Has already started. And we are the target.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that makes us doubt of our own sanity – questioning what we have lived and seen – so that we accept the reality, the opinion and the perspective that the manipulator wants to impose on us.
It is not a new phenomenon. In “1984” George Orwell had already made reference to a Ministry of Truth that was in charge of rewriting history and falsifying facts at the convenience of the system. To achieve this, he resorted to all the methods at his disposal, especially propaganda and the media.
But since reality always surpasses fiction, we are probably about to fall victims of the biggest gaslighting campaign in history.
As we advance through the de-escalation and begin to open the doors, different forces will try to convince us that we must return to normality. They will tell us that there is no reason to fear – or at least not so much. The coronavirus will be minimized again and there will even be those who will deny it outright.
Millions will be spent on advertising so we can feel comfortable again. We will see ads in all formats and on all sites with a single promise: return to normality.
The consumer system feels the “obligation” to “rescue us”, help us erase that sense of anxiety that has been established, make us feel immortal again, return to the life we had before the coronavirus crisis, allow us to recover the old routines and make us forget the tragedy. In exchange for that promise we must only give in sacrifice one thing: our life.
It is easier to produce consumers than to subdue slaves
“The public relations industry, the advertising industry, which is dedicated to creating consumers, it’s a phenomenon that developed in the freest countries, in Britain and the United States, and the reason is pretty clear. It became clear by, say, a century ago, that it was not going to be so easy to control the population by force. Too much freedom had been won. Labor organizing, parliamentary labor parties in many countries, women starting to get the franchise, and so on. So, you had to have other means of controlling people. And it was understood and expressed that you have to control them by control of beliefs and attitudes.” wrote Noam Chomsky. “They understood that it was easier to create consumers than to subdue slaves.”
During the last decades the advertising business has worked finding the “problem” of the consumer to provide a solution. When the problem is practical, we buy a bookshelf where to put the books or a vacuum cleaner to clean the house, but when the problem is emotional the “solution” is more complex – although that has not stopped Coca-Cola from promising to make us happy and Apple from making us feel special.
The consumer system knows us. It knows our emotional needs and knows that a conscious consumer who thinks and takes charge of his life is not a good consumer. That is why it needs to do everything possible so that we forget that feeling of vulnerability and the hint of mortality, that this crisis has generated, and that has moved us to reflect on more important things than the brand of our shoes or the model of the smartphone we use.
In these weeks we have seen many things that must be changed. We need to strengthen the health system. We need to support small businesses. We also need to defend vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. And we need responsible politicians and officials who are capable of doing their job well.
We have seen all that. And it is disturbing.
But we have also been able to glimpse what the world would be like when we stop for a bit and stop running as prisoners of a thousand obligations. We have lived in a Great Pause that has given us a new perspective. A life in which we do not need to buy to feel good. In which we do not need to spend excessively to continue feeding a wrong system that does not work for everyone. We have come to realize that relationships are more important than possessions.
We have also seen all that. And it is disturbing to the system.
A lie repeated a thousand times can become true – unless we pay attention
We all want normalcy. But we can decide what normality we will return to. Now we have the opportunity to shape our “new normal”. Or we can let the official narrative conform and limit that normality.
Of course, the consumer system will do its best to return us to the old normal. It wants us to buy again. That we stop thinking. That we come back again working as fools to buy things that we don’t need. That we lock ourselves in our bubble again, too much in a hurry to care about the others. That we close our eyes again to the problem because we hardly have time to close our eyes to sleep.
The bombing to make us believe that we never lived what we lived will be overwhelming. The narrative to shape our postcoronavirus life has already begun to make us feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from governments and it is even likely to come from both directions. It will come from the left and from the right. From above and below. Businesses and governments are about to unite to antesthetize us again and resume the role of mere consumers.
And for us to feel safe, they will tell us that hospitals were not a war zone, that it was just an understatement. That the death toll was not that high – and is even likely they discount a few deaths. That we did not see the failure of leadership and the system. We will fall squarely into the post-truth, that “Instrument through which ‘truths’ are created that do not correspond to the facts, but that end up being validated by the majority based on their incessant repetition or similar mechanisms”, according to Chomsky.
Some will be willing to believe in anything in order to return to that longed-for normality. They will be able to anestethize themselves once again with the dozens of soccer games that will come, enjoy the summer and then return to the office or the factory – if they are lucky that are still open – to forget everything that happened as soon as possible, with the excuse that they are too busy like to change something. And those people will also pressure you to forget what you have lived, joining that massive gaslighting campaign.
Therefore, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you really want to do with your life and what “New Normal” you want to return to. Because we are facing a unique opportunity to redefine everything. Now you can decide how you spend your time, what you spend your money on and, above all, who to believe.
Gambuto, J. V. (2020) Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. In: Medium.