Feb 22, 2014

Emmanuel Levinas, ethics, and LD

This post is inspired by Max, who wrote an LD case for the March/April humanitarian aid resolution based on the work of Emmanuel Levinas. Thanks for the idea, Max.

I'll quote from two useful sources in my discussion: Adriaan Peperzak's To the Other: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, which is available in its entirety online, and Benjamin Yost's "Responsibility and Revision: A Levinasian Argument for the Abolition of Capital Punishment." Any misrepresentation of their work--or of Levinas--is entirely my own. (Debaters who lack the hours to peruse Peperzak's exegesis will find use in Bettina Bergo's capably brief summary of Levinas's life and work.)

Why Levinas?
For debaters who are tired of the same old Utilitarianism vs. Deontology arguments, Levinas' approach offers a way out. It is profoundly humanistic, and critical of all-encompassing formulas or categorical imperatives. Although Levinas' prose (translated from French) can be intimidating, his core idea is understandable with a little effort.

The Core Idea: Responsibility
A human's first encounter with another human--the Other--shocks us out of our unreflective egoism, an egoism that other ethicists confuse with selfhood. According to Levinas, it is not until we recognize the existence of the Other--and their infinite claims to our attention, resources, and time--that we develop a sense of responsibility to them, and understand our own nature. As their needs are infinite, our responsibility to them must be infinite; and, as Yost explains,
...responsibility is asymmetric--meaning that the other has no responsibility to me--and radically singular--my responsibilities are mine and cannot be passed of to, or shared by, anyone else.
Or, as Peperzak puts it,
[a just] being does not concentrate on its own happiness or even on the sublime form in which this happiness can present itself within the framework of a belief in human immortality or soul... [since] it has turned from egoistical injustice in order to dedicate itself to the service of the Other.
Levinas' critical project is aimed straight at Kantian and contractualist defininitions of justice as reciprocity between free agents. Yost again:
This is because Levinas puts responsibility where Kant, and the liberal tradition more generally, would put freedom--to be human is to be responsible, and the other’s needs constitute the fundamental value. Being responsible for others is about transcending the drive toward self-preservation and self-enhancement.... As a result, our responsibilities for others cannot be determined by, nor limited by, the responsibilities others bear for us. Duties are not cut from the cloth of reciprocity. This view is in sharp distinction to liberal justice.

Levinas' position, square in the critical camp, makes using his ideas a challenge for LDers, as on the one hand, it places justice and ethics at the first priority, but on the other hand, makes no specific normative claims. As Peperzak explains,
[Levinas'] ethical terminology... does not point the way to a system of commands and prohibitions. It describes the situation of responsibility that precedes every ethics--a relation that "constitutes" me even before I can ask: "How should I conduct myself?" or "What should I do?" As an adequate description of the subject, insofar as it escapes the order of Being, ethical language is pre- or meta-ontological. As characteristic of a situation that precedes freedom, it is also pre- or meta-ethical.
Levinas rankles against the systematizing impulse of most ethical theorizers, framing such an impulse as a sort of abdication of moral responsibility. Back to Yost:
Now, if responsibility is singular and asymmetric, it is non-generalizable, and cannot be used to deduce moral norms that bind anyone other than oneself. Indeed, to convert singular demands into generalized norms will turn out to be, in some sense, a betrayal of responsibility. In doing so, one shirks one’s responsibilities by passing them off to others.... Levinas cannot, therefore,address the basic concern of mainstream normative ethics, which is to establish a catalogue of moral duties. Instead, Levinas encourages vigorous criticism of these catalogues, on the grounds that they justify limits on our responsibilities.

... And How to Overcome Them
That doesn't preclude what Yost calls "Levinasian" arguments in favor of universal human rights (or, in Yost's own view, against specific policies such as the death penalty). Justice itself is a universal principle, as Peperzak explains:
The simultaneity of many others distances me from the infinity of my responsibility. The contradiction caused by an infinite claim that is multiplied can only be overcome by the opening up of a dimension in which all others are served, respected, and treated justly: the dimension of universal justice. The infinite "principle" of transcendence... necessitates its own universalization and therewith a certain limitation. This is the "origin" of justice as the concern for a universally just order. This justice demands comparison (of unique and incomparable others), coexistence (of those whose "truth" can only "appear" in a face-to-face), gathering, equality (of the differents), administration, politics (which necessarily includes totalization), and so on.
Or, as our house's resident ten-year-old Keira summarizes, "There was a dimension where he went into a dimension, and then found the face-to-face of justiceness."

Can we go farther, and link this "justiceness" to the lived reality of political justice? Peperzak says that Levinas says yes.
The infinite obligation now becomes the duty of justice. I must be just in the distribution of my attention and devotion. I must compare and calculate, correct and order, treat others as equals and conduct myself as a judge.... The ethical relation of the One-for-the-Other obligates us to the rational organization of society, in which justice is exercised and violence is suppressed.
Yost adds,
Those who argue that Levinas’ philosophy has political implications include (Burggraeve 2002), (Caygill 2002), (Critchley 1992), (Critchley 2007), (Perpich 2008). Critchley and Perpich defend very general implications. Caygill and Burggraeve derive more concrete ones, especially with respect to the extension and protection of human rights.
The full cites:

Burggraeve 2002. "The Wisdom of Love in the Service of Love : Emmanuel Levinas on Justice, Peace, and Human Rights. "
Caygill 2002. Levinas and the Political.
Critchley 1992. The Ethics of Deconstruction : Derrida and Levinas.
Critchley 2007. Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance.
Perpich 2008. The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas.

I haven't read them, but you're welcome and encouraged to.

And, for extra credit, compare and contrast Levinas' idea of responsibility with Sarte's "anguish."

Feb 19, 2014

SB 5246 goes down in flames

Probably because I blogged about it, the terrible Senate Bill 5246 was voted down in the Senate yesterday.
The legislation failed 19-28, with minority Democrats joining with seven members of the Republican-dominated Senate majority coalition to vote no.
The state is at risk of losing $44 million, but then we also stand to gain roughly $190 million from recreational pot sales, apparently.

Federalism taketh away, and federalism giveth.

Feb 16, 2014

President's Day facts

If, as punishment for enjoying a day off, your teacher has assigned you a report on President's Day facts, look no further than this handy list. It contains all the President's Day facts you will ever want or need.

The original name of "President's Day" was "Prime Minister's Day." It was intended to celebrate Great Britain's most beloved Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. When the United States broke free of British rule, George Washington, the first president, declared the name change by executive order, his first and only legislative act.

If all the presidents were laid end to end, they would stretch clear from Muncie to Skokie.

Herbert Hoover, nicknamed "Silent Cal," would wear a paper bag over his head each President's Day. After he broke his nose by running into one of the White House columns, Hoover decided to cut eyeholes in the bag.

The German translation of "President's Day" is "Präsidentsehnsuchtgemeinschaftsgefühl."

The movie "Independence Day" was almost titled "President's Day," but the director, George Lucas, is notoriously apostrophe-phobic.

According to data from Facebook, President's Day is the fifth most popular day to post a new relationship status, but first overall for status changes to "single."

Despite the fact that the best anagram of "President's Day" is "Padres destiny," the San Diego Padres have yet to win a Super Bowl.

The most popular President's Day food is cabbage. The most popular beverage is cabbage juice.

President's Day has been canceled only once in its century-plus history, when a molasses factory's terrible spill flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. for forty-eight hours. Woodrow Wilson, president at the time, declared a national day of mourning, followed by a national day of cookie baking.

Only one president--Hillary Clinton--was born on President's Day.

Feb 13, 2014

value / criterion pairs for the humanitarian aid resolution

This post consists of value and criterion pairs for the March-April 2014 LD humanitarian aid resolution, which states:
Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
These ideas are intended to kickstart your own thinking. Feel free to adapt them for your own purposes. I can't claim they'll win you any rounds, but if they do, be sure to give me 80% of the credit, more or less.

Also, this is a work in progress, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments.

Trending Affirmative

Value: Justice (defined morally)
Criterion: Preserving human dignity.
Humans are worthy of fundamental respect and have inherent worth. Regardless of role or station, we have a moral obligation to preserve human dignity. Political conditions have the potential to deny aid to those who need it most, use humans as bargaining chips and human suffering as leverage, and, if based on partisan bickering, are a moral obscenity and an affront to human dignity.

V: Justice
C: Protecting Human Rights
If protecting human rights is essential to justice (or morality), and if PPCoHA leads to the loss of human rights (as thousands or even millions suffer and die when aid is denied), then PPCoHA is unjust.

V: Justice
C: International Law / International Human Rights Norms
Since the resolution does not specify a particular society, we can't be 100% certain which rights must be protected. Best, then, to look to the prevailing standards of international law--the rights that people across societies, cultures, and even times have agreed are essential. Is this criterion open to attack? Certainly. But it also presents a clear, highly defensible set of rights.

V: Justice
C: Deontology, especially the 2nd Formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative
Kant argues that as humans are autonomous moral agents, it is wrong to use them as mere means to an end. Political conditions do this by treating suffering and dying humans as bargaining chips for a nation's purposes.

V: Justice
C: Retribution
In this view, withholding aid for political reasons is a punishment. If this is a correct reading of the situation, it violates a fundamental principle of retributive justice. Innocents should not suffer for the sake of their country's leaders, since they are not due punishment.

V: Justice
C: Rawls's "Law of Peoples"
Rawls's "Law of Peoples" is an attempt to apply his contractual reasoning to international relations. The seventh and eighth rules are most salient: "Peoples are to honor human rights," and "Peoples have a duty to assist other peoples living under unfavorable conditions that prevent their having a just or decent political and social regime."

Trending Negative

V: Justice
C: Social Contract
The resolution uses the phrase "is unjust," which can (should?) be defined in moral terms. The moral obligations of the State are based on its contractual duties and limits. The contract (in most classic formulations) requires no positive obligations toward the citizens of other countries. (There may be negative duties--to not violate the human rights of foreigners--but humanitarian aid is not a moral obligation for states.

A potential "turn" exists if the social contract is linked to consequentialist reasoning (i.e., the State has to act in a way that benefits its citizens or keeps them secure). If unfettered humanitarian aid improves the donor nation's security, it might have a moral obligation to avoid political conditions.

V: Prudence (defined as carefully weighing political options; see Morgenthau)
C: Political realism
The idea here is that nations act in their best interests, independent of overarching moral considerations, charting a careful course in a chaotic, Hobbesian world. Justice isn't a proper description of international relations, so the resolution is a category error, analogous to claiming that numbers are too heavy, or colors are too fearful. (Be aware that some judges hate political realism. I mean really, really hate it.) Realism can also be turned, potentially, in the way the Social Contract argument can be turned, if realism is discussed in terms of its consequentialist impacts, rather than in its inherent approach.

Could Go Either Way

V: Justice
C: Consequentialism (or Utilitarianism, Act or Rule)
Any case predicated on a body count, a dollar figure, or any other quantifiable metric of success is essentially consequentialist. If justice is defined morally, and the State looks to consequentialism as a way to decide whether its actions are moral, then consequentialism can work as a criterion for justice. However, this seems like a weaker link (as it makes justice into a matter of majority rules). Also, any affirmative would have to beware of potential turns.

Feb 12, 2014

SB 5246: test scores for me, but not for thee

Washington State stands to lose $44 million in federal funds if the legislature fails to meet Obama Administration demands to include state test scores in teacher evaluations, The Daily O reports:
State law already requires that student growth data be a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluations. But current law allows the districts to decide which tests to use: classroom-based, school-based, district-based or statewide.

The U.S. Department of Education has set a May deadline for the state to change the system in order to keep its waiver.
Solution #1: pressure the DOE to backpedal.
[S]ome Democrats are hoping that the state’s congressional delegation will persuade U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education to grant Washington a waiver anyway, even if state lawmakers fail to specify which tests must play a role in teacher evaluations.
It's a risky strategy, given that other states have already been denied waivers. Hence, Solution #2:
Senate education leaders are trying to address the problem themselves, rather than relying on members of Congress. A Senate education panel last week advanced a bill that would not only require students’ scores on statewide tests to be used in teacher and principal evaluations, but also specifies how.
That how is found in Senate Bill 5246, which is currently sitting in the Rules Committee. It's worth a closer look, as it contains not one, but two problematic features.

First, the bill establishes evaluations that are inherently unfair, by holding otherwise similarly-situated teachers to different standards.
...for teachers who teach reading or language arts or mathematics in a grade in which the federally mandated statewide student assessments are administered, one of the multiple measures of student growth must be the student results on the relevant assessments.
"Student growth" is statutorily defined as progress measured in two points at time. So, if I'm a high school English teacher (and I am) teaching sophomores who are taking the Writing HSPE (which I'm not), then my students have to improve their performance over the last time they tested.

It sounds reasonable, until you take the time to reason it out. Even if the middle school test (the MSP) is carefully calibrated to be "the same" assessment of student ability, and even if the student performs to her true testing level in each session, and even if we can rule out natural maturation, there's a massive structural flaw.

As it stands, the assessments are taken three years apart. There's no good reason to praise the latest teacher for growth--or to punish the same teacher for lack of the same--when there are two or three (or maybe more) teachers who contribute to that growth in a three-year timespan.

Even if the assessment cycle can be kicked into higher gear--say, a pre-test in the Fall, and the "real deal" in the Spring--the system, at least above the elementary school level, still fails. I'm not going to take sole credit (or blame) for my hypothetical sophomores' argumentative writing skills, which they've honed (or dulled) in science or social studies and any other class that includes essay-writing. My class isn't offered in a vacuum.

The inequity exists horizontally as well. If you teach Band, Psychology, Calculus, or any other high school course that lacks a federally mandated assessment, you are held to a different standard; so, of course, the pessimistic (likely?) conclusion is that, in the name of rigor, policymakers will rush to test in those subjects as well.

Of course, should you get a raw deal in this dubious system, you can expect your district to navigate the nuances with respect for your unique situation and all the complex variables, right? Well...
Districts must use student growth data to create a rank order of teachers based on the amount of average student growth achieved in each teacher's classroom. The bottom quartile of teachers in the rank order shall be identified by the district as requiring additional support.
The arbitrary relative ranking proposal would force a high-performing district to provide "additional support" to its least awesome employees, even if their entire workforce is already awesome.

And I haven't even considered the practical and mathematical impossibilities of ranking teachers with diverse curricular assignments (for instance, I teach two "traditional" classrooms and two online-based Apex courses, so good luck comparing my impact to someone who teaches five 9th-grade Physical Science classes), or the inequity of ranking teachers who are test-bound against those who aren't.

I have no idea what the bill's prospects are. It could die a quiet death in the Rules Committee. It could fail on the Senate floor. It could get jammed in the House or in a conference committee. It could fail to get ink from Governor Inslee. Or, it could lurch zombielike past all those obstacles and start tearing at the guts of teacher morale.

Time will tell, and I will blog.

Feb 9, 2014

does humanitarian aid forestall political solutions?

As someone who watched Phil Hartman kill it on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s, I'm old.

Hartman's second-to-note Bill Clinton impersonation is on full display in the classic skit in which the rotund politician interrupts his mid-morning jog to meet, greet, and eat with regular folks at a local McDonald's. As Clinton finds a way to sample nearly everyone's meal, he discourses on various policies, including a memorable analogy for why an international military force would be necessary to secure humanitarian aid in Somalia.

Also, I'm old.

The serious point, which I'm winding toward, is that humanitarian aid isn't delivered in a vacuum. By changing the cost of inaction, aid can potentially forestall political solutions. This point is argued by Tamer Qarmout and Daniel Beland in "The Politics of International Aid to the Gaza Strip," found in The Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2012.
Within the context of the Israeli occupation, international aid to the [Palestinian Authority] has allowed Israel to sustain its occupation without bearing the expenses of providing for the basic humanitarian needs of the people under occupation. In this environment, donors play an integral and direct role in the conflict by alleviating any sense of urgency to end the occupation.
Even if you're inclined to balk at the loaded terms in their analysis (I don't intend to wade into a debate about the legitimacy of Israeli and Palestinian territorial disputes), the analysis raises the troubling prospect that aid perpetuates a problematic status quo.

Mark E. Manyin makes a similar argument in "Assessing U.S. Assistance to North Korea," from Asian Review's Fall 2003 issue.
From a humanitarian perspective, sending food to North Korea arguably diverts limited supplies of food aid from other needy, and more accountable, countries. Furthermore, as discussed above, the volume and consistency of international aid has allowed the North Korean government to institutionalize emergency food assistance as part of its annual budget needed to feed its people and remain in power. Therefore, although international food aid has saved thousands of lives, it also has indirectly subsidized Kim Jong Il's regime and allowed the government to avoid making much-needed economic reforms.
The age of the evidence--11 years and counting--only bolsters the claim that continuing aid has potentially contributed to the perpetuation of Jong Il's repressive dynasty.

Berhanu Nega and Geoffrey Schneider, in "International Financial Institutions and Democracy in Africa: The Case for Political Conditionality and Economic Unconditionality," found in The Journal of Economic Issues, June 2011, note that
..there is evidence that foreign aid is used by dictatorships for political purposes and that humanitarian aid is frequently denied to families that are considered opponents of the regime (Human Rights Watch 2010), which argues for the denial of all forms of aid to the worst-behaving dictatorships. Properly structured aid programs may be able to exert pro-democracy pressure while preserving aid for the poor, but this may not always be possible.
The upshot is that, in a consequentialist framework, the equation isn't simply aid saves lives, therefore aid good. Political conditions, long term, may be necessary to prevent suffering.

Feb 6, 2014

defining "political conditions" in the humanitarian aid resolution

An important way to divide up ground between the Affirmative and Negative in the humanitarian aid resolution...
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
... is to fairly define "political conditions."

"Conditions" seems easy enough--to get this consequence, do this--but "political" is another story.

Look at some dictionary definitions of the word:
1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with politics: political writers.
2. of, pertaining to, or connected with a political party: a political campaign.
3. exercising or seeking power in the governmental or public affairs of a state, municipality, etc.: a political machine; a political boss.
4. of, pertaining to, or involving the state or its government: a political offense.
5. having a definite policy or system of government: a political community.
The first definition links circularly to the noun "politics," so we'll ignore it. The second is slanted toward the Affirmative, as it would make political conditions into a partisan affair, which would be difficult to justify. The third and fourth are quite broad, and also arguably the most contextual. The fifth is the most specific, which will relate well to operational definitions described later.

Under the broadest definitions, what counts as a political condition--and what doesn't? Pace Atmar, should we distinguish security conditions (your government must ensure basic aid worker safety) and capacity-building / development conditions (your government must invest in critical infrastructure projects) from human / civil rights conditions (your government must enact feminist reforms)?

Perhaps a way out is to investigate the topic literature. Tamer Qarmout and Daniel Beland, in "The Politics of International Aid to the Gaza Strip," found in The Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2012, p. 34, have a fairly concise operational definition:
Political conditionality usually links donor aid to the recipient's implementing programs in such areas as democratization and good governance.
More specific, to be sure, but also slanted toward the Negative, as it presumes generally beneficial aims. Still, even as it stands, it provides a clearer value comparison than just "saving lives vs. indeterminate government action."

We can get even more specific, though. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's definition of political conditions tied to development aid is extensive (and typical):
The main criteria which are applied in a specific situation and to the behavior of other countries are failure to make efforts to achieve good governance, e.g. the deliberate and consistent blocking of reform-oriented measures; serious violations of human rights, in particular grave discrimination of minorities; the interruption or revoking of democratization processes; serious infringements against peace and security (war, warmongering, state terror); reluctance to accept the right of return of nationals (refugees).
It's important to note, though, that in Swiss practice, humanitarian aid is entirely exempt from these conditions. (That doesn't change the definition of the conditions themselves, of course.) Whether that's warranted, of course, is the whole question of the debate.

I'll be on the lookout for other definitions, and if you've found something useful, share it in the comments.

Feb 4, 2014

the agent of action in the humanitarian aid resolution

The March/April LD humanitarian aid resolution invites a careful parsing.
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
One of the primary questions: who or what is the agent of action in the resolution? In other words, who or what would be described as "unjust" when placing political conditions on humanitarian aid?

The question matters for several reasons, which will be outlined below amid various agent options.

The agent is an indeterminate government or nation-state.
I place this reading first, as I think it's the preferred interpretation, given the general-principle nature of LD, and the fact that states are the entities most likely to impose political conditions on humanitarian aid, whether mediated via sanctions regimes, or through direct aid dispersal. Furthermore, the aid is directed "to foreign countries," which is a clean semantic fit with the idea of state-to-state bargaining.

What defines justice vis a vis the State? For the Affirmative, the answer may lie in Kantian respect for persons, Rawlsian calculations of fairness, consequentialist cost-benefit analyses, or, if the resolution is situated more in the "real world," norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or international legal frameworks such as the Geneva Conventions.

The Negative has Rawlsian and consequentialist options as well, but I'd go for a contractual argument, based on the word "foreign." Nations have no obligations to give aid to foreign citizens, in the classic social contract stance. Thus, it may be sad or heartless or mean, but it's not unjust to set political conditions. In fact, given the state's obligation to the welfare of its own citizens, such conditions might be preferable or even required.

Another Negative strategy is to blow up the notion of State obligations, taking a Morgenthau-esque "realist" position. In the anarchic international system, the State has to act to safeguard its own interests. Political conditions aren't "unjust" because justice isn't applicable to the State. Prudence is the only path. (This is a similar "category error" approach taken in Randian kritik-esque arguments about the fallacy of "collective nouns.")

The agent is the government of the United States.
This is a common way LDers attempt to parametricize the resolution: by arguing that since we live in America and take part in the American educational system and can easily place ourselves in an American-oriented policymaking stance. I wouldn't go this route, but your mileage may vary.

The agent is an indeterminate nonprofit / nongovernmental organization (NGO).
NGOs certainly have the ability to impose political conditions on their aid, but in my initial survey of the literature, it seems that they are the least likely to. For good reason: due to their principled neutrality, groups such as Doctors Without Borders oppose any and all political conditions. This reading of the resolution is likely to trend Affirmative.

The agent is an individual actor within a government agency or NGO.
Do obligations to corporate aims trump individual morality, or must individuals act justly regardless of their office, status, or context?

The agent is an individual actor without any particular corporate obligations--a philanthropist.
I see this as the least likely reading of the resolution, as it's the least likely aid scenario.

In sum, I see state-based analysis as the most fruitful for both sides, although I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise if you have better ideas. At any rate, the definition of justice--and the proper application of the term to various agents--seems to be the matter of most concern in this debate. Is justice essentially moral, political, or legal? (Or some combination of the above?) Good luck finding the answer, and good luck in your rounds.

Feb 2, 2014

eight years in the making

In 2006, the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl.

In 2006, Walter Jones cleared lanes for Shaun Alexander and pass protected for "We want the ball and we're gonna score" Matt Hasselbeck. The Hawks' eventual undoing came at the hands of a quarterback who shares Wilson's adeptness at improvisation, and/or at the hands of a referee who later apologized for "kicking several calls."

In 2006, Pete Carroll was just another college coach to root against, Russell Wilson was a two-star prep athlete, Marshawn Lynch was breaking tackles for the Cal Bears, and Richard Sherman was probably trolling someone on XBox between classes at Stanford.

In 2006, I didn't live-blog the Super Bowl, nor did I tweet it, as Twitter was invented, oddly enough, that same month.

In 2006, I wasn't a dad.

* * *

In 2014, I have three kids. Carsten, at sixteen months, can sign "football," although he says it "buh-baw." Keira and Miranda, 10 and 11, rebuff the neighbor kids who think the Hawks can't win it all.

In 2014, I'm not going to live-blog the game, but I'd imagine I'll work out my issues on Twitter, as we all do.

In 2014, Pete Carroll is a guru of self-actualization, Russell Wilson is the Little Quarterback Who Could, Marshawn Lynch silently beast modes through hails of Skittles, and Richard Sherman trolls his opponents after he takes away their Precious.

In 2014, Walter Jones is a first-ballot hall-of-famer. Shaun Alexander lives out the Madden Curse somewhere in Federal Way. Matt Hasselbeck is a backup quarterback for the Colts. No one from the '06 Seahawks remains on the squad--and no one on the Seahawks has a shred of Super Bowl experience. It doesn't matter.

In 2014, the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl.

Feb 1, 2014

Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.

The National Speech and Debate Association (formerly the National Forensic League) has released the March-April 2014 Lincoln-Douglas debate topic.
Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.
There's a lot to consider, from the meaning of "political conditions" (are we talking about free elections, regime change, partisan bickering, or all of the above?) to the standard for justice. The word "foreign" invites analysis of international and domestic legal frameworks for aid, but without a specified agent of action, should we focus on US aid efforts, throw the EU in the mix, consider the UN the focus, or debate abstract principles? Is there a difference in the interests of state actors and private agencies?

Of course, you can expect much of the debate to boil down to frameworks. For instance, my immediate inclination is to take a Kantian stance, arguing that using humanitarian aid as political leverage treats suffering citizens of other countries as mere means to an end. Consequentialism may point us in entirely different directions, though, especially since humanitarian aid has been diverted by bad actors, fueled corruption and state capture, and isn't necessarily effective in the long run.

A few countries and regions that spring to mind include North Korea, the Sahel, the Central African Republic, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti, and Myanmar. Agencies include USAid, ECHO (the world's largest donor, according to their website), UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and more. Many more.

These are just a few thoughts at the onset. Watch this space in the coming weeks for links, analysis, and value and criterion pairs, and, as always, feel free to pose ideas and questions in the comments.

1. I take a closer look at potential agents of action in the resolution, and their strategic implications.

2. How should "political conditions" be defined in the resolution?

3. Does humanitarian aid forestall political solutions?

4. A list of value / criterion pairs to get you started, if that's your thing.

5. Two external links you might find useful: Stanford's article on International Distributive Justice, and IEP's on Global Ethics and on Moral Egalitarianism (potentially useful for the Aff).

6. Levinas seems useful for this resolution. Who is Levinas, you ask?

7. I go into a little more depth about political realism.