Critical About Questions

I’m going to talk about questions. Specifically, leading questions, their anatomy, and what they mean.

A couple of days ago, I did an experiment—a little bit of trolling. See, Facebook decided it would be a wonderful idea to point out a post to me, simply on the basis that an acquaintance had “liked” it. I was a little bit interested in the apparent topic of the post, so I read it.

Now, I’ll not get into the actual content of this person’s blog entry. I’m not interested in supporting or challenging them, and I’m not interested in talking about logic in commentary. I am only interested in the first line of the post, and the question it posed. I am changing the details to universalize this experience.

“Why does it seem that Scruletans get off on persecuting people?”

What is this saying? Well, just looking at the question, we can see it has two parts. The first sets the parameters of the poster’s query, and the other is the circumstance we’re being asked to evaluate.

Here are the two sections of the question:

“Why does it seem that,” and “Scruletans get off on persecuting people.”

The question is: “Why does it seem that?”

The whole allegation that Scruletans are getting off on persecuting people, is defined as a perception that is in question; “Why does it seem that, the following statement is a fact.” It’s not a statement of fact; it’s a question about the perception of fact. This differentiation is extremely important, because if we do not separate perceptions (and opinions) from solid facts, then we can easily misunderstand what we are reading.

This question is not literally asking about the behavior of Scruletans, it is asking about the very existence of a perception of Scruletans. The Scruletans are not active in this question, the active party is the person who perceives the Scruletans as, “getting off on persecuting others.” So who is making this perception? The answer to that may lie in the very nature of questions themselves.

Questions must be posed to someone, and that someone is usually you, the reader. In the isolation of this one sentence, however, the use of implied truism with the phrase “it seems that,” suggests a more universal experience—everyone’s perception.

Therefore, the question might be rewritten as:

“Why does [everyone in the world believe] that Scruletans get off on persecuting others?”

That question presumes a lot. Furthermore, it is unsupportable. For this question to be legitimately answerable, one would have to prove that every single human being on the planet does indeed believe that Scruletans get off on persecuting people. All you need is a single human to doubt that allegation, and the answer becomes, “But, they do not.” There is no “because” for the “why,” so the question is unanswerable—illegitimate.

So how can we make this a legitimate question? Well, let’s look at the nature perceptive words. Opinionated and perceptive terms such as “good,” “bad,” “ugly,” “terrific,” speak to the perceptions and opinions of the subject of a sentence. We, the readers, must understand who that subject is, so we can know to whose opinions and perceptions the writer is referring. In the absence of indication, we can only assume the writer is referring to their own opinions and perceptions. To figure out whose opinion is being stated, try asking, “Says who?”

“It is a beautiful day.” Says who? Says the writer.

“Based on what you’ve told me about you love for rain, it is a beautiful day.” Says who? Says the reader.

“Joann smiled; it was a beautiful day.” Says who? Says Joann.

So, let’s apply that to our own sentence:

Here is is again. “Why does it seem that Scruletans get off on persecuting people?”

We’re not asking about Scruletans’ opinions or perceptions; we’re asking why they (seem to) perform different verb (getting off). There is no other subject mentioned in our question. We can not presume the writer speaks for our own perceptions, because there is nothing in the sentence that indicates as much. Therefore, we can only responsibly presume the writer speaks for themselves. So, let’s clarify that.

“Why does it seem [to me] that Scruletans get off on persecuting people?”

Now that is a question with an answer. Of course, we, the readers, most likely have little idea what makes the writer perceive the world in the way that they do, so we are probably not the best ones to answer the question without gathering more information. So, we should probably read on to see what they are talking about. That is, if we care to.

Do we care? I mean, knowing that this question pertains to the writer’s own opinion, are we personally invested in the answer? That’s up for us to decide for ourselves. When we understand this opening question, we are ready to critically receive the work, if we so choose.

To finish my own story—the story of my trolling—I replied to the post and answered the question with my opinion, as if the writer posed the question all by itself. I said that the reason the writer perceived all Scruletans as getting off on persecuting people, is probably because the writer only pays attention to the Scrulteans who persecute people, and little to none to those who do not.

The writer did not appreciate my input.

All in all, I hope this post is helpful for writing and editing, as well as critical reading. If we choose our words carefully, others will understand us better, and if we read carefully, we may discover unintended and/or hidden meanings in the things we read.

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