Debate is like a game of chess. In chess, positioning is everything. You can be ahead in pieces and still be losing the game. Sometimes, it’s even worth it to sacrifice a rook or even a queen for a better position. You need to know which pieces to develop and at which times they are most useful. The same is true in debate. Not only does the content of your arguments matter, but the strategy behind them is important as well. An important factor in a debate round is how you position your arguments. To give yourself the best chance of winning the debate, you want to ensure that you have a cohesive case philosophy with your arguments positioned to reflect that. One particular strategy I’ve found useful to organize your arguments is the use of double binds. In this article, we will explore what double binds are, why you should use them, and how to use them well.
What Double Binds Are
A double bind is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: “a situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action.” Double binds in debate are a type of argument that forces your opponent to pick between two problems with their argument. Regardless of which choice they make, they are automatically wrong because either way their argument goes, it is false.
Why you Should Use Double Binds
1. Harder to Refute
A double bind forces a choice between two undesirable courses. In order to win the argument, your opponents will have to prove why both halves of the double bind are false. As a result, double binds are one of the hardest arguments to refute because of their nature.
2. Clarifies Your Stance on Contradicting Arguments
This is a substantial problem with many negative strategies out there. Because there are so many different angles of attack, many contradict each other. An example is inherency and disadvantages. If you argue that their plan is not inherent because their plan is already happening in the status quo, then the claim that their plan will cause additional disadvantages is false because all the detriments of their plan would already be happening if the inherency argument were true. An easy aff response here would be to say there is a contradiction and the negative would lose credibility. A better strategy is to embrace the contradiction. Recognize that only one of the options is true and make that clear to the judge, but still make the affirmative prove both false. A basic case philosophy here would be, “Judge, we believe that the affirmative teams plan is not inherent, but even if you disagree with us and believe the plan is unique from the status quo, you still shouldn’t be passing their plan because of the disadvantages that it would cause.” Even if the other team were to point out the contradiction, they would still have to refute both halves of the double bind. If they only proved that the plan was inherent but never addressed the disadvantages, the inherency argument might be false, but the disadvantages would be true. Remember, in a double-bind, you aren’t claiming that both paths are true but that either one of them could be correct.
A large part of organization is positioning your arguments in the best way possible. Using double binds shows that you are aware of your arguments and their content. It shows you aren’t afraid of the “contradictions” in your case. Running the arguments at separate times makes them feel unrelated and easier to refute. Running them together creates that situation where the other team is wrong regardless.
4. Makes the Round Clear to the Judge
Maybe you’ve hit those teams who change what their plan does every other sentence. That can be very confusing to both you and the judge. Maybe they sidestep all your disadvantages by saying one thing about their plan, and then when they respond to topicality, they say the complete opposite of what they just said. If you’re confused about their groundshifting, then chances are your judge is confused as well. At the end of the round, even if you presented the better arguments, your judge may not know how to vote. Running a double-bind addressing their shifting positions can confront their groundshifting and show your judge why you should win regardless of what they say their plan does. For example: “Either their plan does A, which would lead to the disadvantages being true. Or their plan does B which would mean that it is untopical.”
How to Run Double Binds Effectively
Just running the two arguments that would constitute your double bind next to each other doesn’t quite do the job. It just makes it easier for your opponents and your judge to spot the contradiction. Labeling the argument as a double bind doesn’t work particularly well either as some judges don’t know what that phrase means. When running double binds, I’ve found that there are two phrases that are important to use the argument effectively. The first one is “either-or.” For example: “Either their plan doesn’t do enough so it’s not substantial, or their plan does too much and messes up the delicate system we have in place.” The second possible phrase you can use is “even if.” Whenever I hit a team that is running a weird interpretation of the resolution, I would say: “my opponents have presented a flawed interpretation of the resolution so they should automatically lose the round but even if you disagree and think that their interpretation is the correct one, here are the reasons why even under their interpretation they should lose the round.
The next time you spot a contradiction in one of your briefs or arguments don’t immediately throw out the argument, try to craft a double bind that addresses the contradiction in a way that is easy to understand while at the same time hard to refute. Remember, positioning is key, not just in chess but also in debate. Taking scope of the different arguments you could run and organizing the ones that fit together into double binds increases your chances of winning the debate and growing as a skilled debater.