Did you really think I’d let the holiday season pass by without a disclosure post?
In preparing a metagame lecture for our online winter camp, I reviewed and compiled every wiki entry of the double-octas participants at Blake and CPS. As I meandered through this mind-numbing task, I started to notice things that I liked… and then I noticed other things that I didn’t like! So here you have it, Holiday Disclosure Post #6, 10 Things I Like and Don’t Like Edition.
I didn’t attend either topic-opener this year, so these are ten things about disclosure and the metagame that I learned from the NDCA disclosure wiki and tabroom results.
#1 Withholding analytics from disclosure
This is an actual “NC” that was “disclosed” at the CPS tournament:
And here is what appears to be a “util framework” from Blake:
The standard is maximizing expected well-being.
I would think this is a joke if I hadn’t seen it on multiple wikis. I have three objections.
First, disclosing only the criterion text is the most minimally helpful disclosure possible. These debaters knowingly do less than their fair share of disclosure to gain an advantage, a clear example of free riding.
Second, if withholding analytics is permissible practice, the competitive benefit of hiding one’s arguments might outweigh the benefit of evidence, encouraging a reduction in overall disclosure.
Third, analytics are often essential for understanding the position or its functionality in LD. For instance, if I made an ethical modesty argument or Rodl-style indexicality argument in my aff, the round might play out very differently than without that one analytic argument. When strategies rely heavily on analytics, disclosure without them is practically useless.
This is not to say that anything less than open source should be a disclosure violation, but generally argument tags (i.e., claims/conclusions) and key burden structures should be disclosed. So for the util framework, for example, you would need to at least give some indication of the content of each justification. Otherwise, it could be a theory-heavy framework or a metaethical framework, two very different approaches.
#2 Kudos to Harvard-Westlake for open source
The next frontier in LD disclosure is here. To my knowledge, no large team has ever open sourced every position or every round. Of course, Harvard-Westlake read only one aff and primarily went for stock policy arguments on the neg, so it’s not like their whole Dropbox folder is online, but it’s a good start. Some of their debaters uploaded 2NR blocks too. Apparently, the Harvard-Westlake tournament this weekend is mandating open source disclosure. Wow.
Open source improves on usual disclosure practices in the obvious way – you can read their evidence for better preparation – and in a number of smaller ways too. It solves the analytics problem I discussed above, so round-altering uncarded arguments are available (though this doesn’t really apply to Harvard-Westlake), and it gives access to evidence from paywalled articles. Every season I coach debaters who lack access to major databases; for schools without robust online library offerings or teams without college coaches, this matters a lot.
#3 You gotta appreciate a good troll
It’s CPS Round 1. Brand new topic. You just read your shiny new plea bargaining aff and wonder what the 1NC could be. And then Carmel Valley RR hits you with ‘new affs bad’ theory. Lol.
Later in the tournament, the same debater read ‘old affs bad’ theory. Creative, but nothing beats new affs bad on the first round of the topic.
#4 Fake PICs and what to do about them
By my count there were 66 counterplans read at Blake and CPS, and at least 16 of them were quite cheaty plan-inclusive counterplans. These debaters seemingly lacked a good counterplan option or worried their generics wouldn’t answer the aff, so what do you do? You turn your disad into a PIC by proposing all plea bargains ought to be abolished, except for the one kind that is the link to the disad. For example, you have a cartels disad that says plea bargains can be used to get information on big cartel operations, so you read a counterplan that all plea bargains ought to be abolished except for those that lead to information on big cartel operations. Do this for every disad you have, and suddenly you have twice the neg options!
The strategic value is clear – the PIC solves the aff, and to the extent that it doesn’t, the extinction level impact of the disad certainly outweighs any solvency differential against the stock affs and race advantages. You know your disad, so why not make the whole debate about it?
What separates these PICs and the more legitimate kind is that they add nothing to the debate; they only subtract. Instead of a structural violence vs. util or extinction debate or a probability vs. magnitude weighing contest, we get a debate on the disad, straight up. This is good when the disad wouldn’t stand a chance but is still valuable topic lit, e.g. there’s a tiny net benefit to the PIC that has a big real world impact but is hard to mobilize in a debate context. This is bad when the disad is already well-positioned against the aff, so the PIC arbitrarily excludes offense that should be relevant (for instance, when there are authors who consider the plan vs. the disad).
The difficulty is in crafting the right theory argument. The obvious theory option is that PICs should have solvency advocates, and many of the 16 PICs lacked topic lit. I don’t think there are legal scholars who suggest all plea bargains ought to be abolished except for those that could reveal information leading to the impeachment of Donald Trump. This is part of the story for why these PICs are bad, but the prohibition is too broad. Sometimes the aff opens up a really obvious PIC, but there simply isn’t literature on it. If it’s the fault of the aff construction, the PIC should be legitimate neg ground even if there isn’t robust scholarly debate on the issue. Or in debates with new affs, especially narrow ones, negs should have leeway in reading PICs without solvency advocates.
I would like to hear more nuanced candidates for theory arguments that exclude the bad PICs but allow the good ones. It’s obvious that there is a line, but the primary reason for that line, arbitrary exclusion of relevant offense, relies on fuzzy standards like topic literature that don’t lend themselves to clear interpretations. We need new tools.
#5 Utilitarianism affs are dead
These affs are the closest to big stick util I could find on the wiki (out of 79 entries):
- Harker AM’s util aff with a Balkans advantage and South Africa advantage
- Strake Jesuit WH’s util aff with an econ advantage and movements advantage
- Lexington RW’s race aff with a util framework
- Appleton East MM’s stock/race aff with a spillover and genocide advantage
If I were grading these on their util-ness, I would give Harker an A, Strake a B for inclusion of a non-extinction advantage, and Lex and Appleton East Cs for lack of any credible extinction impact. I understand that early on the topic, there will be fewer affs because we haven’t really sunk our teeth into the new topic literature. But it seems like we’re living in a one aff metagame, and that aff is the stock oppression/structural violence argument. While consequentialist, this is a far cry from traditional policy debate. Sad!
When I was a debater (I graduated in ’12), we ran util almost every aff round. These were primarily plans, and despite narrow domestic resolutions (animal rights, assisting people in need, and domestic violence), we managed to shoehorn some big stick extinction impacts into debate on every topic. This wasn’t just a stylistic preference. For one, we were a util squad with util coaches, and almost no one would debate us on the util debate. Two, it sure seemed like util was a better aff strategy because negs would inevitably go for framework (Kant, Gauthier, and Hobbes were popular), and we wanted to defend the tried-and-true, comfortable framework in util. I found the William James pragmatism book to be especially helpful in leveling up the plain vanilla util framework, and we invented some nifty tricks like the parameters argument to hedge against top framework teams.
But now util is almost exclusively a neg strategy, and util-leaning teams have moved to oppression/structural violence on the aff. Why is that? The best explanation, and one we’ve been predicting for several summers in our metagame lectures at Premier Debate, is that an increase in Ks moves affs to the left. Would you rather debate the afropessimism kritik with an extinction impact or an aff that claims to tangibly reduce harms to racial minorities? College policy debate moved in this direction in response to the rise of afropessimism and identity politics, especially in 2013-14 where every team was reading a legalize marijuana mass incarceration aff. As far as consequentialist debate goes, LD is now very clearly at the stage of development where college policy was five years ago. I’m no longer as familiar with the college or high school policy metagame as I once was, but I suspect (and hope) that LD diverges paths from here.
First and foremost, I would be disappointed to see the number of non-topical affs explode like they did in policy debate. 7 of the 46 affs I looked at from Blake were non-topical or questionably topical. Not a good sign. Second, I would expect the number of moral philosophy positions to grow in response to the oppression/structural violence affs. Several teams reading the stock aff at CPS had only ONE framework justification. This is a gift to philosophically-inclined debaters, and they should take advantage. For added motivation, consider that 2 of last year’s TOC semifinalists were very capable moral philosophy debaters. I would not be surprised to see a Kant aff win a major bid tournament in the next six weeks.
#6 Brentwood is top dog in new topic prep
For anyone who wants to know what robust prep looks like on a new topic, check out Brentwood’s wikis. By my count, they had at least five different counterplans, four or five solid disadvantages, two kritiks, and an evidenced spec shell and topicality argument. This is how you roll up to a tournament, and it’s no surprise they cleared six debaters.
#7 Lingering disclosure hurdles
All but two or three debaters in doubles of Blake and CPS had very solid disclosure. But apparently this is still a thing:
- “Contact me about my disclosure to avoid unnecessary disclosure debate”
- “Look at my teammate’s wiki for my disclosure”
No, you put all your disclosure up. If you don’t, you hit disclosure theory. That’s how it works.
Why is this hard to understand?
#8 Advantage counterplans are cool
An underexplored area of the topic so far is the advantage counterplan. Because of the topic’s wording, the aff abolishes plea bargains, so naturally, teams will gravitate toward reforms of the plea bargain system to force 1ARs to explain how aff offense applies to the counterplan. But as affs become more clever, the reform counterplan will become less popular. Negs will need to look elsewhere for ways to solve aff advantages while avoiding the big stick disad. So far, I’ve seen two advantage counterplans that have promise. One is to legalize marijuana or otherwise end the war on drugs, which would solve mass incarceration impacts. Another is to pass sweeping criminal justice reforms. Both are very solid, and I hope to see more creativity in counterplans throughout the topic.
#9 Tracking the theory metagame
One difficulty in analyzing the LD metagame is accounting for theory, since (a) many theory debates are all analytic and don’t get disclosed, (b) 1AR theory is rarely disclosed since it’s not a constructive speech, and (c) the details of how theory debates go down, e.g. RVI, reasonability, metatheory, K outweighs, etc., make a big difference as to theory’s role in the metagame. It sure seems like theory is more prevalent in LD than any other debate event, but maybe theory is just as prevalent in straight-up policy debates, it just doesn’t get extended into the late rebuttals, and that’s the difference.
When I’ve done my metagame breakdowns the past three seasons, I traditionally focus on non-theory areas and divide the metagame into consequentialist, kritik, and philosophy debate. Clearly, T and theory are huge in LD, but I don’t know how to account for them without more robust disclosure. Any ideas?
#10 I’m famous 😉
I will never stop laughing when I see an Overing card in someone’s disclosure. The award for adding the most Overing cards to the metagame goes to Apple Valley KA. Two in one aff underview! I’m honored!