Is the government gaslighting you? Some thoughts on communication and power
Power and communication are tightly intertwined. It’s impossible to hold power without communicating it somehow. Yet in our hyperconnected world, the intentional sabotage of communication has become a normalised tactic from the elites to divert responsibility over the speech act in the exercise of power and control.
We often forget about the complexity of the communication process. If its objective is to convey a message as clearly and unambiguously as possible, communication falls short most of the time — and though it hardly ever succeeds completely, we still just take it for granted.
What we think we say and what we actually say are different. So is what we actually say and what the other person makes of it.
Communication is fragile.
Not only do we think we have a clear, direct understanding of the contents of our own head, but also the skills needed to communicate it effectively. Under the assumption that we know ourselves well enough to easily translate ourselves to others, we believe to be an open book to whomever wants to read us.
But in speaking our minds, perhaps we emphasise the wrong thing, or forget important details that give background or context, fundamentally shaping and warping what we say. No matter how attentive or clear we believe to be, the information needed for accurate understanding is often simply not there.
Although we leave interactions satisfied most of the time, heard and understood, we’re often disappointed to discover later how wrong we were. When we experience the failure of communication, we rush to point fingers at each other: someone didn’t explain themselves properly, or the other person didn’t listen or understand well enough.
Communication is precarious.
Verbal or non-verbal, direct or indirect, communication is instrumental to the exercise of power. Persuasion and negotiation but also threats, commands or even emotional manipulation — including withholding it, silence. Two sides of the same coin, power and its communication are bound together.
The communication of power is the power of communication.
If communication is about conveying a message clearly and unambiguously, an overload of unclear, inconsistent messages makes it collapse.
In a hyperconnected world, where we’re all mediated and directly accessible at any time via our pocket devices, where the incessant online noise continuously urges us into action and overaction, the overflow of contradictory information can leave us overwhelmed, confused and even paralysed.
Emotional and psychological abusers know intuitively how to exploit and weaponise communication, displacing the responsibility from one side to the other side of the interaction.
When the US or UK Government engage in a back and forth of saying and unsaying, mistakes and corrections, differences and repetitions, it’s easy to mock it and put it down to inept leadership or a lack of knowledge.
How can we make sure we don’t become a falling victim of a purposeful gaslighting tactic, one designed to avoid taking ownership over the speech act?
When our leaders are unclear and contradictory in what they say, it’s now on each and every one of us to make what we will of it, and decide how to act.
If the results of our actions are hidden from us, buried under their intentional noise, we’re disempowered.
As each one of us decides how to interpret guidelines, the results are now down to us — and so is the final death toll.
The sabotage of communication is the exoneration of power.
If this spoke to you, please consider liking it and leaving a comment — even though I write these because I enjoy the practice, it’s always encouraging to know there’s someone on the other side.