March 30, 2012, 11:45 am
Last Wednesday I attended a debate at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, at which three men engaged in a lively, literate, and deeply-informed exchange. After they finished and the moderator opened the floor for questions, the usual thing happened. The questioners by and large had no questions. Instead they offered up prolix piles of words that led nowhere in particular. Some sought to show off what they mistook as their own superior knowledge. Others scolded. A few got lost in their own labyrinths. The closest we came to a question was the j’accuse rhetorical jab more or less in the form, “Don’t you agree that you are an ignorant buffoon?”
Some of the questioners were deliberately abusing their opportunity. That’s bad manners and an erosion of the civility that is needed for worthwhile public debate. But a good many of the questioners simply didn’t know how to ask a question….