Inevitably each summer when students are asked what makes a k different from a da one of the answers given is that a k doesn’t require uniqueness. This view is reflected in many debates I see where a team reading a k will respond to arguments about uniqueness by saying “duh, we are a k” and act as if that fixes everything.
The idea that k’s don’t “need” uniqueness relies on a basic misunderstanding of a few concepts I will now attempt to elaborate.
Let’s start with the distinction between problem solving theory and critical theory since as a concept it is like Zizek in 2002- so hot right now. Generally the way this distinction is used in debates is as a quick framework card and that’s the end of it. The idea that debate should be about critical theory and not problem solving theory, however, has some pretty substantial effects on the way judges should consider the debate. To use a small example, many teams reading the security K read evidence from the Copenhagen school or Critical Security Studies (CSS) authors. These two schools of thought interpret what it means to be critical security theory a little differently, but both make some similar criticisms of the traditional hegemony good aff/form of evaluation employed by judges in policy debate.
Assume a debate has evolved in the following way
1AC: Withdrawal from Iraq solves overstretch which is key to Kagan
1NC: Security K, nebulous genocide style impact
2AC: Nuke war o/w genocide- Bostrom
Here the negative has the opportunity to combine their promotion of critical theory with their arguments about uniqueness. Instead of saying “we don’t need uniqueness, there is no status quo” which is about as far as most teams get, they could make a string of arguments like the following:
1. Critical theory requires us to question current dominant structures, that doesn’t just mean the state. Traditional debate impact calculus that measures up the body count on each side is itself a hegemonic structure- it is not the only or inevitable way to resolve debates. Measuring hypothetical future wars is not a value neutral instrument- it is a specific way of making decisions that has been crafted to reify existing security structures. Preoccupation with hypothetical military conflicts sustains the military industrial complex by creating an underlying reservoir of fear that can be tapped into at any point to justify aggressive foreign policy decisions .
2. The 1AC depiction of the world is not an objective “status quo” that we have to defend- its a political construct. They took the best quotes they could find to construct a worst case scenario for strategic purposes- our critique pulls back the curtain on their project of producing reality. The 1AC advantage doesn’t exist as something that can be evaluated outside of the project of security- to say impending conflict necessitates action is to allow tunnel vision to defend itself. Even if they are right urgency does not require replacing methods that work with those that don’t.
3. The alternative is a different way of making decisions that resists dominant security narratives. Instead of focusing on security as the well being of the nation state, security should be conceptualized as individual emancipation. Instead of voting for the team that hypothetical prevents the biggest atrocity, you should adopt the epistemology of the team that best resists oppressive security structures. In this kind of calculus we don’t have to win we “outweigh” the affirmative advantages because they aren’t a relevant concern- your ballot should address a prior question.
These 3 arguments combine to paint a picture that demonstrates why the negative should not have to “defend” the status quo as described by the affirmative, but it does so through argument not theoretical sleight of hand.
Argument 1 is basically the warrant made in most k of nuke war impact cards (like most structural violence impact claims for example). The idea here is that the language of war and conflict, and the way it has become normalized, makes it easier for certain groups to successfully advance their agenda. The classic example of this is probably education vs military spending. During the cold war fixation on potential nuclear war with the Ruskies funneled tons o’ money into the military/nuclear weapons complex while spending on education dwindled. This didn’t happen the way it would happen in a debate- where one side got up and read an education 1AC and the other side read a DOD tradeoff da and shell 82, but that’s not as far off the mark as you might think. In reality policy makers were forced to make choices about how to allocate finite resources, and while there were certainly many factors in play, the idea that military confrontation posed a more immediate existential risk was certainly one factor that boosted military budgets. The rhetoric of catastrophe being viewed as the most important more easily lends itself to use by certain interests, and those interests in turn have a stake in making sure that rhetoric continues to be the most feared/respected.
Argument 2- one of the things that always makes me shake my head about people who think representations critiques are illegitimate is that, fundamentally, if the aff can defend that their advantage claims are true they should crush these critiques each and every time. And if that is the standard- that shouldn’t be that hard. You get infinite prep to pick the advantages you read/defend so you should be able to pick a good one and be ready to defend it. In reality advantages are chosen for a variety of reasons, a major one being strategic utility, and this strategic imperative is what makes the reps k so effective. It drives the affirmative into more and more radical impacts less based on social science data or empirical research and more based on ideology and inflammatory rhetoric. Some of the classic impact cards for common affirmative advantages come from authors who over the last 20 years have made hundreds of failed predictions about how international affairs would work, and against these kinds of evidence the security k actually makes a good bit of sense/is easy to explain. If the affirmative chooses to read an advantage constructed from sources like that, the argument that you don’t have to “defend the status quo” is really an argument about how to assess probability. Since “these people are crazy, ignore them” doesn’t sound as good, you can use the language of critical theory to explain it in a more tactful way.
Argument 3- this has become a big pet peeve of mine, but when your k isn’t about the plan it doesn’t make sense to explain your alternative as a counterplan. Think of this conversation
Roy: lets go eat at X
me: i’m not hungry
roy: what is your alternative
me: lets go to fogo
This exchange is nonsensical. My objection wasn’t about where we were eating, it was about whether I wanted to eat at all. Similarly, when you say “your depictions of Afghanistan are objectionable”, to describe your alternative as a sort of counterplan with an agent doesn’t make any sense. You aren’t “countering” the 1AC plan, so you don’t need a counterplan. You are indicting their way of describing or imagining the world, so your alternative should be a…. wait for it… different way of describing the world. Or if you are critiquing their impact framing, then you can offer an alternative way of impact framing. This also should pretty nicely deal with dumb questions like “can the plan be done in a world of your alternative” which are totally pointless and stupid because they miss the point. The alternative isn’t a different “world”, its a different way of describing the same world. Stop worrying about whether or not your plan “can be done” because the debate isn’t about your plan. Think of it this way
Bad K debate
Aff: Hegemony promotes peace cause rogue states are dangerous
neg: hegemony is violent and ethnocentric
aff: can you do our plan, which boosts hegemony, in a world where you think hegemony is bad?
neg: uhh, well, we don’t take a stance on that… we don’t fiat that the plan is done but, we don’t like, ban the plan either if you know what I mean
Mediocre K debate
neg: the affirmatives hegemony advantage is based on several flawed, ethnocentric assumptions about how the world works
aff: u do plan?
neg: our fw says the plan is totally irrelevant, so you are asking the wrong question
Good K debate
neg: 1AC ir depictions are not natural but politically and historically contingent- their reps should be rejected because they are wrong and emp this kind of predicting has lead to conflict in Iraq
neg: we didn’t critique your plan, we critiqued the justifications you offered for the plan. If you would like to argue that a good plan makes up for dumb reasons for doing the plan have at it, but since we are critiquing your advantage reps our alternative is a different way of looking at the world/interpreting events
but then they could say…
Aff: but that was a nuanced argument, we wanted a simple yes/no here
neg: the alternative does not include the plan
and what about
aff: and who is the agent of this different way of looking at things
neg: well, again, your question presupposes a “plan of action” in the traditional debate sense which we are not arguing about, however in the sense that you (the aff) are the “agent” of the 1AC representations (you assembled them/read them), the negative would be the agent of the alternative way of viewing things
Aff: well then, permute- do the plan and the different way of viewing things
neg: this is silly, its like saying “perm do the plan and heg bad” after we impact turned your advantage, it doesn’t make any logical sense or rise to the level of a basic rational thought.
More questions the aff might pose? Post them in the comments.