Oct 19, 2010

LD mailbag: what the drug resolution is all about

Recently I received a string of great questions about the illegal drugs resolution that deserve reply in a complete post. Hence, the latest LD Mailbag, non-email edition. Enjoy.
I am new to debate and we have to learn LD first and she threw the topic on us and showed us how to format it but i am so stuck!!!!!! I dont want to quit debate but i am so lost... I am stuck on Aff and Neg cases... the cases are due tomorrow! I am so screwed!
1. Don't panic.
2. Have you read about how to write a case?
3. Seriously: breathe. And keep reading.
Neil Mehta said...

Hey Jim,
First of all I'd like to say that your blog helps me and all my friends start our cases each year. But this year, especially this topic, I'm having trouble grasping what the resolution actually means and what we are supposed to be debating
Thanks for the help.

Public health is a largely preventive approach to medical matters that affect the community--harms inflicted by disease, malnutrition, environmental hazards, and the like. Its primary tools are education, inoculation, sanitation, and regulation. Criminal justice, on the other hand, is society's response to harms inflicted by individuals. It employs punishment for many reasons, chief among them retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and deterrence.

Which is a more effective approach? That's the utilitarian or pragmatic (and hence empirical) question.

Which is a more just, fair, or moral approach? That's where we bring in arguments based on rights, liberty, the "harm principle," and more.

All kinds of questions circulate around us. What is crime? What is the purpose of punishment? Is drug addiction a disease? When, if ever, is the state justified in forcing someone to seek treatment?

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim, your site has always been very helpful to me, and I'd like to sincerely thank you for all the help; the articles you post really jumpstart my cases.

As for this resolution: I'm having a really hard time grasping what the rez is asking of us, and which philosophy each side pertains to. I feel as though both aff and neg can argue many of the same philosophers and things, and its really confusing me. Both sides can use Kant, Societal Welfare, Rawls, the Social Contract, and something to the effect of: "deterrence of crime is necessary."

I guess the most stable affirmative ground would be proving that public health is effective in reducing drug use, and that criminal justice isn't.. and then linking it all together with claims to Justice or Societal Welfare

I guess the most stable negative ground would be proving that public health does not actually deter drug use, and that crime only has one solution: criminal justice.

Both seem to clash well, but I don't think they get to the heart of the rez, which is: what should be done of the individuals who commit these actions.. and whether those individuals are responsible for their actions.

At this point, I'm putting together cases with tape and toothpicks because I don't quite understand what it is I truly should be debating as a traditional debater. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

For "tape and toothpicks," I think you're doing rather well. One of the primary philosophical questions is whether the state is justified in coercing drug abusers into treatment for what, in many cases, is a "victimless crime." The resolution focuses on abuse, which may not imply that anyone is even suffering personally from the effects of the illegal drug. Most drug users, statistically, are not hardcore heroin addicts or tweaked-out meth-heads.

But what of those who are? Abetted or spurred on by the abuse, they can wreak havoc on society, and, via the social contract, we expect them to suffer, and society to respond to their crimes with fitting punishment.

But it's not so simple: even a public health approach can be coercive, as doctors take on the role of law enforcers, infringing on liberties without strict guidelines to limit their power. At least in the criminal justice system, you have an adversarial framework meant to protect the rights of the accused. When it comes to the "soft power" of public health, the experts always seem to win.

I agree that there is a strong element of either-side-can-use-the-same-framework, but, honestly, that's often true of LD resolutions, the most recent nuclear weapons resolution being a perfect example.

Anonymous said...


I noticed you mentioned drug courts as a matter of criminal justice. Is there any way for the negative to include drug courts in his advocacy, and if so, how?
Drug court (Wikipedia has a decent summary), a relatively modern invention, is a great way to focus a balance Neg, in which you argue that criminal justice and public health officials need to join forces. Mandatory treatment with improved recidivism rates: what's not to love?


Anonymous said...

Hey.. Do you think you could post the value-criteron pairs for the current topic? I need some help :)

Andokides said...

Hey Jim!

I just want to know; how can one counter the argument that criminal justice and public health are inertwined and should work together? I guess you could say that the whole point of the resolution is to argue that both are separate and that one is "better" than the other, but I feel like that could be a litle flimsy...


Mr. Architect said...

Hey Jim, It's my third year doing LD and I still feel like I just walked into the class. But that's debate I suppose. My question is this, If I wrote a neg case advocating the use of drug rehabilitation inside the criminal justice system, would that be a better way to turn the aff case towards the negative world? Or have I succumbed to a crazy I can only dub Philosophy/Burden Madness?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, I'll aim to have a V/C pair post up by Monday. You're right: it's about time.

Andokides, and, since it's such a similar question, Mr. Architect:

The "balance neg" approach is one of the most potent, in my estimation. The increasing use of "drug court" is a perfect example.

However, the Affirmative definitely has ground to stand on.

1. Nothing in the Negative position guarantees a balanced approach. It's just one option. The Aff can point out that zero tolerance policies are a "live option" in the Negative world.

2. The Aff can focus on the abuse of illicit drugs--arguing that manufacture and trafficking are separate matters. Thus, the drugs are still illegal--as the resolution states--but getting high is not a crime, but rather a matter of prevention, education, and rehabilitation in a public health context. (The harms caused by drug abusers--negligence, accidents, drug-fueled crimes, etc.--would be grounds enough to punish them in the criminal justice system--but those are separate moral matters from the act of getting high, the abuse itself.)

In that sense, punishing someone for getting high is a category error: it is punishing an action that is inherently outside the proper scope of the law.

The assumptions that undergird this point of view are mostly traced back to Mill's "harm principle," although other justifications can be used as well. It's worth studying retributive views of punishment for other backing.

gibe said...

But is the argument that Andokides mentioned--the one that criminal justice and public health should be considered as different, since the resolution seems to assume so--still relevant?

Jim Anderson said...

gibe, well... it's hard to say how effective Andokides' counter might be. Things that are different can still work together (or, more importantly, at the same time). In this country we already have a combined public health approach (thanks to DARE and community outreach programs) combined with a criminal justice approach to drug abuse. I can't think of a persuasive reason for why "the resolution says one is better than the other" can't be itself countered with "well, the resolution is false--they're equally important--which is why I'm negating."

Or am I misunderstanding your question?

gibe said...

No, that makes sense. But it seems like the system we have in place right now isn't very effective, hence the high number of people incarcerated for drug offenses.

By the way, is there any difference between drug offense and drug abuse?

Jim Anderson said...

I'd think that a "drug offense" was any crime that broke a law involving a drug. Making drugs or trafficking in drugs could be drug offenses. They're not drug abuse, though, which is the actual misuse of a drug--either ingesting it (if it's forbidden) or using it off-label or without a prescription.

minty568 said...

Hey Mr. Anderson !

I have a question: what do you do when your opponent argues that the resolution is 'unrealistic' and forms her entire case on that ? Last debate, I lost a round because my opponent argued that "ought" is a case of morality and the resolution itself was not possible. I was caught off guard because I didn't know you could argue that, and couldn't respond to her attacks.

How do you argue against that ?!

Jim Anderson said...

That's a tough question. Part of it depends on the precise nature of your opponent's argument.

A couple things to think about:

1. Is "ought" moral, or merely desirable?

2. What's morally ideal might be separate from what's politically possible. Does that mean we should give up our ideals?

gibe said...

The thing about balance neg is, it would also kind of support aff, wouldn't it? Because it's arguing that both criminal justice and public health have to be present, instead of one or the other being able to stand alone...

Jim Anderson said...

gibe, the Aff has to argue for public health rather than, or in other words, excluding, a criminal justice approach.

See also here for another coach's explanation of the "balance Neg" strategy.

Monica said...

Mr. Anderson, I'm confused about your respose to Andokides and Mr.Architect's question about countering the balance neg approach. What exactly do you mean by zero tolerance policies being a live option in the balanced neg world? Also, relating to how "Nothing in the Negative position guarantees a balanced approach," isn't that trying to disprove a plan? Also, I really appreciate your help on this resolution, it's very tricky.

Jim Anderson said...

Monica, because LD doesn't involve plans, someone running a "balance Neg"--the position that public health and criminal justice must be involved--can't automatically presume a specific approach (such as "drug court"). A government might do both by promoting education (the public health side) and shooting drug abusers (the criminal justice side). Those are not contradictory policies.

In other words, it's on the Negative to prove that a "balance Neg" can somehow, in principle, rule out harsh approaches like "zero tolerance policies." That's what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Anderson, could you please explain the harm prinicple to me? I saw the wikipedia article that you linked earlier on, but I still need clarification. Thanks!

Jim Anderson said...

According to Mill, the government has no authority to punish or coerce someone who intends only self-harm. Thus, a person who wants to shoot up heroin, or amputate her pinkie toe, or go bungee-jumping out of a helicopter in the middle of the Bermuda triangle, provided her actions harm no one else, cannot be interfered with by the government. There are no "victimless crimes" by definition; a crime is always a crime against someone else.

Anonymous said...

For my neg case, I have a contention that states "the criminal justice system has laws and can be relied on to abide by them." I want to argue that the justice system has a set of permanent laws that cannot be altered in any way, and that would help treat drug abusers by treating each case fairly. The public health system does not have laws, and each system can be different in each city. Doctors can be coercive and not really help the drug abuser, therefore not effectively treating them. How can I provide evidence for this contention ? & is there any possible feedback you can give me to alter it ? I'm probably very vague right now, but I've just started my case. Thank you in advance for any additional comments.

Jim Anderson said...

Well, it's not exactly true that criminal laws can't be changed; think of the enactment of "three strikes laws" and the imposition--and then modification--of "mandatory minimum sentences."

I would agree that doctors / public health officials are probably less predictable (and their processes less subject to scrutiny) than prosecutors / judges. I'm not sure I have solid evidence of that, though.