Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Prejudice and incorrect reasoning

I have often seen discussions of prejudice that are themselves highly prejudiced and unscientific—to the point that they could do more harm than good. A particular error is the a priori conviction (AKA prejudice) that every negative opinion about any group not consisting of white men is false: It would be nice if they were, and many are; however, critically, some are actually true—and the truthfulness of each opinion must be individually determined before it is condemned.

Consider e.g. the discussion of “Anti-Jewish Stereotypes” on http://www.adl.org/antisemitism_survey/survey_ii.aspe, which has a listing and discussion of items that might be regarded as stereotypes; but not automatically as anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic stereotypes, or as stereotypes that are necessarily false. (Obviously, judging an individual based on group characteristics is an error, unless independently verified for that individual; however, this applies even to statements that are not normally considered prejudice, e.g. “White people are more light-skinned than black people.”—a rule that knows many exceptions.)


  1. During a re-visit on 2023-08-02, the aforementioned URL led to an error page. As the contents are only used for illustration and as the details of the page are not necessary to understand that illustration, I have not bothered to investigate the issue further.

  2. Since the time of original writing, I have had a mostly negative impression of the source of the survey, the Anti-Defamation League, as it seems to have devolved into yet another Leftist hate and propaganda organisation, detached from its historical purpose, obsessing with alleged “far Right” this-and-that while ignoring the massive and actual problems with the far Left in the current U.S. The nature of the survey and the type of rhetoric/trickery used (so common on the Left) could point to such issues having been prevalent even at the time of my original writing (2009)—and (cf. the below 2009 side-note) the “dishonesty” angle seems more likely than the “incompetence” angle in light of this.


Knowing how members of anti-racist (anti-discrimination, or similar) groups tend to think, I suspect that most of them will jump to the conclusion that I am, myself, anti-Semitic—and consider my comments discredited without even attempting to understand what I actually say.

Therefore, let it be explicitly stated that this article is not in anyway directed against Jews—it is directed against intellectual incompetence and dishonesty exemplified on a survey relating to Jews.

Further a few words on my own opinions of Jews:

Of the top of my head, I can only recall knowing one person of whom I knew that he was a Jew: A Russian doctor of mathematics, with a wide range of interests, whom I found highly sympathetic. (Note that Jews are far rarer in most of Europe than in the U.S. and that “knew that” is included very deliberately—there might have been others that I was not aware of.)

Apart from that, I note that disproportionally many Jews (at least of the Ashkenazi) have been great scientists, thinkers, filmmakers, artists, and similar, which makes me positively inclined towards them. If they keep producing the likes of Einstein, Feynman, and Kubrick then we should all consider Jews a blessing. Indeed, the more familiar I become with the disproportionate achievements of Jews, the more I wish there were.

[Joke removed. Cf. below.]

Consider the following issues:

  1. A decline in the proportion of responders having the opinion “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today” is taken as positive without making any factual investigation. In particular, the question whether this statement actually is true or false is not addressed; further, it is unclear exactly how “too much” is to be defined. There might well be responders to this question that interpreted the question as “Jews have more power than would be expected based on the relative size of the Jewish population.” and made a statement that they considered true from that POV. For these, a rise or decline in the number of consenters must be judged in light of whether the statement is factually true—for which there are considerable signs. Another group might take the Hitlerian view that any amount of power for Jews would be too much, making the answer neither a statement about perceived power levels, nor about any other theme of the question. Instead it would be a matter of fundamental personal opinion about Jews. (This opinion might, in turn, be unwarranted; however, this does not invalidate my criticism of the survey and its interpretation of the answers. Also note that this opinion need not be e.g. “Jews are Schweinehunde.”, but could equally well be “Jews are competitors that should be defeated—just like them Russians.”.)


    Another complication is that the Left, often rabidly anti-Israel, does not always separate between pro-/anti-Israel and pro-/anti-Jew positions. (Indeed, the Left appears to have a major problem with anti-Semitism.) It is quite possible that some Leftists have followed a line of “The evil Israeli government [the evil Netanyahu, the evil whatnot] has too much influence with the U.S. government; ergo, Jews have too much power in the U.S. today!”—a type of stupidity very common on the Left.


    To demonstrate the absurdity of the evaluation, consider a division of the U.S. population into three groups (an over-simplification for the sake of illustration): White, Black, and Hispanic.

    I strongly suspect that those who are the most offended by the statement “Jews have too much power”, are solidly behind the statements “Blacks have too little power.” and “Hispanics have too little power.”—by necessity implying that Whites have too much power. The Jewish would (again with some over-simplification) be a sub-group of Whites, and it would logically follow that Jews either have too much power (a direct contradiction of beliefs) or that Jews are somehow disadvantaged within the White group. This has often been true historically, and might even be true in other countries today; however, is it plausible to assume this of the modern day U.S.? I doubt it.

    (Even if we assume that the Jews are disadvantaged, the absurdity of the question would be clear by analogy with a hypothetical survey question “Are white people too powerful?”.)

  2. Similarly, the opinion “Jews are more willing to use shady practices to get what they want”: Because this statement could conceivably be true, the supporters cannot be condemned out of hand. Instead, the factual truth or falsehood of the statement must first be determined—only then can a rise or decline in the number of supporters be considered positive or negative.

    (This assuming that the implied continuation of the statement is “than others”, rather than e.g. “than a hundred years ago”. The latter would lead to a very different discussion.)

    Further, whether this can be considered anti-Semitic would depend on whether the survey taker considered it a bad thing. There are for instance many sociopaths who actually consider “shady” business practices something admirable.

    Further yet, there is a common trick/pitfall in studies of this kind: The use of value-laden words to alter the meaning of questions, the probability of certain answers, and their later interpretations. Consider e.g. the statement “Jews are more pragmatical and result-oriented than non-Jews.”, which could, depending on the exact context, be taken to mean the same thing as the original statement—yet is likely to be seen as much less negative, possibly even positive.

  3. “Jews have a lot of irritating faults” is a tricky one to answer: I for one would answer this question with a resounding “Yes!”—after all, the “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” principle works both ways, and there is no reason for me to expect Jews to better than non-Jews in this regard. (That I am of the opinion that humans, in general, “have a lot of irritating faults” can be readily seen from many other articles on this website.)


    However, an interesting thought is how much of a stereotyped “irritating fault” might go back to fictional depictions of Jews by Jews. For instance, in the first version of this page, I joked:

    I admit, however, that the TV show “The Nanny” has made me very reluctant to consider dating a “yiddishe maidel”’ when I can have a “shikseh”...

    (The joke was removed from its original position, because later experiences made me fear that too many would fail to understand that it was a joke—or deliberately pretend that they did not, in order to “prove” that I was this-and-that by a malicious and out-of-context quote.)

    Now, “The Nanny” constantly poked fun at the Jewish lead character and her various Jewish family members, including a version of the stereotypical Jewish mother—but the main creative force and lead actress, Fran Drescher, is a Jew, herself.

    This seems to be part of a recurring pattern of Jews using Jewish stereotypes. (Consider e.g. parts of the works of Mel Brooks and Will Eisner.) In a next step, we have to look at the “why”, where there is a distinct possibility that they partially relate personal experiences and impressions, even be it in an exaggerated form. For instance, Fran Fine’s family in “The Nanny” appears to be somewhat based on Fran Drescher’s own.

    (Of course, there is nothing remarkable with e.g. a screen writer drawing on personal experiences and impressions. The point is the effect that it can have on stereotypes, say, the Jewish mother and the gentile “soccer mom” or “helicopter mom”, and to what degree the stereotypes potentially created/strengthened match reality.)

Most, possibly all, other survey questions listed on the cited page can be criticized in a similar manner.

A remarkable statement is:

While this study, like the past ones, is focused primarily on the level of acceptance of negative stereotypes, it is important to note that a majority of Americans accept each of the positive statements about Jews which was presented in the survey.

In fact, as was seen in past studies, positive images of Jews are so prevalent that a majority of even the most anti-Semitic Americans accept four of the five positive statements which were included in the 1998 survey.

This statement is highly dubious for, at least, two reasons: Firstly, it is very disputable whether the survey actually tests for anti-Semitism (cf. the above discussion); secondly, it can well be argued (although this might require a deeper study of the survey and its findings) that those with so positive views should not be classified as anti-Semitic at all, making the statement cheap and misleading rhetoric.


Generally, with no particular reference to this study and Jews, stereotypes usually seem to be broadly correct. Incorrect stereotypes do exist, and they should all be viewed with caution; however, the main problem is not a lack of correctness but an application to individual group members in a blanket manner.

For instance, “Swedes are tall [relative e.g. the human average]” is broadly speaking true and there is nothing wrong with believing that Swedes are tall—but it would be a mistake to hear that someone is Swedish and automatically assume that he is tall.

A worthier target of investigation would then be whether the survey takers are able to see the difference between the individual and the group.