Of Moons, Skunks and Pat Murray
May 24, 2021
Before My Very Eyes
August 21, 2021
Until the Merger/Separation debates heated up, I never heard of “gaslighting.” 'Friends defined' it for me, but I still had no clue what it meant.
I read such definitions as: "Gaslighting is a tactic of behavior in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. ... It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders” (Psychology Today). Again, no clue.
Then, two things happened. I remembered the first commandment of good writing: “Show, don’t tell.” And I participated in the Selectboard forums on Separation. There, before my very eyes, Separation advocates attempted to “gaslight” those who did not share their points of view. Suddenly, I saw what definitions could not fully capture.
Bruce S. Post, a former Selectboard member, often writes and lectures on Vermont environmental history.
These were the gaslighters’ tactics:
1. Delegitimization: Using undocumented charges of “misinformation” against unidentified people who had another point of view in order to cast doubt on their beliefs;
2. Disempowerment: Opposing a TOV-only advisory group to plan for a new Town of Essex, apart from the new City of Essex Junction. Using the old refrain “We are residents of the Town, too,” the separatists sought to sit on both sides of the negotiating table, thereby disempowering Town residents who would be left behind if the Village separates;
3. Shaming: Maligning those who do not agree with them as angry people, full of vitriol, while they – the accusers – alone were virtuous; and
4. Revisionism: Discrediting the $50,000 study by consulting firm KSV that sampled Town and Village opinions before the Merger vote. The results established multi-district voting as the top choice of residents – a persistent priority, particularly of TOV residents.
In 2019, George Tyler, a prominent member of the cozy clique of Village insiders, called the KSV results “representative of both the Town outside the Village and the Village.” Now, when those facts don’t suit their current purposes, I hear Village residents bury the KSV survey as no longer relevant.
Such gaslighting is not spontaneous; it feels like the perpetual, highly coordinated, behind the scenes tactics of the clique referenced above.
Left unchecked, gaslighting is dangerous. To recognize such statements as a callous, repetitive manipulation of the truth will enable us – as George Orwell once wrote about most political speech – to cast “it into the dustbin where it belongs.”