I always approach issues from a high-level view before working down to the nitty-gritty of implementation, because I don't want to work on a full implementation only to discover it is not a good fit for the higher context.

Why is it that what I conceive to be a holistic question regarding a topic/issue is not allowed to stand because it is not specific enough?

Is there nowhere on stackexchange where such questions are allowed to stand? A community where topics are allowed to be fully fleshed out, not sliced and diced to the point that discrete sub-topics are so pidgeon-holed that you lose sight of the larger context for which the question was raised?

My most recent experiences in SuperUser have not been pleasant, and it is a repeat of another experience where the Question being closed for 2 weeks essentially stymied the discussion, preventing it from becoming all it could be because people moved on to other issues.

Is there a way to move forward with those types of questions?

A review of my own history in responding will show that I don't ask people to justify why they want to do something, but instead to provide the solutions that seemed to fit most closely to the problem at hand, based on the users question. To me, that demonstrates respect for the requestor. If the solution offered is not a fit, I am sure that would come out in the response from the user, as it has for a few of my responses. In my view, asking why a question is being asked is not helpful, when spelling out what part of a question "doesn't jive" with the rest is required to obtain clarification, or indicating why that is? Especially if the closure reason is "not focused".

  • “Why is it that what I conceive to be a holistic question regarding a topic/issue is not allowed to stand because it is not specific enough?” - Because holistic questions have been deemed by the community to be out of scope. “In my view, asking why a question is being asked is not helpful” - as someone answering a question the “why” can be helpful in actually answering the question
    – Ramhound
    Nov 22, 2022 at 4:52
  • From What types of questions should I avoid asking? "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page." As in we want focused questions asking about focused problems, the original version of your question provided no information on the real problem you were having. While you mentioned "distro" to imply Linux there was no solid information on what or why.
    – Mokubai Mod
    Nov 22, 2022 at 5:31
  • I will ask again: Is there no community on StackExchange that will address holistic questions? Nov 23, 2022 at 2:35

1 Answer 1


Your original SU question

Let's start out with a big clarification. As far as I can tell, your question wasn't originally closed for being holistic, but primarily because it lacked one important detail -- The operating system. I fully agree with that original closure.

If it had included this when you first posted, I believe that it would have remained open. That it was closed made it then harder to get reopened under the (misunderstood, IMHO) "problems you face" rule. I doubt it would have been closed originally as a question that wasn't a problem you faced.

If the current reason for it staying closed is that it is off-topic (which seems to be *Mokubai's opinion in the comments above), then IMHO (and I could be wrong about the process here) the question should be reopened and reclosed with the new reason. It's certainly not lacking for detail or clarity at this point!

Regardless, it seems very clear to me even from that original question that you were trying to solve a problem. The "rule" doesn't say that you must elaborate on the problem. It's certainly recommended for other reasons (see XY Problem). However, it shouldn't be a close-reason.

And then there are comments saying that you should never need to do what you are asking, that it's a bad idea, etc. That's information that belongs in answers.

I voted to reopen, and it currently needs 2 more votes to be reopened.

This Meta question

But on to this question:

Is there nowhere on Stack Exchange where such questions are allowed to stand?

I'm going to read "holistic" here as a desire to obtain a high-level understanding of the system. In many ways it's similar to a "curiosity" or "hypothetical" question.

With that in mind, it's important to understand that the Don't Ask help page that @Mokubia cited in the comments is the same for most every Stack Exchange site. According to this Staff comment:

We generally avoid customizing Help Center articles for specific sites unless the current version of the page doesn't fit the site at all.

So we can actually find discussions related to your question throughout various Stack sites, and especially Meta.SE. And that help text and policy has been debated for years, it seems. It's even been debated on both sides by the site's co-founder:

So long as your question isn't hypothetical in a meaningless "I'm bored, entertain me" way -- that is, it is interesting to other experienced users, that's probably fine. - @JeffAtwood

But then it appears Jeff may have wavered on this somewhat, making this comment later:

Can you make me believe you, or someone you know, could conceivably face this problem? If not, then take it somewhere else.

And then @Mokubai has said in the past that:

While this does preclude some vague questions it does not mean you can never ask a question about hypothetical limits....

If you can imagine someone hitting a specific, definable and repeatable problem, then that could be okay.

General Stack Exchange consensus

However, the general Stack Exchange community consensus to:

Is there a rule of thumb for objective questions asked out of curiosity?

... was that they are completely acceptable on Stack sites.

Other sites

Keep in mind that every Stack Exchange site has their own policies, community, and mod team, of course. For example, the Ask Ubuntu community and mods (in my experience and opinion) would certainly allow and even encourage a holistic question, as long as it was on-topic in all other respects.

Some sites just have no choice but to ignore the "actual problems you face" text entirely in almost any context. Imagine a question on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack being about "actual problems that you face"!

Examples from high-profile users

This is a bit "underhanded", to be sure, because everyone can ask or answer questions that they later feel they shouldn't (I have), but a couple of interesting questions that, IMHO, aren't based in a actual problem the poster faced, but were more curiosity-based.

And again, I don't personally consider these off-topic questions that should have been closed in the first place, but good questions that meet the "inspire how or why" guidance (see below in the My Opinion section).

My opinion and interpretation

My personal opinion is that anyone taking a hardline approach that every question must be "based on actual problems that you face" is taking that out of context.

That text is as part of a paragraph, which Oxford says "usually [deals] with a single theme". With that in mind, I see the very next sentence as the counter-example:

  • "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face": Good
  • "Chatty, open-ended questions": Bad

The next section even goes on to give an example of a bad, subjective question where:

there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”

And then further goes on to say that subjective questions aren't always bad:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • et. al.

I'm hoping that we can eventually come to an understanding here on Super User that "based on actual problems that you face" is part of a larger set of rules (and exceptions) that must be read in their full context.

  • Thank you, @NotTheDr01ds, for the very expansive and comprehensive response. The time, effort and thought put into compiling that is clearly evident. While, at first pass, I may not agree with some of it ... I recognize that I must accept the guidance as food for thought before venturing into the community again. Excluding your response, I feel like I've been bloodied from all the comments, and am REALLY not sure how, or even IF, to proceed interacting with this group. Just voicing how I feel. Not looking for sympathy or other comments/suggestions. Nov 26, 2022 at 2:40

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