Prior to the 2021-2022 competition season, I had four years of experience under my belt in TP. Coming into this year, I didn’t plan to change that at all–I had always done TP, and I certainly didn’t have any plans to switch over to LD my senior year. But that wound up changing a bit. Back in September, my partner and I had planned on competing at a certain tournament. But a couple weeks before the tournament, it surfaced that he wouldn’t be able to come, and I was thus left partnerless and switched to LD (strictly for this one tournament, of course). Let me make one thing clear at the outset of this article: I don’t claim to be an expert in LD by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do think that my view on LD is at least somewhat representative of two major demographics in the speech and debate community: one, debaters like me, who spend the bulk of their career in TP and switch over to LD in their last year or two of high school, and two, TP parents; moms and dads whose kids are in TP, who coach TP, and thus have substantially more exposure to TP than LD.
Thus, in the next few hundred words, I’d like to share my own reflections on LD after having been submerged in it for the first time. Hopefully my viewpoint will give LDers that may be reading this some insight into the minds of judges and debaters like those described above and allow you to compete more effectively with them/in front of them.
- Organizational differences
One thing I’ve noticed is that, for good or bad, LDers seem generally less concerned with organization, and, more specifically, four-point refutation, than TPers. I found this particularly surprising, since, if anything, dropped arguments are theoretically more critical in LD. From my point of view, it seems that a well-constructed LD case can’t stand if even one point falls; if you drop the value, your case becomes irrelevant unless you’ve attempted to link your case to your opponent’s framework in the 1AR (which it seems to me isn’t advisable since you already have so much else to do in a four-minute speech); if you drop your criterion, you can’t achieve your value; if you drop one of your contentions, you fail to demonstrate why your side uniquely promotes the value and why your opponent doesn’t. In contrast, while dropped arguments get quite a bit of attention in TP, I would venture to say that the majority of arguments in TP can’t independently create an aff/neg win. Aff can always afford to drop a harm if they have another, they can drop a DA if they know they can outweigh it, and neg can, quite literally, drop almost anything as long as they don’t drop everything. All that to say, I found the lack of direct refutation in LD to be surprising, and I believe I speak for many others with similar competitive and/or judging backgrounds when I say so.
- No-Impact Definition Debates
Admittedly, definition debates arise far more frequently in LD than TP. However, it seems to me that there’s a problem with the way that these arguments are carried out: I would venture to say that they’re unnecessary more often than not. Hear me out: most LDers seem to view definitions like darts being thrown at a dartboard. The closer they are to the center, the fairer and more accurate they are. Naturally, they believe that their definitions are right at the center of the bullseye, and thus, they’re prepared to explain why any and every definition other than theirs is inferior; after all, in their minds, any definition that’s not theirs can’t be at the center since the center is already taken. And if this were an accurate way to view interactions between definitions, then frequent definition debates would make sense–but I don’t think it is. Think instead of definitions like you’re playing ring toss. The peg at the center of the target represents perfect accuracy, and you’re trying to get your ring as close to the peg as possible. But the issue is that every definition is still somewhat ambiguous; there are any number of ways to interpret it; although the ring only covers a small portion of the entire target, it doesn’t cover a specific point. The “true” definition of a term, therefore, could be anywhere inside the ring. And presumably, you, as the debater who brought up that definition, are prepared to defend any interpretation of that definition that’s inside the ring. Thus, if and when your opponent presents a different definition, your first instinct ought to be to determine if the two definitions, if the two “rings,” overlap at all; you ought to see if there’s an interpretation that both sides can agree on. If there is, explicitly identify that point of agreement the first chance you get.
And to clarify again before you blast me in the comments: I don’t claim to be an authority on LD, and if you disagree with me, there’s a good chance you’re right. But regardless of whether I’m right, it’s likely that many judges are viewing LD rounds through the lenses that I’ve described above, and I do hope that this article can help you to understand where they’re coming from and to allow you to debate more effectively in front of them.
Ben Brown is the blog manager for Ethos Debate LLC. He has competed in Team Policy debate for four years, ranking in the top 16 nationally every year of his high school career in addition to having obtained a smattering of national placings in speech. When not debating, Ben can be found wishing he was debating, playing board games, or hanging out with friends and family.
As someone who also has 4 years of TP under their belt and switched to LD for senior year, you’re spot on.
As someone who primarily did TP but whose siblings currently do LD, I’ve found that one of the most consequential differences aside from time limits is the (lack of) concrete standards for “proving the resolution”: Setting aside the question of counterplans, in TP the affirmative largely just needs to demonstrate 1) their plan is topical, and 2) their plan is net beneficial, and then the decision is obvious.
In contrast, in LD the affirmative has to explain what it means to, e.g., “prioritize X over Y,” which is highly subject to interpretation, and then they have to imply/persuade the judge of that principle in >50% of cases/situations. Setting aside the first issue of fairly defining what it means to “prioritize X over Y,” the second criteria requires massive amounts of subjectivity in determining what the “population of cases/situations” looks like. In fact, the number of possible, relevant scenarios can be astronomical, and thus often requires some acknowledgement of “yeah, we’ll never be able to cover even a decent-sized fraction of the possible cases, but hey let’s just pretend like these examples I’ve chosen are representative.” Then the sides get into a squabble over what is more representative, etc. As a judge, you’re now left with trying to determine “hm, do I vote with the aff because they showed X should be prioritized with Y in these 4 cases, or with the neg because they showed the opposite in 2 cases and said that their two cases are much more representative?”
As someone coming from the land of concrete, “1 case proves the resolution” TP, the criteria often feels very subjective–and thus *sometimes* seems like it ought to warrant as much time as TP just so that the debaters can come to agreement on what the parameters/criteria/burdens of the debate should be…