Some thoughts on permutations

One thing that has annoyed me a lot recently is the proliferation of a million rapid fire permutations in the 2AC. These things work because oftentimes the other team won’t here them all, or the judge will allow the affirmative to clarify later in the 1AR/2AR what the 3 words said in the 2AC meant and how that avoids the net benefit. So I’ve put together some thoughts on how judges should evaluate permutations and how debaters should respond to them.

Some thoughts on Judging permutations

1. The permutation is really the only argument in debate that judges require no explanation about whatsoever. Even topicality, if extended without an explicit voting issue, judges will have no qualms ignoring. Permutations on the other hand, are just assumed to be important without any impact analysis by the aff at all. Conditionality bad- you have to explain why the negative running a conditional counterplan is illegitimate. That a counterplan has to be “competitive” and that a 3 word argument can prove that it isn’t is just generally assumed. It may seem silly to require the aff to explain why a permutation matters, but the system we use now is clearly broken. Judges default to thinking that it is the neg’s burden to prove both A. the permutation is illegitimate and or links to the net benefit and B. that the net benefit to doing the CP alone is meaningful/outweighs a solvency deficit. In a certain sense, this being the neg burden is reasonable. But when combined with the fact that the average permutation is < 10 words, and that judges give the aff serious leeway in explaining what “do both” means in later speeches this burden is entirely unreasonable. One or the other needs to change. Either

A. there needs to be an expectation that a permutation requires a certain level of coherent explanation before it becomes an argument


B. The presumption should be negative that the perm is illegitimate/links to the net benefit until  the aff makes an argument as to why it isn’t/doesn’t.

2. If you were unable to flow the text of the permutation because it was so short/fast and the debater moved onto the next argument so quickly, don’t credit it as an argument. I have been on quite a few panels recently where the judges didn’t get the perms in the 2AC, had no idea what argument the 1AR extended, and then voted aff after an OK 2AR because the neg didn’t do a good job explaining why the CP was competitive. Now granted, the neg could have been more aggressive in saying “this isn’t a coherent argument” or they could of asked in CX, but why is that their burden? I don’t think on any issue other than a permutation would the neg be given this kind of leeway.

3. A ridiculous/illegitimate counterplan should not lower the threshold for voting on a permutation. Some CP’s, say consult, are ridiculous. Lopez is another good example. Their ridiculousness doesn’t necessarily stem from their lack of competition. A well worded lopez CP text that bans the plan correctly is undeniably mutually exclusive. It is still ridiculous because it creates a new fake federal government and has that federal government do the plan. It should be defeated easily by the aff on a theory argument, not a permutation. Many people I have judged with however view a bit of neg fiat egregiousness as carte blanche to vote on awfully explained permutations that just don’t make sense. Obviously you can judge however you want, and if you want to write in your JP that is how you work fine, but no one does. Not explaining that you do and then judging this way is about as legit as lopez.

For 2ns

1. You should all write the following blocks

-short unexplained/vague perms are illegit

-presumption on perms should go neg as a meta level fw- including its aff burden to prove legit/avoids nb

Together they should take about 25 seconds to read. Reading these every round you go for  CP and the 2AC does the 3 perms in 2 seconds strat will save you from untold headaches later.

2. think about/plan for how to handle it in the 2NR when the 1AR radically changes/develops a permutation. Most 2N’s just say “this is new reject it” and move on, which isn’t enough for most judges. You need to think through a well explained objection to what happened, and then think about how you are going to answer it substantively. An example of this is with any agent CP and timeframes for when different agents act. A classic aff shenanigan is to just say “do both” in the 2Ac and then in the 1AR make a series of arguments about how different response times from different agents mean that the perm is something other than immediate simultaneous action by both agents. This has been going on for the last 2 decades, and yet few coaches/debaters spend time thinking about these issues and how to deal with them in the 2NR. Remember the permutation is always going to be the most threating argument from the aff- both because of its actual utility and the importance judges attribute to it.

10 thoughts on “Some thoughts on permutations

  1. Layne Kirshon

    i have done this in the past and i was wondering if you think it's strategic – if you're reading like a states CP or some CP that is not a jive conditions/consult/xo/pic/etc cp that doesn't include the possiblity of doing anything including the aff if the 2ac makes like a slew of perms to just say

    "the only legit perm is perm do both which links to the NB – any other perm is sev, intrin, or a TF perm which are bad [explain]"

  2. Sahan

    Parli had the same problem but lately "Perms must have texts" became the norm. Instead of "do both" teams would say "perm: and " If a team put out a slew of perms that didn't have real texts the block can/would just rant about texts = precondition for precision/stability There is also a reciprocity requirement, negs cant say "congress will do plan" as their CP text, instead teams spend some time coming up with the right wording (or they used to) and affs should be held to a similar or equal standard.

  3. anon

    i guess my only concern is that, as a 2a, when the neg reads 3-5 counterplans, having to read sentence-long permutation texts takes up a chunk of time. it also turns into a pretty good time trade-off for the neg. especially if the cp text is super long or multi-plank, it is a big time investment for a time-pressed 2ac. even if people stop making frivolous CP perms, when it comes to the K, people are going to want to continue making 3+ perms to guard against shadiness in the block. this means that if someone reads a 3 card K with any real alternative, the 2AC *has to* slow down and restate the plan text plus whatever else at least 3 times. maybe these are all reasons why conditionality is bad, but for every one time conditionality bad wins a round there are ten where reading these long perms would hurt the aff.

  4. Kevin Hirn


    He's not saying that a permutation has to restate the plan and counterplan text.

    Permutation: do both – this shields the link because (short explanation)


    Permutation: do the plan and the ____ plank of the counterplan – this shields the link because (short explanation)

    These aren't going to make a 2AC impossible. If the negative reads five counterplans, you probably have bigger problems besides ten-second permutation arguments. Also, you should be going for conditionality.

  5. Sahan

    actually in most parli rounds you would have to say the whole plan text and whole counterplan text to pull off a perm do both (saying perm: do plan and the ___ plank of cp would probably be fine in most rounds but teams will use their CX to get a full text — mostly to stop the 1AR from changing after the block) then again you would never heard 3-5 CP's in parli (shorter debate format –> single advocacy debate) however the point is fair. if i were in a parli round and someone read 3-5 CP's and i didn't want to go for theory i would come up with two good permutations that capture the NB's of some of hte CP's then turn all the other NB's.

  6. Robert

    @ Scott
    As a 2n, should you attach a reject the team (b/c accountability I guess) voter when you are addressing the legitimacy of the permutation? It seems like the 2a will simply take the time skew and not go for that specific perm.
    Also, back to Batterman's (I think) discussion about multi-plank CP's, is the 'perm: do the plan and all combinations of the CP' equally objectionable to the blippy perms you mentioned in your post?

  7. sb

    @ Robert

    Rejecting the team makes no sense. There is no threshold for when a perm is "blippy", and rejecting the perm is the only logical solution to your argument. You wouldn't reject the team for not explaining a "no link" argument on a politics da, the same applies to tests of competition. The 2ar inevitably has more time than the 2nr, if they went for the perm they would be "time-skewing" you on the other arguments they didn't go for.

  8. Shane Stafford

    I have been suggesting that the 1NCs add a short amount of framework to their cplan. Perms need to be written out and maybe some of these standards at the bottom of the Cplan. Argue the 2AC must answer the perm standards. Especially the idea of adding some of kind of reason why the perm is better. None of these standards add a great deal of pressure to the 2AC, just require them to make a good argument.

  9. Kyle Deming

    @ Robert
    There's also something of a danger to attaching blippiness voters to permutations. Most of the reasons slews of terrible permutations are bad (underdevelopment, time skew, argumentative responsibility) are also reasons multiple conditional worlds/CPs are bad. You're not necessarily going to lose the conditionality debate because of it (because none of the reasons are terribly persuasive), but it can give your 2NR a headache.

  10. CJ Clevenger

    I over the last year, have gotten more "picky" on what I accept as reasonable arguments on perms. I think that while there does not need to be a "text" to the perm, I agree that there needs to be an explanation to the argument (although "perm: do both" does not pass the laugh test to be considered an argument in the traditional sense). I am a firm believer that if you are not explaining in the 2AC why the perm solves or avoids NB to the cp then those arguments are new in the 1AR, and the neg gets a ton of leway in developing new answers in the 2NR, to a new spin (inevitable) from the 1AR about what the perm actually does.

    I don't buy the argument that it takes too much time for the 2AC. Really? Trust me, the slew of other bad arguments that you make can be sacraficed for some clarity on an argument that you might actually go for. Gosh, it might actually force you to think about your 2AC frontlines and learning how to gernerate more "offense" in the 2AC when all too often you are playing defense.

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