Defining Social Services

Many debaters are under the misguided notion that the resolution has some objective meaning. Either you are a policy debater and you think the topic provides a set of core arguments/cases to debate about implementation of a government policy, or you are a K debater and you think the topic is objectively nonsense. Few people understand just how malleable debate resolutions are.

Focus on that word- malleable. Thats a term from metalurgy – it literally means how something can be hammered out. In debate this means that what the resolution means is not fixed- it is hammered out. What that means is that teams literally create the topic by pounding on others- either by reading a certain set of cases or by going for topicality against a certain set of cases to exclude them. The skills and preperation of individual teams establish the bounds of the topic. A few examples

  1. DADT – this has never been topical on any high school resolution in the last decade, yet it has been a hugely popular case on all of them.
  2. Alternative energy includes nuclear- no, no it doesn’t, and yet somehow this year it did thanks to a minute long T contention in the 1AC
  3. Any and all subsets args (must be throughout the US, must be all kinds of energy, must be all SSA etc)

Going into the summer, people should be aware that a lot of this topic shaping process occurs over the summer. A few general comments before moving onto the specifics of social services:

1. The way high school topicality has developed over the last few years is troubling to me. Basically, dheidt does a T file, and then his legions of minions all fall into line and then its just kind of agreed that its the topic because Dave said so. Many people have various problems with this, but my problem with it is particularly nit picky: The T arguments that Dave produces are usually hyper technical. By hyper technical I mean derived from experts in the field who are very knowledgable about the issue (poverty) but NOT knowledgable about the topic mechanism and the way high school debate works. The end result is that everyone is convinced to be topical you must do X and not Y- the problem being there are no good affs that do X, all the good affs do Y. Examples

-T end strength- outside of the increasing 100k troops, no aff ever really had a defense of legislatively increasing the number of people being allowed to serve because that is not how most of the national service programs work ( I am not counting the peace corps just cause that one card was like “we need 50k hippies). The end result is that thousands of high school debates were won on a T argument that would literally ruin the topic and make aff wins virtually impossible

-T Pos- this interpretation does not make any sense for creating a fair and balanced debate topic even if technically many economists do not think negative incentives should be counted. It does not make sense because there is very little literature to sustain a federal positive incentives case vs the slew of crappy /abusive negative strategies. It is a fact that there is 10-20x the literature base supporting “negative” incentives and would therefore be better to debate. When RPS is not “topical” on a promote alternative energy topic, that should be a sign.

(Dear commentors, I will ignore any and all “zomg T pos was sweet ur a newB” responses as it is not the overall point of this to debate the merits of T Pos)

The reason these arguments take flight is because Dave does them up right. By right I mean

-The ev is good

-There are blocks/overviews

-he finds impact cards- like cards that say unlimiting the definition of incentives is bad, there are too many incentives etc.

These are all good things. But when people see this they should think “so THIS is how you write a T arg, ok, now I will go and model this and write 2-3 T args myself that have similar cards”. Instead what they think is “Game set and match, T work ¬†for the season is all done… wonder if the journal of Nietzche studies has any new articles this month…” Just because someone smart makes a good T argument, does not mean it is THE T argument.

When I first started going ot debate camp in about 5 BD, I went for T for 8 minutes in the 2NC in one of my practice debates vs basically a huge aff on the topic that everyone was going to run that probably wasn’t technically topical. After the round my lab leader and I had the following exchange

him: why did u extend T for 8mns

me: well because they aren’t topical

him: whats that got to do with anything

me: ???

What he was trying to explain to me is that what is and is not topical is (first of all) subjective and more importantly not a major consideration you should have when deciding to go for T. Like anything else, the relative strenghts and weaknesses of your and their arguments should be what you consider, and if a case is big/lots of people read it etc- your T case will be very thin.

Now the relative advances in debate theory that occured in the years following (the rise to priminence of offense/defense) made that sentiment a little less on point. But the pendulum is swining back, and I think the days of technical debaters mauling people on T have probably seen their peak for a while. SSA and this years topic both got very broad towards the end as teams were less and less able to use T to hold back the tides.

So, this brings us to social services. My basic topic point is this: The technical definition of social services looks like it will be very narrow. Others can post cards in the comments or look at the free planet debate T file etc, but if you do any small amount of searches you will find that what constitutes a proper social service (let alone one for poverty) will be a very small subset of things. If we let the resolution be very strictly limited to these things, the topic is going to suck BIG TIME. The affs will stink, they will have terrible advantages, no federal key warrants etc. However, if we force people to accept a broader interpretation of social services the topic might be (semi) salvageable.

So my plea to you, in line with Roy’s work before/during summer post, is this: think broad. When at camp and chosing what affs to write or what T arguments to produce aim for broad and less limiting. The topic is much like the environemnt- its pretty screwed. We need to cope as best we can.

4 thoughts on “Defining Social Services

  1. Bill Batterman

    I have not yet done enough reading on the Social Services topic to comment intelligently about its scope, but I do want to point readers to a good article from the Debater’s Research Guide archives: “Limits – The Essence of Topicality” by Eric Kupferbreg (1987). Among other things, it advances an argument similar to Scott’s regarding highly technical field contextual interpretations.

  2. Layne Kirshon

    I feel like a solution to all T problems would be to collectively as a debate community chose to forgo debating the social services topic and rather debate the 1939 topic.
    1939 Resolved: That the United States should establish an alliance with Great Britain.

  3. campbellhaynes

    The 1931 topic is better:

    Resolved: That chain stores are detrimental to the best interests of the American public

  4. Bill Batterman

    The list of previous resolutions (high school/college) is indeed fascinating. Some of my favorites:

    Resolved: That the power of the federal government should be increased. (1941 high school) [It would be really interesting to see how this topic would be approached in today’s debate world.]

    Resolved: That Congress should be given the power to reverse decisions of the Supreme Court. (1959 college)

    Resolved: That the federal government should establish a comprehensive program to significantly increase the energy independence of the United States. (1978 high school) [This would have been a better wording for this year’s topic, I think.]

    Resolved: That one or more United States Supreme Court decisions recognizing a federal Constitutional right to privacy should be overruled. (1991 college)

Comments are closed.