*DISCLAIMER: Since the time of original publication, Salim has changed his mind on some of these issues. Please do not cite without his explicit permission. Thank you! – Premier Debate (updated August 11, 2015)

This was originally going to be a comment on the post that announced the topic slate but it seemed long enough to merit its own post.

The good

Topic #10 (gun rights) would be a fantastic Jan/Feb topic. Back when we were both youngins, Tomasi and I had a bunch of practice rounds on gun rights, explored the topic lit, and found great ground for everyone: kantians, LARPers, phil of all sorts, cap lit, fem lit, and race lit. There’s so much literature about gun rights and hand gun bans that I’m sure it wouldn’t go stale after four months. I’ll be rooting for this topic the most.

Topic #6 (secession) sounds refreshing. We haven’t had a topic that focused on well-developed political philosophy issues in forever – the anarchy vs oppressive government topic was probably the last one that really forced people to rewrite their frameworks [1].

Topics #3 (jury nullification), #4 (public funding), and #7 (carbon tax) seem like solid choices too.

The meh

Topic #1 (nuclear energy)

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear energy.

This topic would be great if it just spec’d an actor (maybe an international body?) or, as anon whywhywhy pointed out, it’ll be endless T debates. A vague plural set of actors is like the worst subject to use if you want to prevent infinite T debates.

Is there any way to get the committee to reconsider the actor? I appreciate that y’all fielded feedback from the public survey put out, but there’s really no harm in making this change. I doubt there’s anyone in the country really pushing for there to be a vague set of “states” to be the actor.

Topic #8 (corporations)

Resolved: Corporations ought to value their responsibility to shareholders over the public interest when the two conflict.

This topic probably should’ve been phrased in the reverse; as it stands, the side bias on this topic would be quite bad, especially since even the most stock neg ground is fantastic ground. (Global warming is real and a BFD yo, obviously corporations like Exxon contribute mad amounts to it.)

Topic #9 (civil services)

This one seems way too narrow. I get the impression that “privatization of civil services” doesn’t have as in-depth topic literature as most topics we debate. Then the phrase “undermines democracy” makes the topic even more narrow by excluding other relevant values. Definitely a PF-styled topic that I’m not really digging. Also, isnt “undermine” kind of a strong word?

The bad

Topic #2 (middle east)

Resolved: The United States ought to promote democracy in the Middle East.

This one is just so seedy. Obviously we should promote democracy in the Middle East. That’s trivially true. The real debate is over what methods constitute promoting democracy and what costs we’re willing to accept in promoting democracy. Invasion, sanctions, and finger-waggings are all very different discussions to have. So the scope of debate isn’t clear at all and it also seems incredibly hard to negate unless the aff chooses to defend something controversial.

The more concerning issue is that they picked:

Resolved: The United States ought to promote democracy in the Middle East.

and not

Resolved: The United States ought to try to promote democracy in the Middle East.


Resolved: The United States ought to pursue its agenda of democracy promotion in the Middle East. [2]

The second wording includes debate over the efficacy of US attempts to promote democracy. The third wording includes discussion over how genuine our leaders are when they claim democracy promotion is the goal of our foreign policies. The first wording excludes both of those debates.

The US doesn’t seem to care much about democracy when it’s not in our economic or political interests. We didn’t care much about democracy when we funded the Contras to terrorize Nicaragua after their leftist domestic policies threatened our economic interests, or when the US set up a coup to replace democratically-elected Mosaddegh when he nationalized Iran’s oil, or when we send cash monies and weapons to our best buddy in the Muslim world: Saudia Arabia.

These two discussions of efficacy and honesty are arguably the most important questions to resolve when it comes to our foreign policy; it’s a bummer that they’re excluded.

Topic #5 (immigration)

Resolved: Immigration ought to be recognized as a human right.

This one seems undebatable. Even gun-toting, border-patrolling Republicans could think immigration is a human right; they just want undocumented immigrants to go through the procedure of being a documented immigrant. Affs could easily argue that countries like North Korea should stop prohibiting immigration and that seems to be all the topic is left with. Maybe negs will read T on such awful ground division. (They’ll have to get past those preternaturally good 1AR “nebel is god” frontlines.)

But if they do, it’s not immediately clear what alternate vision for the topic the neg can suggest. My first impression of the topic is that the language is a reference to the “immigration as a human right” campaigns that Amnesty International runs when criticizing American immigration policy in the squo. But there’s a snag in debating squo policies too: if our squo policies respect human rights, those policies cease to be pertinent to the topic. That causes two problems:

1) This still leaves the scope of the debate unclear. When the neg wins that some policy actually respects rights, that’s not offense for the neg; the policy just ceases to be topical. The T debate and the substance debate merge into one big disaster. We should generally avoid topics that force the aff advocacy to constantly change as the round proceeds.

2) It seems like the neg can only win if she proves there are some policies that violate human rights but still are ultimately good. This, I think, has the bizarre implication that the neg has to be consequentialist to negate. And that has an even weirder implication. If consequentialists acknowledge rights, which it seems like they have to on this topic, consequentialists don’t believe they haven’t “recognized” a right exists just because other considerations can take precedent in some circumstances. For instance, consequentialists recognize the right individuals have to not be murdered; they’d just prioritize the five to be saved in the trolley problem. The take-away is that the neg always loses on this interpretation of the topic, which isn’t a great vibe.

I see one alternative reading to consider. Namely, we could interpret topic #5 as some purely academic question about what constitutes a right. Even if immigration is good and we should generally facilitate immigration, it’s less clear that it’s a right in the more strict sense of the word used by philosophers.

This reading of the topic still isn’t a great outcome and probably doesn’t capture the real meaning of the topic. For instance, this reading makes “ought to be recognized” redundant since the topic may as well be written, “Immigration is a human right.” It’s also hard to ignore the implied relationship between this topic’s wording and the sort of wording used by groups like the ACLU and Amnesty International. And needless to stay, discussing whether something important is a right or not is a pretty dry discussion for even our most fervent morals hutts.

Last note

Despite the criticisms of a few topics, the list definitely improved from what we had the past few years. There’s more than enough topics to get us happily through the year. And to be completely honest, I’m just appreciative there’s no chance y’all have to debate Supreme Court term limits or the morality of the media’s use of “hypersexual representations.”


[1] The compulsory voting topic didn’t have enough of a base in political philosophy literature to have the same effect.

[2] There are definitely concerns I have with the second and third wordings, but I’m just trying to illustrate a point about what the first wording misses.