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11/19/2009 1:39 PM by
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Since I last wrote about Judge Choice, there has been considerable controversy (see here, here, here, and here). While I won’t be able to respond to the reactions of everyone, I do have six “large thoughts” (a useful term, blatantly stolen from Seth Gannon) that will hopefully clarify and deepen the debate.

Wake prep calls – so I’ll post the first three here and the second half next week.

1. Judge Choice is not Plan Focus

Where I came from, “plan focus” meant that the judge evaluated the plan alone, bracketed off from representations/justifications. The Reps K wasn’t just de-valued, it was a non-issue. *Only* the plan was the focus of the debate.

As I have made clear, there is a plenty of a place for representational critique in Judge Choice. Nothing gets procedurally bracketed off. Sure, choices are made about *why* to act – but, its not like the judge pretends that the 1AC didn’t happen. I wrote before, and still believe, that the justifications for action have a powerful influence on the outcome of action, as they determine both implementation and reaction to policy).

Judge Choice simply accentuates the obvious: the “package” of reasons to affirm is different at the end of the debate than it was at the beginning. Representations matter – but *every* representation/justification used the 1AC shouldn’t. More on this later.

Others, it seems, have a different definition of plan focus. For them, plan focus is the idea that debate is about whether the plan is good or not. Representations can influence that decision. But, ultimately, the ballot hinges on the plan, instead of some other framework, such as, “Who would be a better candidate?,” or “Which team’s representations have more positive value?”.

To these folk, I have posited a question: “under an alternative conception of the role of the ballot, is there such thing as advocacy? Do words have decision value beyond representation? Does "The USFG should" get evaluated differently than "Contention One: Inherency", however slightly?”

To others, who may be reading but not commenting, do you wish to endorse a practice (assigning the Reps K independent decision value) that answers “no” to these questions?

2. Benefits of Representational Critique are Secondary to Logic

John Turner accused Judge Choice of creating a model of decision-making that degrades the value of critical discussion of the 1AC.

Well, if there is such thing as advocacy, then the practice may be beneficial but probably does not make much sense. It feels a lot like a Topicality interpretation with no evidence – it seems good in the abstract, but has to be grounded in some logical foundation.

I actually like the representational critique as much as most. It’s an incredibly interesting genre of argument. Nothing that I have written should be interpreted as a shadowy attempt to exclude it from practice. I don’t think its “unfair”, etc.

Still, our defense of the current model of decision-making must move beyond saying, “But, I like it this way”, and toward developing coherent models that can logical explain judging practice.

To be fair, I think John is very close to this – but others should be wary about latching on to some of his arguments without the attendant foundation.

3. Language

Language used to describe the representational critique needs to change. It is time for the way we speak and teach the Reps K to evolve – for the sake of clarity and to introduce an element of terminological precision that is badly needed in debates that differ substantially from those about counterplans, etc.

The language of “severance” is a close-but-not-quite import that makes every discussion of the representational critique worse. Given the near consensus against plan-severance (taken from CP debates, then migrated to the K), the term has shut down critical reflection about the process of decision and created illusions about the burdens of affirmation that have an underdeveloped theoretical basis. I don’t have, as of yet, an alternative term, but I am open to suggestions.

Likewise, using “impact” to describe the claim that “Positivist notions of warming cause extinction” unnecessarily conflates the idea with the “impact” to the case. This should be replaced with a discussion of “decision value” – that is, an argument about what criteria/rubric should be used for determining who won the debate.  

I have no illusions that the Reps K folk will suddenly throw up their arms and abandon their style of argument. In the interim though, making changes to the language we use to debate these arguments could be a highly useful middle-ground and enhance the clarity of discussion by both sides.

Published in: Debate Theory, Counterplans