Selasa, 06 September 2011

Chapter 8 : General Tactical Mistakes


Mistake One: The fallacy of ‘mutual exclusivity’

The concept of ‘mutual exclusivity’ (ME) has been thoroughly overused and misunderstood by debaters of all styles. This would be bad enough, but on top of that there seems to be a relatively widespread belief that ME is a powerful rebuttal to an opponents case – when tactically speaking it can be easily and effectively countered.

The problem of ME is this – teams think that if they can show that an opponent’s model is not strictly speaking, mutually exclusive (literally) to their own, then that weakens the validity of their opponent’s case. There is some truth to this, certainly rhetorically but also argumentatively, but its overstated and quite simple to refute.

The first point is that ME is not a fatal flaw in an oppositions case automatically – only under certainly circumstances is it even a weakness.

For example, if the topic was “That this house would legalise recreational drugs” and the Affirmative proposed a model of licensed distribution of drugs like ecstasy (essentially treating recreational drugs in the same way as cigarettes and alcohol- regulated, restricted but commercially available) the Neg might counter-propose a model that is essentially the status quo, but with greater education about the harmful effects of drugs and drug abuse to discourage their use.

Commonly the Aff would respond by say that in essence the Neg’s case is not mutually exclusive to their own, because an identical education campaign would be consistent with the aims of their own model.

While strictly speaking this is true – something can be legalised and there can be a broad education campaign about the harms (eg cigarettes) the lack of formal mutual exclusivity is not a fatal flaw, or even an effective attack – because philosophically the two models are predicated on mutually exclusive concepts: the best way to limit harm is to allow supply and encourage responsible use Vs the best way to limit harm is to restrict supply and explain that generally there really is no such thing as responsible use. These concepts are mutually exclusive.

Secondly, and flowing from the philosophical difference, there is a simple practical distinction. The Neg’s model is mutually exclusive in the sense that if the education campaign works as well as it argued that it would, then there would be no need to legalise supply of drugs as a harm minimisation strategy - if education does effectively limit harm from drugs, then the only reason why you would go further than that and legalise it is if you thought people had a right to access it (which is an argument exclusive to the Aff).


Mistake Two: The illusion of ‘sameness’.

Quite often debaters will analyse an entire category of thing, which should rightly be seen as a wider number of discrete entities that have a small number of things in common but nevertheless possessing significant difference.

Some examples include, the media, corporations, developing countries, racial/ethnic/gender/sexuality groups, etc.

In each of these cases there are commonalities between individual members that make generalisations fair and accurate. For example its fair to say “corporations are profit driven”, because any corporation that doesn’t seek (maybe amongst other things) to make a profit, is not really a business – it’s a charity, or community service, but its not a ‘corporation’ in the colloquial sense of a private business. However that said, the pursuit of profit takes many forms – corporation’s aim for different markets (eg. cheap and low quality vs. expensive and high quality) and operate under different conditions (eg. Big business has large profit margins and massive resources vs. small businesses that usual run on small margins and have limited resources).

Any time an opposition talk about a one of these categories as though they are homogenous (“what women want is to be represented politically by women” or “West Papuan’s don’t want development, what they really want is to be free to pursue their traditional culture”) even if you know nothing about the group in question, you can confidently assert from first principles that the situation is more complicated than that (“many women are more concerned with the ideological beliefs of their representatives, rather then their gender because ‘women’ are as a group are far from united in their views”) and then provide the analysis for why these differences within the group are reasonable, important and how they will complicate the fair application of the oppositions model.

Mistake Three: The myth of the “opposition’s onus” (or Push Debating)
This is one of those ‘fine line’ issues in debating/adjudication; when is an opposition team ‘push debating’ and when is it simply pointing out the obvious about the fundamental ‘clash’ in the debate?

Push debating can occur in many forms. Two of those possibilities were covered in the previous section dealing with false dichotomies and straw men – when an opposition are trying to force you to (or convince the adjudicator that you should) argue for something totally irreverent, or to oppose a truism (“our onus is to show that this model can work, their onus is to defend the indefensible”).

As an adjudicator or debater these are simple situations that really only require you to have courage and to clearly explain why such dichotomies are ridiculous and irrelevant to the real debate, then establish what the ‘true’ dichotomy is, and then get back to defending your side of that equation.

But there are other, subtler forms of push debating that inexperienced speakers and judges sometimes miss, and that’s when a team try to ‘push’ an entire case onto their oppositions – either through an unfairly skewed definition of the terms of the debate, or through the establishment of some sort of (unfair) test or criteria through which they assert the debate should be judged.

Remember this simple rule – no one can tell you what your side needs to prove. You never have to accept an ‘onus’ or a set of criteria that is placed on you by an opposition speaker. If your team has a good first speaker, then they will clearly spell out exactly what your side will be attempting to prove or which position you will be advocating for, and that’s what you should be judged on.

As an adjudicator you should rightly be wary of letting competitors tell you how to judge the debate. It’s fine for a team to point out problems with the opposition, or to challenge their definition or their arguments, but in the end the only criteria that matter when awarding the debate, are those set down in the rules. This doesn’t mean that every time a team try to set down “criteria” for a debate, that they are trying to be unfair – but in almost every case these criteria are irrelevant.

But there are subtleties to this, and as you become more experienced you’ll learn to tell the difference between a team which is trying (consciously or not) to unfair push their opposition, and when they are simply trying to establish the parameters of a fair debate.

For example, if the topic was “that Australia should use nuclear energy” the affirmative team have the right to choose exactly how much nuclear energy – and under what conditions – they are willing to defend (that’s an issue of how ‘hard line’ or ‘soft line’ they choose to be) but they can’t ‘define’ the opposition’s case. So they can’t say “we should like to see the government set a target of generating 20% of Australia’s electricity through nuclear power, and the opposition have to defend the status quo – of virtually total fossil fuel use – as a better strategy”. That’s push debating. If the negative team want to defend the status quo then that’s their choice, but if they had a case based on some alternative (like green energy, or reductions in energy use, or a modification to the status quo through a carbon tax… etc, etc) then its their right to set the parameters of their case.

All you have to do as a negative team in that situation is to acknowledge the ‘push’, and then reject it. For example, you could say something like: “The affirmative team are eager to see nuclear power used in Australia and we reject that, but contrary to what they think, our alternative is not a dirty fossil fuel energy industry, the alternative that we will be advocating is….” and then insert your model.

Every time the affirmative try to say that your team is defending the problems with the status quo, you calmly say “no, we want to change the system too, just in a different way, and here is why our alternative is better than nuclear energy” and get back to the debate. Sounds simple, but it can take guts when an opposition team is yelling at you!

But there are times when an affirmative team is right to stake out the grounds of the debate – but this is only the case when the topic forces the negative team by virtue of the wording of the motion, to specifically defend something.

So if the topic was “That the Singapore should abolish the death penalty as a punishment for drug traffickers” then the position of the Negative team is obvious – they have to defend the status quo. They might try and insert some minor modifications (a better appeals process, etc) but in the end if they’re not defending the use of the death penalty for drug traffickers then they have failed to engage properly in the debate.

What you might have seen from the previous two examples is that push debating occurs mostly when the wording of the topic is focused on what the Aff should defend, and doesn’t say much about the nature of the negative teams case (such as “that we should invade Iran” – the position of the Aff is made obvious by the topic, but the Neg have several options open to them – sanctions, economic engagement, etc). Under these conditions some Aff teams will try and push the Neg, to limit their choices. They might be doing it because they think it’s in the spirit of the motion, or they might be doing it because they are trying to push them in order to gain some tactical advantage. In any event the Neg is always free to reject the push if they want.

But on a final note I think its worth pointing out that its not necessarily ‘weak’ to accept a ‘pushed’ position. If the Neg want to embrace the case pushed onto them by the Aff, or they are willing to accept the test or criteria established by their opponents, then its not inherently bad to do so – so don’t mark them down, or view them as weak for doing it. The issue then is simply was it tactically smart for them to do so – and sometimes the answer is yes, just as sometimes a tactical concession can help move a debate forward, or neutralise an argument (see Tactical Concessions in Chapter Five).

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