There is gaslighting and then there is cheap gaslighting which is, in some ways less bad and in some ways more bad. One of my employers in politics, a politician I worked as an aide for, was utterly shameless in his cheap gaslighting. He lied in ways that were obviously lies. You see, he knew that most people believe everything you say without evidence. While people often think they’re suspicious enough, if you throw an untrue remark into a casual converation, the other parties will believe you without question. One of the things I have learned in politics is never take anyone without a gain of salt. I literally ghostwrote promises that he made that when he didn’t keep, I would cuss him out for breaking.
That is not what this is about. This is about telling obvious lies to people. One of the lies ways he tried to gaslight me was to justify not paying me minimum wage by claiming that my savings were more than the average American and also that the poorest people in the world are often the happiest. How was I supposed to react? Like “Gosh darnit! You’re right! Poor people are happy, I should be less materialistic and accept literally less than minimum wage!” Either he thought I was that stupid and/or he was trying to exert power through exerting his dominance. The answer is both. He was definitely hoping I was that insanely naïve but ultimately would settle for me being powerless by enduring his cruelty expressed through his controlling the narrative.
Which is how cheap gaslighting works. There wasn’t much thought put into what he was saying because he would face no consequences for being caught, among those consequences are their own feelings of guilt or shame. So there need not be an elaborate scheme to craft an alternate reality and subtle building a fictional narrative. Yet, while it does fail to dupe me and in that sense it is less dark, it is, in another sense, much more dark since in traditional gaslighting the gaslighting party has a sense of shame enough to care about what their victim thinks of them. In cheap gaslighting, there is no shame or attempt to preserve one’s self-image. A traditional gaslighter, likely has a moral core while a cheap gaslighter likely has none.
Cheap gasligihting is not just lying, it suggests pathological lying without guilt, remorse, or shame. He did that more than anyone else I had ever met and in the example I shared, he told an obvious lie to save relatively little money. He was a stereotypical used-car salesman with a void where a soul would be who would lie to save half-a-cent of money or its equivilent in political capital. Traditional gaslighting is creepier, spookier, and grander but cheap gaslighting is more likely to betray narcissistic or anti-social personality disorder. A con man is less viscerally scary than a controlling boyfriend but, for all of their banality, con men are often more evil and more dangerous.
One of the problems in the age of true crime and horror is that the public has been conditioned to seek juicy evil when banal evil is vastly more common. From Donald Trump’s and Alex Jones’ cults of personality to the explosive popularity of MLM schemes. The timeless used-car salesman personality needs to evoke the disgust we afford to serial killers and child molesters. Capitalism dazzles people with gory stories of sex and violence and, of course, treats old fashioned and dry greed as too wonky for a horny and blood-loving audience.