The pit of doom

I can't believe I've already been at this long enough to complain about memory loss, but alas, things are getting a little fuzzy. I'm pretty sure that this is built roughly around something a lab leader told me once at a debate camp, and I'm pretty sure that lab leader was Justin Greene. So, credit where it's due, as long as I'm remembering correctly.

Anyway, Cross Ex. The most under-utilized three minutes of the average debater's speech time. One of the wonderful innovations of our little game we call debate. During these three minutes you can ask whatever questions you wish, and your opponent is expected to answer them. So simple, yet so utterly lacking in much of the discourse one would find out there in the "real world."

So what the hell do you do with your 3 minutes? You do a lot of things: make yourself look smarter than your opponent, poke holes in their arguments, expose contradictions, and you set up your arguments. And by "set up your arguments" I mean you go fishing for links. Here's where the real meat and potatoes is, at least in terms of the arguments on the flow. At its best, link fishing can turn into a high-level battle of wits. At its worst, link fishing is ugly and boring and cringe-inducing from the listener's perspective (example question: "your plan's a mandate, right, not an incentive?")

So in attempt to improve the quality of our discourse, allow me to present the following theory:

How to get someone to admit something in cross examination:

Most of the time that you are attempting to set up a link to an argument in Cross Ex, you are attempting to get your opponents to make an admission about their plan or the arguments supporting it. Something that is not necessarily obvious, but must be explicitly stated by your opponent in order to guarantee that the link "sticks." But the problem is, people tend not to admit things just because we want them to. Your opponents will know that you are link fishing and will attempt to be as slippery as possible. To pin them down, you've got two options. Neither of these two options will guarantee an admission, but both of them make the examined make trade-offs. You might not get the answer that you were looking for, but you'll generally get something in return.

Option 1: The pit of doom

This is the strategy that most people use, but they don't realize that they are using it. It's straightforward: push them closer and closer to the "pit of doom" until they crack and admit that you were right all along. Let's say we doubt the plan's solvency contention, that companies would take up an incentive to build windmills on native lands

Q: Where's the evidence that companies would actually build any windmills given this incentive?
A: Our Smith card says that the incentive would work
Q: Your Smith card calls on the government to provide the incentive, but it never says that it would work, which card says that the incentive would work?
A: No, the Smith card says that the incentive would work
Q: Please point to the line in the card that says the incentive would lead to more windmills on native lands

And here's where one of three things happens:
1. The Aff cannot find such a line, usually this is combined with "We don't need to prove that"
2. The Aff points to a line, and it's good
3. The Aff points to a line, and it's terrible.

So in 2 of 3 cases we have our admission. If the Aff doesn't want to show their cards and let the judge hear the line(s) nice and slow, they've gotta give some reason that they don't need that evidence. Trade-offs.

I think that part of the reason that the pit of doom is such a popular strategy is that it is embued in our cultural memory by Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson

A bit more theatrics than your average debate round, but it's the same tactic. Cruise asks Nicholson the question, Nicholson dodges. Cruise ups the intensity, Nicholson pontificates. Cruise asks the question again, and he get's his answer. Yes, Nicholson ordered the code red (whatever that means). Notice that Cruise had already set up the trade-off. If Nicholson didn't want to admit to giving the order, he'd have to admit that his men don't follow him.

The only other thing I'll say about the pit of doom is this, taken from another coach of mine. If you ask the same question three times, and get a little more intense each time, the third answer will always be different. Not necessarily different in a way that's useful to you, but it will always be different.

Option 2: The Reverse Pit of Doom

This is the part, when explaining this theory in person, that I usually use a bit of pantomime, so bear with me as I try to type it all out.

You show the team the pit of doom there (I point in front of me)
So then they back away from the pit of doom... (I slowly walk backwards)
Until they fall into the real pit of doom over there (I point behind me. If I'm feeling saucy I'll make a falling pantomime)

Fans of the Law and Order franchise will recognize this strategy immediately, since it is a common tactic used by the Cops and ADAs (Goren is especially handy at it). I looked around for a video demonstration, but unfortunately NBC is rather zealous at getting that stuff off the tubes. Anyway, in the show it usually works like this:

Goren: Don't you care about the victim?
Perp: Of course I do, she's my sister!
Goren: She was there dying because she was losing so much blood, the doctors asked if anyone had B negative blood
Perp: But I don't have B negative, I have A positive blood.

And we already know that the killer had A positive blood. Or something. Whatever, I'd be a lousy Law and Order writer, but you get the point.

The reverse pit of doom is viable because there are many cases where the aff can choose to link into argument A or argument B depending on how they spin their arguments. For example, take the UN topic we had a few years back. The topic required the USFG to support UN peacekeeping operations. This was a tough year to be affirmative, because you had two different actors to defend. Two popular strategies that emerged were (1) have some other country support UN PKOs or (2) have the US do whatever the UN PKO is doing by itself.

Say I want to run the unilateral CP (have the US do it by itself).
Q: So, 1AC, great plan you got here
A: Yeah, it's pretty sweet
Q: So, uh, why can't Europe do it.
A: (feeling ever so smart) Well, you see our Smith evidence gives amazing warrants why the US is the key actor in the region. They've got the most technical experience, the best troops, and are the only group seen as an honest broker in this country.

See what I did there? Those are the exact warrants I'm about to give for the Unilateral counterplan. I've got my opponent giving my own argument for me.

The fun part about the Reverse pit of doom is its So Easy. It's not like the example above is an amazingly nuanced mind game. But even at that level of simplicity, I'd say about 85% of the teams out there will jump right into the links. People aren't used to their opponents using any amount of strategy in cross ex. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed (hu)man is king (or queen).

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