“Resolved: ‘This house should eat ice cream tonight.’”

The government team launches into a well detailed and superbly structured PMC about the policy resolution. They detail how ice cream is tasty and how much they enjoy ice cream. They read conclusion after conclusion from study after study saying how ice cream improves one’s mood and can even be healthy. The Prime Minister also mentions how it would be among the cheapest of options for a dessert, as there is a mega sale for ice cream at a local store. However, at this note, the leader of opposition (LoO) perks up his head, and leaps to his feet to ask a point of information (POI).

“What kind of ice cream does this house have?”

“Well, except for some expired chocolate ice cream somewhere in the freezer, we actually don’t have any, which is why our plan mandate 1 is to buy fresh ice cream, but we can buy whatever kind the opposition would like. That point also leads me to my fourth contention, ‘Choices’…”

But the opposition has stopped listening. He is intensely writing away on a point of theory that he is confident will win him the round.

The PM finishes with a dramatic-yet-humorous anecdote, urging the consumption of ice cream.

Then, with a smug look, the LoO gets up and begins his constructive:

“Extra-topicality. It is because of the issue of extra topicality that we must absolutely reject the resolution today. In a POI, the government specifically stated that we currently only have expired ice cream, but that their plan is to buy fresh ice cream. However, nowhere under the resolution is buying ice cream allowed; it only allows us to eat ice cream. Seeing as how the only ice cream we have has gone bad, and the boundaries set by the resolution prohibit us from buying anymore, this resolution is calling for us to eat expired ice cream, which has a number of disadvantages….”

In the above example, many people would probably say that this eory is being abused in a way that discourages education and competition, yet most of those people could not actually elaborate as to why the argument is illegitimate, beyond “it seems abusive/unfair.” The problem is, under the philosophies of most of the debaters I know, the opposition’s argument would technically be legitimate. Furthermore, although the ice cream example is a bit extreme, this theory issue is actually one that matters fairly often—at the most recent NITOC, the issue of extra topicality came up multiple times when I was helping my friends prepare for negative policy rounds. This is why I wish to seriously address the issue of extra topicality.

Extra topicality has been briefly written about here on Ethos before, but I wish to provide a more in-depth (and alternative) view on the subject.

What is Extra Topicality?

Extra topicality (abbreviated as XT) is when part of a plan does not “fall under” (i.e. support) the resolution (perhaps unlike Lisa, I argue plans offer support for a resolution, rather than embody the resolution). In contrast to full topicality, extra topicality doesn’t say all of a plan is non-topical; it specifically focuses on a part which is not. For example, imagine for a resolution dealing with trade policy, a plan has two mandates:

  1. Raises tariffs on imports of rare earth elements,
  2. Decreases rare earth mining regulations

The first mandate is topical, because it deals with trade policy, but the second part is extra topical, because it doesn’t. What this means is that any advantage stemming solely from the deregulation of rare earth mining doesn’t support trade policy reform, and thus (generally) should be disregarded in the round. This is because the rules of TP call for the affirmative to support the resolution. The affirmative does this through discussing mandates that both fit the topic and would be beneficial; an affirmative argues that “reforming our _______ policy by _________ would be beneficial; therefore, we should reform our _______ policy.” However, it does not logically make sense to say “Reforming our trade policy by deregulating rare earth mining would be beneficial; therefore, we should reform our trade policy.” Thus, the discussion about deregulation does not support the affirmative since it does not support the resolution. However, this does not refute the entire case; it only excludes the benefits solely stemming from that one mandate.

Most of this is fairly common knowledge to experienced debaters, although formally explained. The issues arise when people get into further application and interpretation.

What about funding?

Most people know that funding does not need to be topical, and so people almost never challenge this point. Yet, the interesting aspect is that most people don’t have a logical reason why funding doesn’t have to be topical, except (occasionally) “It just wouldn’t be fair otherwise.” But there is nothing in the rules saying “funding doesn’t have to be topical.” Granted, some people argue “Funding is a necessary component of reforming policies/laws, and so therefore it falls under resolutional action.” Yet, except for the actual “giving money to _______ program” (i.e. not the “—by defunding the ________ program” part) this standard seems to be just made out of convenience; you can certainly try to reform policies without funding, much like in the opening example you could eat the expired ice cream instead of buying fresh ice cream. So how does printing/borrowing/reallocating money actually comprise trade policy, and why is it only funding? I know that many proponents of this logic would shy away from applying the same logic elsewhere, if it isn’t about funding. Unfortunately, while the explanation might be convenient, it is mostly arbitrary. Thus, the reason I am writing is to establish a way to evaluate XT issues.

 

The current theory divide

Perhaps I obsess over theory a bit too much, but I am certainly not the only one who has considered extra topicality. Having known a number of people with opinions on the issue, I have been able to distinguish a general divide when it comes to XT. Overall, it seems that there are two main camps: the maximalists and medianists. I also have found that even among those who don’t really think about the issue, most lean towards supporting maximalism.

Maximalism

Maximalists believe that the resolution sets a maximum—that it stakes out the affirmative’s ground with hard boundaries which, if violated, disqualify a case altogether. Put most simply, maximalists hold that if a plan goes outside the resolution, then it is no longer topical (completely). Thus, one cannot include non-topical mandates in plans. In this sense, maximalists would agree with the leader of opposition in the opening example: if the boundaries set by the resolution do not include actual “buying” of ice cream, then the government/affirmative cannot buy the ice cream, and therefore the resolution should be rejected (since there is no ice cream to eat).

Evaluating Maximalism

To evaluate maximalism, I use hypothetical examples to test the ideology’s reasonability.

  • The opening example: “Resolved, this house should eat ice cream.”
    Maximalism: “The resolution doesn’t allow you to buy fresh ice cream…”
  • For the current (‘17-’18) year’s Stoa resolution (Transportation policy): a plan to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program. To oversimplify the background, the program largely deals with biofuel standards in vehicles, but also deals some with clearly non-topical energy sources such as natural gas from landfills, etc.
    Maximalism would say that such a case can only repeal the parts of the program specifically dealing with topical fuel sources—and that if a plan does not make these carve-outs, it should be completely rejected.
  • For the past year’s NCFCA resolution (policies towards China): Suppose you wanted to create a trade deal with China, but to avoid potential “favoring China over [other ally in the region]” disadvantages, your plan also extends the deal towards [other country]. Assuming the multilateral characteristic doesn’t make even the China aspect non-topical, the benefits from the Chinese trade deal could be legitimate (i.e. they should be weighed in the round). However, maximalism would hold that you are only allowed to advance the deal with China, and therefore must either not run the case at all or only advance the deal with China and accept the “favoritism” disadvantage.
  • For a past year’s Stoa resolution (trade policy with China, Japan, South Korea, and/or Taiwan).
    The case: Pass Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Taiwan.
    Plan: Begin negotiations of an FTA with Taiwan, then draft and pass an FTA with Taiwan.
    Maximalism: “This plan violates the resolution because trade negotiations are not trade policy. Thus, the resolution does not allow you to begin negotiations on an FTA, and so a bilateral FTA is out of the question.” (Believe me, people actually wanted to run this)
  • For a hypothetical resolution “The old, abandoned gas station (or hotel, etc.) in the middle of the city should be demolished.”
    The case: Demolish the gas station and use the land to expand the adjacent library.
    Maximalism: “This plan exceeds the resolution because we cannot mandate what will happen after demolition; the affirmative can only appeal to advantages like decreased crime or increased land values.”

Of course, many maximalists may not really bother to make the argument in all of these cases, and if they do, most of them probably would be more appealing or less extreme (especially than in the Taiwan FTA example). However, I have seen this play a major role in approaching/creating cases, especially in parli: when discussing parli strategies for a resolution similar to “congress should repeal the Senate’s filibuster rules,” people refused to run a plan that shifted the filibuster to the house, based on the notion that “it exceeds the resolution.” Furthermore, regardless of what they actually say and how they say it, this is what maximalism supports; as stated, any exceptions in these cases would be totally arbitrary.  

Another question to ask is how maximalism is based on the rules (if your league really has them). Do the rules say that a plan becomes disqualified if it extends outside of the resolution? Or do they just say that the affirmative must affirm the resolution? (For Stoa, the answer to the latter question is a yes.)

The Medianists

Whereas maximalists believe that the resolution sets a hard boundary, medianists believe the resolution sets a target with soft borders. That is to say, medianists hold that an affirmative just needs to support some ground under the resolution and that exceeding the resolution does not disqualify a plan. Thus, medianists would say “you can go buy fresh ice cream, and even toppings if you want.” However, that still does not mean that an affirmative can use non-topical mandates to support the resolution if they are unrelated to it or the topical mandates; it’s just that having that second mandate would not make the entire plan illegitimate/non-topical. (A theoretical third philosophy, minimalism, would support any extra topical mandates and all of their benefits as long as those XT mandates are somehow relatable to the topical mandates. However, I don’t know of anyone who would support such a philosophy)

Evaluating Medianism

I can’t really say any TP theory philosophy is necessarily “flawless,” but in all honesty, I only consider that there could be one flaw unique to medianism, which I will address later. Of course, I have heard—and will address—plenty of common misconceptions that people have the philosophy:

  • What if someone has a mandate banning abortion?

Given that this is, from my experience, rather consistently one of people’s first objections, I will address it first.

Again, medianism doesn’t validate mandates or advantages completely unrelated to the resolution—including mandates unrelated to the topical part of the plan. To assess the legitimacy of an extra topical mandate (XTM), one need only consider whether passing that mandate in a vacuum (i.e. without the rest of the plan) would have the same advantages as being currently claimed, and if so, it should be completely disregarded. For example, if in some crazy hypothetical case of “pass China FTA + ban abortion” (under the NCFCA China resolution) one gives the advantage “abortion banned = lives saved,” it is easy to see that “abortion banned = lives saved” is unrelated to “pass China FTA.” Now, if the topical case was “Sanction China for their One Child policy,” you could technically add a “repeal US abortion” mandate but only to avoid a “China will call us hypocrites by pointing to our abortion rates” DA—you could not also appeal to a “saves US babies” advantage. Either situation would be exceedingly unrealistic, but if the affirmative were to do something egregious like the first example, then you (the negative) should call them out on it, perhaps even kritiking/objecting to their appeal to judge bias. Similarly, for both cases, the negative need only say “Judge, please just imagine that abortion is repealed regardless of whether you vote aff or neg. With that, let’s discuss the actually relevant parts of their plan.”

  • “You are no longer arguing for (just) the resolution”

This is one of the foundational qualms that maximalists have with medianism. However, in reality, if a plan follows the medianist principles outlined above and below, then it is inaccurate on two fronts: 1) Insofar as an extra topical mandate relates to the topical mandate(s), it can support the resolution; for example, in the gas station (demolition) resolution, it is intuitive that the affirmative advantage “doing so would let us build ______ in its place” is a reason why “we should demolish the gas station.” 2) nowhere in the (Stoa) rules does it say that someone cannot argue for something supposedly “beyond the resolution”; it’s just that if the argument does not support the resolution, it cannot be considered to support the affirmative (and as I just argued, mandates like “expand the library in its place” would support the resolution).

  • “Can’t the aff claim that disads to the XT parts of their plan are irrelevant?”

The simple answer is basically no. If the plan requires doing something bad to work, then the consequences of that something also apply to the plan.

(To add some complication for the sake of accuracy, it is true that the affirmative can offset those DAs with XT advantages, although they still cannot claim a net gain from those advantages in impact calculus. For example, for the “trade deals with China + [other country]” case, if the negative says “the trade deal with [other country] would cost us 4,000 jobs,” the affirmative can still say “yes but that trade deal would also gain 7,000 jobs, so it offsets that disadvantage.” However, the affirmative cannot claim those additional 3,000 jobs in impact calculus. If this is still confusing, don’t worry; it generally won’t come up, or is intuitively answered when it does.)

  • “What if their plan is full of extra topical and topical mandates, such that one has to sort through what is and isn’t topical?”

This is an understandable issue which I will discuss further down, but put briefly, I still don’t consider it a flaw.

Other than these common misconceptions, however, I only know of one potential flaw in medianism, which is that it could allow extra topical mandates to become the focus of the plan, and this could be taken as abusive. Again, I will address that towards the end, in the section “Formal use typology.” Otherwise, if you would like to provide an argument which I have not yet heard, feel free to post it in the comments at the end (after you have read the article, to see if I already answer it).

Why I am a Medianist

I prefer medianism because I believe it is more in line with the (Stoa) rules, provides consistency, and doesn’t exclude otherwise legitimate cases just because they have a few extra topical parts.

As I often suggest is the case, this question of theory can be answered simply by thinking in context of the resolution: would passing their plan

  1. Take resolutional action (e.g. Reform “transportation policy”)? and
  2. Be net beneficial (which, to be precise, includes the opportunity cost of also affirming the resolution. i.e., The answer is “no” if a counterplan that doesn’t take resolutional action works better. This is further explained later)

If the answer to both those criteria is yes, then other issues are most likely irrelevant, because TP rules (for Stoa, at least) say quite simply, if the affirmative has upheld the resolution, then “the judge should vote for the resolution.” To go back to the ice cream example: If the judge supports the resolution (“This house should eat ice cream”) because he supports the plan (buying and eating ice cream), it is not an issue that you have to buy the ice cream and/or toppings; the judge still should “vote for the resolution.”

If someone claims it unfairly benefits the affirmative: it’s generally not any more “unfair” that someone writes a good plan with an XT mandate than it is “unfair” that someone writes a well thought-out plan, as long as the rules are still being upheld. Sure, it might tip the “balance” towards the affirmative, but I would argue that in doing so it actually corrects the scales, rather than unbalancing them. It also is not real world or reasonable to hold such a standard, as illustrated in the previous examples. This being said though, there are a few clarifications and other points that must be made:

Important guidelines:

Affirmatives:

  1. Only use XT mandates when it is actually necessary, such as to avoid major disadvantages or solvency issues. If there is not a good, clearly definable reason to include XT mandates, don’t.
  2. You have to actually declare all of your plan’s mandates with the rest of your plan. I actually have hit teams who would later on (in their 2AC, 1AR, or even 2AR!) delink from disadvantages by suddenly suggesting, “Well we could do _____ later on.” The mandates might have been legitimate, except that they weren’t given until the last speech!
  3. Be careful that you don’t let the XT parts of your plan subconsciously influence the judge. For example, you can sometimes have a funding source which, although technically legitimate, is very sketchy, such as “take from Planned Parenthood funding.”
  4. Make it very clear what is topical and what is XT. (This is the answer to the third objection made earlier about medianism.) I might even specifically call an XT mandate “mandate 2 (extra topical): _______,” as this could help inoculate one from XT attacks. But if you don’t want to do that, at least readily admit that it is XT in CX. Still, the main point under this is do not claim advantages that are illegitimate!
    As the negative, if the aff doesn’t clearly distinguish between XT and topical mandates/advantages, and you can demonstrate that some of the claimed advantages stem solely from XT parts of the plan (i.e. the advantages are illegitimate), I suggest running a kritik/objection, saying that the aff had a burden to set up a clear debate, yet they deliberately (or at least, negligently) muddled the round. To support this concept, I give an analogy of a friend who buys you a carton mostly of fake, plastic apples (with just a few real ones), when you asked him for real apples.

Formal use typology:

I can give at least four examples of how you might use XTMs in a plan. The latter two, however, I recognize some might find objectionable, so I will be further discussing them:

1. XTM required for (or improves) Resolutional Action (RA)

This is when an XTM is necessary for the full plan (which includes RA, or “Resolutional Action”) to have solvency (or greater advantages). Again, this is represented by a modified version of the ice cream example: if you had no ice cream, you would have to buy some (XTM) in order to eat ice cream (RA). Also in the case of ice cream, the affirmative could propose to buy ice cream toppings in addition to ice cream.

2. XTM avoids disadvantages to RA

This is when an XTM is needed to avoid a disadvantage to the full plan (which includes RA). This is represented in the “Multilateral trade deal including China” case detailed previously: by including the extra-topical multilateral aspects, you can avoid the disadvantage to your main plan.

Another example would be for a past year’s Stoa TP topic (agriculture and food safety policy): A plan that just removes subsidies (arguably) decreases production of food, leading to higher prices and less supply, which (arguably) harms poor countries who can no longer as much get food. To avoid this disadvantage, an affirmative could also have an XTM that increases monetary food aid to offset the initial mandate’s effects on food prices. However, as explained before, the affirmative would still be liable for any disadvantages linked to this XTM.

A third example would be the initial ice cream example, where only spoiled ice cream is available: buying ice cream would avoid the health and taste DAs.

The following two types are somewhat similar to the first, but I have seen that they could pose more issues in terms of fairness.

3. RA required/beneficial for XTM

This is similar to the first type, but instead depicts a situation where the plan’s main focus is actually the XT mandate. Just imagine the ice cream example in reverse: “Resolved: This house should buy ice cream.” Most of the benefits of the plan come from actually eating the ice cream (which is an XTM), but that part of the plan is only possible if resolutional action (buying the ice cream) is taken. This means that affirming the resolution is necessary to get those benefits, and therefore it should be affirmed.

Two important things should be noted:

1) This type is vulnerable to counterplans: If the negative can show that the resolutional action (RA) is not required for the benefits (which come from the XTM) or that there is a better way to do it, then the resolution should not be accepted. In the instance of buying ice cream, the negative might argue “Counterplan: a friend down the street has lots of ice cream; instead of buying some, let’s ask him. Then we can still eat ice cream.”

2) The negative can also attack the XTM as well as the RA: if eating ice cream is a bad idea (and this is part of the affirmative’s plan), then one shouldn’t buy the ice cream (i.e. support the resolution).

The same issues apply for this next type.

4. RA avoids disadvantages to XTM

This is basically a reversal of the second type, in that the would-be primary focus of the plan is outside of the resolution, but causes disadvantages that are only solved (or solved best by) resolutional action. For example, suppose that the resolution is “The USFG should substantially increase its domestic environmental support policies.” The affirmative could theoretically propose a plan that opens up the outer continental shelf to oil drilling (which would be extra topical), but also provides increased funding to mitigate oil spills/pollution caused by the XTM, which would fulfill the resolution.

As I have been saying for a while, I can see how people might think this could be abusive, because it expands the amount of possible affirmative cases by “giving them control over inherency.” However, I would stress a few things: 1) A lot of your hesitation probably just stems from the fact that you are not familiar with such an idea, including how to respond to it. 2) Both issues previously detailed can apply: if oil drilling is a bad idea, the resolution should not be affirmed; if increasing funding (or some other RA) is not a good—or not the best—mandate, the resolution should not be affirmed. 3) I consider that whatever “abuse” it supposedly empowers still does not outweigh the problems inherent in maximalism. 4) Whether and why changing inherency or significance is or isn’t legitimate is a complicated issue, so a standard which says “You can’t alter inherency/significance to justify your policy” could be arbitrary. But even supposing it is, as long as you don’t mind arbitrary standards or witch doctor theory—which I argue is necessary to support the alternative, maximalism—then you could at least support medianism with the “no altering inherency/significance” caveat, as a stopgap middle ground.

Although I know it might initially appear unfair, I contest that if the government really should reform its _____ policy, such approaches are still legitimate under rules such as Stoa’s. Thus, if there is true potential for actual abuse, it should (i.e. can only) be truly fixed through a rule change.

Conclusion:

So, are you maximalist or medianist? Of course, I stand proudly in the medianist camp, but whatever camp you choose, I would urge you to do it for the purpose of good, fun, and educational debate.


Harrison Durland is a blogging intern at Ethos. Now a college student at Ole Miss, he is studying international affairs, Russian, (hopefully public policy,) and intelligence and security studies, seeking to do analyst work and perhaps later move into public policy or organizational administration. He began debate in his sophomore year of high school, in Stoa. Despite an unenthusiastic first year, he later found that he had a passion for debate, especially policy debate. His third and final year of high school debate was 2016, during which year he qualified to NITOC. His primary interests outside of debate and academics include his faith, ethics, and game and decision theory.

%d bloggers like this: