The BackgroundWith the exception of Congressional Debate and NFL Nationals, the high-school, competitive debate season in our state has officially ended. Fortunately for the rest of you, our state tournament, though it began the last day of February, debated the March topic. Typically, I serve as a judge at our state tournament and will often jump categories between Policy, Public Forum, and Lincoln Douglas. This year, I judged Lincoln Douglas exclusively. Typically, the cases this early into a new topic tend to be under-developed and vulnerable and certainly I saw several examples of this even at this level of debate consisting of the best and brightest from our state. Every year, the state tournament will be the first time competitors will debate the March topic and it gets ugly, but every year we still manage to see some excellent debate from those most prepared and skilled.
The Value FrameworkAs can be expected the most common value debated on both AFF and NEG was justice, defined several ways. Most common was the default Aristotelian definition, "giving each his due". A few alternate formulations of justice were variants of Rawlsian philosophy and some seemed to be "made-up" to serve the case being debated. Amazingly, despite the variations of definitions for justice, debaters tended to accept the meanings and if both sides were valuing justice, the debate centered on the criterion only. In two rounds, Affirmative debaters chose the value of morality (or moral duty) and this was the only time I saw clash over the value portion of the framework. In the morality versus justice debates, the moralists claimed justice cannot be achieved without moral behavior while the advocates for justice argued that morality was vague or not applicable to international actions.
The value criteria tended to be only slightly more diverse. There was a strong tendency on the Affirmative side to focus on human rights or autonomy at both the personal and national level. Human dignity was often coupled with human rights and was supported by contentions dealing with dehumanization and cultural imperialism. On the Negative side, utilitarianism themes were seen in several cases coupled with social contract theory and duties of governments to protect citizens, aimed mainly at corrupt or illegitimate states. Also, on the Negative there were several cases protecting human rights and again, arguments are made that political conditions serve to mitigate or solve the humanitarian crises arising from illegitimate governments.
The ObservationsMany debaters presented observations aimed at limiting the scope of the debate. Probably the most popular observation was the debate should only consider the actions of governments and thus excluded aid provided by NGOs. In nearly every case, observations were given by the Affirmative side. A notable observation made by a Negative debater was the claim that refusal of political conditions does NOT mean, limited but sufficient aid will not be given. This was interesting because often Negative debaters were forced to defend themselves against the claim that if the recipient government rejected the political conditions, aid would not be given.
The Affirmative ContentionsThe contentions for the Affirmative are mainly related to the harms of political conditions (PC). For example, PC is coercive and violates autonomy. While it may seem the obvious rebuttal, states still have a right of refusal, the Affirmative will argue the choice forces a decision between life and death and so there is no real choice. States are thus coerced into accepting the PC in order to survive. Another very common argument is that PC only benefits the giver and coupled with this is the idea suffering individuals are used as a means to achieving the ends of benefits for the giver. Interestingly, this argument was used to support not only the morality value but also was common under the value of justice. Another common theme on the Affirmative linked coercion or means-justified actions to formulations of dehumanization or imperialism.
The Negative ContentionsThe Negative contentions took two tracks. As expected, it was argued that unconditional aid fostered conflict and often failed to reach the intended victims and, of course, it was argued PC solved all of the harms, both in the near and long term by influencing lasting changes. Claims of increased efficiency and effectiveness are prevalent, meaning more aid gets to the affected through PC. The all or nothing scenarios setup by Affirmative debaters did cause problems from some Negative advocates.
The AssessmentThe debates were generally balanced but I found I voted 3-2 in favor of Affirmative during the preliminary rounds. Quite often, this resulted from the fact the Negative debaters tended to contradict themselves or more commonly failed to provide solvency links or links to their framework. I had the opportunity to sit on judge panels for an octafinal and quarter final round and in both rounds I voted Negative. As expected, the level of debate in the break rounds was excellent and cases tended to be much tighter with good warrants and links. In one break round I voted Negative when the Affirmative value of morality narrowly focused on the responsibility of individuals toward other individuals and the moral obligation to relieve the suffering of others. It was a compelling case but lacked any mechanism to ensure that merely attempting to fulfill one's moral duty (as in the drowning child scenario) would succeed in alleviating suffering. This was offset by the Negative's well warranted contentions which showed empirically how PC aids the suffering. The second break round was one of the best Lincoln Douglas debates I have seen in a while in which a justice/human rights framework was challenged by a justice/liberty framework. The framework clash, favored the Affirmative in that I felt that liberty was subsumed by the broader criterion of protecting human rights however, the Negative very early built a case for evaluating the round on a framework which asked the judge to determine which side does the better job of protecting or maximizing human rights. In the end, I concluded it was the Negative.
Good luck debaters.