This article was first published in the Trinidad Express Newspapers on March 15th 2018.
When it comes to methods of controlling human behaviour, the Gaslight method ranks among the most effective. It works as well on intelligent people as it does on those P.T. Barnum referred to as :”the suckers that are born every minute”. The name comes from a play in which a man persuades his wife and those around her that she is going insane, by convincing her that the gaslighting lamps are working brightly when, in fact, he has arranged to have them shine dimmer and dimmer every night.
He tells her she has agreed to things she knows nothing about, that he never said words he spoke mere hours before, and that what she experienced never happened. Eventually she is convinced that she must be going insane, imagining things that are not there. Believing the man , she gives him control of her thoughts, her life, her decisions and her resources. It is a control technique that puts people into power, producing submissive and obedient followers who believe everything they are told. Politicians use it a lot. Mr Trump is a master at it, and if his followers do not follow worshiping at his alter, he dismisses them.
To date six of his seven closest advisers who attended him on his inauguration have gone, replaced by those who “explain” what he really meant or vow that he never said that at all, even when it is caught on tape or video. That is a technique called “The Big Lie”.
Domestic abusers use it to control their partners saying with sincerity and concern:”What are you talking about? I never said that!” or making fun of them in front of other people: “Would you believe that she/he actually thinks that…….?!” Or angrily claiming that “You always twist everything I say!” when you point out that they have made a mistake, then going off in a huff, using the “silent treatment”, sometime for days, insisting that their perception of reality is the only one to be accepted, although even old Einstein long ago pointed out that it is impossible for any two people to perceive any one thing in the same way. Eventually the victim thinks that they must be wrong and the abuser must be right, losing self-confidence, independence and self-esteem, trusting only in the now Maximum Leader.
The history of industrial relations, politics, religion and society in the Caribbean has produced exemplars at this. Some of them evoke amazing levels of loyal adoration, and can persuade otherwise clear-eyed and intelligent people that if “you follow me I will solve all ills”.
Some could persuade anyone of almost anything. Basdeo Panday, charming and articulate could do it. Michael Manley, one of the century’s most charismatic men, matched only by the equally charismatic Fidel Castro could do it. Grantly Adams, from Barbados came close. The current trade union crop of “Pretenders to the thrones”. Ancel Roget, Watson Duke, Sir Roy Trotman etc, although they have identical political ambitions, don’t appear to have the charisma of their trade union forebears. Or perhaps the combination of advances in education and technology make people more sceptical of the “alt-truths” the lies, half-lies and innuendoes?
My twelve year-old grandson learnt in school to recognise the “Straw Man” con, where a leader, using a tiny bit of observable fact, invents around it an enemy or a threat, persuades others that it is real and then leads them in a revolt against those who represent the threat. Hitler used it effectively against the Jews in Germany, Kim Jong-un uses it in North Korea, school yard bullies use it to foment violence in the school yard, reporters desperate for a story use it, as do trade unionists who lead workers into strikes against claims of non-existent video surveillance of female employees changing their clothes . There was even an (I hope) non-real report in the press that one union leader was going from community to community to recruit “soldiers” to lead a revolt, one assumes against government for not doing what he tells it to do promising them jobs, and money in return.
Do people really still fall for that? Not recognise that their minds are being manipulated?
Or are people so desperate that their loyalty is bought with promises of money status, power or adoration of the community? Our own dear Prime Minister who returned Marlene McDonald to power ,told a grateful and believing county in a national address recently that this year he would get rid of crime, clean up the CLICO mess and return Petrotrin to profitability. Trevor Farrell, with his group of “Finest Minds”, we are told, had actually drawn up an eight-point project plan to achieve this. Then he announced that he had had to resign in despair when the very government that had tasked his committee with doing that, had, apparently, changed its collective mind and decided not to. You can always tell they have turned thumbs down because their announcement was “We are working on it”. (don’t laugh, that is exactly what they said.) It is what the police say when you ask what is happening with the investigation into Dana Seetahal’s or Akil Chamber’s murders. But, But, But ……There are thousands of Americans as well who continue to believe the Wall is going to be built and Mexico is going to pay for it. So Barnum was right. You really can fool some of the people all of the time.