Forces of Chaos
September 5, 2019 8:57 AM   Subscribe

How can chaos be used as a political force? Chaos has long been recognized as a potent weapon in warfare. New research has revealed the role it plays in political battles, essentially by tapping marginalized groups whose goals are to gain status by disrupting or destroying the existing political structures. These chaos-inducing actors may have no agenda other than dragging down political "elites," which may explain why some may find both Trump and (Bernie) Sanders viable options. It may also explain phenomena like Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, despite his rejection of the comparison to Trump. The study ties the impact of this phenomenon to social media disinformation campaigns.

The research utilized a "need for chaos" scale that asked five questions about agreement with statements like, "We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over." 40% of respondents agreed with this statement, and one other similar statement, and 24% agreed with the statement, "I think society should be burned to the ground."

Social media plays strongly into operationalizing this need for chaos by providing chaos inducers a means to sow discord and the willingness of those high in chaos need to spread information they know to be false is central to this role. There isn't necessarily a particular politician who is targeted by the rumors, either. As the researchers put it:
Against the notion that sharing occurs to help one mainstream political actor in the increasingly polarized electoral competition against other mainstream actors, we demonstrate that sharing motivations are associated with ‘chaotic’ motivations to “burn down” the entire established democratic ‘cosmos'.
posted by Mental Wimp (19 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.
  • I think society should be burned to the ground.
  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”
  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.
  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.
Hmm. Seen a fair bit of this around here.
posted by No Robots at 9:08 AM on September 5 [10 favorites]


Accelerationists always believe that it will be someone else's blood in the streets.

Cf. Trump supporter's lament "He's hurting the wrong people."
posted by tclark at 9:12 AM on September 5 [20 favorites]


I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.

Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

You've seen this here? Really?

I want to draw a line between these points and the other three No Robots is describing upthread. There's a distinction here between chaos for its own sake, or chaos for the sake of destruction, and agitating for a disruption of an existing order because that order is harmful.

It's clear that these two factions can encourage and agitate one another, but I do think it's worth considering how to strengthen that distinction in order to prevent discontent from warping into a desire to destroy wholesale.
posted by sciatrix at 9:14 AM on September 5 [6 favorites]


The only way forward is through organizing. Chaos is a reactionary principle.

Plenty of people here fantasize about the elimination of the vast majority of mankind. Check any climate change thread.

There is much beauty in the existing order. Anyone seeking its wholesale destruction is a wannabe destroyer of beauty.
posted by No Robots at 9:23 AM on September 5 [7 favorites]


Chaos is a reactionary principle.

Or a deliberate tactic such as the statgies If tension used against the Italian people in the 60s and 70s to get people more comfortable with a more right wing, authoritarian government.

I mean, what is the sprawling Q comspircary but a demand for a dictatorship to make sense out of all the chaos?

The existing order contains much shit and exploitation and degradation and wholesale civilizational collapse too. The goal is to properly critique and consider all that exists to determine what is worth saving (democracy, liberal freedoms) and what is not (billionaires, fossil fuels).
posted by The Whelk at 9:31 AM on September 5 [10 favorites]


There is much beauty in the existing order. Anyone seeking its wholesale destruction is a wannabe destroyer of beauty.
- Edmund Burke
posted by Space Coyote at 9:32 AM on September 5 [5 favorites]


Plenty of people here fantasize about the elimination of the vast majority of mankind. Check any climate change thread.

I think you've identified an ambiguity in the question. One can fantasize with horror or one can fantasize with glee.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:33 AM on September 5 [10 favorites]


So here is my fuzzy and poorly disciplined thinking.

You see what happened in USSR to Russia transition, and how they are trying to duplicate that in the Anglosphere, how all of this Neoliberalism was much the same thing just in slow motion and with more legalist legitimacy...

"Property is theft"

Yes, it really is, in most cases these days. Anybody who has a hoard of wealth today, that is the result of theft of the commons or exploitation of the working classes.

Enough shit for you to live - a house, maybe transport, your personal things, that is cool. Beyond that, it is theft.

It feels good to see the revolutions on TV - the palaces being looted, the rich people's stuff grabbed from them.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:42 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


We have had a century of chaotic destruction of social order in places like Chile in the 70s and Russia in the 90s and so many other places where right-wing movements up-ended the daily lives and security of the working populations of a country. But since the elite's hold on power strengthened we think it was actually stability. That's how deeply we are taught to identify with the powerful.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:47 AM on September 5 [7 favorites]


In the past, chaos-seekers were on outer edges of politics, unable to exercise influence.

Any student of world history can point to plenty of precedent. Hofstadter's Paranoid Style touches on this briefly, but Kindleberger and Mackay and Hoffer all come to mind for American examples.

So it's an interesting start, but I'm having trouble seeing much of this as new, and I really would like to try to figure out what is. Because it seems like something changed in the last few years, but I think it's more nuanced than Edsall seems to make it. It's also possible I just became more aware of preexisting wackiness.

Also I feel like people tend to conflate anarchism as a political doctrine with chaos as a political doctrine, even around here.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:50 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


Chaos is a reactionary principle.

Can you help me understand what you mean by that?
posted by PMdixon at 9:56 AM on September 5


essentially by tapping marginalized groups whose goals are to gain status by disrupting or destroying the existing political structures.

So one might even say that these types believe chaos is a ladder?

One thing the research link says which is intuitively true, but nice to see confirmed, is that people who spread the fake news and false rumors don't generally actually care if they are true or not. They are simply a hammer to bludgeon with. And that's why trying to reason with them about the false nature of their rumors and news is futile.
posted by Justinian at 12:38 PM on September 5 [8 favorites]


These chaos-inducing actors may have no agenda other than dragging down political "elites," which may explain why some may find both Trump and (Bernie) Sanders viable option

Honestly, what a disgraceful smear. If you think that's a fair summation of Sanders' political agenda or those that support him you haven't been paying attention at all. And, for the last time, Sanders supporter voted for the Republican at a lower rate than Clinton supporters did in 2008 (15% versus 12%).
posted by smithsmith at 5:47 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


I feel like so much of this stuff is entwined deeply with toxic masculinity.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 8:06 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Sanders supporter voted for the Republican at a lower rate than Clinton supporters did in 2008 (15% versus 12%).

Yeah in 2008 before Sanders was running. What are those numbers in 2016?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:12 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah in 2008 before Sanders was running. What are those numbers in 2016?

What are you talking about? OP was using Sanders' supporters defection rate in 2016 after he lost the primary as evidence of his supporters' embrace of chaos and political nihilism when Clinton supporters defected to Republicans at an even higher rate when she lost the primary in 2008.

It's stunning to me that someone could claim with a straight face that establishment candidates who are the architects of endless war, growing inequality and the literal destruction of the planet represent the stable, rational choice while Sanders supporters who, you know, actively and passionately oppose those existential threats are the real agents of chaos here. It just reeks of privileged, white liberalism wilfully blind to the chaos and injustice inherent in the status quo.
posted by smithsmith at 2:22 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


bummer sanders wasn't around when all the architecting was going on
posted by PMdixon at 2:58 PM on September 6 [4 favorites]


Why is "We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over" considered some sort of extremist position? Those that want to preserve the existing order intact might have an interest in portraying it as extremist, but surely it isn't. It has been historically the most common method through which social progress was achieved. The methodology of how we tear these structures down, who "we" is, and crucially what do we put in their place, are the real litmus tests of extremism.
The primary question is what makes many people choose violent disruption over the existing order, what failure of elite "governance"? I suspect that, inter alia, the ascendancy of post-democracy, the skyrocketing inequality, the incessant and glorified imperial wars and the destruction of communal and collective ties and efforts, are probably underlying factors that produce such desire for "chaos". To diagnose some sort of collective fault of the populace because they despaired after having been politically and economically marginalized for so long and fed mainstream narratives meant to disempower them, is pretty close to the wisdom of those 19th century "doctors" who diagnosed "drapetomania" as the psychological disease pushing slaves to escape.
Note though that chaos-inducing actors that have no agenda other than dragging down political "elites", is by no means a new thing and is expressed in much milder forms that what was historically par for the course in the West.
As an aside: That Sanders (a new deal liberal with an economic agenda that would be pretty much Ok to an Eisenhower republican) is portrayed as an agent of chaos and as an extreme and toxic as Trump (a wannabe Mussolini, heading the most dangerous extreme-right party in the world and pushing the planet faster towards an irreversible tipping point) is a sign that the discourse has shifted so far to the right that it's not even discourse, it's internalized and memefied corporate PR.
posted by talos at 12:54 PM on September 8


Oh Dear...
posted by CheapB at 2:27 PM on September 25


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