[eDebate] Balancing Conviction and Discovery and Forced Choice

Ede Warner ewarner
Thu Apr 13 15:18:05 CDT 2006

You can create topics that everyone can express their true convictions
on if the topic is large enough to do so.  You can also allow for
maximum discovery.  What is the trade off?  Since we now have a few
years of "limited topics and lists, let's critically examine a few
Opposition argument #1:  Large topics bad because no predictable
negative ground.  This creates unwieldy research burdens.  
1)  The evidence that simply advocating the USFG isn't sufficient
baggage to create ample negative ground.
2)  Where is the evidence that small topics have reduced the time spent
by debaters researching debate.  Or do they simply increase the depth of
their work in a limited number of areas.
3)  Why don't counterplans (agent, pic's) check abuse of a large

Opposition argument #2:  Small topics equal better debates.  
1)  Better case specific debates doesn't equal better debates. When I
stopped flowing (at about the turn of smaller list-driven topics), none
of my coaching friends were arguing that debates were generally
well-developed and great.  They argued most debates were superficial,
overly relied on techne, and debaters still privileged their generic
"babies" to debating the case arguments.  Has that changed?  And if not,
then why didn't the shift to more limited topics solve the problem? 
2)  Small topics are fueling the growing chasm in this activity.  The
hard-core policy wonks and the left-wing policy destroyers should come
together over smaller topics, shouldn't they.  Does the right ever think
about why the backlash is growing, or just assume that the left is
irrational fools?  Does the left just presume that the right any lacks
compassion for issues of inclusion and are anti-persuasion?  Of course
not, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  However, no one can argue
that the move towards smaller topics hasn't done much to bridge the gap.
I won't speak for the rest of the left, but I'll say this:  our
evolution from topical but slow, to quasi-topical (no plan) but
advocating the topic; to a metaphor where we defended the topic to a
metaphor that really didn't engage the topic, to an outright protest of
the topic, occurred slowing as a result of a combination of things.  But
one of those certainly feeling that we were being crowded out by topics
that allowed us less and less latitude, really beginning with Native
Americans or should I say, "increasing Federal control over Indian
country".  Some years, it has been easier to find our space (energy,
treaties) than in other years (China, Eastern Europe).
I don't know why the community is so insistence on limiting out so much
on the affirmative and feeling that their is ONLY ONE WAY to do that. 
I've always thought the real concern wasn't true cases, but really it
was small, link-less cases.  Why not find a way to write topics that
mandate big affirmatives in different political directions.  That's what
we like about the court topic: big areas of policy that allow enough
flexibility for us to advocate our radical ideas.  When the list guts
that flexibility, people struggle to find an affirmative that they can
get with.
Had China been written in a way that allowed big discussions of trade,
human rights, military strategy but limited out the smaller cases,
wouldn't that have been awesome?  Part of the problem is that our
culture has created tools to challenge smaller affirmatives and now
those tools are overly considered (in my mind) when committees are
formulating their ideas.  Can't say that, cause teams will PIC it?  That
wording is too susceptible to an agent counterplan?  
How about this?  Forget debate conventions in writing a topic and write
the topic that is closest to the literature and where the true policy
controversies lie.  Don't make decisions based on PIC's or uniqueness or
anything else but what the literature says an agent should do related to
a controversy.  Then let the debates begin.  Let the community evolve by
not allowing the PICs to overrun the community or develop reasons for
rejecting the techne in favor of the good policy discussion.  Of course,
this would require faith and it would require a committment to change as
it is called for, but wouldn't this be the correct starting point for
Again, we want to balance conviction (and that is especially important
on the affirmative and we have plenty of tools to do this on the
negative) with discovery and reduce forced choices as much as possible. 
If this begins to occur, I think the cavern between the critical and the
policy would soon subside, or at least lessen some.  Just some
PS- I got a whole lot of thoughts about style and its impact on some of
this, but we will save that for the fall...Ross, where's your ethos and
your pathos baby!!!!!

>>> "Ross K. Smith" <smithr at wfu.edu> 4/13/2006 2:50 PM >>>

Just contemplate the power of this statement from Brad Hall:

  "It seems difficult, if not impossible, to find a topic for everyone

to be able to express their true convictions on, but as far as I can 
tell, all recent topics have allowed teams to discover *new*
(about energy, the death penalty, gender protections in China, etc) and

argue in favor of those."

Discovery. New convictions.

Ross K. Smith
Debate Coach
Wake Forest University


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