Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why are we always looking for new frontiers? An Arendtian Kritik of Space

Claire McKinney

Inevitably, many, most, if not nearly all camps this year will write a security kritik and a Heidegger kritik, perhaps a capitalism kritik, and then leave it at that. These are tried and true literatures and unfortunately in coaching high school students on kritik, we rarely push the bounds for new literature to expand critical debates. In this post, I will suggest that perhaps there are other critical concerns that may be related to our well-tread kritiks, but open up different possibilities for kritik debate. I will argue that the work of Hannah Arendt may offer us a different standpoint from which to kritik the quest to explore space beyond the mesosphere. This post will not be filled with cards, but will discuss the general contours of the kritik and its strategic value.

Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition, seeks to answer the question, what is the nature of human society and how has it reacted to unprecedented change in the modern age? The book, published in 1958, begins with a meditation on the meaning of the launching of Sputnik into space. She writes, “The immediate reaction, expressed on the spur of the moment, was relief about the first ‘step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth.’” (1) Why do we have this desire to leave the earth? Arendt argues that it’s because of a deep desire to escape the human condition, which is the condition of plurality of human life, with its attendant uncertainty, spontaneity and uncontrollability. She speculates that,

It could be that we, who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking. If it should turn out that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we should indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is. (The Human Condition, 3)

So here, we have several debate-worthy claims: the desire to escape the earth, left unexamined, will lead us to a position where we accept the technological solution to all problems, unable to critically evaluate for ourselves whether they create the type of life that allows thought and human action, leading to our subservience to murderous technological thought. Arendt forces us to think about what it means to be human as opposed to a mere biological life process and argues that if we leave technology unexamined politically (not by politicians, mind you, but by individuals who constitute human society), we will no longer be able to live life as humans. The alternative? Well, in some regards, asking and answering the question, what is the Human Condition, through the process of kritik is the alternative because we could leave the means-end thinking that dominates the way the aff thinks about politics. This is a “thinking kritik,” not a representations kritik. The aff thought about the world incorrectly. We should think about it differently. Because the plan is not a part of this thinking, but rather, only its conclusion, the kritik may very well come to the same conclusion, but with radically different results (some call this a Floating PIC. I just call it an irrelevant question of the debate.)

Arendt has an extremely idiosyncratic use of concepts, but she is very clear in terms of setting out the priorities of human life, what human community is for, and the perils of science. This makes her both accessible, but tricky because her idiosyncrasies make her malleable in debate yet her prose is extremely clear (in distinction to Heidegger). Her own intellectual commitment to understand how Nazi Germany could have happened makes her easy to assimilate to current ways of understanding in debate, but the standard sorts of responses do not work against her because, ultimately, she does not reject anything in toto; she only believes that the political sphere has to exclude certain things, like means-end logic, in order to provide a space where freedom is actually possible. Plus, some people who are the favorites for impact calculus are interpreters of Arendt (George Kateb comes to mind as an author who has shown up recently in debate that provides arguments for valuing freedom above security). Plus, she actually wrote about space exploration. Beyond this preface, she wrote an essay called “The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man.” These are all reasons I find Arendt an intriguing author on this year’s topic and I’d implore debaters to consider branching out from both the oft-trodden kritiks of old and to consider who else may have something to say about this year’s topic. Plus, she was never a Nazi (here that, Schmitt and Heidegger?) If Arendt isn’t your cup of tea, that fine, but there is educational and strategic value to considering the work of different authors who are not easily assimilable into the already-known universe of kritik literature.

In order to do this, you need to learn your authors well. Just as the best debaters know everything about their aff (if you do not know the status of negotiations with the Taliban, current reports from Gates and Petraus on our troop successes and setbacks, and the political situation of Karzai, you probably will not sound nearly as good on your COIN aff than those who do), the best kritik debaters know a lot about their primary authors. The difference between running a kritik as a strategic option and being a kritik debater is the ability to speak knowledgably about how the author’s entire worldview works. Even though the majority of Arendt’s work is not about space, reading her major works will give you a leg up against any affirmative who just has their stock K answers without ever having read the author in question. If your season is over and you want to be one of those kritik debaters who other teams are scared of, use this time now to invest in a position and an author to a degree that will be impossible at camp. Think about how their arguments fit into debate and what standard aff claims they answer. Then, you will be at least two steps ahead of any affirmative team for a substantial part of the year. Continue reading, even if there are no cards to be cut. Knowledge is invaluable (see Max Hantel’s earlier post if you doubt me).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Red Mars; Or, Progressive Astropolitics

Ricky Garner

For those of us more critically inclined in our affirmations, the space topic proposes something of a dilemma. As Derrida has argued, “no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated on the earth” (card below). In a world of such suffering, what possible justification can there be for spending billions upon billions of dollars on programs that have effects on the lives of the very few, and the very privileged.

The premise of this criticism extends across many schools of thought. From an ecological perspective, the astropolitics not only fetishizes technological mastery over the natural world, it also reaffirms the model of infinite economic growth, but on a scale infinitely more vast. From a feminist perspective, the narratives of penetrating hostile environments and the predominantly masculine culture of space exploration. Progressives in the United States can point toward poorly funded social welfare programs, poor schools, and racially stratified economic inequality as good examples of the concrete tradeoffs against which space funding must be judges. Critics of militarism will note that the overarching institutional architecture and goals of U.S. space policy are tied into the goals of global hegemony. And last but not least, the qualms of a Marxist analyst might look similar to that of Derrida’s assessment above, noting that in a capitalist system, space policy will benefit capitalism. Obviously, the list could go on. Space is fertile ground for critique.

But against this critical astropolitics, we can see the outlines of some new and potentially innovative ways of thinking about space. To begin with, let us take up one of the central tenets of a new school of philosophy, Speculative Realism: “Such a massive scientific output—concentrated in such a relatively short time-span—has had an enormous cultural impact outside laboratories and observatories, largely thanks to the increased resources dedicated to public outreach from the scientists’ side. Whether because of their eagerness to share the revolutionary discoveries of their discipline, or for the more pragmatic realization that general public interest aids the acquisition of governmental and private funding; natural scientists have come to represent intellectuals in close contact with the public” (card below). In other words, today, the grip of scientific themes on the public imagination is immense, whereas for a great number of people “philosophy has become boring.”

Science is not going away, and neither is space. Space policy cannot be reduced to its criticisms, however valid they are, because the desire to explore and develop space intersects with the everyday lives of millions of people across the globe. It may be exploited and coopted, but the desire for space is there, as it has been for the last century.

The choice, then, is not between space or no space, but for the vision of the future which will guide space policy, a vision for the future that for good or for ill will be heavily influence by the actions of the United States of America. With that realization in mind, let us look at some areas in dire need of a progressive astropolitics.

First, Neoliberalism in space: One of the most important developments in recent space policy is the increasing privatization of the space program. As noted in Business Insider, “The Obama administration wants to outsource whole swaths of the space program to the private sector.” Capitalism sees a lot of dollars going to government space programs, and it wants some of that money. Just as privatization is increasingly stripping collective economic wealth accumulated in government institutions over the last century from the energy sector, welfare, the internet, and entitlements, the final frontier for capitalism is outer space. If space exploration and/or development is an inevitable part of our future, then an affirmative that rolls back this wave of privatization and calls for space to be treated as a commons would seem to be extremely productive critical ground.

Second, militarism in space: In today’s world, it’s not really a question of space militarization at all, it’s a question of weaponization. The Air Force’s stated purpose today is “fly, fight, and win … in air, space, and cyberspace” (cite below). Indeed, Simon Huntley has argued that “space is already militarized (defined here as employment of space-based capabilities for terrestrial military purposes, including use of force) but not yet weaponized (defined as the projection of destructive mass or energy forces from, into, or through space)” (card below). The entire information architecture of U.S. militarism is heavily dependent space, from observation satellites to flaying unmanned drones from half a world away, the military is already occupying the ultimate high ground. This presents an opportunity for numerous affs which rollback the tide of space militarization. In particular, one good affirmative in this area could ratify and implement a new treaty to prevent this. Some have advocated a PAROS Treaty, or a treaty for the “prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS)” (card below). Such an aff could not only tackle one of the core issues in the future of space policy, but could also access the critical literature on the necessity of treaties as vehicles of universal human rights and multilateral constraints on sovereignty.

Third, other areas: Energy policy in space is another controversial area. Karl Grossman argues that the Obama administration is “seeking to revive the use of nuclear power in space” (card below). The use of plutonium raises the specter of a horrifying space accident spreading radioactive debris across the earth. Another potential area, which this post discussed above, is critical science studies. Whether from the perspective of Speculative Realism, or maybe a Deleuzian argument about how science breaks down destratifies social structures and cultural schemas of the body, science could become the newest terrain of critique. Finally, aliens.

Karl Grossman, 2010, Investigative reporter, Huffington Post, June 25, 2010,

Despite its huge dangers, the Obama administration is seeking to revive the use of nuclear power in space. It wants the U.S. to produce the plutonium isotope that has been used for electric generation in space and is also looking to build nuclear-propelled rockets for missions to Mars... Plutonium-238 has been used to generate electricity on space probes and rovers and also satellites. But in 1964 a satellite with a plutonium-fueled generator, after failing to achieve orbit, fell to Earth, breaking up as it hit the atmosphere and dispersing 2.1 pounds of Pu-238 from its SNAP -- (for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) 9A system. A study by a group of European health and radiation protection agencies reported that "a worldwide soil sampling program in 1970 showed SNAP-9A debris present at all continents and at all latitudes." Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long linked that fall-out to an increase of lung cancer on Earth. The accident caused NASA to pioneer the use of solar panels on satellites.

United States Air Force, accessed 3/18/2011, “Air Force Mission,”

The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight and air, space and cyberspace. To achieve that mission, the Air Force has a vision: The United States Air Force will be a trusted and reliable joint partner with our sister services known for integrity in all of our activities, including supporting the joint mission first and foremost. We will provide compelling air, space, and cyber capabilities for use by the combatant commanders. We will excel as stewards of all Air Force resources in service to the American people, while providing precise and reliable Global Vigilance, Reach and Power for the nation. The Air Force has three core competencies: Developing Airmen, Technology-to-Warfighting and Integrating Operations. These core competencies make our six distinctive capabilities possible: Air and Space Superiority : With it, joint forces can dominate enemy operations in all dimensions -- land, sea, air and space. Global Attack: Because of technological advances, the Air Force can attack anywhere, anytime -- and do so quickly and with greater precision than ever before. Rapid Global Mobility: Being able to respond quickly and decisively anywhere we're needed is key to maintaining rapid global mobility. Precision Engagement: The essence lies in the ability to apply selective force against specific targets because the nature and variety of future contingencies demand both precise and reliable use of military power with minimal risk and collateral damage. Information Superiority: The ability of joint force commanders to keep pace with information and incorporate it into a campaign plan is crucial. Agile Combat Support: Deployment and sustainment are keys to successful operations and cannot be separated. Agile combat support applies to all forces, from those permanently based to contingency buildups to expeditionary forces. The Air Force bases these core competencies and distinctive capabilities on a shared commitment to three core values -- integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

Reaching Critical Will, No Date, accessed 3/18/2011, a project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom,

The United Nations General Assembly is consensus-building body, where issues of international peace and security are collectively discussed among all UN member states. Its regular session convenes in September of each year, and after two weeks of General Debate, it breaks up into six specialized committees. Every member state is entitled to participate in each of the committees, where they consider proposals relevant to the substantive topics covered by the committee, and recommend resolutions for adoption by the General Assembly. While these resolutions are not legally binding, they can be normative—that is, they can indicate the establishment of customs, standards, and guidelines for appropriate behavior. Resolutions adopted by consensus also indicate substantive areas of agreement that are ripe for negotiation and can enable the creation of new treaties and the emergence of international legal norms. Furthermore, they demonstrate global governmental opinion, showing which governments support peace and security, and which choose to remain outside of or even impede the development of international cooperative security. The General Assembly's work on disarmament is conducted through one of its main committees, the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. Each year in the First Committee and then again in the General Assembly as a whole, a resolution on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) is introduced and adopted by an overwhelming majority of UN member states. In fact, every country in the world votes in favor of negotiating a treaty on PAROS—except for the US, which has voted “NO” for the past three years, and Israel, which has abstained. The US administration argues that the existing multilateral arms control regime is sufficient, and that there is no need to address a non existent threat. As one US representative said in 2006, “there is no—repeat, no—problem in outer space for arms control to solve.” The PAROS resolution reaffirms the importance of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, saying that PAROS efforts are in conformity with that Treaty. However, the resolution also notes that the current outer space legal regime “does not in and of itself guarantee the prevention of an arms race in outer space.” The PAROS resolution calls for states, especially those with space capabilities, to refrain from actions contrary to the objective of PAROS and to “contribute actively” to that objective. It argues for consolidation and reinforcement of the outer space legal regime, and says the Conference on Disarmament (see below) is the place for a new treaty on PAROS to be negotiated.A PAROS treaty would complement the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which aims to preserve space for peaceful uses, if it prevented the use of space weapons and the development of space-weapon technology and technology related to so-called “missile defense.” A PAROS treaty would also prevent any nation from gaining a further military advantage in outer space and would hopefully reduce current military uses of outer space. In recent years, the UN General Assembly has started to move beyond merely calling on the Conference on Disarmament to commence negotiations on PAROS, to recommending measures on transparency and confidence-building in outer space. Many states have called on space-capable states to guarantee transparency in their outer space activities and to engage in confidence-building measures. In 2005, 2006, and 2007, Russia has introduced a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities. As with the PAROS resolution, the overwhelming majority of member states vote in favour of this resolution, with only the US objecting and Israel abstaining.

Nicholas Carlson, 2009, Business Insider, Aug. 24, 2009, 12:01 PM, Obama Wants To Privatize Space Travel,

The Obama administration wants to outsource whole swaths of the space program to the private sector, the Wall Street Journal reports. Mostly, these private firms would be tasked with transporting cargo and astronauts into space. NASA would stick around, but proponents of the plan see it turning into a "conduit" for tech developed outside the federal government. WSJ: Contract winners would use corporate funds to build and test rockets, provide compatible space capsules and then try to recoup those investments by offering commercial-style transportation services to the agency. Essentially, NASA would be paying a set fee for every pound or person transported to orbit. This is great news for a group of mostly West Coast-based space travel startups founded by already-rich enterprenuers like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and John Carmack. The Journal singles out PayPal and Tesla cofounder Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp -- known as SpaceX -- as a startup that stands to benefit from the shift in policy. But there are plenty of other private-sector firms set to take advantage of the new policy, including Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Wade L. Huntley, 2007, Simons Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research, Univeristy of British Columbia, “Smaller State Perspectives on the Future of Space Governance,” Astropolitics 5.3, 237-271

Introduction The twenty-first century will see the human presence in space develop into an integral aspect of social and economic life. Today, military, commercial, exploratory, and even recreational space presence is advancing rapidly. Yet, the pace and direction of future development are highly uncertain. The security dimension of space is a focal issue for this future. By many accounts, space is already militarized (defined here as employment of space-based capabilities for terrestrial military purposes, including use of force) but not yet weaponized (defined as the projection of destructive mass or energy forces from, into, or through space).1 Technologically-specific definitions of "space weapons" are highly contested, and the difference in practice between "aggressive" and "peaceful" uses of space is hazy. But maintaining these conceptual distinctions is vital for analytical purposes.2 The factors that will shape the future evolution of the military security dimension of space are complex and opaque. Ongoing technological developments are creating genuine national security implications that are making today's international regimes dealing with space increasingly inadequate to cope with emerging challenges. The United States (U.S.) is increasingly reliant on space-based military assets, making threats to those assets a serious U.S. national security concern. Yet many of these capabilities support arms control verification and deterrence stability, promoting peace on Earth as well as in space. The vulnerability of these capabilities is therefore a global security concern as well.

Jacques Derrida, 1994, director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Specters of Marx, p. 84-85

Let us return now to the immediate vicinity of the subject of our conference. My subtitle, "the New International," refers to a profound transformation, projected over a long term, of international law, of its concepts, and its field of intervention. Just as the concept of human rights has slowly been determined over the course of centuries through many socio-political upheavals (whether it be a matter of the right to work or economic rights, of the rights of women and children, and so forth), likewise international law should extend and diversify its field to include, if at least it is to be consistent with the idea of democracy and of human rights it proclaims, the worldwide economic and social field, beyond the sovereignty of States and of the phantom-States we mentioned a moment ago. Despite appearances, what we are saying here is not simply anti-statist: in given and limited conditions, the super-State, which might be an international institution, may always be able to limit the appropriations and the violence of certain private socio-economic forces. But without necessarily subscribing to the whole Marxist discourse (which, moreover, is complex, evolving, heterogeneous) on the State and its appropriation by a dominant class, on the distinction between State power and State apparatus, on the end of the political, on "the end of politics," or on the withering away of the State, and, on the other hand, without suspecting the juridical idea in itself, one may still find inspiration in the Marxist "spirit" to criticize the presumed autonomy of the juridical and to denounce endlessly the de facto take-over of international authorities by powerful Nation-States, by concentrations of techno-scientific capital, symbolic capital, and financial capital, of State capital and private capital. A "new international" is being sought through these crises of international law ; it already denounces the limits of a discourse on human rights that will remain inadequate, sometimes hypocritical, and in any case formalistic and inconsistent with itself as long as the law of the market, the "foreign debt," the inequality of techno-scientific, military, and economic development maintain an effective inequality as monstrous as that which prevails today, to a greater extent than ever in the history of humanity. For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the "end of ideologies" and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated on the earth. (And provisionally, but with regret, we must leave aside here the nevertheless indissociable question of what is becoming of so-called "animal" life, the life and existence of "animals" in this history-This-question-has always been a serious one, but it will become massively unavoidable.

Fabio Gironi, 2010, AHRC funded PhD student in the department of Study of Religions in SOAS, University of London, “Science-Laden Theory: Outlines of an Unsettled Alliance,” Speculations volume 1,

The Copernican Revolution, in Colour The most obvious place to look, when seeking a condition7 for this new philosophy, is to direct our attention to the developments of the natural sciences in the last forty years, both in terms of their dramatic internal growth (the elaboration of successful new theories or promising new research projects) and external public engagement (the increased interest amongst broader society in the results of science). My contention is that these two elements, by shaping the last decades of western intellectual history, have indirectly contributed to the re-emergence of realism as a philosophical trope. Within speculative realism, a science-friendly attitude is explicitly associated with the rejection of a certain kind of (post-critical, human-centred, phenomenological—in a word—correlationist) philosophy: see for example Ray Brassier’s demand that science be taken seriously, since [t]aking as a given the empirical fact that all philosophical attempts to define conditions of possibility for scientific thought have proved to be dismally unsuccessful, we conclude that these failures are a matter of principle rather than empirical circumstance, and that it is the presumption that philosophy is in a position to provide a transcendental footing for science which must be abandoned. There is no first philosophy. Consequently, although relatively autonomous vis a vis science, philosophical ontology can neither ground nor disregard the ultimately physical description of the universe provided by the natural sciences.8 Or, take Graham Harman’s claims about the dullness of philosophical literature, as opposed to the speculative range of scientific texts: pick up a random book of recent physics and you will find dazzling speculation on all manner of things: the creation and destruction of the universe, the existence of parallel worlds, chance and necessity, hidden spatial dimensions, time travel, and two-dimensional holograms that delude us into believing in three….We have reached a point where I, a passionate reader of philosophy, prefer any section in bookstores except philosophy…[P]hilosophy has become boring.9 And, of course, the entire argument against correlationist thought in Meillassoux’s After Finitude is another such example, which hinges upon a precise dating of ‘ancestral phenomena’ such as the origin of the universe, something which has only been possible through (relatively recent) scientific techniques. So, rather than a contemporary philosophy flat-lined by the phenomenological climate, it was science that made it meaningful to disagree about what there might have been when we did not exist, and what there might be when we no longer exist—just as it is science that provides us with the means to rationally favour one hypothesis over another concerning the nature of the world without us.10 The authority of contemporary science is fuelled by its achievements. The extraordinary experimental success of the Standard Model of particle physics and of the description of quantum mechanical interactions between those particles, the observational data confirming the Big Bang theory and the age of the universe, as well as the discovery of its accelerating expansion (not to mention more speculative hypotheses/research programs such as those linked to the Multiverse and String Theory), are momentous results that have been achieved in less than half a century. Such a massive scientific output11—concentrated in such a relatively short time-span—has had an enormous cultural impact outside laboratories and observatories, largely thanks to the increased resources dedicated to public outreach from the scientists’ side. Whether because of their eagerness to share the revolutionary discoveries of their discipline, or for the more pragmatic realization that general public interest aids the acquisition of governmental and private funding; natural scientists have come to represent intellectuals in close contact with the public. Following this increase in public engagement with science in the last decades we have witnessed pieces of scientific equipment raise, possibly for the first time,12 to the status of cultural icons and sources for entertainment and awe. A solid example of this is the Hubble Space Telescope (hst), whose huge impact on physical astronomy since the early 1990s is matched by its impact on the ‘general public’, providing us with an unprecedented peek into the far universe via a dazzling series of images of distant galaxies and nebulae making their way onto the front covers of hundreds of magazines. Pictures of these astronomical objects, immensely far in both space and in time, have offered us a whole new understanding and visual grasp of the term ‘things in themselves’.13 By opening up a space beyond ‘the moon, the outer planets, and the icy Oort Cloud with its stagnant mist of dim future comets’ the Space Telescope14 has allowed us to probe deeper into the fabric of the universe while at the same time imposing upon us the humbling acknowledgement of our myopia, since ‘beyond the gaze of these instruments are sites more distant than these, some of them grimmer than the plains of Hell’.15 So strong has the cultural impact of the hst been, that the 20th anniversary of its commissioning (24th of April 2010) has been celebrated with full-page articles in several major newspapers around the globe, commemorating its ‘birthday’ with a selection of its most iconic images accompanied by words of praise for this overworked piece of technology. And the hst is only the most iconic of an army of such instruments: we have enjoyed the sunset on Mars thanks to the images from the Mars Exploration Rover, we have peered at the distant Earth through the rings of Saturn when receiving the images from the Cassini probe and we have observed the aeons-old first light of the universe thanks to the wmap satellite. Moreover, it is thanks to the discoveries granted by the data received from less iconic but equally successful probes, that our vocabulary has extended to include terms like ‘expanding universe’, ‘black hole’, ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’ and ‘exoplanets’, concepts that soon proved fertile new metaphors for philosophers—and speculative realists.16 It is well known how speculative realists call for a return to the true meaning of the Copernican Revolution, against the Kantian hijacking of this term. If, according to Meillassoux it is due to ‘a sense of desolation and abandonment which modern science instils in humanity’s conception of itself and of the cosmos’17 that we are forced to face the contingency of thought and therefore to rethink the priority of human access, it appears that no cultural force has managed to present more powerfully to humankind as a whole the disconcerting vastness of the ‘great outdoors’ than the last forty years of physical sciences, particularly astronomy. To substantiate this claim, I would like to take a brief historical excursus. In his Earthrise, historian Robert Poole explains how the famous Earthrise picture taken in 1968 by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission (showing the planet rising from the lunar horizon), and its even more popular ‘Blue Marble’ successor, taken in 1972 by the astronauts of the Apollo 17 (showing the planet in its full spherical appearance) were appropriated and diffused in popular culture by the dominant ideologies of the time. In a complex network linking such different forces as the technical constraints of the Apollo missions, cold-war era political interests, the amazement of the first astronauts seeing the planet from above, and the lsd-fuelled rise of 1970s hippie counterculture, the first images of planet Earth ended up as bearing an unprecedented meaning. In particular, Poole argues that [t]he famous Apollo 17 ‘Blue Marble’ photograph appeared in December 1972, just in time to supply the environmental movement with its most powerful icon. It was, however, the Apollo 8 image of December 1968 that had started it all off. Both images owed much of their instant power to the way they tapped into a ready-made agenda: in the case of the ‘Blue Marble’ it was the eco-renaissance; in the case of Earthrise it was ‘Spaceship Earth’. What happened over the years in between was that natural metaphors for the planet began to take over from technological ones.18 Hence ‘Blue marble’, according to Poole ‘the single most reproduced image in human history’,19 was fruitfully assimilated by contemporary culture, and at the same time produced a feedback effect, fuelling the amazement for a living planet, and shaping a holistic attitude which subsequently appropriated the ‘Gaia’ hypothesis as a scientific proof of the life-cycles of the global organism that Earth was. The picture from outer space, even if showing the fragile beauty of Earth, effectively increased the intrinsic value of the planet, so that the focus of the environmental movement (and of the emergent New Age spirituality) which adopted the photograph as a graphic reminder of the wonders of our planet, ‘was not “wilderness” or “nature” but “the environment”, with humankind very much in the picture’,20 a humankind now seen as never before as the lucky inhabitants and custodians of a natural marvel, strikingly alive in an empty, dark, and colourless space. Let us try to compare the ‘Blue Marble’ picture, and its effect on the cultural unconscious, with another, more recent picture of our planet. On the 14th February 1990, the Voyager probe, having completed, the main part of its mission in its first 13 years of interplanetary flight, was instructed to turn its camera around, and to take a picture of Earth from a distance of approximately 6 billion kilometres. The alive, dynamic planet that in the early 70s was shown in its blue marble glory was now, in the famous words of Carl Sagan (the man responsible for convincing nasa to take the picture and for its successive popularization),21 a ‘pale blue dot’, a handful of pixels on a background of black nothingness. The Earth, which thirty years earlier had been a glorious ‘Blue Marble’ was now shown as a ‘pale blue dot’. If this picture did not directly slide so glamorously into the popular media and in popular culture it is not only because of its inferior intrinsic aesthetic value, but also because of the radically different social climate of the early 90s. And yet, I believe that we can fruitfully look at the ‘pale blue dot’ picture as having as strong a cultural significance as its predecessor. Indeed, where to find a better, more powerful representation of the true meaning of the Copernican Revolution—as we are reminded by Meillassoux—than in this ‘pale blue dot’ picture, sent as a faint electromagnetic signal by an unmanned probe, from a distance where no human had ever, or has since, reached? If humanity could previously be seen as the privileged custodian of a sacred cosmic gem, it was now merely dwelling on a infinitesimal speck of dust, a planet whose awe-inspiring face was now irresolvable, irrelevant, disfigured. If the coloured face of the planet dominated the ‘Blue Marble’ picture, it is the featureless cosmic space which dominates this second picture, a space where the Earth, and the environment it hosts, is but a mere point floating across an arbitrary set of coordinates.22 Science delivered the photographic evidence of the—at best—provincial placement of our planet, a graphic memento that there is much more to the universe than our ‘world’ (both in the sense of a correlationally defined existential space and in the sense of our material planet), a picture that indeed in its coarse immediacy strikes a powerful blow to the ‘pathetic twinge of human self-esteem’.23 The philosophical trope of ‘otherness’ itself was now to be revised: from the otherness of a human neighbour to that of a nonhuman, utterly alien,24 external reality. Eight years after the ‘pale blue dot’ picture, physical cosmology delivered some even more stunning results: the empty, cosmic space, through which our planet, our solar system and our whole galaxy is wandering, is not only expanding but accelerating in its expansion.25 The discovery of this increasing rate of expansion effectively sanctioned the fate of the universe to be one of cold dissipation, and thus created the possibility for a passage like the following to appear in a philosophy book not merely as a thought experiment, but as a factual truth to be philosophically appraised and exploited: sooner or later both life and mind will have to reckon with the disintegration of the ultimate horizon, when, roughly one trillion, trillion, trillion (101728) years from now, the accelerating expansion of the universe will have disintegrated the fabric of matter itself, terminating the possibility of embodiment. Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter. All free matter, whether on planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life based in protons and chemistry, and erasing every vestige of sentience—irrespective of its physical basis. Finally, in a state cosmologists call ‘asymptopia’, the stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of elementary particles. Atoms themselves will cease to exist. Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the currently inexplicable force called ‘dark energy’, which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable blackness.26 If, to quote this important passage once again, contemporary philosophical thought needs to engage with ‘the sense of desolation and abandonment which modern science instils in humanity’s conception of itself and of the cosmos’,27 it is because of such scientific narrations of the fate of our universe, holding today such a powerful social and cognitive authority and offering us a ‘speculative opportunity’.28 By exposing the cosmic irrelevance of humankind and its dwelling place and by denouncing the contingency of its existence as subordinate to random cosmic caprices, science has set the scene for the development of a new metaphysical revolution consisting in a new ‘blow to human narcissism, where man is dethroned from his position of centrality in the order of being and situated in his proper place as one being among others, no more or less important than these others’.29

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Perfomative Contradictions in policy debate: the limit(lessness) of negative conditionality.


Nicholas Fiori – March 2011

I feel comfortable in speculating that the most popular Kritik on the military presence topic has been some iteration of the Security K. Something along the lines of, the drive to securitize/stabilize/control various predicted threat scenarios is a mode of biopolitical control/technological thought/enlightenment rationality that should be rejected in favor of a multifaceted epistemology of the international system, or interrogation of our ontology etc. These type of Kritiks almost invariably argue that the drive to war, or political violence, is driven by the ontology/methodology of security and securitization and that these scenarios of risk, their discursive utterance, produces regimes of truth that make the playing out of those scenarios highly likely. These arguments, presented in the 1NC, often times have alternative texts that advocate the absolute, or at least in the instance of the 1AC rejection of the criticized, logic/discourse. Moreover, this kritik cannot argue that it is the plan action that it disagrees with since most authors writing critically of American foreign policy would advocate a reduction in overseas military presence. Rather, teams that read the security K must argue that it is the representations/methodology/ontology of the affirmative that should be rejected.

Yet, despite this vehement rejection of securitization, on the next flow I often find myself jotting down the outline of some form of the deterrence disadvantage. The disad will argue that only the preservation of the US military deterrent force in the region can prevent some hostile threats to national security from mustering the will to start and all-out war. So in one breath, the negative argues that all forms of securitization should be rejected and then engages in first-rate securitization of their own. The negative is committing the same rhetorical sins of the affirmative and they know it. This is the problem of the performative contradiction, an argument not new to debate by any stretch of the imagination, but one, I think, conditionality theory debate will know that allowing the negative to argue contradictory positions puts the affirmative in the position of making answers to one argument that are links to the other, contradictory, position. When the negative decides that they no longer want to advocate the terrible six party talks counterplan, they can use all the arguments about why international dialogue fails and only changes in military positioning can solve North Korean conflict as realism links to the security K. Moreover, the negative gets the block, which means while the 2ac may have only been able to allocate 2-3 minutes to answer the K, the negative gets 13 minutes to respond.

And certainly there exists a pre-disposition against performative contradictions in debate; only by mistake do negatives read a hegemony good disad and a hegemony bad disad in the same 1NC. But this type of contradiction is less problematic because any reasonably experienced 2AC could exploit the contradiction to their advantage by conceding some arguments and turning others. But with advocacies, by this I mean arguments that would produce a change over the status quo (counterplans, alternatives), it’s more tricky, and when those advocacies exists on conceptually different levels like a counterplan and Kritik, the contradiction seems to take on actual and not just debate practice problems. If it is true, as the negative’s had argued, that it wasn’t the effects of the plan that were the problem, but the rhetoric of the 1AC, then why is it that the negative is allowed to make such utterances but the affirmative cannot? I speak only from my personal experience, but it seems to me that there is a general default among debate judges that this position is perfectly defensible. Why is it so incredibly rare for the aff to be able to win on the argument that the negative links to their own Kritik when, on face, it seems largely unfair?

I don’t think there is any certain way for us to determine exactly where this pre-disposition arose from, but I think that it probably has to do with the general acceptance of negative conditionality (by this I mean having more than one counterplan in the 1NC and advocating just one in the 2NR) that has become predominant over the last decade or so. You can disagree with my timeline for when multiple conditional advocacies gained prominence, and certainly they had their heyday in the 80s as well, but it is hard to deny that the latest resurgence in conditionality combined with the mainstreaming of the Kritik has produced the curious situation of permitting contradictions. Of course, debate did away with the idea of aff conditionality (multiple plans, plan amendments, etc) long ago, largely, even if not explicitly, as a way to counter perceived affirmative side bias. Negative conditionality was another attempt at such balancing, as was the advent of list topics in college and the military presence topic in high school. On a side note, this topic has become highly (at least perceptually) negative biased; I rarely see teams flip affirmative in elimination rounds anymore. And interestingly, what before the season seemed to be a huge topic, has been so narrowed down, that there are hardly more than 6 affirmatives that a nationally competitive team as to prepare for (absent critical affs). This is, of course, the tangible result of how we as a community usually votes in topicality debates throughout the season. From this historical perspective, the acceptability of performative contradictions could be explained as a way of correcting for affirmative side bias, a drive evidenced in a number of contemporary debate norms.

It is possible to argue that performative contradictions are unfair and are a reason to vote affirmative. It is not entirely obvious that the sides need to be more balanced. I think it is relatively easy to make the case that allowing contradictions gives the negative too much ground. And considering the move toward the negative on other practices I mentioned, sides maybe need to be re-balanced back toward the affirmative. More importantly, the theoretical considerations of these contradictions seem to defy the most basic tenant of the kritik: that what is said and how it is said matters as much or more than the tangible outcome of a policy. If it is true that the utterance of the reality of security threats produces them as real in our conscious, shouldn’t the negative also have produced some security truths as well? Particularly when the kritik argues for a representations as opposed to ontological or methodological framework, it is fairly persuasive argue that the contradiction is unfair. I think this stems from a pre-deposition as a critic to see the effect of each side’s utterances as equally reasons to reject. The reality, however, is that this argument is hard to win, except for with some particular critics. This is an unfortunate fact I feel, considering the ‘truth’ of the problem with this contradiction at the philosophical level the affirmative should be able to win more of these debates. The first step to changing this norm is to go for this argument more often and spend more time thinking of arguments you want to make.

I will continue this discussion of negative conditionality with advice on how to both go for performative contradictions bad and how to answer this argument soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Space Ecology I: What do hippies know about space travel?

Photo of the earth taken on the Apollo 8 Mission


Kirk Evans - University of Texas

Part 1.

“Maybe it is no accident that the first Earth Day so closely followed the first Moon landing… . We are already engaged in deep space exploration that frames not just the Earth as a single whole, but the entire solar system, or even larger wholes. Profound challenges to established ways of thinking—now including environmentalism itself—arise once again, as we begin to recognize ourselves not merely as Earthlings but as ‘Solarians,’ or maybe ‘plain cosmic citizens.’ For one thing, the vast horizons of space offer a sort of express trip beyond anthropocentrism—not so easy a voyage to get off, either physically or conceptually… We are also reminded that Earth’s ‘environment’ is not a closed system. It may turn out that we are only a local corner of a cosmic ecosystem. How would our systems of Earth-centered ethics, themselves only recently and so very laboriously won, look then? If, on the other hand, life is rare in the universe, maybe it is our very own task to spread it to the stars. Could we even imagine genetically engineered living forms, trees maybe, inhabited by myriads of still others, pushed by the vast “solar sails” already being tested—giant wooden sailing ships again going forth to unknown adventure? How will environmental philosophy, or its successors, rise to this challenge?”-Anthony Weston, The Incompleat Eco-Philosopher p. 20

The word “ecology” can be traced back to the Greek word for “home,” and it is thus unsurprising that most ecological thinking to date has focused on our home—the Earth. As far as we know, space seems ecologically barren… vast space-scapes empty of the thriving biological systems that tend to attract the attention of ecologists.

Furthermore, a strong anti-technological streak runs through much ecological thought. which is unsurprising given the vast damage wrought by technological modernity. By contrast, interest in space travel tends to correlate with a sort of techno-utopianism… a vision of humankind achieving prosperity and perhaps even immortality by journeying to the stars.

And yet it is not difficult to extrapolate some of the concerns driving Earth-bound ecological thought to the issue of space travel. The topic mandates space exploration and/or development. While preservation of more-than-human life motivates much work in current ecology, others are equally concerned with the “abiotic”—non-biological existence. For example, activists in West Virginia oppose forms of mining that blow off the tops of mountains. Even those not drawn to ecology might feel a paign of regret if the Grand Canyon were to be filled with trash. Might we have similar concerns about asteroid strip mining? What about terraforming of other planets?

And yet the interaction between space exploration and ecology is a two way street. On the one hand, ecology cautions us against turning the known galaxy into an industrial wasteland. On the other, an encounter with the vast diversity of existence beyond the Earth’s mesosphere offers a challenge to our human-centered prejudice. Anthropocentrism (“human-centrism”) seems more precarious as we leave behind the cocoon that shelters the delusions of hominid brain. As Nietzsche wrote in “On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense:

"In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history”—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.
One might invent such a fable, and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist, and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission, that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that it float through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world."

We may or may not be alone in the universe. Either way, the notion that the universe was built for humanity may one day become as quaint as geocentric cosmology.

The next two post will mostly be written from a negative perspective. The first will review some of the Ecology Kritiks that have been common on previous topics, and discuss their potential relevance for the coming resolution. The third post will discuss in more detail theories of non-anthropocentric value and their potential implications for the desirability of space exploration and even human survival. In the fourth, I will explore the “affirmative” side of the topic… justifications for space travel that go beyond and even challenge anthropocentric hubris.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A2: Why Debate? - Claire McKinney

The Slightly Younger Woman Respondeth

Sean’s post is a thoughtful defense of why we ought to spend some time not just asking how we can win debates, but also to consider what makes the activity as a whole worth fighting for. Coaches know the necessity of justifying this activity to administrators and budget allocators on a near yearly basis, so spending time reflecting whether are goals are good ones or if we are achieving them is a worthwhile endeavor, at least in my mind. I, however, would like to respectfully disagree with much of Sean’s post because in the end, I do not think we are doing that bad of a job teaching argumentation (of course, I’m a relative novice at the task because I am not a Communications PhD, but my non-debate professional life requires I know how to argue persuasively, so at least I have some working knowledge in this area).

First, I think the claim that debate isn’t centrally any of the things you mention is an example of poor argumentation. Just because we can get these benefits elsewhere (and many of us do), that doesn’t mean we do not engage in debate for the exact same reasons. I can also learn how to make arguments from a writing class, a communications major, or blog posting and commenting. For me, I engage in debate partially because I am seduced by the combination of the contestation of ideas in a competitive framework. I was never good at sports, so winning or coaching others to win gives me the adrenaline rush that I couldn’t get otherwise. However, this does not respond to why we should be engaged in debate, but asserting the truth claim that because other forums exist, debate is not about those things is a misunderstanding of how human activities often have the same ends or how the same desires motivate engaging in multiple activities.

Of course, this also means these other focuses are not exclusive with the pedagogical goal of teaching argumentation, but I disagree that the focus on argumentation has disappeared. I think that we need to recognize the fundamental tension between the dual poles of debate: education and fairness. In a world of absolute fairness, Sean is right that the ideal judge would be truly a blank slate and all judges would consistently apply the same criteria for wins and losses without concern for argumentative content. In a world of absolute education, then debate would probably not result in one winner and one loser and more time would be given towards the actual teaching of argumentation, clash, and differentiation between weak and strong arguments and engage in some strong degree of truth seeking. However, we have to weigh both values, which ultimately means some education and some fairness are always sacrificed in debate.

I cannot speak to the Ulrich-Rowland exchange because I’ve never read the articles, but I can respond to how Sean is mobilizing that debate in his argument. I think in the end, Sean has set up the extreme case that undermines the overall argument. While I am only familiar with high school debate nowadays, I do not think people are unilaterally willing to vote on anything as long as it is asserted. At the TFA state tournament, I voted neg on presumption because there was no uniqueness extended to the aff advantage in the 2AR and the extension of the link turn on politics was too blippy to justify the 2AR extension of it. I voted neg on a kritik because never was there an explanation of how the permutation resolved the offense on the kritik despite the 2NR never addressing the permutation explicitly. And I often refuse to vote on theory that doesn’t have a link or impact articulated in the debate. I don’t think I’m alone in these types of behaviors. I think judges have different standards for what constitutes a complete argument, and when that standard isn’t met, then the claim is not factored into the decision.

It seems that Sean is saying that because debaters are not uniformly good at making arguments, debate fails to teach argumentation. I just do not agree. I think that’s like saying because the majority of people in a math class will not get A’s, we have failed to teach math. The majority of debaters probably will not become the paradigm of good argumentation and thus will rely on poor argumentation in order to win debates, but I don’t think that signals a failure to teach argumentation. I think it signals that everyone makes due with the skills they currently have in order to win, but as they get better, they will rely less on those tactics in the bulk of the debate because better argumentation is much more difficult to win against.

Sean’s argument that we reward bad debating because we vote on dropped arguments with no truth value also seems to rest on a fallacy. While it may be true that often decisions are based on the part of the debate with the least coverage, and thus may ‘reward bad argumentation’, the only way you get a team to undercover and issue is if you force them to spend time on other issues where good argumentation has occurred. The win does not just correlate to the one argument that the team wins, but to the totality of the debate and how strategically arguments have developed throughout the hour and a half.

I’m not trying to paint an overly rosy picture of debate. I do think that there are practices in debate that fail to maximize the transportable skills that we develop in debate. But I do think that we are better at developing argumentative skills than this and other ‘crisis in debate’ posts give us credit for. Ultimately, I think this is part of the mission of most camps. At the UTNIF, we definitely are focused on good argumentation, skills development, and encouraging good debate as opposed to merely winning debate. I think there is a reason debate camps do not put out Spark or comprehensive ASPEC files or whatever hobgoblin of bad debate is your favorite.

Ultimately, I do fear that if good argumentation becomes our only standard for evaluating debate, a couple things will happen:
1) This will force judges either to give double losses in a minority, but still good portion of debates when no one has made either a “true” or “good” argument, or it will devolve into our current system because the requirement to declare one winner and one loser.
2) Teams will lose because of the expertise of judges, not their opponents. I know that right now, the South Korea Free Trade Agreement won’t pass because Baucus refuses to let it out of committee. Even if the affirmative never makes this argument against a KORUS good DA, the neg would still lose, because “Their argument is stupid” and I know “It’s just not true.” With mutual preferred judging (MPJ), I know then my position of truth over all else in judging would be quickly eliminated from mattering because debaters would stop putting me in the back of rooms. Without MPJ, I would still discourage good argumentation, because no matter what a team did in providing persuasive reasons why their position is true, I could discount it because I was impossible to persuade. I can think of nothing worse for deterring argumentation and the required open mindedness to the world.

Finally, I think we have the middle ground Sean asks for. Many judges do not evaluate debate in an offense/defense paradigm. Perhaps you could describe us as having a reasonability standard to judging. A counterplan with marginal solvency doesn’t actually solve. A DA with miniscule risk actually has no risk. An aff advantage than could not plausibly be solved has no risk. A theory block without warrants does not constitute a reason to reject the team. Perhaps we should convince more people to judge in this way, but if we don’t, that’s more a failure on our own argumentation, rather than a failure of the activity.

Why Debate? - Sean Tiffee

The Old Man Speaketh.

I’d like to begin this short post with an even shorter question: why debate? What is the activity’s purpose, what is its function, and what do we hope to accomplish from a pedagogical position? In short, why debate? If you asked a dozen different debaters, you would most likely get a dozen different answers, all of which are probably right in their own way. Some debaters want to sit back and pontificate about poststructuralist theory. Others want to discuss the ins and outs of policymaking and what constitutes good governance. Some want to find a higher Truth, some want to learn to speak well, some want to improve their research skills, some think it looks good on a college application, and some just think that a weekend isn’t complete unless at least 6 hours are spent in a van or bus.

To me, these are all a part of debate and part of what makes debate a wonderful activity, but none of them are central to what we do. None of them fully answers the question, why debate? If there were no debate, we could still ponder Derridean deconstruction and the implications of setting up a global system to map asteroids. There would still be philosophy departments and schools of public policy and while, yes, they debate there, they don’t debate like we debate and you know it. What is it that makes our activity unique, that constructs the way we see the world in such a way that you can tell when someone has been trained in “our debate?”

The American Forensic Association, the oversight body for the NDT and publisher of debate’s academic journal, Argumentation and Advocacy, states the obligation of the debate teacher is “to expand students' appreciation of the place of argument and advocacy in shaping their worlds, and to prepare students through classrooms, forums, and competition for participation in their world through the power of expression; and … seeks to empower through argument and advocacy.” While debate will most certainly make us better critical thinkers, activists, policymakers, etc., and while the mission statement does include the notion of advocacy, what is central to our activity, and what separates it from others, is our commitment to argumentation. As teachers, we first and foremost teach argumentation, and, as debaters, you first and foremost engage in argumentation. Why debate? To learn how to argue. Interestingly, the framework debates that I see never seem to focus on argumentation – they focus on good policymaking, or good research, or possibly the fairness of the game, but never about what makes for the best argument. Our fundamental commitment to argumentation seems lost and I believe it is time we refocus our attention.

I made the decision to make my blog post about argumentation for two seemingly contradictory reasons. First, debate evolves at a pace that is simply staggering. The ninth grade debaters of today will be the ones shaping our activity in under a decade. As we all know, debate is a time intensive and life encompassing activity. While there are certainly coaches who have committed their lives to the activity, more and more seem to hit their early to mid 30s and decide they don’t want to lose every weekend for a minimal stipend, which leaves the activity in the hands of 20-somethings. A large-scale commitment of high school debaters to focus on argumentation today means that high school and college debate looks a whole lot different in less than 10 years. Second, as fast as our activity can change, we attempt to innovate among calcified thought. Some of these debates have already been had, they say, and there’s no point in going over them again. I disagree. While some of these debates have been had, it can be a good idea to revisit them with fresh eyes and the benefit of hindsight. In particular, I’d like to revisit a portion of a debate that took place in the Fall 1984 edition of The Journal of the American Forensic Association between Robert Rowland and Walter Ulrich. I know this is old school, but hear me out. Further, in the interest of full disclosure, I intend to cherry pick from these articles in an effort to initiate discussion and encourage you to seek out and read these relatively short articles yourself.

From the outset, I believe that this article explains the lack of focus on argumentation in today’s debate. For Rowland, argumentation serves several functions and his commitment to dialectic as concept is unwavering, even while he questions dialectic as practiced in academic debate. For him, good argumentation is the prerequisite to good critical thinking skills as students will learn to differentiate between strong and weak arguments. In turn, this offers an epistemological question as debates between formal and informal logic, (ir)rationality, and language as structure all contaminate the issue of debate as epistemic. For Rowland, dialectic overcomes these limitations in that “the adversary process serves as the best check on argument quality. … The proper standard for evaluating the argument can be discovered in the dialectical exchange itself.” The problem for Rowland, however, is that tabula rasa judging removes the critic from the dialectic process. While no judge would ever claim to truly be a “blank slate” and the ubiquity of detailed judging philosophies has allowed certain judges to claim an overt bias for or against certain arguments, I contend that most judges still attempt to intervene as little as possible. For Rowland, this leaves critics to “evaluate arguments based only on what the debaters say about them … A debater can often win a weak argument be presenting so many reasons for it that one of the reasons slips by unrefuted.” Even though written in 1984, this line describes 90% of the college rounds I watched in 2011.

I understand that this sounds like an old man ranting that debate just ain’t like it used to be, but, well, okay so this IS an old man ranting, but it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve voted on a link to the criticism only because it was dropped by a 1AR who didn’t answer the 2NC “link wall” that was really nothing more than an “ink wall.” I cringe every time I read “evidence” that consists of 6 pages of 8 point font with 5 words highlighted to a page making a grand total of 3 sentences. “But,” I think to myself, “I can’t intervene.” But why can’t I? Why shouldn’t the critic be part of the dialectic? Should I vote on an argument that was dropped even though it is clearly factually wrong? It’s not that I disagree with it; it’s that it is objectively stupid. No, the earth is not hollow with little elves living inside of it, even though I’ve got cards that say that’s “true.” I also wonder if critics should vote on a dropped “severance perms bad” argument when the perm was neither severance nor intrinsic (because the 1NR mindlessly read that block too) to begin with. And how can I justify voting on the 15 point condo bad block in the 2AC that was really just 3 arguments said in different ways, all of which were just unwarranted claims to begin with, and when can I pull the trigger on that 8 second A-Spec shell the 1NC spit out? Ultimately, here’s the point I’m trying to make: debaters engage in poor argumentation because critics refuse to enforce standards of good argumentation. Be honest, as you read the last paragraph, your number one thought was: how can I get my hands on that sweet sweet Hollow Earth file?

Ulrich responds to Rowland by arguing that if “either side wishes a higher standard for argument to be used, they can introduce that standard in the round.” Honestly, this isn’t unheard of, as recently several teams at the University of Texas have argued for a “data standard” to determine what constitutes evidence. The question remains, though, if debate is better when judges remove themselves from the dialectic and pretend as though argumentative ignorance is actually impartiality. Why is the responsibility of the debaters alone to create the standards for what constitutes “good debate?” It’s at the bottom of MY ballot (and, ultimately, your ballot relatively soon) that asks who did the better job debating. To abdicate this responsibility to the debaters seems to “encourage debaters to make weak arguments and support them with pseudo reasons. It also has the potential to legitimize presentation of arguments which could destroy the debate process.” Ah, a “destroys debate” claim that you have no offense against. In an offense-defense paradigm, this means you lose. Then again, the offense-defense paradigm means that I continue to vote for weird little procedural counterplans where the solvency evidence is marginal (at best) and seems like it might be talking about the Sweedish parliamentary system, but the Affirmative never said that, and the net benefit with 26 internals has a .00000000000001% risk, so I guess counterplan solves case with no risk of the net benefit so the Negative wins. By the way, I find myself voting Negative like it’s my job these days. And, yes, I speak in generalities. It is quite possible that you don’t engage in any of the behaviors I’ve outlined, but a lot of debaters do and I think they shortchange everyone when they do.

I would like to end like I began, with the simple question: why debate? We debate to learn how to argue. We debate for other reasons as well, but argumentation still resides as the core of what we do. In my mind, topics should be even and topics should be interesting, but we could debate about anything and the activity would have immeasurable value because students would learn how to argue. That point, however, seems to be lost as we move forward through the calcified thought that judge “impartiality” is a good thing. Are judges who remove themselves from what is going on in the room, hoping to “follow the path of least intervention,” truly helping the activity? To me, we’ve gone too far. Of course I don’t want a critic to dismiss Lacan out of hand because they personally disagree with psychoanalysis, but do we have to allow for that to say that judges should apply some standard to arguments? Isn’t there a middle ground? I do know that I think what passes for evidence today is laughable. The links to the K are fabrications. The counterplan solvency doesn’t assume the affirmative. The disad only wins because the PIC solved the case. And the affirmative arguments are getting worse because they try to compete with all of the above.

Maybe the alternative is worse, but I’m afraid the activity is moving further and further away from the core value of argumentation and it leaves me wondering: why debate? What are your thoughts? Speak loud, my hearing is going. References to 1970s punk earn you extra speaker points. A good X-Ray Spex joke might get you up to a 26.5. What? 26 isn’t average anymore? I know what my next old man blog rant will be about.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Congratulations to UTNIF alums at TFA!

Congratulations are in order to all UTNIF alums participating at TFA State.

Special congratulations to UTNIF lab leader Claire McKinney who coached two Kinkaid teams, Zack Rosenthal (UTNIF 09) and Vivek Dathla, AND, Nikhil Bontha and Robert Baldwin (UTNIF 08), to the SEMIFINALS of the tournament.

Other teams that include UTNIF alums who appeared in the elimination rounds of TFA:

Thorndale - Hank Stolte and Ethan White
Dulles - Kayla Chang Calk and Sabrina Zakaria
Dumas - Chris Leonardi and Thomas Maneer
Westlake - Anne Baker and Alex Dzeda
Winston Churchill - Noah Barshop and Adam Lipton
Dulles - Humza Tariq and Tanweer Rajwani
Liberal Arts and Sciences - Clara Yoon and Emily Wang
Dulles - Saad Khalid and Zain Sheikh
Westlake - Emily Furnish and Kevin Presley

Monday, March 7, 2011

Testimonial - Blake Johnson on UTNIF 2011

Untitled from UTNIF on Vimeo.

Thunder Rods and Aliens: Beginning Preparation for the Space Topic

MAX HANTEL - Georgetown/Rutgers

As the season wraps up, it is time to start turning our attention to next year's topic: SPACE, THE FINAL FRONTIER. This topic presents an area of policy and critical literature only treated in passing (and often irreverently) in any given debate year--everyone's read a few space militarization cards or some crazy article about China's outer-space assassins. This post is about preparing for the space topic in general terms, that is, how one should prepare for any topic. It goes doubly for the space topic, however, because while we might have had some popular knowledge about Afghanistan and Iraq going into last year, very few people have an intimate knowledge of United States space policy. I propose three tips in the following to guide you.

I. Stop Carding, Start Reading

Between now and debate camp, or between now and the debate year starts, you certainly need to be doing all the usual card work--make sure your impact defense files are in order, cut promising affirmative directions etc. But for that work to be good and useful as you delve into a new topic, you absolutely have to engage in deep topic reading. That means reading scholarly articles, full books (!), and immersing yourself in cutting-edge, topic-relevant blogs. A lot of this reading will not seem to have an immediate impact in terms of evidence output, but it will be absolutely invaluable once the year starts in terms of guiding further research (more on this in point III).

So for the space topic, before you start reading about thunder rods ( and aliens, get into the nitty gritty of the birth of US space exploration and its relationship to other programs, like those of the Soviet Union and China. At the bottom of this section I've included some helpful links to begin the deep reading process so that by the time camp starts you're eating and breathing space exploration beyond the mesosphere. I might add, for the super nerds out there, it could be worth getting into some physics literature as well--the history of space exploration is a struggle between humans and the laws of physics.

I know from personal experience how important deep reading is. My senior year at Georgetown University, our entire affirmative approach was guided by the initial decision to read about the birth of the nuclear arsenal in relation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So even if some of that reading did not manifest in "cards," the value of knowing the ins and outs of nuclear history came into play every single round and strategy session.

The next two points are not tips on their own, exactly, but hopefully will prove to you why this approach is best.

II. Don't try to fit outer-space into a box

Do you hate capitalism? Duh! Do you love agenda-based politics disads? Of course! Just because you have certain pet arguments that you consider the most fun, or your strength, does not mean those have to be the arguments you read every year. The first corollary to my deep reading advice is that the topic literature will reveal the best arguments to you--you won't impose them on the topic. It's a bad idea to go into the topic thinking, "I've been really into this Emmanuel Levinas guy…so I'll just read him on the topic no matter what." If, on the other hand, you stumble across a whole bunch of stuff about Levinas, physics and outer-space (, you might have the makings of an argument (another aside for the super nerds--Levinas criticized Heidegger's philosophy rather extensively, but he did so specifically in the context of outer space! The article is called "Heidegger, Gagarin, and Us," Gagarin being the first cosmonaut to go into outerspace. Now that's topic relevant).

As a judge, it is frustrating to hear generic evidence for generic arguments that are only tangentially related to the topic. Why read Zizek when you can read someone actually talking about outer-space? It is generally evident when someone has just taken a back file, cut a link card or two about space, and called it a day. The same goes for process counterplans and generic DA's. Why read politics (the Zizek of disads) when you can read space specific arguments about debris or the impending disappearance of NASA? You will never get to those argumentative areas, however, if you didn't do the work before the topic started to understand the central concerns of US space policy, the thorniest issues in its history, and the common (and not so common) projections for its future.

III. Controlling History In-Round; or, the Ben Crossan method to skull busting

Good solid analytics win debate rounds, and often win them in convincing style. And really good analytic arguments on substantive issues generally stem from a deep understanding of history. As a critique debater in college, I can say that historically grounded analytics--not just quick asides like, "that's empirically denied because China did that once," but involved re-tellings of both the history of space exploration and the affirmative's place in that history according to your theoretical framework--is the sine qua non of effective K debating. No one does it better than an UTNIF alum who currently debates at Towson, Ben Crossan. Section III is dedicated to him because he is truly an analytic samurai when it comes to wielding history. If you think a lot of debate evidence is dumb, which it is, your chance to kill it in cross-examination requires a pretty deep knowledge of a topic's history so you can frustrate the other team at each turn. A Crossan cross examination on the history of non-violent political struggles would generally end the round right there--but only because he had a control over that history from Jesus to Mandela and beyond (and yes, he once owned on the biblical question of Jesus' political tactics).

This advice does not just go for K debaters, however. While it is essential for a good K 2NC to win the specificity battle, and recontextualize the affirmative within a pernicious history (as opposed to the neutral snapshot of the world the affirmative claims to be), quality policy arguments are all about winning the specificity battle too. Good impact calculus, for instance, often incorporates strong historical basis for its claims about regional flash points or a particular space program. Doing that practically writes the ballot for the judge, instead of just saying "MAGNITUDE WAR AND STUFF."

Dominating cross-examination, winning the race to specificity every 2NR or 2AR, a year-long resource guiding research and argument strategies---that should be enough reason to start your deep topic reading right this second!

Friday, March 4, 2011


The price for the 6 week summer survivors has been reduced to $5200.

The price for the 3 week Topic Intensive has been reduced to $2750.

Remember - deadline for application to the Sophomore Select is March 15.

The Bad Faith of Impact Calculus: Value to Life versus Existence debates

Claire McKinney

“To sound off with a cheerful ‘give me liberty or give me death’ sort of argument in the face of the unprecedented and inconceivable potential of destruction of nuclear warfare is not even hollow; it is downright ridiculous…which of course is not to say the reverse…As a matter of fact, to the extent that the discussion of the war question today is conducted in these terms, it is easy to detect a mental reservation on both sides. Those who say ‘better dead than red’ actually think: The losses may not be as great as some anticipate, our civilization will survive; while those who say ‘better red than dead’ actually think: Slavery will not be so bad, man will not change his nature, freedom will not vanish from the earth forever. In other words, the bad faith of the discussants lies in that both dodge the preposterous alternative they themselves have proposed; they are not serious.”
--Hannah Arendt, On Revolution pp3-4, 1963

In the high school kritik debates I have recently judged, it seems that kritikal debaters have shied away from what can be grouped under “value to life” claims in favor of large security impacts and extinction. There is, of course, a fundamental tension in this form of impact calculus in kritik debate because so many of these authors are, at their base, criticizing the survivalist impulse that has driven us to the valuation of securing ourselves from violent death over any other concerns, such as human flourishing, justice, or equality. While it is mere cant to suggest that debate distorts the authors it relies on, there is a strategic flaw with ceding the ground to evaluating the debate through the lens of body-counts alone: as soon as the debate becomes about lives saved, several arguments easily tip in the favor of the policy-oriented: proximate versus root cause (or justifying logic), aff solvency versus alternative solvency, and the deployment of add-ons that do not link to the kritik. In this post, I will argue for the revitalization of debates around question of what human life is for and how to eliminate the “bad faith” of traditional value to life versus extinction debates.

What is value to life?

This is an especially difficult question for most debaters to answer. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, most debaters I know have grown up in the United States, and thus share an assumption of many in the West as developed by John Stuart Mill and the liberal theorists who followed in his footsteps. Namely, that there is not one social good that all ought to aspire to. Rather, society ought not interfere with the pursuit of whatever goods the individual wants to pursue so long as that pursuit does not harm another individual (this is the Harm Principle as articulated in On Liberty). This tremendous innovation of being agnostic regarding what people ought to pursue has fundamentally structured liberal democracies like the United States for decades, and thus as members of such a polity, it is often difficult to answer questions regarding what the value of life actually is. Since each individual, in theory, develops that value for herself, to answer the broader question, we would have to fight against unquestioned assumptions of what it means to be a part of this society.
Second, as debaters, we are trained from the earliest moments that every decision is one of mass life or mass death. The drive to every impact to become an extinction-level impact betrays that more than anything else, we believe life to be the ultimate and often, the only good. Because arguments like ‘you have to be alive to value life’ are so intuitive in this framework, it becomes difficult to convince debaters, even those critically oriented, that there is another way to frame these questions.
Of course, none of the critiques being run today are Mill inspired. His belief in democracy, the state, liberalism, and his development of a theory of utilitarianism make him pretty useless for kritik debaters except as an object of criticism. Therefore, critical debaters need to shed their liberalist backgrounds and fully embrace their adopted critical roots.
When we speak of ‘value to life,’ we are not really speaking about some intrinsic value to being human (that would too easily fall into the need to secure life qua life). Depending on what sort of criticism you are running, there are several different answers to the question of what ‘value to life’ might mean. For example, Nietzsche’s normative orientation was towards human flourishing; critique was about discovering whether some set of values is “a sign of distress, of impoverishment, of the degeneration of life” or “betray the fullness, the power, the will of life, it courage, its confidence, its future.” (On the Genealogy of Morality, 3). That is, there was a greatness possible in being human that could be denied and destroyed or celebrated and fostered. For authors that follow in this tradition, the problem with some orientations to the world is that they make being alive into a state that one could do with or without.
In some respects, the phrase ‘value to life’ is a misnomer. It is not a question of whether or not life has value, but rather a question of what we ought to see as the point of human existence and what the consequences of either retaining that vision or replacing it with another are. If the purpose of life is just to propagate the species, then of course security, reproduction, and bare life matter. Of course, then eliminating threats to the health of the species, often enslaving certain portions of the population, and denying the ability for anyone to truly risk their life for some higher purpose all seem like normatively neutral or positive policies. If the purpose of life is to encourage human freedom, then these policies become untenable. Debaters need to make clear what their principle (what is life for?) is and generate link arguments against the principles from which their opponents are arguing.

The Debate

There are several elements to the value to life versus extinction debate. This section will describe some of the most obvious parts of the debate and some ways to fight for value to life considerations in a debate round.

Life is a prerequisite to Value to Life

The argument: There is no way to have a value to life if we are all dead. Human existence is a prerequisite to human flourishing or human freedom or whatever else is the value the kritik isolates, and since we have extinction-level impacts, that means it is try or die for us.

I will say that this is perhaps the argument most often deployed and most often successful for eliminating consideration of value to life. The popularization of this argument is, I would argue, partly responsible for the relegation of value to life to a sort of tie-breaker for impact calculus. While its logic seems pretty irrefutable, this argument epitomizes the “bad faith” discussed in the opening quote.

The responses: This argument relies on two things which are probably not really true: first, the aff is actually winning as extinction level impact and second, losing the value the negative has isolated isn’t all that bad. Relating to the first, because no team will win absolute probability of their extinction claims (intervening actors, solvency defense, timeframe considerations, and whatever defense you’ve generated against the link and impact) all mean that it probably is not extinction that will actually occur. Life will go on, even if the catastrophes the affirmative describes do occur. Second, all good kritik debaters should be using their kritik to call into question the knowledge claims of the 1AC. Your authors are operating from the position that what security experts or think tank analysts believe is true is actually the result of a certain way of seeing the world and thus has diminished veracity. Third, you should also be winning a turns case sort of argument (for instance, a self-fulfilling prophecy claim, or a claim about how the tyranny of cause and effect logic ends to totalitarianism because it denies the ability for humans to act differently), which means that the affirmative brings about the loss of life that dooms the value to life. These are all standard arguments one will see in most debates.

Regarding the second, that eliminating value to life isn’t all that bad, is an assumption rarely pointed out or argued against in debate. Because value to life claims are kept so generic, it often is difficult for kritik debaters to argue why it is more important that risking extinction. Consider the situations where the deprivation of human flourishing has been most severe: the concentration camp, refugee camps, chattel slavery, maquiladoras (sweat shops), Guantanamo Bay, the situation of the homeless in America, mental institutions, the prison, etc. Imagine being in a situation where arbitrary force can be used against you physically, sexually, and psychologically. Where your well-being is only a concern insofar as your death may make the administrators look bad, but anything short of death is considered acceptable or below notice. Where your relationships with others can be denied if they are deemed unacceptable or risky and thus you are deprived of the most enriching elements of life (being with others). Yes, it’s true most people in these situations do not commit suicide (the other favorite argument as to why life is more important than value to life); but the most admirable are the ones who put their bodies on the line in order to effectuate change (think hunger protests, mass suicide attempts like in Guantanamo, attempts to escape, etc; people may not commit suicide, but they risk almost certain death to change their situation). Also, the argument about suicide ignores a couple of fundamental truths. First, these populations are often actively denied the means to take their own life. Second, it is speaking from a position of extreme callousness and privilege to make the ‘better red than dead’ argument. Isn’t there a third option that we ought to normatively dedicate ourselves to? If not, then the value judgments such as being free is better than being a slave lose all meaning. To argue that it is ok to subjugate large swaths of the population as long as existence is secured is ethically suspect, but more importantly, the debater ought to implore the judge to make their judgments from a position of such subjugation. The fact that we cannot imagine what it would be like in chattel slavery, the concentration camp, or working 18 hours in a sweat shops is a pretty good indication that such life is no life at all.

Positing a value to life destroys value to life

The Argument: Once you ascribe a value to life, you can isolate those whoa re missing that value and then eliminate them, making the kritik genocidal.

This argument hopefully is obviously fallacious given the above discussion. This is more of a reason to abandon the language of ‘value to life’ in favor of the specific thing you value (freedom, human flourishing, etc) than it is a good argument.

The response: The kritik does not posit a human essence or a particular end that all most aspire to. Rather, it is arguing for a recognition that it is the ability to deprive people of [freedom, human flourishing] is implicated the in the ability to kill them for the greater good or to let them die in neglect or to actively destroy their lives because to furthers something greater than themselves. We can argue that the essence of being human is in plurality, that each of us is different and unique, and therefore, freedom and human flourishing requires that we encourage that difference and diversity rather than destroy it.

Value to Life is circular

The Argument: Value to life is only important because when one is denied the value to life, then they can be killed. Which means value to life only matters because life itself is important. Which means life is still the highest value, so vote aff because we save the most lives.

This is almost the reverse of the first argument about life being a prerequisite, but it is persuasive because of the mistake most kritik debaters make of only discussing the body count aspects of the kritik.

The response: This one is easiest to respond to if you just avoid linking to it in the first place. The impact to value to life should not be death (the Dillon 99 evidence often used to make the value to life claim is impacted by the Holocaust, not death; maintaining that distinction is important. Genocide, the ghettos, death camps, and targeted racism is much more meaningful than death because of the system of valuation that then can be translated to all human life). Yes, you are making a turns the case argument as well, insofar as denying value to life often results in mass death, but that is not the primary reason why value to life matters; it is an ancillary concern.

What this does mean is that you have to win why the value you isolate matters. This requires hard thinking on the part of the debater. Body counts are the easy valuation system, but the purpose of critique is to move us from those standard forms of judgment and logic. Putting more thought into your critique, cutting cards by those who think freedom, human flourishing, justice, equality, etc. matter in and of themselves will place you in a position to move out of the deadlock critiques are currently in.