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(One Ethos coach’s perspective on the slate of Stoa LD topics for 2015-16.)

There are quite a few things in my life that make me insanely happy. For example, freshly baked quiche, Lady Gaga’s voice, and nongovernmental LD resolutions. The last item on that list is particularly relevant lately. Yes, Stoa has finally done it. Stoa has given two nongovernmental resolutions as options to vote on for LD this year.

For those of you who are confused why I’m so excited, I’m going to explain what these resolutions are and why I believe they are so important. Then, I’m going to give a general overview of the pros and cons of each of the proposed resolutions.

Up until this point, the majority of LD resolutions hinged upon an implicit governmental or collective actor. In recent years, the NCFCA and Stoa have explored topics from due process rights to the moral obligations of government to the role of governmental regulations in the economy to the censorship of free press and speech rights. All of these debates center around the roles and purposes of government in its various interactions and how people should be governed. However, there are value debates all around us, in our everyday lives, that have nothing to do with government. Debates about ethics, relational/social decisions, education, art, communication, and more happen all the time. Philosophies surrounding these issues and decisions are what nongovernmental value resolutions hope to discuss. All value debates are about ordering our priorities. Nongovernmental resolutions are simply shifting that discussion away from an exclusive focus on government.

Here’s what I believe to be the best reasons for this shift:
1. Truly new philosophical discussions. Rights theory, social contract theory, the harm principle, human rights, justice. Though the specific context of governance being discussed has changed, every resolution in the past few years in both leagues has centered around most, if not all, of those concepts. This primarily leads to limited learning and growing. One can increase knowledge by depth or by breadth. Though depth is the most important part of a healthy, nuanced debate, it is inherently limited by the time constraints of a 45 minute round. One can learn a lot by studying a handful of concepts to a depth necessary for an LD debate, but the usefulness of increased depth is often lost by the end of the year, as the format inherently keeps the debate on the surface-level side of things. Thus, to promote continual growth, it is necessary to discuss truly unique topic areas. These nongovernmental resolutions provide that fresh material.

2. Real world applicability. Not everyone works in government or law. The decisions made in debate rounds centering around those topics occur in a vacuum. Once the round is over, those involved may be more informed, but no practical change has occurred. The value of the ideas being discussed is often stunted by lack of opportunities to implement them. However, this is not the case with many nongovernmental resolutions. We all interact with art and education to some extent or another. Debating resolutions that deal with these topics allows for the information and discussions in the round to have an actual impact on personal decision-making. The judges or debaters perspective on art or approach to education is within their grasp to change. This gives everyone involved the opportunity to not simply improve cognizance and communication, but the community itself, as well.

In sum, I think these resolutions are a fresh and exciting alternative to the current monotonous state of LD resolutions. And that makes makes me happy. #JustNerdyThings

With that out of the way, I want to give a brief overview of the pros and cons of each resolution, to inform your voting.

1. Resolved: in art, form ought to be valued over content.
Pros –
A. Breadth. Art is expansive. Books, plays, movies, songs, poems, paintings, sculptures, architecture, even food all can be used as art. This gives a myriad of options, perspectives, and applications with which to take this resolution.

B. Fair ground. There are many great warrants for the social and psychological warrants supporting either side of the resolution. And due to this topic area’s general lack of controversy, the judging pool will not have an extreme bias either way. This will allow for fair, even debates.

Cons –
A. Lack of literature. Though art is discussed in philosophy, this specific conflict is not largely argued. Debaters will largely have to shape a coherent philosophy on their own, given their own research, reflection, and application of more generalized philosophical positions on aesthetics.
B. Nonexistent conflict. Form does not inherently come at the cost of content and vice versa. Thus, there is never a situation in art when someone is forced to value one over the other. The lack of mutual exclusivity would undermine the entire purpose of having a debate in the first place. That is, making a decision. With this resolution, there is no decision that must be made.

2. Resolved: in formal education, liberal arts ought to be valued above practical skills.
Pros –
A. Lots of iterature. Education is an area of much debate, and it has been discussed for ages. Thus, there are many philosophers and experts with positions on the subject. In addition, education is well researched, so there is data evaluating many different aspects of education in the modem day.
B. Particular relevancy. In the community of homeschool debaters, nearly everyone involved is either 1) an educator or 2) approaching college. Thus, it presents the opportunity to discuss issues relevant to the actual lives and decision-making of those participating or judging.
Con –
A. Bias. The same thing that makes this debate relevant, also makes it potentially distasteful. As those involved in the midst of decision-making on this topic, judges will certainly have severe opinions on the topic that prevent fair outcomes for the debaters. Furthermore, debate is essentially the pinnacle of a liberal arts approach. Any parent that has their child in debate is probably already slanted affirmative (doubly problematic given aff has the last speech).

3. Resolved: developing countries ought to prioritize economic growth over environmental protection.
Pros –
A. Lots of literature. This conflict has been researched and analyzed a lot, as bodies like the UN and IMF seek to enforce regulations on developing countries regarding both of these goals. Also, economic theory regarding the “tragedy of the commons” and property rights will be the philosophical backbone for a debate with heavy impacts on human conditions in the developing world.
B. Room for nuance. Though the resolution is not very broad, it does give sufficient room for adaption. Disagreements on what is required for environmental protection (is global warming man made?) and economic growth (free trade or protectionism?), and how they ought to be achieved give the debaters room to seek out the best reforms and position their round on those.
Con –
A. Problematically pragmatic. Rather than contrasting two abstract ideas or principles, this resolution contrasts two policy goals. Thus, it has the potential to devolve into a debate with an implicitly utilitarian value structure that boils into an example debate rather than a debate of philosophy.

4. Resolved: the use of economic sanctions to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals is moral.
Pro –
A. Research rich. The use and effects of US sanctions is well documented and studied in academic literature, so there will be a lot of high quality resources to access my learning about the topic. Furthermore, the recent success of US sanctions on Iran has resulted in a lot of new discussion and policy analysis on the subject.
Cons –
A. Hyperspecific. The emphasis on a particular set of concrete actions (US sanctions) sharply focuses the limit of the resolution. As such, this resolution has the potential to get stale really quickly and/or detract from the larger philosophies of morality that ought to be discussed, as the big picture is lost in details.

So there you have it. Jared’s guide to the LD Galaxy. Happy voting.

— Jared Neikirk is a new Jr. Coach for Ethos, coaching LD, TP, and Parli. Get more from Jared this summer (or argue with him!) at Ethos Summer Camps 2015.

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