This post is a continuation of last week’s discussion on Alternate Actor Counterplans. Read Part 1 here. You can also find differing views on Counterplan theory here.
Why not just “no fiating the object”?
Ethos has explained the “object fiat” concept in more detail, but basically, “no fiating the object” is a standard which advocates exactly what it says: the negative cannot fiat the object of the plan/resolution. So, suppose that the affirmative plan were to sanction China for human rights abuses: proponents would likely say that the “object” in this situation would be China, since that is the direct object of the plan text. Thus, as the name implies, the standard would just disallow fiat power over the objects of policies, whether they are criminals, foreign dictators, etc. Just like that, proponents will basically say “this standard patches up most if not all of the abuse loopholes that come from accepting alternate-actor counterplans.” Unfortunately for them, this is wrong; the standard is flawed in multiple regards, as I explain in greater detail below.
1. No grounding in rules or logic
To be generous, this principle seems to just be a desperate sort of witch doctor theory; to be more honest, it does not seem to be based in any reasoning or rules. This principle seems to just have been conjured out of thin air to fix the problems with accepting alternate-actor counterplans. Whenever principles are just created out of convenience rather than logical reasoning, you should be very wary of accepting them.
2. Potentially over-restrictive
Quite simply, this may invalidate alternate-actor counterplans which are legitimate/fair—assuming that such counterplans exist. For example, if the negative is running an arguably non-abusive “50-states” counterplan to a federal plan which financially penalizes (i.e. sanctions) any states which do not adopt some law the affirmative wants, that would make this a harmful standard.
3. Its common misinterpretation does not even make sense in itself
First of all, the (direct) object in a resolution will always be “… its __________ policy/law” (e.g. “… its marine natural resource policies,” “… its electronic surveillance law”)—not some foreign country, even if the resolution says “… its policies towards [foreign country]” (because “policies” is still the grammatical direct object). Ty Harding does seem to indirectly note this, and instead emphasizes that the focus is on the direct object of the plan. I will grant that this kind of interpretation at least makes more internal grammatical sense (although it might still be difficult to objectively determine who the object is), but even with this modification, the standard is flawed for other reasons.
4. This doesn’t always apply; it can still allow abuse
Put simply, there are plenty of ways that alternate-actor counterplans can still be abusive, especially if the negative can just fiat a different—but still unfair—“object.” The following are illustrative examples:
- Suppose the affirmative wants to change a trade policy because the WTO is threatening to rule against and condemn that policy. The negative could say “Counterplan: WTO shouldn’t rule against us.”
- Suppose the affirmative wants to punish/sanction countries, such as China and/or India, for human trafficking. Negative: “Counterplan: traffickers should stop trafficking.” Suppose instead that the affirmative decides to punish/sanction specific individuals/groups for human trafficking—but argues that they shouldn’t sanction China/India, because it wouldn’t convince the governments to crack down on the activity. Negative: “Counterplan: China/India should crack down on the human trafficking.”
- The US wants to solve a military conflict somewhere in Africa, and notes that the African Union is “too corrupt” or “too weak” to do it by themselves. Negative: “Counterplan: African Union should root out its corrupt/inept officials.”
Ultimately, I’m not the only one who has noted that “no fiating the object” is an unsupported, restrictive, unreliable, and ineffective standard. It is very risky to go around patching up holes in theory with unsupported theory, because it can merely mask the problem or even make it worse. In this case, “no fiating the object” appears to be a vain attempt to put a few corks in the sinking ship of alternate-actor counterplan theory. To be fair, I might be willing to accept some lifeboats—i.e. narrower and better-supported alternate-actor counterplan standards—so long as they truly appear to be less prone to abuse and more beneficial (e.g. for when “there’s just no other way to argue against this plan”).
Like I said before, counterplans are arguably one of the most controversial, divisive issues in policy debate, especially when it comes to counterplan topicality. The issue of alternate-actors is not much different: some people will insist that 50-states counterplans are educational, fair, and logically sound; I have argued that although there might theoretically be some such counterplans that promote education and competition, the principle overall is logically bankrupt and allows for too much abuse. Stopgap devices like “no fiating the object” simply are not reliable or effective, and thus they cannot save the overall theory. Ultimately, I can’t rule that all alternate-actor counterplans should be rejected—and I am willing to hear other people’s arguments—but thus far I do not know of any alternate-actor counterplans which are clearly justified.