The criticism, or Kritik, has been much maligned by its detractors and furiously defended by its proponents. The scope of this essay is not to pick one side or another, but rather to provide an analysis of why the critique fails to persuade and identify some helpful tips for debaters that want to be able to go for the critique in front of a diverse array of judges.
A common complaint of judges regarding debaters who go for the K poorly is that they do not clearly explain their argument. Ken Strange, the only person to have made the top 5 judges list for the past three decades lists a clear explanation as the chief component in a successful presentation of the K: “I need a clear reason why the argument is a reason to vote against the affirmative or for the negative.” Ed Lee concurs; “The negative needs to be explicit about the opportunity costs of not voting for the criticism. At times, I am at a loss for what the impact is to the criticism even after the 2NR.”
Why are some debaters seemingly incapable of explaining their argument in a way that judges find coherent and persuasive? I think that the source of their troubles is related to one fundamental problem. Namely, the literature that is the foundation of the critical argument is dense and so the presentation of the argument is also dense. Debaters that have failed to properly internalize an argument are unable to explain that argument in a fashion that is understandable to a lay audience. Debaters do not appreciate that even judges that are experts in adjudicating debates are not experts in psychoanalytic theory or post-structuralism as well, never mind the specific interactions that these and other theories have with the topic at hand. In order to overcome this difficulty it is necessary when presenting a critique to explain the argument in the simplest terms possible unless the debater knows that a judge has expertise in a particular subject. For debaters that find they have difficulty in presenting their argument in an audience friendly fashion, they might find it useful to read secondary interpretations of the primary text. By engaging with interpretations of the argument, they can appreciate the difficulties that other writers have had in explaining and extending or critiquing the primary text. When debaters are better able to explain their argument, judges that are willing to listen to critical arguments may be much more willing to vote on them, as will judges that are opposed to critical arguments.
Some judges seem patently unwilling to vote for a critique. Will Repko says: “I think the Kritik is stupid, and getting stupider. In fact, I just spoke with the Kritik yesterday and it mentioned to that it ‘was really excited about the upcoming season’, and ‘was looking forward to being dumber than ever’ but even he admits that it is possible to get his ballot on a kritik. He says “I am okay with alt + offensive disad-ish thing” and “I am sorta ok with methods/reps 1st,” the trick it seems for getting a judge like Will Repko, a self-admitted K-hater, to vote for the K is to explain the argument in familiar terms. For an offense defense critic, explaining the offense that the negative has won in relation to the offense that the affirmative has won is crucial to convincing them that they should vote for the critique.
One last comment about convincing judges that do not rate the critique among their favorite arguments is important. Most judges that dislike critiques also find that they are opposed to the generic application of theory when it may not be appropriate. Scott “The Duck” Deatherage explains that “To get me to vote negative on a K” a team needs to “work really really really hard to make your generic link arguments fit the specifics of the affirmative.” A generic understanding of post-structuralism is not enough to disprove a specific policy proposal for most judges, and so the specific application and articulation of links and the ways that the impact interacts with affirmative offense can be the route to increased success with the K in front of different judges.
Though there are many different types of criticisms and many different types of judges, there are really only three fundamental rules in adapting a critical argument to a particular judge. First and foremost, have a clear explanation of the argument that avoids using the dense insular language of the primary author. By reading and understanding secondary interpretations you will be able to present the critique in a fashion that is accessible to willing audiences. Secondly, explain the critique in terms that the judge understands and readily accepts as legitimate. If a judge enjoys hearing counterplan/disad debate then it will be appropriate to talk about the levels of solvency of the alternative, the disadvantages to the permutation, the uniqueness of the links as well as making crucial comparisons of the impacts incurred from voting affirmative versus voting negative. Third and finally, making your arguments specific to the affirmative that you are debating will always increase the credibility and persuasiveness of the critique no matter the preferences of the judge.
Published in: Kritik