Podcast #11—The Fascism Scale: A Look at Theodor Adorno and the Murky World of Psychological Testing

English: Photograph taken in April 1964 by Jer...

English: Photograph taken in April 1964 by Jeremy J. Shapiro at the Max Weber-Soziologentag. Horkheimer is front left, Adorno front right, and Habermas is in the background, right, running his hand through his hair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Theodor Adorno, philosopher, musicologist, academic, and Frankfurt School member, is a name familiar to many in the “truth movement,” due in part to assertions some have made that he was instrumental in transforming The Beatles from a struggling British band, playing seedy Hamburg clubs, into the culture-changing phenomenon they eventually became.

What many may not know, however, is that the Tavistock Institute associate, in the 1950s, also authored a personality test that, at least ostensibly, was intended to measure the level to which a person has traits and thought patterns supposedly associated with fascism.

To establish some context for a discussion of Adorno as a psychometrician, J.Q. first takes a look at the murky history of psychological testing, with its early origins in the work of Charles Darwin and his cousin, Francis Galton–who both, arguably, approached “mental testing” from a eugenicist perspective. J.Q. also touches on some of the odder aspects of the field, such as Timothy Leary‘s background as a psychometrician who developed a test that has been used by the CIA to screen potential employees, as well as the Church of Scientology’s use of a personality inventory as a recruitment tool. These extremes of the field are also contextualized with a look at notable critiques of the validity of even widely used, mainstream instruments such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

J.Q. then takes an in-depth look at Adorno’s odd little psychometric instrument–called The F-Scale–which has also been used at times as an employment screening test. Is it valid to suggest that having traits like a conservative view toward homosexuality,  or a belief in an omniscient supernatural power, is evidence of a “fascistic” personality? Or does this test itself, at least to an extent, reflect author biases reflective of a worldview that is itself highly authoritarian?



2 comments on “Podcast #11—The Fascism Scale: A Look at Theodor Adorno and the Murky World of Psychological Testing

  1. Mark says:

    All tests can be misused and abused, consciously or not. I strongly reject the entire theory behind IQ tests. Namely, that one’s mental acuity (whatever one means by that) can be quantified apart from the actual knowledge that one has. It’s absurd. Not possible. In fact, as the great black author Ralph Ellison noted, the basis for such theories was spawned to defend racial ideologies of the 19th century. Yeah I know, genetic fallacy blah, blah, blah. But on the other hand, those tests such as Myers-Briggs that measure certain abstract traits can be quite valuable. They can help us realize things about ourselves that we don’t know. So we shouldn’t overgeneralize.

    • jquseless says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mark. I’m pretty much in agreement with what you said. But I think that one thing you mention is very important: you noted Ralph Ellison’s assertion that the basis for theories behind IQ testing “were spawned to defend racial ideologies of the 19th century,”

      Although I haven’t researched that topic specifically, it sounds entirely plausible to me, and I think that just provides yet another example of my central point in the podcast (which I’d encourage you to listen to if you haven’t) and the blog post: that there almost always seems to be some kind of an agenda–ideological, political, or otherwise–behind any given psychometric instrument. The example of Adorno’s F-scale (which admittedly is a rather extreme example) shows an agenda to establish more lefty/secular humanist points of view as “normal,” while it makes it difficult to express a more conservative or spiritually oriented world view without looking like a fascist or some other sort of deviant.

      I don’t have TOO much of an issue with the Myers-Briggs, per se, except that I find its use in workplace settings to be highly objectionable and intrusive. I actually successfully resisted an attempt to use it in a department of a large organization I once worked for. But I’ve also seen what happens when it is used. I think it “brands” people who tend more toward introversion in potentially career-damaging ways, because organizations tend to favor and reward so-called extroverted personalities and overlook the value that more cerebral sorts of folks bring to the table.

      I also think the MMPI can and has been an extremely valuable instrument in clinical settings. I’ve taken it, and, yes–I did learn a lot about myself from it. But I think the MMPI, too, has some pretty clearly discernible biases in terms of how it’s “normed” for a middle-aged Minnesotan with an 8th-grade education. I think that could “bracket” pretty narrowly what is normal vs. what is deviant, because that kind of population is probably going to be among the most successfully “socialized” into the worldview that the “ruling establishment” tries to construct / promulgate through what is, basically, the propagandist’s toolkit ranging from educational curricula to mainstream news media.

      Finally, I think it’s important not to forget the very origins of the discipline in the work of Darwin and Galton–the latter of whom, especially, was coming from a racist / eugenicist “camp” as were some the later pioneers of the field who built on Galton’s work. It’s strange, isn’t it, how issues of race and eugenics keep rearing their ugly heads when you look into the history of these sorts of things. You can say, of course, that these early progenitors were “products of their time” and that their professional “successors” gradually became more “enlightened.” But, as with slavery, wrong is wrong, no matter what the historical context. So if a “scientific” field has its roots in something so ugly, can anything truly good ever come of it? I think of this quote:

      “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” Matthew 7:18 (KJV)


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