Part I – Introduction
The RVI debate is an interesting and controversial debate in contemporary LD. Though personally, I am a believer of the RVI, this article will not serve to further any arguments in favor of it (for that, see Paras Kumar’s wonderful disclosure of our RVI Good prep on Vbriefly). Rather, I will work from the assumption that theory should be an RVI to justify the structural application of a defensive RVI for pre-fiat K debate.
Specifically, the conditions for a defensive RVI on a pre-fiat K should be if the accused shows no link or no abuse, such that no abuse includes you link and no impact. No impact can be proved either defeating the implication section of the K or by beating back the Role of the Ballot and articulating why the impact of the K doesn’t function under your framework.
The K is a peculiar argument. Rooted in critical philosophy rather than abstract philosophy, and usually concerned with racism, homophobia, sexism, and other instances of oppression. Ks seem to be a form of argumentation and discussion many debaters shy away from. Ironically, the first lesson they teach against Ks at camp is to not run generic “Ks Bad” theory—not just because it’s probably a silly abuse claim, but more pressingly, K debaters are more prepped and ready to win that debate. This seems to be a contradiction; K debaters seem to have significantly many more debates on theory than the substance of the K itself. This is exactly why merging theory and Ks together is helpful: it takes the K debater away from a layer they’re used to, while getting rid of the foreignness of a K.
Instead, today, we see almost a communal refusal to address the K. A striking example of this, in my opinion, is the success had by one K last year: Object Oriented Ontology K (OOO). This K, probably gibberish, won an absurd amount of rounds, representing truly the state of Ks our community has today. Though no doubt there are many great Ks debaters and even more great Ks, it also appears the K, for whatever reason, has become strategically little more than a conceded layer of offense. Then, the onus on the K debater becomes less of explaining the link, impact, and alternative, but more of weighing this conceded level of offense against others, of which, theory seems to be the most common.
Part II – Similarities
Listen to any K-theory debate, and you’ll without fail hear the argument “K before theory” and then correspondingly “theory before K.” Or are they on the same level? Whatever anyone says, at the heart of it, there are just two kinds of Ks: post-fiat and pre-fiat. Post-fiat Ks are essentially just counterplans with DAs. Pre-fiat Ks are essentially just theory shells. By that, I mean they are functionally and structurally analogous.
Pre-fiat Ks are analogous to theory shells in several ways. First, a theory shell at its base is a relation f(x) such that x ought to be a rule, i.e., x ought to be required (“the aff debater must specify an actor in an advocacy text”) or x ought to be forbidden (“the aff debater may not defend only aims of the resolution”). Ks are functionally the same thing. They hold, just like a theory shell, some aff practice ought to be forbidden (“neither debater may use sexist language”), or more weakly, required, as in Ks with links via omission.
Secondly, Ks have a structural correspondence to a theory shell. The interp corresponds to the alternative, the violation to the link, the standards to the impact, and the voter to the role of the ballot (if there is no role of the ballot, the “reject the aff” part of an alt could still correspond). If two things are structurally the same, then there is good reason to believe they are.
Finally, they are treated the same in round. When a K debate is substantial, there are a variety of arguments to be made. Take a cap K with a rejection alt for example. The 1AR could say no link (“no, I’m not capitalistic”), you link (“you’re also capitalistic”), impact turn (“capitalism good”), impact defense (“capitalism not bad”), turning the world of the alt (“passive rejection allows real world cap to remain strong”), perm (“the contradictions between my rhetoric and my advocacy are a net benefit”), or challenge the role of the ballot as a reason to vote aff down.
But these arguments also happen in a theory debate, take an actor spec shell with a standard of CP ground. The 1AR could say no link (“I meet”), you link (“You don’t have an actor”), impact turn (“CPs are bad”), impact defense (“CPs aren’t necessary”), turning the world of the alt (“the world where aff has to spec an actor is worse” –this is the counterinterp), or challenge the voter as a reason to vote the aff down. Perms can happen either when the counter-interpretation carves out parts of the original interpretation, or when someone points out the counter-interpretation isn’t competitive.
Part III – Implications
If Ks are essentially just theory shells, albeit worded a bit differently, should we treat them the same? Many would think that the RVI on Ks are unnecessary because K debaters would grant link turns and perms to an unconditional alt would be a reason to vote aff.
But if one starts from the already tenuous premise that theory is an RVI on I meets or no abuse, then this defensive K RVI needs no pragmatic justification, as Ks are theory. This could be strategic because if you are affirming against a K debater who will just concede a spike that theory is an RVI on I meets or no abuse because they assume they aren’t reading any theory, the 1AR could extrapolate theory to include Ks.
Even if you reject defensive RVI’s on theory, the generic warrants in favor of any RVI also support a defensive RVI on pre-fiat Ks. Let’s consider a few arguments in the RVI debate.
One of the most compelling reasons for an RVI on theory is to check no-risk issue theory for skewing time. Ks, too, moot the strategic value of the AC—especially when an opposing ROTB is read. Moreover, many argue that there shouldn’t be RVIs on I meets because if you meet you can quickly meet and move on. But with Ks, it usually is harder to delink than it is for obviously frivolous theory.
Some may say Ks are not no-risk, however, as you can turn the K, but A) usually the impact turn ground is pretty awful. I’m not going to impact turn a queer theory K; B) often link turn ground doesn’t exist by the strategic selection of the alternative; C) against many janky Ks like OOO or anthro, link turns are non-existent. The only real responses are “this is stupid and false” not that “the AC perception is key to stop extinction/oppression”; and D) the style in which Ks are presented now discourages these turns, as they are densely packed and spread, plus just nebulous enough to shift out of some turns in the 2NR. This is empirically the case, when in most every K round I’ve seen or participated in, the 1AR goes for preclusive issues or purely defensive arguments. When nobody responds to the K, it becomes a conceded layer of offense, i.e., a NIB.
But perhaps the best justification stems from the RVIs Bad argument that RVIs would collapse the round down to theory. Though many do not find any educational value in theory debates, surely K debaters do in K debates. So if their ROTB is correct, we should still have defensive K RVIs. I see this having two advantages. First, it prevents the strategic utility of reading some janky K and then layering the round, because those other layers would be irrelevant in the ballot story. Second, arguably the most important to critical education is what arguments are sexist/racist/homophobic/oppressive, and what would be a good solution—i.e., links and alts. With a defensive RVI on Ks, the round would be staked on the quality of the links and alts, increasing the importance of discussion of those two pieces. This could have a tremendous impact to discussing these issues as now it is necessary to develop a solid link and alternative, and actually strategic to go all in against the link or against the alt. Both quantity and quality of critical education seem like they would skyrocket, and, overall, the RVI would galvanize K debates to be more substantial, as non-K debaters and those without amazing backfiles have more incentive to engage in the K rather than up-layering.
Going further, an RVI on pre-fiat Ks could deter frivolous, jargon filled Ks. This is good because it prevents people from coopting the movement (like when bad NSD debaters last summer ran Wilderson), judges from dropping fine debaters, and debaters from running Ks for the sake of confusing or layering our the AC. Now debaters would have more of an incentive to prep out such Ks or learn what those words actually mean to the point that running them becomes less strategically viable when there is not a risk-free link story. Maybe if there were an RVI on pre-fiat Ks, then perhaps the aforementioned OOO K wouldn’t have been so successful.
Finally, I would like to clarify one issue about triggering the defensive RVI on Ks. Some would hold that it’s impossible to trigger the RVI based on a no link argument, because even if the aff responds to the link story, neg still has a risk of a link which, if neg also wins the ROTB, then only neg has risk of offense. First, it is good to point out that this is a paradigm that few judges hold, so this may not even be relevant. Second, I think for intents and purposes of triggering the RVI, there should be a certain threshold for no links. Near-zero chance of links should be treated as no link for all practical purposes, especially if one intends on capturing the benefits laid out in this article. Namely, because the best pragmatic justification in the article is for critical education, the risk of offense mentality probably undermines it because it pushes the ballot away from substance and the debater who more probably showed his side as true.
Part IV – Conclusion
All-in-all, motivated from noticing a structural and functional similarity between theory and Ks while also noticing a huge difference in the communal response, extending some features of theory to Ks could make a more consistent and quality debate. The conclusion of the defensive RVI on pre-fiat Ks can be reached in two ways: semantic by both starting from the premise theory is an RVI on I meets or no abuse and realizing the structural similarities between theory and Ks, and pragmatic based on the increase in fairness and critical education based on better K rounds on the issues more important to discuss. Though many people are ultimately bound to disagree with me, I think this is a position worth discussing further.