Gaslighting is a form of psychological 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. It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction and disinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.
You might have heard of this term in relation to domestic violence and narcissistic personalities, but mostly individual cases. But I would like to consider that gaslighting happens on an industrial scale by political figures and parties, governments and whole industries. The aim? To stay in power, and forever exploit working-class people for the benefit of an ever smaller group of increasingly, obscenely rich individuals. Ultimately, to keep the capitalist system with it’s skewed and unequal political system in place.
As public opinion and understanding of the social world has evolved from the times of slavery and colonisation, so has the capitalist class been forced to result to ever obscure, hidden and underground means of exploitation. Still, slavery exists today, and child labour is rife in poorer countries. But in the western world these abominations have gone completely underground, hidden and banned. I would argue that still, in the UK child labour exists. Gangs use children to transport drugs along their county-lines, as sex slaves and thieves (KSS CRC, 2019). And a seemingly ever expanding network of paedophiles exploit children for their sexual gratification, in which undoubtedly large amounts of money change hands.
But how does this relates to gaslighting? Well, you might remember the child sexual abuse scandal which started the public inquiry Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse. This unveiled the widespread scale of this problem within our communities, churches and state run services. Victims have a very hard time getting heard, still now. They are being silenced, intimidated and gaslighted into thinking their pain is not valid, not important and dismissed as lies. It has been proven very hard to hold big organisations like the Catholic church, the Church of England and state run children’s homes and schools, football clubs and other powerful figures to account. This points to a system that is functioning to the benefit of a few very powerful people, and subsequently to the exploitation of the vulnerable. But this all starts with an education system that is in the process of being privatised, run for profit, instead of run for the education of young people. So what do children learn in this system? They learn straight away the world is divided in groups, male and female, rich and poor, black and white. They learn everything is a competition, and only the best achievers, the most beautiful and fastest are worth the best wages. And literally, the schools get funding to how well the grades of their pupils are. The higher the grades, the more funding they get. So from a young age, children learn that if you don’t fit in, you are worth less. It undermines people’s confidence, especially in the time of their lives that they are most vulnerable, least confident and still developing their identity. Social media, advertisements and promotions exacerbate and install these judgements, divisions and, frankly, lies. Schools don’t teach children about their country’s colonial, oppressive past, employment rights and empowerment. They teach them just enough to be a productive citizen, but not enough to stand up for yourself and others, question the rules and laws and the power of the collective. Instead it makes people question their sanity, their sense of self, their validity. That is exactly why I think capitalist society uses gaslighting on an industrial scale to pursue profit and keep the gravy train rolling.
Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (2019) Research: County Lines (Literature Review) [Online], December 2019. Available at https://www.ksscrc.co.uk/2020/01/06/research-county-lines-literature-review/ (Accessed 10/05/2021).
Wikipedia (2021) Gaslighting [Online], 04/05/2021. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting#References (Accessed 10/05/2021).