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I find the existence of this question, as worded, rather offensive. Am I really alone in that opinion?

Update:
I have done some additional thinking on why this post offends me. What offends is the hidden presumption in the question that the stereotype is rational, rather than an emotional outburst of bigotry.

There is no reason for the stereotype. There can never be a rational, thought-out, reason for the stereotype. All such stereotypes arise simply from bigotry that intelligent, well meaning people should strive to eliminate from their thoughts; their words; and their actions.

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    How would you word it? – user1873 Dec 30 '13 at 1:42
  • @user1873: How is the question as currently worded semantically distinct from: "What is the basis for believing that the Poles lack intelligence?" I see no reason why you believe I am compelled to find a more suitable wording for it. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 2 '14 at 4:28
  • I see nothing inheritly wrong with your wording above. If this was a generality that wad commonly held, I would like a citation for reference, but nothing wrong with the question. It would be like asking,"Q:What is the basis for believing that Asians are good at math?" (A: SAT scores, percentages that flock to engineering degrees, etc.) – user1873 Jan 2 '14 at 4:56
  • @user1873: I am all for scientific investigation. I fully understand how a very slight shift in a population mean can dramatically change occurrence at both extremes, while having no significant impact on the typical population member. Intelligence seems too broad a category, with too many sub-categories, to be easily analyzed in this way. Children raised in Mexico City apparently suffer a significant decrease in measured IQ from the extreme lead pollution, but this is nothing to do with being Mexican; simply a consequence of the unfortunate environment they have to live in. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 2 '14 at 5:10
  • so you would see nothing wrong with the question, "Q:What is the basis for believing that Mexicans lack intelligence?" (A: lower IQ scores due to lead poisoning) – user1873 Jan 2 '14 at 5:15
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    That's a gross, and illogical, extrapolation from my statement. It is equivalent to deriving the statement "X are a sickly people." from the statement "Malaria is endemic where the X people live." – Pieter Geerkens Jan 2 '14 at 5:20
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    the great thing about generalizations is that they are generally true. If i told you that the person behind this curtain had malaria, it wouldn't be wrong to assume that they were probably African. There is nothing offensive about generalizations. – user1873 Jan 2 '14 at 5:27
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    Asking "What is the origin of the stereotype X" is very different from asking "what is the basis for believing X". The latter wording implies X is or can be correct and asks for evidence for X. The first one does not imply any correctness and does not ask for support of X. – Lennart Regebro Jan 2 '14 at 7:26
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    @user1873 Generalizations are generally true, yes. In fact, you can even claim that 100+45 = 145 is a generalization. However, generalization based on race or ethnicity are generally wrong. And assuming that the person behind the curtain is African is stupid. If asked to make a guess, it's the most likely guess. But assuming it is not a good idea. – Lennart Regebro Jan 2 '14 at 7:27
  • "generalization based on race or ethnicity are generally wrong" wrong or incorrect? I haven't found them to be incorrect in general. The difference between stereotype X and believing X is no different to me. Both are looking for evidence for why something is believed about some group of people. Unless you believe that generalizations or stereotypes come about without reason, there would likely have to be some supporting evidence for those beliefs. – user1873 Jan 2 '14 at 15:01
  • I have known a lot of Asians who couldn't add their way out of a paper bag, that doesn't mean that the generalization that Asians are good at math isn't correct. – user1873 Jan 2 '14 at 15:06
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    @user1873: This isn't helping all that much. I assume you are making a statistical argument and that you have a good grasp of Bayesian analysis. But most people don't. What's more, the generalization we are discussing is demonstrably false. – Jon Ericson Jan 2 '14 at 19:14
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    @JonEricson, I don't intend to dumb down my speech to appease the majority of people who cannot grasp that generalizations are generally true.Just because people are offendeded doesn't make them right. I have no issue with demonstrating sterotypes as incorrect in the answers, only with arguing that they don't belong in questions. – user1873 Jan 2 '14 at 19:53
  • The funny thing is, with the old wording I drew the exact opposite supposition you did: The person was wondering where people ever got such a foolish notion. – T.E.D. Jan 6 '14 at 15:32
  • Is it better to examine why people hold wrong opinions, or just to pretend they don't exist? – Ne Mo Jan 30 '15 at 12:53
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The fact that the stereotype exists and is mentioned as a stereotype isn't bigotry.

Believing in the stereotype or asserting its truthfulness would be.

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    I find much more insulting the revisionistic will to purge this site from questions such as this one. – o0'. Jan 3 '14 at 1:20
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I regret that my question has caused offense to some. My intent was merely to get to the bottom of a stereotype that has confused me for much of my life. I am of Polish decent, so my curiosity obviously has a personal aspect to it.

But really: my question is meant to acknowledge that a stereotype exists-- not make the claim that a stereotype exists and it is true.

That said, just saying 'this offends me, here is why, do something about it' is not constructive. I am very open to suggestions for how to reword the question to avoid offending others.

  • I think the best reaction would be to post an answer to the original question that shows in what ways this stereotype is wrong (as many stereotypes are). E.g. I admire the fact that Poland at some time had an accomplished pianist (Paderewski) as prime minister. – Drux Mar 1 '14 at 11:21
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First, I agree that bigotry is unacceptable on our sites. We have a very firm policy against rudeness.

Second, I edited the question to be clear upfront that the stereotype is demonstrably false. Polish people are as likely as anyone else to be intelligent or not. I hope that addresses your specific concern. (If not, I'd be happy to learn more.)

Third, I wanted to address the broader question of the study of history that you implicitly raised:

What offends is the hidden presumption in the question that the stereotype is rational, rather than an emotional outburst of bigotry.

Reading between the lines, it seems to me that asking for the reason behind something that happened in history is where the presumption is hidden. For many topics, that's a fair reading: if I can identify the reasoning for concluding that pi is irrational, it's rational for me to believe that mathematical fact.

But historical reasoning is often different. Knowing why Lieutenant Henry S. Farley fired upon Fort Sumter does not make that action rational. History abounds with bad reasoning resulting in monumentally bad ideas. Asking where such ideas originated does not validate them as ideas. A considerable portion of the study of history, in fact, boils down to the question: "What were they thinking?!?"

Finally, we have seen questions that assume or imply racism on. Fact is, bigotry of all types exists. The best place to dispute racist assumptions is in an answer. Next best is a sympathetic edit. (Sympathetic is key here. Sometimes people don't know or understand what the problem is. An edit that allows a question to be asked without offending folks can help an asker save face.) Third best is raising the question here, in meta.

I appreciate your thoughtful update to the question. The first version was perhaps too abrupt and sparse to be productive. It was helpful for you to provide your analysis of the problem.

  • Note that something can be rational while still be false. It is for example perfectly rational to hold or pretend to hold demonstrably false beliefs if you are surrounded by people who will punish anyone who does not hold this demonstrably false belief. Hence, a stereotype may be rational while still being false. – Lennart Regebro Jan 3 '14 at 18:40
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    Great answer. I'd go a bit further though. If someone is asking where a stereotype came from, then there is in fact an implicit assumption that it is not based in fact. After all, if it were based in fact, then there'd be no need to ask that question in the first place. – T.E.D. Jan 6 '14 at 15:36
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Alone, probably not, but a I would bet a significant number of people would disagree.

There isn't anything inherently racist or bigoted in asking:

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    I agree. The question clearly asks where the stereotype comes from, implicitly saying that it's incorrect. That is not offensive IMO. – Lennart Regebro Dec 30 '13 at 15:23
  • @LennartRegebro, it wouldn't matter if the stereotype/generalization was true and you were asking for its origins. – user1873 Dec 30 '13 at 15:25
  • Racist stereotypes being true is not an option. What would be problematic is if the poster thinks it's true or formulates it in a way that posits that it is true. This happens a lot on this site, to be honest, and those questions tend to be deleted quite quickly. – Lennart Regebro Dec 30 '13 at 18:51
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The suggestion that bigotry is not the result of rational behaviour is counter-intuitive to what we understand both of bigotry and rational behaviour. Criticism of rationality has been a theme repeated in the history of ideas from the Enlightenment through to reactions to Genocide. Arendt's banality of evil is probably an excellent example here. As is the title of Chirot and McCauley's book, Why Not Kill Them All?: The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder.

Most bigotries are highly rational, and often relate to economic behaviour or the enactment of cultural "imaginaries," where the bigotry and bigoted behaviour meets deep needs on the part of bigots.

Rationality does not make something tasteful, correct or tolerable. It simply means that it is reasoned.

Questions about historical bigotry should not of course be bigoted themselves.

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