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Debating Disadvantages


A disadvantage is a negative argument that proves that the affirmative plan is undesirable.  It is really one of the simplest ideas in debate – it is an argument about a negative consequence that will result from adopting the affirmative plan.

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For example, the affirmative plan may save lives.  The disadvantage proves that the affirmative plan may hurt the economy, triggering poverty and death.

Debate is not the first time that you have considered disadvantages when making decisions.  For example, even when making a simple consideration of whether or not to buy a shirt, you take into consideration disadvantages.  One disadvantage to buying a particular shirt is that it will take away money from something else that you may wish to spend it on – like another shirt or a pair of shorts.  Or, you may think the shirt will look bad on you.  These simple arguments are all disadvantages.

It is important to note that any given disadvantage alone is not necessarily a reason to vote negative.  Negatives must argue that the disadvantage (or combination of disadvantages) proves that the affirmative’s plan is net-undesirable – that the costs outweigh the benefits.  To continue with the example above, the negative would need to prove that it is better to buy the pair of shorts with the money than the shirt. Similarly, sometimes you may put on an ugly sweater, even if you are cold, because being warm outweighs being seen in an ugly sweater.

What are the parts of a disadvantage?

In debate, disadvantages have a number of different parts. Although these parts make the disadvantage appear more of a difficult argument than what has just been discussed, the different parts will actually assist you with both understanding different types of arguments generally and with constructing and answering disadvantages.

Link.  The link is the part of the argument that ties the negative disadvantage to what the affirmative is arguing.  For example, a link to a spending disadvantage argues that the affirmative’s plan will spend money.  Disadvantages can have more than one link. In this instance, different links would focus on different reasons that the affirmative plan spends money.  The more the affirmative plan spends, the stronger the disadvantage link.

Internal link.  The internal link connects one link to another link or one link to an impact.  For example, if the negative argues that the plan spends money, an argument that spending money causes a recession is one internal link and an argument that a recession will turn into a depression is another internal link. Disadvantages can have multiple internal links, though negatives will strive to limit of internal links necessary to reach the impact. Disadvantages with many internal links are less persuasive because even one of the internal links fails to happen, there is a break in the disadvantage chain, and the entire disadvantage is beaten.

Impact. The impact is similar to a harm claim, though the term impact is usually used in the context of the disadvantage.  The disadvantage is the final, end problem that results.  For example, if the negative’s disadvantage argues that the affirmative’s plan undermines the economy, the impact is the final result – an economic decline may cause poverty or even trigger a war.

Uniqueness.  The uniqueness to the disadvantage is usually presented first, but since it is the hardest part of the disadvantage to understand, it is discussed last.  Uniqueness refers to the part of the disadvantage that argues that the disadvantage will not occur absent the adoption of the affirmative plan.  There are three types of uniqueness arguments, though the negative will likely only present a general uniqueness claim in the first negative constructive.

Link uniqueness.  Link uniqueness establishes that the link will not happen now.  In the instance of the spending disadvantage, the negative will argue that the government will not commit to new spending in the in the present world (status quo).

Internal link uniqueness.  Internal link uniqueness argues that the internal link will not happen now.  For example, if the internal link is that a recession will cause a depression, an internal link uniqueness claim is that we are not having a recession now.

Impact uniqueness.  Impact uniqueness establishes that the impact will not happen now.  If the impact is “depression causes war,” the negative would argue that we are not in a depression now and that we are not in a major war now.

Disadvantages are first presented in the 1NC as off-case positions.  The basic shell should contain the link, internal link, impact, and uniqueness arguments.  Sometimes debaters will forget to demonstrate support for one of the parts. It is the job of the affirmative team to point this out.

It is essential that the negative win every part of the disadvantage.  If one part of the disadvantage falls the entire disadvantage falls.

How Do You Answer a Disadvantage?

You want to come up with answers to a disadvantage by attacking the various parts of the disadvantage.

Answer the link.  When you make a “no link” argument, you are contending that the first step in the disadvantage will not result from supporting your plan.  For example, if you argue that your plan doesn’t spend any money, you are making a “no link” argument against the spending disadvantage.

Turn the link.  A link turn argues that the opposite of the link is true – the affirmative’s plan actually saves money. It can, of course, can be true that the plan would both spend and save money – there may be, for example, short-term costs and long-term savings, so when making a link turn it is also important to attack the original link.

Answer the internal link. When answering the internal link, you are essentially arguing that “A” will not produce “B.”  In this instance, you would present evidence that a recession will not cause a depression.

Turn the internal link.  Just like when turning a link, if you turn the internal link you argue that the opposite of the internal link is true.  For example, if you argue that a recession will improve the economy you are turning the internal link.  While this particular argument seems counterintuitive, there are many instances in which the opposite of the impact could result from the internal link.

Answer the impact. An impact answers says that the impact is false.  For example, if you argue that an economic decline doesn’t cause a war you are taking out their impact claim that an economic decline causes a war.

Turn the impact.  An impact turn says that not only is the final impact not bad, it is good.  For example, if you argue that an economic decline is good because it will protect our environment, you are arguing an impact turn.

Inventing Your Own Logical Affirmative Arguments

Look for missing internal links.  Often negative teams will not present all of the internal links that they need to prove the disadvantage.  Sometimes they do not present them because they do not have them (they are either missing the evidence that they need to support the internal link or the internal link simply is not true).  Sometimes they do not present them because they wish to keep the initial presentation of the argument shorter, and will fill in the holes if they choose to extend the disadvantage later in the debate.  Regardless as to why the internal links are not included, you should be sure to point that out and at least make them read the evidence later in the debate.

Attack the probability.  Disadvantages are designed around arguing that the affirmative’s plan will kick-off a chain of events that will eventually trigger some catastrophe. The more internal links the lower the probability of the disadvantage because each intervening step would have to all occur in order for the disadvantage to happen.  There is only a given probability of each occurring, and the probability of them all occurring together is even much smaller (mathematically, multiplying a percentage by a percentage always reduces the size of the total percentage).

Think about history.  Think of what you know about history to argue that parts of the disadvantage are false.  For example, think of a time that the U.S. suffered a recession (such as after the 9-11) attacks and argue that that did not produce a depression.

Reference current events.  Although you may not have a lot of recent evidence on a particular argument advanced by the negative, used what you know about current events to argue against the disadvantage. For example, if you know that the government just authorized another $80 billion in Iraq spending, you should argue that non-uniques the disadvantage.

Claim the impacts are “empirically denied.”  Almost all disadvantages have terminal (final) impacts that involve wars or some other form of total destruction.  The total destruction relies on these wars escalating from small conflicts to large, global ones. Point out that we have had many wars in recent history that have not escalated – U.S/Iraq, Israel-Hezbollah, U.S.-Afghanistan, India-Pakistan, etc.

Prepare a General Set of Disadvantage Answers

As you advance through your debate career, you will have a better understanding of all of the different disadvantages that people are likely to run and how to answer them.  As you grow to gain this knowledge, it will be possible for you to prepare more specific answers to each disadvantage. Until then, you can help yourself by thinking about different general approaches and arguments that you can use to defeat all kinds of disadvantages.

Use your affirmative to non-unique the disadvantage.  As discussed in the last section, most disadvantages have impacts related to war.  Affirmative plans often contain advantages that stem from preventing war. You can use your affirmative case to argue that war is inevitable unless you vote affirmative and that the disadvantage is non-unique.  Think about any harm claim that you have made in your 1AC. If a disadvantage impact is similar to any harm claim you have made, you can argue that that disadvantage is non-unique in the status quo and can be prevented by voting affirmative.

Use your affirmative to solve the impact.  Think of a way that voting for the affirmative can prevent the impact. For example, if your affirmative case focuses on increasing democracy, have a general piece of evidence that says democracy prevents war. If your affirmative case increases military readiness, be sure to have a piece of evidence that says readiness protects the economy and another that says readiness prevents war.

Maintain an apriori claim.  An apriori claim is a claim that one teams makes that they will say is more important than all of claims made by the other side. For example, an affirmative team may argue that the judge has a moral obligation to support their affirmative plan.  They will argue that this moral obligation should hold even if the negative disadvantages are true.  If you have an apriori claim for your affirmative, you can always be prepared to argue that this trumps the negative’s disadvantage.

Be Careful When Answering Disadvantages

Do not answer your own affirmative harm claim.  When you are answering the impact to the disadvantage do not take-out your own affirmative harm/impact claims.  For example, if you have an “economy decline causes war” impact in your 1AC, and the negative reads an economy impact, you will not want to argue that economic decline does not cause war.  You certainly don’t want to present an impact turn against your original 1AC impact!

Do not double-turn yourself.  A double-turn occurs when you make both a link turn and an impact turn.  For example, you could argue that you both save the economy and that economic growth is bad.  If you do this, you will essentially presenting a disadvantage against yourself – you are arguing that you strengthen the economy and that that is bad.

You can also double-turn yourself by turning both the internal link and either the link or the impact.  For example, if you argue that the affirmative plan saves money, and that a recession will stop a depression, you are essentially arguing that you stop a recession and a recession is good. Similarly, if you argue that you stop a depression by causing a recession and that a depression is good, you are essentially arguing that you stop a good economic depression.

Other Things to Consider when Attacking the Disadvantage

Accept reality. Sometimes the negative has a very strong link to a given disadvantage. If that is the case, focus on debating the internal link, the impact, or the uniqueness (or all three). .

Make a variety of arguments.  Make as many different link, internal link, impact, and uniqueness arguments as you can.  The weakness of the disadvantage may not be obvious to you after the 1NC, but it will become obvious as the 2NC or the 1NR responds to each of the arguments that you present.

Avoid impact turning disadvantages.  Sometimes it is necessary to impact turn a disadvantage – you may not have any/many other arguments.  If you need to straight-turn a disadvantage, you should do so.  But, if you do you are in for a very tough fight – most teams are very prepared to debate the impacts to their disadvantages.   The link debate is what they will most likely be less prepared for.