What is fanaticism? The characteristics of this social phenomenon

In this article we will deal precisely with fanaticism and its resonance on society . We will also define the expression it adopts, and the way in which it alters the mental structure of who makes it its flag. Knowing it is essential not to fall into

What is fanaticism?

Fanaticism is a universal phenomenon (typical of every human civilization), whose roots go back to the dawn of our evolutionary history. In fact, there are texts of classical philosophy in which they discuss this issue and reflect on the possible impact of the immovable ideas that characterize it. Thus, its existence does not come from a particular time period, or from external influences attributable to cultural dimensions; but it is part of the cognitive, behavioral and affective baggage of our species.

The word “fanatic” comes from the Latin word “fanaticus”, which can be translated as adept or “belonging to a temple”. And it is that in the times of ancient Rome there were spaces known as “fanum”, enclosures reserved for the worship of the gods. They were attended by particularly devout people of religious rites, and regular meetings were held in which the blessings of the year were praised (good weather, copious crops, etc.) and the sins of men were cleansed, under the watchful eye. of beings that dominated every aspect of personal and social life.

Along these lines, fanatics are understood as all those attitudes for which an extreme and irrational defense of an issue or person is orchestrated , completely devoid of any hint of analysis . So much so that, in fact, the “judgment” of the fanatic is very evident away from objectivity; to the point of being impervious to any argument or evidence that could question and / or refute it. It is from this moment in which the analogy with its etymological bases emerges, since a certain thing is no longer appreciated or preferred, but rather is given a bold pleiteia (just like the Gods).

Fanaticism can be oriented towards a wide variety of topics, from Religion to Politics, through personalities of all trades (musicians, athletes, actors, etc.). It should not be confused with fidelity to something, which involves the deliberate and critical interest of investing efforts in a more particular matter, within a context of freedom (listening to a certain group or watching movies of an actor / actress, attending meetings of a soccer team or have an opinion about social realities). Fanaticism involves going a step further, into the territory where intolerance and prejudice live .

Fanatics give themselves so fervently to the goal of their passion that it ends up occupying a disproportionate percentage of their time. It seems that he completely dominates almost his entire life, conditioning the way in which they act or think, and finally revealing himself as an inflexible attitude towards those who harbor ideas opposed to their own (or even differing in the slightest degree). Thus, it would circulate along a one-way path; without moderation or questioning any of their interests, their depth, their consequences in life or the accuracy of the trial.

In the most extreme cases, the fanatic completely transforms his customs and daily life, in order to give his life to the cause (literally or metaphorically). At this level, all kinds of hostility and physical / emotional violence may arise; as well as the paradoxical fact that the fans themselves point out to those who show them their “seams” as irrational, gross, terrorist, sinful, dangerous, etc. This only exacerbates the fervor, and underlines the differences between the group with which one identifies (endogroup) and the others (exogroup) , leading to insurmountable distances and worsening the situation.

Although all people (regardless of origin or any other condition of life) are likely to fall into fanaticism, there are a number of “traits” that can increase the risk. In successive lines we will abound in this relevant issue.

Fan Traits

Fanaticism can be defined both by what is thought about reality and by what is done about it. Therefore, it is a tremendously complex concept and full of edges. We proceed to address, in detail, the basic characteristics of those who adopt the attitude of a fan.

1. Conviction that you are right

Fanatics never doubt their conviction . They house ideas that do not admit the slightest doubt or reserve, so they never raise the possibility that there is any bias in the reasoning that maintains them or in the behavior they adopt regarding them.

There is a very poor capacity for self-criticism , but also a great frustration to bear that others raise objections or question the adequacy of their beliefs. As an analogy, one could say that his ideas are engraved in “stone tablets.”

In parallel, the certainty about what one does or thinks is accompanied (usually) by a counterpart: the others are never right. A fanatic person considers any appraisal contrary to his ideas to be false , without necessarily having been subjected to a minimally deep analysis. Emotion and feelings come before reasoning, so that every possible alternative of action is ruled out. This can happen, above all, in sects or similar creeds, in which there is an intentional detachment of personal and economic heritage.

This feature can also take the form of a potentiation of the “positive” aspects, and a minimization (or absolute denial) of the negative aspects, especially when the object of this fanaticism is a person or group. In such a case an immaculate image is drawn, without defect or fault, which is equated to a form of blind idolatry.

  • You may be interested: ” The psychology of sects: investigating their mental traps

2. Attempt to impose opinion on others

Not only do fanatical people believe they are right, but they often consider it essential for others to “open their eyes” to their mistake in thinking differently . There is, therefore, a vision of supremacy in the field of ideas; which is often taken to the stage of the debate over these. During such debates they can resort to dialectical juggling of all kinds, showing an authoritarianism that triggers “the alarms” of their interlocutor. Its form of persuasion lacks sophistication or subtlety, and is perceived at the very limit of imposition.

The most dramatic form of imposition is undoubtedly the one that resorts to violence. Most wars have been championed from the very power of an idea or “certainty” that has spread among the confronted peoples, and whose purpose was to provide each of them with some convictions for losing their own life or snatching that of others.

The same happens in cases of terrorism , where there are many innocents who end up paying the debts of the fanaticism of others. Small-scale aggressions attributable to fanatic ideals are also distinguished, such as those that occur in the vicinity of a football match.

In short, the persuasion attempts of the fans are very varied, and range from simple discussion in any social network to the most disastrous of armed conflicts.

3. Dichotomous perception of reality

With regard to the object on which a fanatic person feels devotion, the existence of gray nuances, meeting points that would serve to reconcile his vision on the matter with respect to others have is not usually admitted .

Instead, reality tends to be perceived in dichotomous terms, of all or nothing, moving any discrepant position to the opposite end of the spectrum of opinion. This artificially makes a “simplification” of reality, where there is a similar group (those that coincide in their perspective) and a cluster of equally antagonistic perspectives, regardless of the actual degree of divergence.

Fanaticism makes its object a tacit sign of identity, whose importance is so extreme that it stands as an elementary criterion for self-definition and the sense of belonging to a group .

With this, rivalries arise that go beyond what could be inferred from the reason: hatred towards fans of a football team, distrust of those who profess a particular religion (such as Christianity or Islam, eg) and even bitter discussions between the members of two fandom (groups of people, usually young people, who fervently estimate an artist or group).

  • You may be interested: ” The Theory of Social Identity: characteristics and postulates

4. Devotion sacrificed

Another basic characteristic of fanaticism is its resistance to adversity. Although there are ideas that generate some damage to social life, they tend to remain . In fact, sometimes they can even be reinforced under such circumstances.

All this could be explained by cognitive dissonance mechanisms, which would try to endow the (fanatic) belief with a value equivalent to the weight of the sacrifice that is supposed to defend it. Through such emotional prancing, phenomena such as the martyrs would arise, which come to give their lives voluntarily (or resigned) for defending what they believed.

5. Personality traits

Numerous personality traits that relate to an increased risk of fanaticism have been described. It has been observed that rapid social changes can lead people who fail to adapt to them to “embrace” traditional values ​​with ardent devotion (although they would never have felt particularly identified with them).

Through this process, we would seek to maintain the sense of identity wherever it could be perceived elusive, denying the novelty due to difficulties in understanding it .

Some studies also point to the hypothesis that individual frustration is a paid ground for fanaticism. This feeling of incompleteness would promote the approach to an external element that compensates for the lack of self-confidence , so that a reality in which the multitude believes (or at least a significant percentage of it) would be accepted as its own, in the absence of capacity To believe in yourself. This would achieve the rapid response to a vacuum, precipitated by culture or an existential crisis, and satisfy the need for affiliation in the same way.


its ominous claws.

Leave a Comment