I don’t typically follow the politics of other countries that closely. But like many, I’ve been somewhat bewildered by Trump’s inauguration. I feel a little like Adam Lee, who wrote:
“This past weekend’s inauguration didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t. Despite the evidence, it’s hard for me to accept that the presidency of Donald Trump is really happening. Watching the news feels like we’ve been granted a collective glimpse into an alternate timeline, a bad future, as a warning and a means of averting it.”
Alongside everything else, we had the bizarre scenario of Trump claiming record numbers at his inauguration, and the response from his spokesperson that evidence contradicting this was merely one option among “alternative facts”.
If that isn’t Orwellian double-speak, then I don’t know what is. I almost expect Trump to formally declare he is opening an actual ‘Ministry of Truth’, as an F-U to those leftist intellectuals who don’t agree with him in all things.
But as the implications of this bald-faced lying, regardless of any and all evidence to the contrary, I thought it was worth talking about gas-lighting. For those of us who value the truth, and who like what we say to be appropriately nuanced and careful, this can be used against us in a powerful way.
Precisely because I value evidence, and I’m willing to consider alternative views and change my mind where the evidence warrants, I’m potentially vulnerable to this psychological manipulation.
Gaslighting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting) involves persistent denial of clear evidence, with a view to destabilizing and delegitimizing the target. If someone flatly denies and contradicts your evidence, and offers an alternative explanation then it can cause you to question whether you’ve remembered things correctly, or are interpreting them correctly. You can begin to question your ability to reason soundly. If they do this consistently, and if they can also start to control the flow of information coming out, this can be profoundly unsettling.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia article highlights sociopaths and narcissists as two key perpetrators of gaslighting. I don’t suppose I need to spell out who one person who seems to clearly fit those two descriptors is…
Climate denialism also often drifts towards this approach. I have seen forms of it in some forms of Christian apologetics, too (notably presuppositional methodologies).
Forewarned is forearmed. The Wikipedia article gives enough detail to be prepared for it. I believe the world is in for some global-scale gaslighting in the years ahead.