The Lexwerks

On Appreciation

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” –Jesus, Matthew 13:57

A while back, I was judging high schoolers debating over modern threats to the United States. And one of the girls brought up the economic risk of another nation — like China — being able to dump a whole lot of our debt on the open market while we’re trying to borrow more money from the open market (which could result in a freeze of government transactions and subsequent currency failure). I was keen on that line of argumentation so later that day I mentioned to the student that a threat of debt-dumping was used by the United States to force the UK out of the Suez Crisis, ergo her argument had historical precedent. She did not thank me for this information. Instead, she thought about what I told her and then — with the particular petulance practiced by teenage girls — asked, “Why can’t you be my debate partner?”

A different girl, a different debate: she managed to drag her opponents off of their case and into the evolutionary potential of sharks and cows. My commentary on the ballot extended this line of analysis into the amusingly absurd — for science! — while noting that it was a cunning distraction from her more-relevant attacks on the dubious claims of her opponents. It was light and fun — especially for a bunch of novices — and I left it at that. But after she got the ballot, her friends said they had to restrain her from enthusiastically hugging me as hugging judges is probably bad form. Still, her initial response was to be unabashedly grateful for the validation of her analytical skills.

The second girl was a rare display of actual gratitude: I made her feel good about her capabilities in a general way such that she was quite glad that I’d been there listening for the duration of the debate despite having no clue as to who I was or how I’d gotten there. But the first girl was actually appreciative of the advice: when she thought about what I told her, she realized the value of what I said, and how it worked with the ideas she already had, and her unusual verbal response distinctly indicated that she’d ingrained the idea into her thinking on the subject. This is the difference between gratitude and appreciation: gratitude is thankfulness from a position of ignorance, appreciation is thankfulness due to understanding.

It is easy to toss off insincere gratitude: kids these days are quite practiced at saying “thank you for [whatever]” in a tone that implies “person who, as a morally free agent, can presumably do whatever you want, ergo your behavior is merely indicative of your autonomy and does not create an obligation on my part.” (This is presumably still an advance for politeness over my generation when, given the latter partial-truth, we skipped the former entirely.) But when a person starts feeling actual gratitude, they should also feel a bit uncomfortable with the ignorance involved. It is the fine difference between the polite “This is great coffee” and drinking it, and “This is great coffee — where did you get it?” to relieve the ignorance of mere gratitude and move into a fuller appreciation of the situation. Conversely, the lack of follow-up shows a lack of appreciation.

This isn’t to say that gratitude is bad. Sometimes I just want to seem totally magical, and evoking the “I don’t know how” aspect of gratitude in other people makes me feel magical. Sometimes there’s no way for something to be fully appreciated, so we just let it go and enjoy what appears to be magic. Gratitude for specialization is a necessary aspect of capitalism: we should be thankful for what other people have cultivated competence in that is offered to us as a service.

But I’m usually more interested in appreciation. I want what I have to offer to be picked up by people who can turn it into something more valuable. This is another part of specialization within capitalism: by focusing on my core work, I leave room for other people to have their core work, too. Tim O’Reilly has a very simple mantra: create more value than you capture. Appreciation is when people take the value you explicitly left for them and make something of it for themselves.

With this in mind it is entirely possible to have people that are eternally grateful to you, but also fail to appreciate you. And the problem isn’t a lack of gratitude for your work, but a lack of change: they accept what is offered, but ignorantly refuse to capitalize on it. And while it would be vaingloriously naive to expect full and consistent appreciation, accepting chronic gratitude from people who should instead be realizing their aspirations by your efforts is Sisyphean self-abuse. It would almost be better to serve people who stupidly don’t understand in the ongoing hope that maybe they’ll suddenly Get It and be able to appreciate the work being done because gratitude is a trap: it externalizes and compartmentalizes the service offered to preclude further consideration.

When people get used to being grateful for what you do, they’re less likely to ever appreciate what you’re offering them.

CX: Miscalculating Risk

Here’s a paired response you can hold on to for when an opponent claims that the infinite magnitude of a wildly improbable extinction risk means that it must be acted on:

Our opponents have claimed that the magnitude of an extinction risk is infinite and therefore we should take action to avoid it no matter how unlikely it is to happen. We’ve got two responses: first, mathematical abuse of the concept of infinite leads to absurdity and second that extinction risks aren’t even infinite.

First, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Douglas Adams demonstrates how the notion of “infinite” breaks mathematical logic:

The Universe — some information to help you live in it:
1. AREA: Infinite
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word “Infinite.”
Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real “wow, that’s big,” time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we’re trying to get across here.

2: IMPORTS: None.
It is impossible to import things into an infinite area, there being no outside to import things in from.

3: EXPORTS: None.
See Imports.

It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this is follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

So, according to Adams, since nobody — inclusive of our opponents — are statistically real we don’t have to try to save them. Or, for a more simple analytic, our opponents’ abuse of the notion of “infinite risk” makes all risks — plausible and otherwise — functionally equivalent and if they can’t solve for every way you can think of to die — like “rampaging herd of zombie wombats” — then they’ve got no actual solvency and should lose, RFD: rampaging herd of zombie wombats.

But secondly, extinction really isn’t all that bad. Earth has gone through several mass extinctions. Wikipedia summarizes (ref 3/23/2014):

In a landmark paper published in 1982, Jack Sepkoski and David M. Raup identified five mass extinctions. They were originally identified as outliers to a general trend of decreasing extinction rates during the Phanerozoic,[4] but as more stringent statistical tests have been applied to the accumulating data, the “Big Five” cannot be so clearly defined, but rather appear to represent the largest (or some of the largest) of a relatively smooth continuum of extinction events.[4]

  1. Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (End Cretaceous, K-T extinction, or K-Pg extinction): 66 Ma at the Cretaceous.Maastrichtian-Paleogene.Danian transition interval.[5] The K–T event is now officially called the Cretaceous–Paleogene (or K–Pg) extinction event in place of Cretaceous-Tertiary. About 17% of all families, 50% of all genera[6] and 75% of all species became extinct.[7] In the seas it reduced the percentage of sessile animals to about 33%. The majority of non-avian dinosaurs became extinct during that time.[8] The boundary event was severe with a significant amount of variability in the rate of extinction between and among different clades. Mammals and birds emerged as dominant land vertebrates in the age of new life.
  2. Triassic–Jurassic extinction event (End Triassic): 200 Ma at the Triassic-Jurassic transition. About 23% of all families, 48% of all genera (20% of marine families and 55% of marine genera) and 70% to 75% of all species went extinct.[6] Most non-dinosaurian archosaurs, most therapsids, and most of the large amphibians were eliminated, leaving dinosaurs with little terrestrial competition. Non-dinosaurian archosaurs continued to dominate aquatic environments, while non-archosaurian diapsids continued to dominate marine environments. The Temnospondyl lineage of large amphibians also survived until the Cretaceous in Australia (e.g., Koolasuchus).
  3. Permian–Triassic extinction event (End Permian): 251 Ma at the Permian-Triassic transition. Earth’s largest extinction killed 57% of all families, 83% of all genera and 90% to 96% of all species.[6] (53% of marine families, 84% of marine genera, about 96% of all marine species and an estimated 70% of land species, including insects.[9] The evidence of plants is less clear, but new taxa became dominant after the extinction.[10] The “Great Dying” had enormous evolutionary significance: on land, it ended the primacy of mammal-like reptiles. The recovery of vertebrates took 30 million years,[11] but the vacant niches created the opportunity for archosaurs to become ascendant. In the seas, the percentage of animals that were sessile dropped from 67% to 50%. The whole late Permian was a difficult time for at least marine life, even before the “Great Dying”.
  4. Late Devonian extinction: 375–360 Ma near the Devonian-Carboniferous transition. At the end of the Frasnian Age in the later part(s) of the Devonian Period, a prolonged series of extinctions eliminated about 19% of all families, 50% of all genera[6] and 70% of all species.[citation needed] This extinction event lasted perhaps as long as 20 M[illion years]a, and there is evidence for a series of extinction pulses within this period.
  5. Ordovician–Silurian extinction event (End Ordovician or O-S): 450–440 Ma at the Ordovician-Silurian transition. Two events occurred that killed off 27% of all families, 57% of all genera and 60% to 70% of all species.[6] Together they are ranked by many scientists as the second largest of the five major extinctions in Earth’s history in terms of percentage of genera that went extinct.

Despite the popularization of these five events, there is no fine line separating them from other extinction events; indeed, using different methods of calculating an extinction’s impact can lead to other events featuring in the top five.[12]

None of these extinction events actually killed everything and all of them together helped make it possible for us to be here today. Point is that extinction is hardly the infinite risk they’ve hyperbolized it to so don’t trust their self-serving ability to assess risk or make a cost-benefit analysis, and even if extinction were just that bad the variety of ways to die that they can’t solve for means that there’s not a logical reason to vote for them.

Cut card here.

At this point, you may want to run a Politics of Fear critique on your opponents’ rhetoric claiming that their irrational hyperbolic fear-mongering makes them bad people whose policy suggestions should always be considered doubtful. Hold their infinite claim, indict them on it, refuse to trust any different evidence that they offer. Extend it with something like “Our opponents have clearly demonstrated that they can’t even cherry-pick good evidence to make their point so why should we trust any of the evidence they present? Dismiss the remainder of their position with prejudice and we can be done here” if you think your judge is tired and annoyed enough to want to be done with the round, doubly so if you’ve given them an independent voter for your side.

If your opponents beg and plead on 1% chance of solvency, then run a counterplan of sending them to a Gambler’s Anonymous 12-step program because if solvency is unlikely then they need to come back with a better plan, not foolishly squander time and resources on a plan they admit is unlikely to work. (Note: this applies to chance of solvency, not partial solvency. I’m a big fan of partial solvency if it’s honestly admitted, which is usually isn’t, because a great many teenagers prefer melodrama to nuance — and that’s really the root cause on why I’m writing this, isn’t it?)

Please note that the one thing you can’t do here is say the word “infinite” in any other context, like “infinite prep time” on a block of idiotic stock topicality cards that end with “fairness and education” that you shouldn’t be reading anyway. Doing so is a double turn on the absurdity indict and will either get it or you dropped, and rightly so: if you can’t bother to think about what you’re saying, then what makes you think the judge should bother thinking about it either?

Additionally, please be aware that the universe is not simply infinite; scientists estimate that there are up to 1082 particles in it from which all stars and planets and whatnot gets constructed. The purpose of the Adams (1980) card is to prove that math concepts can be abused, not actually prove anything about the universe, thus even if your opponents can disprove the astrophysics of it, the math is still technically as plausible as anything they might claim.

CX: The Judges Hear

One of the crucial disconnects between policy debaters and the ability to win a ballot is how much time they spend staring at the copy of the case they’re presented with and how much prep they did for it beforehand. See, the judge doesn’t usually do that: we’re going to listen to a case as it is presented, and then listen to how it is opposed, and only rarely call for evidence because the big picture for the judge is trying to quickly return a reasonable decision to tab on the possibility that the tournament might run on time.

Error #1: Answering a card that didn’t get read. For example, neg knows that judge hates terminal impacts and thus has a variety of “terminal impacts make us dumb” critiques lined up and ready to go. But the aff also knows that the judge hates terminal impacts and thus their point short with people being unhappy instead of going all the way to dead. The judge, listening to the case, hears that people are unhappy. The neg team, reading the case, reads that people are unhappy and then dead. The neg team then stands up and responds to the terminal impacts which sounds incoherent to the judge. That’s several minutes of time totally wasted and probably a loss of speaker points to go with it. The obvious advice here is that somebody on the neg team should be listening more and reading less.

Additionally, I don’t know if this is allowed or not — it would certainly be cruel to the readers — but the aff might stuff a bunch of random unlinked and unread cards in their case to skew the split between what the judge hears and what the neg is insisting on reading. (It’s kind of like what the CIA did to their oversight committee…)

See, one of the odd habits that we’ve gotten into is full presentation of evidence. It used to be that evidence was provided on-request when the opposing team wanted to confirm or deny what they thought they heard in it, in the same way judges can call for evidence at the end of the round. The optional nature of this exchange is why the act of transferring evidence (via flash drive anymore) comes out of prep time: if, historically, your papers weren’t ordered enough to hand over evidence instantly on demand, then you suffered for it — hence the habit of just laying down the copy of the case as it was read, which then evolved into the habitual file transfer without realizing that it wasn’t absolutely obligatory.

Error #1.5: Reading a full block of cards because it’s there despite other things patch-worked into your position. For example, if you’re reading a critique about how speculative modeling to produce evidence is inhumane and destroys empathy, you probably shouldn’t also read a solvency attack talking about how hard it is to implement the plan because of the profusion and confusion of the very human people that you suddenly don’t want to empathize with. If you’re not doing the work of figuring out exactly what you want your judge to believe, if you’re not actually listening to your arguments all the way through, if you can’t tailor your position to match itself (never mind the proclivities of the judge), then on what crumbling ground is the judge supposed to side with you? Point is that you’re better off cutting a point short than actively contradicting one of your stronger arguments.

Error #2: Not challenging a sourcing gap. This comes up a lot with plans that call on existing political action or political trade-off disadvantages: one team will cite some document or policy, make a lot of claims about it, but then not have a copy of it to show that their links to advantages are even remotely valid — usually they’re just PR hype ridiculously amplified by Red Bulled teenagers.

For example, there was a plan a while back to, roughly, “Improve relations with China and do what they suggested in some document.” The assumption was that “what they suggested in some document” bore the stock issue of topicality… but the affirmative didn’t actually have a copy of that document, so how could the negatively reasonably cross-examine it to find the downsides, or if it even really affirmed the resolution? After all, if China wanted us to go stick a fish in our ear, there could be disadvantages to that, and if that’s all they wanted then the plan wouldn’t have even affirmed the resolution. (In that case, the negative meekly accepted the non-evidenced claim that the affirmative was topical, ran a weak disadvantage that granted topicality, and lost.)

Error #2.5: Taking responsibility for a sourcing gap. This one is rare, but I saw it just the other day: one team had cards cut down for reading coherency, which can be just fine. Their opponents said “we know those cards and their cuts are mis-representative,” which is a pretty serious accusation. So I call for the cards at the end of the round: the cut card from the one side and the whole card as the opposition claimed to know it. Except neither team actually had the whole card… so I couldn’t possibly agree with the claim that the card was wrongly cut, and thus not agree with the opponents. After all, even if one side had a badly cut card backing up a claim, the other side had no card backing up their counter-claim.

The alternative approach: if you find yourself up against mis-cut evidence that you can’t provide the original copy of, cross-examine like this: “This card appears to be substantially abridged. Can you provide us the original full text so we can make sure that it says what you’re claiming it said?” If your opponent does have the full card, then — tah-dah — you have the full card and can try to hit them with it. If your opponent doesn’t have the full card, then call it in your next speech: “Our opponents can’t provide the full text of this evidence which is a dereliction of their responsibility to evidence-based argumentation, and without it their abridgment of it is really nothing more than an unsubstantiated analytic and you should prefer our more-complete opposed evidence.” Do not put yourself in a position where you’re taking responsibility for evidence you can’t lay your hands on.

Error #3: Over-prepping on an author. For example, if your opponent cites evidence from a paper but then neglects to reach the same conclusions as the author of the paper, it may not be in your best interest to directly attack them for not wholly agreeing with their author. Academics often trade too heavily on the brand-value of their name and reputation rather than actually having a clue as to what they’re talking about. Chomsky, Fromm, Adshade, Kurzweil, Miller — they tend to be speculation-heavy in their writing and far outside any realm of personally demonstrated expertise. To this end, a reasonable degree of separation from the author is healthy and necessary to promote independent analytical thought.

That said, you can still attack the author and possibly the evidence.

First, to attack the author, you need to have a clear example of the author being a total lunatic while still on-topic. For example, if you’ve got a card from the author that appears to finalize their thinking on the subject at hand with “tear down civilization and kill all celiacs,” that’s a pretty strong indict against their author’s immediate trustworthiness and it shows where that kind of thinking leads. But second, and more-valuably, if your card is the direct same-article/book conclusion of your opponent’s card then you go on to observe: “even if our opponents are legitimately drawing a different conclusion than their batshit crazy author did, we need to consider that the batshit crazy author presented the evidence to make their case for batshit craziness in the same way as our opponents are trying to turn it for their point. We should be very skeptical of this evidence because of how it was originally used and demand corroboration from a source that doesn’t want to tear down civilization and kill all celiacs.”

Now, I previously mentioned that you have to keep the author on-topic. There’s a reason for this, and it’s because if a judge has seen you in the same policy-debating context a couple of times, they’ll remember the intellectually inept and batshit crazy ways you’ve lost their ballots in the past and hold it against you in the same way you’re pulling random garbage against authors instead of sticking on topic. For example, I recently saw a debate where one of the students had previously claimed to have proven that aliens will kill us with gravity guns while the other side had previously claimed that wishing upon a star was functionally a legitimate policy position for purposes of debate — both sides have improved since those particular debates, but the point is that going totally Open Season on authors makes you as competitors vulnerable as well (especially if you’re trying to indict one of the author’s favorite judges that they actually know far more about than you do).

Error #3.5: Failing to explain how a card-kill alters the flow of the debate. It only takes an additional few seconds, but be sure to point out to the judge all of the points on the flow that depended on evidence that you’ve hopefully eliminated: “This severs their link-story on the first advantage right in the middle of it, and they also reference this same article in their third advantage — so that’s two advantages that they can’t really claim anymore.” When we put it that way, you can see that your attack on evidence was a defensive move that merely negates a chunk of their offense. Like a critique, you should always follow it up with an attack to give the judge an independent reason to vote for you and not just against the other team.* But this also ensures that the judge’s flow — which, while authoritative, is not necessarily accurate at all — will reflect the impact of the loss of that card/author on the debate.

* The easiest way to get this reason is simply cost of plan: “They want to blow $X million on a plan that they’re misrepresenting the advantages of; that’s going to be a waste of money and lead to public blowback — we’re better off skipping it and doing nothing.”

CX: Breaking Baudrillard

I have previously recommended use of a hyperreality critique as a useful way to break down a barrage of horribly fabricated bullshit. Given how much of high school and suburban teenage life lends itself to being horribly fabricated bullshit, I can understand why a hyperreality K is popular among teenagers. And, to be fair, a judge may want to vote for that K simply so they can disregard horribly fabricated bullshit that other teenagers have introduced into the round — like “Nuke war will break out when the economy collapses because we don’t repeal a 15-year-old law that scoffs at trademarks on Cuban rum.” But even given that there’s a problem with the hyperreality critique that goes back to its source.

First issue: what is and is wrong with hyperreality? As far as I can tell on just a quick reading, when given something to treat as a fact — like the fiated plan in a policy debate round — the multiple speculative chains of events (models) that might flow from that fact and are also regarded as fact (but strangely weightless — like multiple extinction scenarios in a debate round) form a hyperreality where everything is predicted such that nothing is not foreseen and thus ostensibly controlled and yet almost none of it is ever true and the prevalence of noise over signal drowns out any meaning in what is true as well as the possibility of any emergent value in reality. Or, to simplify, when everything is thought of in advance then reality becomes deterministic with the future being a mere fact that neutralizes the value of the now with the loss of meaningful choice.

I think Baudrillard is what might happen if Nietzsche, Hegel, and Rousseau were mashed into the same brain and forced too watch too much television.

Second issue: why is it bad to use in debate? Because Baudrillard says that all of America is consumed by hyperreality, and this was 30 years ago before the Internet was popular. This actually gives the affirmative two responses: 1) No Alt (obviously) but also 2) the duration and comprehensiveness of hyperreality makes the policy debate exercise actually more-real in that it’s likely engaging in the same hyperreality as “actual” policymakers do. The unreality is introduced when a dead French nihilist is called upon to grumble meaninglessly (emergent meaning is eradicated within the hyperreality) about the whole process. And that means that 2a) the K should be disregarded as meaningless and weightless or — if the K is novel and surprising — 2b) then it’s proof that the claims of hyperreality are overblown and thus the K is non-credible.

Here’s Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation claiming that all of America is already hyperreal, so there’s no alt possible:

Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America that is Disneyland (a bit like prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and the order of simulation… The imaginary of Disneyland is neither true nor false, it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real in the opposite camp. Whence the debility of this imaginary, its infantile degeneration. This world wants to be childish in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world, and to conceal the fact that true childishness is everywhere — that it is that of the adults themselves who come here to act the child in order to foster illusions as to their real childishness.

Or we can explain what Baudrillard is whining about like this:

But Baudrillard goes on to say

I am a nihilist… I observe, I accept, I assume, I analyze the second revolution, that of the twentieth century, that of postmodernity, which is the immense process of the destruction of meaning, equal to the earlier destruction of appearances. He who strikes with meaning is killed by meaning… The dialectic stage, the critical stage is empty. There is no more stage. There is no therapy of meaning or therapy through meaning: therapy itself is part of the generalized process of indifferentiation… The stage of analysis has become uncertain, aleatory: theories float (in fact, nihilism is impossible, because it is still a desperate but determined theory, an imaginary of the end, a weltanschauung of catastrophe).

Yes, Baudrillard just double-turned himself and should be voted out of the round right there, but let’s go a bit further…

Analysis is itself perhaps the decisive element of the immense process of the freezing over of meaning. The surplus of meaning that theories bring, their competition at the level of meaning is completely secondary in relation to their coalition in the glacial and four-tiered operation of dissection and transparency. One must be conscious that, no matter how the analysis proceeds, it proceeds toward the freezing over of meaning, it assists in the precession of simulacra and of indifferent forms. The desert grows.

I recoil from the gross irresponsibility that this anti-analytical stance maintains. H Richard Niebuhr advocates for ongoing analysis within reality as a precondition of goodness and rightness in his book The Responsible Self:

[W]e may say that purposiveness seeks to answer the question: “What shall I do?” by raising as the previous question: “What is my goal, ideal, or telos?” Deontology tries to answer the moral query by asking, first of all: “What is the law and what is the first law of my life?” Responsibility, however, proceeds in every moment of decision and choice to inquire: “What is going on?” If we use value terms then the differences among the three approaches may be indicated by the terms the good, the right, and the fitting; for teleology is concerned always with the highest good to which it subordinates the right; consistent deontology is concerned with the right, no matter what may happen to our goods; but for the ethics of responsibility the fitting action, the one that fits into a total interaction as response and as anticipation of further response, is alone conducive to the good and alone is right.

But we don’t have to be good or right; the way meaning is killed in hyperreality is by it being anticipated and neutralized by preclusive structures of discipline — and this goes back to the line of discipline Foucault was looking at in Discipline and Punish, where a commander exerted some capriciousness over soldiers or workers until the actions of the soldiers or workers were functionally an extension of the commander’s will. Extensive analysis within hyperreality allows the order of the commander to change from “you will do this” to “I don’t care what you do so long as it’s this” to “I don’t care what you do because I’ve ensured that you can’t do anything I don’t want you to.” That’s how modern power has evolved and also how your iPad works and also why the judge should disregard the hyperreality K on the grounds that you prepped for it since the anticipation kills the meaning according to the K.

But not according to Camus who — in The Rebel – observes the myth of Prometheus, shackled and punished for all eternity as he calls out “No misfortune can fall upon me that I have not myself already foreseen.” The Promethean myth affirms the value of foresight to secure the intended meaning of an action even when, especially when an act of sacrifice is required. It is only when your intent is precluded by somebody else’s superior analysis and control that its meaning is lost. Perversely, this is exactly what I love to see in a debate round and why a hyperreality K should be ultimately quite good for whoever it gets used against.

On a tangent, going back to Baudrillard and Foucault and how wrong Baudrillard was, Baudrillard claimed that the Panopticon lost its power with the arrival of reality TV. Only he was wrong because he was staring at the wrong model: the mere viewers of televisions have no power to pass meaningful judgment over what they saw on television (as doctors do over patients or wardens over prisoners). No, the power was in the hands of the producers who, through the disciplined response of their audience, had the power to put the shows out there and judge the reaction of their audience; the movie Network should have shown Baudrillard that. His error is obvious: power doesn’t flow from the many against the few — that’s mere force, usually chaotic. Power is focused and directed, always flowing from the few (those that command) to the many (those that obey).


Previously I mentioned that Baudrilliard sounded kind of like Nietzsche, but what would Niezsche say about that? Well, in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explains that

there may even be puritanical fanatics of conscience, who prefer to put their last trust in a sure nothing, rather than in an uncertain something. But that is Nihilism, and the sign of a despairing, mortally wearied soul, notwithstanding the courageous bearing such a virtue may display. It seems, however, to be otherwise with stronger and livelier thinkers who are still eager for life.

And in Thus Spake Zarathrustra he goes on to say

To many men life is a failure; a poison-worm gnaweth at their heart. Then let them see to it that their dying is all the more a success.

But there’s a chapter in Thus Spake Zarathrustra that may better show the connection between Baudrillard and Nietzsche, so I’m going to include almost the whole thing here. It ends with one of the greatest things Nietzsche ever wrote.

Thus slowly wandering through many peoples and diverse cities, did Zarathustra return by round-about roads to his mountains and his cave. And behold, thereby came he unawares also to the gate of the GREAT CITY. Here, however, a foaming fool, with extended hands, sprang forward to him and stood in his way. It was the same fool whom the people called “the ape of Zarathustra:” for he had learned from him something of the expression and modulation of language, and perhaps liked also to borrow from the store of his wisdom. And the fool talked thus to Zarathustra:

“O Zarathustra, here is the great city: here hast thou nothing to seek and everything to lose. Why wouldst thou wade through this mire? Have pity upon thy foot! Spit rather on the gate of the city, and—turn back! Here is the hell for anchorites’ thoughts: here are great thoughts seethed alive and boiled small. Here do all great sentiments decay: here may only rattle-boned sensations rattle! … Seest thou not the souls hanging like limp dirty rags?—And they make newspapers also out of these rags! Hearest thou not how spirit hath here become a verbal game? Loathsome verbal swill doth it vomit forth!—And they make newspapers also out of this verbal swill. They hound one another, and know not whither! They inflame one another, and know not why! They tinkle with their pinchbeck, they jingle with their gold. They are cold, and seek warmth from distilled waters: they are inflamed, and seek coolness from frozen spirits; they are all sick and sore through public opinion. … But the moon still revolveth around all that is earthly: so revolveth also the prince around what is earthliest of all—that, however, is the gold of the shopman. The God of the Hosts of war is not the God of the golden bar; the prince proposeth, but the shopman—disposeth! By all that is luminous and strong and good in thee, O Zarathustra! Spit on this city of shopmen and return back! Here floweth all blood putridly and tepidly and frothily through all veins: spit on the great city, which is the great slum where all the scum frotheth together! … Spit on the great city and turn back!”

Here, however, did Zarathustra interrupt the foaming fool, and shut his mouth.

“Stop this at once!” called out Zarathustra, “long have your speech and species disgusted me! Why did you live so long by the swamp, turning into a toad? Aren’t your own veins flowing with tainted, frothy swamp-blood when you have learned to croak and revile like this? Why didn’t you go into the forest? Or why didn’t you till the ground? Is the sea not full of green islands? I despise thy contempt; and when you warned me — why didn’t you warn yourself? … your foolish prattle injures ME, even when you are right! And even if Zarathustra’s word WERE a hundred times justified, you would ever—DO wrong with my word!” Thus spake Zarathustra.

Then did he look on the great city and sighed, and was long silent. At last he spake thus:

“I loathe also this great city, and not only this fool. Here and there— there is nothing to better, nothing to worsen. Woe to this great city!—And I would that I already saw the pillar of fire in which it will be consumed! For such pillars of fire must precede the great noontide. But this hath its time and its own fate.— This precept, however, give I unto thee, in parting, thou fool: Where one can no longer love, there should one—PASS BY!

Thus spake Zarathustra, and passed by the fool and the great city.

But to sum up the answers to a hyperreality K: If we take it seriously, there’s no alt to it so it can’t weigh for either side unless we’re unprepared for it in which case it’s unexpected and thus shown to be false by its novelty or we are prepared for it and risk nothing by conceding its factual status thus depriving it of meaning with either of those scenarios turning it, as a rhetorical artifact, back on the other team and while all advantages and disadvantages in the round may be weightless, our opponents are cognitively dragged down by the K they now wear around their neck; ergo vote for us since only our reasoning can still stand up straight.

CX: An Embargo on Stupidity

So the most common plan of the year for CX debate is lifting the Cuban embargo. In Oregon, this is even the #1 novice case area. This means that if the negative runs Topicality on it for any reason, but especially claiming “predictability,” they should lose for being stupid. And this is kind of sad because there are so many other more creative ways to lose… also by being stupid.*

Please note that this post is based on an open division semi-final round; these kids are plenty bright for their age. I don’t like having to use that qualifier and thus they get this post dedicated to their semi-final round in the hopes that I’ll be able to simply describe them as “plenty bright” in the near future.

The typical embargo-dropping affirmative case runs like this:

The Castro regime is wily and has used nationalistic resistance to the embargo to prop itself up, but if we drop the embargo they’ll totally want to trade with us not realizing that the economic prosperity will open their people’s liberal and democratic eyes and result in regime change.

Negative should cross examine thusly:

  1. If the Castro regime is using the embargo to prop itself up, then won’t they be annoyed if we drop the embargo?
  2. If the Castro regime is wily enough to use the embargo to prop itself up, then what makes you think they’ll not be wily enough to stay in power after it’s gone?
  3. Between the published evidence you’re reading and the actual legislative process of dropping the embargo, what make you think that the Castro regime won’t realize that you’re trying to undermine them?
  4. Given our ongoing trade relationship with China and China’s ongoing relationship with its people, what makes you think that trade will lead to regime change?

And then the 1NC should go like this: Our opponents are grossly underestimating the mental capacity of the Castro regime as their own harms evidence shows and even if they weren’t their link chain to solvency is still massively speculative and actively contradicted by reality — specifically China, as mentioned in cross-examination. Thus, being unable to solve the problem they’ve identified with the policy they’ve proposed, you should vote against their policy proposal.

And then the 1NC should sit down instead of filling the flow with things that can be used against them.

What happens instead is the 1NC reads something like this:

First, the US trade with Cuba will obliterate Vietnamese rice sales to Cuba and leads to [insert hand waving] nuke war. Second, Cuba won’t trade with the US because that would annoy Venezuela which would be unnecessarily dumb.

And the affirmative should cross examine like this:

  1. Let’s walk through that rice disadvantage again. The US is selling rice to Cuba, which displaces Vietnamese rice and what are the bad impacts for Vietnam?
  2. And why can’t Vietnam sell the spare rice to China or the Philippines?
  3. And why can’t Vietnam grow a different set of crops instead of rice? Like coffee, given that they’re the world’s top supplier of robusta beans?
  4. And the rice that we’re not currently selling to Cuba but would start selling to Cuba… why aren’t we seeing the bad impacts predicted for Vietnam here in the US?

And then the 2AC should run the math on the rice impact to the Vietnamese economy (it’s tiny) and point out that global trade solves by allowing for the rice to move into other markets, and if Vietnam wants to mitigate the economic impact of ever-so-slightly cheaper rice — and, oh, it won’t be — then they can switch crops to something more in-demand. But what is absolutely critical to note (and it wasn’t noted in the round I was watching) is that the rice disadvantage, now having no actual downside, grants that Cuba will be trading with the US more. And this nixes the “they won’t trade with us because Venezuela” disadvantage and also any “they won’t trade with us because they see that we’re trying to undermine them” analysis, and even if the neg team claims that that’s not what they meant, it is what they said and if you can’t trust them to say what they mean about Vietnamese rice then you shouldn’t trust the rest of what they’re saying either. But as far as we’re concerned, the US will be selling rice to Cuba by our opponents admission and this is clearly an advantage for US rice farmers, such that regardless of whether or not the Castro regime crumbles in the face of a free market, we’ve still got a domestic advantage for affirming this policy.

So with the overly-simplistic case that the affirmative started with, the negative should win easily. Except that if the negative grants too much as a matter of course, then the affirmative should win. And it is common for negative disadvantages to grant too much speculative ground to the affirmative. Unfortunately, it’s almost as common for the affirmative to not notice the gifts they’ve been given, probably because of the mushroom-cloud motif on the wrapping paper. So, 2AC, take your prep time to look at the generic disadvantages that were stupidly run against you and figure out what they assume to be true about your case and turn those assumed truths against your opponent.

Additionally, the affirmative could punch up their case from the get-go by looking at our legal code, noting that it’s a pile and a mess, and calling an advantage on reducing the code such that there are fewer laws to worry about complying with (and thus more freedom). This is relevant because it’s a non-speculative link-story: we have too many laws, so we’re going to delete some laws. There is no “hey buddy, if I give you $5 will you start a revolution so I can feel better about your human rights?” speculative solvency involved — “we’re going to delete some laws” is exactly what the plan does and while the solvency isn’t worth much, the part where it does exactly what it says it’s going to do is rock-solid — and that’s how you actually win instead of merely not-lose.

* Why yes, I have been reading Nietzsche who is notorious for describing a great many things as stupid and everything as needing to be surpassed again, how ever could you tell?

Sexless Ed

The resolution single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools is absurd on-face — it semantically relies on the false gender binary to avoid the frighteningly ambivalent word “sex” that notoriously swings both ways: noun and verb. But if the wording of the topic is (flatly) wrong, what is it supposed to be about?


Al Jazeera provides the context for this debate:

Single-sex education in public schools came about with the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education in 2006 rolled back a portion of Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in public education and guarantees equal federal funding for boys and girls across all education-related activities, in order to allow single-sex public schools and classrooms. … However, enrollment in single-sex education must be entirely voluntary, and school districts need to prove that there’s a compelling educational reason for creating a single-sex classroom or school.

And the National Education Association confirms the inept conflation of sex and gender into a biological binary when they write: “Single-gender education and the often-spirited dialogue surrounding it have raised a number of issues concerning the best manner to educate boys and girls.”

So that’s the real core issue: If a unisex classroom can improve the quality of education, then a public school district can create one under No Child Left Behind. That’s both what and why we’re debating today.

Now, to be fair, Al Jazeera was providing context because…

In their study, which appeared Monday [Feb 3 2014] in Psychological Bulletin, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, the psychologists said that students who attended single-sex schools weren’t any better off than peers who attended coed programs in terms of self-esteem or performance in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

But we’re not going to argue for splitting out the math department. We’re going to argue for splitting out History and Literature, both of which have a core interest in dead white guys with alternate points of view being merely grafted on to the core curriculum and never being able to critically engage the patriarchal narrative that defined what the “RIGHT ANSWERS” were decades ago.

So, first, looking outside of STEM which is where we don’t see improvements… we can see improvements. In 2004, Mulholland, Hansen and Kaminski reported that

Students in Year 9 selected single-gender or coeducational classes in mathematics and English during the second half of a school year. Student scores in standardized tests and school-based assessment in these subjects were obtained before and after the establishment of the initiative. Results indicate no significant difference in mathematics achievement that can be attributed to gender or class composition. However, scores in school-based English improved for students in single-gender classes. Improvement for girls in single-gender classes was greater than that for boys in single-gender classes.

Again confusing gender with sex, but the point is that the ability to refine a curriculum based on a cultural narrative to a narrower demographic of students can-and-should increase the relevance of that curriculum to those students, thus improving the quality of the education by all normalized metrics.

And gaining control of that narrative is critical. As Jen Pozner writes in Reality Bites Back,

Representation in media is often key to our ability to feel valued and to believe that the world holds positive possibilities for people who look like us and share similar backgrounds and identities. Yet when a community’s main media presence consists of mockery, misrepresentation, or demonization, invisibility may be preferable.

And when we look at the typical Shakespeare on the curriculum featuring a suicidal Juliet, and a suicidal and insane Ophelia, and a psychotically evil and possibly suicidal Lady Macbeth, all of whose parts were originally played by boys, we can see how parts of the curriculum which are most immediately relevant to girls are also possibly sending bad messages to girls.

But this isn’t just a matter of being inclusive for the sake of inclusivity — our curriculum pays lip service to that already — or improving test scores. This is also about college preparedness. As Professor James Loewen explains in introducing Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, college history professors have to de-program the shallow patriarchal jingoism out of their students prior to any serious study of actual history. Similarly, of the over 600 women’s studies programs, generalized high school curriculum prepares exactly no students to meaningfully participate in any of them. By allowing for a possible increase in the demographic granularity of classrooms — as we already do by academic achievement — we grant our teachers greater opportunity to tailor the curriculum to match the collective educational aspirations of their students. And when working with a narrative-based curriculum, this can improve student engagement, and test scores, and sense of identity, and college preparedness.

And that’s the kind of classroom that school districts should be keenly interested in making available to students today. We’re not enforcing segregation. We’re certainly not enforcing segregation by gender. We’re sticking to the real-world opt-in policy of the United States and seeing how it can be applied for the advantage of our students. We’ve found a way, and because of this way you should vote affirmative.

Except you shouldn’t because single gender classrooms aren’t going to improve the quality of public education in the United States.


First, the resolution requires a regressive heteronormative patriarchal conflation of gender with sex into a false binary to make any sense whatsoever, with that regression coming about in 1993 thanks to — of all government departments — the FDA. More than a decade earlier, “most feminist writings had agreed on using gender only for socioculturally adapted traits.” See, even if we disregard the spectrum-nature of gender (as meant by anybody who’s actually taken a gender studies course) and limit ourselves to a mere half-dozen more-or-less distinguishable forms of gender, splitting public school classrooms based on gender — which can shift in an individual, especially one that is in the process of maturing from childhood to adulthood — would be an absurd process that would only sap time and resources away from all six classrooms. So our opponents are going to want to talk about the heteronormative patriarchal false gender binary as a basis of division, which they’ll claim will have educational advantages without noting a critical disadvantage of entrenching the lie of the heteronormative patriarchal false gender binary within codified public policy. When our schools lie to our students about who they are and who they can be, quality of education is diminished so the resolution is false not just because it’s built from bad semantics, but because even if we were to forgive those semantics for the purposes of this debate, the bad semantics would have a counterproductive impact in education as a matter of policy.

Second, latest evidence shows a lack of improvement even when we split classrooms on a false gender binary. Al Jazeera reports the findings:

The team of psychologists examined all available research on single-sex education published within the past seven years, which included 184 studies comprising 1.6 million students from kindergarten to 12th grade in 21 different countries, and found no evidence to support proponents’ claims. … In their study, which appeared Monday in Psychological Bulletin, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, the psychologists said that students who attended single-sex schools weren’t any better off than peers who attended coed programs in terms of self-esteem or performance in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

So no advantage in the currently trendy subject matter. But this isn’t really news:

The American Association of University Women published Separated by Sex: A Critical Look at Single-Sex Education for Girls (1998), which notes that single-sex education is not necessarily better than coeducation. According to the report, boys and girls thrive on a good education, regardless of whether the school is single-sex or coeducational. [... And ...] When elements of a good education are present—such as small classes and schools, equitable teaching practices, and focused academic curriculum—girls and boys succeed.

And that caveat — “when elements of a good education are present” — leads us to…

Third, this topic is an insult to the students and teachers that actually want to improve educational quality, because we know how to do it: more school days, not shutting down for 10 straight weeks, and actually controlling class sizes. Evidence from a wide variety of sources follows:

After several years of state and local budget cuts, thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, cramming classes into four-day weeks or lopping days off the school year, even though virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time. [New York Times]

Oregon students spend only about 165 days in class on average, three weeks less than the national norm. This is particularly unfair to lower-income students, who lose the most academic ground when school is out of session. It’s also unfair to teachers, who tend to lose wages when their employers balance the budget by chopping days from the calendar. [The Oregonian]

[H]aving [schools] shut down all summer critically undermines them. … The burden on parents is segmented by income, and the impact on children is as well. A 2011 RAND literature review concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling during a typical summer vacation, [ed: loss amount varies by subject and is usually more in math] with the impact disproportionately concentrated among low-income students. … the impact is cumulative. Poor kids tend to start school behind their middle-class peers, and then they fall further behind each and every summer, giving teachers and principals essentially no chance of closing the gap during the school year. [Slate]

There’s no doubt that some groups of boys—particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes—are in real trouble. But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender. Closing racial and economic gaps would help poor and minority boys more than closing gender gaps, and focusing on gender gaps may distract attention from the bigger problems facing these youngsters. [Education Sector]

A reanalysis of the Tennessee STAR experiment found that small classes (15-17 pupils) in kindergarten through third grade (K-3) provide short- and long-term benefits for students, teachers, and society at large….poor, minority, and male students reap extra benefits in terms of improved test outcomes, school engagement, and reduced grade retention and dropout rates. [Achilles, C. M., et al. (2012). Class-size Policy: The Star Experiment and Related Class-size Studies. NCPEA Policy Brief, 1.2.; Source Research]

[Dynarski, Hyman, & Schanzenbach] find that assignment to a small class increases the probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points, with effects more than twice as large among blacks. Among students enrolled in the poorest third of schools, the effect is 7.3 percentage points. Smaller classes increase the likelihood of earning a college degree by 1.6 percentage points and shift students towards high-earning fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business and economics. [National Bureau of Economic Research]

We know from common sense that laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, eliminating critical programs, shortening the school week or shortening the school year all mean that our students receive less attention and fewer chances to achieve in their education… substantial evidence exists that smaller class sizes – especially in the early years – produce better outcomes for students. Yet job losses for teachers from 2008 to 2010 erased a decade’s worth of improvements in the student-teacher ratio. [The White House]

But let’s bring this all home.

Portland, Oregon, [Feb 7 2014] teachers have voted nearly unanimously to strike. … After two decades of constant cuts, Portland teachers feel stretched to the breaking point. The districts has increased the caseloads of special educators, counselors, and school psychologists, and reduced the number of arts, physical education, library, and other specialist positions. … Class sizes have increased — elementary classrooms are often 30 students or more — and classroom teachers are asked to do more with less support. … Teachers hoped the district would use the contract negotiation process as an opportunity for dialogue and collaboration with teachers. Instead, the district refused to talk about any of these issues, including class size. … “What’s going on in Portland Public Schools (PPS) has shed light on a bigger problem: that for too long, education has been underfunded by design,” said teacher Adam Sanchez during debate before the vote. “It’s time to demand that the money flows into the classroom—not to corporations, not to testing and textbook companies, not to bureaucrats and high-priced consultants.” [Labor Notes, and here's monetary misdirection at work in Chicago]

So, to put it another way, this debate topic is just another mechanical rabbit for us to chase around the track while obvious issues like the diminishing length of the school year, the tangibly counterproductive nature of summer vacations, and uncontrolled class sizes are all undermining the quality of public education especially for the economically disadvantaged working poor in the United States. Any and every speculative claim of advantage our opponents make will be hamstrung by basic, systemic, a priori issues that school districts — as we see in Portland — are simply refusing to address. And as long as we’re debating this semantically bullshit and evidentially wrong topic, we’re not pressing on real ways to improve education.

Update: First, the good news — Portland public schools avoided a strike and added some school days (quantity unknown) back to the calendar.

Now let’s talk about what I’ve seen on this topic. There’s a common piece of evidence claiming that segregated classrooms leads to the de-gendering of subjects which is good for girls in STEM education. We’ve already got the evidence against that, but let’s look at what’s implicit in the claim: tech jobs are better jobs, and better jobs is the mark of public educational quality. This is absurd on-face: nobody becomes a rocket surgeon right out of high school, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s look at the jobs that your judges are visualizing you pursuing… and debunk them. As Jeff Hammerbacher, former research scientist for Facebook, explained: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” Alternative high-income careers for STEM education include shattering the planet to extract fossil fuels and shattering the economy to extract money. But let’s pause on that last one for a moment: The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports, in a story highlighting how America’s friendly vampire squid Goldman Sachs is recruiting engineering majors, that

Harvard Business Review [published a report] about why women are dropping out of some technical fields, “The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology.” [finding] that 52 percent of highly qualified females working for science, engineering and technology companies quit because of the pressures of working in a male-dominated environment… Among the factors driving women away, according to the study, are sexual harassment on the job; isolation and lack of mentors or female support in the workplace; and a lack of clear-cut career paths for women.

That’s nuts. And we don’t want to go critiquing capitalism here, but making exploitative private industries the purpose of public education seems wrong to us. Not everything is a total downer, though — back in 2007 (when pretty much all US public schools were co-educational), the Boston Globe reported that “79 percent of the seats at the nation’s 28 veterinary schools are occupied by females [and] the number of practicing women veterinarians nationwide is equal to the number of practicing males.” Women appear to have no problem engaging with the science courses on that career path.

I’m not sure it proves anything about the quality of education, though. So let’s step back and ask: why do we have public education? Paul Graham notes that “Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens,” but since you’re likely to have a teacher as a judge I don’t recommend you mention that. PBS answers with the following list:

  • To prepare children for citizenship
  • To cultivate a skilled workforce
  • To teach cultural literacy
  • To prepare students for college
  • To help students become critical thinkers
  • To help students compete in a global marketplace

Okay, so most students are already citizens and STEM doesn’t do that, likewise cultural literacy (meaning what, exactly — watching NASCAR in class?); Oxford research finds it likely that 47% of current jobs will be automated by the time today’s babies graduate from high school — just think of the truck drivers that will be displaced by self-driving cars to start; competing in the global marketplace is a ridiculous platitude used by people who should be Cap-K’d, but liberals simply redefine it as “prepared for college” — Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we’ve got 66% of high school graduates going on to college currently, but Reuters reports that we’ve got the worst college drop-out rate in the world at 56% (often due to the cost of it) — so it looks like our current definition of “prepared for college” is wrong and chances are that no currently existing evidence is prepared to redefine it to improve high school education. Finally, there’s helping students become critical thinkers… which is an amusing lie that has been papered over with the scan-tron sheets to show that students are either ready for the workforce or for college, epithetized in the hated phrase “teaching to the test.”

So when the claim that we can measure quality of education by test scores (because it’s easy) comes out, look at what goals those tests are supposed to support — skilled workforce and college prep — and realize that actually looking just a bit further down the chronological road, those test scores mean nothing at all: our skilled workforce will be superfluous and past college admission is no indication of future results. Higher test scores that might be produced by segregated classrooms won’t change the macro trends that are deforming our economy. (And segregated classrooms would seem likely to increase sexism in already-sexist economic enclaves, too.) Heck, in 1CX, I’d recommend that the negative pin the affirmative down on burden — “What metric are you using to define ‘quality of education’?” — and then have the 2NC spend up to a minute railing on how meaningless that metric is and how a quality education doesn’t get tied to that sort of thing.

Here to demonstrate this point for me is Nicole Sullivan, who is great and does web development (kind of like me) but also runs conferences (unlike me) and whose success has been mostly dumb luck (kind of like me) and Dance Dance Revolution (unlike me), talking about her education and career. The relevant part is from about 7:50-17:20.

So I’m well off-topic now, but off-topic is where all of the interesting stuff is anyway — and that is the most important thing you can learn and the one thing public schools can’t teach and also why the negative should always be able to win any debate.