Reader Question: Topicality and Funding

Preface: Drew and I wrote a policy case for the resolution “The United States Federal Government should substantially reform its foreign aid”. Read it here for context. Our funding plank eliminate a ship program so that we can pay for our plan. Here’s Benjamin’s question.

“Just wondering about your Ace Peak Stoa Case: how do you justify using the Extra-Topical funding source? The Zumwalt Destroyer Program one.” -Benjamin S.

Great question Benjamin! Let’s talk about that.

Wait, What’s Extra Topicality?

Topicality asks whether the plan is an example of the resolution. So if it’s not, the affirmative team can’t have proven the res.

Resolved: The US should change its military policy.
Plan: Let’s save the whales.

Regardless of how strongly we feel about whales, the affirmative team loses because they didn’t support the resolution: they didn’t even give an example of it. This is simple to see with the whale plan, but can get a bit trickier with other examples.

Extra Topicality asks whether the plan supports just the resolution. In other words, it asks if there are any elements of the plan that can be totally ignored because they have nothing to do with the debate.

Let’s illustrate.

Here’s a sample plan.

Resolved: The US should change its military policy.
Plan: Let’s invade Russia. Also, let’s save the whales.

This plan does two things: one supports the resolution, the other is just an extra mandate that has nothing to do with the topic. You don’t need to invoke mysterious theory to deal with it; just explain how it’s non-unique.

“This debate is about changing military policy: and that’s the only thing we as the negative team oppose. We can agree that other things beyond the resolution are fine, like saving whales. But these have nothing to do with the resolution, so you shouldn’t use them to decide who wins.”

Bear in mind: this doesn’t mean the affirmative loses. It just means we wash the irrelevant mandate from the round, since it has nothing to do with the resolution. Barring a Kritik (I.E. “Vote negative to punish the affirmative for being sneaky!”) the judge should still decide the round on the relevant arguments; namely, the ones that have to do with changing military policy. Generally, you don’t need to introduce the term “Extra Topicality” into the round, since the concept behind it (ignore irrelevant arguments) is so basic.

What About Funding?

So Benjamin, your question is about funding: what do we do if a plan derives its funding from something that doesn’t pertain to the resolution? Here’s the answer: funding can be internal or external, and both of them can work without any topicality issue. Let’s try this out.

Resolved: We should take a vacation. 
Plan: Go to Disney World. 
Funding: Cut our going-out-to-eat fund.
Negative team: Going out to eat isn’t vacation-related. Vote down the affirmative for being extra-topical!

This is why extra-topicality doesn’t make sense here. All the resolution says is that we should take a vacation: it says nothing about how we ought to pay for it. There’s no reason to think that the only way to fund a vacation is by garnering funds from other vacation-related issues. In reality, we could pay for it by slashing our restaurant fund, by withdrawing from the stock market, or by smashing our piggy banks. Any of these options are topical.

However, imagine a resolution like this:

Resolved: We should take a vacation and pay for it exclusively by cancelling some future vacation.

Now, pulling funds from our restaurant fund IS a topicality issue. The resolution tells us exactly where to pull the money from, so to pull it elsewhere would no longer show an example of the res. (Note: This would just be a topicality issue. It would have nothing to do with extra-topicality.)

Debaters tend to invoke really weird analogies to make this a problem, such as by saying things like: “Topicality is a bubble. If you go outside for anything, including funding, you pop the bubble and send the plan to the floor. So… Vote Negative!” Thankfully, good debate theory is rooted in things much stronger than abstract analogies.

There’s One Exception

There is one case in which external funding is an issue. Returning to the Disney World plan, let’s assume that I blew up my funding plank and made it a separate advantage: going on about how cutting our going-out-to-eat fund is so cool that the judge should vote for us just based on that alone. If the funding is now trying to be used as a totally separate reason they win, then you can re-apply the non-unique response.

If the whole point of our opponent’s case is to save money on restaurants, you have just as much of a reason to vote for us as you do for them. Remember, the only thing we oppose in this debate is the taking of a vacation. We can support financially responsible eating habits alongside our opponents: this has nothing to do with the resolution and can’t influence you vote for.

This removes the persuasive momentum from their funding plank and focuses the debate on what it should: the resolution. Only use this when your opponents are trying to use their funding plank to win the round, rather than a mere means to get their plan passed. For example, I’ve seen students support changes to higher education with a random plank about de-funding Planned Parenthood, which they then go on to brag about as such a great idea. Well, the resolution ISN’T about that. The negative team could support that change independent of the topic, so let’s move on from it and focus on higher education.

Here’s the Conclusion.

Funding can come from places referred to in the resolution (like cutting other foreign aid, for Stoa TPers), or it can come from places that have nothing to do with it (saving restaurant money to see Mickey Mouse). Our plan is doing the latter, getting funding externally by cutting a ship program. Both are fine, as long as they don’t attempt to create a separate win-scenario that distracts the judge from the resolution at hand.

Debate theory is rich and full of interesting questions. Thanks for bringing such a great one to the table, Benjamin!

What other questions do you guys have? Hit us up in the comments, and we might answer it in a future blog post!