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.
That’s the abstract for the paper I mentioned yesterday. Thomas Edsall found it, and wrote about it in the NY Times yesterday. I think the authors from Denmark and Philadelphia are onto something.
Desiring chaos as a way to feel better about oneself – a story as old as time. Brings to mind Coriolanus again..the citizens and some ‘populist’ politicians of Rome, work hard to bring down the hero Caius Marcius. The result in Edward De Vere, alias Shakespeare’s play, is the hero turns against Rome and teams up with the enemy at the gates. Edsall picks up on this, wondering what will happen if Trump loses in 2020. Interesting question – likely not a pretty answer.
This notion has been in my head too. My latest series of installments reflects this idea, but in a different way. My ‘intellectual’ web guru is the sower of chaos. The down- and- outers in the story fall under his spell and behave monstrously out of a combination of fear and love..fear of the future and love for their children. It becomes a sort of mass psychosis, and once started, it gets normalized. The guru is motivated by anger at his institution for stealing his patents and then firing him. Sowing chaos makes him feel he is somehow getting even with these ‘elites’ – just as the authors of this paper indicate. When he starts his podcasts, it’s within a relatively small sphere of people. Once the ‘system’ tries to stop him, he goes national with his persuasive, simple to understand messages. Along the way, he takes down liars, hypocrites and pornographers. So who’s the good guy and who’s the baddie here? Depends on your perspective.