5 Fixes to Improve Your K Game
by Luis Sandoval
While the tone of the article may be harsh, it comes from a place of understanding. I debated for Meadows for four years. I was coached by Tim Alderete and thus have experience debating critical arguments. I love Kritiks and went for them about 90% of the time in high school. Most of my knowledge is about race and gender, but I’ve dabbled in other stuff like Deleuze and Heidegger. So why am I about to trash K debate so hard? Because I love it and I want it to get better. What follows are 5 big mistakes K debaters make and some tips about how to fix them.
#1 Stop Being Pretentious
As debaters, we all attach pride to every word we say. We’ve been taught to be confident in the most ridiculous of arguments and to never back down. That style of coaching plus high achieving kids is a recipe for a lot of ego. The dense nature of K debate tends to bring those egos to the forefront even more. We’ve all known somebody that spits out terms about “becoming” or “thanatology” or whatever else the coffee shop is selling to white guys with beards this week. I see too many rounds where the 2NR word vomits everywhere and then gets offended because I didn’t like their hipster alternative. This stuff is annoying, ineffective, and makes K debate downright inaccessible.
Consider this Agamben extension that is all-too-familiar to most circuit judges:
“They concede the state of exception link. That creates 100% strength of link for our
bare life impact. Bare life outweighs because it is a root cause of suffering. Vote neg”
I know people who would vote for this type of extension, but it means absolutely nothing to me. There isn’t an explanation of what any of the terms mean. If you didn’t know jack about Agamben you definitely wouldn’t have learned anything from that speech. That’s a sign that debaters aren’t taking the time to resolve arguments in plain English and instead use pretentious language to cover up a lack of knowledge.
This is something the whole community can stop enabling through our ballots and coaching. We can start by holding K debate to a higher standard. Here are three ways we can do better at holding debaters accountable.
First, judges should demand proper extensions. This means a direct explanation of every argument’s claim, warrant, impact, and function in the round. Unfortunately, debaters often fail to extend arguments this way because they’re too tied to their blocks.
The same goes for explaining the argument’s claim. In the Agamben example above, what part of the aff creates a state of exception? Does the link stem from the plan, the framework, or one of the advantages? Is it discursive or a result of the plan’s hypothetical passage? And what does a state of exception even mean? A good extension of the claim should explain the kritik argument and pinpoint the problematic part of the aff. The extension above could’ve been read against any aff and you wouldn’t know the difference.
Second, K impacts are often nebulous and under analyzed. What does it mean to live in “bare life”? How does that outweigh a case? Which advantages does it outweigh or turn? Why is it the root cause of suffering? These are questions that must be answered or at least addressed when extending a K. Otherwise, you are extending words and not arguments.
Third, K debaters should tailor their impacts to the framing in the round, and adapt to judges’ preferences. Running Wilderson in front of a Util judge? Spin the K by impacting it in terms of death, suffering, and the number of blacks who undergo serious harm. This is also an opportunity for flair. I don’t get pumped by the Agamben “extension” above. I don’t feel like going out and dismantling the state and I sure as heck don’t feel like voting for the neg. Ethos is an important part of K debate to practice because at first it can seem almost mystical in nature. Abstract ideas are harder to persuade people compared to arguments like util which have raw numbers and stats. Get the judge excited about your argument! I’ve rarely seen a judge critique a debater for being too passionate, but I have seen judges critique debaters for being monotone. Pretentiousness is part of the problem – K debaters think they sound smart by reciting a bunch of jargon, but it comes at the expense of selling the argument.
Yes, it may take a few more seconds to explain an argument well than spending a short amount of time explaining it poorly. But it’s worth it. It’s like when kids spread too fast to be flowed. You aren’t making any more arguments, you’re just talking more.
On face this sounds like an additional burden for K debaters to bear. The benefits of doing extra work will pay off in the long run. Better debate simply wins more rounds. The time you invest into Kritiks will reflect in your bid count eventually. Additionally, sounding intelligent is necessary to making K debate accessible to younger debaters. We as a community would benefit from reducing the heavy jargon and elitism that clouds kritikal arguments. More students will be likely to try Kritiks if they are less pretentious. Hopefully students will cease to debate poorly if they were introduced to Ks in simple terms as well. By reducing the level of superfluous terminology K debate we as a community can foster a new generation of coherent K hacks.
There’s this perception that K debaters don’t need to slow down and explain because if the judge doesn’t understand it, then that’s their fault. I mean, who wouldn’t understand basic Nietzsche am I right? Let’s stop voting for the debater who merely sounds knowledgeable and punish this type of bad K debate for what it is… just bad debate. If we do that, we improve K debate in the long run by forcing debaters to become more knowledgeable and better explainers. Another way to get that effect is…
#2 Read More
Ks, by their nature, are tricky to understand. By design they challenge mainstream modes of thinking about a problem. Unsurprisingly, Ks are the type of argument I get the most questions about. Most of the time I answer with a direct response and by prompting the student to read more about their area of inquiry. How many students actually do that? Like approximately 0.
Working hard, especially on Ks, is time consuming, exhausting, and there are simpler positions that bad judges are willing to vote for. Convincing a kid to read an entire book just for one argument is a tough sell. Generally, the most a few students will do is read a couple of scholarly articles and summaries. While this isn’t inherently bad, it is disappointing, and it makes for some bad debates. It probably contributes to the issue with pretentiousness too since poorly informed people can be overly confident in themselves. The obvious solution is for students to read more and make time for debate. This is easier said than done considering the complexities of daily life. Kids must hold down a job, be social, do well in school, spend time with family, AND research all the other arguments on a topic. In short, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The bottom line is that students must invest large amounts of time into reading literature, and here are a few ways to mitigate that burden.
If you don’t have much time, try to narrow down what you want to read. Focused research is key. Read one or two books on one type of K instead of reading 10 crappy articles on 10 different types of Ks. This should be less daunting because it doesn’t require you to spread out your time across many fields. Reading about one idea and fully developing your own thoughts is better because it prepares you to defend and explain your argument as I showed in #1. This isn’t to say you should focus on solely one K for the rest of your life. You’d lose out on a lot of debate’s educational value that way.
However, just like how debaters read one main aff, I think it’s strategic to read one main K. Good examples of Ks for this purpose include the anthropocentrism, capitalism, and identity Ks. These have tons of online writers and professors who write about obscure topics that can be cut for links. They are versatile and can be linked to big impacts that turn common frameworks. For example, anthro turns lots of normative philosophies and can be linked to extinction. The big drawback is a lot of these positions are known quantities. People have a block in their backfiles for all of them. Luckily, most of the time those blocks are bad, so if you research well, you will come out on top. Speaking of backfiles…
#3 Cut Out the Generics
Generics are awesome for dealing with new positions, addressing unfair affs, and sometimes catching people off guard. By the third tournament in the topic, however, it’s time to find some better evidence! You can take one of the Ks above and turn it into something specific, but you must do the work. Here’s how:
Get rid of your terrible link evidence from Day 1 of the topic. Most links I see don’t even mention the aff plan in them. Evidence should include the nuances of the aff and take into consideration different assumptions the aff makes. Some readers may be saying “no duh,” but I’ll continue to complain until debaters start to find real case specific evidence. I see debaters with specific disad evidence, specific CP competition evidence, and even specific definitions of every word in the resolution. So why is it so hard to do the same for link evidence? Refer to the above paragraphs about why reading is hard. Generics need to be pulled back a bit if we hope to improve K debate.
Prepping for every single aff in the circuit is certainly intimidating, but the task is not as rigorous as you’d think. I looked in my Jan/Feb dropbox from the Guns topic and found 39 unique affs that my team had prepped out. There were plenty of cases that fit into these rough categories: plans that banned one gun, hypermasculinity, race, util, and moral philosophy. These five categories narrow the amount of affs you need to think about. If you find even one good link card for each category, your Cap K becomes so much better than the generic “gun control = capitalism” link.
You can even go a step further! Once you’ve identified these categories, streamlining your research and can probably find links for each of the affs, even if there are 39 of them. I was quite slow at this and averaged about 4 links an hour, but that meant I could get a specific link card for every aff in under ten hours. That is an hour a day for a week and a half. The difference between that and my usual life is sacrificing one hour of memes. That’s a sacrifice I can make for good K debate.
If you are still having trouble, then maybe the issue is the K you’re running. Some debaters like to read very edgy Ks. I’m looking at all the Rhizome lovers out there. High theory or low theory Ks are great in the right situation, but they often don’t have the same deep lit base that the basics do, which makes it harder to find specific arguments about each aff. Instead, versatile Ks, like the cap K, are sometimes the best to run not because of their quality or nuance, but because of their flexibility.
#4 Your Alternative Makes No Sense
“The Alternative is to embrace the non-human rhizome in anti-classist pessimist anarchistic methodologies with an unflinching and uncompromising analysis of gender and sexuality…conditionally.”
This is honest Luis time. I have no idea what some common alternatives are. I’ve read about them, I’ve listened to podcasts, and I’ve agonized over what they mean. I still don’t know jack about what it means to do half of the things kids be spitting in their rounds. I expect an explanation in cross-ex or during the rebuttals, but most of the time I come out more confused than when I went in.
Look, a lot of these are theories developed after decades of research. A 13-minute window is barely enough to cover these topics at all, so I get it. I have some sympathy, but the level of nonsense in rounds is still too much!
What I expect from an alternative is often defined by the debater themselves. If they read anti-blackness, then I don’t expect a concrete political methodology from them. If they read the cap K then I’m not overly concerned about how the alt will mitigate racism in debate spaces. Those alternatives don’t have to appeal to those issues to secure a victory. If the debater can make distinct decisions about what their alternative is and show it to me then I will vote on it. Students absolutely need to explain what the alternative is (method, critical lens, analysis), what the alternative does (politics, burn something down), who/what does it, and how it is done. This is not a comprehensive list of what all alternatives are, but it’s a good checklist for debaters trying to write better 2NR extensions and answer cross-ex questions intelligently.
Cross-ex is a great opportunity to explain these aspects of the alt, but too often it ends up being a showcase of the K debater’s ability to skirt around an issue. We all have seen debaters answer questions about dismodernism, the rhizome, or becoming and still have no idea what they are talking about. This needs to stop. The K debater is either dodging questions or doesn’t know what they are talking about. Either way they need to be rewarded with low speaks (we’re talking 27 range). Kids don’t get the message if you only give them a 28.9. The aim of using speaks, ballots, or whatever punishment you wish is to make the debaters actually engage in what they’re talking about. I hate voting for things I don’t understand, but debaters force me into these situations. Following the checklist above is a good start for how to fix this.
#5 Adapt To Me or Get Off My Lawn
Every judge has arguments they hate. For some it’s reasonability and for others it’s the politics disad. For me it’s theory, normative philosophy, and high theory. So why do kids keep reading them in front of me? Here I am, an obvious identity K hack and for some reason competitors don’t change their strategy. Instead, I hear A Prioris, Theory, Kant, and Nietzsche.
Some debaters try to fix this by reading a K because they hear I like them. That’s not how it works unfortunately. I actually hate tons of different kritikal arguments and have no problem voting them down. Util > Heidegger all day. Students assume all Ks are the same. This mistake can be fixed with attention to detail and …drum roll…: judge adaption.
Judge adaptation goes beyond just reading a K in front of a K hack. I love race, gender, and sexuality Ks for example. I also know the most about those and I’m more likely to make a smart decision about them. I keep reading more to become well-versed in other types of arguments but there is only so much light in a single day. Nonetheless, debaters still read biopower, Nietzsche, or debate-gods-forbid Lacan in front of me. Pay attention to your judges. What did they run in high school? What did they run in college? What do they like reading in their free time? What do they study in school? What do they coach their students to win? All of these can provide some better clues to what your judges like to hear.
Part of the problem is that debaters think judges need to bend to their will and listen to whatever a debater throws at them. A good judge, however, is not one who agrees with you on every single issue. A good judge is one who is consistent in their views and predictable. I don’t care if somebody will vote for CO2 ag over warming impacts every time. Is this judge smart? No, but they had a paradigm and stick to it. Silly judges are better than inconsistent ones because at least debaters can adapt.
Okay, so maybe I’ve complained a bit too much. I know I’m guilty of perpetuating some of these problems myself; Shout out the ‘Rights Talk’ K! While everyone makes mistakes you can learn from my extensive studies of K debates and help the next generation do it better. I hope students will take what they learned here and seriously apply it. As the glory days of theory and philosophy are extinguished, K debate can rise from the ashes!