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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,883

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Gaslighting the Electorate

"Gaslighting" is the attempt by one person to redefine another person's reality. The term comes from the 1944 classic film about a man deliberately trying to destroy his wife's sanity to protect his own guilty secret.

It's a common tactic used by abusers: Re-frame and re-define everything the victim says or does to reflect what the abuser wants them to believe about themselves. It can be deliberate, and subtle, and it's devastatingly effective.

Less maliciously, but still doing damage, it can be a form of manipulation, unconscious or even inadvertent. It's often a tactic used by partners in an intimate relationship, parents, or bosses, who are insecure or controlling.

You simply overwrite the reality with your own interpretation, again and again, re-interpreting it, and forcing your interpretation on the target, disallowing their experience, their belief, their reality, and replacing it with yours.

"Did you HAVE to cut me off at the knees, in front of our friends?"

"Cut you off... what do you mean? We just talked about the weekend!"

"The only time you mentioned me was to make me look like an idiot."

"What? I told them about the restaurant mix-up, I thought it was funny, and cute!"

"You saw them smirking at each other. You always have to make me look like the bumbling fool."

Enough of this, and the target starts asking themselves "AM I being unfair? Is it my fault?" and questioning their own motivations. Ultimately, they get sucked into the reality the gaslighter presents, and (ideally, from the gaslighter's POV) it begins to affect their behavior and even their beliefs.

A really determined gaslighter will often escalate their efforts-- taking mutual friends aside and "explaining" the target's actions and responses, broadening the redefinition of reality and surrounding the target with people who've been 'inoculated' with the gaslighter's version.

By effectively destroying the target's confidence in the reality they experience, and replacing it with the reality the gaslighter wants them to experience, the target is disempowered and subverted, co-opted into accepting the imposed reality and responding on the gaslighter's terms. You can see why it's popular with abusers.

It's popular with another category of people, too: Marketers.

In fact, consumer marketing in almost every category of goods and services has been pretty much subsumed into gaslighting. No longer do marketers seek information about a potential need or want, and develop or refine their product to fill it. Now they start with the product they want to sell, and use "focus groups" to identify exactly how to re-frame potential customers' realities to make the product an object of desire, or the solution to an unmet need or unsolved problem.

It's an unpleasant reality of modern life in a global community shrinking via mass communication. But the consumer marketing gaslighter is an old-fashioned, almost benignant predator compared to the feral and ubiquitous political gaslighter. Potentiated by the increasingly effective mass connection of the Internet, fueled by the torrent of big money, and fronted by a legion of punditry who've raised "redefining reality" to new levels, political gaslighters are working to overwrite everyone's experience.

They use the lessons of marketing, psychology, and mass manipulation like virtuosos, pulling out all the stops and tropes: fear, the need to be part of an 'in-group,' othering, conspiracy. They redefine 'common sense' and 'freedom' and 'democracy' and 'human decency' and 'morality' and even 'science' to meet the needs of the moment and advance to their goal.

They are gaslighting us. It works.

As those who've experienced gaslighting in the interpersonal context know, it's a terrifyingly difficult tactic to fight, once you've cracked and let the gaslighter's version of reality into your consciousness. And even more so, when the gaslighter has escalated to surround you with others who've already accepted their redefinition of you, and who reinforce that overwritten reality. It can be a long, lonely, frightening struggle, to reconnect with your own reality, disengage from the rewards and reinforcements of the imposed version, and survive the sanctions of your rejection.

I have no answers, and no solutions, no magic lists of things to do to turn this around.

Everyone's sum total of reality differs in some respect from everyone else's. How can it be otherwise? We have different experiences, different genes, different patterns of thinking and tastes and desires. To accept and affirm our own reality demands two things: First, that we embrace our own differences and stand up for them.

Second, and much harder, is to accept and affirm the validity of others' realities, even when they differ from our own.

We cannot effectively fight the gaslighting without doing both of these, but it will not be easy.


Strange Bedfellows in the Middle East: What Are They Afraid Of?

When you initially look at it, it's counter-intuitive: Why would both Israel AND Saudi Arabia be pulling out all the SuperPAC and lobbying stops to monkeywrench a US/Iran detente?

Granted, they have a certain preserve-the-balance-of-terror status quo interest to protect, but it's not like they're BFFs or anything.

And then I remembered something, from my personal experience. Two things, in fact.

The first thing was a Close-Up trip to Washington DC, back in 1973. We were putting up at the old Sheraton, and we happened to be there during the Persian New Year, a major holiday for all the Persian expats in DC. There were a LOT of them around, and they were partying down.

And of course, as High School kids whose chaperons were finding their own entertainment, we snuck in (not much sneaking required, back then-- or maybe the Persians didn't really care) to grab some of the refreshments and listen to the disco and generally party with them.

I talked late into the night with one of the younger attendees who was probably only two sheets to the wind, about the significance of the holiday, the size of the Iranian ("Persian!" he insisted) community in the DC area, and the close economic and cultural ties between America and what was then our biggest, staunchest ally in the Middle East (outside of Israel, of course.) I learned quite a lot, and don't remember too many details, but I came away with an impression that the well-to-do, well-educated segment of Iranian/Persian society were pretty well-entrenched in DC.

And it inspired me to learn a good deal more about the difference between Persians and "Arabs" and other Middle-Eastern cultures. Which resulted in considerable respect for the long history, dense cultural layering and sophistication in that part of the world, as well as more understanding of just how quickly and well they adapted to the Darwinist Capitalism economic model of what we then fondly referred to as "the West."

The other experience was a few years later-- after the fall of the Shah and the institution of the Islamic Republic. I worked as a bartender at a fancy restaurant; one of my waiters was a Persian expat; we had many colloquies about what the "holy mans" were doing to his country, and what the long-term result was likely to be.

And I came away from that believing that a people who count their history in millenia didn't really regard a couple of decades, or even half a century, as more than a blip, in terms of political economy and culture. That they'd find a new center of gravity, no matter what, and reinvent themselves as a center of trade and the arts and culture and influence. And that there were plenty of survivors of the coup laying low, waiting to make that happen, well dug in and strategically placed in America, among other places. Patient. Meticulous. Willing to deal... always willing to deal.

I don't think the rest of the Middle East seriously thinks about Iran as a nuclear threat. I believe the threat, to them, is the notion of a resurgent Persia, hand in capitalist hand with an enabling America, gutting all the trade structures leftover from the Cold War power blocs and the post-Revolutionary isolation period. Building an economic hegemony.

And THAT is the fear that underlies the strangely congruent agendas of the various otherwise-hostile parties trying to submarine the detente.


Gaming the Jury

Reaching under my desk and rootling around to find my 'Original DUer' ball cap... brushing off the dust and an old Milk Dud... punching it back into shape.... putting it on...::

....approaching soapbox doubtfully....

....testing a little before climbing on.... giving a little test bounce....

....leaning into the mic.... tapping it... jumping back from the feedback squeal and just barely not falling off soapbox... ("Hey, Elad! Can you adjust this thing? Test... test..... OK, that's better."

....clearing throat....


I see as how the time's come to trot out some Institutional Memory, and throw in a little Rousing of the Rabble.

So lemme start with a disclaimer:

No, I have never seen anything quite like the level of appalling that live-stalking a DUer through the actual paper US Mail, with DU references and claims of membership, etc., manages to reach.

That's a new low.

Congratulations, whoever came up with that one, you're doing your job superbly well and I hope that whichever higher-up-in-the-food-chain helot of our Beloved Oligarchs you report to rewards you suitably. You've been remarkably effective at sowing pain, chaos, and dissension.

But you have not shut down this website.

You have not even materially impaired its operations or function.

The Admins of this website have eaten more serious threats than your vile, puerile action for lunch without a burp, and triumphed, and this website and the discourse it enables has survived and thrived anyway.

And I hope you get a chance to think about that while you and the cheesy legal counsel your bosses accord you (if any-- they tend to cheapass stuff like that, yanno-- ) are strategizing how to respond to the US Postal Inspection Service's enquiries. My money is on "you get thrown under the bus" as the ultimate strategy, by the way. It's how your kind of 'organization' rolls.

End of disclaimer. You, Sir or Ma'am, and your employers and co-conspirators, do not get mentioned again, you are not worth my time.

I'd like to talk to some people care about, now. People who are important to me, and to a community I love. People who believe in making the world a better place, and who put their passion and their time into discussing ideas and processes and decisions and policies, and how they affect us all.

My fellow DUers, in fact.

Hey, y'all.

Gettin' a little rugged, here, lately.

Seems to happen on DU, at intervals, when two things converge in time:

Thing one is what I think of as "an evolutionary consciousness crisis." We're all here evolving together toward awareness and valuing one anothers' humanity, and building political, cultural, social, and economic systems that support equity and justice.

DU is a very big tent, just as the Democratic Party has historically been in my lifetime. (And yeah, it's a longish time and you kids stay off my lawn, okay?)

Part of what that means is that while we all share some ideals and goals about equity and justice, we're a very diverse group and we come from many levels of experience with injustice and oppression, with many beliefs about our own privilege or lack thereof. We have widely varying ways of defining the same terms, and when others' definitions and experiences don't match ours, the cognitive dissonance results in a lot of churning.

And mostly, that churning happens around the experiences of oppression and privilege that divide us. It can create frustration, passion, and sometimes conflict. It can pull us in, absorb our awareness and focus, and it should.

Because we learn from it. We grow. We evolve.

But it's not a comfortable process and sometimes it involves pain. Just ask DU's LGBTQ members. And our black members. And those of us with vaginas. The intersectionality of privileges and oppressions is rife, here. I enjoy some kinds of privilege, you enjoy other kinds. You can't understand the particulars of my experience of oppression and I can't understand yours, until we share and validate them for one another.

These are old, hard knots of injustice woven into the fabric of our culture by patriarchy and the oligarchy it created millenia ago. To keep us divided, to keep us apart, to sucker us into doing their work of keeping us oppressing each other for them.

When those issues rise up, there are usually two things happening, one of which is a genuine, organic process of examination and testing among ourselves, finding the fault lines and examining attitudes and beliefs that can divide and conquer us, and trying to grow beyond them.

The other thing happening is the deliberate shit-stirring focused on keeping us from doing exactly that.

Sometimes they look a lot alike. Neither will go away, they're part of the process.

Thing two is the calculated exploitation of a technical vulnerability in how the process of discourse is facilitated here on DU.

::...reaching up to adjust my 'Original DUer' ball cap slightly::

We've been here a while. There is a reason this is a popular political discussion platform. All you have to do to perceive why is go and look at some of the other examples out there. Echo chambers for various Oligarchic agendas, moshpits for the low-information end of the spectrum, circle jerks of hate, and well-intentioned failures abound.

::...tipping the ball cap briefly::

Our Admins actually put a lot of work into this site, not just because they make money from it but because they care about it stands for and what it facilitates, and they, too, are committed to making a better experience of politics, economics, and culture for their children and their children's children.

Part of what that means is, they're constantly having to adjust how conflict is managed here. A certain level of conflict is desirable and baked into the site DNA. We're not an echo chamber and we're not expected to agree alla time.

On the other hand, too much conflict, the wrong kind of conflict, drives people away and impairs the site's ability to do what it's supposed to do.

And, yes, there are people who want this site to fail, to go away, to be silenced, to become a mockery and/or an echo chamber. To be ineffective. To be negligible. There are people who want that, a LOT.

And they are not averse, as individuals and/or organized groups, to getting in here and trying to make it fail. Trolling. Gaming. Finding ways to disrupt the process.

They've been trying for fifteen years.

They've tried to game the process. They've tried to exploit design flaws. They've worked hard, and sometimes they've even succeeded, in short term goals. And the Admins track those efforts, and constantly refine the process and tweak the software design to deal with those efforts.

The jury system evolved because of efforts to game the old moderation/alert system.

It's not a perfect solution.

Some of the flaws are emerging now, as those who'd like DU to go away hammer at it.

And I have great confidence that our Admins will do what's needed to refine the process and the software, once again, to deal with it.

Which takes time.

And in the mean time, we have the convergence: A painful evolution in consciousness around racism and privilege and their effects among us, and a dedicated, vigorous hammering at the infrastructure of our discussion.

So, yeah, it's a little rugged right now.

But I am here to tell you two things:

First, DU's lived through this before and we'll live through it again and we do it BY GETTING BETTER AT WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO.

And second, I'm doing my damndest to check my white privilege at the keyboard. Feel free to call me on it when you see it. Black DUers matter, and they matter especially NOW, when we are dealing with a culture-wide awareness and revolution that has the possibility to evolve our culture to the next level.

So, thank you to all the black DUers who've been part of that.

Stick with us.

We DO evolve.

We will.

And thank you.

::... steps off the soapbox, takes off the hat, waves it cheerfully, and wanders off to make dinner...::

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