In marketing there is a research technique known as laddering for getting at a customer’s root motivations. I’ve also heard it called the “seven whys”. When interviewing a customer about her feelings about some aspect of a product, the interviewer asks “why?” and then “why?” again, until the customer is unable to go further. This technique is used to uncover the fundamental emotional drivers of a customer’s behaviors.

A journalist friend of mine uses a similar technique to get at the emotional drivers behind people’s beliefs. When an interviewee makes an assertion she asks “How do you know?” and then “How do you know that?” until the interviewer is no longer able to produce an answer. She then asks “Why do you care?”

I think a procedure like this is necessary in politics. When a person claims our system needs to be overhauled and replaced with some radical alternative we should ask “Who decides that?” and then “Who decides that they decide?” and so on until there no answer but “because that is what is right.” And that answer, of course, means “Me. I decide.”

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