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The Punishment Theory- Illegitimate Styles and Theories as Voting Issues- Doug Sigel 1984

The Punishment Theory- Illegitimate Styles and Theories as Voting Issues- Doug Sigel 1984

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Published by Ian Blodger
Doug Sigel in '84 talks about the evolution of debate, the impact of judge paradigms on debate rounds and discusses the issue of debaters being "punished" for running odd or new theoretical arguments or arguments that are out of the norm.
Doug Sigel in '84 talks about the evolution of debate, the impact of judge paradigms on debate rounds and discusses the issue of debaters being "punished" for running odd or new theoretical arguments or arguments that are out of the norm.

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Published by: Ian Blodger on Sep 11, 2010
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09/13/2010

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A recent trend in contemporary academic debate (especially at the college level) is theproliferation Of "Punishment" arguments.1 Instead of trying to in rounds on superioranalysis of policy issues, some teams have sought victory by claiming the undesirabledebate practices of their opponents as voting issues. As commonly understood,punishment arguments isolate various practices of one's opponent--i.e. conditionalplans/counterplans, incomprehensible delivery, arguments that topicality isn't avoting issue, etc--as so counter to the goals of debate that the judge should "punish"them with a loss. "Run this and you'll pay," the logic of this strategy goes.Some coaches and debaters see this trend toward punishment arguments as healthy, believing that the only way to stop unfair and uneducational debate practices is tomake abuses of debate a voting issue. Teams who pervert our conception of gooddebate should pay for it with a loss; simply dropping abusive arguments from theround lacks any deterrent or moral force. Others reject the entire concept of punishment, believing that it makes in practice for childish debates plagued by
adHolmium
argument and devoid of substance. The punishment cure can be worse thanthe disease when punishment becomes a regular issue in a team's strategic arsenal,assuming a role similar to topicality. Because it offers attractive strategic benefits todebaters, the Punishment concept has seen increasing prominence in many debates.The controversy among those of us in the activity has grown with punishment'sincreasing use. This article attempts to define the punishment concept through ananalysis of the factors causing its development, examine the types of issues subject toand the reasons for punishment arguments, and explore some of the broaderimplications of the widespread use of these arguments. It is hoped that this rathervaguely defined and misunderstood genre of argument can be placed in the context of other, broader, trends in debate judging in order to aid our understanding andultimate evaluation of the concept.
I: The Punishment Concept's Development
A) The "old" punishment
The term "punishment paradigm" was coined in 1981 at a Utah argumentationconference by Northwestern University's director of Forensics, G. Thomas Goodnight,to describe the judging of his college debate coach, Bill English. Goodnight claimed
 
that English had no judging paradigm, he simply saw as his role the punishment of debaters who made arguments he didn't like. And we all have had experiences withpunishment oriented judges. They have their own standards for what constituteslegitimate arguments and theoretical practices, which they apply despite anything thatactually occurs in any particular round. If a particular approach violate, theirstandards, they automatically vote against the team advocating it. Erik Walker holdsthis view with respect to incomprehensible deliver:I will automatically vote against any ream who delivers any speech, or asignificant portion thereof, incomprehensibly, for whatever reason ... It is avoting issue whether articulated by the opposing team or not.2While Walker holds a punishment view only with respect to incoherence, it wascommon in the past for this approach to extend to virtually all aspects of debate judging. We all have been dismayed to receive back a ballot where a judge votedagainst us based on lack of significance or repugnance of a disadvantage when theseissues were not raised or not extended by our opponents. During the late 60s and early70s it was even possible for some judges to vote against teams running "squirrel" caseson topicality when the negative never challenged it.
B) The Excesses produced by tabula rasa
In recent years most judges have become
tabula rasa
.
Tabula rasa
perspective requiresthe critic to attempt/s/ to be a "blank slate" and impose no standards on the round based on his/her beliefs about what makes for good debate. The debaters, thisperspective claims, should develop the standards to evaluate the significance andimportance of arguments. In practice this view does impose minimal burdens ondebaters to make arguments--an absurd claim without any reasons wouldn't have anyweight even if dropped by the other team. But assuming the teams make reasonedarguments, Walter Ulrich explains that he "attempts to judge all debates
tabula rasa
;with all arguments theoretical or otherwise being debatable." Melissa Wade notes thather judging perspective is
tabula rasa
. I am not on any crusades so I will evaluate theround based on whatever 'paradigm/model' I am instructed to use. 4This "open-minded" judging style has meant the death of the punishment paradigmdescribed by Goodnight. Judges will only reject a position if it is defeated in the round.If topicality is argued as not a voting issue with 20 reasons and the negative dropsthose reasons, topicality isn't considered a voting issue. When disgruntled coaches
 
complain that debate isn't real world and trains a group of "motor-mouth" sophists,they should look to
tabula rasa
as the culprit. When judges are willing to tolerate anyargument at any speed, the incentive clearly is to speak fast and develop weirdinnovative arguments. Counterwarrents, hypothesis testing, and other theoretical"advances" have gained acceptance in rounds acceptance in rounds because
tabula rasa
have prevented judges from screening out Positions that were counter-intuitive.While the death of punishment and the rise of 
tabula rasa
judging may be healthy,there are excesses reduced b-y the current approach to judging debates. Teams whoare more articulate at high speeds of delivery can "win" counter-intuitive argumentsthat would seem absurd in any other setting. Erik Walker admits this problem whenhe says he "abhor/s/ world government, socialism, referendums, anarchy, rightsMalthus, Karcuse, symbolism, and the like, but, inevitably, they are poorly answered,hence I vote on them."3 Cathy Hennen bluntly says "I may not philosophically agreewith the theoretical position, but if it is clearly defined and defended, I will vote on it."It often seems that the most successful teams, both in high school and college, makethe stupidest arguments at the highest speeds.C) The "new" punishmentThe excesses produced by
tabula rasa
have led to the development of the newpunishment paradigm--one introduced into the round by the debaters. The harmful by-product of 
tabula rasa
--mindless debate--can be dealt with by making matters of style and theory voting issues. If judges won't intervene to punish teams for mindlessdebate, debaters can establish the need to vote against these practices in the round.Similarly, topicality was not argued for a long time because judges unilaterally votedagainst cases that were outside the bounds of the topic. It was only with the rise of 
tabula rasa
that it was necessary to make topicality challenges.Walter Ulrich, who has written widely in favor of 
tabula rasa
judging 7 seespunishment as the answer to its excesses:. . . the debate community should view matters of style as being debatable,as well as matters of theory... by permitting teams faced with undesirablestrategies to argue against these strategies we may help to stop abuses of theactivity.Cy Smith agrees:

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