Need for Chaos

I follow the blog of Sheila Kennedy who taught at the Indiana University School of Law. In this mornings post she explores yet again how to explain the president and his base. The post can be found here: Voting for Chaos.

She says the president’s goal with all his tweets and actions is not to support any particular goal, but rather to create chaos, which in turn causes fear in those who are susceptible; fear of change and fear of “others”.

Social media platforms provide easy ways to widely spread this type of misinformation. The recent violent video of the president performing acts of violence against his perceived enemies is one example. The recent change in Facebook’s policies suggesting they won’t provide any censorship or regulation of content feeds right into this.

The common element in all of these studies and theories is the extent to which fear–fear of change, fear of the “other,” fear of the unknown–feeds hostility to “the system” and to the “elites” that supposedly benefit from that system.

There are clearly a lot of disaffected people out there, and the Internet facilitates their expression of rage.

Voting for Chaos, Sheila Kennedy, Oct. 15, 2019

The circulation of hostile political rumors (including but not limited to false news and conspiracy theories) has gained prominence in public debates across advanced democracies. Here, we provide the first comprehensive assessment of the psychological syndrome that elicits motivations to share hostile political rumors among citizens of democratic societies. 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’. We show that this extreme discontent is associated with motivations to share hostile political rumors, not because such rumors are viewed to be true but because they are believed to mobilize the audience against disliked elites. We introduce an individual difference measure, the “Need for Chaos”, to measure these motivations and illuminate their social causes, linked to frustrated status-seeking. Finally, we show that chaotic motivations are surprisingly widespread within advanced democracies, having some hold in up to 40 percent of the American national population.

A “Need for Chaos” and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies by Petersen, M., Osmundsen, M., & Arceneaux, K., American Political Science Association, 2018 https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/6m4ts

The authors describe “chaos incitement” as a “strategy of last resort by marginalized status-seekers,” willing to adopt disruptive tactics. Trump, in turn, has consistently sought to strengthen the perception that America is in chaos, a perception that has enhanced his support while seeming to reinforce his claim that his predecessors, especially President Barack Obama, were failures.

Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux find that those who meet their definition of having a “need for chaos” express that need by willingly spreading disinformation. Their goal is not to advance their own ideology but to undermine political elites, left and right, and to “mobilize others against politicians in general.” These disrupters do not “share rumors because they believe them to be true. For the core group, hostile political rumors are simply a tool to create havoc.”

The Trump Voters Whose ‘Need for Chaos’ Obliterates Everything Else, Political nihilism is one of the president’s strongest weapons by Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, Sept 4, 2019
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