2AC — Answering Topicality

Answering Topicality Arguments

Topicality arguments are the easiest to answer because there is a basic formula that you can use.

We meet.  Affirmative teams should use “we meet” arguments to explain why they meet the original negative interpretation/definition.  If the affirmative meets the interpretation the negative offers, they will defeat the topicality argument. In the example topicality argument we explored, a good, “We Meet” may be that “We increase the total amount of intellectual property protected.

Counterinterpretation. A counterinterpretation is a different way of interpreting/defining the word.   Affirmatives should present a different definition of the word and explain how they meet it. Given that it is not possible to predict every topicality argument that the negative will make, affirmatives should have a definition of each term in the resolution with them and an explanation as to how they meet it.

For example, “Strengthen” means to “give strength too.” Dictionary.com.

Counterstandards.  Counterstandards are standards that the affirmative introduces into the debate to argue that the judge should accept their definition/interpretation instead of, or at least in addition to, the negative’s interpretation.  Popular counterstandards include the following:

Reasonability.  Since words have many meanings, negatives can always find definitions/interpretations that affirmatives don’t meet.  Instead of looking for the most limiting interpretation, the judge should accept any reasonable interpretation of the term.  Reasonable interpretations still provide opportunities for the solid negative arguments.

Field context.  Terms should be taken to mean what they are generally assumed to mean in the topic specific literature. Affirmatives teams will often find topic-specific meanings when researching their affirmative and advocate these in the debate.

Affirmative predictability. Affirmative teams cannot fairly predict every odd definition of a term that the negative could read.  Interpretations of the topic should be limited to common-sense meanings.

Disadvantage ground. If the affirmative establishes a new protection, then it is more likely the negative can link a generic disadvantage.

In order to be prepared to defeat topicality arguments, it is critical that you consider the resolution when writing your plan and that you write your plan in a way that is consistent with a reasonable interpretation of the resolution.  If you do not do this, this combination of arguments is unlikely to help you, but if you do this then this combination of arguments should enable you to defeat common topicality arguments.

Arguing Whether or Not Topicality Should Be a Voting Issue

There is some debate as to whether or not topicality should be a voting issue, though most agree that it is.  Debaters who challenge the idea that topicality is a voting issue argue that topicality is bad because it excludes individual from debate who want to talk about other issues.  The rhetoric they use to support this claim is that topicality “silences the voices” of many would-be advocates.

While this “silencing the voices” argument has definitely won debates, it is a very weak argument. First, topicality doesn’t silence any voices. Debaters are free to say whatever they want, but if they engage in non-topical argumentation they should lose. There is no reason that winning is important to having your opinion expressed.  Second, debaters are free to say whatever they want as long as they have a topical plan. Topicality doesn’t constrain any things debaters say other than the plan. Only the plan has to be topical. Third, even if topicality creates some social harm by silencing voices, it is far superior to silence the voices than to allow affirmative teams to argue anything they want. This would lead the negative team unprepared to discuss whatever ideas the affirmative chooses to express at any given moment.  Fourth, there is some literature that concludes in favor of switch-side – debating both sides of the resolution. If topicality were not a voting issue, the affirmative could argue both sides of the resolution (the negative) in every debate and would fail to capture any of the educational benefits of switch-side debate.

We have a lot of evidence related to this debate in the framework section of our kritik answers.

Strategic Advice for Answering Topicality

Always put the negative’s topicality argument(s) first in your 2AC, 1AR, and 2AR order. If you put a disadvantage last and fail to get to it, you can always try to outweigh the disadvantage with your affirmative harms. But if you put a topicality argument last and fail to get to it you will automatically lose the debate.  Always put topicality arguments first.

When creating your 2AC answers, be sure that there aren’t any additional “hidden” topicality arguments. Sometimes negative teams will add additional violations in the standards in hopes the affirmative teams will miss the arguments. Often, affirmative teams do miss the arguments, so be very careful.  If you are the 2AC, it is wise to have your partner clarify in the cross-examination what all of the topicality arguments are so that you can be sure to answer each of them.