"How to Gaslight Citizens"
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Eric Beerbohm, Professor of Government; Faculty Affiliate, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University.
Co-sponsored by the Graduate School or Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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Gaslighting, as an interpersonal wrong, brings its victims to doubt the sources of their evidence. This paper holds that political gaslighting, by leading citizens to hold beliefs disconnected from the available evidence, poses a distinctive threat to democratic politics. But holding “audacious beliefs”— beliefs that are ahead of the evidence — can serve as a core ingredient for democratic movements. This creates a dilemma for citizens, who must choose between two kinds of evidential policies. How can they protect themselves from the gaslighting without rendering themselves insusceptible to the mobilizing efforts central to democratic politics? Citizens, then, face a standing challenge: to remain open to the bully pulpit while vigilant against the gaslighter’s epistemic bullying.