Kevin McCaffrey -- Berkeley Prep

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Judging philosophy:

Current Affiliation: Berkeley Prep
Prior Affiliations: Gulliver Prep, University of Miami


Talk about the big picture, read good evidence, don’t assume anything.


I apologize for the long philosophy, it must be annoying, but I figure, if you want to know how I think, then it’s only to your benefit. I always used to feel guilty for rounds in which I didn’t understand the nuances of a team’s arguments, and strove to be the blank slate. I now believe that this is not only impossible, but probably a net negative for the debaters I judge and the debate community as a whole. I am still working to learn more about arguments with which I’m unfamiliar, but it’s a lifelong process that’s only just begun.

Many fundamental questions in debates, especially concerning the order of operations, comparative calculus, and the nature of advocacy, remain largely uncontested in the rounds I have seen. In these situations, I view the round through a default paradigm which represents what I believe to be the role of the ballot (to endorse or reject the plan as an example of the resolution) and the methodologies used to evaluate the arguments made (an epistemology, my default is empiricism, to evaluate truth claims; and an ethic, my default is utilitarianism, to evaluate value claims). This does not mean that I will not listen to, evaluate, or vote on arguments that run counter to my dispositions; on the contrary, I enjoy being genuinely challenged to rethink my assumptions. However, the communications challenge facing the debater who undertakes such a task is greater; you will have to do more informative and analytical work to compensate for my deficiencies as a critic, and to identify which assumptions I may not recognize that I need to suspend in order to evaluate arguments outside of my comfort zone. Most importantly, I think all debaters must do a better job of identifying the meta-level implications of the arguments that they are making; much of the frustration with decisions I have made could have been avoided if anyone bothered to describe what it means to win a particular argument on the line-by-line rather than assuming that I will be able to see that connection on my own, or having identified that connection, will evaluate it in the same manner as the debater who made it.

As an overarching paradigm, I view this activity as a dialectic exercise in policy advocacy. By advocacy I mean rhetorical defense of a departure from the status quo (or of the status quo). I don’t see much utility in the language of fiat; it seems advocacy speaks more directly to the nature of this activity as a forum to compare visions of the future. Either a team advocates the status quo, or they advocate a departure from it; that departure, whether personal, micropolitical, or institutional, is “fiated” in that it differs from the status quo. I think that an affirmative’s advocacy should be topical. It should also be written down to ensure its stability. If a negative alternative advocacy is not the status quo, then it should also be written down, and logical perms seem like a good idea.

Intrinsically tied to my notion of advocacy is the disposition of arguments, particularly counterplans and kritik alternatives. The language of conditionality versus dispositionality seems meaningless jargon to me, and an attempt to evade the burden of rejoinder; all arguments are inherently dispositional in that they cannot be retracted except by conceding an opponent’s defense. This applies equally to counterplans; concession of defense, such as perms or defensive arguments on the net benefit, or even theory arguments which deny the negative the ability to run the counterplan, are all sufficient to kick a counterplan. Conceded offense on a counterplan, such as theoretical offense, external impact turns to the counterplan or any turns to the net benefit, are all reasons to vote aff. It will require a significant amount of effort to convince me that I should treat any one argument differently than I would treat any other; and if the impact to conditionality bad is reject the argument, not the team, that means reject the argument that the negative can ignore the burden of rejoinder, not reject the counterplan, which would be counter-intuitive, given that doing so is to accept the logic of conditionality.

Similarly, I am annoyed when debaters, in my opinion, misrepresent the implications of the arguments they’re making. For example, most “predictions bad” evidence that I have read don’t intrinsically provide reasons to reject a specific prediction, but merely function as a reason to prefer specific analytical arguments or non-expert evidence over so-called expert evidence. Absent the actual specific reasons why those predictions are false, however, the generic predictions cards carry little weight. Similarly, an argument why the epistemological assumptions of a truth claim are flawed is a reason to reject the truth claim, but doesn’t implicate an advocacy statement, which may be able to function under multiple epistemologies. As well, absent specific arguments why each truth claim (or set of truth claims) depends upon the epistemological assumption in question, I see no reason why I should not prefer the specific analysis and evidence that in my mind hasn’t been contested by a generic epistemology card that wasn’t applied. This perspective is reinforced by all of the “epistemology/ontology/ethics precedes” evidence that I have read, which indicate the role that these methodological frameworks play in evaluating the truth or value claims made, but don’t intrinsically relate to the role of the ballot. Of course I must decide upon an epistemological framework to evaluate truth claims before I evaluate truth claims, but that doesn’t mean that the ballot should be used to endorse epistemology instead of advocacy – that’s a whole different debate that reading one methodology card doesn’t in any way engage. Most of the debates that involve epistemology, ontology, or ethics that I have seen have occurred at an extremely shallow level of analysis that I think does a disservice to the community by misrepresenting the nature of the philosophical perspectives being discussed.

What I really look for in debates is argument depth. I would much rather listen to nine detailed link scenarios to one disad than nine disads. I’d even more prefer one very deep and nuanced link scenario to nine more generic link turns. As a result, I generally prefer a good case debate or impact turn strategy to most other strategies (the notable exception being the case-specific counterplan grounded in the aff evidence). A big part of argument depth is the quality of evidence you read. I tend to read a lot of evidence in good debates, and I see it as my responsibility to discourage shallow debates based on shallow research, and reward deep debates that demonstrate thorough, relevant, and timely research. As a result, I tend to be more persuaded by specific, warranted link takeouts or turns than by generic rhetorically powerful link cards that make broad but empty assertions, and by one long but warranted piece of evidence over five one-sentence, warrantless assertions.

Part of the reason that I prefer debates in which each side only really extends one or two main arguments which are then applied in many places is because it takes a lot of time to do the application and analysis that I am requesting, and rebuttals in which there are many different flows in play don’t really make it possible to do so. It is most often in these situations that I have found that debaters are frustrated with my decisions, because there hasn’t been time to discuss meta-level implications, leaving me to assert my own interpretation.

As a subset of my preference for deep debates emphasizing the substance of research, I fail to comprehend why the affirmative should ever defend an immediate and permanent interpretation of advocacy/fiat. The substance of research should provide the implementation of plan, as with every other aspect of the case. Immediacy and permanency simply seems to void most negative link arguments and allows the aff to ignore many solvency questions, which does not seem particularly advantageous for the negative. Therefore, if you plan to run any counterplans which depend on this entirely arbitrary interpretation of advocacy, then be prepared to explain exactly why the notion of advocacy should mean something different for the aff than for the neg.

A couple more practical notes:

I generally view positions in terms of offense/defense, and will determine the direction of uniqueness before links unless instructed to do otherwise. I like to be able to ignore entire sections of a debate round when making my decision, so terminal uniqueness and inevitability or timeframe claims will get you far.

My background is in contemporary international relations, and therefore I am more fluent in debates in which the literature is written from the perspective of realist or liberal theories of international relations than in debates speaking from a constructivist perspective. Debaters who share a depth of knowledge in this field, whether arguing in favor of this perspective or against it, will inevitably be better equipped to communicate with me than those without. This knowledge can, however, cut both ways; I may be predisposed to believe that realist world leaders are probably inevitable, but I’m also predisposed to believe that Mearsheimer takes out Nye. Conversely, I may not understand why the assumptions of one philosopher conflict with another. It is your burden to explain this to me, even in the situations in which you think I may already understand.

Topicality debates should involve smart, technical interpretations which are explained by long, descriptive overviews with examples of cases and reasons why those cases are bad for debate. Theory and T are the same argument, so I don’t know why people treat them differently. Most theory debates rely on constant repetition of meaningless catchphrases. If you want to impress me, avoid jargon and tell me exactly why their interpretation is bad for debate, with examples. Sell me a story.

A note for performance teams: be very clear about your role for the ballot, and the methodology you expect me to use to decide it, and then defend that. Very often I don’t know what exactly it is I’m endorsing, and I find that incredibly frustrating.

Seasonal voting record:

TourneyDivRdAFF    NEG    Decision

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