Thursday, November 21, 2013

LD Cross-x for Better Rebuttals

Lincoln Douglas Cross X for Better Rebuttals

In Lincoln Douglas debate, the value framework is the most important part of any case.  It is a shame the values and criteria are often selected haphazardly by some debaters; pulled out of thin-air and loosely connected to the case.  One does well to remember, the framework is the structure which supports the case.  Having said that, it is also important to remember that since the value framework is critical to the case, it should be well defended and should be the target of your attacks. The defense of your value framework and the targeting of the opponent's framework begins in the cross-examination.  The guidelines I intend to enumerate in this article are not hard and fast rules.  They are suggestions, aimed specifically toward debaters who feel they need help deciding how to put together a cross-examination which exposes weaknesses or areas that can be exploited in the round while at the same time, gaining some concessions which can help one defend one's own case.

The Judge's Standards

Most traditional judges in LD will defer to the value frameworks when deciding who wins the debate and therefore debaters will see all kinds of statements in the ballots such as "..better upheld their value", "..did not defend their value", ".. no clash of values", etc.  If the judge finds no way to make a decision based on the value framework, which happens when neither side effectively debates about the values, then the judge will apply other voting criteria aimed at deciding which team won the debate at the contention level.  If there was no clash in the contentions, the judge may make a decision based on who delivered the best speeches or some other subjective criteria.  Obviously, the best thing that can happen is allow the judge to make a decision on more objective standards which is why you will want to spend more time making sure you effectively attack the opponent's value while defending your own.

Attacking the Value

There are four main ways to attack an opponent's value:

  1. Prove your value is greater than the opponent's value.  For example, if your opponent's value is life, and yours is liberty you may claim liberty is superior because a life without liberty is valueless. If the opponent's value is justice and yours is mercy, you may argue mercy is superior because it renders benefits on the least deserving.
  2. Prove your case subsumes the opponent's value.  When you subsume your opponent's value, you basically absorb it by showing the opponent's value is dependent upon yours.  For example, the value of justice may be subsumed by the value of fairness if you prove there can be no justice without fairness.
  3. Prove your case achieves the opponent's value as well as your own.  This tactic works best if you can demonstrate that you achieve the opponent's value better or maximize the value to a greater extent than the opponent.  Another way to win this clash is to show, you can achieve both values (the opponent's and yours) but the opponent cannot achieve your value.
  4. Prove the opponent cannot achieve her own value.  This is accomplished two ways.  Either the opponent's value criterion fails to achieve the value or the contentions fail to prove the value is attainable.

Attacking the Criterion

The criterion is supposed to be the method by which the value is achieved and it is usually the link between the case contentions and the value.  Often, debaters fail to understand the purpose of the value criterion and a little intense probing of the criterion will reveal that fact.

  1. Prove the criterion does not achieve the value.  For example, if the value is justice defined as giving each his due and the criterion is utilitarianism, you may point out the value is directed to individuals so how can a criterion of maximizing good for the greatest number achieve individual justice?
  2. Prove the criterion is not linked to the value.  The first clue the opponent may not have or understand the link is when the opponent's case fails to describe the link.
  3. Prove the criterion is not supported by the case contentions.  Assuming the contentions support the value in a way that is measured or determined by some means other than the criterion, the opponent's criterion is not linked and so, is unsuitable as a standard.

Attacking the Contentions

The contentions provide the justification for the case when examined under the lens of the criterion.  For example, the value of life is measured by the criterion of maximizing good health outcomes.  The link between life and health outcomes is good health outcomes arising from health checks and treatments result in lives being saved.  Contention one proves that mandatory immunization reduces the spread of disease which is a good health outcome.  Thus we see if good outcomes save lives, is reducing the spread of disease a good outcome? (Does the contention support the criterion?) If so, the contention works so you must directly attack the contention to disable it's application in the case.  This is done in several ways:

  1. Prove the contention is not linked.  Show it has nothing to do with the value criterion or the value or the resolution being debated. 
  2. Prove it is non-unique.  Show that the contention is not the only reason the claimed impact or effect occurs.  There are other reasons the same outcome occurs which has nothing to do with the contention.
  3. Prove the contention is factually untrue or contains flawed reasoning.  The claims of the contentions must be backed by good evidence or logic which directly supports the claims so expose unsupported claims.
  4. Prove it has no impact.  This is usually done with a standard impact calculus which questions the time frame (the impacts occur in the future - we could solve the problems before then), magnitude (the impact will only affect a small population of individuals or not be very severe), probability (there is very little chance the impact will occur).
  5. Turn the contentions.  This can be done by proving the contention will lead to some result other than the one claimed by the opponent or the impacts of the claim will have the opposite effect than the one being claimed.

An Attack Strategy

Having established the importance of attacking the value and elements of a case and enumerating ways in which that is done, we can describe an attack strategy as a top-down approach to undermining the opponent's case which works as follows:

  1. Attack the opponent's value using one or more of the methods described in the previous section on value attacks.  The aim is to devalue or subsume the opponent's value.
  2. Attack the opponent's value criterion using one or more of the methods described in the previous section of criterion attacks.  The aim is to show the unsuitability of the opponent's criterion to achieving the opponent's value.
  3. Attack the opponent's contentions using one the methods described in the section on contention attacks.

You may also see the top-down approach as a prioritization.  The attacks against the opponent's value will be of first importance, the criterion second importance and the contentions least important.  Quite often, debaters will place a high-premium on attacking the contentions while barely spending any time attacking the value framework even though the first thing the judge will do is look at the value framework when deciding who won the round.

Application to Cross-x

Having described all the ways a debater may attack the opponent's case we can now apply the attack strategy to cross examination with the aim of exposing the flaws in the opponent's case while trying to gain some concessions which support your case.  Two years ago, I wrote an article on cross examination (seen here) which discusses some general principles of cross examination such as the importance of engaging the judge, avoiding pitfalls, and preventing the opponent from dominating the time. There is no need to repeat myself here but I do want to emphasize the importance of asking questions that you are reasonably sure of the answer, or ask leading questions which state a conclusion, then ask if the opponent agrees.

Examine the Value

Make sure you know what the value is and how it is defined.  If you do not, ask but be careful the opponent does not take a long time to answer.  Perhaps ask the opponent to explain in her own words in one sentence.  Keeping in mind the various ways to attack the value as described above, and in light of your own value, begin to ask questions which will allow you to exploit the four kinds of attacks.  For example, your opponent's value is justice, defined as giving each his due and your value is morality defined as doing the right thing (perhaps measured by the categorical imperative).  Ask questions like, "should we value justice regardless of how it is achieved?", "can we harm others to give an individual his due?" "is it possible everyone can get what they are due but the outcome is not just?", "are other values greater than justice?", "can we kill to achieve justice?"  These questions are used to gain some concession that only moral outcomes are just but they are asked in such a way that you do not expose your value or criterion during the cross-x.  Depending on how these are answered it may be possible to later subsume the value of justice by claiming morality is needed to achieve justice or morality is a superior value since perhaps justice is ends based rather than means based.  If your value is already known -you are the Aff debater- you can be more direct, "can justice be achieved immorally?".

Examine the Criterion

As I have said, the criterion must achieve the value and if you expose a weakness it can be to your advantage.  Again, with the values stated in the previous example and assuming the opponent's criterion of maximizing societal welfare, first, make sure you know what "societal welfare" is and if it was not defined, ask for a definition.  Then, begin probing, "is maximizing societal welfare the only way to achieve justice?" "is justice achieved by maintaining societal welfare or must it be maximized?", "if people are used as a means to an end, does that maximize societal welfare?", "how does maximizing the welfare of a society achieve justice for individuals?", "must we maximize the welfare of every individual in society or just the majority in order to achieve justice?", "if the welfare of some is not maximized is justice achievable?"  In this series of questions, the aim is to expose possible flaws in the idea that something which benefits all of society provides individuals their just reward.  It also helps to understand the relationship between societal welfare and your own value of morality or criterion of upholding the categorical imperative. You may even try a more direct line of questions if you are Aff such as, "if we avoid using people as a means to an end, does that maximize societal welfare?" and "if people's actions are moral does that maximize the welfare of society?"

Examine the Contentions

The numbers and kinds of contentions can be endless, but they all should contain the basic elements of an argument; namely, claims, warrants and impacts.  Often it may be possible to show the claims do not link to the value criterion or lead to the value. Also, nearly every contention makes claims but the warrants and impacts often end up being weak or nonexistent and so you should exploit this fact.  One of the problems in dealing with contentions during cross-x is that often the opponent will cover the exposed weaknesses in later speeches.  Therefore, I think the best way to setup the contention debate is to expose the fact the opponent's case is missing important elements.  For example, instead of asking "what is the impact of contention one?" it is better to ask "So nowhere in your case do you mention the impacts of contention one, isn't that correct?"  Asking the leading question will allow you to inform the judge there are no impacts and at the same time allow you to deny the opponent the opportunity to provide impacts during the cross-x.  Questions like, "None of your evidence actually provides impacts, right?", "Nowhere do you explain how your contention one upholds your value criterion, is that right?" serve the purpose. For contentions which do include the basic elements of argumentation you should ask some questions which would allow you to leverage your attacks on the uniqueness, logic, or impacts.  For example, "could there be other causes for your impacts?", "what is the date and source of your evidence?" (in case you may be able to question its reliability, relevance or timeliness), "when will the impacts occur?", "how many people will be affected", "is it possible the impact can be avoided?" and so on.

One Caution About Values

There is one particular situation where you need to be cautious and that is when you and your opponent have the same value.  You do have to be mindful that your attacks on the opponent's value should not harm your position because you have the same value.  In these situations, you may need to shift your emphasis from the value to the criterion and focus on the opponent's inability to achieve the value or your ability to achieve it easier, cheaper, faster, more assuredly or to greater extent.


Remember, cross-x is purposeful questioning aimed at enhancing your position in the debate and while, yes, you do want to clarify things you don't understand or may have missed, the main thing you want to do is achieve some kind of concessions which will allow you to leverage their response in a rebuttal attack later in the round.  In my opinion, you must never lose sight of the fact, your ultimate goal is deprive the opponent of achieving their value and throughout the debate that should be the focus of your attacks even as you run down the flow from top to bottom. As much as possible, relate your rebuttals to the values and remind the judge of the concessions you gained, speech after speech.

These suggestions are merely guidelines.  Ultimately you need to work with your coach to develop cross-x skills because there are other techniques and styles which go well beyond your ability to ask good questions.  Your demeanor, conduct, appearance, and engagement with the judge also are very important elements which should not be overlooked.  Cross-x is an acquired skill.  The more you practice, the better you will be, but I hope that by applying some of the ideas expressed in this article, it helps you in a positive way.

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