David Heidt -- Westminster Schools

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Judging philosophy:

Judging philosophy: David Heidt

Disclaimer: you can still run what you like despite what’s posted below; I will do my best to evaluate all arguments fairly regardless of my own bias, as long as you are clear, and that you impact and explain your arguments. Along the same lines, if you’re aff against one of these counterplans, you shouldn’t think that because you’ve quoted arguments from my judging philosophy that I will give you credit for it—you still have to debate these arguments, defend them against the negative’s responses, and explain them well enough to persuade me.

Most of this is just a rant about how I feel about counterplans. As far as other arguments go, I probably have some biases but you can pretty much run what you like. As long as you clearly explain and impact your arguments, I will try to be objective. Offense/defense is pretty much inevitable but it is possible to get to zero offense (and reasonability is part of that). New arguments are sometimes okay if it relates to impact assessment and the alternative is that I’m required to do it in your place. Occasionally I might think a new assessment of someone's evidence is okay, but, there would have to be a persuasive justification of this. While this is admittedly subjective, I try to consider the perspective of both sides and therefore usually the new argument is unacceptable.

Rant begins:

It is increasingly hard to be affirmative over the past few years; not because negatives have gotten better but mostly because negatives get away with more types of unfair counterplans than they used to. This is partly because there is a weird adoration of PICs by judges and partly because affirmatives are really poor at calling the negative out (maybe because they think judges will never vote on PICs bad arguments). I see this as a big problem:

1. It’s really difficult to be aff because it’s too hard to predict what counterplan the negative will run. It’s not enough to have read every article about your affirmative; you also have to think of every contrived manipulation of fiat the negative will use or anything the negative can imagine that is supplemented by generic process evidence.

2. It hurts the quality of education in the community as a whole. If you can get by 4 years of debate without knowing anything about the cases you’re debating, then you’re not being well served. And why would you do policy research when you can more easily get away with short cuts? A common, if laughable, negative theory argument is “our abusive argument increases 2ac critical thinking”—which, ironically, is a device deployed to shield the negative from ever having to think critically about a policy at all.

And part of the problem is that a lot of people seem to think that these strategies should be encouraged. If the community praises someone for having a sweet new strategy, it almost always turns out to be a cheesy contrived counterplan that is designed to do the entire aff with a trivial net benefit that rarely even makes sense. The reason people will think it’s sweet is precisely that it is unpredictable and deprives the aff of all offense, and the reason it’s unpredictable is that it won’t actually reflect the topic literature in a meaningful way. I think debate is great because it encourages in-depth research of policies and fosters critical thinking in process of shaping arguments for and against change. The over reliance on bad PICs is dramatically moving us away from actual discussion of the merits of policy proposals and is causing negative teams to get by on what are essentially cheap shots.

Which is not to say that all counterplans or even all PICs should be discouraged. Instead, I think that the debate community would much better off if it limited counterplans in several ways. In the same way that most judges have adopted standards for what constitutes legitmate permutations, I think debate would be better if judges also adopted the following standards for counterplans:

1. You need a solvency advocate for your counterplan. What’s a solvency advocate? Different people might have different standards, but I think it’s reasonable to have one that’s comparable to the solvency advocate for the affirmative. Therefore, an affirmative that was mostly contrived nonsense could expect a bunch of bad counterplans in response to it since nobody writes about the aff anyway. But most affirmatives have actual advocates for them, and it’s reasonable to require the same for the counterplan. This is important for aff predictability and it would make the quality of debates higher given that competing literature would exist. A card on the net benefit is not the same as having a solvency advocate. Having a card saying the use of the word “resources” instrumentalizes nature does not mean that you should be able to PIC out of the word “resources” in the plan, unless you have evidence advocating the PIC. A card for the net benefit is a link, not solvency evidence. This is especially important in the context of a discourse PIC that does the plan but calls it something else. If you don’t have a solvency advocate for it then it’s highly unlikely I would think it was fair. In 10 years of judging I’ve only seen 2 solvency advocates for a discourse PIC, everything else has just been along the lines of “x word is bad.”

2. Agent counterplans can’t use the affirmative agent. On the college Court topic, negatives sometimes ran counterplans to have the court distinguish instead of overrule, have the Congress pass a constitutional amendment, and have the states implement domestic violence programs, for example. “It’s fair because all of the actions in the counterplan test whether the Court should overrule,” they would say. While this is technically correct, there is no world in which the affirmative could win a solvency deficit to a counterplan like this, and there are more predictable and reasonable ways to test this. An agent counterplan isn’t a real test of the agent if it also uses the affirmative’s agent. There is never literature that accounts for the counterplan’s action as a whole, even if there is literature on its separate parts. The problem is that the counterplan as a whole does not reflect real world policy processes, and no actual policymaker would be in a position to consider a counterplan like this. While “it’s not real world” rarely has traction in a theory debate, I think an aff can impact this argument as a basic predictability claim—that because there is no mechanism for one policymaker to implement a multi-actor counterplan, then by definition it is not going to be written about in actual policy literature (there are exceptions to this rule, however, and literature is the defining standard). Judges seem to have bought into the notion that the negative needs all possible options to test the affirmative in any way they can imagine—but this has very little academic merit if the “test” occurs via a mechanism that would never exist in the real world. Why is the notion of “testing” the affirmative important except to create a better policy option? I don’t believe there is another rationale, and I don’t think it’s a better policy option if it’s not even a possible policy option.

3. Counterplan fiat can’t involve the possibility of doing the entire plan text. This is an extremely important limit, as it would eliminate the majority of consult and condition counterplans. It would also eliminate counterplans that compete off of normal means, and other types of unpredictable nonsense. I don’t think it’s fair to expect the affirmative to generate offense based upon something that isn’t in the plan but instead on some process the negative assumes the affirmative must use (such as “certainty” or “immediacy” of implementation). It’s one thing to read evidence about the probable process of implementation that the plan uses as a link to a disad. It’s quite another to counterplan with a different process but assert that the affirmative has to be stuck with the probable process you described because “that’s normal means”. There is no such thing as normal means, policies are implemented differently, and given that the plan has never been done before, it’s unlikely that a normal means exists for it, specifically (for the record, I also feel like the aff response to ASPEC of "you can read evidence on normal means of our plan" is stupid for the same reason). Likewise, consult and condition counterplans aren’t competitive at all unless the aff wrote in the plan text “this should occur immediately, unconditionally and without consultation” (or if they clarified the plan to that effect in cross-x).

4. This can all be a voting issue. I didn’t used to think this, but now I think that an argument can be made why abusive counterplans are voting issues rather than reasons to reject the argument, independent from conditionality-based warrants. In general in front of me, any voting issue needs to be explained as a reason to reject the team and not the argument (otherwise I’ll treat it as a reason to reject the argument even if the other team drops it). And just saying “reject the team—fairness and education” won’t get you anywhere since you haven’t explained why those impacts require rejecting the team. On the other hand, I could be persuaded that bad practices require punishment, or the time investment in theory requires more than rejecting the argument, or that the ballot could deter the use of a particularly destructive CP at least in front of me in future debates, etc. None of these reasons are great but it's certainly possible I'd vote on them depending on how it was debated.

Seasonal voting record:

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