Ending the Age of Gaslightenment

Why America’s mind is broken, and how we can fix it.

Anna Mercury


Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash

Watching the brutal season finale of America’s war games in Afghanistan, I find myself heartbroken, but unsurprised. Of course our nation-building project “failed.” Democracy was never why we went into Afghanistan — that was just a pretense to make a deliberately-endless resource war sound palatable. “Freedom isn’t free,” we said; that’s why we went to war. We were there to “spread democracy.” Now all the lies lie out, exposed. The American Empire has no clothes.

Back on the home front, we fight each other over face masks while thousands more people die every week. Fascists and anti-fascists shoot it out in the streets of Portland while whole towns are wiped out in fires and floods. America today is torn, tense, distrusting of everyone and angry all the time. All across the country, I see a whole population hyper-vigilant, disoriented and sick.

But I look at our media, our economy and our political structures and I think, what did we expect to happen? America’s symptoms are not medical anomalies. These are the symptoms of trauma. We’re acting traumatized because we are traumatized, reacting to generations of unrelenting psychological abuse. Our flashes of anger and entrenched anxiety, our pervasive distrust and inability to agree on what the facts even are, let alone what they mean — these are the hallmarks of prolonged gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a strategy of psychological manipulation and abuse focused on making someone question their reality so that they become disoriented and pliable. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband consistently lies about reality in order to convince his wife that she’s insane, so he can control and steal from her. Interest in the term has exploded over the past decade, with a particularly sharp increase around the 2016 election cycle. These days, you can’t swing a cat in a group of Millennials without hitting someone in the middle of venting about being gaslighted by partners or parents, or how we’re all gaslighted by the media or politicians.

Common gaslighting tactics include lying about the past or present, denying or ignoring the facts, invalidating someone’s emotional experience, questioning someone’s sanity, giving false…