Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Note Of Interrogation

Such passages have no purpose except to insinuate a chill of doubt - a chill which the writer himself has caught he knows not where. They will generally be found to end with a note of interrogation. It does not say "We cannot win," but "Can we win?" The note of interrogation is more dangerous than any dogmatic pacifism or decisive treason, because it is closer to humanity, yet none the less close to hell. For it was in this fashion of false inquiry that human nature itself was betrayed; and I could fancy that men drew the Tempter with the curves of a serpent because they can be twisted into the shape of a question mark.
GK Chesterton "Milk and Water Pacifism," 1917
I recognised the question-mark technique the moment GKC mentioned it, for it has been standard on the covers of Time and Newsweek as long as I can remember. The insinuation under the pretense of opening discussion is standard journalist fare titling editorials or "special reports" on the TV news. Can Bush Recover? Can We Still Win in Iraq? Are Americans Too Fat? Like Iago, they make all accusations by making none.
OTHELLO. Indeed? ay, indeed. Discern'st thou aught in that?
Is he not honest?
IAGO. Honest, my lord?
OTHELLO. Honest? Ay, honest.
IAGO. My lord, for aught I know.
OTHELLO. What dost thou think?
IAGO. Think, my lord?
OTHELLO. Think, my lord? By heaven, he echoes me
As if there were some monster in his thought
Too hideous to be shown. Thou dost mean something.
Or, as Chesterton notes, it is the techiques of the earliest tempter.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Genesis 3:1
The discussion is immediately framed in a manner calculated to elicit doubt, without providing any reason for doubt.

The answerer, of course, has the heady conceit of believing he has doubted and asked questions all on his own.

Should I add this one to my Cultural Tribes series?


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