Selasa, 06 September 2011

Chapter 7 : Classic Aff Mistakes and Opp Tactics.

Many of the mistakes that Affirmative (or opening government) teams make when setting up debates are also the perfect weapons for negative (or opening opposition) teams to use – especially if they are squirreled or have limited knowledge of the substantive issues in the debate. For that reason they are discussed here together.

Classic Trap One: The Problem – Solution Gap.
This mistake is most common and most damaging when teams propose soft models.
Basically the trap is this, usually when a team propose a soft model they will start by identifying a very real and important problem, but simply offer a soft solution – or worse still, offer a soft mechanism to simply ‘improve’ the situation. The trap however is this, it’s morally inconsistent to be consciously aware of a great and pressing problem, but then think it is defensible to do very little about it. The trap grows stronger the more the Aff push the moral dimensions of their case.

To give an obviously exaggerated example; if a team identify the context to the debate as the growing problem of hunger and starvation in the developing world, and cite a recent UN or NGO report filled with horrifying statistics of the suffering these people endure. THEN the team propose a model in which rich nations increase the amount of food aid they donate by some tokenistic amount.

It is certainly true that this tiny amount of extra food is literally ‘better than the status quo’, but there is a vast inconsistency between the scale of the problem they have identified and the solution they have offered. If they truly think the problem is that big and that important than their model is unconscionable.

Realistically, in a ‘euthanasia’ debate, if a team started by identifying the suffering of the terminally ill in our hospitals and the desperate need to find a way to help these people alleviate their pain and to have dignity in their final moments (a common and reasonable way to contextualise that debate), AND then they ran the soft model described on Page 3, they will have fallen into the Problem – Solution Trap.

How to exploit the Problem – Solution Gap.
There are two ways to exploit this gap – a combination of the two is most effective.

Firstly oppositions should attack the case as being unable to effectively make inroads on the problem they themselves wanted to tackle. Pretty obvious but still worth doing. You can’t acknowledge a serious problem and then propose an inadequate solution

Secondly, (especially useful if the opposition don’t know much about the topic), simply counter-propose something that would be even marginally be more effective at tackling the problem (but more effective the better). The tactical advantage of this is that it totally neutralises the moral argument and in fact steals it for the opposition. It’s the perfect opportunity to hijack the debate. This is one way that teams can win debates after being squirreled. It’s a form of ‘first principles’ case construction/rebuttal. It also works sometimes against ultra-soft lines.

Classic Trap Two: The Ultra-Soft line
I’ve already discussed previously why it is, tactically speaking, a bad idea to for an Affirmative team to propose the status quo as their model – and generally speaking any half-competent topic selector will usually word motions so that running the status quo is impossible. But that doesn’t stop stupid or inexperienced teams from proposing very-soft line models which are almost the status quo, but not quite.

This creates a number of problems for both teams, and a decent adjudicator should expect something pretty special from the Aff if they are to win (so long as the negative team don’t freak out and drop the ball).

So what do you do when the Aff run an ultra-soft case?

First you can laugh to yourself, because the Aff are in a lot of trouble. The reason why an ultra-soft case is a bad idea is because they have the strong potential to ‘collapse’ a debate and make it difficult for the teams to find any meaningful ‘clash’. From the point of view of adjudication theory, the Affirmative team have an obligation to provide the conditions for a good debate – which basically means a good, reasonable clash (so there is a strong clash between an Affirmative team that is in favour of freedom – and which asks the negative team to defend slavery, but that is an ‘unreasonable’ clash and should be punished by an adjudicator because – amongst other things – it breaks the definitional rule and probably the code of conduct).

But the negative team also have an obligation to come to the party and engage in the debate established by the Aff, so long as the clash is reasonable.

However the tactical reason why Aff teams should avoid ultra-soft lines is that they don’t give you enough opportunities for providing deep analysis. Almost by definition, an ultra-soft line, a very small change to the status quo, is likely to be very uncontroversial – meaning that there is nothing much to say in favour of it!

If the topic was “that all public schools should have a uniform” and the Affirmative team define it as “a common dress standard – such as no ‘name brand’ clothes, and no expensive jewellery, minimal make up allowed and only flat heeled, closed toe, single colour shoes”. It might seem like an impossible case to lose. But you have to ask yourself, how many quality arguments can you make in favour of this standard? Can you think of enough to fill15 minutes (1st Aff, and half the 2nd Aff) of speeches, without it getting repetitive, simplistic or boring? I’d be impressed if you could.

Even assuming that the Affirmative team have done themselves a massive disservice by running an ultra-soft line, the negative still need to be careful they don’t become victims of an imploding debate – where the area of clash is small and gets smaller and smaller until there are virtually no strong areas of difference between the teams. Under those circumstances an adjudicator will have few good reasons to award the debate and will probably end up giving to the team which is penalised less for ruining the debate.


As a negative team, your best tactic – under all circumstances, but most especially in response to an ultra-soft line – is to clearly create space in the debate. That means taking up a hard line (or at least a very firm line) to clearly delineate the stance of your team from the Affirmative, and to give you a clear principled line to defend. In effect the debate ends up being more about whether of not you can clearly explain and strongly defend your line, than it is about defeating your opponents position (in a normal debate those priorities are equally important).

Of course you still need to make a strong effort to engage with your opponent’s case, but the central thrust of your rebuttal tends to be that the Affirmative have based their case on the wrong principle – rather than the fact that the specifics of their case will cause some great harm.

So in relation to our example, a negative team should run a fairly strong, clear line that students should be able to wear any clothing which suits them, without being unnecessarily provocative or inappropriate (you don’t want be condoning students coming to school wearing their pyjamas or dressed like prostitutes, but that still allows a very wide range of acceptable attire). The neg would then focus on why it is important that children be able to wear whatever they like – both because it’s a form of personal expression, and important to the development of their personalities, plus its important for kids to learn to cope with material differences – everywhere they go after school the way they look will have an impact on their life, from job interviews and workplace, to fitting in socially – and school is a good place to learn those skills.

The attack on the Affirmative team is that any serious attempt to stifle the sartorial freedom of students is simply limiting the development of their personal autonomy, and making harder for them to learn how to interact with others in the real world. Which would be the same line you would run anyway, but the focus shifts from comparing the potential ‘harms’ of a proper school uniform (cost, strict conformity, etc) with the ‘harms’ of free dress (bullying, social segregation, peer-group pressure) and becomes more focused on whether of not freedom of dress/expression is the superior principle to guide this particular debate than the alternative of uniformity of dress.

The Affirmative team – being the soft and timid people that they obviously are - will probably try and have the best of both worlds and argue that their ‘soft uniform’ still gives children room to express themselves – but this is the crucial thing, now they are fighting on your terms! You need to keep your cool and simply point out that hypocrisy of their position – if they think that free expression is important they can’t have what amounts to a uniform by stealth. The more they defend the need for students to have self expression, the more you can argue that students will consistently bend and break their rules and that the ‘natural’ position will be more like that you are proposing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this would be a great debate – once a team go ultra-soft its very rarely a good debate (which should be reason enough to never do it yourself) but it’s a fight for survival. An ultra-soft line is an attempt to suck the controversy out of a debate, and controversy is the oxygen of debate. So the best neg tactic is anything that increases the controversy and injects in some more oxygen.

Any decent adjudicator should reward a team that is trying everything it can to save a debate from imploding and so they will hopefully be generous towards you, but you have to keep your cool and run a clear and consistent line.

Basically you should go back to ‘first principles’ figure out what the clash should have been, then figure out which line you can run that will push the debate as far towards that original level of clash as possible.

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