Our elite Mastership Sourcebooks for NCFCA and Stoa will release soon! Check them out here!

This is a big topic every year. As an experienced parli debater, I’ve used parametrics quite a few times and seen the application from resolutions like “mute the red phone” where you really need parametrics because every negative counterplan could potentially be construed to “mute the red phone”. In policy debate with the resolution being static all year, things may be a little different and I can pretty strongly argue both sides of the question. This post is not a primer on parametrics and counterplan theory. I assume basic knowledge of the issues.

Over at COG debate Daniel Gaskell made a post, pointed out to me by Katie Bode, on parametrics. I respect COG a great deal and we have a cordial, pro-debate relationship. I wrote a long response and think you can profit from and engage in the conversation.

So first: Read the COG post

Second: My response is below

Third: Even further below is some more explanation for further reading.

I imagine this conversation is just beginning.

Response to Daniel Gaskell’s Uber Parametrics Throwdown

““While the Affirmative’s reform may be a good idea, there are lots of other possible reforms that are terrible ideas, so you shouldn’t vote for the resolution.” That just sounds… wrong. The Negative is supposed to argue against the Affirmative’s plan. But this is an entirely legitimate argument if you endorse the classic rezcentrist framework.”

This is poor logic. If the resolution said “the USFG should make all changes with Russia” then you would be correct. It doesn’t. Class A (policy changes with Russia) has subclasses 1-150 let’s say (all the changes you could make that satisfy every word in the resolution but “should”, which is where your case comes in). If you prove number 8, step back and look at the words of the resolution: should a significant change in policy towards Russia be made? Yes. Change number 8.

The affirmative plan uses part-to-whole logic to support a single instance of truthiness of the resolution. If an affirmative can prove a single significant change, they have proven “a significant change”, which is what the resolution calls for. Therefore, resolutional centricism is not invalid by the argument you provided.

You get this later on when you say: “The resolution asks: “Is there something good at McDonald’s?” Parametrics acts as if the resolution asks: “Is everything good at McDonald’s?” That was never the question, so we don’t need an answer.” You are actually describing a policy resolution generally, not from a parametrics-only perspective.

As you argue later, “All three frameworks discussed so far have been based off of the assumption that voting for the entire resolution endorses every possible plan.” Since I have challenged this assumption, the rest of your arguments kind of fall.

Do consider that parametrics is not, as you claim, a method used to justify topical counterplans. Rather, it is a method of arguing that what would be considered a “topical counterplan” before the round began should no longer be considered such, and therefore the counterplan is not affirming the resolution. Parametrics is resolution-centric debate. “Topical counterplans are good” is a completely different argument, though many debaters confuse the two.

A couple other points, however…

“This isn’t really a new idea. In LD, the Negative will often raise “counterwarrants” – general examples that demonstrate that the resolution is false, but aren’t necessarily specific to the Affirmative’s case. This works in LD, where the resolution is a single general idea – but it shouldn’t work in TP, where the resolution encompasses a lot of specific ideas. Classic rezcentrism treats TP resolutions just like LD resolutions, leading to all kinds of abuse.”

Not so. The phrasing of policy vs. value (not LD, which is a format of 1 vs 1 debater) has different logic requirements. A value resolution is usually phrased “x value is greater than y value”. Here the “sum total” must be taken into consideration, so that an aff or neg wins by proving the rez is more true than false or more false than true. The phrasing of a policy resolution “X policy body should be changed” does not require proof that MORE policies should be changed than not, but merely that one should be changed, which therefore justifies changing the entire body (but only by the one change that was proven). This is way easier to explain with circles on a whiteboard…

“In the NCFCA/Stoa, you’re not supposed to run morally-difficult plans like banning abortion – not because the resolution says so, but because you simply shouldn’t do that.”

I hotly disagree with this assumption. ALL positive good on a policy level has at its root a moral premise. The skill of debate is CHARACTERIZED by learning to break seemingly tough problems into respective pieces (i.e. don’t argue “stealing babies is good”, argue “their plan doesn’t fix the problem”). From this perspective, all cases have morality at the root and a debater would be gaining little from Stoa/NCFCA debate if not learning to navigate the complexities of why we do what we do.

More on Parametrics vs. Topical Counterplans

Theme of this post: When you just look at conclusions of debate theory and haven’t worked through the theory itself, you’ll end up with wacky theory, and illogical discussions about that theory.

I think the single biggest hangup in parametrics discussions is the equivocation that parametrics = topical counterplans good. I’ll admit that many of parametrics users would think so (and perhaps even brag about running topical counterplans). Much of the anti-parametrics argument is in actuality anti-topical-CP argumentation. Unfortunately for those who are trying to find a list of “rules” that = debate, there is nuance involved.

While “topical counterplans” is a good shortcut name for the result of parametrics, mostly because FUNCTIONALLY it looks like you ran a topical CP, the entire point of the theory of parametrics is that the counterplan does not support the resolution! The conclusion of parametrics is “the AFF case IS the resolution.” [Unfortunately, again, if we just look at the conclusions of arguments, it would lead to the common mistake of running any case you want and saying “I’m aff, it’s the resolution.”]

Background: Let’s start simple. Parliamentary debate is the best place to see the importance of parametrics, especially on vague resolutions. Resolution: “This house would heal the wound” (real resolution). No matter what interp the AFF comes up with, NEG argumentation could ARGUABLY also be arguing to heal the wound (whatever it was). Clearly it is reasonable to say whatever the AFF advocates defines the resolution at that point and now everything else is NEG ground–AFF needs to defend their original claim to win, NEG needs to defeat it.

Just as negative can’t logically run disads against the full scope of the resolution, negative is also therefore no longer defending the full scope of the status quo, BECAUSE the aff is not targeting the full status quo or changing the full scope of the resolution. It doesn’t matter what the negative does to this outside-the-scope-of-aff-case status quo, and NEITHER team should want that! If AFF got their wish in anti-parametrics argument, then neg should just run advantages of the Status Quo in other areas and outweigh (which doesn’t make any sense… obviously).

Etymology (classical rhetoric common subtopic of definition): Parameter; borderline. Parametrics argues that a CHANGE in resolutional borderline has occurred when the AFF offered their case. The negative had a bunch of disads for all kinds of policy changes but cannot run them because only one change was advocated, a change which needs to be defeated. Since the negative

The conclusion of parametrics is that the boundaries of the resolution changed and now negative advocacy of what, before the AFF opened their mouths, is arguably “supportive of the resolution” is no longer supporting affirmative ground.

Note the difference in the argument that topical counterplans are good (there is no attempt to argue that the scope of the resolution changed when AFF gave their plan): the point of debate is to give arguments and defeat them. If the AFF presents a plan and we counter it to the point of defeat, who = better debaters? That would be the NEG. So vote AFF? No matter how we do it, if we can show the AFF arguments wrong, then the asserters who had to prove lost their argument and we win the debate. (There are plenty more, better justifications for this, I’m just demonstrating how the conclusion here is truly topical CPs = good)

I don’t support non-topical counterplans (or not support them really) and I do lean towards parametrics, but it’s not a position of advocacy. I teach ways to argue about it on both sides… and have frequently done so. That’s what coaches and debaters do. Hmm it requires thinking though, rather than a list of rules.
Disclaimer: PLEASE never, ever, ever quote something I say about debate theory in a debate round!! That’s not the point at all. Debate theory is argumentative in itself and quite subjective. Thus I am not advocating an objective position. THEREFORE make the argument on its merits yourself. Dropping names does nothing and I probably won’t agree with how you use what I say anyway and might even have changed my mind. I believe many other debate coaches will agree with this (probably Vance too, lol).

Finally, for a fun twist for smart affs out there. If you have a case that appears to take a ton of negative ground for whatever reason, when they argue ground loss, running pro parametrics arguments actually can HELP you demonstrate how the NEG has more ground than they are letting onto. I’ve used this several times when running a pretty annoying case, which from the very beginning we argue “we are parametricizing the rez to our case… our case is the resolution, let’s skip definitions” to set this argument up in case we need it in second constructive

Arguments Against/For Non-T CPs

1. I use the argument that a topic is the framework of any discourse at all and veering from a set topic harms the discussion. That’s one of the artificial parts of debate… assigned roles. If NEG can abandon that role, then AFF can too and has therefore 100% unlimited burden… they can present on anything.

2. Etymology — The words affirmative and negative refer to affirming and negating (what?).

3. It’s NOT about “who debated best” because then you have zero real standards. You have to choose whether it is about a decision of action (policy discussion) or decision of performance (between two debate teams). If the latter, then it is entirely subjective and there’s no reason the basis of that decision even needs to be the argumentation in the round. It could be anything. Therefore, the policy discussion is gone.

a. This forces us to debate about the debate way too much. If some new team that researched the arguments faces a team that didn’t but who is experienced and just dances around the issue with silly arguments about why better speaking, better clothing, socioeconomic status, what have you = decision, then you can’t really be a successful debater until you can argue about nonsense.

b. There’s a place on the ballot for “who debated best” — called speaker points. (I am aware that some ballots ALSO render the decision by “I thought the better debating was done by” in which case some of this argument doesn’t apply…)

c. The research is practically a waste…

4. Real World — If you have a debate at a University (about anything from Atheism to Angola) the purpose of the event and inviting speakers to debate is to hear opposing viewpoints on the given topic so we learn more about that topic. While we can learn more about other topics too, at that time, the purpose that everyone is there for is to discover that topic. This also requires that there be opposition on the fundamental question. Or else, the event organizers are fired or have to prove they were duped by those they invited (Yes Men, anyone?).

Impacts? My favorite one truly and honestly is the exclusion of more traditional and novice debaters who are really just trying to research a topic and learn to speak better, not learn to be good at something dumb. The list of schools and people (including my own dear PHC) to which this applies is pretty lengthy

[I’m perfectly aware that someone could clump and dump some of that and give a victorious response… I probably could too. You are welcome to it, but I’m not getting into a debate round here  Just answering what my initial arguments against topical CPs are, BEFORE going ahead and arguing the case which I might just do anyhow and forget the theory. If anyone is annoyed by how I have to caveat anything, I am too… HSD drives me nuts sometimes though if I don’t!]

My favorite arguments in FAVOR of topical counterplans:

1. Worse Debaters Shouldn’t Win — It should be about the debating before the resolution because otherwise you could have a team that is clearly worse at arguing, worse at researching, and has not substantiated their case being victorious. This is an obvious injustice and not what debate is about. Who best supports their own position and defeats that of their opponents?

2. We aren’t harming the researchiness of this round… b/c our CP rocks and has solid advocacy.

3. NEG Burden is EITHER disprove resolution (which logically requires defeating aff case) OR defeat aff case (which stock issues, solvency, or a counterplan that shows a way better way to do it and probably even excludes aff case does). Topical counterplans that defeat the aff case achieve option 2.

4. Research Advantage is AFF — When we run a topical counterplan and defeat their case, it means that we outresearched them on their own ground! They literally could have run our case instead of their case and they didn’t. It’s like we fought an uphill battle with our bare hands against mutant alien delta force ninjas — if we win the arguments, we win the round. Any research or ground hurt is to OURSELVES.

As I said before, I am neither for or against one or the other of these positions much at all. Thankfully, you can’t really as a judge decide on this issue at all unless someone brings it up. If someone brings it up, then it has to be argued, so my opinion never needs to matter — the arguments on the issue determine the outcome. I do usually prefer to just hear the arguments about the case.

%d bloggers like this: