A Mass Experiment in Gaslighting

“The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.” —Solomon Asch

Social psychologist Solomon Asch is famous for his studies exploring the extent to which social pressure can influence an individual’s perception and judgment. His most memorable experiment was designed to determine whether an individual would align his behavior or opinion to those of a group, all of whom, with the exception of the research subject, were confederates.

In that experiment, conducted in 1951, participants were asked to judge the length of lines on a series of cards. On each card, there was one line that was clearly longer than the others, and participants were asked to identify which line was longer. The confederates were instructed to give the wrong answer. Three-quarters of research subjects, seated in a position where they would answer last, agreed with the confederates. Some subjects continued to conform after several trials.

Asch was able to demonstrate under experimental conditions the form of psychological abuse that would become known as “gaslighting.” The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into doubting her own sanity by making small changes to their environment and then denying that anything had changed. Gaslighting is thus a form of psychological manipulation in which an entity or individual works to engender existential doubt in a targeted individual or members of a targeted group by making them unsure of their perception or sanity.

Those who gaslight deploy tactics aimed at undermining a person’s sense of reality. One tactic is denying the reality of something the target knows to be true. Another is invalidating or minimizing the target’s concerns. The strategic use of double standards to make it harder for the target to trust his own judgment is another tactic. The abuser may blame the target for things he didn’t mean to make him feel as if he’s losing touch with his own sensibilities. Over time, finding it increasingly difficult to trust his own perception and judgment, the victim is left feeling anxious, confused, and isolated. As such, gaslighting is a useful strategy in brainwashing or mind control projects—it prepares the individual for reincorporation into a different order.

The above video is from a hearing held in the Australian Parliament during a summer 2022 inquiry into the Religious Discrimination Bill by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The Religious Discrimination Bill is a proposed Australian law that seeks to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious beliefs. The bill has been controversial due to concerns that it may infringe upon other rights and freedoms.

One major point of concern is that the broad protections it affords to religious freedom could be used to justify discriminatory behavior against trans-identifying persons. Proponents of the bill have argued that it is necessary to protect the right to freedom of conscience, and that it does not intend to undermine other human rights.

Among the fundamental rights Australia recognizes are freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. These are strengthened by the bill. Thus the inquiry concerns to what extent can speech and conscience be limited by other rights identified in the fundamental law of that country. The question at hand: Can Australia force a person to deny his sincerely-held beliefs for the sake of another person’s feelings?

The video picks up with a question from the witness, MP Moria Deeming, about whether and in what context it is appropriate to say that “trans women are men.” Senator Janet Rice of the Green Party responds that if this were said to a trans woman in the workplace it would be discriminatory regardless of intent. Therefore, it is in her view appropriate to punish the employee who says it.

MP Moria Deeming responds that there is nothing intrinsically discriminatory with stating that a person cannot change his sex as it is a statement of biological fact. After Rice rehearses the standard list of emotionally blackmailing slogans, Deeming counters that it is psychologically abusive to coerce others into saying things they do not believe.

That is a devastating counter. Compelled speech is a violation of human rights. Compelled speech involves requiring an individual by law or other authority to express or promote particular beliefs, ideas, or messages, even if he disagrees with them or finds them objectionable. This can take the form of requiring individuals to speak certain words, express certain opinions, or display certain symbols.

By restricting individuals’ ability to express themselves freely and limiting their ability to engage in critical thinking or dissent, compelled speech functions as a form of censorship. Coercing people into denouncing their beliefs and compelling speech can be and often is psychologically abusive—but it doesn’t need to be to violate human rights.

This may not be her intention, but Deeming is pointing out that Rice is engaged in what George Orwell, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, called “doublethink,” a problem I will take up in my next blog. In the midst of her doublethink, Rice finds it psychologically abusive to permit a person to tell a biological fact without recognizing that it is psychologically abusive to make a person deny one.

The Deeming-Rice exchange illustrates a desire to gaslight on a mass scale. Beyond creating a climate of fear to suppress unwanted views, Rice intends to use the authority of the state to disrupt the normal understanding of Australians concerning the immutability of sex by manufacturing the appearance in law and culture that there is consensus to the contrary, and reframing biological fact as bigotry.

Rice’s double standard negates the concern the person who disagrees with the slogan has with the consequence of affirming what he knows to be true. He is not to trust his own judgment in affirming his reality. His belief in biological fact becomes an act of bigotry. Surrounded by colleagues telling him that his thinking is wrong, he finds it increasingly difficult to trust his own perception and judgment, and thus is left feeling anxious, confused, and isolated.

But he is not wrong. A non-tautological definition of woman is “adult human female.” Since a man is an adult human male, he cannot be a woman. He may live as a woman, but that does not make him one. These are categories belonging to tens of millions of years of natural history. Using emotional blackmail and presumably state machinery to punish those who accept natural history, Rice is demanding that individuals deny reality. As she would have it, either a man denies what he knows because he pities others (and if he doesn’t, then he is cruel) or he does so to avoid punishment (in which case he is made a coward).

In an advanced technocratic society, gaslighting takes a sophisticated form—the academic and cultural manager push to bring into doubt the fact of biological sex. Experts gaslight the public about what it knows about natural history. Once enough people habitually deny reality, the majority gaslight those coming up, as children expressing their evolved capacity to see gender must be told that they do not correctly perceive reality. This is not some future circumstance. The false narrative that we are not our bodies has already confused millions.

If a man wishes to live as a woman, and to believe that he is a woman, then it is wrong to tell him he can neither live nor believe this way. People are free to express themselves how they will. It is just as wrong to force people to discard false beliefs as it is to force them to discard true ones.

Billions of people believe in angels and demons. On the other hand, billions of people believe that men cannot be women. If some people want to believe they are, then they are free to do so. But they cannot be allowed to force others to agree with them. And while they are free to try to deceive others into denying reality, others are free to call the deception what it is—gaslighting.

For more on gaslighting and related concepts worked into ruthless social criticism, see Intelligent, well-meaning, young people are willing to call white black; RDS and the Demand for Affirmation; The Psychiatrization of Gangstalking; Living at the Borderline—You are Free to Repeat After Me; The Future of a Delusion: Mass Formation Psychosis and the Fetish of Corporate Statism; Truth, Reality, and the Authentic Self.

* * *

Update: Kayla Lemieux, Canadian teacher with size-Z prosthetic breasts, placed on paid leave. This is the consequence of the New York Post having exposed Lemieux’s deception. The Post shared photos of Lemieux wearing men’s sweatpants, sneakers and a puffer vest—with no sign of his fake breasts, makeup, glasses or wig, a getup that his neighbor said he wears “extremely infrequently.” The Post spoke with Lemieux. I am not a clinical psychologist nor a psychiatrist so this is not a professional opinion, but I suspect that Lemieux is not well. Either that, or he’s fucking with everybody. (See The Continuing Saga of Busty Lemieux and the New Cultural Revolution; Foucauldian Seductions: Busty Lemieux and the Hijab.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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