Distinguishing Distinctions

One of the things judges say frequently is that one side or the other had a chance to draw a distinction, often a round winning one, and that they missed it. When I debated, frequently I had no idea what these judges were talking about. Having judged for a while now I can see to a larger extent the importance of drawing distinctions and the major effects they can have on decisions.

Why do distinctions matter? I think the most important reason is that many debates are a combination of close/messy/difficult to resolve as a judge. Many teams focus almost exclusively on explaining their side of the debate, don’t clash with their opponents, or both sides drop crucial points that cannot be resolved. This is one of the reasons judge intervention in debate is oftentimes necessary to resolve two competing claims that haven’t been compared by the debaters. The reason distinctions are so important is that they give the judge a guide to resolving these issues. So here is a quick and dirty guide to a few basic types of distinctions you can make.

1. The No Link Distinction- this is a style of argument that tries to differentiate two similar or related concepts to try and point out why in a seemingly obvious link situation, one side is actually avoiding the link. A few examples of this:

-The aff reads a competitiveness advantage with a leadership impact and the neg reads a lot of multipolarity coming/good style heg bad turns. Here the aff could make an argument along the lines of “a multipolar world where the US is engaged globally is better than one in which the US is isolationist”. Basically they are drawing a distinction between engagement and leadership. The most common competitiveness internal link cards make the argument that when the economy declines public support for engagement evaporates -not that competitiveness is key to unipolar dominance by the US.

-the aff reads cap and trade and the neg reads  a Heidegger K of management. In response the aff could make the argument that there is a philosophical difference between management and stewardship (or conservation)- basically they would argue that management is an attempt to maximize the use of natural resources for humans, whereas stewardship is an attempt to limit human intervention into the natural environment. With some evidence to support it talking about Heidegger, this kind of distinction can be very helpful in differentiating the plan from their abstract link arguments.

2. The PIC distinction- this is basically where you explain your position in a way that it includes some of what the other team is saying in order to co-opt their offense. This can be used in a variety of ways, the most familiar of which probably being theory counter interpretations- arguments like “you only get 1 conditional option” etc. These have a lot of utility in other areas though, and this can be seen by just thinking about the utility of plan inclusive counterplans. You basically run a PIC to try and slice off a tiny difference between the plan and the counterplan in order to get a small net benefit- so apply that logic to other places

-Aff on T- think about how you could modify the neg’s interpretation in the smallest possible way to get your aff to be topical. Most affs take a different approach- they just find a random definition that includes them and turn it into their interpretation. This allows the negative to usually win the full weight of their T offense which makes it tough for the aff to win in a game of competing interpretations. Instead, think about what the smallest change could be to allow your aff to be topical- so for example if you were debating T “social workers” where you ran a healthcare case instead of reading a list that says “SS is XYZ” , try and find a definition that slightly expands on social workers- either a card that says medical professionals are classified as social workers or a card that says social workers are included in healthcare provided by medicare/hospitals etc. I think the reason people don’t do that is that they are often worried about whether or not the counter interpretation “competes” (at least the last 2 summers of lab kids I’ve had have been obsessed with this notion). They think if their definition isn’t close to the opposite of what the neg says then the neg will “permute” it and somehow win. This may be an issue beyond the scope of this post but I will say this- if your definition is the negs + something else, it is very difficult for them to perm because the only part to “perm” is the part that allows for the plan.

-Neg on framework- whether you are running a K or arguing the aff should defend a plan- using a framework that coopts some of the aff’s offense instead of one that is diametrically opposed to the aff usually makes winning easier because you coopt a good deal of their best arguments. One example of this could be representations kritiks. An argument I think is good is to argue that the negative should be able to question representations that are “central” to either the 1AC or the topic. The way I deployed this argument on the last topic I debated (china) was to say that the negative should get to question representations of China because that is the topic- so the brightline was you could exclude K’s that weren’t about China because they rightly traded off with topic education- but the aff should not be able to argue that they should not be responsible for the way they represented China since the whole topic was about how we should relate to China. These arguments can be made a lot better if you have a specific card about why reps are important for the issue you are debating, such as:

evelyn goh Constructing the U.S. Rapprochement with China, 1961-1974: From ‘Red Menace’ to ‘Tacit Ally’   p. 7-8 2K5

The key conceptual focus in this study is on discourses, rather than on ideas, belief systems, or ideology, because the former conveys more effec­tively the multifaceted process by which meaning is constituted by policy actors and by which policy choices are constructed, contested, and imple­mented. Discourses may be understood as linguistic representations and rhetorical strategies by which a people create meaning about the world, and they are critical to the process by which ideas are translated into policy in two ways!° First, they perform a constraining or enabling func­tion with regard to state action, in the sense that policy options may be rendered more or less reasonable by particular understandings of, for instance, China, the United States, and the relations between them.” Second, discursive practice is an integral element of sociopolitical relations of power.” As a key means of producing the categories and boundaries of knowledge by which reality is understood and explained by society, discourses are often deliberate and instrumental. In representing subjects and their relationships in certain ways, political actors have particular objectives and specific audiences in mind. Here, the focus on changing discursive representations of China and China policy in official American circles allows us to study in particular the policy advocacy process – within internal official circles, to the public, and to the other party in the bilateral relationship – in a significant policy reversal. Bringing to bear the understanding that the creation of meaning by discursive practice is an essential means of influencing political action, this book investigates the contested process by which the different actors and parties defined and redefined identities, generated new knowledge, and created new meanings in order to construct and maintain a new U.S.–China relationship. (it goes on but i cut it off here for this post)

So on this topic it could be fair game for the neg to K representations, but not eco doomsaying for example. Or the centrality test could be, what is central to the 1AC- so individual word K’s may be written off but k’s of dominant advantage claims like “US leadership is good” may be fair game. Obviously this is not a crystal clear brightline, so you would have to effectively debate that an issue was central or of great enough importance that it demanded critical inquiry.

3. Link differential- this is basically a question of how much link needs to be triggered in order to get the DA- and is that link a meaningful difference between the plan and the sq. The more broad/generic/trivial the link is, the harder it is to prove that there is a difference between the plan and the sq. this can come up in a variety of ways- in relation to uniqueness arguments, how the permutation effects it etc. The key here is setting up a specific comparison that brings a group of arguments together. Lets take one example- the states/politics strategy with a political capital disad. So the issues the aff has presented are the following

1. PC being spent on peace process now

2. Perm do both- shields the link

3. HC is passing now- its a social service – triggers the link.

The aff usually in the 2Ar debates these things in isolation, but what they should be doing is combining them into 1 more powerful voltron-esque style argument. Something like

The negative may be right that hte plan doesn’t shield 100% and that the magnitude of thier social service link is large- but the combination of these arguments dooms them. If its true that passing a social service that all 50 states just passed would be sufficient to spend the capital that triggers the disad- its impossible that health care and the peace process wouldn’t already be triggering the link. While the peace process may not trigger their social services link as the 2NR argues, it is still a massive investment of capital- much more so than the plan. And if any social service triggers their generic link, health care should be doing that. It’s inconcievable that cap and trade can weather the storm of these 2 issues and still pass, but the permutation would destroy it.

One thought on “Distinguishing Distinctions

  1. Hunter

    In my semester away from debate, I had mercifully forgotten the "permute the counterinterpretations" bullshit until this post reminded me of it and made me angry. Can you please devote an entire post to shooting this one down? Thanks.

Comments are closed.