Debate cloture

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Debate cloture occurs when one side or another to an ideological conflict refuses to engage with the other in argumentation. Everyone engages in a certain amount of debate cloture, simply because there is not enough time in the day to participate at length in every discussion one is invited to. More debatable are the other reasons for not engaging, even when one does have an interest in the topic and enough time to participate. Debate cloture by one's opponents could be considered an indication that one is in the first stage of one's activism:

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you." — 1918 US trade union address by Nicholas Klein

In parliamentary law, "cloture" is the name of the procedure by which the U.S. Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster.


Debate cloture is used by sites such as RationalWiki to cut off arguments they perceive as unproductive. Republican Mark Souder, at the Congressional hearing on "The Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization, Decriminalization and Harm Reduction", argued that even having a debate on the topic was a bad idea: "We do not have hearings called 'The Pros and Cons of Rape.'"[1]

Arguments concerning debate cloture[edit]

In favor[edit]

To debate a position is to illustrate its non-viability as a legitimate argument, worthy of the respect enough to be debated or even seriously entertained. Depending on the subject, there is a great deal of merit to this tactic. Some points of view don't deserve any respect, and nor do their promoters.

Any proposal that relies on the idea of aggression or coercion enacted on another individual, or group of individuals, such as a war for example, does not deserve serious consideration.Do You Believe That? To give it such, by allowing debate with it's proponents, is to lend it respectability, and so, invite others to be fooled into tolerating it.


Refusing to participate in a debate can cause onlookers to suspect that one is declining because one does not have arguments that are persuasive enough to stand up to the counter-arguments. As the Drug Reform Coordination Network said concerning drug prohibitionists' refusal to participate in debates, "If they are honest, on the right track, and have nothing to hide, then they should welcome the chance to crush the 'legalizers'. . . . . It gives us the definite impression that they are scared of us."[2] Also, there is the possibility that one's own views are wrong, and that by declining a debate, one misses the opportunity to be shown the error of one's beliefs. One also misses the opportunity to demolish one's opponent's arguments, which could do more to sway them and the audience than declining to debate.

Attempts at debate cloture do not necessarily stop the other side from putting forth their views. Some early participation in RationalWiki was prompted by frustration at Conservapedia's efforts at debate cloture (e.g. the night of the blunt knives). Refusing to hear one's opponent's out sometimes angers them enough that they want to push their viewpoints even more, and it can also attract attention and disapproval by those who disapprove of closed mindedness in general, thus defeating one's goal of suppressing one's opponents. This operates according to a similar principles as the Streisand effect.

See also[edit]


  1. Wren, Christopher (20 June 1999). The Opposing Camps Square Off at a Congressional Hearing About Drug Legalization, The New York Times
  2. Know What You're Getting Into Before Speaking Against Legalization, DRCNet Response to the Drug Enforcement Administration Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization.