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"Conspiracy Theory" is, in most contexts, a Thought-Terminating Cliché.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/20/2012 Category: Society
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,330 times Debate No: 24787
Debate Rounds (4)
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Some definitions:

A "Thought-Terminating Cliché" is a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance. Though the the phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating.

"Cognitive Dissonance" is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g. ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously.

Dissent: To withhold assent, or to differ in opinion. (Merriam-Webster's)

Fallacious Logic: Any argument or proposition that commits either a formal (deductive) or informal (inductive) fallacy. (Various online resources, I highly recommend a study of these to all debaters)

Conspiracy Theory: In the context of the topic resolution, the phrase itself. (i.e. the actual pairing and usage of these two words in spoken, written, or typed language) However, for the debate it may be useful to note that the definition of conspiracy is "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful," while the most appropriate definition of theory is "an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action." (Oxford)


1) First round is acceptance. (Please work out definitional and clarification issues in the comments or elsewhere, as I know this subject matter is somewhat obscure)

2) Round two is initial arguments.

3) Round three is rebuttals.

4) Round four is final arguments, although there may be no new evidence presented.

5) No trolling. Dropped points should not be taken as concessions. Overall, the outcome of this debate should be determined not on technicalities of debatecraft, but on who has the most cogent argument and supporting evidence.
6) Take it seriously.

That's it. I hope this debate becomes a thought-initiating topic.

Good Luck to my worthy challenger!


I accept.
Debate Round No. 1


Pro Case:

C1: Conspiracies can, and sometimes do, happen.

My initial premise here is that, although modern society certainly has become more publicized, there is still nothing that necessarily makes the existence of a conspiracy logically impossible. In other words, there is nothing necessarily preventing any formal or informal group of self-interested individuals or parties from coming to an agreement to do something unlawful or harmful outside of the public's eye (thus making it a secret.) Therefore, a truly rational person would at least honestly consider and weigh all of the available evidence in an attempt to analyze the situation and draw a rational conclusion about any initial claims of a conspiracy (i.e. "account for the situation with an idea." see the definition of "theory.") This, however, does not generally happen. The reason, I argue, is because the very phrase "conspiracy theory" has devolved into a thought-terminating cliché.

Furthermore, there have been confirmed instances of actual conspiracies, both historically and recently. For instance:

Exhibit 1: "The Business Plot." [1][2]

In November, 1934, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, a man of incredible honesty, credibility, and reliability alleged to the "McCormack-Dickstein Committee" that a group of Wall St. businessmen approached him with the request to head an army of 500,000 volunteer soldiers, backed by 3 million dollars, to overthrow Predident F.D.R. in a 1933 attempt to establish a Fascist dictatorship that would naturally benefit these businessmen. He, Butler, would have no part in it, and testified against these conspirators. The committee's final report, according to the New York Times, "purported to report that a two-month investigation had convinced it that General Butler's story of a fascist march on Washington was alarmingly true" and "It also alleged that definite proof had been found that the much publicized Fascist march on Washington, which was to have been led by Major. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, according to testimony at a hearing, was actually contemplated."

Most notably to my case however, was that it was called everything from a "gigantic hoax" and "cocktail putsch," to "perfect moonshine." None of which, obviously, were rational arguments against it, but merely TTC precursors of our more modern "conspiracy theory," which is surely what it would be, and is, called today. No one was persecuted.

Exhibits 2-5: Since around that time until now, there have been several other confirmed conspiracies that actually took place. I'll simply list some of them here: The American Eugenics Movement (which was actually a large inspiration to the Nazis), The Tuskegee Experiment, Project Mk Ultra, and the Watergate Scandal (which seems to be the word we call a "conspiracy" once it becomes undeniable to the public.)[3][4][5][6]

This small selection of the existing evidence gives plenty of weight to my own argument that there is no rational reason to think that conspiracies, in general, can't happen. Because as we have just examined, in fact they have.

C2: Confirmation Bias and the need to quell Cognitive Dissonance. [7][8]

Confirmation Bias is the psychological tendency of human beings to selectively gather evidence that supports beliefs that they already have or conclusions that they prejudicially favor. The effect is stronger for emotionally-charged issues and deeply-entrenched beliefs. Therein lies the problem. We often find ourselves in emotional situations that don't turn out the way we wished or believed they would turn out. This causes cognitive dissonance, because our preconceived expectations of how events would turn out are real to us, and the experience of them turning out negatively clashes with our positive expectations. Often, a "wise" friend or family member will explain away this disparity with an aptly-fitted piece of folk-wisdom. Many times, though not always, this folk wisdom only serves as a TTC that doesn't actually explain much, but does serve to quiet our cognitive dissonance. They make us feel that the situation has been accounted for, even if hasn't actually been put through a rational analysis, but they are usually self-satisfying enough to stop us from thinking too much about it anymore.

My contention is that the phrase "conspiracy theory" is the most potent contemporary TTC. The reason for this is that most conspiracies we are presented any evidence to support are usually deeply involved in the public institutions and establishments that we identify with. This becomes especially problematic when the evidence comes out after we have backed actions, policies, or legislations that we thoroughly believed in. If the evidence suggests that the cause wasn't as legitimate as we might've hoped, then we experience extreme cognitive dissonance. Increasingly as time has gone on, and as the world has become more connected, we use this phrase "conspiracy theory" as an emotional and psychological safeguard of our own confirmation bias.

One will note in their own experience that the moment something is termed such, one of two situations plays itself out. Either you are biased to confirm the established order of things, or you are biased to rebel against that order. If the first case, then the term conspiracy theory applied to new evidence immediately denies the credibility of the evidence and further confirms your bias that everything is as it should be. If the second case, then the term immediately elicits a reponse to independently search for information that confirms the futility and malice of that order. In either case, cognitive dissonance is quelled and no objective thought is considered.

C3: This polarization of biases exists today.

While I personally do tend to think that there is corruption and misguided motive behind much institutional policy today, I don't subscribe to the more sensational conspiracies of Satanist or illuminati stature. With that being said, this polar divide between superficial, ostensible ideals and out-of-touch, mystical conspiracies harms rational thought and can clearly be observed in many of today's largest issues.

For instance, Tony Blair has called any allegations that his government's involvement with the Iraq war that had anything to do with anything other than finding WMDs (e.g. oil) "conspiracy theories" from the very beginning, all the way to the near-present, although they found no evidence of such weapons, and apparently never had much. Also, there is evidence that the C.I.A. had involvement in the training and supplying of Bin Laden's organizations in the past, during the Soviet-Afghan war. And as such there is some reason to believe that they therefore bear some responsibility for 9/11, along with "blowback" from U.S. foreign policy in general. [9][10][11][12]

In conclusion, the low tolerance for cognitive dissonance in most of the human population, along with the polarization of emotionally-charged public issues through the confirmation bias, ultimately causes the term "conspiracy theory" to function as a TTC for both sides of any issue, in order that they may quell their own cognitive dissonance and avoid any truly rational thought or creative insight on such matters.



Both my opponent and I agree that conspiracy theories are often true. That's not at issue in this debate. The question in this debate is whether "conspiracy theory" is used to create cognitive dissonance, as proposed by pro, or arises because of cognitive dissonace, as I'm about to advocate.

Why does cognitive dissonance actually happen?

9/11 is a reasonably good example of a conspiracy theory. Regardless of whether it was orchestrated by the US government or not, the people who believe it was a conspiracy are not exactly big supporters of the US government. Why? Because according to their beliefs, the US government has done something that they're not really happy about - first of all, committing the actual act of blowing up the twin towers, killing thousands and destroying important landmarks, but secondly, lying about it and covering it up. Why does anybody believe that narrative? Because they distrust the official government narrative, obviously - they believe things like that the 9/11 commission was a sham and that it was all a pretense to start wars that they usually don't agree with either. So let's investigate that chain of events. First, problem recognition - ie, there is evidence that the US government could be behind the attacks. Second, cognitive dissonance - ie how could it be possible that this government I trust could be behind 9/11. At this point, they make one of two choices - either they stop trusting the government, or they stop trusting the evidence that makes the government responsible.

Let us presume they choose the first option and somebody calls them a conspiracy theorist. In order for this to create cognitive dissonance, it would have to clash somehow with their already-held assumptions. If, in fact, they are conspiracy theorists, then there's no reason why they'd have a problem with that. It's like going up to a gay person and saying "ha ha, you're gay!" - the gay person would simply reply saying "yes, I am. Thank you captain obvious." The situation is a bit different if the other person is somebody they know and trust. If, for instance, one trusts the local priest, and the priest says "Thou shalt not be gay," then there is cognitive dissonance - does one trust one's own assumptions or the priest's? The same thing happens with conspiracy theories - if you trust your grandma, and she says "Oh no, dear, that's just a conspiracy theory, don't worry about it," then you might have cognitive dissonance because you might trust your grandma more than your assumption. However, it's not because it's a conspiracy theory that your grandma might have changed your mind - it's because it was your grandma who said it. Similarly, in the example my opponent mentioned, if the evidence is not so strong for the conspiracy theory, or because you voted for a government in the past, then it's because of that vote or that lack of evidence that you experience cognitive dissonace - NOT because it's a conspiracy theory. Whether there were conspirators or not, the need for consistancy and evidence does not go away.

The words "conspiracy theory" say nothing about the credibility of evidence or about any lack of evidence, unlike my opponent's assertion - it simply refers to "a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group" ( This is also more or less equivalent to the Oxford definition provided by my opponent in the first round.

My evidence

Under my opponent's model, you'd expect to see groups like 9/11 truthers die out pretty quickly, as people become cognitively dissonant with being called conspiracy theorists. This would particularly be true over time, since calling something a conspiracy theory more frequently should mean more cognitive dissonance should build up. It's the same principle as when you become dissatisfied with a purchase you have made. Say you buy a new phone and then notice that it actually sucks. The longer you have to use that phone, the more dissonant you will become - after one month you might only be slightly annoyed, while after three years you'll probably be smashing your phone to pieces in rage. However, conspiracy theories do not follow this paradigm, indicating that for conspiracy theorists, being called a conspiracy theorist is not a source of cognitive dissonance.

A good example of this is the shooting of John F Kennedy, the former president of the United States. People still debate about whether or not there was a conspiracy. I recently did some research into what really caused the Hindenburg to blow up, and if you do so like me, you'll find a whole host of fasinating conspiracy theories that survive and are passionately argued to this day - despite the fact that (let's be honest) it doesn't really matter whether there was a conspiracy or not any more (I mean, seriously - World War 2 ended how long ago!?). Conspiracy theories go older still. Did Nero set alight Rome, was it really some sneaky Christians, or was it somebody else entirely? Historians, by and large, think there was a conspiracy, but calling them conspiracy theorists hasn't changed their views in hundreds of years. Furthermore, there has been plenty of ongoing rational thought and creative insights on all of these, such as the recent discovery of the coating used on the Hindenburg as a possible cause for the speed of the fire's spread. My opponent's psychological theory does not stand up to empirical facts about conspiracy theories.

Entrenchment of biases

I agree that the entrenchment of biases is harmful. However, this is a problem with conspiracy theories. This is not a debate about whether conspiracy theories are a good thing or not. This is a debate about whether the phrase "conspiracy theory" is usually used as a cliche to terminate thought. Conspiracy theories will exist for as long as there are conspiracies, and applying the label "conspiracy theory" to a conspiracy theory does nothing more to entrench the confirmation biases of conspiracy theorists or any other groups.

I thank my opponent for his effort so far and look forward to the next round.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent agrees that conspiracies can and do happen (C1). So we have some common ground to work with, this is good, because as we're going to see he has made a crucial mistake in understanding my second contention (C2). As such, he has essentially, and perhaps accidentally, argued against a Straw-Man version of my initial argument, and in some cases this has actually caused him to argue for my initial position.

C2: Confirmation Bias and the need to quell (i.e. quiet, decrease, remove) Cognitive Dissonance.

Now, to be fair I'm simply going to elaborate on my previous position here so Con will have a chance to come back and argue against it more accurately, in the next round. I think that if Con and the voters read through both sides of round 2, then they will be able to see what I mean.

[1] Cognitive Dissonance:

Cognitive dissonance
is a mental discomfort that increases as the weights of opposing evidence approaches the same magnitude. For instance, say you had two pieces of evidence that bear equal weight on the truth about a particular situation, however, one piece points to one solution, and the other points to another, equally plausible but opposite, solution. This would be the case where you have the highest potential cognitive dissonance.

It may be more severe with the types of situations that both my opponent and I have mentioned. This would most likely be because with the advent of the Internet, the evidence against the established order of things is finally given a fair chance to be considered by the common people. This is good, but it presents its own difficulties. It means that the new, opposing evidence weighs against the old, entrenched and traditional evidence. The tremendous combined weights of these sets of information creates a lot of cognitive dissonance in the population.

[2] Confirmation Bias:

Confirmation Bias is a psychological tendency that "protects" us from cognitive dissonance. We have a drive-like need to remove or decrease cognitive dissonance as soon as possible, much like hunger or thirst. So, imagine that you are a "blank slate," and then you obtain one piece of information. You will go on acquiring pieces of information, most of which will be irrelevant to each other (i.e. "the sky is blue" and "I'm a male.") However, the possibility that you will come across information that is dissonant to what you already hold in mind exists. As such, confirmation bias compels us to "build up" information in mind that is consonant (i.e. agrees with, confirms) to what we already believe or what we want to believe. This is so the weight of this evidence will eventually be able to outweigh any opposing (dissonant) information we come across.

However, there will still be some cognitive dissonance, and in some cases, especially today, we can not avoid cognitive dissonance as easily as we would like to. In other words, confirmation bias is becoming a little outdated. We, being stubborn beings, therefore have found new ways to adapt and defend against cognitive dissonance. This is not necessarily a good thing, because people with a high tolerance for it are particularly creative and intelligent. Most people, however, do not have such a high tolerance, and therefore use other contemporary methods, besides their own confirmation bias, to decrease it or remove it whenever possible. The most relevant such method here is the thought-terminating cliché (TTC.)

[3] Thought-Terminating Clichés:

The fundamental error my opponent has made in his rebuttal is to argue that TTCs, especially "conspiracy theory," do not create cognitive dissonance. The problem is, I never said that they did. My position was precisely the opposite from the beginning, and still is. This is why his rebuttal was mostly a straw-man.

*The very definition I provided in the challenge for TTCs said that that they functioned to ease, remove, quiet, or decrease dissonance, not create it. I argued in the first round that the phrase "conspiracy theory" was used by both sides of any issue in this exact manner.*

To clarify, let me explain more in depth how this might play out on either side of any issue.

Pro-Conspiracy: I have information for X conspiracy. The news is presenting information against conspiracy X. I already believed conspiracy X. Therefore, my confirmation bias makes me favor conspiracy X's existence. However, at present, the objective evidence bears equal weight on both sides, thus I am experiencing cognitive dissonance. I then hear someone on a talk show call the evidence for X a "conspiracy theory." My cognitive dissonance is removed, because the phrase is a TTC that makes me default to my confirmation bias. I then spend hours on the Internet researching the Illuminati and Rothschilds, thus entrenching my belief in conspiracy X further.

Con-Conspiracy: I have information for Y conspiracy. The news is presenting information against conspiracy Y. I already disbelieved conspiracy Y. Therefore, my confirmation bias makes me favor conspiracy Y's non-existence. However, at present, the objective evidence bears equal weight on both sides, thus I am experiencing cognitive dissonance. I then hear someone on a talk show call the evidence for Y a "conspiracy theory." My cognitive dissonance is removed, because the phrase is a TTC that makes me default to my confirmation bias. I then spend hours on the Internet reading conservative opinion articles and posting patriotic quotes on Facebook, thus entrenching my disbelief in conspiracy Y further.

These are the extremes, but most people would fit nearer to one end of the spectrum, rather than in the middle, and thus a similar model might be made for them.

C3: Entrenchment of Biases.

My opponent and I agree that the entrenchment of biases is immediately harmful in any social context. We disagree however, about whether there is such a polarity around the phrase "conspiracy theory" and the events labeled as such.

His argument here is also somewhat of a strawman as I never argued for or against conspiracy theories themselves, but only argued that at present, the phrase is used by both sides of an issue to quiet their own cognitive dissonance in light of opposing evidence.

We can see the polarity exists because of the simultaneous increases in both conservative, nationalistic thought that does little to question authority or institutions, and radical, revolutionary thought that does little to see any good in those authorities and institutions. e.g. The "Truther" movement, Zeitgeist, Occupy, and others are currently opposed to conservative, patriotic Americans and other Westerners who believe that they did the right thing based on the truth (in regards to Afghanistan and Iraq.) My contention here was that the use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" on both sides serves as a TTC that removes cognitive dissonance by causing either party to default to their confirmation bias.

In neither case does the majority of either group rationally weigh objective evidence, especially when TTCs such as "Conspiracy Theory" are used as an excuse to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, and therefore relinquish one's own responsibility to come up with original, creative, and constructive solutions (i.e. think.)



In round two, pro argued that the phrase "conspiracy theory" makes a piece of information seem illegitimate, and thus resolves cognitive dissonance. My response was that there is no link between the legitimacy of the information and the degree of cognitive dissonance, especially when the prior assumption of the individual is that the information is illegitimate. I further protested that "conspiracy theory" doesn't actually communicate anything about the legitimacy of the information at all, as pro seemed to accept when he made his definitions, or when he argued that conspiracy theories are often true. Finally, I said that this theory does not fit with empirical data we have on the history of conspiracy theories.

In round three, pro argued that when "conspiracy theory" makes something seem illegitimate, that applies whether that information is held by the conspirators or not. My opponent is right to note that I have only been questioning whether there is a link between confirming biases and being a conspiracy theorist from the perspective of conspiracy theorists, so I'll explain the logic from the alternative perspective.

Remember that what pro needs to prove is that because something is a conspiracy theory, cognitive dissonance (whether that be related to the legitimacy of information as pro has been arguing thus far, or anything else) needs to be resolved - to the extent that it actually becomes a substitute for finding more information on the subject.

Alternative narrative - pro conspiracy

I distrust the government account because I think they're really grey aliens trying to eat my brain. I believe that because I heard it on a radio show I trust. I am a conspiracy theorist. Now, let's look at how that dynamic changes when somebody says to me that I'm a conspiracy theorist. I'll agree. It's not because I am called a conspiracy theorist that I'm not reading government accounts any more, it's because I've always believed (both before and after being called a "conspiracy theorist") that the government account is wrong. It's also not because I am called a conspiracy theorist that I'm more likely to read the narratives of other conspiracy theorists - it's because I read those narratives in the first place. So the whole dynamic of information gathering isn't affected.

I'm going to go a step further and, once again, explain to you why this is. First, it's because the phrase "conspiracy theory" says nothing about the legitimacy of information. This can easily be checked by looking at either my or my opponent's definitions of "conspiracy theory." In order to show that "conspiracy theory" was a thought-terminating cliche, my opponent still needs to tell us why conspiracy theory is more just a statement of fact that the person already knows and agrees with, and rather actually communicates some information about the type of information that the conspiracy theorist ought to look up.

Second, let us assume that it does tell the conspiracy theorist that their conspiricies are legitimate. The question is now whether that vindicates the conspiracy theorist's position. In fact, according to the pro conspiracy narrative, the conspiracy theory is already vindicated, as it was used to resolve some form of cognitive dissonance in the beginning. Since the cognitive dissonance surrounding whether a conspiracy is true or not has already been resolved, bringing it up again doesn't pose a new problem. So basically, if calling somebody a conspiracy theorist did cast doubt over the legitimacy of information, then that person must not have made a decision about what side's evidence they believe and as such could not be accurately termed a "conspiracy theorist."

Let me also remind you of my empirical proof of this. If calling people conspiracy theorists would be enough to polarise, then conspiracy theorists would never come up with new or alternative interpretations of the evidence. In fact, they do. I gave you the example of the Hindenburg last round. Actually, let me source that for you: It's not an amazingly unusual example either - people have come up with new theories for everything from what sank the Titanic to who killed Malcolm X, despite having previously been labelled conspiracy theorists.

Alternative narrative - con conspiracy

The same is true of people who oppose conspiracies. If I really believe that there is no cover-up in the shooting of JFK, then being told that alternative theories are "conspiracy theories" will do nothing to make me more satisfied with my own position or entrench my biases. It's simply a statement of fact - something I had already believed. Put another way, my alternative idea is that these people will post on facebook or scan the internet for conservative opinion articles whether they call pro-conspiracy people "conspiracy theorists" or not. They would not be doing this because they label them "conspiracy theorists", but because they disagree with the theory they put forward.

This is a classic case of assuming causation when really there is only correlation. It's true, for instance, that biases become entrenched, but what I'm saying is that this is a natural consequence of conspiracy theories and nothing else. That's not a strawman; that's just a different level of analysis. Even if the entrenchment of biases does happen, it still does not prove that the term "conspiracy theory" (as opposed to the facts of the theory) was the catalyst - and even if it did, that still does not prove that "conspiracy theory" qualifies as a thought-terminating cliche.

The core disagreement we hold is this assertion made by my opponent: "cognitive dissonance is removed, because the phrase is a TTC that makes me default to my confirmation bias." My opponent has the burden of proof in this debate. Despite the fact I have already provided strong evidence why this is not true, my opponent is yet to justify that "cognitive dissonance" is in fact a thought-terminating cliche.

I look forward to the final round.
Debate Round No. 3


Con is actually extending more arguments against a strawman of my position. Whether this is because he has failed to understand them, or because he didn't read the resolution thoroughly, or attempt to clarify it with me before the debate, I am not sure. My position never asserted that the phrase "conspiracy theory" had any bearing on the truth of any information, that is the opposite of the position I have been defending throughout this debate. What makes a TTC a TTC is the fact that it doesn't bear any real truth value either way. It simply serves to quiet cognitive dissonance independent of the truth value of a claim.

Con's arguments are failing to elucidate his position in regards to my own. For instance, I do not need to prove that "because something is a conspiracy theory, cognitive dissonance needs to be resolved to the extent that it becomes a substitute for finding more information."

That is not consistent with the resolution I put forward or my own arguments. It also doesn't make much logical sense in terms of what I have been arguing, because the need to remove cognitive dissonance is inherent, it is a psychological drive to avoid the discomfort that comes with dissonance. A thought-terminating cliché is used to fulfill that function, independent of any truth behind it. This has been my position in regards to the phrase (and only the phrase) "conspiracy theory" throughout the debate. It does not matter whether the phrase is applied to a situation with any bearing in reality, in terms of my argument. Either way it functions as a TTC.

Pro Conspiracy:

This, again, is a total strawman. I'll demonstrate why.

Con says, "It's not because I am called a conspiracy theorist that I'm not reading government accounts any more, it's because I've always believed (both before and after being called a "conspiracy theorist") that the government account is wrong. It's also not because I am called a conspiracy theorist that I'm more likely to read the narratives of other conspiracy theorists - it's because I read those narratives in the first place. So the whole dynamic of information gathering isn't affected."

This was my point on this side of the conspiracy example. Con has again actually argued for my position to some degree. My argument was not that the phrase "conspiracy theory" directly affected which information searched out. It was that confirmation bias makes one prefer one side of the issue in the first place. In this case it would be pro-conspiracy already. The TTC comes in when information that is opposed to one's preferred view is presented, and is then used to remove the resulting cognitive dissonance from that, allowing one to continue building up their base of information consonant to their bias in the absence of the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance.

This is the actual reason why people who are already biased towards belief in conspiracies seek out enough semi-relevant information to continually come up with new theories to explain past events.

Con Conspiracy:

Con has ignored the examples I gave in both the pro/con contentions, and what they were meant to demonstrate.

I agree that both pro-conspiracy and anti-conspiracy advocates would do things in accord with their biases without the use of the phrase "conspiracy theory." That was, yet again, part of my point from the beginning. The crucial difference is what happens when either party is presented with evidence that opposes what they already believe. Then, and only then, is when they would experience cognitive dissonance, and only then would the phrase "conspiracy theory" act as a TTC, and in general this is where we here the phrase used. This has been, and is, my position.

I'll spell it out one last time:

I believe X position. -> Information opposed to position X is presented to me somehow. -> I thus experience cognitive dissonance, because I cannot handle considering this new information conflicting with my previously held belief X. -> Someone explains the situation with the phrase "conspiracy theory." -> One of two things happen. -> Either I am pro-conspiracy and the phrase removes cognitive dissonance and resolves my belief in the conspiracy (because obviously the government would call it a conspiracy to cover it up), or I am con-conspiracy and the phrase removes cognitive dissonance and resolves my disbelief in the conspiracy (because after all those people are crazy.)
My opponent has not consistently opposed the actual position I have held throughout this debate, and where he has, he has not given any valid explanations or evidence to support his alternative positions. I have made several versions of the same argument, where my opponent has made several rebuttals to arguments that I never posed. Therefore, my opponent's strawman arguments and unwarranted assertions in response have thus far failed to hold up against my own arguments and explanations.

I nevertheless look forward to his final remarks and the interpretation of this debate by the voters.



My opponent's default response to everything I've said in this debate has been: "That's a strawman, here's my point again."

Let's look at his own case. He had to prove that "conspiracy theory" was a thought terminating cliche. At the start he proved that conspiracies happen (which is irrelevant - even if they didn't happen a conspiracy theory could still be a thought-terminating cliche) and that conspiracy theories lead to the polarisation of biases (however, this would happen independant of whether conspiracy theories were thought terminating cliches or not, thus there is no causal link the the resolution). Really the only relevant point he had was about confirmation bias and the need to quell cognitive dissonance.

The only explanation for why "conspiracy theory" is a thought-terminating cliche that my opponent has given in this whole debate is that "The reason for this is that most conspiracies we are presented any evidence to support are usually deeply involved in the public institutions and establishments that we identify with." I gave a number of responses to this statement. As I list my responses, check through them and note how they're not strawmen:

1) Conspiracy theories have nothing to do with evidence
2) Despite deep involvement, conspiracies do not operate as thought-terminating cliches in the real world - my opponent dismisses this as being a natural product of seeking out more information about the conspiracy, but that would ignore the fact that there might be multiple conspiracy theories around an event, and "switching" from one to another creates exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance he says we avoid at all costs.
3) Thought is terminated by other factors, such as believing the information, rather than the nature of the information being conspiratorial

Besides all that, I don't think that one sentence is sufficient analysis to carry the argument. Therefore, the key causal link my opponent had to prove - WHY conspiracy theories are in fact thought-terminating cliches - remains nothing more than a mere assertion. He also tried adding this new argument into the final round:

"What makes a TTC a TTC is the fact that it doesn't bear any real truth value either way."

But of course, he already proved in round one that conspiracy theories can be true, therefore showing that conspiracy theories are not TTCs.

Although pro has failed to prove their case, allow me to go over the remaining point of the debate.

We questioned whether "conspiracy theories" create "confirmation bias." I said that the reason why you'd have confirmation bias is a belief that some broad category of information is more valid than another category, and therefore you'd look for it. However, that's true of any theory, not specifically conspiracy theories. Despite me challenging this right from the start, my opponent has never shown you why confirmation bias applies specifically to conspiracy theories. If it's true that it does not, that means that the confirmation bias would exist independant of whether the theory is a conspiracy theory or not, implying that the theory itself is the TTC, not the nature of that theory as conspiratorial. My opponent also contradicts himself when he says "My argument was not that the phrase "conspiracy theory" directly affected which information searched out" - this is precisely what confirmation bias is, according to his own standard. In the last round, my opponent has even agreed that I'm right about this point (under the "Con Conspiracy" heading). He says that it's rather all about when information is presented that opposes a person's present assumptions, which isn't confirmation bias at all (confirmation bias deals exclusively with what kind of information is sought).

Let me therefore go through my opponent's big long list of arrows at the end and point out the flaw, as before. We both agree with everything up to "one of two things happen." I disagree that calling it a conspiracy theory resolves the truth of one's own assumptions. I gave a list of three reasons why that is at the start of this round. That it's a conspiracy theory is a fact that people already know - it's because of the evidence, not the conspiracy, that they believe or disbelieve the evidence.

Pro asserts that he doesn't need to prove that "conspiracy theory" becomes a substitute for finding more information on the subject. That's what a thought-terminating cliche does - it limits the scope of the information you search for. What he has not proven is that "conspiracy theory" is anything more than an arbritrary classification of fact. These facts may make you uncomfortable, or cause you to gain some degree of confirmation bias - but the conspiracy theory classification ultimately means nothing. It just describes a fact as it is.

I began by saying that this is about whether conspiracies cause or are caused by cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can be used positively (increased cognitive dissonance) or negatively (decreased cognitive dissonance) - both are caused. To cause cognitive dissonance, the new information must clash with already-held assumptions. Since conspiracy theories do not clash with already held assumptions, but rather only seek to describe them, conspiracy theories do not affect cognitive dissonance.

The motion falls.
Debate Round No. 4
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
THAT should suffice.
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
Wait... that went wrong actually.
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
Done. How's that?
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
Actually wait I can edit it first.
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
Sounds perfect. The challenge is all yours then, if you want it.
Posted by larztheloser 4 years ago
Instead of "NO trolling or lawyering. There will be no such thing as "drops," or concessions other than the voluntary kind."

Say something like "No trolling. Dropped points should not be taken as concessions. Overall, the outcome of this debate should be determined not on technicalities of debatecraft, but on who has the most cogent argument and supporting evidence."
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
I can do that, although I think rule #5 will probably make it clear to most experienced DDO people from the beginning. Which part exactly do you want me to add?
Posted by larztheloser 4 years ago
If you post that into your opening argument I'll take the debate. It's just that I'm afraid that somebody with a slightly different idea of what "lawyering" means might penalise one of us for doing something you never intended to include in that definition.
Posted by mark.marrocco 4 years ago
Clarify the definition of lawyering? I'm really not even experienced with it, as in I don't know any more about it than I've already said. That's why I've banned it. Basically, I just want the arguments to weigh against each other without someone claiming you lost a point just because you didn't address every specific (which is impractical, if not impossible.) For example:
Posted by larztheloser 4 years ago
Could you clarify that in your opening argument?
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