Oct 26, 2008

LD mailbag: felons and Foucault

Readers have sent in some good LD questions regarding the current "felon voting" resolution. I'm answering them here in the hopes that others will gain insight as well. As always, add further questions or constructive criticism in the comments.
I'm pretty new at debating, and I'm having trouble writing cases. (I've been at this computer for the last six hours and still haven't come up with much!)

Here's my affirmative so far:
V: Justice
VC: ?
C1: The right to vote ought to be inalienable for all people in a democratic society
[backed up with evidence, etc.]
C2: ?
C3: ?
And my negative:
V: Justice
VC: ?
Obs.1: Felons = incarcerated AND ex-felons, affirmative must prove both
C1: Currently incarcerated felons are wards of the state and do not pay taxes, thus they should not retain the right to vote.
C2: Felons have shown lack of judgment by committing felonies, thus they cannot be trusted to vote.

Blargh. I'm so bad at this writing cases thing. What should I do?
I think either case is workable, with a few tweaks. Here's how I'd go about fixing them.

It seems like your criterion is "protection of rights." If justice is what people are due, then in a democratic society, they are due their rights. Right?

So, let's set up the affirmative this way:
1. The right to vote is inalienable for all people. (Felons are people, too.)
2. The right to vote is fundamental to other rights. (Which ties into the third contention.)
3. If felons are disenfranchised, society can use the law to disenfranchise dissent, a precious right in a democracy. (In the South, some disenfranchisement laws were drafted specifically to target African Americans.)
Now, for the negative.

C1 is not very strong, at least compared to other potential arguments. The elderly, for example, often pay zero taxes because all their income comes from social security. Yet they are allowed to vote.
C2 is workable.
C3 might be that felons have violated the social contract.

If the value was societal welfare, and the criterion the Social Contract, we could have two contentions.

C1. Felons' lack of judgment, combined with the right to vote, would threaten social order (thus tearing apart everything the social contract is meant to establish and maintain).
C2. Felons' violation of the social contract inherently warrants disenfranchisement.

Another reader writes,
I was wondering if you knew how Foucault's Normalization theory could be applied to the new LD resolution on felon disenfranchisement.
I'm no expert on Foucault--I'll leave that to Josh--but I think Foucault applies to this resolution in several ways. I mention one here.

"Normalization" is the process by which society standardizes its norms as a means of control. Felon disenfranchisement laws are perhaps the least subtle instance of this tactic, since they rely on the reason in the negative C1 listed above: that felons are "abnormal," and thus lose the right to vote. For a primer on Foucault's theory of societal punishment, check out this article.

So, Josh: any other thoughts?

6 comments:

Captain Princess said...

It's been three years since Discipline and Punish, so I'll add some broad context.

Foucault liked freedom. He claimed that monarchies, despite being cruel didn't actually rob people of their freedom. They could act any way they wanted so long as they didn't harm the king's property. The king got to decide what harm meant, and he owned everything.

If you value freedom, the ability to do whatever, it doesn't matter if felons can vote. You can turn it either way. The attempt to normalize infringes (AFF). Participating in the rituals of the centralizing forces strengthens those rituals, lessening freedom. Stripping away the voting rights makes some men freer (NEG).

It could also be a good way to define social welfare. What makes a society better: an equal distribution of rights or higher levels of freedom? I don't know, but there are certainly cases there.

Rod said...

You can attack Foucault on the negative by arguing either that Focault's normalization theory fails to achieve the goals of a democratic society, or that in order to make society more accepting of the felon, they must lose their right to vote to bridge the gap and restore the damage done to society. Or something like that.

Tommy said...

Reading Foucault's Crime and Punish.
It says something along the lines of prison system messed up, therefore felons should not even exist. Thus, because felons do not exist, they should be allowed to vote like everyone else.
Does this look like a workable approach for an Aff kritik?

PA LD said...

I don't understand how you would argue that being a felon necessarily equals a lack of judgement. An adulterer also displays a lack of judgement yet is not denied the right to vote. So how you make the distinction?

Tara T. said...

Jim,
What do you think about mentioning Maslow in a neg case? I mean, if it's set up like this...

V: societal welfare (primarily safety, which is where we'll bring Maslow in--a society can never be called a FUNCTIONING society if its people aren't safe)

C: utilitarian punishment
- punishment is warranted if it provides the greatest good for the greatest number

C1: disenfranchisement is utilitarian in nature
- just that it provides the greatest good for the greatest number by keeping society safe

C2: social contract
- basically that they've broken the social contract so they have no right to enjoy the benefits of being in a democratic society, although this is easy to beat, because it sort of assumes that the social contract is concrete and unconditional. Of course it isn't, because the whole point of a democracy is that the social contract is fluid, and constantly checked by all of society. so to run this, we would have to argue that felons should be removed from society because they broke the social contract (which is outside the scope of the resolution anyways, right?)

Our original case was the same, but we never mentioned Maslow. Do you think it's worth it to bring him in, or would it take away from the case? Also, do you think it's worth arguing social contract? How can we strengthen that argument?

Thanks,

Tara

Jim Anderson said...

Tara, Maslow's hierarchy doesn't necessarily give us a clear definition of what we ought to value in any given situation. When Patrick Henry fires up a revolution by saying "Give me liberty or give me death," he seems to be sacrificing his more fundamental needs for something abstract.

In other words, trying to shoehorn values into a perfect hierarchy might work--but any debater worth their salt will have a ready answer, either through example, or by critiquing Maslow's method of extrapolation from a limited sample.

I think you can make the societal welfare argument without using Maslow's name (and drawing undue criticism).

One thing you should clarify: whose version of the social contract?

Also, just because the exact outcomes of democracy are fluid, are the principles negotiable? If we give up "one person, one vote," for example, do we even have a democracy anymore?

One last thing to consider: how is the social contract utilitarian?