BY NICK SAWHNEY
Meta debates may be fun for some, especially aff teams, and can make for very interesting debates in flow parli rounds, but they don’t have a place in lay parli whatsoever. 2014’s GGSA Parli 2 tournament allowed some light to be shed on this topic when competitors had to debate whether metaphor topics should be banned from GGSA tournaments. The debates happening that round not only shed light on the problems with meta topics, but also on the problems with the perception of parli and its function for many debaters in varsity parli.
Many of the arguments made in favor of meta debates that day centered on the fact that though the negation may not be able to use their prep time to prepare for the material of the debate, metaphor rounds force the neg to think on their feet, and thus make parli more educational. While yes, parli is more extemporaneous than other debate events, parli simply cannot function as an educational debate without any prep for the negation team except the first speech of the affirmation. Thinking on one’s feet, while something that parli debaters specialize in, is not so important that debate should become speaking with no prep. Even if the impromptu arguments of meta debates can make parli more educational, the negative effects of metaphor rounds in lay tournaments are far more important to consider.
It greatly increases the chance that the debate will become a topicality round. While in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing (but that’s an article for another time), topicality debates in front of lay judges are rarely educational nor voted on. People without experience in debate just aren’t familiar with the concept of topicality, and while it can be explained in round, a) that takes away time from the already disadvantaged negation team and b) judges will nearly always vote for a reverse voting issue, with the aff just having to say “they’re not debating the actual resolution” with no impacts whatsoever. This puts the aff at an advantage once again, meaning in future rounds aff teams know that they can get away with more abusive definitions, and anyone who’s ever run topicality knows the negative real world impacts of that.
Flow judges can see past these tactics and understand topicality, as well as understand how metaphor debates work in general, making meta debates in flow rounds substantially more fair and productive than in lay rounds. Unfortunately, in the high school setting, flow tournaments are few and far between, with the only large flow tournaments in Northern California being the National Parliamentary Debate Invitational and the Cal Cup, which thankfully give proper resolutions instead of meta rounds like we see in league tournaments.
Meta debates de-legitimize parli. Aside from metaphors, parli focuses on debating government policies, moral values, and legitimacy of certain statements. This trichotomy tests a debater’s ability to discuss real life and philosophical issues, as well as their ability to research and consolidate information (something that would be made more effective if we were allowed internet-- see “Net Polarity”). Meta debates throw all of this out the window for the negation and make the affirmative team focus on how to stump and surprise the negation instead of how to affirm the resolution at hand. Debate must be about communicating ideas and arguing them in a civilized manner, but metaphor debates instead become about attempting to try and screw over the other team in front of a lay judge, making parli seem like a disorganized and unintellectual debate event.
However, as anyone who’s done flow parli knows, parliamentary debate is not disorganized nor is it unintellectual. Quite the contrary, parli, even on the lay level, has the potential to become (and some may argue already is) the most valuable debate event. Focusing less on metaphors and more on real world issues would be a step in the right direction for fixing the multitude of issues that exist in the realm of lay debate.
Nick Sawhney debates for Dougherty Valley High School.