A story in the Los Angeles Times demonstrated just how low some culture warriors will stoop to concoct false narratives about one of America’s great successes in 2021 — the Covid-19 vaccination program.
One of the instances the article’s author investigated was perhaps the worst kind of propaganda possible — libeling a random physician on Instagram by asserting a false causative relationship between her vaccination and her miscarriage.
How can I be so sure the smear was false (…a necessary element to prove libel)? Because the miscarriage occurred several weeks before she received the vaccine shots! That important fact was lost on the vicious commenters who saw only the false posting and immediately called her a baby-killer and wished infertility upon her forever.
The article also explored several other instances of social media slime that blew past the realms of opinion and criticism and instead lingered in the twisted world of deceit and fabrication about Covid vaccines being either unsafe or fake or both.
Instances like these seem to confirm that a sizable minority of our nation has lost its mind in a wild pursuit of greater and greater falsehoods. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. (See line 532 here.)
It’s difficult to imagine what ends they believe they are pursuing with this pattern of behavior, but their unfortunate legacy may be that some people who suffered ghastly injuries from their gaslighting will never recover.
It does seem clear that a broad effort to gaslight ordinary Americans is underway, and it may be driven by one or more of the following motives:
Mimicking Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s lies are intimately tied-up with his narcissism. He needs to be the center of attention, and by making people doubt their own eyes, ears and brains, he believes he can more easily manipulate them to adore him. Many of his followers may have been borderline manipulators already, and they may have felt empowered to begin gaslighting their own gangs by practicing what the Donald taught by example.
Owning the Libs. This is perhaps the most juvenile motivation for fabricating Facebook fictions. It’s like exacting revenge on someone you don’t know, but nonetheless someone whom you are bitterly resentful of and tribally opposed to. This is the Roger Stone “dirty trickster” school of politics.
Blindly Attacking Socialism. Socialism is a boogie-man for many voters on the right, especially older ones. They lived through the USSR’s gulag days and they saw Reagan implode the Soviet economy with an arms race, so they tend to believe state-run economies are bad. (Frankly, there is a decent amount of evidence to support that generalization and blue thinkers shouldn’t assume that all government servants who have a D” after their name will refrain from the temptation to constrain everyday people’s economic freedoms “for the good of the country”.) However, some of the red-hatted capitalism defenders have undoubtedly misunderstood the interrelationship of political freedom and economic freedom, because they seem very willing to destroy Democracy in order to defeat what they perceive is Socialism. They have fallen for the Reaganesque lie that large (i.e., effective) government is the enemy of free enterprise, when much of American history reflects a symbiotic partnership between good government and good business. (Ok, I support government efforts to take power away from oligarchic businesses, but let’s not get carried away and throw the baby out with the bathwater.)
Defending God. I believe many Christians feel hurt when God is bashed by atheists. I also believe that many pundits (and some pastors) willingly pour gasoline into these wounds to inflame these believers because, well, they don’t seem to do much thinking beyond their believing. The arsonists need accomplices who will vote for evildoers in every election and far too many Christians are volunteering to fill that role. My question for these followers is this: “If God is omnipotent, does he really need you to help him by supporting evildoers and liars? Does God really want his children (i.e., you) to lie, to distort, and to corrupt the innocent faith of others by making them think God will lose this earthly battle unless believers commit atrocities on his behalf?”
The Bible Permits Lying. I have personally heard Christians defend the act of lying as being Biblically sanctioned under some conditions. First they try to water down the 9th Commandment (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”) by limiting it’s applicability to sworn testimony in a court of law. Then they refer to Rahab’s lie (Joshua Chapter 2) as an instance where lying turned out to be instrumental in saving a group of God’s “chosen people” from certain death. A pretty thorough analysis of the Rahab story can be found here. While it takes the position that God is always right (which is debatable in many Biblical contexts, some of which are crassly defended in the article) the article’s arguments may be an effective tool to convince church-going red-voters that God’s justice demands that “all liars … will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8)”, and God’s mercy is rarely (if ever) bestowed upon unrepentant sinners.
Maybe social media companies should add a new “flag” to their arsenal of weapons against dangerous lies on their platforms. I’m not sure how best to do that, but perhaps it should illustrate the destructive intent of gaslighting...
“Some or all of the content in this [tweet, posting, etc.] contains smears and falsehoods that are not only dangerous, but they fit a pattern of gaslighting that comprises psychological bullying at its worst and therefore should be recognized and rejected by consumers.”