Friday, March 21, 2008

The Flex Aff

The Theory Institute for Lincoln-Douglas Advancement, which is located in a secret location in Swinton, California, has recently been proposing the Flex Aff as the latest “new thing” following the development of the Flex Neg and Flex Prep. It’s a curious approach to in-round performance. I quote from their literature: “Although the NFL claims that there is no presumption for either side in LD, we know that most judges think there is a presumption for the negative. This misguided opinion is the result of the fact that most judges are college-age students in a state halfway between semi-drunken stupor and caffeine-induced hysteria. The wise high school debater takes advantage of this situation when running an affirmative position.”

Frankly, I find the whole Flex Aff thing to be slightly bizarre. The way it works is, the affirmative stands up, asks if everyone’s ready, then clicks a timer and sits down until the timer goes off six minutes later. Apparently this especially works well when the affirmative position is framed by the resolution as a negative, i.e., such and such a thing is unjust. But TILDA goes even further: “The wise Flex Aff, on returning to his or her seat, immediately asks the opponent for a copy of the negative case, and spends all of the Flex Aff six minutes carefully reading the opposing opinion and prepping out on it.” When the timer goes off at the end of the allotted aff time, the Flex Aff debater immediately rises and announces, “I now stand open for cross-examination.”

Apparently the main goal of the Flex Aff is to stymie the negative’s ability to refute the aff position. “Let’s face it,” says the TILDA literature, “if the aff doesn’t say anything, it is really difficult for the negative to contend that the aff is wrong.” Many negs, when facing a Flex Aff, read their own cases, then do their best to extrapolate what the aff would have said, if the aff had gone so far as to say anything. TILDA calls this “neg spec,” but doesn’t recommend it. “When facing a Flex Aff, the neg puts itself in the best position by ignoring the aff altogether, and using the three or four minutes of NC normally devoted to rebuttal of the aff position to rebutting his or her own position, i.e., refuting the neg case. Even the most polished Flex Aff debater will find responding to this difficult if not impossible. If nothing else, it will stymie the aff in coming up with a meaningful cross-examination strategy.” In Flex Aff situations, needless to say, Flex Prep seems to be absolutely essential. In fact, one of the benefits of the Flex Aff overall, says TILDA, is that it allows the aff a chance to “get off his or her feet” for a while and get some much needed rest. “The tournament experience is stress-filled and weighs heavily on the health of even the most sturdily built high school student. A chance to sit down and relax and read your opponent’s case is an opportunity not only to obviate the need to frantically take notes during the reading of that case, but also allows the blood to flow more freely from the feet to the brain, thus enhancing mental acuity.”

As you can imagine, the Flex Aff really hits its stride in the 1AR. “Having no need to defend the aff’s own tacit positions, if any, the aff in the 1AR can devote the entire four minutes to attacking the negative. Thus the time pressures usually associated with this speech are relieved, allowing even more blood to flow to the affirmative’s brain.”

By the time we reach the NR, an affirmative victory is, apparently, a foregone conclusion. “The wise negative, knowing that the round is lost, will use the NR not for further refutations of the non-existent affirmative position, or vain attempts to rebuild the absolutely lost negative position, but will instead plan his or her own Flex Aff for the next round.” At which point the chief benefit of Flex Affs becomes apparent: “The lack of a need for any case whatsoever on the affirmative means that the debater can use the time normally dedicated to researching, understanding and, finally, writing an exegesis on that side of the resolution for other pursuits such as quoits, tai chi or competitive lawn bowling.”

I have pretty negative feelings about Flex Affs, if you’ll pardon the pun. While I do appreciate that they will make judging a lot easier, so much so that I might even emerge from tab once in a while just to stay current, they do seem to eat away at some of the educational benefits of LD, since there won’t actually be any debating anymore. I guess, as usual, I come down on the opposite side of the theorists. This is not the first time that the Swinton TILDA people have come up with something weird. I doubt if it will be the last. It must be something to do with the air supply in California. Thank God we don’t have any air supply in New York. Who knows what kind of craziness we’d come up with?

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