Uniqueness Controls the Direction of the Link: A Primer


Have you been hearing teams throwing the phrase “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” around in your debates, and aren’t sure what it means or how to use it? Debate Central will help you demystify.


Like nearly all debate terminology, the phrase “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” is an attempt to compress a complex idea into a short piece of speech in order to increase word efficiency during debates. Let’s unpack it a bit.


As you undoubtedly already know if you’re bothering to read this, “uniqueness” refers to the state of the status quo (in particular, whether something is or is not already occurring independently of the plan) and “link” refers to how a particular argument relates to the plan (or another concept). The phrase “direction of the link” basically means, in a general sense, “is the link true, or is the link turn true, or neither?”


So, when we argue “uniqueness controls the direction of the link,” what we are saying is that the status quo can inform us on what is most likely to be true about the effects of the plan.


Let’s clarify by looking at a simple example: the negative reads a politics disad that says [legislation] will pass now, but is derailed by the unpopularity of engaging Cuba. The affirmative then reads cards that say relations with Cuba are thawing and engagement has already increased recently.  The aff could then concede that [legislation] will pass now, but argue that “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” because [legislation] will pass despite recent engagement with Cuba (other instances that aren’t the plan). In order words, if we have already increased our engagement with Cuba and [legislation] still looks poised to pass, we have to assume the link is untrue, because it should have already happened. This gives the aff more weight to their no links (“obviously engaging Cuba doesn’t stop passage, because it hasn’t already happened”) or link turns (“engagement + passage now, so assume that if there is any connection between, them it’s a positive one”).


As you can see, this argument requires you to engage with several uniqueness questions. In this case, “what is the status quo level of engagement with Cuba?” and “will [legislation] pass in the status quo?” It is worth pointing out that this is only one iteration of “uniqueness controls the link”; there are other ways it can be deployed.


Another example: If the neg is winning uniqueness on their politics disad, but they want to kick it because of aff link turns, they might say “uniqueness controls the direction of the link.” In other words, if [legislation] will pass now, the aff is irrelevant, because it can’t pass more. It just either does or doesn’t pass. The link turn is therefore incoherent. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to linear disads).


“Uniqueness controls the direction of the link” is basically a maneuver that plays on the fact that no argument starts in a vacuum; everything has to be contextualized within the current situation. Sometimes, the current situation is itself enough to dismiss your opponents’ arguments as nonsensical.


A few caveats that are very important to keep in mind: this argument is useful as a booster to your other link arguments, or as a tiebreaker. Reading a uniqueness card and making a “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” argument alone, without any other arguments, would be a horrible strategy. “Uniqueness controls the direction of the link” is basically a blippy weighing argument that can help you pull ahead in close, card-dump-y debates (such as in example 1), or help you resolve situations where you’re winning uniqueness but not other issues (such as in example 2). It is not, by itself, a particularly strong argument.


You must also remember that within the logical chain of any argument, there will always be numerous moving pieces and externalities. The examples I have given are only written to be illustrations of the concept, not arguments that are good/true. Nor are they the totality of how “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” might be expressed in a debate. Try not to get too hung up on these arguments themselves and focus instead on the underlying theoretical argument.


To put that warning more concretely, let’s refer back to our previous politics disad example: maybe the existing engagement with Cuba is much less extensive than the plan, and that is the reason the status quo hasn’t disrupted the passage of [legislation], but the plan still would. Or maybe the difference is that existing engagement has been conditional, whereas the plan is a concession, and that is the key difference to the link. There are innumerable considerations that go into any disad (or any other argument) chain. Once again, “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” is an argument that you can make, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good argument for every occasion.


Here is what you should take away from this article:


  • “Uniqueness controls the direction of the link” is basically an argument that evaluates the likelihood of a link being true based on its relationship to the status quo.
  • It can be used to gain the upper-hand in debates where the judge is tasked with finding some way to evaluate a stack of cards from both sides that make competing claims, but is not a great argument by itself.
  • As with everything in debates, there are always lots of factors and moving parts that have to be considered.


Because of the multiplicity of ways “uniqueness controls the direction of the link” can be deployed in debates, it is an argument that is consistently misunderstood by many debaters. We hope that today’s article has helped you to make sense of this rather complex tactic, so you can use it or defend against it to your maximum benefit.


If you still have questions, leave them in the comments! We’ll reply as quickly as possible.


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