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During my senior year, several of my friends and I got bored of the same old humdrum of trying to argue an arguable point. We wanted a challenge! So we began arguing some of the most ridiculous premises we could think of. A month or so later we had won debate rounds on numerous ridiculous premises, including: the Earth is flat, the moon landing is fake, and we should ban nonprofits from saving drowning people in the Mediterranean sea. Many of these rounds were won in official tournaments against debaters that went to nationals. Now you may be thinking we must have been really good to win these debates, and while personally I’d like to think we were pretty good, the fact is these premises are far easier to argue than you think. In this article I want to go over why ridiculous claims are much easier to argue than you would expect and how to counter them, because even if you don’t have an opponent arguing flat Earth anytime soon, there are plenty of odd, unfounded and even straight up ridiculous claims made in debate.

Why they work

Lack of preparation

I think the first and most obvious reason is most people aren’t prepared. Most debaters spend most of their time briefing and researching the most common and compelling arguments, not the fringe arguments, and they don’t think to prepare for the rare and obviously bad arguments. But preparation makes a big difference, and a debater that has spent hours researching and prepping their argument is going to have a leg up over a debater that didn’t prepare because they didn’t think the argument would be that hard to beat.

They’re obviously false

Defend the premise “helping people is morally right.” While you may have been able to come up with something, it may have taken you longer than expected to defend something so obvious. It can be shockingly hard to defend obvious points because most people have never had to defend them before. Additionally, it can even be harder to find evidence on these points since most places consider it a given.

Check your bias

Judges are told to check their bias at the door and decide the round purely on the arguments made in the round. But how this is interpreted in the round varies from judge to judge, so while some judges will meticulously inspect every bit of your argument before rejecting it for reasons your opponent never brought up, others will take it as far as to check their common sense at the door to be a completely blank slate for the round. This can mean that the “common understanding” of your opponent’s “ridiculous argument” may have been checked at the door.

How to beat them

Prepare the best you can

As tempting as it is to not prepare for arguments we find ridiculous, any argument that wins rounds, especially against good debaters, is worth taking seriously and preparing for. Additionally, there are often underlying premises of our arguments that we don’t think about because they are obviously true. Thinking about these premises and preparing to defend them can help us prepare for the more off-the-wall attacks.

Appeal to the judge’s common sense

Sometimes the worst thing we can do when debating a truly ridiculous argument is to treat it as if it is fully legitimate. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to refute it, but just a simple preface, “Judge, you and I both know that X is true; it’s common sense,” can be enough to get your judge to use their common sense when coming to a decision.

D. J. an economics major at North Carolina State University. Her debate philosophy is that debate should be fun for everyone, so keep it ethical so your opponent can enjoy the round, keep it entertaining so the judge enjoys it, and keep it lively and humorous so you can enjoy the round too. To learn more about D. J. you can read her bio here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/djmendenhall/ or book coaching with her here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/xl-3/

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