A Tree at Twilight

The roots hold firm
As the ice of a setting sun settles upon branches
That have reached in prayer for ages past
Answered by a silent sky

Not immune to time’s influence
A leaf withers and drifts
With noble grace
To its rest

So must we all

Facing such loss
Day after day
The tree still stands steadfast
Facing down the inevitable darkness

Would it that we were all so lucky as the tree
To have such wisdom to know
That a lost leaf is not an ending
But the herald of a new sun on the horizon

The Voices In My Head Series

My poetry is dark and macabre. It’s also sensual and sexual, and on rare occasions can be funny. I like to explore the darker parts of ourselves through my work, the parts we’re often afraid to confront. The Voices In My Head is a series of poetry books I plan to continue releasing throughout my life. I’ll update this post as more books are released. For now, check out the ones I’ve released below. Click the cover images to get the books on Amazon.

The Voices in My Head

The voices in my head speak to me. They never cease their screeching speeches to me. Take a look inside and listen to those same voices.

These poems contain fears, hopes, and desires. They are a walk through memories, dreams, and life full of turmoil. They are a brief, and sometimes haunting, look at the scenery of the human mind. Read them and feel your own demons awakened. Absorb the words and embrace the beauty in their horror. Stand in front of a mirror, and truly look at your reflection for the first time, as you listen to the voices in my head.

Answering Myself

A collection of poetry that takes you on a journey through the darkest parts of the human mind. Explore your fears, anxieties, and desires through resonant words that bring the landscape of your inner most thoughts to life. If you are looking for more adult poetry exploring themes of regret, depression, violence, and sexuality, then this is the book for you.

Hunted

You are light
Though dull and dimmed
From your distance
Away from the light
At the center of all

You shine of your own accord
But only with leave of a universe
That moves entire empires
At its whim

There are shadows in that universe
Fighting to be unchained
From the glory of the light
At the center of all

They hunt
Under cover of blackest night
Avoiding the pinpricks of starlight
Piercing the sky

Seeking weaker lights
To drink into the darkness
Staying far from the glory
At the center of it all

Lest they burn

Resolved: The United States should replace means-tested welfare programs with a universal basic income.

‘I’m afraid at times like this with overstretched budgets we all have to make sacrifices…’

Resolved: The United States should replace means-tested welfare programs with a universal basic income.

Don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

The problem with this topic is that there isn’t really enough evidence out there to weigh the two option. UBI hasn’t been tried enough, and we don’t have data to compare it with means-tested welfare programs. That being said, the theoretical debate here is still pretty interesting, so let’s talk about it.

Definitions

Means-tested welfare programs – These are current welfare programs that provide specific assistance to people of low income, such as housing assistance, food assistance, etc… Robert Rector’s testimony before Congress explains it better than I can:

The means-tested welfare system consists of 79 federal programs providing cash, food, housing, medical care, social services, training, and targeted education aid to poor and low-income Americans. Means-tested welfare programs differ from general government programs in two ways. First, they provide aid exclusively to persons (or communities) with low incomes; second, individuals do not need to earn eligibility for benefits through prior fiscal contributions. Means-tested welfare therefore does not include Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, or worker’s compensation.

Universal Basic Income – A universal basic income is a cash payment provided to people each month that is intended to cover their basic needs. The important different that the resolution calls on you to evaluate is that a UBI has no restrictions. While it’s intended for basic needs, it’s just a cash payment, so the recipient can use it for anything they want. Importantly, you shouldn’t get caught up in the amount. The actual amount of the payment is irrelevant to the discussion of whether a UBI should replace means-tested welfare programs.

Pro

1. Means-tested welfare hasn’t worked. It’s time to try something you. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We’ve tried means-tested welfare, and while it may help some people, the programs are an administrative nightmare and do little to alleviate actual poverty. Let’s try something new.

2. Individual needs are not static. We like to think that you can plan a fixed monthly budget with fixed expenses. Means-tested welfare seeks to take care of individual line items on this monthly budget. The issue is that life happens, and things change. Therefore, it’s better to leave it up to the welfare recipient to determine how to use their money, rather than creating programs with restrictions.

3. Utilitarianism – A UBI works for everyone, not just some people. It also accounts for needs like dental care, for which it’s nearly impossible to create an effective welfare program. Since UBI casts the widest net, it’s a better option.

Con

1. Money needs to be used wisely to be effective. You can’t just give people who otherwise don’t have financial literacy or other life skills a sum of money and expect it to have positive results. They need to be taught skills and how to use the money wisely. Many people in poverty don’t have access to or knowledge of basic financial management tools, so the UBI will likely just lead to waste.

2. Why do we need to replace? There’s no reason we can’t do both to see how it works. Or, we can create a program that takes an exclusive either/or approach where a recipient can choose to get a cash payment or have access to a portfolio of specific means-tested welfare programs available to them. We don’t have to choose, so the resolution is posing a false dichotomy.

3. We have evidence that means-tested programs at least have a nominal positive impact. We have no evidence that a UBI works. Replacement would be hasty. We need more data and more evidence to test the efficacy of a universal basic income. Only then can we make an accurate determine.

That should help you get started. Good luck!

And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

“A second bomb will not make us safer.”

Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Finally, we have a good topic. Let’s get to it!

Definitions

States – This term refers to any nation. Don’t get caught up in what exactly makes a state a state; it’s really irrelevant to the resolution. Especially in the context of the real world, all nuclear states are very clearly sovereign nations.

Affirmative

1. Veil of Ignorance – The veil of ignorance is a powerful position here. You can pretty consistently argue that, no matter who you are, you would want to live in a world without nuclear weapons.

2. Utilitarianism – The Utilitarian position certainly favors the elimination of nuclear arsenals. It would lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, especially if nuclear weapons stop being a bargaining chip on the international stage.

Negative

1. Mutually Assured Destruction – Nuclear weapons are the only thing that can deter the use of nuclear weapons. If states get rid of them, that opens the door for non-state actors to access and use nuclear weapons with impunity.

2. Moral Conflict – There is value in promoting moral conflict through the existence of nuclear weapons. This will be a tough position to run, but a nuclear war that resets the impact of humans on the planet may not be a bad thing. It will prevent the progress of climate change, likely lead to a world in which nuclear weapons no longer exist, and reset the human development clock. Human life is only valuable because we place inordinate value on it. Instead, we should allow for globally catastrophic events to happen because they would solve so many problems.

That should help get you started. Good luck! And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: The benefits of the United States federal government’s use of offensive cyber operations outweigh the harms.

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Resolved: The benefits of the United States federal government’s use of offensive cyber operations outweigh the harms.

Not only is this topic awful, it’s also impossible to debate because the civilian population has no way of knowing what U.S. offensive cyber operations actually are or what their effects are. I would be shocked if any high school student had intimate knowledge of U.S. cyber operations.

The other big problem with this topic is that it writes the framework for you by demanding that you do a cost benefit analysis. While normally that might not be so bad, it’s not possible to evaluate costs and benefits when you have no way of knowing what they really are.

I’ve never said this before, especially for a PF resolution, but I think running a kritik is the only appropriate way to debate this topic. So here’s what you’ll do for that on either side.

Pro

You can argue that the resolution is impossible for those without insider knowledge to argue because you have no way of knowing what U.S. cyber operations look like. Instead, you can propose an advocacy that assesses what are likely U.S. cyber vulnerabilities and what the U.S. can do to better prepare against threats to those vulnerabilities.

Con

The kritik is the same; the resolution cannot be debated because of lack of information. Instead, you can argue that the United States’ cyber apparatus has been turned on its own people, and we’re sacrificing liberty because of it. Edward Snowden is a great place to start when looking for information to support that.

Ultimately, I’m not happy about this topic, and it’s sad that debate is going in this direction. Best of luck, and don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

Don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

When did LD become PF? I don’t understand why we keep seeing these types of topics. LD used to be high level debate about moral principles and big questions, but we’re going more and more towards these garbage topics about public policy. Hopefully there’s a shift back the other way because I don’t know if I’ll want to do this much longer if it keeps going in this direction. Anyway, let’s get to it.

Definitions

subsidies for fossil fuels – This is really the only thing that needs to be defined in this resolution. Subsidies are basically some form of governmental incentive or tax break. In the case of the fossil fuel industry, there are a number of different types of subsidies that the U.S. provides. It’s important to note that the specific type of subsidy should not matter to your case. You should be debating the principle of the matter. Here’s a good place to find more information.

Case Positions

Remember here that your case will need to answer the question of how we determine what the United States government ought to do.

Affirmative

  1. Progress – A government’s first goal ought to be to promote societal progress – moral, economic, and otherwise. Civilizations perish because they are drowned by the tides of time. In order to progress as a society, the U.S. must get away from fossil fuels. They are a perishable resource, and eventually they will be too scarce to be reliable. Imperial conquering of resource rich lands will not be feasible in the future, and so subsidies need to be eliminated to direct society away from fossil fuel development into alternative renewable energy.
  2. Utilitarianism – As much as I dislike basic utilitarian position, this resolution provides a lot of room for a utilitarian calculus. A simple cost benefit shows that the U.S. is spending money on subsidies for dying industries that would be better spent elsewhere. Plus, it would be better for everyone due to the economic benefits of investing in clean energy.
  3. Survival – It times of great crisis, it can be argued that all governmental priorities should be directed toward survival. The realities of climate change create such a crisis. As such, the U.S., and all governments, should act in such a way to mitigate climate change and ensure the survival of the human race. Therefore, all subsidies for fossil fuels should be terminated.

Negative

  1. Moral Conflict – Nietzsche argued that the only way to determine the true morality or proper moral outcome was to let all ideologies compete openly, almost like a free market but for ideas. Fossil fuels and clean energy should be the same. We should continue subsidies for fossil fuels while also giving subsidies for clean energy. Let the industries compete, and survival of the fittest will dictate which one wins.
  2. Utilitarianism – There is a utilitarian argument to be made on the negative as well. It can be argued that ending these subsidies would have devastating economic consequences. While we might be moving toward clean energy, we’re certainly not there yet, and the U.S. economy continues to be largely dependent on fossil fuels. As such, it would be far more harmful to end the subsidies than to continue them.
  3. Lack of Timeline Kritik – It can be argued that the resolution is impossible to debate without a timeline attached to it. When should we end the fossil fuel subsidies? How long should we take to phase them out? A proper consequentialist analysis cannot be complete without a timeline because the short term, medium term, and long term consequences are completely different. After the critique, you can present a time-based counter-advocacy.

I hope that helps get you started. I’m sorry you have to debate this garbage topic, but good luck! And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

They Say Millennials Lack Empathy, But is it True?

It’s fashionable in some groups and thought circles to refer to Millennials as the “me generation.” The members of this generation are so preoccupied with themselves that they completely lack empathy for anyone else. There are plenty of articles and opinion pieces out there that try to argue that Millennials are increasingly narcissistic and self-centered and trying to explain why that may be the case.

What’s interesting is that the research cited is actually fairly consistent in its conclusions. A pretty famous article in Time cites several sources which show that narcissistic and individualistic traits in Millennials are higher than in previous generations. When studied, Millennials often demonstrate less concern or sympathy for the misfortunes of others.

There’s no debating the research. That is, there’s no debating it if you take it at face value. Particularly, there’s no debating it if you’re someone who doesn’t understand empathy because you lack empathy yourself.

You Need to be Empathetic to Measure Empathy

The research out there is crock because it uses definitions and measures that were created from perspectives which distinctly lack empathy. This is most evident when we examine the use of “sympathy and concern for the misfortunes of others” as a metric for evaluating empathy.

Konrath et. al. measure significantly lower rates of empathic concern and perspective taking in the Millennial generation. The problem is that their definitions of both are more akin to pity and sympathy rather than actual empathy. There is a distinct difference here that needs to be stated.

Pity and sympathy are specifically antithetical to empathy. They are predicated upon a recognition that the object of your feelings is in a different circumstance from yourself. Importantly, they also rely on viewing the object of your sympathy as just that, an object. The person whose misfortune you’re so concerned about is distant from and external to you. So when we find that Millennials disagree more with the statement, “ “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me,” it is erroneous to claim that this is an accurate measure of their empathy. In fact, a negative response to that statement could be an indication of increased empathy.

Similarly, when Millennials respond negatively to the statement, “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective,” they’re not actually saying they try less to empathize with their friends.

This is true because real empathy does not require conscious cognitive effort.

Let that sink in for a second.

When you really share an emotional state with someone, when you truly understand that emotional state, you do not need to make a conscious cognitive effort to replicate it. You are an insider, not an outsider trying to understand what “the other” is feeling. You are one in the same.

The definitions of empathy used in the research, and their corresponding measures, are distinctly un-empathetic.

What Does This Say About Previous Generations?

One thing to note is that research and commentary on the empathy of Millennials is almost exclusively conducted by non-Millennials. The definitions and measures they use are created by them; they are not novel or reworked. They are borrowed and carried forward from decades old psychological research and literature.

In this way, a meta examination of the research reveals a great deal about the lack of empathy in the generations of the people conducting the research. When your only conceptualizations of empathy rely on pity and sympathy, it’s clear that you yourself don’t really understand what it means to be empathetic. When your only conceivable measure of empathy is showing concern for someone else or trying to put yourself in their shoes, then you don’t actually grasp what it means to be in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is an internal recognition that you both are already wearing the same shoes; you don’t have to try and see how the other shoes fit.

Similarly, studies show that Millennials value extrinsic rewards of work more than intrinsic rewards.

Here, things like income and status are classified as extrinsic rewards. The problem is that, in their unlimited individualism, Millennials increasingly view income and status as intrinsic rewards. They expect to be paid fair compensation and be treated with dignity and respect in their workplace. Unpaid internships are rejected as exploitative now, where previously they were more commonplace. The measures need to be changed and the definitions reworked. They are byproducts of people who have an entirely different, and remarkably un-empathetic, world view.

It’s also telling that the results of the questions, “I like the kind of work you can forget about after the work day is over,” and, “ If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you’d like for the rest of your life, would you want to work?” were excluded entirely from the final conclusions of the study.

Millennials view work as a means to an end, not as a constant that they need to dump their entire lives into. They work because we’ve created a societal structure which necessitates it, not because the work serves any great purpose. You necessarily have to lack empathy with Millennials to structure your research in such a way.

How Can Narcissists Be Empathetic?

There is no doubt that Millennials are generally more concerned with themselves and feel significantly higher amounts of entitlement than previous generations. They want debts forgiven, free healthcare, adequate living wages, and a whole host of other things they feel they deserve.

So how can people like this possibly be empathetic? The answer is in the statement itself.

Millennials share their lived experiences. They intrinsically understand their shared circumstances and recognize their shared consciousness.

If Millennials are increasingly individualistic, they empathize with each other’s individuality. They share that mindset and that experience. Millennials are less communal, but they share in that perspective. They needn’t try to understand how other people feel because they are more emotionally connected with other people through their lived experiences.

How do we know this? Millennial communication relies on a level of empathy that is unprecedented in society.

Just search Instagram for #mood, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Millennials are a generation that can post a picture of them drinking on the porch with nothing but the word “Mood” in the caption, and convey a complex emotional understanding that will be understood by every other Millennial who sees the picture.

Previous generations were largely unable to communicate emotions at such a fundamental level. Instead, they relied on one-dimensional words like relaxed, relieved, or having fun to communicate what they were feeling. Instead, all they were doing was communicating whatever the other person thought the word meant. Millennials are managing to transcend the functionality of language and use it symbolically to communicate the emotions themselves.

Want a more dramatic example? Here’s a meme for you:

Here is an image that uses the logo of a salt container to convey a complete emotional state without ever telling you what that emotional state is. And yet, it is understood completely. I don’t even need to go into how the fact that memes even exist and are used as communication already illustrates my point.

But What About the Research?

When we look at research that tries to understand Millennials through what they do rather than responses to poorly defined measures created by Boomers, we actually see a slightly different story.

In the workplace, Millennials work well in teams and prefer frequent and open communication, particularly with their superiors.

Millennials utilize communication technology far more frequently than previous generations. One of the main reasons they cite for this behavior is that they seek social connectedness, which the researchers define as “receiving appropriate empathy and understanding from peers or society.”

Millennials are even more productive at work when they have work friends and operate in a low stress environment.

All of these behavioral realities suggest that Millennials are actually far more empathetic. They operate on a subconscious platform of empathy which relies on a common emotional foundation with the people they regularly interact with.

It’s important that we rid ourselves of misguided notions of what empathy means. We can’t measure it using un-empathetic methodologies that rely on conscious effort based evaluations.

Instead, let’s take a lesson from Millennials and become more introspective. When you begin to criticize somebody for not being empathetic, consider that maybe you are the one who cannot empathize with their emotional state.

One Last Note

One study interestingly suggested that Boomers are workaholics driven by ambition, and will be critical of people who don’t feel the same way.

I wonder why so much research conducted by Boomers seems to conclude that Millennials are selfish, entitled, and un-empathetic?

Yikes.

Resolved: The European Union should join the Belt and Road Initiative.

Resolved: The European Union should join the Belt and Road Initiative.

This is sort of an interesting topic. It’s also one I think is important for students to learn about because the Belt and Road Initiative is something that will significantly impact global development in the not so distant future. So let’s talk about it.

Definitions

Belt and Road Initiative – This is really the only important term in the resolution that merits definition. This initiative is a large infrastructure project which hopes to link basically all parts of the world. It is an effort to create land and sea routes from China, Southeast Asia, through the Middle East and Europe, all the way into the United States, effectively linking the entire globe. China has proposed it as a project to unite and connect the world, increasing global exchange and trust. Others see it as a ploy for China to implement a stranglehold on the global markets by creating a trade network dependent upon China for it’s operation. An important note for this resolution is that some countries like Italy and Greece have already signed on and agreed to cooperate with the initiative. Another important thing to note is that “signing on” to the initiative is really a meaningless gesture. Each infrastructure project within the initiative still requires its own negotiations and approvals. And like the Paris climate agreement, for example, countries are still free to reject anything they don’t see as fit, or even just not abide by the agreement, after signing on to it.

The framework of your case will depend on addressing the question of how we determine with the European Union should do. What should be the primary factors it considers when making a decision? Once you determine that, you can apply that to the question of the resolution to determine if the EU should join the Belt and Road Initiative.

Case Positions

Pro

  1. Global Exchange – Whether or not China intends to use the initiative as a way to increase its global influence, which it undoubtedly does, this proposal is an excellent way to increase global unity and exchange. These were central reasons for the founding of the EU to begin with, and the benefits are clear. The initiative will help the EU continue its mission, and because China is providing a significant amount of the financial backing, it will be at a relatively low cost. Also, some members of the EU have already signed on, so everyone might as well get on board.
  2. Economic Benefit – Robust infrastructure that fills in global gaps that exist today will help improve economic efficiency across the globe. The primary motivating factor behind the EU was economics. Countries joined to increase their economic strength and resources, and the exchange that came with it was just an added bonus. This is an opportunity for the EU to expand that economic mission to the rest of the world.

Con

  1. Moral Precedent – The EU exists to promote and encourage certain political and moral ideologies like distributive justice, democratic representation, etc… All EU countries have similar political systems, and certain countries like Turkey have been excluded because they are not ideologically similar. China has a history of continuing economic development regardless of political or moral considerations of right and wrong, as is demonstrated by its propensity of working with authoritarian regimes that Western democracies don’t work with. Signing on to China’s initiative would signal that the EU is more concerned about economic gain than about things like promoting human rights. It would allow China to spread its power and authoritarian regimes to have access to unprecedented resources.
  2. Security Risk – The first goal of any governmental body, like the EU, is to provide for the security of its people. China’s initiative poses a tremendous security risk. Increasing infrastructure links to rogue states and parts of the world that are home to radical groups and ideologies affords new opportunity for these dangerous ideologies to spread. It gives new avenues for terrorist to utilize. Not only that, China has a history of hacking and other technological warfare. The initiative would likely exacerbate those types of incidents, posing a significant security risk.

Alright, that’s it for now. I hope that helps get you started. Good luck! And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

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Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

FIrst topic of the year! And wow is it trash. Not only is the topic phrasing awful, but I also don’t understand why it’s an LD topic at all. This topic doesn’t pose interesting clash, and it’s phrased in such a way as to have an agent of action that is incredibly difficult to evaluate as a moral agent. Not only that, we’re skirting around the actual issue of whether or not we should have standardized tests at all. It’s awful, but I suppose it’s what we have to work with. So let’s get to it.

Definitions

Standardized Tests – We all know what standardized tests are. They’re tests given to all students to measure their educational progress. The tests are all the same, with the same questions, given to each member of a particular subset of students. There’s no reason to get caught up in any sort of nuance here.

Every other term in the resolution doesn’t really merit definition. We all know what colleges and universities are. Don’t get caught up in the distinction between public and private institutions; it ultimately doesn’t matter to the moral question, in fact now a days there’s a lot of options, there are even online colleges for military available.

Your key focus here should be determining how we evaluate what colleges and universities should do. In particular, you need to explain how we determine what factors these institutions should take into account for undergraduate school admissions. Unlike government, the moral imperatives of educational institutions are not well elucidated. Importantly, I don’t think most students will have a preliminary understanding of the philosophy of education, unlike they do with social contract philosophy, for example. I would recommending reading this entry for some background.

Case Positions

Affirmative

  1. Distributive Justice – Research widely suggests that standardized tests have socioeconomic and racial biases. This is to say that people who are poorer and people of color consistently perform worse on these tests than their wealthy white counterparts. Not only that, the entire industry is being shown to be less about evaluating students’ actual competency and instead about corporations making money. Since the first virtue of any social institution is to uphold/promote justice, colleges should do that which promotes justice. Using standardized tests as criteria in admissions directly violates principles of distributive because of the above points. Since colleges are social institutions, this would violate their primary directive. Many different justice theorists like Aristotle and John Rawls can be useful for this position.
  2. Autonomy – One of the most widely accepted theories on the purpose of education is that it is supposed to equip people for becoming autonomously functioning human beings. Standardized tests are the exact opposite; they seek to rob individuals of autonomy by evaluating everyone against the same standards. Since the purpose of education is to promote autonomy, colleges should reject anything to do with standardized tests altogether.

Negative

  1. Economics – Colleges are primarily economic institutions. Their goal is to create individuals who can best contribute to society and its economic welfare and productivity. As such, standardized tests should be a primary criteria for admissions decisions because they are a strong indication of an applicant’s economic viability. If a student has high standardized test scores, they are likely to continue having high test scores throughout college. This is economically beneficial and also a strong indication that the student will have a positive economic contribution once they graduate. Importantly, the most economically productive countries like China and Japan have doubled down on standardized testing, having even more rigorous examinations than the United States.
  2. Justice – The first virtue of any social institution, including colleges, is fairness. Standardized testing is the most fair way we can have of evaluating students. Importantly, upholding the importance of standardized tests sets an objective universal standard of educational justice for the entire system to uphold. This encourages every level of the system to eliminate barriers to students succeeding on standardized tests, which improves fairness across the board.

Well, that’s it for now. Good luck! And don’t forget to check out the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.