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 may 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 may 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.)


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 discredit my comments 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.

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

(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”...)

Consider the following issues:

  1. A decline of 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 may 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 people, 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 may 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 may, 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.”.)


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

    I strongly suspect that the people who are the most offended by the proposition that 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 believes) or that Jews are somehow disadvantaged within the White group. This has often been true historically, and may even be true in other countries today; however, is it plausible to assume this of the modern day US? 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 to powerful?” from which it should be obvious that a mere affirmative answer to such a question need not be a sign of unfair bias.)

  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 discredited out of hand. Instead the factual truth or falsehood of the statement must be first 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”, in which case we have 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 alternate 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 offensive, 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.)

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 people with so positive views should not be classified as anti-Semitic at all, making the statement cheap and misleading rhetoric.