Fanaticism indicator

Proposal on a fanaticism indicator and test



At our September meeting we earmarked two issues to be worked out for further consideration and final decision:

  • a definition of fanaticism
  • a fanaticism test

Proposals on both items has been worked out below.


In our discussions we found (at least) two different meanings of the term fanaticism:

1. a determined and focused way to achieve one’s aim

(e.g. she fanatically defended her opinion in the board meeting; don’t be such a fanatic, there is more in life than working).

In daily language this meaning of the term has a largely positive content and is often used as the characteristic of individual behavior.

2.  the behavior of a group/movement characterized by four simultaneous features:

  • they embrace a firm opinion or attitude (the content of the opinion is less important than the security obtained)
  • they exclude different opinions/alternatives
  • they have a missionary urge
  • they use all available means (incl. violence) to obtain their objectives

Further specifications could be found in the article “Fanaticism, inextricably connected to human life” (see documentation in the project file).

Actually the individual and more positive meaning of the term (under 1.) will appear to be a part of the elaboration given below of the basic building blocs of a fanaticism test (see theme Focus versus Perspective scale end 3).

Moreover, the objectives of our European project (e.g. to stimulate awareness of the treats of fanaticism) will become more or less meaningless if we would choose for a positive definition of fanaticism.

A choice for the group definition of fanaticism (under 2) would include the disadvantage of a negative and unattractive connotation. The subject we put on the table will not be popular. In our further elaborations of the fanaticism test we intend to use neutral terms and words to avoid negative or positive connotations.


I propose to:

  • use the group definition of fanaticism (under 2),
  • include the positive definition (under 1) in our elaborations and
  • be open to the design of positive, bright and lively tools to stimulate the awareness of fanaticism.


Fanaticism test

The fanatics test as made for the Stefan Zweig exhibition 2008 in Amsterdam has been constructed following the design rules of a psychological test.

As a result of lack of time and budget the fanaticism test has not been validated (checked whether the features it is meant to measure has been actually tested). Such a validation procedure needs the support of university specialists. Although validation is preferable, I doubt whether it will be feasible in our circumstances. Several attempts to get the assistance of a university were not successful.

For this moment I propose to go a different route that offers us within our budget and planning opportunities for specific own-culture-oriented solutions and for creative utilizations.

In this approach four basic themes (building blocs), inextricably connected to every human being are worded in value neutral terms. Each of the four themes is expressed as a scale with two ends. As a result eight scale ends have to be described in an expressive text. It is crucial to find recognizable, daily language in which the four choices are presented (this job needs the input and creativity of all of us). Scores have to be given to the answer possibilities. The final, individual score should be an indication of the vulnerability of the individual to group fanaticism.

Building blocs

Four themes have been identified as basic human alternatives on which everyone has its preferences without constantly being aware of it. The scale ends are not good or evil, they are just characteristics of human preferences that could work out positively or negatively in certain situations and in certain combinations.


Theme Safety versus Change

Amos Oz beautifully describes human nature as a peninsula: one end connected to the main land (family, traditional values, safety and security, warmth) and the other end looking out over the sea (opportunities, change, fresh experiences, curiosity).

Scale end 1.

Need to be secure and safe, nourish roots and traditional values, need for human warmth, appreciation of being part of a bigger entity)

Scale end 2.

Looks for opportunities, change, alternatives. Curious to meet new people and circumstances.


Theme Focus versus Perspective

Scale end 3.

A powerful and focused orientation on the achievement of a well defined goal

Scale end 4.

Wants to see things from several different perspectives. Unwilling to be attached to a specific orientation, opinion or goal.

The characteristics of scale end 3 are mainly applicable on the positive definition of fanaticism.

Theme Content versus Result

Scale end 5.

The orientation to propagate an opinion is focused on the content of the message.

Scale end 6.

The orientation to propagate an opinion is focused on growth of the group/power and on attracting new energy.

Theme Violence versus Non Violence

Scale end 7.

Violence is an applicable tool if the goal to be achieved is important enough.

Scale end 8.

Violence should never be a tool, unless, in ultimate situations, to defend yourself. Even then, only state-violence subject to democratic procedures is acceptable.

As said earlier, we have to pay much attention to a lively description of themes and scale ends.

In the end it will give us the opportunity, apart from building a test, to use the themes separately. Each of them could be worthwhile to be worked out to a creative and useful tool.