Book Review—State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind
State of Confusion by Bryant Welch (2008, Thomas Dunn Books)
Possibly nothing perplexes those working in drug law reform—and in fact maybe nothing is more likely to make them think they’re yelling at a brick wall—than the incessant lies, specious casuistry, convoluted machinations, BS or whatever you want to call it, employed by the drug warriors to counter the truth about illicit drugs and drug use.
The lies are no accident. The propaganda technique is known as gaslighting. For those who don’t know what gaslighting is, it is essentially a very effective method for driving people crazy.
How gaslighting affects today’s politics is the subject of a book by Dr. Bryant Welch, a Harvard trained lawyer and a psychologist who has worked as a lobbyist for the American Psychological Association (APA) in Washington, D.C. His close contact with the Washington political scene and its psychodramas has given him a vital perspective on the methods of political manipulation being used against not only drug users and reformers, but against all other unwary Americans as well.
Gaslighting was depicted in the 1941 (and 1944 version) of the movie ‘Gaslight’. The storyline involves a sinister, cheating husband who drives his wife bonkers by adjusting the gas lights in their house up and down in brightness while he constantly denies his wife’s complaints that the lighting is different.
Contradicting reality in this way really does drive people insane. As such, gaslighting is recognized to be a type of mental abuse.
When drug warriors say marijuana has no medical benefits, they’re gaslighting the very people who have every reason to know the benefits. Drug warriors who claim skunk marijuana contains deadly concentrations of THC, or who maintain that marijuana and its users fit any of the drug warrior stereotypes, are mentally abusing drug users and those in drug law reform who know better, but who are understandably perplexed and troubled at the irrationality of these so-called public servants and their phony declarations.
Dr. Welch focuses much of his commentary on gaslighting as it’s used by the current Bush administration, but he also had this to say about gaslighting and the consequences of anti-drug propaganda:
Recently , the federal anti-drug programs discovered…their campaign against drugs was creating more users than it was reducing…. A study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO-06-818] found that the more kids viewed the anti-drug advertising, the more likely they were to use drugs. The GAO states: “[G]reater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana.” The tobacco industry knew what they were doing in telling people ‘not’ to smoke. [p. 139]
Gaslighting induces a state of confusion in people’s minds with the expectation that they will withdraw from their emotionally troubling perplexity into a less complex world of their own creation or someone else’s. Once in their comfortable little world, they’re no longer expected to disentangle the contradictory messages received from those in power. Anxieties are reduced.
In politics, gaslighted people are otherwise upstanding citizens who’ve been effectively neutralized. They have given up. Their neutralization is one of many goals a gaslighter might achieve while pursuing and profiting from the politics of fear. Gaslighted victims may go on to accept absolute rule by a gaslighting authority, even if the ruler happens to be a tyrant.
Countermeasures against gaslighting exist. The best defense is to recognize gaslighting when it’s being used and to stop it. Of course, it’s expected that recognition of gaslighting may be rejected by those trained from infancy to believe the state can do no wrong, or who think questioning authority is taboo. Such people remain victims of gaslighting and many other things, and they often continue to act in concert with the state in ways that unduly harm others.
Other books and articles may cover gaslighting in greater technical detail, but Dr. Welch’s new book is a highly readable account as well as an entertaining exposé of gaslighting methods as they are currently used by the U.S. government. State of Confusion provides the reader with the essential mental armor necessary to withstand abusive, gaslighting drug warriors, and it gives reformers an edge in bringing America’s war on drugs a little closer to its inevitable end.