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Sunday, 13 November 2016

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Rewriting The History Books

It is only recently that the common abuse method known as gaslighting has come into the public eye as being as prevalent and controlling as it really is.

If you aren't sure what gaslighting is, then - for a grossly simplified example, and please don't think I am trying to trivialise the effect this has on people - imagine the episode of Star Trek where the Cardassians are trying to mentally break Captain Picard. The constant demand, telling him there are five lights, when there are only four.

(It's from Chain Of Command, a two-parter from Season 6 of Star Trek TNG. You can find a clip of it right here. Warning, it is a bit traumatising.)

The purpose of the method is to try and convince Picard that his senses can't be trusted - that his sanity isn't quite what he thinks it is. The point isn't to make him think that there are five lights. The point is to make him see four lights, but accept without question that there are actually five, because that is what he is being told by the Cardassians responsible.

This is in itself a reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four, a work that every single one of you should be familiar with. If you aren't - go and read it, right now. It is important. George Orwell's writing is vital to understanding how the world works. Anyway. In Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston is given exactly the same treatment, except it is fingers rather than lights, and instead of the evil and bastardly Cardassians, it is a fellow human being - O'Brien - that is ravaging his grip on reality.

Gaslighting is this, except the way it is deployed in an abusive relationship is different. It is subtler, more low-key. Fine details are adjusted, just slightly, by the abuser. (You'll note I am not putting any labels on this relationship. It can happen between most anyone.) Those details are at odds with what actually happened, but after dispute and repetition - eventually, the abused capitulates and accepts the version of events that the abuser is setting forth. Even if they know that it isn't how it happened.

It starts off as, perhaps, being a case of not wanting to argue the point. They just see it differently. We can both be right. That's fine. That isn't often where it stops, though.

It turns into something a lot nastier, because after the first success, the abuser knows that they can do it - and so they turn it to their advantage with confidence. All of those times where you had a valid complaint or greivance, the abuser can turn to make YOU seem to be the one in the wrong. They weren't deserving of your wrath. You're out of control, clearly. You have these terrible temper tantrums. That isn't what happened, why would you make that up? And so it goes. (It actually makes me kind of angry just to type this stuff knowing that it has happened to people I care about. And hell, it may still BE happening to some of them.)

In the end, the goal is the same. It is just achieved under the veneer of care. No Room 101 in this gaslighting, and no Cardassian brig with four lights. Just a place where you are meant to feel safe and welcome, which is being twisted to the ends of the abuser.

Recognising shit like this for what it is, is really important. It's something you can often only pick up through experience, but when you know - you know. It means that at first sign of it happening, you stomp it out quick or you walk away. And if you see it happening to someone you care about, hell, maybe even someone you don't care about at all, you tell them.

How does this tie into my NaNoWriMo project? Well, in this form, it doesn't. I just thought I'd give you a rundown because I love you all and I want you to be safe from this kind of fuckery.

Now from the personal scale, we move into the macro. Cultural hegemony.

It's a bit of Marxist (the political one, not the funny one) philosophy that involves the worldview of those in charge being made to be the worldview of those who aren't, regardless of validity. Cultural hegemony is a massive part of Nineteen Eighty-Four - hell, Winston works for the department that actually goes back and rewrites all the newspapers.

There's a difference between a cultural hegemony and an authoritatian society. The latter doesn't care if you believe it - it is here to make sure you do what you are told. You can think whatever you like, as long as obey the law. It is easier for the powers that be if you DO go along with it, mind - but if you just toe the line, you're one less head they have to crack with a rifle butt.

Often, an authoritarian society with a real view of control and a significant means of achieving it will try and engage in cultural hegemony. Things given a touch, an edge, to make their own particular values and culture primary over all others. It is rarely something that can be made perfect, in this day and age, but it can be made well enough that it sits as a veneer over the everyday information that people absorb as they go about their lives. If nobody has the wherewithall to question it, then it starts to become the truth.

Don't believe it can happen? Well, here's a few examples of exactly why it can.

The Mandela Effect is another trending thing. This has been documented all over the place. The number of people who truly believed, not just kind of thought but truly believed, that Nelson Mandela had died in prison - and were surprised to see that he hadn't - is astonishing. Likewise, the number of people who blot out the K in Chick-Fil-A, or think the Bearenstain Bears were actually the Bearenstein Bears. All of these things are (or were) commonly held misconceptions that people genuinely believed were the absolute truth. Each of them is small in its own way, but an indication that actually, the truth can be bent out of shape.

Here's another experiment. How many states of matter are there? Three, right? Solid, Liquid and Gas - we're all taught that in school, and we're shown the examples with ice-water-vapour. Except - there's four that we can see every day of our lives and a lot more that we know exist. That fourth common one is plasma, and you see it every day if you go out in sunlight, every time there is a lightning storm, and every time you look at a neon sign. You only learn about these later on in one's education - because you can't really absorb the complexity of a lot of things when you start learning about the sciences - but then, what if your education ends there? You spend the rest of your life thinking there are only three states of matter. As the vast majority of the human race do.

I'm not saying that not teaching middle-schoolers about Bose-Einstein condensates is an attempt to cynically manipulate their worldview to make them a more malleable populace. I'm saying that what we are taught in school is often taught in stages of complexity, and that if further complexity isn't reached, then the rest of our lives are spent being convinced that the simplified version is the whole story. That is if we are taught the right thing at all. I was taught that Pluto was a planet, after all. Even if the actual scientific or objective fact of a matter changes, unless that filters out to the perspective of others, it won't change the views of the people.

These are all ways in which people's worldview can be knocked aside from objective truth, but let's face it, they aren't exactly government sponsored - and the actual information available counters the beliefs in question. As a thought experiment, though...

What if, one day, someone tells you they were reading their bible and they had taken great comfort in Jesus feeding the six thousand? And you think, wait, that's meant to be five thousand, surely. And you go and look up the bible passage online, because hey, not everyone actually owns a copy of it anymore. And sure enough, there Jesus is in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke AND John, feeding the six thousand. You frown. That doesn't sound right. So you go to the library to take out a bible there, to check up. They're awaiting new stock, apparently the last one was recalled. You wait a week, take out the new one, read up on it. Yes. Six thousand. Right there, Luke chapter nine. Oh. You seem to remember your gran's old bible saying something different? But the overwhelming evidence... and sure enough, in ten years, your grandkids are making jokes at Christmas dinner about you making enough food to feed the six thousand.

(As an aside there is a second feeding in the gospels of Matthew and Mark - the four thousand. I bet that's something you didn't know. So depending on who you ask, Jesus fed either five or nine thousand with loose change. In terms of scale, that's almost doubling his efficacy.)

Now imagine that same principle, but applied to history, and applied to every example of the culture of those in power. Imagine the criticism minimised, the failings sidelined or palmed off on something else. Imagine all the strong contentions against the way of life they profess being written out of history. Imagine the aggrandisation of everything that proves they were right all along.

Imagine that taking place over decades, centuries. Imagine it being so prevalent that it is in every schoolbook, in every historical reference. Imagine it being so quiet that nobody questions, and so accepted that nobody fights, nobody even thinks to fight.

I could at this point make a snide point about Capitalism and Communism - about the dirty work done to the term Feminist up until recently, and how the word Patriotism is used to mean Nationalism in certain circles.

But then we don't live in the kind of culture within which the leaders and success stories want us to believe the same things as them, do we?

This blog here is about people validating their life choices by being incredulous when others don't agree with them. This blog here is about why we don't learn about politics in school. This blog here is about how people's general beliefs about money are kinda wrong. This blog here is about how our conception of what success is has been shaped by our monetised society. Finally, this blog here is about how wealthy folks worry that we think like they do, so they defend themselves first, and others second.

Maybe it's just me.

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