On the subject of "The Turn"

Now onto the turn, a concept that I've mentioned a few times, but one that really ought to be given it's own article. I'm going to allow Mr. Calum Matheson to introduce the turn for me:

This snippet (a deleted scene from a debate documentary) is everything I love about debate in two minutes. Calum starts with a very dry, methodical description of what a turn is. The examples of turns, at first just for illustration's sake, become like battle scars, reminders of wars fought long ago. Notice the kid-in-a-candy-store smirk at about 1:00 when discussing the pollution turn? Calum hasn't just heard about this argument. He's given sweat and blood and tape for this argument, and he's definitely won rounds on this argument.

That's the thing about turns. Merely describing what a turn is doesn't do it justice. A link turn isn't just "winning that your plan prevents the impact," it's using your judo skills to flip the 300 pound thug straight over your head. Impact turns aren't just winning "their impact is bad," it's destroying your opponent's entire worldview, it's force-feeding them the blue pill and blowing the matrix out their butts. It's having the power to answer an argument with just about anything.

You're really only limited by what qualified authors say in published materials. That sounds rather constricting, but if there's anything that debate has taught me over the years, it's that the universe of "arguments made by smart people" is much bigger than it looks. Pretty much anything short of the blatantly offensive (holocaut denial, racism good, rape good) is fair game. Debate is about challenging assumptions: find an assumption that your opponents are not ready to defend and you've got an opportunity, a chink in their armor.

Now, just because you can argue anything from here to ridiculousness doesn't mean you should. Some students go off the deep end when it comes to counter-intuitive arguments. The reason that there's a certain badge of honor that comes with winning rounds on nuclear-war-good is because it's hard. It takes a lot of preparation, forethought, and technical skill. Just because an argument is off-the-wall doesn't mean that your opponents won't be able to think up the common-sense answers.

There's a bit of a tension here, I think, between the practical and the sexy. Say you are answering a disad that says that plan crashes the economy, which would be bad. The link turn (we help the economy) is, in most cases, the path of least resistance. You can generally be better prepared about your plan than your oppoents can, so make the debate about what your plan does. Let them leave their piles of "growth good" cards in the tub. Pragmatic. Practical. It's boring, but it's boring because it works.

And even though this article is about "offense" (as opposed to defense), it's worth noting that sometimes the right argument to make is even less sexy. Maybe you beat the disad on a non-unique, or "congress will ignore plan." You should generally have some sort of turn as part of your strategy, but you should be making arguments good enough that dropping any of them means you win, no matter how un-sexy.

Let your creativity run wild, sure. But edit. Part of being a successful debater is knowing when to be crazy and when to be boring. It usually doesn't take long in the season before you have more argument options than could fit in an 8-minute speech, so preparation will become not about what to add, but about what to take away.

Getting this eye for editing early might help you prevent the worst "everyone does it" mistake of novice debate. A link turn plus an impact turn equals a double turn, and double turns are bad. If you say, in the same round, both that plan saves the economy (link turn) and that economic growth is bad (impact turn), you've given your opponents a free disad just by conceding your arguments. Worse, it's a free disad that you don't get to answer. Remember, once your arguments are made they can't be un-made. You are stuck with this new "growth bad" disad the rest of the round.

Sounds easy enough to avoid, right? Just never run link turns and impact turns together. But when the ink starts flying it's a lot harder than it seems to keep everything consistent. And there's no guarantee that both parts of the "double turn" will happen on the same piece of paper, or in the same speech. If you aren't keeping your stories straight, a good opponent will find ways to punish you.

Now, there are ways of preventing this debacle, but all of them boil down to "know what you are doing." The biggest step you can make over your first year is to move beyond thinking of debate in terms of "their third argument on the politics disad" and start thinking in terms of the round. Strategy instead of tactics. Editing instead of just grab cards and read.

It's hard, but there's a benefit in all this. Really, debate, when done well, allows you to unlock parts of your mind you wouldn't have ever explored before. Returning to my video snippet, I love this quote:

"I love these arguments because some of them are so ludicrous, but people will think so little about them that in the end, many people are incapable of dealing with them... these are issues that one cannot discuss anywhere but in a debate"

When I die, put that on my tombstone.

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