining some understanding of these, the novices will begin to understand probably 75% of the case philosophies they will encounter. The remaining are usually variants of the one's I will discuss in future articles.
However, before looking at philosophy, I want to look at the common values defended by LD debaters and discuss how to apply values and their standards to LD debate cases.
The Values of LDAs I have said in my introduction, the "values" in LD debate are the lofty ideals which most human beings hold dear. The best "values" are those which are esteemed by the majority of humans and not dependent upon cultural, religious, nationalistic or other such boundaries. They are universally appealing. Most of the time these values will fall into three groupings depending on the nature of the case or the resolution being debated.
The first group are the personal values - those which individuals cherish:
- life - the supreme value perhaps and often related to quality of life
- quality of life - qualities which make life worth living
- liberty - freedom to do whatever, whenever
- justice - receiving just desserts
- happiness - the sense of pleasure
- autonomy - self-determination
- safety - free from all manner of threats
- health - without physical limitation
- well-being - general sense life is good
- self-worth / dignity - one's life has value to others
- privacy - anonymity or the right to keep some aspects of life non-public
- morality - discernment of right behavior
Second are those values esteemed by societies or groups:
- equality - all members have the same opportunities
- egalitarianism - see equality above (more a philosophy of equality)
- social justice - the society conforms to standards of just desserts
- social harmony - everyone gets along
- societal welfare / well-being - community care
- upward mobility - ability to climb the ladder of success
- fairness - everyone is treated justly
- community / belonging - being accepted by the group
- rule of law - willingness to submit to legal authority
- democracy/democratic ideals - everyone has an equal voice
- progress / social progress - ability to achieve higher ideals or standards
- morality - group or corporate right behavior
Finally there values associated with governments, rulers and authorities:
- government legitimacy - recognized authority granted to the government
- security - duty of the government to protect citizens, lives, liberty and property
- (open markets - sometimes) - freedom to participate in the market place
- autonomy - freedom from outside interference
- duty of government - values arising out of the social contract; duty to protect citizens
- morality - right behavior of nations and governments
Notice, I have included morality in all three groups. Morality can be a relative concept but we can think of moral actions as those which are generally accepted as the "right thing to do". Very often when debates begin to explore the questions of whether groups, businesses, governments, etc. are moral agents the debates can get very interesting. Also, you should realize there is nothing firm about these groupings. A resolution which asks us to consider social or national issues, for example, may still require the protection of values pertinent to individuals.
Sometimes, the resolutions being debated will permit other kinds of values. For example, a resolution which narrows the debate to only the U.S. may permit the use of values which may be considered uniquely American, such as individuality, or any of the liberties granted by the Bill of Rights and Constitution in general.
The debaters must define the meanings of those values within the context of their cases so as to avoid any ambiguity. For example, justice is commonly defined as "giving each his due" but there are other interpretations of justice and so the debater must clarify what is meant when the claim is made that "justice" or any other value is the most important thing we must consider in the debate round. What exactly is the form of justice, or equality, or fairness to be considered?
Choosing ValuesHow should a debater choose a value? Indeed, this is not an easy question to answer for novices. Some times the resolution itself gives the answer. For example, "Resolved: Justice requires the recognition of animal rights" strongly suggests a value of justice; "Resolved: Targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool" perhaps suggests a value of morality. Usually the values of justice and morality are the most common values embedded in LD resolutions. There is nothing that says you must use the explicit value in the resolution, but if you are novice and you struggle with picking a good value, then why not go with it?
If the value is not so obvious, consider the scope of the resolution. Does it deal with individuals, societies or governments and then consider any of the values categorized above. For example, "Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need" would expect a personal value since it deals with individuals; "Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence" suggests a societal value, though it may support a personal value; "Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons" suggests a governmental value.
Building On ValuesI suggest doing some preliminary research, and outline some contentions prior to deciding on a value. It's not a good idea to rely on your personal knowledge of a topic, in my opinion. Once you have a good idea of the kinds of arguments that can be authenticated with evidence, look at the values and see what kind of contention narratives can be constructed around the value. To construct the narrative, I will say to the debater, forget all the lingo, buzzwords and debate double-speak and just explain your contention to me. For example, with the resolution, States ought not posses nuclear weapons, a debater may say, "I found evidence which says, nuclear war a is serious threat to human health so if we can eliminate nuclear weapons, we reduce the risk of war and so we can protect human health. Therefore I think we can protect the value of life or health or security, or the moral duty of nations." Notice, in the example, based on the evidence, a very viable contention is set up by the debater linked to four possible values (life, health, security, duty of nations).
Continuing with the contention narrative, the debater may say, "I also found evidence that says nations which have nukes are more likely to be attacked with nukes so by getting rid of nukes we can increase national security, or protect lives". Thus somewhere in the intersection of the two contention narratives, common values begin to emerge and we see security and life as common values. Thus the debater, based on the narratives, isolates values which are common to all of the contentions and therefore, creates a value foundation for the case. Anytime you as a debater think, "I found good evidence", ask yourself, knowing this fact, what values can I defend? Soon, you should be able to put together a case narrative, with several contentions each supporting a common value. Then the real research and case writing can commence.
In part two of this series I will discuss the value criterion, the clash and how the judge views the round.