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Nuclear war usually appears in debate rounds about as often as Hitler: with absurd frequency. In this post, Harrison finishes discussing another technique for responding to nuclear disadvantages. Read part one here

The arguments are generally wrong/invalid

This section provides some crucial support for the previous post, but is also distinct in that it suggests that even with an “anything goes” framework, these arguments are (basically) invalid (much like how saying “the sky is blue, therefore their plan causes nuclear war” is arguably rejectable on its face). The reasons for this include:

Source misinterpretation

As others have noted, it’s generally accurate to say that if the original sources of arguments heard the disadvantage, they would “laugh uproariously.” Source intent is often thrown to the wayside and trampled as debaters try to connect “political capital lost” to “can’t pass trade deal” to “experience recession” to “China challenges America” to “nuclear war.” Generally, no reasonable interpretation would accept the alleged links between sources, but some judges are willing to tolerate the gaps: even if the argument is incomplete and the opposing team argues this, the judges might default to thinking “well it may not be a strong link, but they didn’t 100% refute that slim possibility…”—even though debate rules/norms arguably require a higher burden of proof (so that people can’t just say e.g. “this conspiracy theorist says ______, so we should give it at least a slim possibility”).

Empirical falsehood/rejection

We have never experienced nuclear war or anything similar in significance, despite decades of policymaking. The idea that a mundane policy reform would now cause nuclear war is empirically denied. The importance of this observation is that (usually) if the opponents’ reasoning/sources were valid/credible, we should have experienced extinction in the past. If the argument is empirically rejected, however, judges should not just internally think “okay, well maybe it’s not that likely, but it still has a chance,” because doing so would arguably be judge intervention. (If the team making the argument advocates using the “any chance at extinction is too much” framing, it might be different, but debaters don’t always do this.)

Disregard for systematic checks/delinks (e.g. “diplomacy would kick in”)

The ridiculous arguments’ reasoning chains tend to evaluate links in isolation while failing to properly evaluate the links together. Take for example the short string of “US-China relations worsened” => “China gets angry/desperate” => “China miscalculates nuclearly.” The internal validity problem is that each step in “relations worsened” (e.g. “diplomats insult each other,” “military standoffs,” “espionage”) tends to assume that nothing else is happening, when in reality policymakers can see the larger picture, and thus may choose better diplomacy rather than blindly following this path towards nuclear war.

Disregard for inherent counter-impacts (i.e. the main point of my old article)

Put briefly (since my old article covers the idea), the ridiculous arguments say “there’s this super-slim chance that something horrible would be caused by the plan,” but ignore that an affirmative could also just say “there’s this super-slim chance that something horrible would be prevented by the plan—and the realistic benefits make that more likely.” This may or may not be an issue of internal validity (it’s complicated), but it still is important to mention.

Kritikal reasons

As I’ve written before, I generally don’t advocate for kritiks but there are some arguably-legitimate kritiks, and this would be one of those cases (as I noted in that article): accepting ridiculous nuclear war disadvantages in debate rounds is harmful for the real world for at least two major reasons:

They make a mockery of policy debate

As Larry Smith extensively noted, these nuclear war disadvantages are undermining policy debate. When parents or peers see the absurdity that goes on, students are less likely (on average) to participate in policy debate (and perhaps debate in general). Additionally, it has tarnished the reputation of policy debate to the point that I am legitimately (albeit not “frantically”) worried that when I list my policy debate experience on my resume a potential employer might look negatively on it.

It is bad for education

Policy debate teaches very useful skills in addition to communication: research, decision making, deep analysis, etc. At least, that is what is learned in homeschool policy debate; in public school policy debate, there is an astonishing lack of common sense in policy analysis, as good arguments and topical research is cast aside in favor of absurd, canned generics that are nonsensically linked to suggest unrealistic conclusions. The actual merits of proposals are rarely debated, stunting topical education in addition to skills training.

Again, Larry Smith provides much more detail and persuasion regarding the kritikal problems with accepting these absurd arguments, but the problems should be fairly obvious if you have seen the difference between homeschool and public school policy debate. The fact is, accepting these absurd arguments harm participation, competition, reputation, education, etc.

Cut-and-Quotable Summary

I just covered a lot of reasoning in a lot of space/words; I’ll boil that down to an easy-to-quote theory block:

“Judges should use the standard that ridiculous, unrealistic [advantages/disadvantages] should be treated as if their probability is basically 0.0%. The full explanation for this judging standard is long and multifaceted, but in summary, some of the reasons are that these (advantages/disadvantages) tend to:

-Misinterpret source intent

-Harm policy debate as an academic activity,

-Be empirically contradicted by the reality of the past few decades of policymaking—which never experienced nuclear war, and

-Survive scrutiny only because of the limits of policy debate such as on speaking time and dialogue between the judge and debaters.”


Put simply, it’s time to stop with these absurd arguments: they are almost always irrelevant/wrong/invalid and are usually very harmful to policy debate. The real question is what to do about the arguments. The long-term solution to the problem is multifaceted, with a significant part of it being more community judges. In the meantime, however, people can discourage these arguments by actually beating them (and/or teaching others to beat them), making them less effective. To do this, I still recommend using my old article’s strategy as the primary response, but for added effect (and more long-term solvency) you can reference the framing argument made here.

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