COLUMN: Presentism and gaslighting

Published 6:12 pm Sunday, April 23, 2023

There are two new words that seem to appear in the news frequently — “presentism” and “gaslighting.”

There are numerous definitions of presentism. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines presentism as an attitude toward the past dominated by present day attitudes and experiences. Wikipedia mentions “reading modern notions of morality into the past.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy goes further and states that “only present things exist.”

Presentism is not included in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary or

The generally accepted meaning of this word is that many people today judge past decisions and actions of historical leaders based on modern ideology and not on the practices and customs in vogue in the historical era in which they occurred. 

The second word is “gaslighting.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as the psychological manipulation of a person over an extended period of time that causes that person to question the validity of their own thoughts, perceptions, and memories. The goal of gaslighting is to cause confusion and loss of confidence and self-esteem within the targeted person. The term comes from a 1938 play and 1944 movie by that name whereby a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness. Gaslighting often involves changing the focus of a discussion by questioning the person’s credibility. The abusing person usually begins the gaslighting process slowly and increases the pressure as time goes by and more as the process becomes effective. Because the abused person does not feel they can trust their own decisions, they turn to others and, in many cases, the abuser.

Gaslighting has been found in all areas of human interaction be they related to couples, parent-child, employer-employee, or political relationships. 

In his 1971 book “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals,” Saul Alinsky presents a plan where the “Have-Nots” can take away the power of the “Haves” and remake it the way they believe it should be. He suggests 13 rules (or tactics) to accomplish this. Rule Five states that ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. Rule Eight states to keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events for your purpose. He states in Rule Eleven if you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through. His final Rule Thirteen advises to pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

This Alinsky book received a great deal of press when it was first published over 50 years ago. Since then it has mostly been under the radar of the general public. In our state, nation, and world today with chaos in literally all facets of life, why would someone want to divide people rather than bringing everyone together?

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is