This is the second part of a post discussing learning and winning, and how each fits into competitive debate. You can read part one here.

Another way we prioritize winning over learning is by putting arrangement before discovery.

Arrangement Before Discovery

I’ve heard many critiques of the NCFCA LD resolution this year: judge bias; examples, not principles debate; definitions debate; superficiality; and lack of breadth. Although these are all issues, may I suggest they are merely symptoms of the root problem?

This past February, I started the first book I’ve read on the subject of nationalism. I’m shocked I haven’t read any scholarly books yet: there are dozens of such works on both nationalism and globalism available for public consumption. Those books contain a wealth of information. Do you know about the conflict going on in Congo right now, how it’s the deadliest conflict since World War II, and how it’s connected to nationalism? Do you know what scholars say the distinction between nationalism and patriotism is? Do you know the difference between globalism and globalization – is it quantitative or qualitative? Are you aware of any examples of nationalism or globalism in the medieval or ancient eras, which covers the vast majority of mankind’s history? I’m ashamed that I’m beginning only now to delve into the answers to questions like these. And most LD debaters are similarly clueless, or worse.

I did TP for four years. This is my first year doing LD. I heard the stereotypes that LDers don’t use evidence, that they can write they cases “at the last minute.” And so I naturally expected less research and work to be required (which is a nice plus). But I was still surprised at the small amount of breadth or depth LD debates usually have, which is unfortunate. There are books and websites dedicated to philosophical discussion of these ideas. There’s a goldmine of knowledge available and we’re missing out. We’re only using a fraction of this knowledge – namely the underused social contract and the novel idea that genocide is bad. The problem of superficiality is not caused by the resolution. It’s caused by the lack of deep research.

But there is a further problem. There are five canons of rhetoric (which unfortunately are not taught to novice debaters): Discovery, Arrangement, Style, Memorization, and Delivery. Discovery is when you find information, when you come up with content. Arrangement is when you decide which content to use, and how it should be chronologically situated; i.e. writing a 1AC after you have your aff brief. Discovery must come first. Otherwise, you have confirmation bias, superficiality, and confusion. Unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand that the process of writing an LD case invariably involves first thinking what one wants to say, and then finding examples that support that pretense. We’ve turned debate into a lopsided mental exercise fraught with confirmation bias. It is cliche, but we do ourselves and our audience a disservice by not researching with an open mind. What if we made it our goal to tell the audience something they’ve never heard before every round, be it an historical example, or a philosophical concept? Knowledge is power. Conveniently, it just so happens that knowledge not only helps aid learning, it helps you to win.

(As an aside, here’s an example of how deeper discovery could help solve the problem of bias in the LD resolution: almost all definitions of nationalism are arguably false because they fail to distinguish between nationalism and patriotism. Judges are predisposed to nationalism because we (and the media) have led them to think that nationalism is actually patriotism. In fact, scholars define nationalism much differently.)

What about TP? On negative, TPers often research just a policy, and not the underlying principles behind the policy. Such a tactic is motivated by the assumption that it is necessary to win, even though the alternative is more effective. Not only is researching the underlying principles essential to identify hidden assumptions and utilize emotional appeal, but it is also essential to personally discern the truth about broad swaths of issues. On affirmative, TPers often run Aff cases that do very little. That is to say, they explore only a microscopic portion of the resolution. Why? Once again, apply the worldview test. If you value winning over learning, it makes sense to run “squirrels” because you can catch others unprepared and avoid opposing evidence, even though it comes at the cost of a substantive debate. But if you value learning over winning, it makes sense to be transparent, and run a Big Idea case that welcomes a substantive clash. When strategizing, always ask yourself, “What option helps me to learn most?” I say, with regret, many of the decisions I’ve made while strategizing would be different had I asked that same question.


As a competitor who has experienced both ends of the spectrum of success, I can tell you that it sometimes feels like winning is what makes a tournament experience a success. But in reality, it’s only valuable if I learn. And here’s the paradox: if we did value learning over winning, we actually would win more…and especially in the real-world, where winning matters.

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