Overused and misapplied.
Merriam Webster defines gaslighting as:
“Psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Psychology Today adds that this is accomplished by the victim being “deliberately and systematically fed false information.”
Proponents of teaching history inspired by CRT and/or The 1619 Project insist they simply want to teach the truth about racism in this country. Never mind that there are multiple factual inaccuracies in The 1619 Project and that Critical Theory rejects the notion of objective truth. Gaslighting?
Candidate Biden seriously questioned the efficacy and safety of “Trump’s” vaccines, campaigned on the idea Trump was not doing enough on the national level about the pandemic and proclaimed that he (Biden) would bring the pandemic to an end. Once he was president, Biden insisted the vaccines must be taken by everyone and that they would prevent people from being infected and spreading COVID. Now that it is obvious that people that have been vaccinated can get and spread COVID, Biden now says there is no national solution – COVID is a state-level problem. Were we being “deliberately and systematically fed false information”?
Let me be clear, to my mind simply lying does not rise to the level of gaslighting. I say that because a simple lie does not contain the “systematic” component. A pattern of lies and misinformation systematically directed at a specific (and false) narrative qualifies (to me) as gaslighting.
Redefining existing terms and inventing new ones should alert you to the possibility of gaslighting. “Global Warming” becomes “Climate Change” because several of Al Gore’s predictions in “An Inconvenient Truth” did not come to pass (how inconvenient). “Assault Weapon” is fabricated out of thin air because it sounds much more frightening than “semi-automatic rifle.” This sort of thing is invariably done to try to change your perception of reality – or to hide the real agenda behind a more palatable term.
Historically, gaslighting has been the tool of extremist groups and the politicians and media members that have been co-opted by them. They try to sell a “reality” that is a complete (or nearly complete) fabrication. In recent years however it seems to have been embraced by mainstream politicians and the press. The treatment of Nicholas Sandmann by the press is one of the best recent examples. It became apparent, almost instantly after the story broke, that based on the same (unedited) video footage the story was false. It was, in fact, deliberately falsified by editing the video and there can be little doubt that this was done to create a false political narrative. That is not a simple mistake or omission.
The term gaslighting is also being misused. If I present you with a reasoned argument, data, and facts, and this presentation causes you to question your grip on reality, you are almost certainly the victim of gaslighting – but I am not the perpetrator. You were victimized long before meeting me.
Entirely too often (lately), people presenting reasoned arguments and facts are accused of gaslighting. I was accused (more than once) of gaslighting in an article I wrote back in June. Frankly, I can’t find anything in that article that should cause any sane person to question their sanity.
Conservatives are rightly characterized as placing a high value on individual rights and being resistant to change. Our motivations are frequently mischaracterized. Conservatives understand that change is necessary but we prefer incremental change that is reasoned and, to the degree possible, proven. We don’t reject socialism solely because of its impact on individual rights, we reject it because it’s a bad idea and history has proven it’s a bad idea – it has never worked because can’t work.
The Guardian recently published an opinion piece on using price controls to curb inflation. The reaction on Twitter was explosive. This is another terrible idea that has been tried. Nixon tried it, as has every socialist country throughout history – the results were a disaster in every case. Did the people responding on Twitter cause the author to question his/her grip on reality? I hope so. But those responding were not gaslighting. This author was the victim of gaslighting long before. How else would one explain arriving at such a bad idea despite all the evidence?
There is certainly entirely too much attempted gaslighting in the world today. But the perpetrators are not people making reasoned arguments using data and facts, and the victims are not the people those arguments are being presented to.