Close-Ended Questions

What’s a close-ended question? Here’s an example;
A politician might ask, in response to criticism of, say, allegedly ‘green’ policies, policies which were dressed up as caring for the planet but in reality were about setting up a system of sophisticated financial instruments called carbon futures (creating a new casino for the banksters to play in), so when you object to this a politician might ask “Don’t you believe in saving the planet?”

The only obvious answer would be, yes you do believe in it, and if pushed you’d probably say something like “Well, yes” albeit hesitantly, because that’s not REALLY what you wanted to say and it isn’t REALLy what you were trying to talk about in the first place. Our hypothetical politican knows this full well.

The main point about a close-ended question is that it isn’t genuinely interrogative. It isn’t an attempt to elicit information, it’s an attempt to curtail debate by effectively forcing a specific response from your mouth. People who need to stifle debate while appearing to welcome it are usually in some form of authority, one with no substance whatsoever, and especially one that simply can’t bear the scrutiny of open debate.

It’s technique. You use technique in debate or question-and-answer scenarios just the same way you use technique and experience in a boxing match, the crucial difference being that boxing is a medium where blows can be seen to be exchanged. One opponent is recognisably better than the other because of technique and experience, not because either is in any way somehow morally superior. If one boxer beats another in a fair fight, no-one thinks it appropriate to accept his policies or world view to be in any way superior to the losing opponent’s. But we assume in debate, you see, if one politician scores points over another in debate we assume that, somehow and wholly irrationally, their world view, their morality, their policies are somehow superior. Winning in debate though, just like boxing, is very much a consequence of experience and technique. It has nothing whatsoever to do with being right about anything except winning in debate. It’s irrelevant when it comes to judging the right thing to do in any given circumstance.

The typical close-ended question prompts a specific reply instead of inviting consideration of the underlying question. In other words, you’re prompted, without realising it, to give the answer that the questioner wants you to give, not to say what you intended to say or would say given the opportunity to in a frank and open discussion. Someone who asks you close-ended questions is someone who wants to control you, no doubt of it.

I remember watching a program about recruiters for the first World War, how as things grew more and more desperate they’d be roaming the streets of London trying to force young lads to recruit by asking them why they hadn’t and “Are you a coward?”

Obviously and particularly in a time of war young lads, not yet old enough to have found their own identity or properly formed their own opinions, felt compelled to answer that they weren’t cowards, of course not, and were then asked that in that case then of course they wanted to sign up, didn’t they? which in turn compelled them, albeit rather awkwardly I gather, that yes, they supposed they did. Then, having been bludgeoned into “volunteering”, they were sent off to die in the trenches. I heard this from a veteran of those days, one of the very few survivors. If those lads had been educated in recognising a close-ended question for what it was, I’m guessing they wouldn’t have answered as they did.

More recently, a former Muslim/Al Queida terrorist was asked about methods used to recruit young potential terrorists in Britain. Potentials are asked, “Are you British or are you Muslim?” You see the attempt to trap them into an either/or answer? It isn’t a genuinely interrogative question, that would have been something like “How do you feel about being British and Muslim?”, or “Do you feel there’s any conflict about being Muslim and British?” which would allow the responder to answer in their own manner. Questions like that are called open-ended. You’re invited to put across your feelings, to express whatever emotions, to give whatever information you wish so you can really get your point across. Instead, the manipulative technique of close-ended questioning is used. In responding to the questions at all, you’re compelled by the lack of options into giving the questioner the answers they want.

More recently still, (you have the feeling I’ll be adding to this page on a regular basis!) Pakistan was taken over by its military. One of its ministers, obviously in favour, was on British TV to ’discuss’ this; “Well do you want a stable Pakistan or not?” he asked. The clear suggestion being that military force was the only way to accomplish this, yet he offered nothing by way of evidence to suggest that this might be so. He appeared to be there for the sole purpose of shutting down any meaningful debate – would we be right in assuming that no reasonable defence of the military’s actions could be mustered? I’d say so – this was in front of the world, and that was the best a minister could come up with, a blatant attempt to close down debate? I’m not familiar with the circumstances in Pakistan so I couldn’t say who’s right or wrong but that clumsy attempt at justification for the military action didn’t exactly inspire confidence in it.

 In the present day we have the Atos disability testing. The stated point of the testing is to weed out those who are faking illness or disability and so fraudulently claiming benefits. In practice though the design of the testing suggests the goal is to deny people benefits no matter how ill they genuinely are.

Consider, some are asked, ”Do you make your own bed”? or “Do you cook your own breakfast?” and “Do you do the washing up?” Not “Can you make your own bed?” or “How often do you cook your own breakfast?” nor, and here’s the kicker, are claimants asked “Can you tell us about any difficulty you have with ordinary daytime tasks like making a bed, cooking a meal and doing the washing up after?”

That last would be an open-ended question designed to glean information from answers like, “Well, I make the bed certainly but only once a year or so if it gets messed up… I don’t sleep in it you see, I sleep on the couch because of my bad back, with my back resting against the back of the couch for support. I don’t like sleeping in a bed, no support for my back, you see, and making the bed’s very difficult since my operation what with all that bending…” and so on. From this it can be worked out how ill a person is and how they might fare in the workplace. Open-ended questions like that in the Atos assessments are conspicuous by their absence, both in the application form itself and, according to a wealth of anecdotal evidence, in the verbal questioning at the actual assessment.

I can think of only one reason close-ended questioning would be used this way under these circumstances and that’s to prevent disclosure of information revealing how bad a claimant’s health actually is. Crucial facts simply never enter the conversation. The technique enables the assessor to get the answers they want then manipulate them to create an entirely false picture of a claimant’s condition. This false picture is then used to deny them benefits.

I’m no lawyer – perhaps we could hear from those who are on this – but if an Atos assessor uses this technique on claimants it looks like a deliberate attempt by that assessor to ultimately defraud claimants of their rightful benefit entitlements.

Now it could be individual assessors are alone with their aim being merely to keep their jobs with Atos (we know from Dispatches and Panorama assessors are expected to work to targets or ‘norms’) or it might be they’re working this technique under instruction from their Atos paymasters. If this were the case it would appear to be not just an attempt to defraud but conspiracy to defraud and on a national scale too. Atos themselves could be following instruction from the DWP in this matter, and they in turn might be following advice from the Unum insurance company, who the DWP haveemployed as consultants on ‘welfare reform’. Given the clear conflict of interest this escalates the conspiracy theory considerably.

Whatever, it’s high time m’learned friends were involved. This needs to be sorted out in the courts.

2 thoughts on “Close-Ended Questions

  1. Fascinating post.
    If we can’t be sure from the questions an assessor asks, then it comes down to their training. They are trained to be “hard” – never to think of the “patient” always the “claimant” etc. they are trained therefore to use the closed questions of the assessment without humanity or sympathy.
    So, a humane assessor would ask if a claimant can pick up a pound coin and answer yes or no, not “yes but with extreme difficulty” though there is space to write this.
    So ministers claim it is up to the HCP when their training dictates otherwise.
    So it is a combination of closed questioning and removing humanity from the test which is at fault.

  2. Very good points and well written article.

    We pay National Insurance to ensure we are covered should we become sick or disabled. Should a private insurance company fiddle health assessments to deny paying out, they would be taken to court.
    The DWP may consider they are beyond the law? Unum’s involvement is very concerning. These concerns are under-reported in the mainstream press, so thank you for raising these points as these questions need to be raised, highlighted and the word spread. Unfortunately the discrimination and demonising of the sick and disabled makes it all the harder.

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