(Editor’s Note): Ethos has been a long-standing proponent of shell and extend and continues to teach it as the preferred negative strategy and for the most part advocates against splitting the neg. Early in the article, Harrison links to all the times that Ethos has written about shell and extend. I’d encourage you to read those articles as well as this one! We believe this article raises an interesting discussion and in the spirit of intellectual discourse, we think that it’s important to hear both sides of the issues. Don’t let debate leave debate!
After giving barely six minutes of argumentation, the first negative speaker abruptly concluded his constructive. My partner and I looked at each other, both a bit excited and confused over the mediocre speech: the arguments were exceptionally weak and few in number and they had ignored almost all of the most common arguments people had made that year. Perhaps our first NITOC round would be easy? However, while my partner was doing CX, I began to get a bad feeling that we were going to get crushed. This was similar to a situation we had faced before, although it hadn’t ever been so pronounced. Seeing what could happen, I quickly modified my 2AC to include more preemption and defense, and even threw in a backup advantage, to put them on the defensive. Still, there wasn’t much to respond to or give. When my partner finished CX, I explained to him what was likely about to happen. Then, after a short period of prep, I gave my speech, was cross-examined, and sat down. When the negative did give its 2NC, my heart sank: the speech was fairly well planned and spoken, briskly delivered, hit on all the strongest arguments against our case, and essentially ignored everything in my 2AC. Then, the negative gave its 1NR, solely focused on responding to my 2AC. They had split the negative and overloaded my partner’s 1AR. We had prepared some for this situation, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Shell and extend vs. splitting the neg
If you’ve been around on the blog a good bit, you may have noticed that a lot of people at Ethos recommend using the negative strategy known as “Shell and extend.” This has been advocated and described here, here, and here. Particularly in the last post, Patrick compares shell and extend (S&E) to splitting the neg (SN). Essentially, shell and extend is where you gradually build up all of your arguments through each speech, rather than construct individual arguments all/mostly in individual speeches. (For a more thorough explanation, you can read that article.) However, although the article also attempts to describe splitting the neg, it doesn’t do so in very flattering terms, to say the least. Yet, given my experience and analysis, I believe that splitting the neg has been misunderstood and shortchanged. Thus, I am devoting this article to explaining how, why, and when to effectively split the neg, as well as how to counter this strategy as the affirmative. If you are like 80% of the negative teams we faced last year, you will greatly benefit from this article. And even if you flatly refuse to consider using this strategy, I would still highly suggest reading so that you at least know what to expect and how to counter it.
Splitting the neg: what it is and how to do it
As briefly mentioned, splitting the neg is where you at least mostly divide up arguments between the two constructives. So, the 1N might construct arguments and/or responses 1, 2, and 3; the 2N gives arguments and/or responses 4, 5, and 6. It is usually also accompanied by splitting the block, where the 2N basically ignores the 2AC, leaving such responses to the 1NR. Traditionally, the common division of labor is that the 1NC covers arguments such as topicality, inherency, significance, counterplans when applicable, and direct case responses, whereas the 2NC covers arguments such as solvency and disadvantages. Some teams also practice what is known as the “Emory Switch,” in which the argument division is switched (except for topicality and counterplans, which are supposed to be made in the 1N). However, I never really followed that because I saw it as really arbitrary and pointless: why should the type of argument necessarily determine which speech it best fits in (again and from here onward, excepting topicality and CPs)? I believe that this type of thinking has hurt the reputation of splitting the neg, but this isn’t intrinsic to the strategy. Thus, instead of rejecting the entire strategy for some people’s blind adherence to it, I suggest a better approach to splitting the neg, at least in certain situations (as detailed later).
Splitting the neg effectively
First, put your probing and auxiliary arguments, as well as direct responses to the 1AC, in the 1NC. If there are major issues, such as total inherency—e.g. their plan was passed in the middle of the season (or in the middle of nationals)—then you should probably make that argument in the beginning. Otherwise, the 1NC should be filled with your weaker arguments, regardless of whether they are solvency, DAs, inherency, or significance. Next, you simply split the block: pack your strongest arguments into the 2NC, leaving the responses and arguments made by the 2AC to be addressed by the 1NR. In particular, it’s best to make independent arguments in the 2N (i.e. arguments such as full insolvency or extreme disadvantages which, if accepted, essentially win the round regardless of the other issues discussed). Following that reasoning, when and where appropriate I’d highly suggest using strong impact calculus—including impact calculus plants—to bolster the effectiveness of your arguments.
And that is basically everything special about this strategy. As is often suggested, have the 1N focus on carefully flowing the 1AR to see what they drop, while the 2N primarily prepares his speech. Then pull through the most important issues, and (hopefully) win! Ultimately, the main difference is that with this approach to splitting the neg, you choose when to make an argument based also on its strength and effectiveness, rather than solely on its type.
“Why should I prefer splitting the neg?”
Whereas shell and extend focuses on burying your opponents via depth, splitting the neg challenges the affirmative to deal with breadth. As negative, when things go according to plan, you will create a situation as described in the introduction: the affirmative is hard-pressed for time and thus likely to make omissions and other mistakes. Although it sounds nice to be able to “bury them under the weight of your analysis,” as Patrick suggests with shell and extend, unfortunately, that doesn’t always work in practice, since large arguments are often made weak by one or two vulnerable links. This is especially true if, as in our case on the Chinese tires duties, almost all of the negative arguments are flawed in some way. Although I absolutely agree with Joshua to the extent that as much as possible, “your arguments should be able to withstand strong analysis and still come out on top,” for some cases this just isn’t possible. People often consider spreading to sacrifice accuracy for quantity, there are some cases where there are no accurate arguments, so the most educational strategies are those that test an affirmative’s ability to deal with quantity over quality.
This is why it’s sometimes best to focus on breadth over depth. Also contrary to what the shell and extend article supposes, sometimes the affirmative can’t address all the arguments through “the magic of grouping,” because most of the arguments might have distinct links. The result is that the 1AR is left to respond to approximately 13 minutes of arguments in 5 minutes of time. Even if 4–5 minutes of the neg block were irrelevant, repetitive, or could just be quickly dismissed, that’s still about 8–9 minutes that must be covered in a 5-minute rebuttal. Even when the affirmative is expecting this (as we were), it isn’t usually easy to counter or preempt in the 2AC, since the 2NC can just adjust. For example, if the 2A makes a solid 2-minute preemption of some argument, then the 2N would just run something else instead.
With all of this in mind, consider the original neg-split alternative: occasionally spreading out your strongest arguments between the 1NC and 2NC. Now the affirmative has more time to respond to your strongest arguments. The situation is even worse if you do shell and extend: you are telling the affirmative all of the arguments that you will make, giving them an extra 8 minutes to pick them apart, perhaps before you even finish the argument! Ultimately, splitting the neg can be far more competitive and effective than the two alternatives. However, I emphasize can because it does depend on the situation.
When to split the neg
Initially, some readers might think it’s best just to stick with what they feel comfortable with—especially if they are accustomed to running shell and extend. Put bluntly, I disagree. While there are some situations where sticking with familiar practices are preferable, in others, you will do far better by splitting the neg. For example, against our case last year, almost no team beat us in extended, detailed analysis, which is the primary focus of shell and extends. Rather, the vast majority of rounds we lost were to teams which, intentionally or not, overloaded our 1AR. Thus, given that there will be situations where splitting the neg is a better approach, the question becomes how to know when. This can generally be estimated based on the following factors:
- First of all, it is important that you have a basic understanding of the case and your own arguments, since assessing the other factors depends on this knowledge. (But really, if you don’t know anything about the case or your negative arguments, you are probably best served not using a rigid strategy at all.)
- Some cases can naturally counter this strategy (as explained later). For example, if you suspect the aff has offense it can run in the 2AC, you probably don’t want to plan to make all of your strongest arguments in one speech.
- If you have lots of strong arguments to make, or you don’t know which arguments will be the strongest, you might do better with shell and extend or a similar strategy.
- If you have an intricate but solid argument that you think needs time to allow for responses back and forth, but you are confident it will win if given time to unravel all the responses, you may want to shell and extend that argument.
- If you don’t have many independent or “winner” arguments, a more balanced approach across the constructives may be best.
Although this may seem like a lot of factors to consider (and they are just the main examples), once you understand the strategy you can often intuitively determine which cases it will work on.
Editor’s Note: Remember – we are not teaching debaters to spread their opponents and win the round based on arguments the opponent dropped. We are encouraging debaters to take advantage of strategic elements that the time placement of the round naturally provides. What if during wartime, generals chose NOT to use the terrain around them to gain a strategic advantage? What if a switch hitter chose NOT to switch sides of the plate when facing a left-handed pitcher? That would be failing to take advantage of a naturally, organically occurring opportunity that presents itself. Thomas Edison once said, “ many people pass up opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” That is exactly what splitting the neg falls under. To some, it seems like cheap debate – but in reality – it is the same kind of strategically-minded debating that Ethos has always encouraged. The 1AR separated the good Aff debaters from the bad ones. The 1AR is a proving ground that, in the hands of a good debater, can easily beat a split-neg. Thus we aren’t teaching an underhanded tactic, rather, we are teaching negative debaters to show the judge that they are actually the better team, because the 1A could not stand up to the arguments presented to him.
How to counter splitting the neg
Unfortunately, some cases are just very susceptible to this strategy, and thus it’s a difficult, uphill battle to do anything about it. My Chinese tires case last year was a great example of this: the basic case had only relatively modest impacts (~$1B and 3.7K jobs), and there were so many different (although flawed) approaches to attack it. However, whether your case is weak against this strategy or not, there are still things you can do:
Have a lot of offense
If you think the negative is storing up its strong arguments for the 2NC, you can try “semi-splitting the affirmative”: by putting a few new advantages in the 2AC, you can catch the negative off guard, and potentially force the 2NC not to make some of their arguments.1 It’s important, though, that this offense actually is impactful, such that the negative can’t just ignore your arguments. Also, you should try to “diversify” your advantages’ bases, such that the negative can’t just still do the same solvency/significance/inherency group response to all of your advantages. Still, sometimes a negative’s argument attacks at the root of your entire case, such that diversification doesn’t help. This issue leads to the second recommendation.
Set up your responses in CX and/or your constructives
If you suspect that the negative will try to attack a pivotal part of your case, then try to preempt it! This is where the concept of spikes really proves useful. Particularly, focus on preempting things based on which arguments are 1) the most damaging, 2) likely to be run, and/or 3) hardest to respond to in a short period of time. If you can’t completely preempt the arguments because of time constraints or other reasons, at least try to set the stage for whatever response you will give in the 1AR. This staging can be done either in a constructive or in CX. If an argument is wrong, then you should be able to identify the crux reasons to why that is the case. Thus, try to emphasize that in CX.
Note, however, that all of this isn’t always easy to do on the fly, which is why the next point is very critical.
Practice, prepare, plan
Be prepared for this situation to happen. You might even write up a special affirmative brief with streamlined responses, neat and organized evidence, strategy reminders, etc. specifically for these situations. Beyond this, have the 1A regularly practice giving responses in hypothetical scenarios. Additionally, create a clear plan for what to do if this happens in a round.
Group where possible
Although you can’t always group things, sometimes you can, and it can save the round. Perhaps you can do what a negative is doing to you, by identifying a crux underlying many of their arguments.
Prioritize: concede or ignore irrelevant things
Not every false statement needs to be denied, nor does every faulty argument need to be refuted; don’t let yourself or the judge get caught up in the tiny things if they are irrelevant. For example, if you know a certain DA is minor, just brush it off with a quick “We outweigh, because of _____.”
Utilizing these counters can significantly undercut the negative strategy by not only mitigating the impact but also punishing them for doing it. If your case is susceptible to a negative split, it will still be a struggle, but with enough strategizing and preparation you should still be able to level the playing field. If your case is not naturally susceptible, then using these counters will give you a serious edge.
Given that our affirmative case lost almost solely to these kinds of negative splits, I would not say the strategy’s usefulness is “somewhere between a DVD rewinder and snake mittens” (although I appreciate the imagery, Patrick). No doubt, people have learned to split the neg in an arbitrary and ineffective way, but the same can happen to shell and extend. Discounting an entire strategy based on poor applications is no way to evaluate an approach. As I have shown (and experienced personally), properly splitting the neg can be devastating. Even if you don’t agree or don’t want to practice it, you should recognize that teams will use it, and thus you should prepare for it.
- Now, I realize that some readers may be leaping to their feet and shouting “That’s a violation of Prima Facie!!” Unfortunately, I can’t actually say it’s not because prima facie (i.e. the tradition that the “affirmative case” be made in the 1AC) is just a made up procedure—even though some aspects of it may be good principles, it doesn’t exist except in the mind (at least, in Stoa). That is to say, there’s no actual written rule saying what prima facie is, so it depends on whom you ask. That being said, I am totally fine with—and actually supportive of—some levels of prima facie. However, I will say that anything which restricts every constructive argument (i.e. advantages and other arguments that aren’t responses) to half of the affirmative’s constructives is, on its face, absurd, especially if the same standard doesn’t apply to the negative. Rather, I have always suggested that prima facie generally only “require” that the affirmative give the entire plan in the 1AC. If you are afraid your judge might disagree so much as to intervene, just start your 2AC by saying “Because this is a constructive and not a rebuttal, I will be further constructing our case with more advantages.”