Lesson 1: Popular Kritiks Crash Course
These kritiks are popular among debaters, but they are by no means a comprehensive list. Feel free to use these as a starting point. Link, impact, and alternative will be labeled in the examples with the following colors: link, impact, alternative.
The Cap K
The “Cap K” is a critique of capitalism. As defined by Merriam Webster, “a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government.” This K would typically argue that x is deeply tied to capitalism and its legitimacy. Unfortunately, the system of capitalism is dedicated to maximizing the wellbeing of the elite and casting aside the working class. One of the strengths of the Cap K is its historical analysis. This is a K that works really well against other Ks—and is often a go to strategy for debaters engaging in K vs. K debates. That’s because the legacy of capitalism has been heavily tied to the disposability or exploitation of particular groups. Many disregard people with disabilities because they believe they cannot be productive workers. Many argue that slavery was started because capitalism encouraged maximizing profit, and what better way to do so than through free labor, and what better way to replicate this system than through generational slavery. It can also be used against traditional policy arguments because many of those positions will heavily rely on capitalist institutions to carry out the affirmative (such as governments, corporations, etc.). Once the debater is able to establish that capitalism is the root cause of all misfortune in our world, establishing the link that your opponent is promoting or protecting capitalism seals the deal.
Here’s an example of what the focal points of a debate involving the Cap K on the negative could look like:
- Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of elementary and/or secondary education in the United States.
- K’s Main Argument: The focus on funding shows the strong connection between education systems and capitalist institutions in the United States. Substantial increasing of funding allows for governments to maintain a strong hold on the population while disrupting the potential for radical change and criticism in classrooms. We should focus on continuous opposition to the state in the fight against capitalism.
- Potential Affirmative Response: Students need funding in order to learn and criticize in the way the K cares about. Additionally, lack of access disproportionately harms low income students. These disparities will only make the effects of capitalism worse.
The Security K
The Security K focuses on the way we handle policy making. Governments often make policy decisions based on national security and the wellbeing of their people. Unfortunately, these justifications often are used to construct threats to permit governments to act in ways that are harmful. For example, some might argue that countries have invaded other countries in the name of national security but, behind the scenes, are focused on profitable, economic benefits
¹ “Capitalism.” The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.
that come from the conflict. Many of these criticisms focus on how Western governments, but especially the United States, engage in this harmful behavior. Often, they will use this as an excuse to maintain hegemony or dominance in a region. Many traditional policy affirmatives will focus on existential harms—anything that threatens our ability to avoid extinction of life on Earth. To them, avoiding mass casualty and the end of the world as we know it is a big impact that can justify almost anything. The strategic value of the Security K is that it tries to call this out. Debaters who read this K have to prove that their opponent is constructing security threats to justify more harm. This can be done on the link level by establishing how the focus of their position proves the point of the K. I also would encourage having some strong topical defense on case when reading this position. If you can prove that nothing the affirmative says is actually true, that strengthens the threat construction story on the K while also covering your bases on the regular substantive level.
Here’s an example of what the focal points of a debate involving the Security K on the affirmative could look like:
- Resolved: A just government ought to prioritize civil liberties over national security.
- K’s Main Argument: The sacrifice of civil liberties in the name of national security creates a slippery slope for governments to harm their citizens. Existential threats are used to violate the rights of the people and export harm around the world. As a result, we should push for foreign policy that is not rooted in abstract fears.
- Potential Negative Response: In times of crisis, prolonging the crisis only does more harm than good. Even if civil liberties are important, we need to protect people and make sure they are alive before we can protect their civil liberties.
Settler Colonialism K
The Settler Colonialism K (more commonly known as Set Col) is a K that focuses on indigeneous populations and settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is “an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures.” The K argues that we must do everything in our power to struggle against settler colonialism and prioritize indigenous scholarship and identity. This K is great against policy and other K positions because it calls into question who has the right to call the shots in the first place. As debaters, especially if you reside in a place like the United States, you are debating on occupied Native land. As governments, nations pass legislation and push for political stances while standing on land that was stolen. This K argues that the foundation is bankrupt and that it is crucial to upend this process before anything else is possible. This K might be read with an alternative about decolonization or giving back the land. Decolonization is, as articulated by Tuck and Yang, focused on “Indigenous sovereignty and futurity.” In other words, we must take actions that protect and legitimize indigeneity—whether that is through changes in policy, educational focuses, or any other method the debater chooses to do this.
² Cox, Alicia. “Settler Colonialism.” Oxford Bibliographies, 26 July 2017, www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780190221911/obo-9780190221911-0029.xml.
³ Tuck, E., and K. W. Yang. “Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society, 1 (1), 1-40.” (2012).
Here’s an example of what the focal points of a debate involving the Settler Colonialism K on the negative could look like:
- Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its restrictions on legal immigration to the United States.
- K’s Main Argument: Questions of immigration and the belief that the United States should have any jurisdiction over deciding who is or is not a citizen is a form of settler colonialism. This is stolen land and they have no right to determine who is legitimate. Ignoring this allows for violence against indigenous groups and an erasure of their legitimate claims to land that was stolen from them. We must constantly reject any claims to legitimate ownership the United States Federal Government has over indigenous land.
- Potential Affirmative Response: Even if that history is the case, there are vulnerable groups (refugees, victims of cartel violence, etc.) who need immediate access to the United States. Focusing on resolving that material harm is more important.
A Feminism K attempts to focus on the patriarchy. The patriarchy is “a present day unjust social system that subordinates, discriminates, or is oppressive to women.” Over time, this definition has expanded from being a system that only oppresses women to a system that prioritizes masculinity to the detriment of everyone else. This affects women, it affects men who do not meet expectations of what it means to be a ‘man,’ and it also affects people who do not ascribe to either being a man or a woman. As a result, this K criticizes this institution and argues that we must do everything in our power to resist it. This K can be used to shed light on a variety of issues. Sometimes, it might seem simple when it, for example, focuses on issues like wage gaps and lack of opportunities in fields of work. However, it can also be very nuanced and analytical. For example, it might argue that foreign policy decisions that obsess over war are masculine responses to problems. Instead, we should move toward a more caring approach to international issues. Regardless of its form, the thesis remains largely the same: the patriarchy prioritizes a harmful version of masculinity and it needs to be rejected.
Here’s an example of what the focal points of a debate involving the Feminism K on the affirmative could look like:
- Resolved: A just government ought to recognize an unconditional right of workers to strike.
- K’s Main Argument: The right to strike has been a crucial part of women’s ability to fight for better rights and compensation. Women work in fields where the right to strike is often under threat. Without the right to strike, women’s oppression increases through lesser pay and unfair working conditions. These women deserve to have their voices heard, and doing so allows for us to effectively challenge the patriarchy.
- Potential Negative Response: The right to strike puts the onus on the oppressed to advocate for change. The affirmative is forcing these women to risk their jobs and livelihood for respect. Governments should focus on mandating basic decency from employers instead of pushing the responsibility on workers. This blames women for not fighting hard enough if they fail and erasing the patriarchal role the government plays in their oppression.
4 Facio, Alda, and Michael Solis. “What Is Patriarchy.” Woman’s Human Rights Institute, 2013, www.learnwhr.org/wp-content/uploads/D-Facio-What-is-Patriarchy.pdf.
Afropessimism might be one of the more complicated Ks on this list. It argues that our world as we know it is based on the destruction and hatred of Blackness. Why? A strong central argument in this scholarship is that Blackness is ontological.
Here is a nice and simple (as it gets) explanation from Wikipedia:
Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies concepts such as existence, being, becoming, and reality. It includes the questions of how entities are grouped into basic categories and which of these entities exist on the most fundamental level. Ontology is sometimes referred to as the science of being and belongs to the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics 5 .
When these scholars say that Blackness is ontological, they are saying that Blackness is the basic category that the world uses to contextualize all other identities in our life. Why? Frank Wilderson, a major figure in Afropessimism, argues that this happened because of the Transatlantic Slave Trade—when Europeans took Africans from the continent, erased their individual identities, and produced slaves in the new world. The benefits for white members of society that came from slavery were so astounding and make global superpowers what they are today. The world as it is right now could not exist without that history. As a result, anything that threatens that position of Black being equal to slave is often rejected by society. Afropessimists would use examples of how slavery was replaced by Jim Crow and how Jim Crow was replaced by mass incarceration of Black people in the United States. Ks that focus on Afropessimism will often focus on government use or a belief that society can be reformed and is redeemable. They argue that the only way to change this negative relationship is if society as we know it comes to an end. Very pessimistic, right? This is partially where the name comes from.
Here’s an example of what the focal points of a debate involving the Afropess K on the negative could look like:
- Resolved: The United States federal government should enact substantial criminal justice reform in the United States in one or more of the following: forensic science, policing, sentencing.
- K’s Main Argument: Focuses on reform make it so that absolute abolishing of systems of anti-Blackness become impossible. Reform is what allowed us to move from slavery to Jim Crow and to the prison industrial complex. We should focus on radically destroying prison systems if we ever want to disrupt anti-Blackness.
- Potential Affirmative Response: Progress is possible and important. The prison industrial complex is horrible and that is why we want to reform it. Changes in sentencing will greatly affect the lives of African Americans and create positive impacts for their communities.
5 Wikipedia contributors. “Afro-Pessimism.” Wikipedia, 27 Feb. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro-pessimism.
Non-Topical & Performance Ks
Another group of Ks to be aware of are Non-Topical Ks and Performance Ks. A non-topical K is a criticism that does not affirm the resolution. To be non-topical, they have to be K affirmatives. The scholarship above can be used to justify why they decide to disregard the topic. For example, a debater might argue that a topic that forces debaters to defend the United States Federal Government (which all policy topics do) is a violent act for indigenous people. The government cannot and never has worked in their favor and pretending that it can only creates a false narrative of hope.
A performance K, on the other hand, is a criticism that uses a performative element in the debate round. Sometimes this looks like singing, dancing, drawing, reading poetry, or anything else the debate feels embodies their criticism. Similar to what I mentioned about non-topical Ks, any K can be turned into a performance K. Additionally, a performance K is not always a non-topical K. Sometimes people defend the topic but want to add a performative element to their cases. Why would people perform? Well, sometimes they feel like a performance helps them embody their method well. For example, let’s say someone is reading a Feminism K. They include poems from women who were affected by violence and colonialism. They could argue that the poems add empathy and care to debate, something that typical debate norms discourage us from doing. These empathetic moments and direct inclusion of these women’s voices allows them to challenge how patriarchy within debate tells us some forms of evidence and styles of speaking are more legitimate than others.
Creating these cases will be outside of the scope of this course—as these are more advanced K positions. However, many of the responses below (especially things like Topicality, which we will discuss in Chapter 4, Lesson 2) will help you deal with these positions well.