Theory arguments are a necessity – they are the process by which we choose what should and should not count as a valid debate argument. Before theory in LD, judges simply imposed their own ideas about what belongs in debate rounds, which lead to arbitrary and unpredictable decisions. On the other hand, complaints that there is too much or too trivial theory in LD today have some truth to them. Of course, there is no large-scale data on this question, but I judge theory and field questions on theory at camp and from my students constantly. We need some way to find a balance between the necessity of theory and its overabundance. Is theory as a reverse-voting-issue the answer?
The most basic argument for RVIs is to check back against the prevalence of theory, yet RVIs are accepted now more than ever and the amount of theory has still blown up. The reason is simple. RVIs don’t “check abuse”; they enable it. If RVIs are paradigmatically accepted or even sympathetically viewed, instead of introducing frivolous theory, a debater so inclined just does something abusive to either win the substantive debate or to bait theory and win the RVI. The deterrence argument is illogical because to assert the RVI’s need for existence, one must grant the premise that a skilled theory debater can win off of an inferior theory argument, which just leads to the situation described above.
A second argument for RVIs is that theory is a no-risk issue for the person who initiates it, and that to be reciprocal the debater answering theory must have a chance to win off of the argument as well. This argument is motivated less by the desire to curb theory than by an odd notion of reciprocity I call “micro-level” reciprocity. There are many arguments that gain a ton of utility in the round that are nonreciprocal on a micro-level but are completely acceptable. Say a negative is all in on a K in the 1NC. Any link turn to the position is a no risk argument that can potentially win the round, but link turns are obviously an accepted style of argument in debate and running a theory shell that says you cannot link turn a K would get you laughed out of the room. As long as both debaters have access to offense on a particular plane of the debate, we should not be particularly concerned with this micro-level reciprocity. Second, we should contest that theory is no-risk. Introducing a new structure for evaluation such as a fairness and education voter always has costs: another debater could use it to initiate a theory claim against you or they could claim you violate your own interpretation, both of which would be offense without an RVI.
The third argument for RVIs is that it creates a time skew for the respondent. Maybe part of the reason an overabundance of theory is seen as problematic is because it seems to give the negative an advantage, and more often than not, the 1NC is the first to initiate a theory claim. This argument runs into a few problems. First, it conflates structural and substantive issues of fairness. Any area where your opponent is more skilled than you will take you longer to address by definition. Controlling for quality, no argument should by its nature demand more than a 1 to 1 time tradeoff unless it structurally alters the round (like a NIB). Because each debater has the burden to be fair there should be no positive time tradeoff from running theory unless the argument is better than the responses. While this may give the negative an advantage because any argument introduced in the 1NC that demands 1 to 1 to respond to makes the 1AR virtually impossible, that concern is ultimately unavoidable, which leads us to our second problem. If you write a position such that the negative has 7 minutes of theory arguments that all demand equal or better time investment, you are probably writing your 1AC wrong. The third problem is that RVIs could only help this issue if the debater is beating back the theory arguments in question. If it is in fact true that negatives could run 7 minutes of theory arguments that demand 1 to 1 investment, the RVI doesn’t help at all because the debater answering theory would never have a shot to beat back all of the offense in 4 minutes.
This brings us to the final portion of the argument against RVIs and perhaps the strongest. The RVI is an inferior solution to some combination of reasonability and/or drop the argument. All of the concerns above criticize the fact that introducing theory gives too much power to the initiator. Reasonability/drop the argument solve that back while avoiding the disadvantage that with an RVI, once there is theory, the round must be decided on theory. If we are truly concerned with pushing debates back to the topic and away from theory, then the RVI is not the solution.