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Causes of Terrorism

How personality and temperament combine in Authoritarian Personalities.

Temperament is what you are born with--nature; personality is what it becomes after nurturing by family and society. Personality is one result of evolution, being common to many animals--large and small--predators and browsers--walkers and flyers.

Humans have upwards of two-dozen identifiable personality traits. However it makes good sense to simplify their descriptions. Certain psychologists have come to the following organization:

  • Agreeableness Altruism (Energizes Herding Instinct)
    • Cooperation (Herding Instinct)
    • Honesty
    • Modesty
    • Sympathy
    • Trust
  • Extroversion
    • Assertiveness (Fierceness)
    • Energy (Energizes Fierceness)
    • Enthusiasm
    • Excitement Seeking
    • Outgoing
    • Sociability
  • Neuroticism
    • Anxiety
    • Consciousness
    • Depression
    • Irritability
    • Moodiness
    • Stress
  • Conscientiousness Achievement Striving
    • Carefulness
    • Efficiency
    • Orderliness
    • Self Discipline
    • Sense of Duty
  • Openness
    • Artistic Ability
    • Breadth of Interest
    • Curiosity
    • Imagination
    • Interests
    • Unconventionality

Saints, sinners, war presidents and doves all share these codifications. Agreeableness, extroversion and neuroticism in particular seem to be shared with our animal friends. Birds exhibit certain human traits, yet our lineages diverged over 200 million years ago. It is remarkable what evolution can re-create or allow to persist as the case may be.

And how about Binta Jua, the lowland gorilla in the Chicago zoo that saved a 3-year old child who fell 18 feet into her habitat? Is that not akin to a sense of duty? And if you believe that curiosity and imagination might have something to do with tool making, then we must include the chimpanzees and many birds in the list of nature's species exhibit traits in the cluster we call openness. Elephants, monkeys and dogs can be made neurotic by childhood mistreatment.

Our point in these illustrations is to illustrate how much humanity is a product of nature. We embody what many other species had already evolved for our use and misuse when we came along. See Human History for more on this important issue.

According to Adorno, the authoritarian personality is expressed essentially by:

  • Excessive conformity -- Conscientious agreeableness in the extreme; assertiveness; achievement striving
  • Intolerance -- Assertiveness; narrow interests; lack of sociability, sympathy, trust and cooperation
  • Insecurity -- Neuroticism, especially anxiety
  • Rigid, stereotyped thought patterns -- Assertiveness; lack of Openness; narrow interests; achievement striving
  • Submissiveness to authority -- Conscientious agreeableness in the extreme
  • Superstition -- Anxiety; narrow interests

If these psychologists have it right, then the authoritarian personality is complex indeed. Another formulation of the authoritarian personality follows:

  • Control and power -- Achievement striving; assertiveness
  • Cynicism and arrogance -- Achievement striving; assertiveness
  • Destructiveness -- Irritability, moodiness, lack of conscientiousness and openness
  • Fixed Ideas -- Lack of imagination
  • Lack of introspection and insight -- Anxiety
  • Narrow disciplined outlook -- Lack of openness
  • Never looking back -- Lack of conscientiousness; assertiveness
  • Paranoid if they think you do not believe as they do -- anxiety; extreme lack of openness
  • Polarizing "either/or" thinking -- anxiety; extreme lack of openness
  • Religious fundamentalism -- anxiety; extreme lack of openness
  • Sexual intolerance -- anxiety; extreme lack of openness

In terms of having a trait, or not having a trait, it seems possible to fit the recognized personality traits into the authoritarian behavior patterns. We welcome other interpretations, especially from clinical psychologists who deal with these issues in their profession.


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