Nov 17, 2008

sketches of a dignity-based neg

For the felon voting resolution, a Neg case based on dignity is sketched out below. Like it? Be inspired by it. Don't like it? Tell me why in the comments.

I negate the resolution.

Resolutional Analysis
The resolution includes the word "retain," which means that felons, no matter their status--incarcerated, paroled, on probation--in the affirmative world, would be allowed to vote. Secondly, we can draw a distinction between felons and ex-felons; those who have served their time or otherwise paid their debt to society are outside the bounds of the resolution. The resolution makes no claims about permanent disenfranchisement.

The right to vote is granted only to citizens who have reached the age of majority and are judged competent.

As Monique Lanoix writes in "The Citizen in Question," found in the Fall 2007 edition of Hypatia, writes, (Bloomington:Fall 2007. Vol. 22, Iss. 4, p. 113-129
The citizen is required to have elevated cognitive capacities; these come with maturity and imply that the individual cannot have significant cognitive impairments such as advanced dementia. In this way, the concept of the citizen is tied to a specific period in an individual's life, namely adulthood with mental competency.
Furthermore, as Robert A. Dahl writes in Democracy, Liberty, and Equality, (pp. 212ff, c. 1986)
Citizenship depends on contingent judgments, not categorical rights. And the contingent judgments need not lead to universal inclusion.... That we cannot get around the principle of competence in deciding on the inclusiveness of the demos is decisively demonstrated by the exclusion of children.... Children therefore furnish us with a clear violation of the principle that a government must rest on the consent of the governed, or that no one should be subject to a law not of one's own choosing, or subject to a law made by an association not of one's own choosing.
Therefore, the state can and must place reasonable restrictions on the right to vote.

With these facts in mind, I offer a value of Dignity.

In "Democratic Liberalism: The Politics of Dignity," Craig Duncan writes,
This discussion of constraining a person's capacity for responsible choice helps us to understand one of our core values, namely, the value of freedom. This is so because constraints on people's exercise of their powers of choice are in fact constraints on their freedom. It thus follows that respect for a person's dignity requires one to respect that person's freedom. And there is yet more that respect for dignity requires.... [T]he ideal of respect for human dignity also underlies the core value of human equality.
Duncan further explains that a dignity-based conception of equality is foundational to democracy.
What, though, about the second threat to dignity identified above, the threat to citizen's equality? This was the risk inherent in any distinction between the rulers and the ruled, namely, the risk of failing to recognize citizens' status as beings capable of leading their own lives via their capacity for responsible choice. The proper response to this threat surely lies in some form of democracy, which gives citizens an equal share of voting power, thereby recognizing in a significant way their equal status as beings capable of responsible choice....The line of argument from respect for dignity to democratic government is thus straight and short.
Since the moral foundation of democracy is dignity, and since dignity is our "capacity for responsible choice," and, furthermore, since democracy depends on the responsible choices of its demos, or voting citizens, I offer responsible choice as my criterion. Responsible choice has two necessary components, as Lanoix explains.
The citizen is one who can be politically active; he must be able to voice his discontent or his assent. For example, in Rawls's theory, the political person must possess two moral powers: a sense of justice and a vision of his ends.
When we choose to violate others' rights, we deny them their dignity, and abdicate our political equality. I will show how this not only grounds, but requires, the disenfranchisement of felons.

Contention One: Criminals deny the dignity of their victims and themselves.
Criminals use other humans as means to an end. They steal property, commit acts of bodily injury, maim, kill, and destroy. Duncan writes,
"[T]reating others as mere instruments for achieving your personal ends is one way of failing to recognize others as responsible beings, and thus one way of failing to treat them as equals."
Contention Two: This denial is proof of felons' failure to make responsible choices.
By treating others unjustly, felons undeniably and irrevocably demonstrate an inadequate sense of justice and a murky vision of their own ends.

Contention Three: The State is therefore justified in denying felons the right to vote.
As was already established, the State has the right to place reasonable restrictions on political participation. Since it is reasonable for society to protect the dignity of its members, and to express the importance of dignity by punishing felons, then there is no moral duty on the state's behalf to maintain felon suffrage. In contrast, the State has a moral duty to disqualify those who violate others' dignity.


Danny said...

I thought it was impressively written and I really like it. My question is, do all felonies necessarily include violating other citizen's rights?

Jim Anderson said...

That is a part left unwarranted in the sketch. I would argue that in the vast majority of cases, the principle is self-evident; since the affirmative has to prove that these felons ought to retain the right to vote (since they have to prove the resolution "valid as a general principle"), half the negative's work is done. For those rare cases where it might be shown that a felon abuses no one else's rights--perhaps a drug offense where only the offender is literally 'harmed'--it can still be shown that the felon has violated her own dignity by impairing and abusing her capacity for responsible choice.

Elizabeth said...

Love it! I won't be debating this topic again, but if I were, I'd be very inspired. I'll send the team novices to look. Also, I don't think I could read/say a neg that long fast enough to get all the way through a three contention aff as people here in Oklahoma seem to love running and still get good speaks. But either way, if I wasn't done with this topic, I'd be rewriting to get away from the social contract. Thanks for providing wonderful ideas and inspiration when I'm running into that "I'm stuck, gross" wall.

Anonymous said...

I just want to make a comment on you analysis of the resolution. When you say we have to distinguish between ex felons and felons.
first off, correct me if i am wrong, but i do believe that ex-felons is not a word, but a common term. That it is not defined in dictionaries.
and secondly that when you are released from prison, poral, or probation you are still a felon just not currently serving time. so the resolution does pertain to "ex-felon" considering the fact that their correct label IS felon

LD debater said...

Hey Elizabeth, I'm from Oklahoma to. And no, I for one don't generally use the 3 contention system anymore, I now prefer two contentions with several subpoints.

Anyways, hi.

martin said...

I really like it , and i have two questions. 1) could the value structure be altered to include morality as the value- that seems to flow much more naturally from the resolution- or would/could u just argue that dignity is a prerequiste for morality,
2) what do u think of the affirmative response that the neg rests evertything on the claim that when a human being committs a felony that reveals that the felon does not value the freedom/dignity/ choice/ of the person's whose rights he/she has infringed upon, the example i have in mind is of a drunk driver who kills someone - the only fault they can be held responsible for is that they got drunk- their intention was perhaps only to escape or have fun(i'm just pointing out their action cause an infringement of another's rights, but doesn't (directly) reveal a lack of valueing other's freedon/dignity/choice)

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous above, just because "ex-felon" isn't in the dictionary doesn't mean the phrase is meaningless or meritless. (In fact, it's used frequently in disenfranchisement literature, because it denotes a felon who has paid her debt to society; in many states, such felons have the franchise restored.)

martin, good questions. The "dignity as the basis of morality" argument is made, I believe, in the complete article I cited excerpts from, and if not, it's made elsewhere.

Secondly, the drunk driver, by making the choice to become intoxicated, thus abrogating his good judgment and precipitating a causal chain that violates another's rights to bodily integrity, freedom from harm, or life, is culpable in the narrow sense of denying his own dignity and in the wider sense of recklessly disregarding the dignity and rights of others.

Puzzled Debater has -vocalized- not merely said...

First, I must reiterate what has already been said many times--your blog is incredibly helpful and it attracts so many debaters who leave comments of differing views--a smorgasbord of LD fun, as it were.

So a couple of questions regarding the negative and your dignity negative case (which I liked by the way, because of the different val/criterion framework) if you have time, Jim Anderson et al.

And if I've repeated questions that have already been posed, I apologize...

These may seem silly at first, but bear with me!

1) Many a time, an Aff. debater will argue that the goal of a democracy is government by the people and so we cannot rescind the right to vote because in order to best preserve/promote/uphold the value we should maximize (that seems to be a favorite debater word) the right to in more people should have it. Furthermore, we cannot assume any other end for a democracy because of the perhaps lack of consensus whereas "rule by the people" is universally accepted.

How do you then argue that you still should be able to revoke the right? In your case your underlying assumption is that government even needs to be governed by "responsible" citizens. Yes, this may seem too easy for a question but how would one answer--perhaps--eloquently?

More specifically when you write:
"...and, furthermore, since democracy depends on the responsible choices of its demos, or voting citizens..." certain debaters will say that doesn't matter...we're not looking to the future of a democracy but what makes a society democratic...How do you respond.

How do you justify that the "moral foundation" of a democracy is dignity? Because of the tie to freedom? I fail in reading comprehension!

2)On that note, when you quote "elevated cognitive capabilities" how do you decide who has that? Administer a test?

3)And also how does one determine "responsible" Especially with Rawls' definition of a good voter to have a "vision." How do we say a "law-abiding"-not-a-felon-citizen voting for Palin because she's hot and not voting for Obama because he's Muslim -- is responsible or visionary? I think this question has been posed before...

Or perhaps your focus is really the third contention of violating dignity (yet that's confusing because you define dignity as "capacity for responsible choice") rather than the judgment of a felon...perpetually perplexed

4)If a citizen should have essentially good judgment, and a felon does not and should not have the right to vote because of the said reasons, after the felon is released and becomes in point of fact an ex-felon I'm assuming you say then he/she regains the right to vote. But then do you assert that incarceration and other punishment makes up for that lapse in judgment...well I suppose that actually is the basis of the criminal justice system that jail will teach you a lesson and you won't repeat it. But your contentions make it seem like once I've made a bad judgment, that's indicative of my thinking for always.

5) This is a general question. Often, Affirmatives bring up the idea that the definition of a felon is very vague and because perhaps their criterion/value is justice revoking the right to vote is arbitrary because the very definition of who a felon is is arbitrary--ex. in the US, whether you ruin someone's $250 radio or you murder you are considered a felon. How do you respond to this claim and as an affirmative argument is it valid?

6) Last. One debater argued that children cannot vote because (and he became pseudo-scientific) pre-frontal lobes or parts of brain that dictate such reasoning are not developed so it's does not have anything to do with judgment or why we don't let two-year olds vote. How do you respond?

I'll stop now lest I write two more pages!! After writing I feel that I may have asked some silly questions and I may already have the answers deep inside me.

(and also upon reviewing my comment -- I don't mean to write in a contentious manner although it may read that way AND please pardon my laziness...I was tempted and gave into the temptation of lapsing into use of fragments and poor grammar as most are prone to doing so online. eek.)

I usually refrain from smileys but to encourage a response

: )

Thank you in advance!

Jim Anderson said...

Puzzled, do you need answers right away? Those are fantastic questions, but right now I have to finish some grading.

Puzzled Debater said...

My last tournament with this topic is his saturday - 11/22

So just when ever you have time!


Anonymous said...

I have another extremely silly question! but I can't answer...

The resolution talks about "felons" yet is that a distinction in other countries? Is that US-specific? I was confused because I was pretty sure that such language existed outside the US too! yet there were questions raised

sorry about the typo--the tournament is of course --this-- saturday.

Jim Anderson said...

Here are my scattered, quick thoughts. Hope these help...

They want to "maximize" democracy, but they're *not* arguing for noncitizens or children to vote, are they? At some point a democracy has to define its demos. Secondly, "maximizing" democracy, if democracy is "government by the people," rules out any sort of liberal or representative view. It would seem to require plebiscites on every issue, which would, in any large society, quickly become unwieldy and unworkable. So, "maximizing" democracy isn't a simple matter of allowing more people to vote.

a. Why aren't we looking to the "future" of democracy? Is a democracy merely a means, and all we're concerned with is protecting the means? I'd argue that it depends not only for future (and present) decisions, but for its very existence as a democracy (as in, its status as a democracy), if dignity is its moral foundation.

b. Freedom is indeed a reason dignity is important, but there's also the tie to the moral equality of persons and respect for their capacity for responsible choice. (Without this, voting is a farce.)

2. Why not have a test? To become citizens, immigrants have to take a citizenship test. Would it be somehow unfair to make all citizens pass such a test? Education is a critical aspect of democracy (Mill is good here.)

a. Or, alternately, argue that, based on a "presumption of innocence" similar to that possessed by most democratic justice systems, we presume that people are capable of voting unless we have absolute evidence to the contrary. Committing a felony is exactly that sort of evidence.

3. This answer is, of course, similar, because the complaint is similar. The law-abiding nature of the citizen shows that, although they may have irrational reasons for voting, overall, they have at least a level of responsibility toward their fellow citizens, a respect for the law, and enough "vision of their ends" to know that harming others means harming themselves. Again, here we presume innocence.

Also, remember it isn't about the *effect* of the vote--otherwise anyone who voted for David Duke would be disenfranchisable. (That David Duke could run for office is itself proof that society allows a measure of ignorant bigotry as the cost of a free electoral process.) It's about the clear violation of others' dignity that disqualifies the felon. Malicious intent is far different from prejudice or ignorance.

As to the nature of dignity violation, treating others as a means to an end, or in other words dehumanizing them, you say, in effect, that the offender, not they, controsl their personhood, their desires, their bodily integrity, their pleasure and pain. She denies their human worth.

4. I think the seeming intractability of felons' poor judgment isn't a real problem; it could be mitigated by more careful wording in case.

5. Arbitrariness is an unfortunate feature of every democratic system; remember the arbitrary distinction, for example, between 17- and 18-year-olds. Why do we disenfranchise the latter and not the former? What magical change happens on the 18th birthday? Arbitrariness, in other words, cuts both ways or is nonunique.

As the Neg, you'd have to argue that all felonies reach a minimum threshold of dignity violation, regardless of whether through injury to property or person. We're talking about a floor for disqualification, not a ceiling for punishment.

6. Perhaps we can agree on two-year-olds--they can't pull a lever. But why not 17-year-olds? And if we're talking "frontal lobe development," that's not complete until around year 22 or 23, depending on the individual. That isn't--and can't be--our standard.

And the last question: "Felon" is used all over the world, at least in countries with a legal system based on the Roman / English model. Besides, we must assume for the sake of the resolution that a "felon" is some kind of real legal/civil status, otherwise we have nothing to debate about, or, if every crime is a felony, we make the debate completely unfair to the Negative.

After all this, if I were to write another Negative, I'd use a value of autonomy, which connotes not only self-governance, but self-governance according to reasonable principles.

Also, the article on dignity and democracy is definitely worth reading in full; my synopsis is hardly adequate to cover the depth of the argument.

Whew! That's a lot of typing.

Puzzled Debater said...

Mr. Anderson,

Wow! Great answers! Thank you for putting in so much time to answering those questions...I was not expecting so much!

One interesting problem I see is whether the Negative should talk about how a felon should not vote because of bad judgment or not (and not one could argue about "judgment" without actually using those words)

For example, you said (and I like how you put it) that this is not about the effect of the vote, because that in itself seems undemocratic, yet even with your second contention or criterion you talk about responsible choice. We do need to define the demos but why would one need to administer a test to determine competency to vote--judgement. In the end it comes to that, and I feel that it's more important to talk about revoking the right to vote because (using your case) the felon violated the dignity of another citizen.

In discussing this topic with others, the other point that was brought up was about citizenship. You referred to test immigrants have to take in the US, and ironically there would probably be a surprising number of native born citizens who would fail the test.

So is it important to state in the round that we cannot assume the definition of a citizen by the standards of US? Perhaps, demos is defined to be citizens and you become a citizen when you're for example 18. Of course the first problem with an age restriction is that the person even before the age if presiding in that democratic society would be following laws anyway so he/she should be part of the process...i don't know just my own scattered thoughts.

One Question I Do Have: please--

In a round, I was told that because most democratic countries are moving toward felon enfranchisement, that's what democratic societies ought to do, saying further that aren't dem. societies based on majority votes then because the majority are moving toward an affirmative decision that's what a democratic society ought to do...

Sorry--one more--you said calling a felon simply any criminal is abusive (when that happens, that is something is defined "abusively," how do you address that issue? Call it "abuse"?) yet this one debater argued further that there are countries like Australia for example that do not differentiate between felons and petty criminals. My rebuttal was essentially do we not differentiate among crimes in general, any way so that argument was mainly linguistics and semantics...

What say you?

Again thank you for your help, do not feel obligated to answer so thoroughly but if you have time today...could you provide some of your insight?

yet another prolix comment/question(s) sorry!

Thank you,
Puzzled Debater

Jim Anderson said...

You know, I think to make each argument more independent, I'd make contention three split between the two other contentions. That way it's clear that they stand or fall independently, rather than as parts of a syllogism.

"Democratic societies ought to do what democratic societies are doing" is an instrumental, rather than a moral, view of democracy. If you face that again, point out that your case is based on a moral system that makes democracy more than a means to an end. Besides, since we're talking about "a democratic society," there has to be a separate warrant for why the current trend in democracy indicates anything other than a trend. What if the situation reverses as get-tough-on-crime politicians gain more power in a time of economic uncertainty?

As to the example of countries that don't differentiate between felonies and misdemeanors, I'd love to see some evidence that those that disenfranchise don't draw a distinction. In Australia, it's my understanding that disenfranchisement has a minimum sentence threshold--a minimum number of years served. They may not call it a "felony," but the implication is that disenfranchisement is only for "serious offences." Consider this language from Australia's Criminal Code of 1995:

"[S]erious offence means an offence under a law of
the Commonwealth, a State or Territory or a foreign law the
maximum penalty for which is death, or imprisonment for not less
than 12 months."

In other words, don't let people snow you with fake facts.

Puzzled said...

Quick Response! Thanks...

In fact, you have -opened- my eyes. Esp. the bit about Australia is at once frustrating, embarrassing (that I haven't done the research!), and alarming.

The boy who used that point used it several times during the round and won first place at that tournament......

fake facts...

Thanks again! You've offered some great input.

-Puzzled Debater, well, not so puzzled anymore...

Jim Anderson said...

More precise info comes from this ACLU report: "In Australia, the right to vote is withdrawn
from prisoners who are serving a
sentence of more than three years." The footnote reads: "The Commonwealth, Queensland, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory, and Northern Territory have this law. Prisoners serving 12 months or more are disqualified in New South Wales and Western Australia. Those serving five years or more are disqualified in Victoria. South Australia allows prisoners to vote."

The report is pretty much required reading for anyone arguing from an international law perspective.

Anonymous said...

so... i had a crazy idea. idk if ill use it as a case yet, but it be good for some laughs. i know if you type in "democracy ranking' in google, you can pull up this list of 100 countries, ranked onthe quality of their respective democracies. for ppl who use the US as a context 'b/c it is the best examle of democracy', my team has just been pulling out this chart, adn asking them to reorient their context around finnlands democratic system (and btw, i think finland doesn't disenfranchise its felons).. its good for laughs,adn its a legit argument, too.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was going to run governmental legitimacy in my neg. case. Does anyone have any idea as to what governmental legitimacy should be a value or a criteria? If it is a value, what should my criteria be? If it is a criteria, what is the value? Thanks

Angelika said...

Jim, i like how everything in your case is connected, but my problem is that your whole case revolves around how felons have bad judgement. my response to that in a round would be" could a vote be defined as wrong?" and the answer to that is no.

Jim Anderson said...

angelika, I believe I partly answered that objection in the comment above where I wrote, "Also, remember it isn't about the *effect* of the vote--otherwise anyone who voted for David Duke would be disenfranchisable. (That David Duke could run for office is itself proof that society allows a measure of ignorant bigotry as the cost of a free electoral process.) It's about the clear violation of others' dignity that disqualifies the felon. Malicious intent is far different from prejudice or ignorance."

However, it is something that a full case--and not just a quick sketch--would have to address fully. Someone who gets a "red card" in soccer *might* make good decisions (or even bad ones!) on the field in the future; but they are disqualified from play because of their past action, not (only) because of their potential for future harm.

Anonymous said...

let me start off by saying this is an excellent site, i come straight here when a new resolution is out

this constructive is OK i guess

it is easy to find a definiton to contradict your def of retain and ex-felons are still felons.

ur observation could easily be turned against. Essentially saying that felons have bad judgment. Thats true; however most innocent people have bad judgment. Many voted for or against Obama due to his skin--thats bad jusdment, but they can still vote

c1 is not always true and a generalization

c2 i agree with, but judgment is not a criterion for right to vote

c3 really irrelevant and put in "just to have 3 contention"

Jim Anderson said...

Good responses; let me see if I can parry them.

If ex-felons are still felons, then your ex-wife is still your wife.

The observation--which is critical to the debate--does not say that felons have "bad judgment;" rather, it says that competence and the age of majority are qualifications to vote. Unless you can challenge this, then you have tacitly agreed that the government can set reasonable restrictions on the franchise, which is crucial to the case. (Why can't children vote?) Also, remember that we're talking about an ideal democratic society; you'd have to show that universal suffrage is inherently part of a democratic society, rather than assuming it to be true.

Secondly, the case is laid out like a syllogism, which renders C3 perfectly relevant, as it forms the conclusion to the premises.

C1 is a generalization in the same way that the resolution is a generalization. (The burden in LD is to prove the resolution "valid as a general principle.") Unless you're going to argue that "all generalizations are false," which is itself a generalization, you're going to have to go into more detail.

Responding to your response to C2, it's not so much about the effects of bad judgment, but the nature of the bad judgment that felons have exercised. (I clarify that stance in the comments above.)

Lastly, this case, when strengthened by noting the difference between positive and negative rights, has been wildly successful for those who have adopted it--fully fleshed out, it's pretty persuasive.

MizzouTigerChase said...

Got a quick question-I notice you make a semi-observation based on the word retain. I am curious with your opinion of this argument: prisoners in jail are not a part of a democratic society. They cannot pay taxes, walk freely, have privacy, or socially interact when desired. They have numerous rights taken away. That being said, wouldn't reatin refer to when they are back into the democratic society? For example, when back in society, in this case a democratic type, should they keep or retain the right to vote? This sort of clashes with your argument about the word retain forcing the aff to grant right to vote even while in prison.