Debate Telephone

I was reading this book on comedy writing and it had some chapter about how the reason most people aren’t funny is that they don’t really come up with their own jokes, they basically just re-hash jokes people wrote a long time ago that they have seen before. Since the majority of humor is based on surprise, these recycled jokes lose some of their impact with each retelling. On top of that, the more times a joke gets told by different people the more of its original meaning gets lost and the less funny it becomes.

This got me thinking about how arguments/strategies work in debate and a few thoughts came to mind.

1. The college case list- is a great resource to get cites/ideas for arguments. A lot of times though someone will take 2-4 cards they got off their and call it a day without actually putting in the work to try and make a file. This can sometimes work- a quick 2 card add on can win you a debate. But the more complex or research intensive arguments this is a terrible strategy for a few reasons

A. You will have no idea what you are talking about- this is particularly true for K arguments- you generally have to read the whole article if not several articles and a book to rap your head around a philosophically sophisticated argument. Just cutting and pasting in the requisite paragraphs from the 3 card shell on the casebook won’t give you the knowledge to explain your 1NC a lot of the time- and certainly won’t teach you how to respond to likely 2AC arguments or specifically apply your generic K to their specific aff.

B. They debate a different topic- while the cap K may spillover to both, and any other topic, most often you will need to find specific link arguments to really make your argument apply. Even if its something like a generic heg K a lot of time the arguments won’t be applicable. I judged a debate earlier in the year where the aff read a soft power adv with a sort of international coop key to solve climate change/prolif etc laundry list impact. The 2NC got up and read a huge link block with specific cards about Kagan, hard power, conventional superiority etc. The 1AR grouped it and said “no link, we don’t boost hard power”. Just kidding- obviously the 1AR didn’t go for no link but instead read a bunch more generic heg cards and said they were impact turns, but he SHOULD of grouped it all and just said no link…

C. I actually saw someone read a k pilfered from the case book where the college team hadn’t written in their full tags- and the neg just read them, nonsense lists of words like “nuke discourse agency alienation genocide”.  You should follow a rule whereby if you can’t understand a piece of evidence enough to write a complete tag, you probably shouldn’t be reading it.

Solution- this problem is simple, what you should do is try and write complete files and not just piece a few cards together on an issue. Obviously there are time constraints and sometimes you only have 20 minutes to cut cards on 10 issues etc. But the process of crafting a complete argument where you go through the process of reading a good chunk of the literature base, craft nuances, write and revise blocks etc. will make you 100X more effective when you go for that argument. Even if you are the only person doing work, if you went to 8 tournaments a year and only did 1 neg assignment for each of them by the TOC you would be a stone cold killer on 8 generics all of which you could go for at any time- think about how terrorizing that would be to the aff team you are debating. Think about how totally irrelevant it would be if they read a new case, new advantages, had a sweet coach etc. That last part is particularly important and it is how I learned to deal with bigger squads/better coached teams in high school- no matter if the other team has some kind of Heidt/Repko/Matheson coaching staff of the gods they still only get 30-40 minutes before the debate to talk to their kids. If they have to prepare for 8 things that means they only get 5 minutes to talk about each, and the kid then has to keep all that crap straight about 8 different arguments, highlight all the cards etc. Its an impossible burden for teams who are coach dependent. Whereas when you have 100 crappy arguments, they may only spend 2 minutes getting their answers ready- but that is the SAME amount of time you spent getting it ready so there is no asymmetry.

2. Exaggeration- everybody does this. The debate telephone effect is hurt by exaggeration in a few ways like what do judges like/don’t like- when it gets passed down by 10 people to a young debater they are hopelessly lost as to how judges actually feel about issues. The worst way this happens though is debaters teaching debaters. It has to happen- coaches can’t be everything to everyone, so at some point kids are going to try and pass knowledge on to one another. There are any number of ways this process can get screwed up but the most common one is big fish stories that get passed around about what happened in X debate and how it worked. I heard these when I debated and thought “why would X person make this up, they have no incentive to, so it must be accurate, maybe I will attempt strategy Y”. It seems like good logic, but you can easily see how things get out of hand when you hear people talk about what happened in a debate that you watched and they didn’t. It usually goes something like this

-Really good Team A screws something up, and to compensate does something sort of smart

-Mediocre Team B doesn’t pick up on it and goes on about their business and loses

-Observer reports facts to another person “omg, they facecrushed team B despite under covering conditionality”

-3rd party discusses round with 4th party “Team A won even though they dropped condo”

-4th party asks “how” a question 3rd party doesn’t know the answer too, so 3rd party hypothesizes “the judge said they would never vote on it”

-4th party retells story to 5th party with 3rd party’s hypothesis now inserted into the story as fact

-5th party debates in front of same judge and drops condo confident it won’t be voted on

Oops. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but consider that it goes on 10 times a tournament, 50 tournaments a year, for the last decade. Now you have near infinite amounts of information floating around out there that are all wrong. The internet makes this even worse- typing is such hard work that people “boil down” everything- stories, explanations etc. so that what ends up getting read are absurd simplifications and wild misnomers. Read any long thread on that other debate site and just look at the number of people who chime in with advice who, as evidenced by what they say, should probably be doing less typing and more thinking through.

Solution – you should rigorously question everything. Even things you read here (at least that are written by Roy/Batterman). Unless you can answer the “why” question you should not accept an argument, strategy, or debate convention. The best way I have found to think things through is imagine a debate. So you read online someone says “5 minutes of no neg fiat is a tuss 1AR strat”. Think about: what would I say for 5 minutes on no negative fiat? Cant fill that much time- that is sign 1. Then think ” how would the neg respond to 5 minutes of no neg fiat?”- they would prob kick the CP and extend all the crap you dropped. Then- can I make no neg fiat a VI? How?

Maybe your answers to those questions will be different from mine and you will decide it sounds like a smashing idea, well then you are sorted- at least you have thought it through.

3. Reporting judge comments to your coaches- this is pretty important. No one fills out paper ballots anymore, so they only way your coaches know what you need to work on is if you accurately write down judge feedback and report it. Usually this process breaks down pretty quickly. Even if you don’t agree with what the judge is saying its important to write it down so that you can both report it to your coaches, and also so that if you have that judge again you can use it. I know people who would lose the same debate in front of the same judge repeatedly and not get that while in their mind they kicked ass that the judge saw things differently- they didn’t just flip a coin and decide to screw you the first time.  You may think you are perfectly clear, but when several judges express that they feel otherwise its time to take not and ask your coach how to work on getting clearer.