A few days ago I sent out to some friends a short piece, unsigned, on “gaslighting.” If you follow media pundits and online scribblers, you’ve probably heard or seen the term used in a political or social context and wondered exactly what it meant.
Gaslighting, in that currently employed sense, can be defined as a form of psychological abuse aimed at controlling a person by altering perceived reality to the point where the person will doubt his own sanity. Essentially it involves mental manipulation “in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and information, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.”
This usage apparently originates with the play, Gas Light (1938) and two succeeding classic movies from 1940 and 1944 (this latter film famously stars Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten). The main character in the play (and in the films) literally attempts to drive his wife crazy by gradually dimming the gas-powered lights in their home. As she complains that the lights seem to be getting dimmer, her husband not only denies the fact, but convinces her that it is just her imagination…to the point where she begins to question her own sanity.
In contemporary America “gaslighting” has become a praxis, a weapon of choice of the post-Marxist Progressivist Left: That is, repeatedly projecting on to their opponents the belief and sense that somehow they (we), because of our "unenlightened views" are racist, sexist, and "against progress and 'democratic values'." Nearly the entirety of the media, the entertainment industry, and many political leaders do this on a regular basis; it is inculcated into our children in practically all our schools.... And once we begin to believe that meme, we then retreat from real opposition, we may apologize for our perceived sins, and defensively we may compromise and give way, or just be silent.
This praxis has been very successful in essentially neutering many voices of the supposed opposition to the madness that is eating away at our society.
How many elected Republicans have given way to “gaslighting” for fear of being called “racists” or “white supremacists”? But not just their apologies or silence, and their running to hide “in the tall grass”: Some have convinced themselves of the rightness of Progressivist positions, even supporting them publicly. We only need cite the literally dozens of former Bush administration officials, staffers for John McCain (his wife is voting for Biden) and Mitt Romney, and Neoconservatives like Max Boot, Bill Kristol, and others who now openly support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Does this not indicate something deeply disquieting about these so-called "Establishment Conservatives"? That they are easily spooked by the constant barrage of Progressivist accusations is one thing…but more profoundly, does this not indicate their own lack of deeply-held conservative convictions?
And these were the folks we were to support as our champions in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012?
Whatever criticisms we might level at Donald Trump, and yes, certainly there are some, he has at least done one thing of immense value: he has torn the mask partially off those "Deep State" apparatchiks, made them surface publicly, revealing them as the condescending elitists, Managerial State globalists that they are. And that, despite all the negative things, in a sense compensates in some ways for many of the Donald's peccadillos....
It is those who righteously claim the Progressivist mantle who are the real madmen, lacking rationality, outside reality, and strangers to the inherent laws of nature and Divine Positive Laws of God. It is they who, like demons from the bowels of Hell, seek to convince us that we are "outside reality" and "unprogressive." And in this they engage in a form of transference, that is, projecting zealously onto their victims—onto the “deplorables” and those who dissent from their template—the insecurities and sense that our thinking and actions are somehow distorted, wrong, hurtful, and not normal…that we are crazy.
In fact, it is they who are, to quote the great Christian English essayist G. K. Chesterton, the real “lunatics.” In his volume, The Poet and the Lunatics (1929), Chesterton discusses the concept of liberty, and in so doing defines it succinctly as “the power of a thing to be itself…We are limited by our brains and bodies; and if we break out, we cease to be ourselves, and, perhaps, to be anything. The lunatic is he who loses his way and cannot return….” Those who have rebelled against the order of Creation and nature, he adds, are “already outside the world of reason, raging with a desire to be outside of everything.” It is they who have in fact rejected reality. Thus, their frenzy and anxiety not so much to convince us, as to convince themselves of their rightness….for like all Children of the Night, down deep, gnawing at them is the dark, if faint but constant sensation that this is so.
Against their constant barrage we need to affirm our rootedness in our God-given and created nature and in two-thousand years of Western tradition and civilization...while rejecting the Progressivists as crazed fanatical rebels against that Creation and its Author.
They must be totally repudiated...no compromises or deals with them. Things may—and probably will—get worse, and our enemies appear to gain triumph. But in the end the Faith will conquer…if we let it.
This post originally appeared on Boyd Cathey's blog on Oct. 13, 2020.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.