Of all the antagonists you encounter online, few are as bone-deep irritating as the one who insists they are not disputing you, but “just asking questions.” Rest assured that they seek no answers, only to waste your time and ply their favorite brand of noxious innuendo. That’s it.
Check these replies to Matt Hancock, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care:
The first respondent, Jon, isn’t pulling any punches: He’s a straight-up anti-vaxxer who says that diseases are spread by preventative medicine. At least he has the courtesy to say so. Martin, the follow-up troll, is different. He, too, is skeptical of the scientific consensus on COVID-19, but he presents this position as naïveté. Why this? How come that? Where am I? Who shit my pants? And so on. This way, he might have a chance at luring someone into disagreement.
Because, in truth, the person “just asking questions” thinks they already know it all — they just don’t have the courage to assert as much. By feigning curiosity and confusion, they smuggle in their bigoted views as the common sense of an ordinary, unblemished mind. The interrogative mood also places the opposing side on the defensive: The question-asker is demanding that someone, anyone, speak for the facts and principles they cannot be bothered to grasp. “Educate me!” cries this dope, as though they had not the whole internet at their fingertips.
Here, from a couple years back, is author Philip Pullman — since knighted — asking “what’s all this then” about “the trans argument.” Pullman, I must say, is not an idiot. He went to Oxford! Any claim that he can’t figure out what to make of transgender individuals and those who marginalize or vilify them is hard to countenance. Might it be that he wants to present this issue as more complicated than it really is, to give cover to friends and colleagues who express transphobic ideas?
Fast-forward to 2020, and here’s Pullman saying he disagrees with J.K. Rowling’s antipathy toward trans women, yet choosing to scold the community she attacked.
Damn. Almost as if he wants to have it both ways. For the advantage of the “innocent” question is that it leaves you room to retreat in either direction. As compared to the “debate me” dude, who cloaks his specious “logic” in hostile, bad-faith invitations to dialogue and misapplied jargon, the “just asking questions” guy wants to win a fight without actually having it. They are merely prodding and probing. They are trying to get to the bottom of something. They are on a quest for knowledge — some wisdom they can never seem to locate. Oh, well. Keep on asking!
Indeed, why are we tearing down statues of Christopher Columbus? Can anyone explain?
Of course, and many are glad to educate the uninformed as to the bloody legacy of colonial genocide in the Americas. Yet that would not satisfy the askers, who are quite selective in what they hear and read, such that they can endure the rest of their lives without being forced to a conclusion. If you don’t learn what Columbus did, then you cannot judge whether it was bad or not, and therefore, you may remain mystified by people toppling his monuments.
Ah, what bliss.
We like to believe there are no stupid questions. Perhaps that is so. I humbly submit, however, that in the course of reprising and rephrasing, there are questions that become stupid — and then malicious. To ask again and again whether an outrageous falsity is fact, or wonder if some misleading evidence is proof of your quack theory, or request a stranger lay out an idea which you have no interest in entertaining, is to style yourself a concrete wall that others may bang their head against. You are not available for convincing. You are a dumb, flat obstacle.
By all means, though, carry on. Ask your perennial questions. See how long it takes for halfway intelligent people to start ignoring you. Sooner or later, the only answer will be the echo of your voice. Then, with luck, you’ll realize that you should’ve listened when you had the chance.