Gaslighting discussion (split from: Justin’s Miscellaneous Posts)

Thank you. I did not expect there to be such a relevant definition in canonical TCS source material, but I agree with you that the second part of the entry for “Coerce” does seem to directly address my question in the affirmative. That is interesting.

The definition actually seems to succinctly cover all four cases that I mentioned.

I don’t think you ever actually asked ET what his idea of gaslighting is (unless I missed that). I also don’t remember you trying to explain your idea clearly: you said some stuff about it being associated with abuse, narcissists, etc, but I don’t think you tried to define it.

The initial thing I said was actually meant to be a pretty narrow point, and I think you may have over-generalized it to try to get some sort of broader definition out of it (but without clearly stating what you were doing or what you thought the definition was).

I said:

At that point, I was just addressing your denial of the gaslighting. And I think the same issue with the denial would apply to lots of things. If someone says anything like you are hurting me, you are gaslighting me, you are coercing me, you are pressuring me, you are raping me, you are being racist to me, etc, then it is not appropriate to reply something like “no I am not” simply because you are not consciously intending to do the thing you are being accused of. It actually seems really callous and mean to give that response to someone, instead of trying to figure out what they mean and what they think you are doing wrong.

Right. I think the thing formerTCSer was pointing out was that the TCS conception of coercion was inadequate. They defined Coercion broadly, and then said you should never do it.

But if you took that literally, there are a whole bunch of everyday things you shouldn’t do because they are likely to result in coercion. Like the examples that going into a restaurant or store and simply ordering or shopping are likely to place someone in a state of a coercion, and you should know this, if you consider the context of a society where people openly talk about hating their jobs.

But that is an added complication that I wasn’t meaning to bring up (despite agreeing with formerTCSer about it). I do think a similar thing exists with gaslighting though: it is possible for someone to feel gaslit by lots of things, including innocuous things, in the seem way that it is possible for someone to feel coerced by innocuous things.

In both of those types of cases, my personal opinion is that it doesn’t make sense to call the other person’s actions “coercive” (or “gaslighting”) in that kind of situation though, even if the feeling of coercion (or gaslighting) is there.

If I go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac, and it turns out the person making my sandwich is a vegetarian who hates making burgers, I don’t think it’s really accurate to say that I “coerced” them. They are coerced. But I don’t think my actions in that case constitute “coercion”. Maybe they coerced themselves by choosing a job they should have known they would hate. Maybe someone else coerced them into getting the job. I don’t know. But I don’t think it would be accurate to call every single customer who orders meat “coercive” in that case.

And I think a similar thing applies with gaslighting. Just because someone feels gaslit by someone else’s actions doesn’t mean it would actually be accurate to call the actions “gaslighting”.

I went and looked through the conversation again, and found this:

I think that was the closest I found to you defining it.

That is all correct. I was focused on arguing against factually having committed gaslighting according to an unstated conception of it in my head, and without having gotten Elliot’s definition of the concept, which was not a reasonable manner in which to proceed with the discussion. I should have asked for Elliot’s definition much earlier, since it is highly relevant information given the topic of the discussion. Unfortunately, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to ask now.

Looking at your own explanation of your understanding of gaslighting:

If that is truly what you thought gaslighting meant, and what you thought Elliot was accusing you of, I think it would have made sense to say something like, “I understanding gaslighting to be a psychological manipulation technique that is used with the intention of gaining psychological control over another person. To be clear, is this what you are accusing me of doing right now?”

I agree.

It seems odd to me that you didn’t do that.

One explanation is that there is some kind of Motte and Bailey thing going on. Like, that you also understand gaslighting to mean more than one thing. So you got defensive when you thought he was accusing you of the lesser thing, but you defended yourself by using the worse definition and saying you weren’t doing that.

Because if you really thought he was accusing you of the worse thing, that actually seems like it would be easier to deal with by just clearly stating what he was accusing you of. Like, if you were confident you were not doing that, it should be easy to defend, so no need to get so defensive.

I think that I agree in essentials with the argument presented in the quoted paragraph, but I have reservations about expressing full, unqualified agreement with the content. Addressing my reservations does not seem directly related to my current main focus in this topic, which is understanding gaslighting better. However, addressing my reservations does seem related to the issue of better understanding proper moral action, and I have some intellectual curiosity about the issue. My judgement is that addressing this point is not the best point for me to focus on right now given my current goals in the topic. However, I wanted to flag the issue instead of merely letting it pass without comment.

In my first post on this topic, and regarding this point, I said:

Are your reservations related to dropping that context? Or do you have other reservations?

Yes, I had dropped that context. Thank you for pointing that out. I think that fully resolves my reservations.

That context was related to one of the key points: ignoring someone who says something clear like that (you are gaslighting me, you are hurting me, etc) communicates that you think they are an abuser, a liar, manipulative, etc.

This is also related to what is wrong with DD’s treatment of ET. If you assume DD is a reasonable person, then the way that he is treating ET only makes sense if DD believes ET to have done something egregious to him. Some kind of abuse, manipulation, boundary crossing, etc. And, in fact, DD even lied that ET has violated several no-contact requests. But, even without that direct lie, DD is communicating to his audience that something like that must have happened.

I agree.

Premises: There has to be a wrongdoer doing something wrong in order for moral blame to be assigned to them. Feelings alone can’t make something wrong.

Example: Some time ago there were mobs in my city going around harassing people in public to join in their protests against alleged injustices. The mobs were pressuring people who were just trying to eat at restaurants to raise their fists in “solidarity”. I saw some video of this, and some people in the mob seemed genuinely quite agitated at the refusers. I don’t doubt that some of the people in the mob were genuinely upset at people who would not join them in solidarity. But the mob members had no right to be agitated at the people who they were harassing. The people just trying to eat their food weren’t doing anything wrong.

I was thinking about the TCS definition of coercion again:

…and I had the thought that “recklessly to place someone in a state of coercion” is also problematic. It’s not specified whether recklessness is being defined in some objective way or not. I think this opens up similar issues to the “or likely” part that we have been discussing. People might experience feel coerced upon seeing me wear a t-shirt or hat expressing support for mainstream political figures or for ideas (capitalism, atheism) that they disagree with. It is pretty foreseeable that certain t-shirts or hats would arouse such a state in many people if worn in certain parts of the country. If I wore such apparel, I would do it with indifference to this likely result. So is it coercive to wear such apparel? I think the answer is no, that wearing such apparel is innocuous, and that people are responsible for their own reactions to innocuous things.

Whether someone experienced coercion is relevant for judging the moral situation if there was a wrongdoer who acted wrongly in a way that led to the coercion. It’s an objectively worse situation if someone was coerced by the wrongdoer than if someone wasn’t. But someone experiencing coercion by itself doesn’t establish that there was wrongdoing. And the fact that the wrongdoer failed to coerce someone doesn’t let them off the hook, either for intentional or reckless immoral actions. (Just like if you shoot at someone and miss, or shoot a gun in a wild and dangerous manner for fun and luckily manage to avoid hitting anyone, that doesn’t let you off the hook morally).

My theory is that I am very second-handed, at least on some sort of selective basis, about the moral judgments of other people. And so even if I think I am right and they are wrong, the fact that someone else thought something bad about me bothers me, separate and apart from whether I think I actually did something wrong. I don’t think this emotional reaction stands up to critical scrutiny (why be bothered about a moral judgment you think is wrong?) but I don’t think I have consistent and well-integrated ideas, so the fact that a reaction does not stand up to critical scrutiny does not by itself prevent me from having the reaction.

I think I understand.

Early in the discussion, I had a notion that there must be some sort of big misunderstanding regarding gaslighting. I did not think of what I was doing as attacking Elliot or implying that he was unreasonable. But I didn’t proceed in a reasonable way to clear up a misunderstanding - such as asking, as you discussed earlier, if I was being accused of intentional psychological manipulation behavior. If I thought that there was just a big misunderstanding, then asking clarifying questions in order to understand what the misunderstanding might be would have been a reasonable approach. Another way to put this is that if you think someone is reasonable, and there is a problem, you use reason to try to clear it up. But straightforwardly contradicting the claim of gaslighting was not a reasonable approach in the context.

If I was accosted by someone I didn’t know well (say, a work acquaintance) for supporting the Republican party, and they claimed that by supporting them I was personally engaging in violence against that person, and assuming (as would be common) that I didn’t think they were the sort of person who’d be willing to discuss the matter to a satisfactory conclusion, then, in that sort of context, I think it would be appropriate to just respond to their claim of being violent against them with “No, I am not.” and not say more. I don’t think they’d be owed more of a response than that. The reason is that the context would be that they don’t seem like a reasonable person, they are not making reasonable claims, there’s no particular duty that necessitates engaging with this person on this topic, and it’s a tough general topic area (politics) for people (including me) to be reasonable about in general anyways. So a short contradiction is appropriate in that context. But it is was not appropriate here.

In post 68 I wrote an amended apology which said:

I’m amending that apology further to add that I did not treat Elliot in a manner consistent with how a reasonable person raising a claim of bad behavior should be treated, but instead implied that he was unreasonable. This amendment should be read in light of the statement I made in the same post (68) regarding apologies:

This was a side issue, and I don’t think discussing it is the best thing to spend time on right now.

You wrote three different responses about the side issue, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of your views, but I don’t think it’s worth getting into. It is a nuanced issue, so it isn’t easy to tell from what you wrote what exactly you mean, which things you think would & wouldn’t count as being your responsibility to take into consideration, etc.

I think the main issue is that, while there are situations where it does make sense to ignore someone’s complaints about you, what happened with Elliot isn’t actually anywhere near one of those situations. So ignoring him was problematic, not just because it was the wrong thing to do, but also because it could imply that you maybe think Elliot was in the wrong in some way that warranted ignoring a major complaint like that.

I think that discussion of when it would or wouldn’t be appropriate to ignore someone’s complaints are outside the scope of what is relevant to this discussion, and they are nuanced and difficult, so discussing them isn’t a good way forward.

Justin doesn’t have the skill to have this discussion the way he’s trying to have it. He isn’t acknowledging the reality of his skillset – and the learning choices he made over the last 20 years – and then figuring out what to do given the available resources, who he is, what he’s good at, etc. Justin hasn’t become a great philosopher with a bunch of expertise at critical thinking, logical analysis, rational debate, etc.

Example 1 of inadequate skill: Justin doesn’t keep track well enough of who said what, in reply to what, etc. He doesn’t have the discussion tree organized in his head well enough. And he also isn’t doing enough rereading, note taking, note reviewing, discussion tree diagram making, grammar tree making, todo list prioritizing, etc. I don’t think he has enough skill for this discussion even if he did all that stuff a lot, but he’s doing little of it.

Example 2 of inadequate skill: Justin has a high error rate in this discussion. Trying to talk about an error leads to 2+ new errors, so there is an exponential error branching problem, and little is being resolved. (I don’t think Justin is taking seriously that the errors pointed out to him are a small sample, so his real error rate is much higher than it appears.) One of the causes of the error rate is trying to talk about complicated stuff and do sophisticated analysis. These topics could be discussed in simpler ways with less intellectual cleverness.

This discussion would be a bad context for Justin to learn philosophy. If he couldn’t or wouldn’t learn it before, learning won’t work now as a crisis response. He’d need better motivations and less time pressure. Justin isn’t trying to learn philosophy in this discussion (but anon33 is trying to teach him some), but also isn’t acknowledging and taking into account his lack of skill.

Like most people, Justin is a mean, bad person in a variety of conventional ways, plus he has some quirks and idiosyncrasies. As part of not learning philosophy, he also hasn’t made major improvements to that.

What’s to be done? Each person involved in this discussion must consider: “Given the situation in reality, what should I personally do about it?”

I should do a better job of integrating how bad people are with all my ideas. I decided to focus more on writing articles while being wary of discussing with people because they can’t/won’t have good discussions, and they’re mean and dishonest, but I’m still sorting out some aspects of the transition.

anon33 is basically trying to have a discussion that can’t work. Justin is evading some things and has no plan that could work.

I’m ending my involvement in this thread and at this forum for now. I don’t know if or when I’ll return. I wanted to say that instead of silently departing. Best of luck to everyone.