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22May/112

Parametrics: A response to Isaiah McPeak (part 2)

Part 2 (or part 5, if you're counting that way) in my parametrics discussion with the incomparable Isaiah McPeak of Ethos. Because we all love quasi-useful theory debates. 😛

Before reading, make sure you've read the original parametrics post, Isaiah's first response, my response to Isaiah, and Isaiah's second response. (That's over 7,000 words - w00t!)

Occam's razor, redux: No unnecessary leprechauns!

(Note: My examples for the remainder of this post will relate to topical counterplans. I realize that topical counterplans are not the point of parametrics, but in practice, they're the only part that matters in-round, and they're an easy place to see the logic in action. Bear with me here.)

In my response, I referenced Occam's razor as my justification for rejecting parametrics. Isaiah objected to this, saying:

. . . the statement  that “we should reject parametrics automatically as an unnecessary layer of complexity” still smacks of “rejecting” parametrics, rather than saying “don’t USE parametrics because there is no need”. I find it humorous to see Occam’s razor as a reason to “reject” anything. Occam’s razor isn’t a reason to reject, it is a reason to ignore/not use.

The problem is that parametrics isn't something you apply on a case-by-case basis: it's either true or it isn't. Because of this, "not using" it is more or less equivalent to "rejecting" it.

Running a theory argument is essentially the same as pointing out a logical fallacy: you're saying "X is not a logically valid reason to vote." For example, fiat says "'that won't happen' isn't a logically sound reason to vote against a plan", topicality says "nontopical plans aren't a logically sound reason to vote for the resolution", etc. Parametrics is the same way: it's a reason why topical counterplans are a logically valid reason to vote against the resolution.

Since it's a logical argument, if parametrics isn't true, topical counterplans are never a reason to vote against the resolution. You can't apply it on a case-by-case basis.

Wikipedia states:

It is coherent to add the involvement of Leprechauns to any explanation, but Occam's razor would prevent such additions, unless they were necessary.

WITHOUT LEPRECHAUNS
Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (By definition.)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative.

We can destroy this logic by inserting an extra premise, leprechauns:

WITH LEPRECHAUNS
Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
ARBITRARY EXTRA PREMISE: Mischievous leprechauns change the resolution after the 1AC, just because they feel like it.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (INVALID)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative. (INVALID)

WITHOUT PARAMETRICS
Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (By definition.)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative.

We can destroy this logic by inserting an extra premise, parametrics:

WITH PARAMETRICS
Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
ARBITRARY EXTRA PREMISE: We redefine the resolution to be just the Affirmative plan, just because we feel like it.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (INVALID)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative. (INVALID)

Yes, we could use leprechauns to defend topical counterplans. But unless there's a particularly pressing reason to, we shouldn't. Likewise, we could use parametrics to defend topical counterplans. But unless there's a particularly pressing reason to, we shouldn't.

Does parametrics correct injustices?

But what if there is a "particularly pressing need?" Both Isaiah and I agree that the popular argument - offtopic disadvantages - is not a justification for parametrics. In his last post, however, he raised a new point:

Suppose the Government team abolishes our nuclear stockpile, and the Opposition reduces it instead. Both the Government and the Opposition could theoretically be construed as "significantly reforming policy towards Russia." . . . So the affirmative does some wordplay and spends its time on dictionary definitions of the word “reform” instead of comparing the benefits of abolishing over reducing (which is a fair, reasonable, and should be expected debate) . . . Given that [the] negative ran a CP, parametrics is a great argument here to focus the debate back on the substantive issues.

There are two problems with this.

First, just because something is important doesn't mean we should talk about it in-round. (The situation in Libya is important, but we shouldn't be discussing it in a round about, say, tax reform.) That's the whole point of the resolution - to narrow the ground of discussion. Reduction vs. abolition feels like a worthwhile, "substantive" issue, but it's not what the resolution is about. The resolution asks us: "should we reform our policy towards Russia?" Not: "how should we reform our policy towards Russia?"

I could run an unrelated Affirmative plan about Africa, and it might be important, but it's not relevant. Likewise, I could run a topical counterplan, and it might be important, but it's not relevant. It doesn't fall under the resolution-appointed topic of discussion.

The argument above essentially says, "well, let's change the resolution then." (That's basically what parametrics does.) But this is a slippery slope. If "being important" is enough to justify changing the resolution, we should do away with the resolution entirely, so we can talk about any important issue we want. That's ridiculous.

If you want to keep the debate substantial... just don't run a topical counterplan.

Second, there are many cases where introducing parametrics does not have a good outcome. For example, the Negative could get up and propose a counterplan that is identical to the Affirmative's plan, except with one mandate slightly changed. (This is common in other leagues.) As a result, the entire round winds up being a completely superfluous discussion of implementation details, instead of actual argumentation about whether the plan is a good idea.

People have been arguing about whether topical counterplans improve debate for years. The only answer everyone can agree on is "we don't really know." Until there's no particularly pressing reason to insert the arbitrary premise of parametrics into debate... we shouldn't.

No unnecessary leprechauns! 🙂

Coming Thursday: How to instantly improve your organization and clarity with one easy trick.

Comments (2) Trackbacks (1)
  1. I haven’t read the entire “debate” between you and Isaiah, but the standard defense for parametrics is that, after the PMC and assuming the neg doesn’t run T, the aff becomes the functional definition of the resolution. That is the only way to have a stable advocacy, and so on. This, of course, justifies PICs (Plan-Inclusive CPs), time-delay CPs, etc.

    Also, “unplug the red phone” (or whatever it was) is a policy res. The word “should” implies action, which in the debate world is always interpreted through a plan text. Thus, even though its a horrible res (I hate metaphors), it is policy. The aff must propose a plan text, or they will lose the trichot debate every time. Like Isaiah said, parametrics are then required for any CP to allowable.

    ~Bryan Brooks

    • The question is “why?” Why is it necessary for the Aff to become the functional definition of the resolution? Both Isaiah and I agree that the conventional argument – whole-resolutional discussion is logically flawed – is invalid. I’m not sure what you mean by “stable advocacy”, though.

      Regarding Isaiah’s parli point. “Mute the red phone” is a policy resolution, but it’s not a “pure” policy resolution. The Aff isn’t expected to take “mute the red phone” literally, whereas they are expected to take (say) “policy towards Russia” literally. So yes, the Aff has to propose a plan text, but that doesn’t you can treat it exactly like a “pure” policy resolution. (I would also argue, as I did in Part 1, that topicality debate makes nontopical CPs feasible even under metaphor resolutions.)


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