Hammers, Screwdrivers, and The Stock Issues

I'm no expert on debate history, but I think that one of the driving
forces behind innovations in debate is one simple reality: it's darn
tough to be a negative. Those pesky affirmatives get all the time in
the world to craft their 1ACs, and us negatives only get a few
precious moments of prep time to cobble together a round winning
strategy. Living here in the real world also makes the prospect of
defending the status quo pretty tricky. The one thing that every
political ideology seems to agree on is that the world isn't all
puppies and rainbows right now.

Which is why the debate community has crafted quite an extensive
toolkit for the negative through the years. The problem is, learning
this entire toolkit all at once is overwhelming, you need to use a
hammer for a little while to really appreciate the reason for the nail
gun. The most basic negative toolbox has 4 tools, which are the four
stock issues that the affirmative needs to prove to win the round.
Topicality is a big enough subject for it's own article, so I'll focus
here on Inherency, Harms, and Solvency.

There are two different strategies for attacking an Affirmative's
harms scenario, which inolve two concepts that re-occur quite a bit in
the debate universe: takeouts and turns. Takeouts are
arguments that mitigate the impact of a harm. They might reduce the
size of the harm ("Fewer people in poverty die of starvation
than the affirmative claims"), lessen the probability of the
harm ("The affirmative says that a war with Russia is likely if we
don't act, but Russia knows that they would lose this war so they'd
never attack us"), or lengthen the timeframe ("They say that
the world will run out of oil in 2025, but we prove that we have until
at least 2100, which means we'll be able to come up with new
technology in the meantime").

Takeouts implicitly assume that the "bad thing" that the affirmative
describes actually is a bad thing. Turns take the opposite approach.
As it turns out, there is some debate amongst smart people over
whether some things are good or bad. Take Free Trade, for instance.
Some economists argue that free trade around the world is the best way
to grow the economy and prevent war. Other economists argue that we
are better off protecting our domestic industry by restricting free
trade. This means that if the affirmative's harms story centers on
free trade, as the neg we have the option of arguing the other way.
They say trade good, we say trade bad, or vice versa. This is a tough
strategy to do right, but it can be a powerful tool. Teams might not
take time to prepare for arguments like "pollution good," and we can
use that to our advantage.

Inherency, you'll remember, asks the question "If plan didn't
happen, would the harms continue." One of your options as a Negative
is to answer this question with "no." If the neg is going to win on
inherency, they have to prove either than (1) the Aff's plan is going
to happen in the status quo or (2) something else in the status quo
will solve the harm. Proving that plan will happen in the status quo
is tough to do, mostly because aff's tend to pick plans that aren't
being done. However, if you can catch a team unawares by finding their
plan buried in an omnibus spending bill, you've got a pretty easy road
to victory. If the aff's plan itself isn't going to happen in the
status quo, you can occasionally find something else in the status quo
that is going to solve. This also has limited potential, however. At
the end of the day its pretty easy to find some harm out there that
the powers-that-be aren't doing enough about.

Fortunately for the negative, it's much harder to fix problems than it
is to find them, so there's usually an argument to be made over
Solvency. Just like harms, we can attack solvency with takeouts
(plan won't have the intended effect) and/or turns (plan will have the
opposite effect). In those two categories, there are some re-occuring
patterns in successful solvency arguments. Does the plan solve part of
the harm but not all of it? Does the plan make the problem better now
but worse in the long term? Lots of things have to happen for the plan
to solve - are they missing evidence that, say, people will actually
take the social service offered to them? Are the aff's solvency cards
based on faulty predictions, bad science, or biased experts? There have
been more than a few Neg rounds won by finding a part of Solvency that
the Aff takes for granted and exploiting their lack of evidence.

Now, it's important to mention that as the neg, all of the stock issues are
options you have, not requirements. The aff has to prove the entirety of their case by defending the stock issues, but aside from a few exceptions that I'll mention later, the neg has the luxury of picking and choosing. Maybe you want to run your best solvency turns along with some harms takeouts. Maybe you can concede solvency and turn harms. Maybe you want to go all in on inherency. Now, knowing which issues to pick and choose is a more complicated question, but remember that as the negative you have the power to focus the debate on the issues that you think you can win. And if you win, say, that plan doesn't solve, it probably doesn't matter if the aff wins that their harms are really big.

It won't take long for you to learn the limitations of these tools, but they are important tools nonetheless. It's also important to note that this is about the point where you are ready to actually have a debate in the standard policy format, which I recommend you do, actually.

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