Agents of Chaos

  • A piece in The Atlantic about people who embrace chaos and nihilism — and spread conspiracy theories just to alleviate boredom, or burn it all down;
  • And an example of this: Washington Post on Libs of Tik Tok;
  • And recalling a scientifictional counterpart: Harlan Ellison’s 1965 short story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”

Here’s a substantial article about a possible deep explanation for so much of what’s going on lately, as well as the entire popularity of conspiracy theories. I come to this in the context of Harari’s speculations about what people in the future will do when or if they don’t need to work anymore. (In Homo Deus, reviewed here. Chapter 9.) Take drugs (i.e. pharmacology to mediate moods and behavior), and play computer games.

(Or become obsessed watching sports, I might add.)

Here’s another idea.

The Atlantic, Derek Thompson, 23 Feb 2024: The Americans Who Need Chaos, subtitled “They’re embracing nihilism and upending politics.”

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?

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.

So: sow chaos for the sake of sowing chaos. This could explain the motivation of some conspiracy mongers. Through stuff against the wall to see what sticks. They get off alarming people; it gives them a kind of power. And with more and more people with time on their hands, we can expect to see more of this.


Here’s an example. I’ve heard of this group before, but not paid close attention to it.

Washington Post, Taylor Lorenz, 25 Feb 2024: How Libs of TikTok became a powerful presence in Oklahoma schools, subtitled “The owner of the far-right social media account, who sits on a state advisory panel, has drawn attention since the death of a nonbinary student near Tulsa”


Far-right activist Chaya Raichik splits her time between California, where she’s registered to vote, and Florida, where she often travels. But the place where she arguably is having the biggest impact these days is Oklahoma, a state she’s visited only once.

Raichik, who operates the social media account Libs of TikTok, has amassed an audience of millions on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, largely by targeting LGBTQ+ people. Last month, Raichik was appointed to the Oklahoma Library Media Advisory Committee by Republican schools superintendent Ryan Walters, a former history teacher who has been called “the state’s top culture warrior” for his opposition to teachers unions and other conservative targets, including LGBTQ+ students’ rights.

As Libs of TikTok, Raichik has been blamed for sparking bomb threats, property damage, shooting threats, written and verbal harassment and other forms of violence against individuals, hospitals and schools across the country — including in Oklahoma, according to GLAAD, a nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy group. In her profile picture on X, she is holding a newspaper that reads: “when Libs of TikTok posts, threats increasingly follow.”

And she’s proud of this.

In a podcast interview this week about the violence that follows her posts, Raichik smiled and said she’s proud of being called a stochastic terrorist — someone who inspires supporters to commit violence by demonizing a person or group.

“Honestly, like, that makes me feel really important,” Raichik said.

Some people build; others get their jollies tearing down. What do will call the latter? How about: sociopaths.

Reading further:

After attending the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, she amassed an audience by promoting coronavirus denialism and false stories about child sex trafficking, in addition to casting doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election.

So she believes lots of things that aren’t true. Not a surprise. As I’ve noted before, certain traits among the crazies align.

Here’s Wikipedia: Libs of TikTok. Quite a long piece. And Tucker Carlson praised it! No surprise.

Or how about: domestic terrorists.


There’s a science fiction counterpart to this idea: Harlan Ellison’s 1965 short story “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman. About a noncomformist who made mischief. But that was in the 1960s, when increasing automation led people like the Harlequin, and Ellison, to rebel against social rigidity. Alarm clocks. Trains that ran to set schedules. The Harlequin would disrupt the smooth workings of society in various absurd ways; he wasa cast as the hero. The story won the two awards of the time, the Hugo and the Nebula, and 50 years later won a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. And has been anthologized many times. But that was then; this is now.

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