Gaslighting: Liberals Do It, Too. There’s Just One Difference

gaslighting image jason dias

You often hear complaints about conservatives gaslighting the rest of us, but does it go both ways? Yes, says existential psychologist Jason Dias, but there’s a subtle difference …

aNewDomainjason-dias-awake — Gaslighting is a popular word right now. It gets tossed around quite a bit.

In case anyone doesn’t know what it means yet, the term describes how one person or group of people uses accusations to get people to change what they believe.

Trying to convince people that their perceptions are wrong and that they have a faulty or incorrect memory or understanding of something — that, basically, they are crazy — that is gaslighting for sure.

An extreme example of gaslighting can be found in Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian masterpiece, Blade Runner. In the film, Rachael (Sean Young) is a woman who thinks she is a real person until Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) convinces her she is just a synthetic being with implanted memories.

What’s notable about this gaslighting example is it turns out he’s right. Rachael really is just a replicant.

Sometimes, gaslighting works that way.

It doesn’t always, though.

Now take global warming.

dry river bed hiroshima climate changeIt really is happening and the data could not be any clearer on the topic, but the oil and gas industry, using PR firms and paid for politicians and “think tanks,” have managed to disrupt the narrative to create a whole alternative universe.

In it, scientists are eco-terrorists — “reds under the bed,” and watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) — and China created the global warming “hoax” to attach American business.

It’s ridiculous, but people actually believe this.

And speaking of Donald Trump, you’d have to be blind not to notice that our President Elect now posts counterfactual information to Twitter every few hours. For instance, he claims he won the election by millions of votes if you remove the “fraudulent” ones from the West Coast.

The question is, are liberals gaslighting conservatives in this very same way — trying to convince them of something that also isn’t true?

Or are they gaslighting them to convince them of the truth.

gaslighting James Inhofe OK global warming climate changeSen. James Inhofe (R-OK) showed up on the floor of Congress with a snowball and huffed that global warming could not possibly be true because it was presently cold outside. Liberals and scientists everywhere scoffed. Of course this was a cynical move to muddy the water.

But it illustrates a problem with our narratives.

Scientists and liberals are collectively asking people to discount or disregard our own experiences, and they have been doing this for awhile.

If you are over 40, you probably remember hotter summers than we are having — and warmer winters. You remember droughts, floods, lightning, epic storms.

Now the fact that the year-over-year averages as computed by climatologists show a steady and accelerating temperature gain means little to your basic, isolated human. You can understand that weather is not the same as climate intellectually — and that’s true — but experientally that’s hard to parse.

For millennia, the very best data we have had has been our own experiences. It is easy for someone with a vested interest to say, “Trust your senses,” and get support from the general populace.

How can we be running out of gas when I can go to the corner shop and buy it for $2.12 a gallon?

are you authentic am i authentic jason dias racismAnother example is the racism problem.

It has become popular for folks on the left to accuse folks on the right of racist notions. Trouble is, most people don’t feel racist. They even keep telling us. “I’m not a racist.”

It’s like when they call scientists eco-terrorists. The scientist doesn’t feel like an eco-terrorist. Nothing they do on a day to day basis is particularly terroristic. It’s a label applied to them from outside that does not seem to fit.

When we look at the numbers, it’s pretty plain that we have a lot more racists and especially structural racism than should make us comfortable. That’s not the issue. The issue for the moment is liberals keep trying to tell people they have a set of feelings and beliefs that they just don’t own.

It’s hard to dialogue on this issue when one side is gaslighting the other.

It’s harder still when both sides are gaslighting one another.

We can have an equivocating argument here, sure.

Racism isn’t at all how you feel. I wouldn’t define racism as a feeling at all. I define racism as treating people differently based on the perceived race dimension.

And the data are pretty clear. People whose names sound ethnic get fewer call-backs on job applications even when all the qualifications are identical (so do women, by the way).

Black people bear a disproportionate burden of unemployment, sickness, heavy industry in their neighborhoods, incarcerations, charge-loading, civil fines and on and on.

That’s all racist.  Implicit bias is real.

But that doesn’t help the conversation.

When people don’t feel as if they are racists, when they don’t understand the words you are using and don’t read the statistical abstracts — when they feel just the word “racist” is itself a slur —  getting behavior change through accusations – gaslighting – isn’t going to be super-productive.

There’s this question still hanging over the 2016 election that I think is pertinent here: why were the polls so wrong?

In some places, people weren’t accurately polled. Latinos with limited English did not behave as expected and were under-surveyed. But in the counties that mattered, folks were either never asked or never answered or, most perniciously, lied.

White on black violenceI think it is because people knew that voting for Donald Trump would be perceived as immoral. Stupid, evil, racist. They didn’t know (or agree) why it was perceived that way, only that the “liberal media” constantly mocked him and his voter base. Colbert is on mainstream media now, after all, and even Fox News took a dislike to Mr. Trump.

This is the problem of racism today. People know that racism is bad but they don’t know what it is. They take steps to not be perceived as racist but no steps to address the underlying behaviors of racism.

Indeed, there aren’t a lot of steps that are shown to be very effective outside of contact and common goals.

Sometimes people call me a liberal but I’m not a liberal at all. I’m a rationalist at heart and I’d like to think I make decisions on that basis. On the other hand, I haven’t heard a good conservative argument for 20 years.

Isn’t there an element of the socialist reprogramming folks are afraid of at work here? When you have a particular set of opinions and characteristics, you are labelled and shipped off (metaphorically) for re-education. Certain words are taboo, just like in 1984. And people keep saying you are the one to blame.

There are some concrete steps that liberals can take to stamp out the problem and you aren’t going to like them. You can end much of the racist behavior you don’t like and win back those purple counties all in one easy step. You know what it is?

Revitalize those areas.

Bring in a diverse population with jobs and industry. Get people working together, side by side, not isolated in shitty urban neighborhoods and equally shitty rural ones.

All the talk, all the gaslighting, all the pointed fingers are worth just exactly nothing. They make things worse. The only reliable cure is contact.

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.

Here’s the 1982 trailer for Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young.

Here is Sen. Inhofe attempting to prove that 50 years of climate science is a lie — because he’s holding a snowball.

Cover image: 1.wp/ERSpaulding.com, All Rights Reserved

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.