Senin, 05 September 2011

Chapter 2: Hard/Soft Lines and Models.


The terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ in reference to a definition or model are an indication of how profound the change is that is being proposed. A very small modification to the status quo is soft, while a big change is hard. The status quo might be in terms of legal principle or in terms of people’s attitudes. Once you have determined the ‘strength’ of your line, it should be relatively easy to create your model (which is the subject of the next chapter).

Generally speaking these terms do not imply how difficult it is to argue for that level of change – since often it is easier to argue a ‘hardline’ rather than a ‘softline’ – but we’ll get to that later.

Example: For the topic “That this house supports euthanasia”, below are different definitions you might choose.

    Soft Line
  • Restricted to incredibly sick people, who are very close to death, and who have no hope of cure or a decent standard of living. Patients need the consent of multiple doctors and psychologists. Passive euthanasia only – deny food/medicine
   Moderate Line
  • Allowed to the terminally ill, who have very low standard of living and little-to-no hope of a cure.
  • Doctor & psychologist consent. Doctor assisted euthanasia allowed
 Hard Line
  • Available to anyone diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating or degenerative illness, whether physical or mental. Need a medical consent Doctor assisted or self-administered.
A smart team will stay somewhere between the moderate and the hard line in every debate, because it’s both the fairest thing to do, and is the tactically sound choice too.

Fairness: The problem with the soft line is that will virtually always fail both tests of a good definition. It will rarely be a contextually based definition or model, because a plan so close to the status quo would rarely be controversial enough to illicit serious media attention or public debate. Obviously in terms of the spirit of the motion, a soft line is highly unlikely to yield a good, complex debate with a range of important issues. It is by definition not particularly controversial, and therefore is a poor choice to debate (see “ultra-soft lines” in Chapter Six)

Tactically: A harder line is usually easier to defend because it is more philosophically consistent (coupled with the idea of “filters” that I’ll discuss later, you should never again run an inconsistent case), and more closely bridges the gap between the scale of the problem and the scale of the solution (see “The Problem-Solution Gap” in Chapter Six).


Also a hard(ish) line pushes you further away from your opposition, and that means you’ll need to argue why your model has more benefits, but is also the correct ‘norm’ by which this issue should be addressed (see Trends, norms and tipping points). The single biggest problem with running a soft line, is that you will run out of (smart) arguments. Just like with a truistic definition, it might seem like logically a truistic definition is best, but in terms of filling 6-8 minutes with intelligent analysis, it’s just impossible if what you are saying is simply, irrefutably true. So running a hard line means both teams will have a better debate, because they will both have the scope to make strong arguments, with sophisticated analysis. But don’t push this rule too far, or you’ll end up running ‘insane’ definitions… 

The extreme ends of the spectrum – the status quo and insane definitions.

 (1) Status Quo: simply put, the Aff should never run the status quo unless compelled to by the topic (which usually would mean it was a bad topic).

Oppositions can run the status quo, but there are several strategic factors that need to be weighed up before you make the decision to do it (discussed in Chapter Three).

Obviously the status quo is attractive to teams who are not well prepared for that particular topic. This is because any decent Aff will explain the status quo in their set-up before outlining their alternative and a smart (but ill-informed) Neg can use that information, but portray it as knowledge they had all along.

However this needs to be weighed up against the fact that the Neg do not in fact know much about the details of the status quo, and risk being caught out in a lie or misrepresentation of the status quo by the Aff. They also risk being made to defend alleged ‘harms’ (established at the start of the debate as the reason for having the debate in the first place) of the status quo which may be exaggerated or incorrect, but which the Neg team will not be equipped to refute effectively.

Conversely, if the Neg invent their own counter-model then there are pro’s and con’s.

The benefit of counter-proposing an original model is that will negate much of the Aff’s pre-prepared criticisms of the status quo. The downside is that an original model concedes that the status quo is a failure and therefore weakens the burden of plausibility (the likelihood based on current trends that their model will ever be implemented) on the Aff. In other words it’s more difficult to argue that the Aff’s new model wont work or will never happen, if the Neg’s own model is also novel and therefore vulnerable to exactly the same criticism. But since one side’s model is usually more ambitious than the others, weakening the burden of plausibility can be disproportionately beneficial to one team (usually the Aff).

Of course ‘plausibility’ is a relatively weak argument. All but the most ridiculous models must still be analysed as though it were viable through an ‘even if’ discussion (for example, proposing a hardline euthanasia model is almost impossibly idealistic when judged against the current norms and trends in society, but if you get hung up on that fact you will forget to engage in the debate!). 

(2)   Insane lines: Although hard lines are good, and usually there is a positive relationship between the ‘hardness’ of the case and its moral and practical consistency, there is a point at which this relationship breaks down. Past a certain point a definition or model stops being ‘hard’ and becomes insane.  

There a few ways to judge if your line is ‘insane’. The first is the laugh test. If the opposition (and audience) laugh when you propose the case, it’s usually a good sign that you have stepped across the line (it may be the way you explained the argument, but nevertheless it’s a good indication). Secondly, if anyone in the team feels seriously uncomfortable making the argument, then that’s a bad sign. Debaters should be flexible and willing to argue counter-intuitive positions, but if a reasonable person is offended or disturbed by your case, then you have a problem.

It’s fine to argue for things that are unlikely to happen, even things that are highly unlikely to happen, but you should think carefully before arguing in favour of something that is incredibly unlikely to happen.

The best test is to remember that the model is not the debate. Your model simply exists to clarify and focus the terms of the debate. If you are spending all your time defending the reasonableness of the terms of your model, then you have probably gone too far (or debating against terribly pedantic, inexperienced debaters).    

Using the previous example of euthanasia as a guide, the insane line might be; providing ‘suicide pills’, on request to any adult or child following the initial diagnosis of a serious medical problem, which they could use at their discretion. It’s just too far fetched.

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