The "When In Conflict" Conflict

In any comparative resolution (“X is better than Y”), whether or not the phrase is used, someone is going to make this argument:

When in Conflict. The only way to accurately compare X and Y is to look at instances when they conflict. When they don’t, the resolution doesn’t apply – so those instances have no impact. 

This argument is a staple in some regions of the NCFCA and is gaining popularity in the current Stoa LD metagame. Here’s what I think of it.

Conflict is Needed

If X and Y never come into conflict, the resolution doesn’t make sense. It would be appropriate to run a No Conflict resolutional objection at that point – arguing that the resolution cannot possibly be true because it is meaningless. For example, “purple is better than seven” cannot be affirmed because numbers and colors don’t conflict. That’s a basic issue with the resolution that would call for a very specific kind of case.

The case couldn’t run a value; the resolution cannot be measured. It also could absolutely not contain an application; that would defeat the entire case. Instead, it would use a thesis-conflict-alternative-impact format, which is appropriate for exposing basic flaws in the resolution (more on this in a future post).

If the negative runs that case, it is perfectly reasonable to demand that the affirmative give an example of a conflict in the resolution. If he succeeds, the objection collapses and the affirmative wins. If he fails, he loses. No amount of “Purple is great” or “Seven is terrible” arguments will suffice to make the resolution meaningful.

Conflict is Powerful

By far the easiest way to determine which of two things is most important is to be forced to choose between them. Examples:

A man chooses to work overtime and miss his son’s piano recital. He values work over family.
A national leader chooses to let police break into people’s houses without warrants. He values power over freedom.
A woman chooses to leave her high-powered career and teach surfing in Hawaii. She values pace of life over money.

Applications that directly contrast X and Y do more than just prove that the resolution is true. They are the easiest and most powerful applications available. If at all possible, you should include them in your case. However, running exclusively applications with conflicts doesn’t mean you should automatically win that part of the debate. Here’s why:

Conflict-only Blinds the Judge

It is not possible to accurately measure the worth of something if you only examine it in conflict with something else. Doing so creates a highly artificial environment and makes it hard for the judge to make an accurate decision.

A man chooses family over work. He never goes to work again.
A leader values freedom over power. He dissolves 95% of the government, including his own post.
A woman values money over pace of life. She dies in her office.

Let’s get more practical with the current Stoa resolution, which values truth-seeking over individual privacy. The general consensus is that these entities only conflict sometimes – that is, that you can easily achieve moderate levels of both at the same time. If you use the “only in conflict” standard, that means the judge has to ignore most of truth-seeking and individual privacy and somehow reach an accurate verdict about them. He can’t consider that truth-seeking gathers basic evidence for an investigation unless doing so invades someone’s private home. Ridiculous! He can’t consider that individual privacy holds law enforcement accountable or creates a more balanced society unless doing so cripples our ability to fact-find for a criminal case. Absurd!

The best way to get an accurate picture of the resolution is to make claims about truth-seeking and individual privacy that are independently true, then conclude with an application that directly conflicts them and supports your stance. If any of that is missing, your case is weakened.

Whether or not the phrase is part of the resolution, the “when in conflict” argument does not pass the laugh test. I discourage running it in any case. It works only because those who run it are allowed to get away with it. If it’s used against you, dismiss it. Tell the judge to look at everything, not the teeny-tiny part of the resolution that your opponent has hand-picked for him. Tell the judge not to accept the blinders.

Frustrated by a tricky theoretical argument at your last tournament? Let me know in the comments below.