Part Five of the Miniseries “Improving Your Debating From the Ground Up”
Last post, we discussed how to attack a single argument from a multitude of different angles. However, cases don’t come with just one argument–they come with several, as well as other components that are mostly unique to debate.
For the purposes of these next posts, we’ll be looking at a Public Forum case. Your general public forum case will consist of three parts: the intro, the framework, and the contentions. The number of contentions will vary based on case type and structure, but most cases have two or three of these. The intro and framework will be addressed in this post, with contentions following next time.
The introduction is read at the very beginning of the case, and almost always contains some variation on the phrase “We affirm/negate the Resolved: [insert resolution here]”. Additional content in the introduction, such as an anecdote, quote, etc. is optional. Personally, I’ve found that it takes away from valuable case time, so I would not recommend anything further–although some debaters have great success with them. Your preference will play a large part in this, but if you use it, remember to keep it quick! You only have four minutes, so make use of it!
In terms of rebuttal, the introduction can be ignored 90% of the time. Make sure to watch for the transition into framework, and take note if they try to slip in a point or assertion while your guard is down. Otherwise, this is just fluff for the judge’s benefit.
High level debates can be won or lost on framework, but it’s often neglected or ignored in many cases. Knowing how to build or address framework can give you a solid win condition in otherwise tough debates. Framework has two major parts: definitions, and observations.
Definitions are exactly what they sound like. Generally, you’ll want to have a definition for every major word in a resolution. Unless you’re running a case that is dependent on a particular definition (a very risky proposition to say the least), it’s generally better to say something along the lines of “we reserve the right to clarify definitions as they become relevant” and save time in your speech for actual argumentation.
Unless a definition is very clearly abusive, the best way to address them is generally to say that you’ll accept their working definition unless it becomes a focal point of debate, at which point you’ll address it further. This minimizes your time spent on it while still allowing you to defend yourself if their definition is a trap.
A nuanced and powerful component of any case, observations determine how a round should be weighed. For instance, in a resolution that states: “Resolved: X is a beneficial course of action for Y”, an observation could be “In order to best determine what constitutes a beneficial course of action, this debate should be weighed under a consequential cost/benefit framework”. This observation, while reasonable, if left unchecked assures that only the results of actions will be weighed, and they will be weighed according to their relative cost and benefit. This allows you to focus on metrics, and worry less about moral or emotional arguments your opponent may bring up. Another extremely effective observation would be “As any course of action requires implementation to access its benefits, my opponents must first prove that this course of action is feasible before any of their arguments can be weighed”. This forces them to prove their impacts, and indeed their entire argument, are feasible before they can even begin to make other arguments.
Of course, there are limits to what observations can achieve. Push too far, and you may be called out for abuse. A good rule for weighing observation validity is this: Is it reasonable? Is it fair? Is it beneficial (to me)? If all of these criteria are met, the observation is probably safe to put into your case. An example of an unfair observation, using the above sample resolution, could be “In order to access any benefits in their case, my opponents must completely prove that Y will take this course of action”. While it is technically true that their benefits will not come to pass without the action being taken, your opponents (presumably) cannot see the future, and thus cannot physically satisfy this observation. Running this sort of framework is a great way to have your case killed on grounds of abuse. Don’t run this sort of framework.
When rebutting observations, be extremely careful. Observations are there for a reason, and as such even seemingly innocuous observations can be deadly traps. Use a similar checklist to the above to vet observations: Is it reasonable? Is it fair? Does it pass the smell test, or is there something fishy about it? If your answer to any of the above is no, shut it down. Point out the abusive or unreasonable part, and explain to the judge why you shouldn’t have to comply with this. Even if an observation passes your checklist, maintain that it’s fine for now, but you’ll address it if it becomes a focal point in the debate. Cover your bases.
If either your relevant definitions or your observations clash with your opponents’, always address it as soon as possible. Explain why your observation or definition should be preferred, and stick to it! In order to ensure you’ll win the justification, have rationale for all definitions and observations prepared ahead of time, so you’re not grasping at straws for why the judge should prefer yours.
Framework allows you to shape the metaphorical battleground of the debate, and if used properly can even neutralize arguments before they’re read. Spend time on your observations. Figure out how you can (reasonably) twist the resolution to give you a slight edge, because an interpretive edge will compound throughout your case to give you a solid lead over your opponent.