In accepting certain premises about the function of the representational critique, the debate community has become something of a deliberative enclave. Terms like “severance” and ideas about the one-to-one impact ratio of “discourse” to “policy” are bandied about with little critical reflection about its meaning for policy-making. This post is an attempt to examine the theory and practice of the Reps K, demonstrate shortcomings in its logic, and introduce the method of “judge choice” as a remedy.
First – let me define what I mean by “representational critique”. By this, I refer to any argument that takes issue with justification for action that is not necessarily tied to outcome of action. This can become blurred, so let me give an example. If a team reads a Disarm plan with two advantages: proliferation and environmental destruction (with a species loss = human extinction impact), and the Neg team critiques Apocalyptic depictions of the environment, that is a Reps K.
Why? Because the Aff team justified the plan by using apocalypticism – but such terminology is not necessarily an outcome of Disarmament. The same plan could be justified solely because of the prolif advantage – or for many other potential reasons.
On the other hand, if a Neg team said “Arms control is bad because it consolidates U.S. security and preserves capitalism”, that is a critique of outcome. Disarming necessarily causes (albeit indirectly) capitalism.
Now, as a student of rhetoric (MA in Comm., WFU, 2008), I find it nearly impossible to say that justifications for acting do not matter. Evidence, such as that commonly read from Doty or other rhetoricians/philosophers, makes a very persuasive case that representation shapes both implementation and reaction to the plan. To set the record straight, I agree with this genre of argument nearly 100%.
However, to say that representations matter—insofar as they determine/influence policy outcomes—says little or nothing about which justifications should be used for policymaking. The representations presented by the 1AC that are justifications for action, instead of outcomes of the plan are neither *mandatory* nor *inevitable* outcomes of voting Aff.
Thus, the judge, at the end of the debate, should be able to choose (for themselves) why to vote Aff or Neg. Logically, one can choose the best arguments from the set of available reasons presented in the debate. Not every 1AC justification needs to be part of the final “package” of voting Aff. If one or more representations for voting for the plan is undesirable, they should not be used. If, at the end of the debate, positive/beneficial justifications for acting remain, the plan is desirable and the Aff should win.
In nearly every “Reps debate” that I have seen, the Neg has implicitly indicted the above method by using the language of “severance”. The judging community, unfortunately, has imported the logic of counterplan competition and ascribed to the dogma that every representation forwarded by the 1AC must be featured in a final evaluation of the plan – with little attendant reasoning for why this must be the case.
In my opinion, importing the theory of CP competition into these debates is a clear misapplication of the term. “Severance” implies an initial attachment—that the plan initially required that certain justifications be used for acting. In other words, the Neg assumes that the Aff had said that voting for the plan mandates that certain representations be used.
This is false. As the above example about Disarm and Environmental Rhetoric demonstrates, justifications for action are frequently disconnected from outcome. Banning the bomb may affect the environment, but it doesn’t dictate how we choose to speak about/represent ecology. In this way, representations are different than, say, a policy advantage to the plan. Banning the bomb may necessarily stop proliferation. Then, “prolif good” would be an inescapable disadvantage of the plan.
The outcome/justification distinction is highly important. If the Neg straight impact-turns the prolif advantage, there’s nothing to concede to “sever” the link to the advantage. If the Neg only says “Prolif representations are racist” with no reason that the *plan* causes such depictions (only a link about how the Aff team used them), the impact is much more uncertain. Commonly, judges assess an impact to the Reps K (“How bad are those justfications?”) and then weighs that against the case. This is a fundamental logical error. If a certain set of justifications is flawed, then the judge should simply not use them, not *require* the Aff to use them and assess it a value similar to the plan’s outcomes – an entirely different category of argument.
Why? Because the judge is a dynamic thinker, like any engaged decision-maker. At a town hall meeting, if a speaker proposed a policy for three reasons, two of which were excellent and one was crap, you *should* agree with their proposal for the two good reasons and ignore the third. Good ideas are good if they have beneficial outcomes, regardless of how they are justified.
Interestingly, the contrary position—that you should hold speakers to every reason they cite as justification and use it to assess their policy—is one of the most reactionary and anti-critical stances one could take. It prioritizes who speaks over what is spoken about. It ignores content for form. It punishes instead of compromises. And, fundamentally, it is a tactic used by conservative political forces to crush progressivism. Do the critique folk really want to be in this company?
The debate judge should be treated like an intelligent and dynamic policy-maker. The affirmative should forward a proposal with a set of justifications. The Neg can criticize (via DAs, a counterplan, a K, etc.) the plan or the justifications. If the Neg wins that the plan is a bad idea, they win. If the Neg wins that the justification is bad, then the judge should reject that justification and determine whether the plan is a good idea for any other potential reason.
There isn’t “no cost” to presenting poor justifications for action on the Aff. In all likelihood, you’d lose your entire advantage. The disarm aff that spots the Environment Reps K would no longer be able to claim the environment advantage as a reason for acting. The K still has value—but it’s meaning changes to a “reason not to use such representation” instead of a DA to the plan. If the Aff *only* had an environment advantage, the K would be a reason to vote Neg on presumption. The Reps K isn’t a DA to the plan. It can never be “Environmental Reps cause extinction – outweighs the case”, because the conclusion of that statement is that those justifications should never be used for acting in the first place. Translation: “No Link, Judge”.
Finally, what about the Doty card and other “reps matter” style arguments that I mentioned before? Well, representations matter—but those arguments presume that the reps actually used influence policy. My position is that the judge can choose which representations to use for policy enactment, so Doty et al. applies to the 1AC but not the final position chosen by the judge that is a reason to vote Aff because it affirms the plan.
In the end: let the judge choose. It’s a far more coherent model of decision-making.
Published in: Kritik