There are six key things you can do to cover your bases when answering a criticism. These answers (and the order in which you read them) might change based on what you are reading but should still have the same goals as the following:
1. Attack the Framework
A K is nothing without its framing. In the first rebuttal, a strong K debater will always start with the role of the ballot because they know that their impacts matter only if they are winning the framing debate. Disproving their ROB/ROJ is a huge setback. Three ideas I always give to those struggling to generate responses are:
- Why they are bad independently of whatever you read?
- “Focusing on anti-Blackness alone ignores other forms of violence. This creates the idea that violence against Black people matters more than violence against other marginalized groups. This destroys movement building and creates animosity across marginalized identity groups.”
- Why you are COMPARATIVELY better?
- “Maximizing wellbeing is a better framework for the debate because it allows for us to look at society holistically. Maximizing wellbeing entails caring about those harmed by patriarchy as well as other social and physical harms civilians might face.”
- How does your framework control the internal link to theirs?
- “Focusing on existential risks controls the internal link to resolving indigenous violence. When there is catastrophe, vulnerable populations are the first to be affected by famine, climate change, and military threats. To avoid further human rights abuses, we must stop the apocalyptic circumstances that often are used to justify them.”
- Why they are bad independently of whatever you read?
2. Disprove their Theorization of Powers
The theorization of power of a K is like the thesis of the K. This is the part of their scholarship that argues that what they are saying is true. For example, Afropessimists will argue that Blackness is ontological (remember, ontology is related to the nature of being). A Cap K would argue that capitalism is the root cause of all of our problems on this earth. Disproving the theorization of power means disproving the premise of the K. To do this, ask yourself why what they are saying is not true. There are a couple of ways you can try to do this:
- Prove they are statistically or historically incorrect. For example, if they say that capitalism causes mass violence and inequality, you could read evidence that says that capitalism is the most ethical system and, over the past several decades, it has increased quality of life, economic opportunities, and much more.
- Prove their scholarship is not credible. For example, if they read a psychoanalysis critique, there are many people who argue that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience. It cannot be quantitatively measured. Its studies are not able to be replicated. It is not able to make broad claims about anything because it is not credible from the start.
- Prove their conclusion is not useful. For example, if your opponent reads a criticism saying nothing is real you can say, even if that were true, how does that help us do anything. Life still goes on and there are tangible things that need to be addressed—inequality, existential threats—given that those exist and feel very real, arguing otherwise is not helpful and does not change anything. You could even say it could make things worse!
If you would like to turn the above arguments into carded responses, there are a couple ways to do this. For beginners, I would suggest taking a look at camp files and wikis. If you are not familiar with either, camp files are often files put out by students and their lab instructions from Policy Debate camps. Typically, these files will cover a certain topic area or type of argument. Many times, you can find a file filled with answers to the most common Ks. For example, a quick Google search of “evidence and debate camp” led me to the RKS Debate Workshop at Wake Forest and the excellent student-created resources they produced there. Files have cards in support and against certain Ks. Students also recognize how helpful these files are so they have Reddit pages dedicated to compiling these camp files as well.
For more advanced students, do research! You can refer to Chapter 3, Lesson 1 if you need a refresher, but academics love disagreeing with each other. If you use tools like Google Scholar, you can use the “cited by” function to see if other authors are cited articles you want to answer in a negative way. You can also search your scholarship plus “critiques” or “criticisms” or even look at book reviews by author academics.
3. Make No-Link Arguments
A K can only win the round if they prove that you link to their criticism. As a result, you need to make no-link arguments. These arguments are exactly like they sound—they attempt to prove that you’ve done nothing wrong in the context of their scholarship. Let’s take the following situation as an example: you read a regular affirmative that bans nuclear weapons and your opponent reads a K where the link is the affirmative trusting the government. You can make a no-link argument by saying the affirmative does not trust the government, that’s why it is calling for the banning of nuclear weapons. There is no link to the criticism because you do not do what they are accusing you of doing.
But what about when you’re the negative—how do you respond against K affs? If you decide to make a no-link argument as a negative debater, we’d assume you’re reading another K or a CP that avoids the harms of the affirmative in question. That’s because K affs will generate their links based on what exists in the status quo or what they assume the negative will do to negate the resolution. If you avoid this, that’s a big problem for the affirmative and sets up a compelling no-link route all the way to the ballot.
4. Generate Turns
The biggest problem people have when dealing with Ks is that they are incredibly defensive in their rebuttals. Defensive arguments focus on why you shouldn’t lose, but they really don’t focus on why you should win or why your opponent should lose. This is why turns are so important. There are two types of turns you can make: link turns and impact turns. Link turns are arguments that prove your opponent actually causes the thing they wish to avoid. For example, if your opponent wanted to combat sexism by having a judge vote for them to increase women’s representation in elimination rounds, a link turn could say that arbitrarily voting in that way not only creates a harmful narrative about women not earning their way into elimination rounds but it can also pit women against other women and nonbinary debaters, causing more sexism in the long run. These arguments are very strategic because if your opponent wins the K but loses these turns, this means either a) they lose based on their own criticism or b) their K becomes nonunique because they cause the problem just as much as you do. Impact turns are arguments that say the impact your opponent wants to avoid is actually a good thing. While this is a great tool, be careful. You should not impact turn certain criticisms because it can justify unethical ideas. For example, saying increased racism is actually a good thing is not the most compelling argument and, on top of being inadequate, can lead to negative experiences for everyone involved in the round. On the other hand, you could say that capitalism is actually a good thing and should not be stopped. There are many authors who argue that capitalism is more ethical than the alternatives, that it can solve climate change, that it can increase life expectancy, that it creates more jobs, and the list goes on and on.
5. Make a Permutation (applies only when affirming against a K)
This tip is only for affirmatives. When someone reads a K, you should make a permutation. Every. Single. Time. For those unfamiliar with a permutation, it is an argument that attempts to combine some or all of the affirmative with some or all of the negative. Permutations are tests of competition, meaning they are trying to show that the affirmative and the negative are not actually mutually exclusive. Essentially, the K can exist in the world of the affirmative and vice versa with some tweaks. There are many permutations but here are some of my favorites in these debates.
- “Permutation do both”: To make this permutation, doing the affirmative does nothing to trigger the K. This means you either won the no-link arguments or your opponent did not do the best job having links in their K. In a world where the affirmative doesn’t cause the harms of the K, there is no reason you cannot do the affirmative and whatever the negative is calling for. For example, if you read an affirmative about checking back government corruption and your opponent read an alternative about decolonization (refer to the Settler Colonialism K in Chapter 2, Lesson 1 if you forgot what this means), you can say “permutation do both.” You can (and do) criticize the government in your affirmative and doing the affirmative is the best way to make sure decolonization happens.
- “Permutation do the affirmative through the lens of the alternative”: This permutation works really well against Ks that have an alternative focused on mindset shifts and changing how we think about the world. This permutation argues that if all we have to do is change how we think, we can use the guidance of the K to make sure our policies and decisions are consistent. For example, if your opponent says we need to engage in an anti-capitalist interrogation of the world, you would say that we can use the interrogation to ensure the affirmative is implemented well and an increase of capitalism is avoided.
- “Permutation do the alternative in all other instances”: I like to think of this permutation like a pie chart.
Think about it this way: maybe there is a chance your affirmative links to the K. However, you know what else probably links to the K? Lots of other instances outside of whatever the resolution asked you to focus on. Essentially, this permutation is saying ‘fine, x is really bad. But the affirmative is only one instance of that (and there are really great parts to it). Let’s allow the affirmative to happen and challenge x in literally every other circumstance.” This permutation is usually followed with a double-bind. Either a) solving the K in all other instances is good enough to resolve any tiny harm you might cause by doing the affirmative, or b) the permutation is not good enough, which means rejecting the affirmative in this debate probably was not enough to combat the oppressive system they are criticizing.
All permutations should have net benefits to them. What is the benefit to having the affirmative included in some form? How is it better than just the criticism alone? If you are struggling to answer that, you can look to your original affirmative. What advantages do you have? What harms do you resolve? How does the affirmative materially change people’s lives in ways the K alone cannot?
6. Indict their Alternative
The alternative is their advocacy, or how they try to resolve the harms they brought up in the K. Attacking it is another great way to prove the K is nonunique or that they actually make things worse. There are many ways to do this, but two options you have are a) making a no solvency argument and b) making DAs to the alternative.
- To make a no solvency argument, you need to show that the alternative is not good enough to resolve the impacts of the K. You might argue that the alternative is too vague (i.e., saying “we must embrace the death drive [a Freudian behavioral theory]” will not be enough or instruct anyone well enough to combat the systems that make their lives miserable/put them in danger. You could also argue that it does not actually deal with the core of the issue (i.e., your opponent says we should “engage in horizontal organizing,” and you say this ignores how organizing alone is not good enough without actual top-down policy change).
- DAs to the alternative are exactly like they sound. Do not worry, you aren’t actually reading a full DA to the alternative but making short arguments to explain why there are major problems with doing the K the way it is presented. For example, you could argue that the K focuses on theory and not material conditions of actual oppressed people (this is an Ivory Tower DA). You could argue that the K prioritizes the ballot to prove its point, which cheapens its activism (this is a Ballot Commodification DA). You could even say that it dissuades people from using politics, which only allows those with bad intentions to continue using politics unchallenged (this is a Cede the Political DA). These arguments are great because they can be independent reasons why the K will not only fail but generate more harm.
You don’t have to make all of these arguments—sometimes some may not be applicable. However, I’d encourage you to use it as a guide or checklist when you are thinking of how to respond to these positions.