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If you know me, you know that I have an extreme dislike for wasting time. Regardless of what I am doing or what I am supposed to be doing, the mere feeling of complete unproductiveness is maddening. Perhaps it is for this reason that I believe that, if you can summarize something in a sentence, you should, and that if something doesn’t have to be said or is merely excessive, you might as well not say it.

Moreover, I think this principle finds within itself a firm translation to forensics. In debate, the side that best utilizes the speech time limits to their advantage is almost always the side that comes out on top. 

In this regard, debate is similar to other sports such as basketball or football, where time management is a crucial component of victory. For this reason, it is my firm belief that any tactic which can save time should be utilized. Consequently, I’ve spoken out against purposeless words, phrases, and mannerisms that do nothing but fill space.

These words and phrases are merely products of habit and are not built into the structure of debate itself. However, there is one superfluous aspect of debate, specifically Team Policy debate, which seems to be an accepted part of the format: the goal.

In about 50% of the Team Policy debates I have watched or been a part of, the affirmative team has presented a goal (i.e. what they are trying to achieve with their proposed reform). For instance, ‘solidarity,’ ‘fiscal responsibility,’ or ‘justice.’

Typically, the goal is only a minuscule, thematic part of the debate and is neither remembered nor considered by the judge. And why would it be? Its job is merely to set the tone for the discussion and clarify the debate’s arena.

However, in not-so-rare instances, the goal will evolve into something more than that. Instead of using it as a simple hint of what they are trying to accomplish, the affirmative team frequently transfigures it into much more: a standard. To speak out against both time-wasting and illogic, I have several comments on this issue.

Firstly, before progressing any further, let’s call it what it is: a goal, not a standard. Consider the goal of ‘solidarity.’ It’s a noble concern, to be sure, and perhaps, in select instances, it should be the primary consideration. But it could never be the standard

As important as it may be in certain circumstances, it is unrealistic to suggest that a policy-maker should only consider one point before adopting a policy. Perhaps solidarity should be the main focus of some pieces of legislation, but at the same time, it should never be the only standard by which said legislation is judged.

What is the alternative? Of course, the implied standard for every policy is net benefits. The only pertinent question for policy-makers to ask themselves is whether the policy would make the world a better place.

That said, certain kinds of benefits are better or more important than others, and both sides in a Team Policy debate can and often do make arguments using that framework. That is called impact calculus, and it is perhaps the essential aspect of the format. However, not a single policy-maker worth their salt would suggest only considering one possible benefit when evaluating a policy. That makes presenting a ‘standard’ of solidarity, etc., unrealistic.

Although presenting a concept such as this as a goal is nothing more than a thematic hint and using it as a standard is illogical, the negative team still manages to waste their own valuable time on this issue. Far too often, I have observed the negative team address the ‘standard’ throughout the entire debate round, treating it as an independent argument. Each time, their response is the same: “net benefits offers a more holistic approach than the affirmative team’s narrow-minded standard.”

They are obviously correct, yet they inexplicably insist on beating the issue into the ground. I might know why. As the negative, it is tempting to think, “I can’t let the affirmative get away with that under any circumstances! What happens if the judge accepts the argument at face value?”

While this possibility is frightening, the negative team still has several options that do not involve wasting time on unsubstantial issues. The first is to leave the proposed ‘standard’ on the table. That works well when their arguments are based on solvency and thus are impacted to an unfulfilled goal anyway.

The second is the more common route: to propose the counter-standard of net benefits. That works well when they plan to spend a significant proportion of their time on off-case disadvantages that have nothing to do with the goal, and it blocks the affirmative from trying to exclude their impacts from the debate.

However, if you adopt this strategy, I beg of you but one thing: make it short and sweet. You are right, and it should be painfully apparent that you are right, so don’t waste more time than you need to. 

What I often see the negative team doing is neither of these two things. Typically, they spend a lot of time arguing that net benefits is the standard and then impact most of their arguments to how the affirmative goal isn’t achieved anyway.

That is unfortunate for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that the affirmative goal often presents more of an opportunity than a threat to the negative team: it minimizes the paths to victory that the affirmative team has at their disposal. If the affirmative team has a narrow goal, the only logically consistent way for them to win is by achieving that goal. That prevents them from creating new and opportunistic advantages as the debate progresses.

Concluding Remarks

As entertaining as it is to think through the logical consistencies of this aspect of Team Policy, the saga of the goal/standard is far too often much ado about nothing. In debate, it is often best to avoid that sort of argument completely, and while it is sometimes necessary to remark on the affirmative team’s goal, it is best to do so quickly. The only alternative is wasting time.

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