Sep 12, 2010

kritiks in Lincoln-Douglas debate

Recently, a reader wrote:
Mr. Anderson,

I've been seeing a lot of people talking about Kritiks and how they try to use them in almost every debate. What is a kritik, and what does the structure mean? Do you have any resources that can help explain them better?
As is my custom, I directed him to the Wikipedia page on the subject, which, like a lot of Wikipedia, is a decent enough place to start. However, it presumes a little more familiarity with the subject than your average novice possesses. Hence, this quick guide to the kritik.

What is a kritik?
A kritik is an argument about the mindset presupposed or called forth by the language of the resolution. It's about deconstructing--peeling back the layers of, or exposing the invalid assumptions of--the resolution.

How does it work?
In Lincoln-Douglas debate, it might work like this. Say we're debating the resolution, "Resolved: states ought not possess nuclear weapons." The Negative can argue that because the resolution is cast in terms of states, it is inherently statist, and to affirm adopts a statist mindset that, in the real world, empowers states to control or subjugate individuals regardless of whether nuclear weapons ever enter the equation.*

The alternative, the Neg argues, is to negate the language (and hence power) of the resolution / statism, offering an alternative such as anarchism, which empowers individuals.

The structure is fairly straightforward: link, impact, alternative. Returning to our argument, you can see the structure.
Link: the resolution employs statist language / forces us to adopt a statist mindset.
Impact: by adopting the statist mindset, we reduce human freedom / dehumanize (ethical impacts), or perpetuate totalitarian genocide (historic or empirical impact).
Alternative: reject the statism inherent in the resolution through anarchism.

The modified kritik.
Because some of the impacts of kritiks are ethical, it is possible to shoehorn a kritik into the traditional framework of the event. Consider our previous example, modified into a standard V/C with three contentions:
Value: Freedom
Criterion: Anarchism
Contention 1 (link): the resolution employs statist language / forces us to adopt a statist mindset.
Contention 2 (impact): by adopting the statist mindset, we reduce human freedom.
Contention 3 (alternative): to restore freedom, reject the statism inherent in the resolution by encouraging anarchism.

Words of advice.
1. If you are debating in novice (or in many cases, JV), don't run a kritik. Chances are, you don't have enough experience under your belt to do it correctly--and, more likely, your judge will either deplore kritiks, or be unfamiliar with them.

2. Never run a kritik you don't fully understand. If you're facing a more experienced opponent, it can backfire terribly. And, similarly to #1, if you don't understand it, how will your judge?

3. Thus, if you plan to run a kritik, it's essential to ask the judge before the round, something like, "What are your thoughts about theory or kritiks?" If you get a blank stare, put the kritik back in your file and save it for a different round.

Questions or criticism are greatly appreciated. As a fairly traditional LD coach, I don't pretend to be the world's foremost authority on kritiks, and would welcome any clarifications, corrections, or additions.

* This lack of direct engagement with the specific argument of the resolution is one reason some find kritiks distasteful.


LA Coach said...

This may be a hard distinction to make, but in addition to kritiks of resolutional concepts there's also legitimate ground for kritiks of language. Most often, this takes the form of kritiks of the other debater's presentation.

Consider the worst case scenario of hearing a student argue that only "white states" ought to be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, and that India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and China should all be stripped of their nuclear programs. How would you expect a student to respond to a blatantly racist argument? The answer for my team is a kritik. The structure is the same (link, impact, alternative), but you're much more likely to see analytics as the basis for the argument and the alternative is more likely to be rejection without an underlying philosophy (which anarchism provides to the Statism kritik).

Kritiks of Holocaust trivialization are equally focused on language and presentation, rather than resolutional concepts. Indeed, the best links come from cases where there is no relationship between spurious references to the Holocaust and the content of the resolution.

Under this resolution, you're likely to see kritiks of "nuke speak" (diminutive and flippant descriptions of nuclear weapons that makes their use more palatable) and Masahide Kato's critique of nuclear war as an exchange of nuclear warheads (ignoring the real impact of nuclear weapon detonations on indigenous peoples in the American southwest). Both of these are kritiks of language which can't be shoehorned in to a case structure because they only work as a response to troubling presentations by the other debater.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat related question I'm too embarrassed to ask the K debaters at my school: What do "the other"/otherization, and "the real" mean? I'm JV right now so I'm going to have to start dealing with a lot of Ks, because I'm located in socal, and they still confuse me impact wise.

Jim Anderson said...

LA Coach, that's an excellent addition--something I had thought about including, then eventually forgot about. Thanks.

Anonymous, "the other" kritik is about the language of dehumanization and domination. When we use certain language, we exclude others--we "otherize" them--and separating "us" and "them" creates an instant hierarchy of "us" and "them," "us" being, of course, the dominant group. See here for a basic intro to The Other.

As to your second question about "the real..." I'm not entirely sure; as I wrote before, kritiks aren't my specialty. It sounds Kantian. Maybe LA Coach will chime in here.

Anonymous said...

This is part of the card I was wondering about the real from.
Kato 93 (same K LA coach was talking about)

The complex problematics involved in nuclear catastrophe are thus reduced to the single possible instant of extinction. The task of nuclear critics is clearly designated by Schell as coming to grips with the one and only final instant: "human extinction—whose likelihood we are chiefly interested in finding out about"35 Deconstructionists, on the other hand, take a detour in their efforts to theologize extinction. Jacques Derrida, for example, solidified the prevailing mode of representation by constituting extinction as a fatal absence: Unlike the other wars, which have all been preceded by wars of more or less the same type in human memory (and gunpowder did not mark a radical break in this respect), nuclear war has no precedent. It has never occurred, itself; it is a non-event The explosion of American bombs in 1945 ended a "classical," conventional war; it did not set off a nuclear war. The terrifying reality of the nuclear conflict can only be the signified referent, never the real referent (present or past) of a discourse or text. At least today apparendy.36 By representing the possible extinction as the single most important problematic of nuclear catastrophe (posing it as either a threat or a symbolic void), nuclear criticism disqualifies the entire history of nuclear violence, the "real" of nuclear catastrophe as a continuous and repetitive process.

LA Coach said...

Most of the time, when I hear about "the real" it's in reference to Zizek or Lacan. I never really got that far into Lacanian psychoanalysis (because that's what it's based in) or Zizek's psychoanalytic philosophy.

In the Kato quote, it means something more specific (at least, it means something specific, that doesn't require knowledge of either previous author). All he's saying there is that focusing on nuclear war as a global extinction event ignores the reality of "sub-war" nuclear violence against indigenous people. The extinction event is a fantasy (or a nightmare), while the "nuclear violence" is real.

Steve Finnell said...

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mitsuki said...

ok. though i am not new to LD debate i have having some trouble on writing my cases could i get some advice?

Jim Anderson said...

mitsuki, absolutely. Depending on your question, email may be the best way to ask--if your answer may help others, I'll publish your query (and my reply) in my "LD mailbag" feature.

Anonymous said...

Doesnt the resolution assume that states can have moral obligations when it reads that "states ought not" (ought meaning moral obligation.)

If so, there is another example of a kritik for this resolution.

Who would i read up on for that though? I am having some problems.

Also: Could the affirmatie say that nukes lead to capitalism by creating an economy around them? Nukes-> Capitalism->Destruction of human worth.

Is that another example?

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand kritiks even after reading the wiki page, is to argue one, just to argue a really specific point of the resolution or am I way off?

Also I was curious about your thoughts on spewing, and if your opponent is spewing is it ok to ask them to speak slower or will that just make you seem completley stupid?

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, what you're saying sounds similar to political realism, although I'm not sure whether you'd want to run it as a kritik or just as a straight up V/C combo (Value: prudence, Criterion: political realism). If you were to kritik-ize it, you'd have to have an impact calculus; what is the real-world implication of speaking of states in moral terms?

To your second idea, it's possible to argue that, although I'm not sure if the argument is unique to nuclear weapons. (Again, it's not a kritik, because it doesn't address the language of the resolution, or, as LA Coach pointed out, the language of an advocate.)

Second Anonymous, good questions.

It's not about arguing a specific point of the resolution, but about the language of the resolution. The basic thesis of the critical stance is that discourse (the language we use to communicate, argue, etc.) has real-world implications--and that to avoid those effects, we shouldn't use such language, whether in a resolution or in our advocacy.

In other words, if we don't stop talking in terms of "states" possessing nukes (or not possessing), then we're continuing to empower states in their subjugation and oppression of humans, who should be free and autonomous. (This, in miniature, is an anarchist kritik of the resolution.)

When it comes to spewing... it really depends. If it appears your judge is able to keep up, and doesn't seem to be frowning or sweating while flowing, then you're going to have to buckle down, at least catch the taglines, spend some time in CX clarifying, and group contentions / subpoints together whenever possible. (Or focus exclusively on the VC, and show that if you can win there, you can win the whole debate. Whatever you have to do to compress / compact your arguments.)

Don't ask your opponent to slow down; just do your best.

If, however, your judge appears peeved by the speed demon, you can raise the fairness issue in your rebuttal, and respond as best you can to the arguments you caught. Part of the purpose of LD (at least, in the NFL world) is clear communication. There's a thin line between fast talking and spewing, so you want to be careful about complaining unless you're confident that it's not just your inability to keep up.

It's also important to remember that a spewer is often going to drop most of their own arguments, because there isn't time to cover them all. So you have to pick the most salient or important ones, anyways, to win.

Also, be sure to practice flowing the fastest speaker on your team whenever you get the chance.

LA Coach said...

I suspect you're more likely to see a kritik of political realism than a kritik advocating for political realism. That's the reality on the CX side, anyway. It would make a perfectly reasonable V/VC case, though.

I think the question about Capitalism raises a valuable issue in considering kritik debate in LD, as a revised product of kritik debate in CX. While the link in that hypothetical K isn't that strong, many CX debaters attempt to link a broad range of policies to Capitalist ideological frameworks, regardless of the language used. The other side of kritik debating is that it speaks to assumptions and ideas as much as it does language. How that sorts out in LD is unclear, but it's a definite tenant of CX kritiking. I don't see Capitalism as strictly relevant to nuclear weapons (without some strong supporting evidence), but I would happily consider it if the HIPC resolution had come up. Regardless of the immediate language, that resolution would have invited a Capitalist model of understanding the world, and any accompanying impacts.

As for "spewing" (I assume that's another term for spreading), I'm always pleased when debaters respond with a degree of calm and tact. I won't drop a debater simply based on their speed, but I will give off-flow points to anyone who responds by hitting their strategic points and not freaking out that there's more ground to cover. Most of the time, the arguments that I see spread are those which would be even stronger if the student relied less on evidence and more on explanation.

Jim Anderson said...

LA Coach, thanks for your insights. I'd like to invite you to guest post on any topic (and a reader has a suggestion already). Email me if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Anderson,
How could you counter an attack that said something like: "Morality is the best value for the round because the Resolution says 'ought'"?

Jim Anderson said...

Well, there are many ways to respond, and some of them (if not most) will depend on what your value is.

I'd immediately point out that "ought" can also refer to "desirability," and that "morality" is a nebulous concept. Does your opponent mean Kantian / deontological morality? Virtue ethics? Utilitarianism? None of the above?

Also, morality may be instrumental to some other, greater end--societal welfare, liberty, human flourishing, justice, connection to the divine...

If I may ask, what value would you be upholding on the other side?

Anonymous said...

How do you extend a kritik in a round?

Anonymous said...

So I am competing in State next month and i'm technically a novice, however i haven't been competing against novice i've been competing with varsity. should i still try to run a K? And I am not fully understanding a K, from what i am understanding it's based on full assumption. Isn't that technically a logical fallacy? (slippery-slope)

Anonymous said...

I recently had a round where an opponent said that Kritiks are illegal in LD debate, is that true?

Anonymous said...

As a former LD debater who entered college and now does parliamentary debate, where Ks are very common here's my stance on there place in LD.

LD DEBATE IS PRACTICALLY A K ITSELF! Perhaps it's just the way Ks are moving within my form of debate (yada yada) but Ks are often very value and ethical based. Used to argue how a value/theory/philosophy is an essential focus prior to plan.

LD is primarily about theory and looking at how these theories interact within our world, how it should matter when discussing what things should, ought, or are morally permissible. All in all I would focus solely on that factor.