Senin, 05 September 2011

Chapter 6 : Case Construction Tactics

If you have understood everything so far about how to choose the right definition, how to pick a good ‘medium-to-hard’ line and then how to construct good, analysis-rich arguments, then case construction is really just about how to bring all those things consider in a way that is consistent.

Most of you will be familiar will the ‘traditional’ case prepping method (brainstorm for the first 10 minutes, then compare notes to come up with a definition and a model… etc, etc) and that system is fine for beginners because it’s very clear, simple and easy to follow. But experienced teams don’t prep like that, and like training wheels, the sooner you gain the confidence to move on to a more sophisticated process the better. My system (explained in Appendix Three) is based around maximum communication between teammates and a truly collaborate process which is meant to help you be more creative when thinking up arguments, while simultaneously improving consistency amongst speakers (which is usually lacking in inexperienced teams, and is absolutely vital when debating strong teams).

In addition to having prep techniques that help you develop more innovative arguments, there are some tactics that you can employ to improve your team’s consistency and responsiveness to challenges. The first tactical decision to make regards speaking order and the second is a technique I like to call “filters” and then finally there is the issue of making tactical concessions.

In addition to those concepts, it is also vitally important that teams properly contextualise their cases – to not only explain the factual context of the debate, but to help build momentum for their argument, and set the tone for the debate. Three factors that are useful to contextualising a case are Trends, norms and tipping points, which will be discussed later in this chapter.

Speaking Order and Filters.
Speaking Order - It’s difficult to generalise about speaking order, because each team has its own strengths and weaknesses, but there are some things worth considering.

Ideally speakers should be capable of competently performing any of the speaker roles (even if most people have a favoured speaking position) and young debaters should set themselves the goal of gaining that level of flexibility and skill as soon as possible. Being able to speak in any position is crucial to developing a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of debates, which will improve your debating skills (through better understanding of tactics and case construction) and is also a crucial part of become an elite adjudicator.

All things considered equal it is my view that more knowledgeable person on a given topic should speak second. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, it helps with consistency – because the first speaker can be briefed on the issue in the prep and then because the 2nd speaker was the principle source of that information they should be well placed to avoid contradictions or inconsistencies as the case expands. Secondly this configuration gives the team maximum flexibility when responding to the initial attacks of the opposition. Since this person is the most knowledgeable on the issue, they are best placed to reposition the team following the opposition’s speaker.

I think this is a good rule for teams of all skill level, but especially for teams at the ends of the spectrum – very inexperienced teams and very experienced teams. Intermediate teams might find it more difficult to identify which speaker is the most knowledgeable, and speakers at this level might have limited capacity to be flexible in terms of speaking roles (whereas at the novice level speakers might feel more comfortable in a given role, but few would actually have a significantly higher level of competence in that role then they do in any other).

Of course a good set-up to a case is absolutely vital, and great care and attention should be given to a first speaker during prep to ensure that they are ready and able to fully explain all aspects of your definition and model. There is no point having maximum flexibility at second speaker if the case has been badly presented from the start. Again – all things considered equal – the most knowledgeable and confident person on a given topic should probably speak second.

Finally a note about speaking third; a disproportionate number of former high school debaters consider themselves to be ‘natural’ third speakers. That’s not necessarily a problem, and every good team needs a strong third speaker, but the reality of university debating is that in most cases, third is the last place to have your best speaker. Especially in 3-on-3 styles, the strength of the case and the sophistication of the analysis early on are absolutely vital, and if it’s not done well then a brilliant 3rd speaker will be unable to save that team from any decent opposition. Speaking 1st and even 2nd can seem daunting or even boring sometimes, but at this level a great 1st speaker is much more valuable to a team then a great 3rd.

Filters – A filter is simply a ‘test’ that you establish (either explicitly or just amongst your team mates) by which you will gauge your sides reaction to any question or argument raised by the opposition. So it’s a ‘guiding principle’ if you like, by which your team will navigate throughout the debate.

Applying a clear filter/s to your case has two benefits, the first of which is that it generates consistency – anytime the opposition ask whether your plan will include a certain group you will know immediately what the correct/consistent answer should be, even if you hadn’t considered it during prep.

Secondly, and this is especially useful when debating with very inexperienced speakers with which you need to spend a lot of time building up their understanding of the fundamental issues in the debate – filters give them clear boundaries and confidence when delivering rebuttal.

What are some examples of a filter in a debate? The topic “That intellectually disabled children should be taught in mainstream schools” was run at ADAM in 2005 and my team successfully employed a simple filter to keep our case clear and consistent –allowing us to defeat a team with a higher (average) level of experience.

The filter was simple and drew on the most obvious and relevant analogy – as the affirmative team, we set as our guiding principle that we would not accept any restrictions on intellectually disabled children, which is not the norm for physically disabled children.

With that in place my team could focus during prep on developing ideas and persuasive analysis (see Appendix Two). This meant that we didn’t spend much time thinking about the opposition’s arguments, but instead had a well-developed case.

During the debate we were challenged on issues like; violent students, severely disabled kids, specialty staff and upgrades to facilities to accommodate the intellectually disabled, and every time my team answered confidently and consistency – even though we hadn’t discussed many of those issues. We don’t tolerate extremely violent physically disabled children in the mainstream system, just we don’t put severely physically disabled kids in mainstream schools (but the vast majority are do get in) and we wouldn’t tolerate a child in a wheelchair being denied access to a mainstream school because the government didn’t want to pay for a ramp or a special aide teacher – so why apply different rules to the needs of intellectually disabled kids?

This is not to suggest that our case was flawless, or our opponent’s case had no merit, the point is that running every argument through a clearly defined filter keeps your responses consistent and relieves the stress on inexperienced speakers.

But can a negative team make use of filters? Absolutely they can and a good example would be the topic “That we should ban pornography which features violence or coercion” used in early 2006 in a MUDS internal comp.

This is a difficult topic for the negative team; you need to clearly establish what sort of pornography you are prepared to defend. Not everyone is knowledgeable about various kinds of hardcore pornography and it’s not an area where people will be easily able to think of examples and evidence. But the filter is fairly obvious, a smart negative would set as their test that we should only accept restrictions on pornography if the same principle was the norm for mainstream media. This gives the Neg a chance to spend their prep time preparing the best possible free-speech/pornography case they can think of, without worrying too much about how they will cope with the arguments that will obviously be raised by the Affirmative.

This filter deals eloquently with the issue of violence – dealing with it the same way as with other media – namely that it should be assessed, classified and if necessary access can be restricted (such as with R rated movies) but that’s not the same thing as a ban. However there is a limit to how much violence a mainstream movie can get away with, and it should be the same – so grotesquely violent pornography can be banned, but just like ultra-violent movies, this is a minority, and lots of violence is still allowed to be shown, and violent pornography shouldn’t be any different.

Just like the previous example, using this filter throws the onus back onto the opposition to show how the analogy is inappropriate – so in the first case they would need to show why intellectually disabled children cannot be treated under the same principles as for physically disabled children, and in the second case the Aff would need to show why pornography is so special that adults are unable to process it in the same way as they can watch violent action and horror movies without turning into serial killers.  It’s harder than it might seem! There isn’t always a convenient and simple filter for every case, but it’s a trick you should have up your sleeve because where appropriate it’s a simple but powerful tool. 
Tactical Concessions – Tactical concessions are in the same tactics family as filters – because in both cases the issue is knowing how to choose your battles. It’s not possible or advisable to try and rebut every argument made by your opposition – it’s always better to prioritise the arguments and focus on attacking the most potent ones your opponents made. But which arguments should let through? Well there are two answers to that – those that are weak/stupid, and those that can simply be conceded. Obviously weak or irrelevant arguments should be ignored if dealing with them was an unreasonable distraction from more important issues (although sometimes its worth pointing out quickly how stupid an argument is to discredit your opponents, but you’ll still only win the debate if you deal with their strongest points).

But the second option is to make a tactical concession. Basically is just admitting that you happen to agree with a proposition put forward by your opponents. Some people think it looks weak to agree with your opponents too often. I think that as long as you’re smart about it, then tactical concessions make you look reasonable and allow you to focus attention on the true areas of clash in the debate.

So when should you conceded? There are two rules to concessions – concede if you would like stupid otherwise, and concede if it makes an argument you can’t win go away.

So what are some examples? Well in 90% of debates both sides should agree with the existence of a problem (you can still strongly disagree with the proposed solution). In a debate about drugs, it would seem churlish to deny that there is a drug problem, or in a debate about ‘rogue states’ like Iran or North Korea, it would look silly to pretend that these states are not dangerous – but admitting that doesn’t mean that any particular course of action is automatically the right response.

The second rule is more difficult to implement. Conceding in order to make problematic arguments ‘go away’ (in other words, lose relevance in the debate) is a fine line. Often its better to concede that there is a moral imperative to act (in response to some sort of problem or situation) than it is to fight it. But be careful.

If you are going to defend the status quo, and an opposition is foaming at the mouth about how terrible the current situation is, then it would be a bad idea to concede that and then propose no change to the situation. But if both sides have agreed that there is a problem, and both sides think the status quo needs to change, then don’t let your opponents go on and on about how morally superior they are. Concede that there is a moral imperative to act, then remind the adjudicator that your side has a plan to tackle the problem and your opponents are really just wasting time talking about an issue that everyone agrees on.

Trends, Norms and Tipping points.
When building a case, the very first thing you should do is clearly establish the context in which the debate occurs. This entails discussing some of the factual circumstances that have led to the debate, but your case will be made more potent by developing a sense of urgency – a need to implement your particular policy now.

How can you do this? Well it’s critical to first understand the nature of the problem (see Appendix Two – step one) so that you can describe why something is a problem. But simply pointing out a problem is often not enough, to make the case really strong you need urgency, why should this plan be done now (especially if its something that has been debated many times before, like the death penalty, or euthanasia, etc). Well one part of the answer can be to point to trends, norms or tipping points.

Trends – The trends are the current direction of policy.

Following the terrorist attacks of 9-11 there has been a clear trend developing of governments passing increasingly restrictive ‘anti-terrorism’ laws (detention of suspects, intrusive investigation powers, increased penalties) in the name of public safety. It’s clear from the way that Australia has modelled some of its most recent ‘reforms’ on laws based in the UK, that there is a widespread trend emerging which is becoming a cycle of increasingly stringent laws.  

Some trends can be very broad, so since the early 90’s there has been a clear trend amongst Western governments to pursue economic policies based on ‘neo-liberalism’ (privatisation, reductions in trade barriers, deregulation of industry). That’s not to say that this process has been universal, but it clearly happening in the majority of cases and regardless of whether it is good or bad, it is the reality.

Maybe you want to propose a policy that would be a change to this trend, perhaps even reverse it. That’s fine, but it’s important to understand the trends because that will help you understand what sort of problems your proposal will be likely face.

It’s perfectly fine to use the development of a trend as the impetus for a policy. So you might say as part of your set up “there is a clear trend developing over the last decade for the United States to act militarily without the consent of the United Nations (Bosnia, Iraq, etc) and we think it is critical that we make reforms to the international system so as to encourage the US to act more multilaterally, and to strengthen the relevancy of the UN. We would do this by reforming the UN in the following way…

Or “As we have seen from the recent trend of massive corporations (World Com, Enron, HIH, etc) going bankrupt as a result of the serious mismanagement by Directors, we think its time to institute far harsher penalties for Directors who deliberately run companies into the ground. Therefore we will be proposing the introduction of laws to make Directors personally financially liable for acts of deliberate mismanage that they conduct…”

But equally there is nothing wrong with proposing a case which would be an extension of a current trend; you can use analysis a trend to add momentum to your argument. So for example;

“Over the last 10 years we have a clear trend emerging whereby parents are increasingly being given access to reproductive technologies as a means to better plan their families and ensure healthy babies (IVF, pre-natal genetic screening, etc) and so we think that it is the simply the next logic step to give potential parents access to the next generation of reproductive technology - which involves genetic manipulation of the foetus. Therefore we support a parent’s right to genetically modify their unborn child”.

This is an example of how you can use a ‘trend analysis’ to make something which is objectively very controversial, appear to be simply the next step along the path which society is already on. It is analysis that will form part of the core of your case -   genetic modification is not that different in terms of principle, from what we already allow (if we allow a foetus to be screened for genetic diseases which might lead to the parents making a decision to abort, then why not allow parents to use technology to ensure that the foetus is healthy in more ways than simply avoiding disease?).

If you can demonstrate that the relevant trends are pointing in the direction of your teams logic, then the task is that much harder for the opposition.  

Norms – Norms are closely related to trends, in that norms are the status quo, or what people are willing to accept now (the trend might be moving in any direction but at any given moment a particular position will be the commonly held ‘norm’).

For instance it is a norm in our society that citizens have equal rights. This seems simple enough, but it wasn’t always the case. Less than a century ago it was the norm (globally) for women to be denied the right to vote, just 40 years ago it was the norm in Australia for Indigenous people to be denied to right to vote. Since those times we have seen a growing trend towards greater equality but as it stands, the norm is that neither group has reached a position of full equality. The extent to which society accepts inequality is the ‘norm’, while the direction things are moving is the trend.

Norms can be highly culturally specific. In Norway and Japan many people view the consumption of whale meat as being little different to any other meat, but in Australia the norm is for people to view whales as worthy of special protection.

Norms can also be influenced by economic factors (poor and rich people can have very different ideas about norms) religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc.

It is important to understand norms for two reasons. Firstly it’s necessary to understand how ‘hard’, ‘soft’ or ‘insane’ a particular argument/model is (because this is largely based on how different people perceive your case to be from the norm). Secondly, at international tournaments norms are critical because your opponents and opposition will usually be from quite different backgrounds to you, and you need to understand what norms and assumptions they are likely to bring to the debate – not because you are constrained by those norms, but because you need to know how much analysis you will need to do to make a given idea seem plausible or reasonable. 
Tipping Points – A tipping point is basically what happens when a ‘trend’ gains momentum to the point where a major change is considered. Tipping points are important because they add weight and credibility to what might otherwise be seen as an unlikely or highly speculative outcome. So basically when you’re setting up your case you obviously want to make it sound like the plan that you are proposing is going to work - that people are going to be fairly willing to do it and that its going to have benefits. Sometimes this is hard to do – especially if you are arguing for something quite hardline. So if you can describe the situation – or the ‘problem’ of the debate – as being at a “tipping point” then you can give your case a sense of urgency and credibility. These are both powerful things to have on your side.

So what are some examples of a tipping point? Well they occur when a situation has reached a critical juncture – where policy makers are either forced to make a fundamental choice (should we abolish voluntary student unionism, or should be become a Republic) and there is really no ‘half-way’ point. Or maybe a series of events have quickly moved a situation forward, making previously remote options seem more plausible. Two recent examples of debates which somewhat unexpectedly reached a tipping point is abortion and the Israel/Palestine question.

Abortion was a bit of non-issue in Australian politics for many years, and with the conservative Howard government winning control of both houses of parliament, most people would have thought the issue would be largely ignored for the foreseeable future. But because of pressure by a cross-part alliance of MPs, there was a ‘conscience vote’ (effectively) on the legalisation of the abortion pill RU486. Immediately following that, MPs in Victoria’s parliament started agitating for a relaxation on legal restrictions to abortion under State laws and for a moment it looked like there might even be a cross-party Private Members Bill introduced to force a vote on the issue. That sort of series of related events could be said to be moving Australia (or Victoria at least) towards a ‘tipping point’ in the debate about abortion laws. Before the RU486 vote it would have been hard to imagine how the abortion debate could become a live issue in Victorian politics, but after the vote both the leaders of the major parties were forced to discuss it and state their positions. By the time of the November election the debate may well reach a ‘tipping point’ – and become an election issue…

The second example is the situation in Israel/Palestine. Until quite recently it was very hard to debate the situation in Israel because it was very clear (objectively) that Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat wasn’t that interested in signing a deal, and in any event the Israelis weren’t interested in offering Arafat one. So it was a stalemate and any team who tried to propose a solution to the conflict had a hard time making it sound even remotely plausible that the players involved would accept their model.

But then Arafat died and everything changed. The stalemate was broken and both sides started acting in ways that were almost unthinkable a year ago. The Palestinians held democratic elections – bringing the militant group Hamas to power (a radical power shift in Palestinian politics) and the Israelis begun the previously unthinkable, unilateral program of removing Jewish settlements from Palestinian lands.

Then Israeli leader Ariel Sharon had a stroke and is in a coma, at a time when Israel was weeks away from a general election! So thanks to all these dramatic developments, some of the old reasons why peace plans were unlikely to work were gone and a lot more options were on the table. So the Israel/Palestine situation is clearly at a crucial crossroads – where decisions made now will affect the whole region for the next 50 years or more. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians seem ready to consider proposals which were impossible just months ago. This is a tipping point.

A single major event could cause a tipping point – like (to take an extreme example) if Burma tested a nuclear weapon. You can imagine how strong the sense of urgency would be to find new ways to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons technology and to do something about the dictatorship in Burma. It would make options like invasion or attack much more likely that they are at the moment. But usually a tipping point is the result of a series of events that propel a debate into uncharted territory.

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