The Art of Interviewing
The future lies in new forms of communication. The old ways are dead and dying. People have short attention spans, are inundated with information. The future I am speaking of is more indirect, strategic and conscious. Everything is a sign, not just what you say, but how you say it and how you lead people to certain ideas or conclusions. If this concept eludes or leaves you cold, then you should probably not frequent this site. It is the core of everything I write about. It is Machiavelli for the 21st century.
One banal but revealing example is the interview. By this I mean TV or radio talk shows, magazine interviews, job interviews, etc. In other words, any forum or medium where interviewers have the time to make their questions directed towards a purpose, and strategic.
For publicity for my books I have been interviewed countless times, and I can recall only a few instances where I could sense that the interviewer had put some time and thought into the questions, and was working with some kind of plan in mind.
Most people wing it, or lob little tactical balls at you, designed to provoke. They think they are being strategic by trying to ask about some kind of possible inconsistency in your work or accusing you of something. It is in fact patently tactical and reactive. When you signal that you are trying to provoke something in your questions, you make the other person defensive, on guard. When the interviewee closes up, you get a dialog that goes nowhere. The art of interviewing is to lower defenses, make people open up, and if you need to then attack, attack from a direction they cannot foresee.
I refer you to Chapter 30 in the WAR book and to Socrates, the greatest master of this art. He would begin by letting the other person make their declaration, and he would appear to agree, to admit the brilliance of what they were saying. Then he would start asking questions that seemingly skirted the main topic, but that slowly poked holes into everything you had said. By the end, he had destroyed your original point, but he made it come out of your own mouth. What a rare genius.
If I were to interview someone, for instance, about the Iraq War, let us say someone who had initially supported it with great vehemence, I would begin with a strategy. I would want to get them to point D. This point would be to admit that it was a failed strategy from the get-go, had no real chance of success, and their initial support of it was simply wrongheaded. This is difficult, but well worth the effort.
I would go about this indirectly, not signaling my intentions. I would ask questions, like Socrates, that they would have to answer one way or the other. Depending on which path they took, I could slowly trap them in their inconsistencies. Let us say that their main point was that Sadaam is a Hitler, and bringing democracy to the Middle East is worth the regrettable loss of lives, etc. It would create stability (democracies do not promote revolutions, they want to say), this stability would spread, and by the way, it is the morally right thing to do. The problem was not the war, but how it was waged (they say).
Get them to admit this, to commit to a fixed position. From there, you work your way around. Do you believe that history matters, that examples from the past can instruct us in the present? If they admit to this, you then ask them (in a more roundabout manner than I am doing here, this is shorthand): Are there examples in the world of democracies becoming established in places that have no such traditions, in fact have a tradition of the opposite? The answer here is clearly no. If they say history does not matter, you have now made it impossible for them to refer to it in any way to support their argument.
You would build this slowly but surely. You would lead them to points B and C that include the lack of control any army would have over the many variables in the situation. How would you have secured the borders? How would you have dealt with Iran and Syria differently? Your different way of waging this war would inevitably bring new problems in its wake. More troops? Did that work in Vietnam or Afghanistan for the Russians?
Yes, this is an abstract argument and in the abstract it is possible to always imagine a successful conclusion, but building up so many weak points in the original strategy makes that more and more untenable. Ultimately, is it moral to launch a war that cannot realistically lead to success?
This is not done as a way to trick the other person or the audience into believing something. You yourself believe the war was flawed in its conception. What matters is how you communicate this to the other person and open them up to the possibility he or she is wrong. You cannot do this in a direct manner, making people reactive and emotional. Your point is not to get your feelings off your chest (leave that for the fools of this world), but to actually alter people’s opinions, open their eyes.
It has gotten to the point for me that when I hear any interview on TV or radio, I almost want to scream. No one asks the questions that matter, that could really poke holes in an argument. So much wasted time. Listen now and you will hear the following over and over: “Talk to me about the election, what the Democrats did right.” Talk to me about this, talk to me about that. Why not ask a question that directs the person towards something interesting and illuminating, that contains a hidden punch? As the Marquis de Sade said, “Just try a little harder (encore un effort), if you want a revolution.”
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