[eDebate] Ethics and Civil Disobedience as reasons to reject Non-Topical Affirmatives

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Wed Jun 13 10:59:42 CDT 2007

Education is a horrible standard for topicality. I don't know why people still
try to use it. Is it education for the judge, education for the affirmative, or
for the negative or both? people have been throwing it around for years, but I
have not seen a good explanation of exactly why education justifies topicality.
Thus, as someone that vehemently opposes teams that blatantly choose to ignore
the resolutional question--the one voted on by members of CEDA and the one in a
CEDA-sanctioned tournament invitation--I would NOT vote against a "Dafur
Genocide" case on topicality for educational reasons. The affirmative will
always be able to say that somebody got educated on something because they
spoke for nine minutes, or took a dump in a bag as a piece of performance art.

Fairness and limits don't seem to be good standards either. The resolutions
either overlimit affirmatives, giving a good reason to reject limits as a
standard, and other forms of unfairness within college debate (resources, etc)
tend to undermine a "fairness" claim.

I think Matt Stannard, Jim Hanson, and Tim Mahoney have been hitting it on the
head but more explanation is needed to support the rationale, and an additional
reason--civl disobedience--needs to be explored:

Topicality is important and a non-topical affirmative teams should lose because
they are in violation of communication ethics. (re-casting the previous three's
collective arguments that I think were ignored)

The resolution is an agreed problem statement to be discussed. The agreement
occurred during the topic voting process. If you noticed, I was one that argued
against the current slate of resolutions and was an advocate of an entirely
different problem area. However, the membership voted for a CEDA constitution.
THese are the ground rules that members of the organization have chosen to work
under. That set of rules says that a CEDA sanctioned tournment will use the CEDA
resolution voted on by the CEDA members. The tournament invitations to CEDA
sanctioned events typically say what the topic of discussion is--the official
CEDA resolution.

When persons come together within an organization or "community" they have
certain ground rules by which they chose to live by. People entering the
organization have to live by those rules until they change the rules. This
concept of "debate has no rules" is simply wrong. There are rules in CEDA
debate and they have nothing to do with speaker times. The rule is that a CEDA
sanctioned tournament uses the CEDA topic. Members schools of CEDA send their
students to these tournaments with a reasonable organizational/community
expectation that the CEDA topic will be the focus of debates.

When a team runs a blatantly non-topical affirmative, they violate the community
norm established by the topic vote.

Why should it be a voting issue and the affirmative should lose:

In order for groups to survive, they often have to take measures to preserve
the ground rules of meaningful participation within the group. CEDA has chosen
that one of those ground rules be a central area of controversy be the focus of
student debates for an entire year. This was not the case a few years ago--we
had a new topic each semester--for you young whippersnappers. CEDA will only
sanction those tournmaments that use this officially reconized resolution.
Students, coaches, and administrators spend time, money and sweat equity
preparing to debate this resolution. I team that chooses to ignore the CEDA
resolution has violated the community's expectations and community norms for
acceptable behavior within the group. The appropriate sanction is to shun the
offending party from the group. Because of the unique nature of the activity,
the only real "punishment" or "deterrent" is a loss.

A loss to a non-topical affirmative provides a number of benefits:

(1) It reinforces a community norm, maintaining the set of rules that the
majority of the community believes to be important for the survival of their
community. Non-topical affirmatives should be shunned by members of the
community. And the least intrusive, and most practical way of shunning is by
giving them a loss in the the round.

(2) Provides instruction and detterence to the interloper(s). Example: Our
society opposes child molesting. We as a community punish child molesters.
Regardless of the fact that a vocal minority would love to change the laws and
norms, we punish them for diddling little children. In the same way, these
"resolution-molesters" may whine all day long about how the topics suck and how
they don't have freedom, but the community should stand strong and continue to
maintain that the survival of the community norms outweighs the individuals
crys for freedom to do whatever the hell they want.

(3) All freedom has limits. The community chose to limit affirmatives freedom
via the resolution The alternative, freedom to run whatever one wants is a form
of BAD ANARCHY. The nasty and brutish form of Anarchy in which affirmatives can
choose to argue anything they want, often for strategic advantage. Example: If
I have no resoltion limiting me, I'd run space colonization every round.

(4) Freedom REQUIRES limits. The standard of one man's freedom ends at another
person's nose hold water in this instance too. The Affirmative's freedom to
speak on any issue ends when they violate the resolution. That's the negative's
"nose." Negatives get blindsided and lose rounds when people run non-topical
affirmatives. This is the the debate equivalent of being punched in the nose.
They way to deter this, or at least, not reward such behavior, is to give the
offending party (the non-topical affirmative) the loss.

(5) CEDA points should only go to those teams that debate the CEDA sanctioned

Additionally, civil disobedience theory supports sanctions against the activist
in order to promote their cause. In other words, if you are a judge and you just
love the affirmative's "activism," you should STILL vote against them because
you support the concept of Rule of Law, or Rule of Universal Mroal Standards.

Many teams will argue that their advocacy is a form of activism that transcends
the topic. Cool. However, there is a difference between activists engaging in
terrorism and civil
disobedience. A person engaging in true civil disobedience first recognizes that
there are rules or laws and that THE RULE OF LAW is a fundamental concept that
must be protected in a community or society. Thus, when they break the law,
rule, or norm, they ACCEPT the punishment. Examples: Ghandi's march to the sea
to make salt in violation of British law. Martin Luther King's incarceration
and, of course, Thoreau's jail term for opposing the poll tax. They broke the
law, but freely accepted the sanctions because they understood that they must
respect the concept of "THE LAW," in order for meaningful  and enforecable
change to occur within their respective communities.

How does this play out in a college debate round? Many affirmatives who choose
to be non-topical
are doing so as a form of activism--either activism for a cause or activism in
opposition to the resolution chosen by the community. Fine. I say go for it,
say whatever you like for your nine minutes. However, a true activist, engaging
in civil disobedience, would accept the punishment of the community as the price
they must pay for violating community norms, until those norms are changed.

A debater/activist must be willing to accept her punishment/sanction in order to
draw more attention to her cause and in order to support more fundamental rules,
such as the rule of law.

For example: Affirmative is so passionate about genocide in Darfur that she
chooses to speak about it for her nine minutes rather than affirm the
resolution chosen by the community. Rather than expecting a "reward," by
getting the win, she should recognize that the importance of her activism
transcends mere wins and losses in a debate tournament. In fact, accepting the
sanction of a debate round loss is minimal in relation to the importance of her
"case"/activism. Also, by losing, the ballot, she reaffirms the meta-value or
meta-principles that all societies must be governed by rules. Genocide, for
example, violates certain rules of what it means to be a "human" or "Humanity."
Her persuasive appeals to stop the genocide are grounded in a respect for some
form of Rule of Law or Rule by a Universal Moral Code. Accepting the sanction
of a debate round loss reaffirms the this respect for community values and the
lager concept of higher laws.

Alternatives for the Affirmative exist, meaning they chose a CEDA sanctioned
tournament to perform their activism and should accept the sanctions imposed by
the CEDA community.

A few Alternative:

(1) Go to a real protest. Get your ass kicked by a cop at a G-8 summit or go sit
in a tree int he redwood forest.
(2) Speak at your own school. Surely, there are more people at your school that
need to be informed about Darfur than three other people (the negative and one
(3) Show up and protest at CEDA tournmanets until you are thrown off campus by
the police.
(3) Join or create a new debate orgnaization that chooses topics that you want
to debate.
(4) Give your rant, but accept the loss.
(5) Amend the CEDA by-laws to allow affirmatives to debate whatever topic they
want, or to modify the topic selection process.
(6) Adopt a  Third World child--it works for Angelina Jolie and Madonna.

I think topicality debates should go beyond a mere recitation of "Topicality is
a voting issues for ground, fairness and education," and into deeper
justifcations of why an affirmative should lose when the negative demonstrates
they are not topical. I have provided two reasons: First, the non-topical
affirmative violated community norms and those norms are necessary for the
overall survival of the organization and Second, because true civil
disobedience requires that the norm breaker be sanctioned in order to preserve
the Rule of Law.

Scott Elliott, Ph.D. J.D.
Director of Debate, ULL

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