Gaslighting For No Fun and No Profit

I had a friend, once. Let’s call her “Porcelain Puppet”, because that was her nicknamename. She had a tempestuous relationship with her partner at the time. Before my own cancellation, when I was in a position to help her, I did.

In the past three years, we’ve texted a bit. Often we’ve apologized to each other for being bad correspondants and reinforced our friendship with little ❤ symbols and well-wishes.

We had a friendly—even warm, though absolutely never romantic on either side—correspondence from( let me check my phone)–March 20th, 2018 to June 7th, 2021. Today, out of nowhere—that sounds like some kind of euphemism, but sincerely, the only indicator I had that anything might be negative was that it had taken a bit of time for her to respond to our last set of messages, and she was, if anything, a bit annoyed that I thought something might be wrong – that is, I asked if anything was wrong, and she replied that she was slow getting back to everyone.

Today, out of literally nowhere, she told me not to text her again. This is quite normal. Any society that lives on social currency will reward someone who says, “You know that person our social group hates? I hate them, too! I'm a member of the club! I'm cool like you are!”–just as the people who remain friends with me sometimes find other people unfriending them for no reason other than the fact that they haven't unfriended me for no reason.

I told her I would make a video about it. I did. I didn't name her; why would ? She's just one of tons of people caught up in a moral panic, one of tons of people who know that shunning The Accused will get them love-bombed, and giving even the benefit of doubt to The Accused will lose them friends.

Her response was a series of threats. Her boyfriend is a lawyer, she said. Any further contact would be harassment, she said. Talking about what happened would be harassment, she said.

If you're familiar with abuser tactics, then none of this is new to you. Of COURSE they want to isolate you. Of COURSE they want to frighten you. Of COURSE they want to think that telling anyone your story, explaining your abuse, discussing your pain, talking about how they've hurt or abused you… of COURSE this will be answered by force, by police, by ostracism. And of COURSE they'll threaten you with things that aren't real. Seriously: do they think it is legal to accuse people of theft, assault, chicanery, or general horrifying (and illegal) behavior—but NOT legal to call someone out, not even by name, for trying to make you think you're insane?

I know a cancelled person who refers to the (fairly major) news coverage of her alleged actions as being, essentially, attempts to get her to kill herself. She may not be wrong. There's no doubt in my mind that, even if they had mixed feelings internally, many of these people would give voice to the loudest possible voices of approval if I were to suicide. Even if they have mixed feelings, they know that they can post something like:

“Such and such person was bad in every way, and not even human, because of their horribleness. I am glad that being is dead, because they're not a person, just an embodiment of how cruddy this world is, and I'm happy to see one proponent of Bad Things buried, so that I will never have to worry about explaining myself to that person's face”–

–and get tons of “Yes! You go! You're strong! Be brave! You're bold! Be defiant! Hate this person whom we hate, and we will reward your act of bravery with even more status and with even more affirmation.”

I get where it's tempting. It's gross; it's wrong; it's unjust; it's why we had the murders of the Witch Trials, the insanity of the Satanic Panic, the alchemical transportation of Halloween fun into fears of (literally nonexistent) fears of Poison Halloween Candy.

After years of trying to see their point of view, of trying to listen, of investigating my words and actions, I've come to a simple conclusion:

These people cannot and will not EVER back up what they say, not ever, not even once, because none of what they say deals with reality, and worse, they fear the HELL out of reality. They fear nuance; they fear situations where they might not be wholly right; they're terrified at the thought that they might be forced to live in a world where they need to act based on what others do, instead of the stories they tell about other people.

These people have gaslit t/hemselves so hard that you could feel sorry for them…

…were it not for the fact that too much gaslight produces toxic residue which hurts absolutely everyone.

You can give them the benefit of the doubt. You don't have to attack them personally, even if they attack you by name (but I imagine you can; your choices are your own).

Just call out their behavior. Help the world know that this is a dangerous and pervasive malicious insanity. And we cannot and will not abide it – not simply because it hurts us, but because it hurts everyone

Witch Hunter’s Dilemma

Recently, the formerly-esteemed roles of Witch-Hunters throughout the known world (which extends, as it always has, all the way from one side of this village, right past the village next to it, and into that one village that you can kind-of see in the distance, the one where we go, once every few months, for Market Day; oh, we’ve heard rumour that there’s more in the world than this, but you know us. We’re very smart, and never ever fall for rumours)—

—the office of Witch-Hunters has been rocked by the newly-revealed knowledge that so many Hunters were, themselves, Witches.

And now people want to attack the Witch-Hunters, want to say they’re all Witches. As a Witch, I resent this in general; not every Witch is the kind of Wicked Witch of whom you’ve heard horrible stories (isn’t it convenient that, theoretically, the Wickedest Witch we know is unable to argue her case, by virtue of having been killed by a plummeting residential building?)

But as a former Witch-Hunter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak. It won’t make me popular; but popularity was never what I sought, and therein lies the challenge.

People have put forth the idea that the office of Witch-Hunter is the ideal place for a Witch to hide; who suspects the Hunter of being the monster?

But this is true only in one of two disturbing scenarios:

  1. Witch-Hunters are incompetent. The challenge, in said scenario, is this: if the Hunters, those who have literally trained for generations, honed their skills, written books, taught each other, created and used and promulgated technologies for catching Witches, are actually terrible at doing so…it is only reasonable to assume that the rest of us are worse at it. Sure, there are certain disciplines wherein academic knowledge fails to live up to the power of practical understanding. But Hunters hunt; they don’t just sit around writing papers on the subject. (Although, admittedly, most of the ones who write about the theory without engaging in the practice…they do deserve our skepticism.) Which leads us to the other possibility:
  2. Witch-Hunters have always been a secret plot by Witches; they have never had good intentions. But if this is the case… then why are we trusting anything they’ve told us about Witchery? If their actual goal is opposite their stated goal, then we can’t go around trusting their stated reasons, either. If we’re calling into question the integrity of Witch-Hunters, then it brings us to the uncomfortable idea that the Witches themselves might not be monstrous. Certainly, it would be a devious and terrifying plot for all those capturers-of-spellcasters to have been a diversion; but it’s a pretty stupid diversion for those who are supposedly cunning. Witch-hunters promote Witch-hunting, make their coin at the trade, lecture constantly about the need to do it. It’s far more complicated, and far less effective, than simply spending one’s time explaining that not all Witches are, in fact, intentional makers-of-pain, that, in fact, Witches are no more prone to it than anyone else.

“But,” you say, “the Mob seeks victims. The Mob wants guilt, not innocence. Perhaps they might have acted better, were they not spurred on by the Mob.”

If this is true, then we ought to ask: who, exactly, is the Rage Mob?

Why, it is no-one, of course.

Just ask.

Did an army ravage the countryside under the brutal rule of The Dictator? Why, it wasn’t any of us.

Who burned all those people who turned out to have never been any kind of Witch? Oh, not us. In fact, we always wanted to help, we were just afraid of The Mob.

Who believed the Witch-Hunters? Not us, it was all the other fools. We always knew there was something fishy, while the idiots over there only saw it after Hunters were all discredited. (And having discredited this group, we say, “The problem is solved!” Until we find someone else to blame.)

Do I hate Witch-Hunters? I do; and while I know that I was lied-to, deceived, and betrayed, it doesn’t change the things I did as a Hunter, and I need to answer for them. I hate Witch-Hunters for what they did to me, and for what I hoped they would be, and what they actually are.

But let’s not get too sanctimonious here.

The fact is, as long as any of us are willing to hide behind the anonymity of the Mob, we are all one rumour away from having the Mob turn on us.

All we need do is stop fearing the Mob, and it will lose its power over us.

…and I wish you good luck with that. Me, I’m going to build a raft and float somewhere without any humans. I’ll probably get eaten by sea-monsters, but I’m okay with that. I’d rather die for being what I am (in this case, “made out of meat”)—than be slain on the rumour that I’m something I am not.

~Jeff Mach


My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.

I write books. You should read them!

My new book, “I Hate Your Time Machine”, is now available! Go pick it up!