Creating false equivalence is a gaslighting technique that I’m seeing all too often on social media at the moment. Here’s an example – The British PM is called out by MPs for using words like ‘surrender’ over Brexit because this kind of talk inflames hate and increases the death threats, and presumably, the risk of death for MPs. On social media, random people start comparing this to the left saying ‘bollocks to brexit’.
False equivalence often works because at first glance it looks plausible. People on the left say mean things, people on the right say mean things, if you’re on the left and you complain about the right doing it you’re not just mean, you’re mean and a hypocrite. Saying ‘bollocks’ to something doesn’t incite violence in the way that moving into militaristic language does, and we’ve seen some people talking about ‘getting the knives out’ and using overtly violent language around politics. It’s not equivalent.
When you see a single example of gaslighting, sometimes it is obviously rubbish. It works through repetition and reassertion. If you keep hearing the same lies, expressed with confidence and certainty, it can start to erode your confidence in your own stance. This is very much an issue in the domestic sphere. For example, if you’re living with someone who reacts as though you’ve punched them if you say no, or that you don’t like or don’t want something, you’ll probably start to feel like you’re doing something awful. I did. Repeatedly being told that expressing distress is exactly the same as someone expressing anger by punching you, will undermine your reality.
Gaslighting is an evil sort of process, designed to drive people mad. For some time now, we’ve been treated to the techniques of gaslighting from people with power and platforms. It’s there in the tabloids, and it impacts on everyone involved. For the person persuaded that ‘bollocks to brexit’ is just as nasty and dangerous a thing to say as talking about getting knives into the opposition, reality is also being eroded. Perhaps more so.
We aren’t wholly logical beings. Often our emotions get the steering wheel. Gaslighting techniques bypass logic, and tie it in knots in order to have an emotional impact. When you feel something keenly, it isn’t easy to be reasonable about it. Whether that’s feeling hurt or diminished or justified or empowered, our emotions colour our perceptions. Equally, if you are persuaded by gaslighting, you are a victim of it, even if you are apparently on the same side as the people dishing it out. Even if you become one of the people dishing it out. A broken reality, is a broken reality no matter how you got there, and there is absolute equivalence between people who have been messed up in this way.
If you’re dealing with false equivalence for yourself, focus on the reasoning and go through things in as calm and logical a way as you can. If you are dealing with someone else’s false equivalence, bear in mind that anything escalating the emotions in the situation will increase the effect on them, not decrease it. Arguing with them may make it worse. Avoiding putting emotional energy in is essential, and better for you as well. If you lash out – however righteously – you will play into the stories about how there is no difference between sides. You will make true the false reality they have been sold. That doesn’t help anyone.