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Quite a few sports have been suggested as the real “gentleman’s sport.”  Golf, tennis, fencing, motorsports…these have all held the title.  There is one sport, however, that supersedes all of these.  One sport that combines everyday life, procedures, and morality.  That sport is debate.

Out of the very nature of debate arise three parts of the engagement.  Picture a triangle.  At the bottom of this triangle are the arguments you hear in every round, i.e. economics, reductions in vehicular crashes, prevention of deforestation, the threat of nuclear war…pretty much every round has this form of discussion.  The next layer of debate is the procedural level.  Here, the discussion shifts from which argument is strongest to which is legitimate.  When debaters make claims like “questions are not arguments,” they’re debating on the procedural level.  Their claim is that the thesis doesn’t even need to be engaged because it is illegitimate.  The topmost level of debate (and the narrowest level) is the Kritik.  It is here that debaters can actually call each other out for immoral behavior.  For example, if your opponent curses during the debate round, a Kritik could be legitimate.  There is a time and place for all of these types of arguments, but in the end, the base level (your typical form of clash) is actually the one we should strive to argue in.

The impact of any given argument in the basic level has no real-world effect.  We of course realize that whichever team we vote for, no actual policies get passed, no absolute values become accepted by society, no facts become agreed upon by humanity.  Ultimately, the real-world impact is that a team won a round.  For procedural arguments, the judge no longer has to make a decision on the merits of an argument.  Rather, they vote on a debate about the rules of debate.  What constitutes a permissible argument?  What do we consider to be fair play in a sport of civility?  Finally, the Kritik level moves outside of the debate.  This is why a Kritik should only be run when you believe it is fully legitimate and necessary.  It attacks the moral code of your opponents.  When a debater chooses to bring the debate into this light, he is claiming that we can’t make a policy because the policy-makers are so corrupt.  The opponents need to be voted against because their morals have been called into question.  The plan doesn’t matter, the case doesn’t matter.  These debaters have a gray standard of what right and wrong are.

Some people claim that it is our duty as debaters to move outside of the basic level of argumentation.  They claim that we have two other elements of debate to utilize, and we are obligated to do so.  I disagree.  In fact, the best debates are ones where procedurals and Kritiks seemingly don’t exist.  The purpose of a resolution is to discuss the merits and demerits of a position on a wide scale.  Procedurals force us to focus on the fundamentals of debate rather than focus on the important arguments.  They make us backtrack, forcing us to decide upon how to debate before we get to actually debate.  This is why we don’t recommend mindlessly attacking evidence.  It’s a procedural point, not an actual argument.  Kritiks also step outside of our cause for argument.  Instead of examining the resolution, we’re forced to examine each other, debate about the conscience and soul of the people in the room.

The gentleman’s sport has a purpose.  To reach that purpose, Kritiks and procedurals and required, but to fulfill that purpose real arguments are a necessity.  Always maintain the mindset of a teacher–keep the round focused on the arguments that matter.

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