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loaded questions and framing teh Discourse

i know that riley had a post about loaded questions somewhere… but i want to talk about it again. because it is a really big problem with how a lot of ppl engage in teh Discourse.

one of my favourite modes of analysis is aptly described by the tag i use for these types of posts “discussing discourse”, which is to say, meta-discourse. overall, this is the abstract/theoretical area that i enjoy the most and am most comfortable in (which is also why i think my ‘discussing discourse” tag has the greatest number of posts).

i think it matters because how you frame a discussion/debate/topic has important implications for what can be said within that framework. its sets up boundaries for having a coherent discussion (either solo or with others).

loaded questions are a rhetorical (and occassionally falacious) way of forcing a discursive framework on someone else, rather than collaboratively setting up the terms of the discussion so that everyone can enter it in good faith.

the example i have in mind is one i saw on fb. and this was used in a real discussion:

“why are so many Muslims drawn to extremism?”

this is a great example of a loaded question (specifically a complex question).

answering this question requires that you accept a lot of (imo) undesirable assumptions:

  • that there are many Muslims drawn to extremism
  • that the amount of Muslim extremists is unusual or significantly higher than any other religious group
  • that ‘Muslim” is a coherent, singular category of people over which this generalization is valid1
  • that Islam somehow encourages extremism in a way that other religions do not

there are probably others, but this is enough to make my point. which is…

don”t answer questions like this. nor should you ever be drawn into a discussion framed by such a question. the moment you validate the question by providing some sort of answer, you”ve already lost (because you”ve accept a bunch of assumptions that will either undermine or completely contradict any arguments you have to the contrary).

its not always easy to identify a loaded question. but try your best.


  1. i"m not sure how coherent this is to most ppl. but. as many Muslims have been pointing out, 'Muslim" is not a monolithic identity. these question asserts that all Muslims are interchangeable and possible extremist (or could be drawn into extremism). it flattens a lot of important distinctions and contexts. say, making no distinction between an Arab Muslim or a Rohingya Muslim.