A few months ago, for the first time in my Team Policy career, I wrote a Negative brief which centered around a topical counterplan. Having never attempted this before, I had to sit down for a good while and think through the theoretical justifications for such a strategy, and I’ve enclosed the script from that brief below. To be clear, I’m not pretending that any of this is original, groundbreaking, or anything of that sort. Many of you will most likely get through this article feeling that you finished with fewer brain cells than you started with; these arguments certainly could be developed better. So while I don’t intend to address the topical counterplan woes of the world in this article, first, I do hope this is a starting point for further thought and conversation around this somewhat unbreached topic (at least in the context of homeschool speech and debate), and second, I hope this gives you a better understanding of how to explain these concepts in a simple-ish way. 99 percent of judges would probably be confused by an explanation of why affirming the resolution as the negative is okay; thus, being able to do so in a way that everyone can understand is critical to succeeding with topical counterplans, and while the arguments are certainly up for debate, I do believe that the following arguments are phrased in a comprehensible way. Enjoy!
(Anything in italics isn’t part of the script; it’s just a sidebar I’ve included in the article for the sake of clarity)
Neg Framework: The Counterplan must be a reason to reject the aff plan (rather than necessarily being untopical)
In this case, the counterplan meets this requirement because it’s impossible to pass both the aff plan and the counterplan at the same time; for example, it’s impossible to simultaneously allow and disallow countries having their own national-scale programs.
(This is in the context of the actual policy being debated, but the basic argument is the counterplan needs to be exclusive from the plan. Another Ethos blogger also pointed out that in addition to being mutually exclusive, the counterplan needs to be substantially different from the aff plan, I.E., if the aff plan was “spend $400 on macadamia nuts,” the counterplan “spend $400.01 on macadamia nuts” shouldn’t be allowed since, for obvious reasons, it violates the standard (more on that below))
At this point, you, the judge, have to choose between two frameworks: the affirmative framework, which says that the counterplan needs to be outside the resolution, and the negative framework, which says it needs to just be an alternative which is a reason to reject the affirmative plan. Now obviously, you need some sort of mechanism to determine which framework is better (similar to a regular goal or standard in TP debate or a value in LD debate). We propose the
Goal (of): Allowing for the best debate possible
In other words, imagine that whichever framework you choose at the end of the round would be the framework that every single debate from now on uses. It’s your job to pick the one which would create the healthiest environment for debate going forward.
That said, we believe that the Affirmative framework fails to uphold this standard for a few reasons.
Affirmative Fails the Goal
- Disallows realistic positions
For example, let’s suppose one member of your family suggested that you should buy a gallon of ice cream at the store, and that its flavor should be vanilla. In this case, the “resolution” is to buy ice cream, and the “plan” is to buy the vanilla flavor. If I instead suggested that we buy chocolate ice cream, this would be similar to the negative counterplan in that it falls under the resolution. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to say we can’t get chocolate ice cream since it’s still an instance of getting ice cream. But that’s exactly what the affirmative framework does, and given that this promotes a framework which is inconsistent with real-life logical principles, it should be rejected.
In simple terms, in their first speech, the affirmative argued that their plan is a good idea, and since it’s an instance of proving the resolution true, they’ve successfully affirmed the resolution. The affirmative framework argues that since the counterplan is an instance of the resolution which the negative argues is a good idea, it upholds the resolution, therefore meaning you should vote affirmative. This implies that the affirmative can justify voting for the resolution based on a plan or central reason which wasn’t brought up at the beginning of the debate in the affirmative’s first speech. In other words, if the affirmative argues that it’s okay to vote affirmative based on a new position brought up in the second speech of the debate, what’s to stop the affirmative from being able to win based on an entirely new position in the third speech, or even later? Rather, the affirmative should lay out the core reason to vote affirmative in their first speech, and the negative should do the same in their first speech, something which the affirmative framework, by definition, can’t endorse.
(If you want to skip through the above point, it’s essentially a prima facie press. Basically, the only situation where topical counterplan theory even matters is one in which the aff plan is a bad idea and the counterplan is good; if the aff plan was already good (comparatively), then the topicality of the counterplan wouldn’t even matter. Basically, if aff’s primary justification for supporting the rez is in a speech other than the 1AC (in this case the 1NC), then they’ve failed prima facie.)
- Allows for absurd counterplans
Think of it this way: the affirmative is arguing that since the counterplan falls under the resolution and is a good idea, it upholds the resolution, therefore warranting an affirmative vote. However, let’s extend this logic a bit: if a good counterplan means you should vote for the affirmative team, that means a bad counterplan would mean you should vote for the negative team. If this were true, then in every single debate round from now on, the negative team could bring up an absurdly bad counterplan, such as allowing all immigrants to enter the EU without ever being documented or being punished for any crimes they commit, and argue that the judge should therefore vote negative. This clearly violates the standard of allowing for the best debate possible, meaning the affirmative framework should be rejected.
Hope y’all found this helpful!