Anyone who has been bullied will recognise the signs if it ever happens to them again. Gaslighting is a way of control that enables bullying through manipulating the truth to make the victim doubt themselves. Experiencing this means experiencing doubt over your own thoughts and perceptions. It makes you doubt your version of the truth and it happens gradually so you don’t immediately notice what is happening. So, what happens when it’s a whole nation being bullied and gaslit? What happens when the population is living without trust in the truth?
It takes sustained action to gaslight people. It can take away a person’s sanity and requires strength and support to overcome it. Bullies will present themselves in different ways to different people. So if someone complains about it, they might get told “Oh, he’s always nice to me” or “I don’t know anything about that behaviour”. This is exactly how we are being treated as a nation: the population is being literally bullied by those in power so that we doubt our version of the truth.
Living with doublespeak
Matt Hancock appeared on TV interviews recently talking about how decisions have been made to go into the latest lockdown and how this has affected teachers. All of the evidence shows we have been too late to do this. The government failed to act on advice from SAGE on 22 December, and were too slow to introduce the lockdown. So when Matt Hancock appears on Sky News twisting the truth and apologising for making decisions too quickly, guess what? He’s gaslighting. We know the decisions were made too slowly, not too quickly. Yet the ease with which he says this will make people doubt what the actual truth is.
As we started the new year with the freshly signed Brexit deal, there was much fanfare by government ministers about two benefits of leaving the European Union. The tampon tax and pulse fishing. Many took to Twitter to hail these as benefits we would not have were we part of the European Union.
Every single minister who posted about this was gaslighting us. This is a twisting of the truth. These are all things we were free to do as part of the European Union but chose not to. The Twitter accounts showing coordinated posts of these messages were fact checked and found to be untrue.
Then, as we emerged from our Christmas breaks, it was clear that we needed to go into another lockdown. With cases rising, the NHS struggling to cope and all graphs going the wrong way, sending children back to school was the wrong course of action. There then followed dithering from our government, with some schools threatened with legal action if they closed. Some councils took matters into their own hands, such as Brighton & Hove. Others opened, leaving parents confused about what to do. Boris Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show saying it was safe for schools to open. The following evening, after children went back to school for one day, Boris Johnson addressed the nation and spoke in press conferences and parliament, repeating the line that schools are safe, but children are not safe going to school because of the mixing. Confused? Yes, me too.
And let’s not miss out Priti Patel, who declared that we are safer now because of Brexit. That was reported widely in the press. In fact, you might read some of the articles and find yourself believing her and feeling relieved. Except it’s not true of course. On 31 December 2020 we left Europol, lost access to the Schengen database and left the European arrest warrant. We are not safer: we are less safe. That’s fact, but Priti Patel has been accused of bullying before, and is successfully gaslighting many in the nation who still believe her claim that we are safer.
1984 or 2021?
These are all recent examples. We could look back further and find many more as this has been a regular government tactic. And there will undoubtedly be more as we go forwards. We are living in a world where this is how we are communicated to. Are we living in George Orwell’s 1984? It certainly feels like it. He talked about control by The Party:
“The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth”George Orwell, 1984
As lies become the truth, and the mainstream media report on those things as the truth, how do we as a population find the real truth? What we have a responsibility to do is fact check, find out as much as we can, and hold truth to power. There are sources we can use to find the truth if we take the time to do so: