• Matt

What does 'bidirectional' mean?

In debate, bidirectional means that a topic/resolution can go in two directions. More specifically, it means that the side (pro/con) does not determine the direction of the arguments on the topic. In a unidirectional topic, one side, usually the pro/aff argues that something is good and the con/neg argues that that something is bad. For example, last semester pro argued that gene editing was good and con argued that gene editing was bad.


So, for the current NSDA topic, Resolved: On balance, refugee restrictions in developed countries are permissible, the initial assumption would be that pro says that restrictions on refugees are good, and con says that restrictions on refugees are bad. Right?


Well, not so fast. Couldn't the con say that strong restrictions are good, but that current restrictions are not strong enough? Couldn't the pro say that strong restrictions are bad, but the majority of restrictions are minimally restrictive and are therefore permissible? Probably.


Why is this possible on this topic? There's no action. So, since the pro doesn't have to increase or decrease restrictions, the direction of the topic is ambiguous.


So, let's look at those two counter-intuitive cases in more detail and see if they're practical not just theoretical.


Con: strong restrictions are good, but current restrictions are not strong enough. If the con team is second, this case makes some sense, particularly if the pro is solidly conservative (eg. they make refugee bad arguments). The feasibility of this strategy will rely on whether or not the con can defeat the pro's 'plan-plus' arguments. A plan-plus argument says that the con alternative/counter-plan is not a reason to reject the pro/plan if it includes the pro/plan. It's something like this: if pro says chocolate ice cream is good and con says chocolate and vanilla ice cream are good, then the con has not proven that chocolate ice cream/the resolution is bad. On this basis, the pro should win. The con would counter this by arguing that although functionally the con includes the pro, it's actually a choice between two different options, not one that includes the other. For example, if pro says to take .5mg of aspirin to solve a headache and the con says that you should take 4mg, then the choice is mutually exclusive, you can choose dosage a) .5 or dosage b) 4. If con wins that .5 doesn't work and that 4 does, then they should win.


Pro: if ‘on balance’ means something like ‘the majority of’ or even ‘overall’, if most of the restrictions that developing countries impose are reasonable, then aren‘t developed countries acting permissibly? For the pro, they could defend only the least restrictive/most reasonably restrictive restrictions. They would then argue that they constitute the majority.


How ie would they con counter this? They would need to say that the totality of the restrictions need to be evaluated. In other words, it doesn’t matter if most restrictions are more or less reasonable. If one is egregious, then the totality of the restrictions are egregious. Consider this example, you are restricted from voting because you are 10 years old, you are restricted from drinking and smoking for the same reason. But, what if you were also restricted from using the toilet because you were 10? Certainly, on balance, the restrictions imposed would be considered impermissible.


Stay aware and stay focused. How the resolution is interpreted always influences the results. Make sure that your arguments work within the opponents’ Interpretation. If they don’t work, fight that interpretation.


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