[eDebate] Quick thoughts on "only"...(only not so quick)...

Brent Saindon basaindon
Mon Jul 16 09:11:16 CDT 2007

This is a very thoughtful discussion, and I have not followed all of it, so I apologize in advance if I repeat the suggestion of another.

1) I think when thinking about the issue concerning perms, two issues need to be parsed. First, I think a difference exists between non-topical and anti-topical (both these terms appear in Will's post, but it is not at all clear whether he means them to be different things). I think that the theoretical issue concerning non-topical perms has been pretty much settled. The theoretical utility of perms decreases drastically if they cannot include non-topical parts of a counterplan. 

Anti-topical differs a bit, making a smaller limit on permutations that has a better theoretical backing. The argument stems from a belief that the function of the affirmative is to defend a propositional statement (an assumption which is arguable, but largely shared in the debate community). As such, the affirmative should not defend things that directly negate the resolution. Adding things to the plan that can co-exist with the resolution is not the same as being anti-topical. A non-competitive example may make it easier to see. If the CP were "build a space colony", one could argue that doing both the plan and the CP might be extra-topical, but not anti-topical. Doing things other than the plan does not conflict with the proposition unless the goals of the CP are mutually exclusive with the resolution. The category of competition "mutual exclusivity" has largely covered the problems of anti-topical perms (and then some).

In most cases, anti-topical perms are not an issue, unless dealing with certain  styles of critique or  "utopian" CP's. For example, if the kritik suggests the need to rethink X (though a bit antiquated), combining the negative alternative with the plan action may be legitimate. One can act while suspending judgment about whether the act is a good idea (one may wonder about the desire to do both, but let's set that aside for the moment). However, in suspending judgment about the plan action, the spirit of the topical proposition may be violated. If, again, we start from the assumption that the topic is a proposition the the affirmative defends as true, or at least probably true (implied in both the "resolved" and the moral ought of "should"), then suspending judgment while doing the plan may be a violation of the affirmatives role in the debate, because doing the plan action is not the same as "defending" the plan action as a good example of the resolution. This argument
 can only be a "starter" in the world where the resolution is ultimately the focus of the debate, and that the plan offers only a good example that is sufficient to defend the proposition. I understand this disposition is changing, though I have to admit I do not understand he theoretical reasons as to why this can be possible.

The second issue that needs to be parsed is the issue concerning normal conditions and the unique conditions created by the "only" in some of the resolutions. Under normal conditions, anti-topical issues do not come up very often. However, when the resolution uses strong exclusive language, more opportunities for this theoretical anomaly seem to pop up. For example, 2-3 years ago, the high school circuit debated a resolution that required the affirmative extend protections for either "search and seizure" or detainment without charge". The resolution did not include the "and/or" language of our resolutions this year. The lab I helped to teach at the time spent a great deal of time discussing whether it was possible to negate the resolution by suggesting that both areas of the topic needed to be addressed. If the affirmative agreed, then is disproves the "either/or" choice embedded in the topic wording. Again, this only works if one views the resolution to be the ultimate
 focus of the debate and a proposition to be defended, rather than just a divider of affirmative and negative ground to start the debate (that largely becomes irrelevant absent topicality concerns). 

The "only" in the resolutions seem to modify constructive engagement, which means the their is a small set of clever CP's that might be considered anti-topical. The resolution does not explicitly exclude non-constructive engagement action as part of its grammar. If the CP did other forms of constructive engagement, then one might be able to say that the permutation is not extra topical, but anti-topical, since it violates the explicitly exclusive language particular to this resolution (i.e. not seen under most topics). Likely, this debate will devolve into a large discussion about the burdens of affirmatives and the intent of the topical wording, an issue that is unknowable and largely subjective (who's intent -- the writer's or the voter's).

The theoretical issue seems easy to avoid -- just select a different topic. Will might be right about the contemporary biases of most judges, but I am unconvinced that the issue is nothing to be worried about from the standpoint of sound application of debate theory. 

Any thoughts...

Brent Saindon

William J Repko <repkowil at msu.edu> wrote: 
... have to make this fast -- in the middle of normal camp distractions. 

1. This was not the centerpiece of ErMo's post, and (in fairness) that needs 
to be said up-front. 

But, I wanted to say that I think permutations carry no topicality burdens 
(and this question of whether perms can be "anti-topical" comes-up 
surprisingly often in topic discussions/committee meetings). 

The *Plan* needs to *only* extend certain forms of engagement, the *perm* 
can extend the additional engagement extended via the cplan. 

Specifically, if the neg ran a cplan do more constructive engagement than 
the topic allowed I think incredibly-few judges would deem the perm to be 
illegit b/c it severed the word "only". In fact, I think no affs would place 
"only" in their plan. 

2. I will begrudgingly concede that on most normal topics, around 10-20% of 
the judges d/n allow perms to be anti-topical. I don;t share this 
theoretical disposition (as I think it makes for bad cplans), but I can 
acknowledege that it is out there. After all, I suppose a few people think 
the Aff consult perms are not "resolved". 

However, I think that number of people in this camp would rapidly plummet in 
a world where the neg was abusing the word "only". The mere capacity of the 
Aff to draw on the "potential for plan-plus cplans" would get the job done. 

3. If you are moved by the notion that "only" overlimits the Aff lit base 
for constructive engagement, so be it. It seems as though Scott and ErMo 
share that opinion, and nothing in this post is desgined to refute that. In 
fact, I am largely in the dark about the topics myself. 

But, for the select few that are really on the fence about voting, I would 
not freak out about Neg getting too many wins on "only"-related cplans. I 
honestly think that's close to a non-starter. And, more importantly, I 
encourage readers to think about where their dispositions fall on whether 
perms need to be (at all) topical. 

Back to camp, 


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