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11/07/2009 3:59 PM by
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The terminology used here reveals the problem with the theory of “judge-choice.” The focus is on the “necessary” connection between the plan and a justification for the plan. We should not start with a model of policy-formation and advocacy that presumes we are likely to identify necessary connections between action and result. Though the constraints of time mean that components of an affirmative will not be challenged if we’ve learned anything from the process of debate it is that there are no necessary connections only possibilities/probabilities. If we can say that any relationship in a debate is necessary it is that a plan requires a justification in order for the judge to vote affirmative* (I’m not addressing a form of affirmation disconnected from rationality—but that’s not at issue for the discussing the limitations of judge-choice). The extreme plan-focus of “judge-choice” breaks down if we acknowledge that the judge endorses something like a 1AC, not simply the plan text (The theory of “judge-choice” is not significantly different from plan-focus. Judge-choice seems for the most part a way to move the locus of deciding what portions of the affirmative to endorse from the affirmative team to the judge.) Most of the evidence on the importance of framing and representation claims the importance of kritik derives from our ability to demonstrate that what appears natural and necessary should be treated as contingent. Representational kritiks ask the question why given “such terminology is not necessarily an outcome” of a plan the affirmative decided to make the connection between the two. What are the conditions of the possibility for the appearance of the 1AC? Why did the stories that the 1AC initially told make sense to us so as to appear “necessary?”

If we take Harrigan’s formulation of “judge-choice” at its word it is not intended to prevent the introduction of representational kritiks. Instead of being a reason to vote negative, in this theory they would be used to exclude certain reasons presented from the reasons for affirmation. The world encouraged by this theory is one of increasingly poorly articulated advantages supplemented by more obscure add-ons. Extra-T presents an analogous situation—introducing any number of reasons to support the plan allows the negative to kritik those advantages but at most to take them out and then have to win any number of other positions to win the debate. Sure, this isn’t “zero-cost” but it’s pretty close. This would fit with a general move away from probability/possibility at the level of link and internal link towards probability and magnitude at the level of impact. In a sense, judge-choice will make the already unfortunate aspects of the combination of plan-focus and quality evidence about the relevance of language/rhetoric/representation even worse. Extreme plan-focus makes any problematic terms in the resolution/implementation literature immediate fodder for any number of negative arguments (see: biofuels, nuclear weapons, CAFO, Sub-Saharan Africa, persons living in poverty, and many many others) that become quite difficult to defeat or increasingly awkward and annoying to avoid in spite of the fact that the 1AC is most constrained when it comes to wording plans. The area where the 1AC exercised less constrained choices* (“choice” here sits uncomfortably with many critical theories that we might draw on for the arguments, but it is required by the terminology of “judge choice” obviously and if we problematize the notion of “choice” that makes for a different way of breaking down the theory) – advantage construction/justification receives the least critical scrutiny. So, for example, an aff about animal liberation on the subsidies topic that articulated a set of advantages based on breaking down anthropocentrism and highlighted their use of the term “CAFO” as a strategic choice for reasons of implementation and access to exiting discursive framings/structures would be highly likely in our current understanding to lose to a PIC out of CAFO as sanitizing language (because there’s “no offense” grrrr…) but an aff that represents the issue of factory-farming purely in terms human-self interest or through connection to disease security can just read an add-on about how factory-farming makes animals suffer and the question of anthropocentrism is settled.

On the issue of the judge’s “interaction” with the debate the theory of “judge-choice” as presented presumes a problematic and contestable understanding of the position and role of a judge. First, the theory presumes a purely consequentialist form of evaluation as given by treating “outcomes” as entirely separate from reason-giving. For example, this sentence, “Good ideas are good if they have beneficial outcomes, regardless of how they are justified.” This is a theory of decision-making that presumes that one of the most contentious issues in ethical and political theory has already been resolved. Quality evidence suggests that reason-giving substantially effects outcomes. This issue is likely resolved in this theory by pointing out that even if reason-giving cannot be strictly separated from consquence there is still the ability of the judge to “choose” not to use those reasons that would have negative effects. However, this brings us to another important issue in the understanding of judging. The judge Harrigan refers to “chooses” which reasons to use in their decision. This understanding of the judge-subject is itself the subject of many representational kritiks. The theory of “judge-choice” constructs the judge as an agent who believes that justification/rhetoric/representation can be separated strongly from action – that type of judgment may itself be responsible for many of the negative effects of particularly problematic representational systems. “Judge-choice” presumes that rhetoric is a set of discrete objects over which a detached subject can exercise choice. Negatives could characterize the role of rhetoric as constitutive – thus an affirmative hails us/interpellates us as subjects of a particular type. Alternatively, the subject-position of judge and decision could be an effect of discourse rather than an agent. There are a variety of other possibilities—all of which we should resolve through substantive argument rather than by theoretical fiat.

Adding complexity to our understanding of possible judges also helps clarify the claim that only “judge-choice” presumes an “interactive” judge. Interactivity here is constrained to easily detachable reasons that a judge can choose between easily. Affective, constitutive, or ideological effects of speech clearly do not “interact” with this type of judge. Interaction also occurs in this vision only at the moment of decision. It is odd to say that this is the only way to preserve a “dynamic” judge given the static understanding of language and subject that it accompanies. Consider Harrigan’s explanation of the effects this has on our theory of judging:

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?

I agree that reliance on some language of punishment/severance could be a good argument against the phrasing/theory of language and judgement. That way of explaining what is going on in these debates isn’t our only option (more on this below). However, this groups all criticisms of this style together and presumes they are “progressive” or that content and form can be strictly separated. Ironically, if obnoxiously, we could at this point write a representational kritik of Harrigan’s post regarding the language of “progress.” What seems like one word might indicate a whole system of thought about the end goal of pure consequentialism and a “use” oriented theory of the relationship between language and the subject. At the very least, we should acknowledge that for much of the critical theory we’re drawing on for this type of position would say that what is spoken about constitutes the “who” that is speaking or judging. Rather than associating the construction of the 1AC with the debaters (the “who speaks”) as a type of personal corruption most of these positions rely on evidence about the role of criticism/negation as productive. They do not have to be about punishing individuals but instead about engaging in criticism of processes that all to often occur without much thought because they appear “necessary.” Severance is probably problematic and I agree that importation of counteprlan theory into debating alternatives has typically obscured issues instead of clarified them. The use of terms like severance seems more a symptom of judge-adaptation or inertia/debate-laziness than an intrinsic characteristic of criticism.

If we take this claim from Harrigan, “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,” I think it potentially works if we permit plan-inclusive or aff-inclusive alternatives. People fear the number of different arguments that can be raised about individual words. I think that we ought to treat these issues on a case-by-case basis (and with less commitment to offense-defense) in terms of how important a particular set of representations appear for an aff. Frankly, affirmatives should also be thinking about these issues. Also ignored in this fear is that there are significant circumstances where the negative cannot separate the plan from the problematic reasons presented by an affirmative. Negatives have often been dishonest about the degree to which something purely a contingent connection between justification and policy. Particularly in adopting a language that implies a strict separation between the plan (action) and advantage (justification/frame) the negative may be using a model of discourse/representation etc. that is in tension with the overall theoretical vocabulary. However, much of the responsibility for this phenomenon lies in the hands of affirmatives desperate to protect the special status of the plan. We have typically debated all of these as questions of absolute priority (the K equivalent of offense-defense). Rather, most of the evidence read for these claims (including Doty) indicates that these are issues worth engaging, not issues that are logically prior to consequnce—but something that should shape how/whether we ought to evaluate consequences (particularly in the manner described by many affs).

I think that the analogy to the town-hall is loaded and misleading (we would change a lot more about debate than the question of representational kritiks and plan focus if we were actually concerned with modeling a town-hall format). However, even if we take it as a guiding analogy for evaluating debate the theory of “judge-choice” fails to account for the potentially productive components of the analogy. First, I would hope that in listening to the various proposals made in public deliberation that attendees would investigate not only the policies being presented or believe that advocacy for a policy could easily be detached from the rhetoric that often surrounds it. If one fails to pay attention to the connections between ideology and advocacy then we will have serious problems in deliberation. In a town-hall style exchange we’d likely witness AIK style advocacies—I agree with the general course of action, but in order not to have the course of action create X set of issues we ought to frame our actions differently.

Published in: Debate Theory, Kritik