Asking Questions

Aimai on the various Palin videos that are circulating:

If you watch the video lots of people were prepared with a first sound
bite “she stands for America!” “She makes me proud to be a woman!” That
was like the moment in Palin’s interviews when she knew she’d handled
the softball questions well. But as the interviewer didn’t end the
interview but instead asked for more detail the interviewee begins to
get nervous. They have to explain some things that they had taken for
granted. The very question seems to challenge them. As they start to
talk more, and find themselves giving an impromptu lecture to this
helpful student they find that they don’t have the faintest idea what
to offer to back up their gut feeling. Some of them become puzzled,
others apologetic, others excitable. That’s because the interviewer is
forcing them to think rationally, programmaticaly, and coherently about
something that was really totally amorphous and emotional. Its like
asking someone just before they get engaged “no, but really, have you
ever thought about your fiancee’s views on the moon landing? What does
she know about astro-physics, anyway?” The questions just seem beside
the point, and then frightening.

I find this interesting because it’s the approach I tend to take with movement-conservative relatives, acquaintances and friends: Tell me more. Tell me why you think what you think. Expand on that. Elaborate. What led you to that conclusion? Have you ever met someone in that circumstance? Have you ever heard someone say what you are saying now? From whence do your convictions come, and why do you hold to them? I want to understand. I want to know you. I want to get it, so explain yourself to me. And if you can’t, well, surely it isn’t my fault, then. I was just asking.

It’s a holdover from my days interviewing people about unpleasant shit for a living, that you let people fill a silence and you ask, sincerely interested, why they think what they think. It flummoxes them and turns what could be a hostile confrontation into an informative discussion. Most people aren’t used to actual interest in their views. They expect you to jump in and argue with them in slogans, set up a confrontation in which they can either feel bullied and therefore superior in their victimhood, or emerge victorious. When you answer with question upon question, you’re far more likely to get actual answers, even if (especially if) those answers are, as in the Palin videos, “we have no clue and are slightly perplexed by that, actually.”


7 thoughts on “Asking Questions

  1. This is an insanely insightful comment. The other thing that I will point out to people who might want to try to do this it to really let their REAL curiosity out. Because if they sense that you are just asking questions to get to a gotcha moment, well then they will go into argue mode.
    And as you say, you can learn sooo much from real questions. I remember asking one wingnut a series of questions because I really wanted to know what he really thought, I kept digging and digging ‘where does that idea come from? Where did you first hear it? What does it mean.” and then you get to the real heart of their beliefs.
    It turned out that he was kind of an Ayn Randian who believed that all things the conservatives called liberal were failures.
    It was a pleasant conversation and I learned stuff. Interestingly I was able with that conversation to find an area of common ground so that is where I will go with him in future conversations.. (Science!)

  2. I’ve tried this, but what trips me up is the lies. Eventually, a lie would come out – and I’d have a terrible time repressing my need to point out the lie, and try to correct it. Once you do that, you’re done.
    I seriously don’t know how to handle this – do you ignore the lies? Because that seems wrong to me, but you’ll never convince them they are lies, and then everything falls apart in terms of communication.
    I’m not talking about the disagreeing about the beliefs, I’m talking about the lies that are the foundation for some of the beliefs – Saddam was behind 9/11, that sort of thing.

  3. I think again try to get behind the lie — where did you hear that, why do you believe that, etc,until they realize all their info has come from a particular source.
    I don’t really discuss things with the very right-wing people for some of the same reasons, though, it’s too hard to get them to think behind what they’ve been told and they are hearing it day after day from those sources. I know enough to discredit their sources, but they’ll just go back to listening to the lies tomorrow.

  4. Most conservatives can’t explain why they believe as they do—they’ve been fed the dogmatic line for years and can only parrot what they’ve been told. The success of the conservative movement depends upon credulous mouth-breathers who actually believe that rich cocksuckers give a rat’s ass about the working class.

  5. They argue with talking points, we debate with facts. For instance, when I converse with conservatives who complain about “tax-and-spend libruls”, I ask them if they know who was the last president to actually balance the budget and even have a budget surplus, they respond that it must have been Reagan or Bush I. Then I tell them that it was President Clinton, and that it was the result of a budget and economic plan that NOT ONE FRIGGIN’ REPUBLICAN voted for. Of course, they always say that it was because of the bubble, and that Bush II was the victim of the crash, but then I just respond that Clinton inherited the largest (at that time) budget deficit caused by the “voodoo economics” of Reagan and Bush I. Then they tell me that if I don’t love America, I should just leave the country.

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