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Extremism Index

April 24, 2011

Is it possible to quantitively assess the degree of extremism in a society? How to define it? How to set the criteria?
Can we design an “extremism index”? 0 % would be for a very tolerant and open society, 100 %  would be for an extremist and very closed one?
These questions came after several discussions I have had with friends from Tunisia: “extremism is everywhere”, “people are now very radical”, “it is hard to have a reational and a calm discussion”, “people want everything now”, ” we should calm down”…
 But how to make the distinction between what some people perceive it as “extremism” and the “reality”?
Why don’t we have an “extremism index” , published monthly, that will allow to assess the “general way of thinking” of people in the society on a monthly basis: are the whole society more radical this month than 6 months ago? is there less or more extremist groups  and people? are we going in the right direction in terms of tolerance and open-minded mentality?
To set this index, we might undertake monthly polls with specific questions, add it to the number of violent demonstrations, then do an average , and come out with a number. Any ideas of the questions we should ask? the criteria to set?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2011 10:43 pm

    But “extremist” see their view as normal and the rest of the world is extreme. How do we define what is normal?

  2. Dan permalink
    June 10, 2011 11:54 pm

    This is a really interesting question. First, do you mean extreme opinions or extreme actions? Also, what things are “open/tolerant” and what things are extreme would seem to necessarily encode a lot of social biases. People I’ve spoken with from Arab countries have argued that the veil is liberating, not oppressive, as my Western eyes default to assuming.

    There’s also the problem of surveying political attitudes under repressive regimes.

    Ignore that, there’s actually a decent body of survey research for values and political opinions worldwide. From those, you should be able to decide what parameters define “extremism”, look at the curves, and norm it to generate an extremism index.

    For raw data, check:

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