Time for some new theory.

Only a couple weeks ago, I was doing some Parliamentary debate.  We were Opposition, and the debate had come down to the mass of historical examples on our side vs. the Government’s contention that the resolution was necessarily true.  They were arguing that the resolution was a truism, so we responded that a truism is undebateable, and so we should rely more on the common man interpretation.  The only argument in response to this was that our interpretation was also a truism, but we believed that we had sufficiently refuted this.

Our last speech, the LOR, left us pretty confident, but then the PM stood up.  For the last few minutes of the round, the PMR pretty much ignored all the examples we talked about and simply spent the whole speech on one point: accusing us of intellectual dishonesty.  He argued that we had accused them of having used a truism, but refused to recognize that our interpretation was a truism as well.  So while they at least acknowledged their interpretation was undebateable, we hadn’t.  

Another time I was Government on a comparative resolution, which said that increased technology was better than increased knowledge.  The Opposition’s first speech, the LOC, mostly argued that we have to have more knowledge to control the technology, so we responded to that in our next speech.  Then, in their MOC, the Opp team stood up and argued that the way we should decide on the resolution is based on which, technology or knowledge, we can live without.  The logic was unimpeachable.  They made this the central theme of their LOR as well.  

So in my closing PMR, I based the entire speech on one point: the word “increased” in the resolution.  I argued for five minutes that we aren’t talking about which we need absent the other, but which we should prefer to increase.  This disqualified all the points brought up in the opposition block, and I was able to impact directly back to the PMC and the examples that the Opposition had largely dropped.  

Both these stories have one big thing in common.  In both cases, the Opposition team had, over the course of the round, built up a resolutional interpretation that largely crystallized in the Opposition block.  The Government team saw that their earlier position would probably be insufficient to beat back this onslaught.  And so they resorted to focusing on one basic point.  Sometimes this is an ethical issue.  Sometimes it is a critical piece of evidence or an application the Opposition dropped.  Sometimes it is clarifying or even reinterpreting the resolution.  

I’ve seen a PMR centered on every single one of the above. I’ve done a PMR on every one of the above (besides reinterpreting the resolution).  And that’s why I call these PMRs– focused on one central and probably heretofore ignored point–throwaway PMRs.  Because when the PM sees the debate not going their way, they choose to base the whole speech on one probably unnoticed point–throwing away the PMR for a greater chance of victory than they would have otherwise.

My point in this post is to explain the “why” behind the throwaway PMR, some common characteristics, and how to do them correctly.

Why Throwaway?

For policy and value debate, most people spend hours or days collecting their thoughts and planning for every possible attack on their case.  They have reams of research or prepared lines of cross-examination, arguments mapped out and briefed.  For this reason, it’s really uncommon to see any form of a throwaway 2AR in Policy or Value (though they do happen, typically prefaced in Value by “Judge, we need to go back to the resolution,” or in Policy by “Judge, we need to go back to the case”).  

However, in Parli, you give a bunch of teenagers fifteen minutes to prepare to argue a topic they had, in many cases, never heard of before.  Even the best are going to fail to anticipate some attacks or foresee how their interpretation will play out.  So as the round evolves, in Parli it’s not at all uncommon to see the Opposition drop a critical point in the PMR and a PM, grasping at straws, pull that bit out for five minutes.  The structural nature of Parli just means that you’re not going to be able to see where the debate will go, and for this reason a throwaway PMR becomes incredibly likely.  

In all likelihood, were the Parli resolution you are doing a prepared topic, you would perhaps even structure your case fully around this critical resolutional analysis or application.  But in Parli you don’t know what to expect.  So you end up pulling it out of your case at the last second, hoping to secure a victory with this critical point.  

What is a Throwaway?

A Throwaway is a gamble.  It’s hoping that the judge will vote for you based on the impacts of a point both sides appear to have forgotten about.  It’s called a Throwaway for this reason.  It’s throwing away the earlier clash for a new point that may disqualify all that.  

In order to be characterized as a Throwaway PMR, the speech must have the following characteristics:

  • Focused on a dropped or cursorily addressed point (if it was to focus on the central point of contention throughout the debate, it would be in line with all the other speeches and thus not a Throwaway)
  • Possessed of an insistence that the aforementioned point either completely disqualifies the Opposition argumentation, or at least mostly does
  • Addresses just one argument almost exclusively

While not necessary for categorization as a Throwaway PMR, the following are common characteristics:

  • Prefaced with some variant of, “Judge, we need to look back to the resolution,” or “The Opposition team has failed to understand the resolution we’ve been given,” (like the aforementioned Value 2AR)
  • Focuses mostly on Resolutional Interpretation–probably on some Resolutional Analysis the Opposition dropped or agreed to
  • Mostly uses material unaddressed in the MGC

If there’s one other universal characteristic of Throwaway PMRs, it is that it leaves Opposition teams annoyed.  After all, it wasn’t a new argument, but it feels like it should have been.  This feeling is inherent in the nature of the Throwaway PMR, but as long as no actual rule violations occurred, Opposition teams just have to deal with it.  

How to do Throwaway PMRs

There’s nothing inherently wrong about the Throwaway PMR.  I’ve received and dealt the Throwaway, and while it’s not a great feeling on Opposition, and leaves you stressed about whether the judge bought it on Government, it’s an absolutely valid strategy to use.  However, that doesn’t mean there’s not a right way and a wrong way to do them.

First, start by explaining the argument again.  Since it is so important, make sure your judge understands what it is and why you made it to begin with.  This is basic stuff.  Claim-warrant-impact.  

Secondly, group and respond.  Here’s where the Throwaway starts to make sense to the judge.  Explain how this argument disqualifies your opponent’s points.  Again, you’ll need claim-warrant-impact.  Just show how it applies and what impact it has.  

Lastly, weigh the remaining arguments.  Like you would do in a normal PMR, go over the arguments that remain on both sides and explain why your arguments are superior.  Then finish with a fantastic closing that makes your judge give you 1st in speaks.  

A couple of small pitfalls, however, are inevitable for such an important speech.  

First, obviously, don’t make new arguments.  That’s against the rules and it’s foolish.  It doesn’t count as a Throwaway PMR if you do that.  Besides, you opponents will simply get up and point of order you, and then you’ll lose.  Stick to stuff already brought up.  

Secondly, don’t pretend some resolutional analysis should be the reason you won.  It shouldn’t be.  The reason you win is because your arguments outweigh the points your opponents brought up.  One of the reasons for that is that your opponents made some arguments under a false understanding of the resolution.  Judges don’t normally want to vote for people who define the resolution for their own side.  Judges want to vote for people who legitimately win the back-and-forth.

Finally, don’t plan this stuff out.  Don’t hide a resolutional analysis point in your case and hope that the other team doesn’t pick up on it just so you can run a Throwaway PMR.  Throwaway PMRs are not bad, but they are far from ideal.  What’s ideal is having the debate on the resolution, not tricking your opponents into a trap you only spring when they can’t respond.  Your points should be seaworthy on their own, even when the Opposition unleashes a storm on them.  

Conclusion

Throwaway PMRs may have a negative connotation, thanks to all the Opposition teams out there grumbling about them after each round.  However, they are legitimate and often a good strategic move.  That doesn’t mean all is fair game.  Remember the goal of debate is to improve yourself and your audience.  Your PMR, throwaway or otherwise, should be built upon what’s a true interpretation of the resolution and the arguments both sides have provided.  So if you need to throwaway the PMR, do it right.  And make your opponent upset that you beat them, not that you tricked them.  

%d bloggers like this: