The Importance of Depth in Critical Debates

David Asafu-Adjaye | Oct 23, 2021
5 min read

The Opinions Expressed In This Blog Post Are Solely Those of the Author And Not Necessarily Those Of DebateDrills

Allow me to take a trip down memory lane to high school freshman year. Sitting in a squad room after 2 weeks of being on the LD team. Barely remembering the resolution and being asked to volunteer to do a drill. Like any nervous kid, I vigorously shook my head no. I was told “Experience is the best teacher.” I then said, “but isn’t it your job to be the teacher” and was promptly kicked out. 9 years later and a full debate career later, I have a ton of experience and have learned a bit. All this prefacing sets up an interesting tenet for debate. The only difference between a stupid statement and a smart one is the ability to defend and deepen your thinking on it. Remember this. We will revisit it in a bit.

Take this stupid statement for a second. “Critical literature is not meant for Lincoln Douglas debate.” Doesn’t it just sound ridiculous. Who could possibly think this? Can you believe that I do? Believe it or not it’s true but allow me to explain before you click away in anger. The majority of critical literature is largely descriptive. It aims to use a theory of power developed thorough critical methods of inquiry to explain why the world exists as is. If you get lucky, the author may produce some proposals past a simple act of legislation for what may be necessary to overcome their objects of critique, but prescription is hardly a precondition of validity for critical literature. So, in an activity that, in its evolution, has become a debate over proposals for prescriptive action (LD debate), it stands to reason that critical literature, which is mainly descriptive, is not meant for that activity. It is the logical conclusion based upon those premises. I would argue that the statement did not become any less stupid. I didn’t change any words in the initial statement or the order of the words so it remains just as foolish as before. I merely delved deeper into what the statement meant but that depth makes a world of difference in how the argument is perceived. It is also worth noting that the implication that the statement “critical literature is not meant for Lincoln Douglas debate” means the same thing as “critical literature ought not be in Lincoln Douglas debate” literally commits the is-ought fallacy. Just because its initial construction is not a perfect fit for LD debate does not mean it doesn’t belong. It merely means that debaters need to supplement the literature basis with smart, solid, and DEEP arguments and implications to make the pieces of the puzzle fit. The win-loss records definitely prove this. Debaters that place emphasis on depth in their link arguments tend to be harder to debate and more successful. They generate a wider array of options and each of those options tend to be better.

It’s worth using an example to explore what we mean by depth in this scenario. Let’s take a fairly simple premise for the Neoliberalism critique. A simple 3 card shell might say, 1. The WTO is neoliberal. 2. An IP reduction uses the WTO. 3. Therefore the plan is neoliberal which causes extinction. For what it’s worth this is fine but the second step in particular which in this model is the link argument is as basic as you can get. It merely piggybacks of off the description of the WTO as neoliberal and then claims that that is bad. There is no creativity. No attempt to describe why the use of the WTO is neoliberal in any context. No specificity. No attempt to describe the affs relationship to the WTO besides merely using it etc. When people indict actor and in particular state links as generic and stupid, this is what they are talking about. However, like any stupid statement the only difference between this and a smart one is the depth to which we take the link. Let’s give this link story a full facelift. 

Starting with the claim that the WTO is neoliberal, the description should shift merely from being a combination of capitalist countries to an explanation of the WTO’s core mission of trade liberalization making it a core part of the global outreach of capitalism. Now we get to the meat of the link argument. My biggest gripe with this is that this is the type of link argument where a link to the agent is not devoid from the function of the plan which leaves so much room for exploration. The argument should be about the extent to which charitable policies like IP reductions open the world up to the idea of the WTO as producing safety nets for Low- and Middle-Income Countries. There is so much room to explore ongoing WTO missions for economic stimulation in East Africa or environmentally unsustainable infrastructure projects in Brazil. This would achieve two missions. First, it would explain why the 1AC is the lynchpin for neoliberal initiatives globally. It would give a story to collapse to in the 2NR with varying avenues. You could merely collapse to an explanation of why engaging the WTO in a pandemic control effort would be bad, but you are not held to that as your only option. Assuming this as the first advantage to increased depth, the second becomes intuitive. Depth also tends to narrow the focus of your link arguments which also limits where you opponents can generate their offense from. Having more specific link arguments means generic defense and impact turns like WTO good or cap sustainable are less effective against an argument that emphasize depth.

On that note, its worth mentioning that this has largely been centered on the advantages of depth for the debater reading the K. On a more universal level though, the consequences of an increased level of depth in the critique demonstrates the way debate evolves as an ecosystem. If you can fathom it, the best plan-CP debaters in the country will actually NOT just roll over and die because you read a more complex position. Imagine that! They are likely to innovate in an attempt to make themselves competitive. The extent to which positions on both sides are rigorously tested is inevitably determined by how much effort goes into the depth of the positions in their infancy as well as the depth of their investigation in debates. Even the judges are influenced by depth of positions. First, deeper debates give judges more to comment on that is directly related to the debate which offers more for both debaters to glean. Second, it produces an incentive for judges to be more attentive and to go deeper in their RFDs. This may sound pretentious but very few judges feel compelled to give more to a debate than any of the debaters do. Depth, as a sort of virtue signal of passion, moves judges to invest more to any given flow and the debate as a whole. From a purely transactional perspective, it is fairly clear. Depth makes debates much better, makes it less likely you will be infuriated by RFDs and significantly increases your odds of winning. Dive in the deep end!

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