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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

APDA Stuff, part I

My senior speech was going to include a list of things I'd like to suggest for anyone who is going to be debating in the future. Then I remembered how much I hated listening to people's long-windedness, and resolved to make sure I didn't speak for too long (a first, I know). But, since nobody has to sit through this blog, I present my debate advice.

1) Run whatever you want
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, "Fuck it, run whatever you feel like running and talk about whatever you want." I hated the vast majority of cases I was forced to debate - so the only respite I got was when I was on gov and got to decide what the topic was going to be. There is no such thing as "a bad case" unless it's one where there's only one side. Anything contentious is fine. People hear case statements and say, "That will never win." If you take anything away from this, it should be: there's no such thing as an unwinnable case. There are unwinnable rounds, but not unwinnable cases. Things that a normal person could never accept in three minutes of conversation, they'll be convinced of after forty five minutes. The normal social filters that force us to reject ideas out of hand conversationally are bypassed after enough acclimation to any subject. The only time this isn't true is during rounds with large crowds, when judges feel social pressure to conform.

Our parole case is a good example. The case is simply "The US should abolish parole." This case should never win. Yet after enough rhetoric, it seems like the only just thing to do. The other is a case about a British man in a colony in the East Indies and argues that you should let your son fellate you in a tribal ceremony. It's 2-0. That's not right, people.

2) The most important thing is for the judge to want to pick you up
A judge can justify a decision either way in any round. Unless a team concedes, there is a rationale that can be made for either side. Certain debaters win rounds because the judges want to pick them up. It's not corruption, it's just that most rounds are decided subconsciously and justified afterwards via the ballot. This means: don't be rude, don't be spitefully mean, and don't be abusive. There are times when you should pass up 'winning' arguments because it makes you look better. I lost more rounds by being pointlessly cruel to the other team than probably any other single cause.

3) Act like you know
10% of what matters in a round is communicated. 90% of what matters is subcommunication. The judge is going to be significantly more influenced by nonverbal channels than (s)he will by what you are literally saying. When you talk, especially when you make arguments, people have a natural tendency to be skeptical and rationally evaluate what you're saying. This is true of all interactions that you have with people. During a debate round, even more so. If you simply speak clearly, and act at all times like you are winning the round, MOST OF THE TIME, you will win the round.

In my humble opinion, one of the reasons that women do worse on APDA than men isn't some endemic corruption or misogeny. It's because the natural speech patterns and body language that American society tends to incaulkate into females are more submissive than men. Speech pathologists have done studies that show, among other things, women are significantly more likely to raise the pitch of their voice slightly at the end of declaratory sentences as if seeking approval. They're taught to be supplicating. These sorts of things aren't even consciously weighed by the judge when they're listening, but most of how people interpret speech is context-driven. This is different than being cocky. Cocky is bad. But your rebuttals should never sound defensive or desperate. You shouldn't scoff or make noise during opponant's speeches, and you should conduct yourself as if you've already won the round. You can break EVERY WEEKEND based ONLY on this point.

4) Arguments don't win rounds
This is probably the one that most people don't understand. You can beat every argument the other side makes, but the important thing is framing. One of the 'inventions' that is the most important is the concept of the 'overview.' In any given round, there are going to be some arguments won and some lost by each team. Establishing a context where the arguments for one side are clearly more cogent will make whatever your opponant does irrelevant.

I'll use the parole case again, as an example. "Abolish Parole" is about one thing: establishing the context of the round as being about justice and fairness. If gov does that, the round is over. In probably 40 rounds about that case (including a few times it was used as a countercase), opposition immediately accepted that the round was going to be about justice, and made arguments about unjust convictions and so on. But you can't win that way. It's impossible. The only way to defeat one context is to create a different context. Great rounds are never explicitly about the syllogisms, it's about using the things that have been said to advance your own frame.

Practically, the way you do this is to just presume your own frame and respond to the opposing side from there. Respond as if, in the parole case, justice is all that matters. Almost every single time, the other side will tacitly accept it when they respond to you since it inheres in your argument - and in order to respond, they have to engage you on your ground. This is why opposition wins so much: most MGs are really, really bad and spend too much time attacking ARGUMENTS when they should be attacking the opp frame.

Another example: Yale runs a case about genetic testing in insurance. I've been told this case wins a lot. If it does, it's only because people try to engage it at the level of predictive accuracy. The arguments in favor of setting premiums with genetic information are obviously that you get more accurate premiums, and you can group people according to their risk (like car insurance). The value of doing this is that, for some people, it will lower their premiums to affordability. The problem is: this is true. There's not really a way to dispute it. You can say that we're not GREAT at genetic testing and it might unfairly penalize people because of misinterpreting genetic data. Then the round becomes about how good insurance company actuaries are at determining the usefulness of data aquisition methods and if it's economically beneficial. It's possible to win this as opposition, but that argument is stacked in favor of a government team.

The more useful way of going about this is to reframe the purpose of insurance. Why even bother having insurance? Consider what would happen if there were perfect information about future health. People would be categorized according to the exact cost of their future medical expenses. Maybe people in a similar class would structure payment so that people who had health problems in the present would agree to pay for someone else in the future in exchange for financial diffusion, but more likely, insurance wouldn't exist. Health insurance relies on healthy people. If you can just say "In order to prevent abuse, we'll draw the brightline at voluntary action and acknowledge that it's an inefficient system, but one that prevents larger disutility to society." This is a position that you can win without much difficulty.

To be continued whenever I feel like it...

cranked out at 9:53 AM | |

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