Media Gaslighting

On media tropes and fallacies: Gaslighting

Ingrid Bergman, 1944 Film 'Gaslight'

Ingrid Bergman, 1944 Film ‘Gaslight’

Gaslighting is a sophisticated form of manipulation, used to create doubt, often on controversial issues touching on public policy, global warming, vaccine safety.  Most often the point of the gaslighting is to quell through manipulation and intimidation, any form of questioning of the controversial topic.

“The slang term “gaslighting”, from the movie “Gaslight”, refers to psychological abuse and emotional manipulation in which a person is driven to irrational positions by denying changes in reality. In the movie, the evil husband tormented his wife by dimming their home’s gaslights a little each night, then insisting he didn’t: “No, dear, if you think the lights are getting dimmer, you must be losing your mind.”

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Wedge Issues In Politics and Media

GayMarriageJournalists who advocate for social justice and civil liberty often fall into the categories which define the political divide.  For some, there are causes about which a journalist may be personally and passionately involved, and their coverage may reflect this personal zeal.

In some cases, there are causes which need to be illuminated, to all sides of the political landscape, but unfortunately the passionate partisan language and personal zeal, incorporates the political divide into media coverage, in a way that often does not serve the public good, and in a way which can be manipulated to drive wedge issues home, on topics that concern all of society.

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The End of an Age ?

apocalypse1_25One of the divisions that are commonly thought of in the faith vs. science question is the notion that faith and reason are opposed. This is an incorrect assumption.

Faith and reason are functionally synonymous with awareness and will, heart and mind, they are the binary components of thinking beings.

We reason from our beliefs, and adjust our beliefs according to reason. But the two must co-exist.

To dispense with faith altogether is like saying human emotions are destructive, therefore we should get rid of them. Each of us ‘believes’ things we cannot see, or have not bothered to prove to ourselves. Faith is an operation of the mind, belief, not a construct of a particular religion.

In the context of religiously charged political dialogue and propaganda, I would say there are two hurdles.

Firstly doctrinal and literal interpretations of scripture and various sacred writings, used to provoke polarization on domestic policy and foreign policy.

Secondly the tendency for people to behave with a tribal ‘us vs. them’ tendency and operate from a position of arguing to re-inforce natively held predjudices, rather than arguing to arrive at the truth.

The socratic dialogues are a great example of dealing with this, as well as the conceit of making a committment prior to arguing to be willing to admit error for the sake of arriving at the truth of a discussion.

Establishing this conceit in discussion needs to be habitually brought to dialogue, but it carries a price, that both parties must be willing to concede error, something not always easy to do. Especially given our collective capacity to argue based on motives that are often very subjectively irrational.

I’m not suggesting that rational dialogue isn’t possible, but without establishing the main pitfalls to dialogue, and making a mutual committment to avoid them, what results tends to be a contest of intellectual bullying, rather than a real rational pursuit of the truest-best outcome of a discussion.

Let me re-iterate, those pitfalls tend to arise from each parties subjective motivation for arguing a particular issue. The remedy to this is of course to be able to aknowledge those subjective motivations, set them to the side, and overcome this shortcoming.

Going back to the faith and reason congnitive duality, understanding and agreement are again synonymous with faith, and reason. Faith and reason, are representative of the subjective and objective experience in human life.

One of the key problems in the ‘modern’ world is actually fundamentalism, religious and secular fundamentalism as manifested by christian, jewish, muslim, extremists, and on the secular side by political idealogues who like luddites all look back to ‘the good ole days’, or who espouse dehumanizing machiavellian theories of foreign and domestic policy.

Fundamentalism is itself a pendulum swing away from modernism, which is itself the unbalanced tendency to throw away past ideas and values, on the basis of not needing them because, “we’re modern”, and have ‘outgrown’ such things.  This view often makes far flung assumptions about technology changing hardwired human behavior.  Fundamentalism, and modernism sadly reflect the extreme spectrum of modern thought and behavior.

We are at a period in history were millenialism has run rampant, technological changes and social change have shifted the axis of the world, population density in the east and decline in the west threatens to diminish the power and grandeur of the west.

The new world becomes the old.

In the face of all this change, and modern history-hysteria there is a lemming-like compulsion to look back instead of looking ahead.

It is fitting that we have a resurfacing of mythologies in modern context through Lord of the Rings epics, and comic book heroes. They are age ending stories. These stories resonate at this time because people fear the precipice of uncertainty we are now on at this stage of history.

What these ‘age ending stories reflect however is not ‘The end has come!’, but more to say ‘The age is dead. Long live the age.’.

What is fundamentalism, simply put it is people looking for their foundations, most often out of a sense of having gone astray, and trying to ‘get back to the path’. Sadly however, it often falls into wrong-headed and pessimistic practices.

Sure the modern world has lots of scary bogeymen in it, the Neo-Con Administration of George Bush, numbering among them, but every one of us that innately feels the joy and comfort of good time shared, the joy of sunrise, or tranquility of sunset, the pure ebullient innocence of childhood need only have ‘faith’ in new life, and carry on.

The literal biblical quote that should resonate here for Christians is ‘Sufficient for the day are the troubles therein.” Basically Jesus telling people to live in the moment, instead of worry what tomorrow might bring.

That I suppose is the answer to the fundamentalists, that their fundamentalism actually reflects a lack of faith in their founding vision, and they’re reasoning their way to their roots, but forgetting the faith that has brought them to where they are.

Whats going on ?

apocryphal definitionWe live in apocryphal times, the whole notion of authority itself seems challenged at every front. Perhaps thats a good thing. In the Judeo-Christian context, the first sin, disobedience, is a sin of involving the attainment of forbidden knowledge.

In this context, much of human knowledge is flawed. In the gospel narrative Jesus absolves his tormentors; seen literally as his persecutors and figuratively as the whole human race, by stating “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do”.

Aphorisms about the blind leading the blind seem apt for every period of human history. Gnostic commentators cynically claim that superior knowledge is the basis for their influence in the world. Contemporary provocateurs make similar claims, arguing for the imposition of political ideology ‘by force’.

There is a strange conception of knowledge, that it is immutable to human distortion. The word ‘understanding’ illustrates this well. People often take understanding to mean ‘having a wider view of things’. Understanding, however also refers to the beliefs you ‘stand under’, and the resulting perspectives that flow from that belief.

In the classical world of theology and philosophy, this is often stated as ‘faith’ and ‘reason’, we give reason for what we believe. This is not merely an admonition for good theological, or scholarly conduct, but rather a description of how human ‘knowledge’ operates. We reason ‘from’ our beliefs, reason informs our beliefs, but belief itself is an act of will that operates independant of reason.

It is true that reason also ‘informs’ the things we believe in, occasionally calling us to question those beliefs. This questioning is a fundamental aspect of human nature, or for the Judeo-Christan, ‘fallen’ nature. We question right and wrong, and seem condemned to uncertainty, and doubt.

It is interesting to note, that in the biblical account of creation, the first act of ‘fallen’ man, was to cover himself/herself. The wearing of the fig leaf becoming the first act of self-doubt. We experienced doubt as a consequence of attaining the means to discern right and wrong.

We began our pursuit of knowledge with doubt of ourselves. Doubt of our own nature giving rise to a need to ‘supplement’ that nature with external things. One could, in this context, argue that the first technological device was the fig leaf.

The whole history; allegorical, and literal, of our pursuit of knowledge is nothing more than a series of fig leaves, adopted as a feeble attempt to cover our shame and self-doubt.

Consider the story of Jesus, whose only apparent writing; that we have a record of, was on sand. That is a fitting commentary in itself on the character of human knowledge authority and authenticity.

Welcome to apocryphal times.