by Bob Overing

Too many times I’ve had to say this to a student doing a theory drill, and I’m tired of it:

I noticed you were stumbling a bit on the internal links from the standard to the voter. Make sure to have the internal links pre-written or memorized. It’s easy to do and will save you some effort in round! I know it seems silly, but some opponent could call you out if you don’t warrant it and some judge might just disregard your theory argument.

I stand by that advice for now, but I’d like to think that we’re evolving as a community and can dispose of some archaic and unnecessary practices. One such practice is the second internal link argument in theory shells. For example, “ground is key to fairness because both sides need arguments to have a fair shot” or “reciprocity is key to fairness because we both need equal access to the ballot.” As you can see, the argument is hardly an argument at all and yet is nearly ubiquitous in LD theory debates.

I advocate that internal links from common theory standards to common theory voters are self-evident and that judges and debaters should treat them as such, requiring no further justification. I wrote this in my paradigm years ago, and more judges should state it explicitly. A big reason the practice of justifying the internal link still exists is because debaters are afraid that if they don’t do it, they might be punished. The calculus is pretty simple: It’s not that hard to do, so I might as well do it and not risk losing my theory argument. But if more judges explicitly adopt my view (which has been very steadily gaining traction), then debaters won’t have this worry.

The major justification is purely practical – there’s no good reason to waste time on a self-evident argument. So many young debaters have trouble with this section of the theory debate because it’s so blatantly obvious that ground matters in terms of fairness that it’s difficult to come up with a quick, concise, and warranted reason why it matters that’s distinct from everything that’s already been said. So let’s cut it out. Make theory more fluid. The best theory debaters are already doing it in front of the best judges because they know it’s a waste of everyone’s time to read every tiny little link.

From a pedagogical standpoint, it may seem like teaching “link the violation to the standard and then the standard to the voter” makes the theory structure clear. I understand that, but we don’t teach our students to go through every step in every link chain elsewhere in the debate. For instance, we don’t expect students to explain why human extinction would be a utilitarian harm – it’s obvious! Teaching the nuts and bolts of theory gets easier if we eliminate this burden because we can move on to more important concepts and skills.

From a tabula rasa judging perspective, you might think that you can’t vote on an argument without an internal link, but in most debates, several internal links are unjustified because of their obviousness. For instance, debaters often neglect to define “ought” or whatever the normative language in the resolution is that gives their framework import. Debaters often skip the value debate altogether. They forget to make an explicit link from the criterion to the value or the case impacts to the criterion. They don’t define terms like “RVI” or “fiat.”

Requiring the debaters to make all these inferences would be profoundly unproductive and likely create a regress problem. At a certain point, arguments in a technical community become enthymematic. We don’t need every step explained to us because we can fill in the missing parts. The internal links in a theory shell shouldn’t need explanation even in front of the most tab judge. To explain why ground is key to fairness is usually just to explain what ground is, and so the only “work” done by the judge is interpretation, something every judge does in every debate.

More and more judges are already adopting this view. I hope it’s part of a larger trend. A year ago, Adam Tomasi pointed out the uselessness of extending every part of a dropped argument. Like extending a dropped aff card by card, reading theory internal links is another archaic form of going through the motions, and we ought to abandon it.

Bob Overing | Director



Bob is a director of Premier, coach for Loyola in Los Angeles, and debater for the USC Trojan Debate Squad. As a senior in high school, he was ranked #1, earned 11 bids and took 2nd at TOC. In college, he cleared at CEDA and qualified to the NDT. His students have earned 60 career bids, reached TOC finals, and won many championships.