The Americans who need chaos

The Americans who need chaos

Derek Thompson writes:

Several years ago, the political scientist Michael Bang Petersen, who is based in Denmark, wanted to understand why people share conspiracy theories on the Internet. He and other researchers designed a study that involved showing American participants blatantly false stories about Democratic and Republican politicians, such as Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. The subjects were asked: Would you share these stories online?

The results seemed to defy the logic of modern politics or polarization. “There were many people who seemed willing to share any conspiracy theory, regardless of the party it hurt,” Petersen told me. These participants didn’t seem like stable partisans of the left or right. They weren’t even negative partisans, who hated one side without feeling allegiance to the other. Above all, they seemed drawn to stories that undermined trust in every system of power.

Petersen felt as though he’d tapped a new vein of nihilism in modern politics—a desire to rip down the Elites, whatever that might mean. He wanted to know more about what these people were thinking. In further research, he and his co-researchers asked participants how much they agreed with several statements, including the following:

  • “We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”
  • ”I need chaos around me—it is too boring if nothing is going on.”
  • “When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn.’”

The researchers came up with a term to describe the motivation behind these all-purpose conspiracy mongers. They called it the “need for chaos,” which they defined as “a mindset to gain status” by destroying the established order. In their study, nearly a third of respondents demonstrated a need for chaos, Petersen said. And for about 5 percent of voters, old-fashioned party allegiances to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party melted away and were replaced by a desire to see the entire political elite destroyed—even without a plan to build something better in the ashes. [Continue reading…]

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