The term “agent of chaos” has been rattling around in the back of my brain since a billionaire announced his intention to acquire a “sporadically profitable social company,” to quote the New York Times, for $44 billion, roughly 19% of his net worth. Some used it in the negative, but mostly it was the fandom who murmured it, admiringly, after news of the purchase broke. Their trickster king, at it again.
In this chaotic period, figures like Elon Musk, who seemingly wield chaos like a lightning rod, have become lauded for their disruptive acts among a certain set. The term “chaos agent,” I’ve noticed, has come to cloak people like Musk in a kind of neutrality — after all, they’re just sowing chaos for chaos’ sake. The term not only absolves them of any responsibility, but even holds up their pot-stirring as some kind of noble act.
The use of the term agent of chaos in this way spiked after the late Heath Ledger, playing the Joker, popularized it in Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot, “The Dark Knight.”
“Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos,” the oft-quoted line begins. “I’m an agent of chaos,” the Joker continues, “and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”