Gaslighting Nathan

I first became familiar with the term gaslighting through an unusual source.  During my college years, I purchased the first album from the band Steely Dan [1] during my lifetime, the aptly named “Two Against Nature.”  The first track on the album, a dark track on a dark album, was called “Gaslighting Abbie,” and it blithely referred to the efforts the narrator of the song took to torment someone.  Perhaps predictably, the album as a whole was immensely successful at the Grammys.  Despite having no hit singles the album went platinum and won four Grammys, including best pop performance by a duo or group for the creepy “Cousin Dupree” as well as awards for album of the year, best pop album of the year, and best engineered album, non-classical.  There is little that our cultural elites more warmly appreciate than dark and witty cynicism, after all, and this album certainly qualifies as dark and witty and cynical.  It is, perhaps, the most cynical of all of the albums in my music collection, if that may be believed.

The term gaslighting has an interesting history.  Its contemporary usage springs from a film during the late 1930s where a man manipulates his wife into thinking she is crazy by subtly dimming the gas light and then denying he has done anything.  From there it took a more generalized use to describe a technique by which people subtly play with reality without acknowledging what they are doing in order to create anxiety or nervousness in their target.  As such the term is fairly widely applied.  For example, yesterday I happened to watch a cute animal video where the dissolving of a block of what looked like sugar into the water of a bird fountain led some people to claim that the makers of the video were gaslighting the poor raccoon frantically looking for the dissolved substance.  Likewise, the term has been used by some [2] to comment on our current state of political manipulation.  I find it somewhat ironic, though, that media known for gaslighting our own country through corrupt manipulation are critical of those who return the favor, but let those who are without sin cast the first stone.

Our contemporary cultural climate makes gaslighting a fairly easy proposition.  Let us provide a few examples of how a fairly sensitive person can be subjected to gaslighting from my own experience over the last few days.  This weekend, after grocery shopping I stopped by at work to drop off the groceries and then go home, as I have done on occasion before, but I found that my keycard didn’t work.  Then, yesterday morning when I came to work, I found that it took about twenty minutes or so for the website to load for me to clock in to work, which was particularly irksome and irritating.  Then, this morning, I found that my computer had not restarted as it generally does in the evening, but it restarted while I was doing work on its own, and then again when I had gone to the restroom, with my windows moved around into a different screen in the meantime.  Technology provides an easy means of gaslighting, especially in a culture where privacy is under continual threat and where it is easy to make subtle but irritating changes to people who are fairly generally anxious by nature and under a great deal of ambient stress and pressure [3].

What, then, is to be done about this?  For one, perhaps the knowledge of how easy it is to gaslight others by questioning their view of reality ought to make us sensitive to the way we treat others.  Most of us, I am convinced, largely want to be left alone to pursue our pleasures and have no active desire to bother or torment others.  At least I would hope that to be the case.  Yet our knowledge of how easy it is to shift reality in subtle ways that cause distress while maintaining plausible deniability ought to remind us that the potential for immense malevolence and evil exists in our world.  As it is written in 2 Corinthians 2:9-11:  “For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.  Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.”  Our awareness of gaslighting, and how it can be easily done, ought to make us less ignorant of the devices of those around us, and thus give us a more sure grasp on reality, however unpleasant it may sometimes be.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Gaslighting Nathan

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Reclaiming The Art Of Biblical Meditation | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s