Loose Nukes Because every debate can be improved with a little highly-enriched uranium.

11Jun/111

A realistic view of kritiks

First off, apologies for this post being late - I've been too busy butchering Spanish verb tenses and making Factsmith awesome to finish it on time. Anyhow, here it is.

Conventionally, discussions about kritiks revolve around two main areas:

  1. The theoretical legitimacy of kritiks.
  2. Whether kritiks are good for the educational quality of debate.

This post is not about either. This post is about how to win with a kritik - specifically, what kinds of kritiks work with what kinds of judges.

These aren't hard and fast rules, of course; every judge is different. But hopefully, they'll help you think about what the judge is looking for in a new light. 🙂

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a kritik: "Kritiks" are basically arguments about the mindsets and attitudes of the other team's case; a kritik argues that voting for the case would endorse its bad mindset. For example, if a case is based on the idea that women are unfit to serve in the military, the Negative might hypothetically kritik it for promoting gender bias. Etc.

Three types of kritiks

Principles kritiks. These are kritiks based on core, common principles - like justice, democracy, etc. For example, if the Affirmative's plan would deny heath insurance to minorities, the Negative could quite justifiably run a racism kritik. Generally speaking, if most people agree that the mindset in question is bad, it's a principles kritik.

Fluffy kritiks. These are kritiks based on fluffy ideas that most people don't care about. A good example would be "deep ecology", which argues against treating nature as a separate "thing" that can be "solved" with human ingenuity.

The only real difference between principles kritiks and fluffy kritiks is in how generally the subject is believed to be bad. If most people only care about it in an abstract, philosophical way, it's a fluffy kritik.

Plan-world kritiks. These are "kritiks" based on the type of decisionmaking the plan will supposedly endorse in the real world. For example, the Negative might argue that passing a hypocritical plan will make the government more likely to be hypocritical in the future.

(To be clear, so theory nuts don't kill me: plan-world kritiks aren't actually kritiks, they're just disadvantages with funky links. However, in practice, most judges will handle them the same way in-round, so I figured I should discuss them here.)

Three types of judges

Community. Community judges don't generally vote on theoretical arguments. Kritiks are a theoretical argument. Therefore, community judges don't generally vote on kritiks. Right?

Not exactly. Think of the last time you got a ballot like...

"I was convinced of the benefits of the plan, but I just don't think we should be spending more money in a recession."

"Judge bias"? That's basically the judge voting on a kritik that they made up themselves. Community judges vote on mindsets all the time - but only if they agree with them. Principles kritiks like racism are fair game. Fluffy ecological kritiks, not so much.

Parent/alumni. One might expect parent and alumni judges to be more receptive to kritiks than community judges, but that's actually a bit misleading. Parents have a fairly good understanding of what is and isn't a valid argument, so they'll often disregard mindset arguments as "not a real argument" or subject to personal bias ("well, I think the plan is racist, but that's my personal opinion, which I shouldn't bring into the round.")

Generally, however, principles kritiks will go down well if make a point to emphasize "this is an actual argument". Fluffy kritiks don't tend to get much traction - unless the judge understands and accepts the theory behind kritiks, in which case they are...

Ãœbernerdflowjudge9000. You know the type. Former-NFL debaters; coaches; fifth-year alumni; the ones who come in with a dedicated flowpad and four different colored pens. You get about what you'd expect: kritik away!

Interestingly, I've noticed that theory-savvy judges don't tend to do as well with plan-world kritiks, because they treat them as true disadvantages. True disadvantages require solid links and impacts, which aren't usually present in plan-world kritiks.

A similar effect holds true for principles kritiks. A theory-savvy judge may expect you to have specific impacts, instead of just saying "racism is bad" and moving on.

Putting it all together

Here's a simple chart that summarizes all the discussion above:This can be boiled down to three basic rules:

  1. Legitimate principles kritiks are fair game.
  2. Don't run "fluffy" kritiks unless you have a nerd judge.
  3. Keep plan-world "kritiks" realistic.

Extend-o-tron 5000: An extremely unrelated side note

A random strategy tip that came to mind as I was writing this post; take it or leave it:

One "fluffy" kritik that occasionally comes up is the Cap K - or, basically, a kritik of capitalism. A fairly effective way to beat this (at least with non-theory-savvy judges) is to rhapsodize about the market forces behind the building you're debating in, contrasted to the alternatives (socialism, etc.) Highlight the massive number of "moving parts" that the markets automatically handle:

"Let's take the hinges on the door. Someone had to design it; someone had to run the mining machinery, and the transportation machinery, and the smelting machinery, and the hinge-putting together machinery, and someone had to design all that machinery. That's not including the design and manufacture of the millions of other parts involved in the manufacturing and selling process. All the people involved did that for money - because of capitalism. All the services and goods are part of a complex web of supply and demand that automatically sets the ideal prices for everything, based on what people are willing to pay. Imagine how difficult and inefficient the whole process would be if we had to design it from the top down, without the profit incentive." (Et cetera.)

Is this a legitimate response? Not really. Does it work? Yes.

Filed under: Kritiks, Theory 1 Comment