Nov 7, 2010

cross-examining the illegal drugs resolution

Readers have been asking about potential CX questions for the illegal drugs resolution. I've been a little leery about posting them, since no general set of questions is going to apply in most circumstances; cases vary in so many ways. My own approach to CX is more situational and impromptu--but then, I usually have a general strategy heading in.

So, here are a few things to ask about, for both sides, whenever your opponent assumes or glides over them. Note: these are not the questions themselves. Frame your questions for strategic advantage; see the example below, and this note.

1. What justifies criminal punishment? Who determines what proper punishment should be?
2. What limits punishment, if anything?
3. What is the nature of the society in the resolution? Will the outcome change if the society is democratic, authoritarian, or a constitutional monarchy, among many other options?
4. Why are illegal drugs illegal?
5. What does abuse mean? Is it mere misuse, or a pattern of sustained, debilitating misuse?
6. What are some of the potentially distasteful options for public health treatment?
7. What are some empirical examples of nations or governments that have tried a public health approach?
8. Does the phrase "illegal drugs" include legal drugs used off-label or without a prescription?
9. Is there an agreed-upon approach in the international / medical community?

One of the primary goals of CX is to expose the flaw or weakness in the opposing advocacy, which is why one of the best CX techniques is a species of reductio called the reductio ad ridiculum or reductio ad incommodum. Here's an example.
AFF: Your criterion is utilitarianism, correct?
NEG: Right.
AFF: Under that criterion, how do we justify criminal punishment?
NEG: By measuring its effect.
AFF: And how do we do that?
NEG: By looking at whether society is overall improved.
AFF: But that's hard to do, isn't it, when you have an essentially harmful response to a harm? For instance, how does it improve society to imprison drug abusers?
NEG: I guess I mean that it reduces crime. It keeps criminals from committing more crimes while imprisoned [incapacitation], and also warns others away from committing crimes, or from spreading their drug habit to friends or family [deterrence].
AFF: But what if the most effective way to incapacitate drug offenders (and to frighten away future abusers) is to shoot stoners on sight?
NEG: But that's ridiculous.
AFF: Why?
At this point, the Affirmative has given the Neg several awkward choices.

The Neg could argue for some kind of "side constraint" on a utilitarian approach to punishment--that some punishments are just too awful--which might help the Aff show why a deontological approach is superior, because it rules out such punishments on principle, rather than ad hoc.

The Neg could also try to argue that society won't flourish with the population living in fear of summary execution--but will likely have no evidence, and, more important, no bright line for distinguishing more or less draconian punishments (and how they might affect society more broadly).

It's also quite possible that the Neg will swallow the bitter pill of consistency and try to defend a draconian approach as legitimate.

Regardless, the Affirmative has the Neg on the defensive, which is the point of CX.

That's all I have for now. In the comments, suggest questions (or lines of questions) that might work--or have worked for you.


Jakob said...

I think a good question for the Neg would be: Would you rather be in jail or rehab? The Aff wil of course answer rehab because it supports their argument that rehab is better. Then in your 1NC you can argue that jail is an effective deterrant against drugs, because as your oponant stated, jail is extremly undesirable.

Jim Anderson said...

That might be a good way to get your opponent to do a little work for you, but also remember the broader picture (which I discuss here).

Anonymous said...

can you please answer those 9 questions you brought up to help me understand cx better?

Jim Anderson said...

Why not work with your teammates (or with a Facebook friend) to answer them yourself?

I can maybe answer a couple of 'em, but I've got a lot of ongoing projects at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Okay can you answer 2,3,7,and 9? thanks!

Anonymous said...

actually i meant 2,6,8,9 sorry

Jim Anderson said...

I'll take them one at a time. Up first: #2.

What limits punishment?

A retributivist will argue that the punishment "must fit the crime." This is intuitively just, and, with a little thought, makes a good degree of logical sense. (When I've committed a crime, I've tipped the scales of justice in my favor; justice demands tipping them back the other direction in the same amount.)

But what's the bright line? How do we measure how far the scales have tipped? And, absent a rule of "an eye for an eye," which may be the only truly balanced approach, how do we know how much prison time, or how steep a fine, is appropriate for a given crime?

At least retributivism, in theory, has an inherent limit.

Utilitarianism, as the sample CX above shows, measures the effect of the punishment. Any limitation must be justified by the ends. But which ends? And how broadly do we measure them? For instance, if we take a narrow view, the punishment is most effective that deters an individual from committing a crime. More broadly, effective punishment (which, for all we know, could be anything from wrist-slapping to name-calling, from lethal injections to firing squads) is that which produces a flourishing society. Perform a cost-benefit analysis--but be sure you've lined up all the potential costs and benefits!

Essentially, if you argue for limits on punishment on the grounds that humans have rights or dignity, that we must never torture or inflict cruelty for sadism's sake, or that there are inherent limits on punishment, then you're probably a retributivist.