Looking Backwards Through the Gun-sight

Cross hairs and gun-sights are all the rage in the media these days after the killings in Tucson, with Sarah Palin getting flack for her mindless cross hairs map, to the inflamed calls for illegal assassination of Julian Assange. Could this be a time for a more self-conscious look at the violent undercurrents of our ‘civilized’ American society? Perhaps each one of us has at some point put someone in our own gun sights after reducing them into the role of an enemy. What responsibility does each of us share for this violent rhetoric and behavior?

The shooting in Tucson was an event that has brought home how deeply violent American culture can be. The American people have drifted into what I term a gun-sight consciousness, one that is extremely narrow and turns others into caricatures, easily targeted with hate and manipulated with fear-based reactions. The ‘big guns’ US military budget that feeds at least three active wars is sacrosanct, all the while the country is going bankrupt and under no real threat from any nation. This is as senseless as the over-hyped rhetoric of right vs. left when both parties clearly serve the same billionaire masters. Maybe it a good time to wake up and become aware of how we are moving quickly into self-destruction phase through manipulation of irrational fear and outrage.

One reaction to the recent shootings in Arizona was a call to restrict freedom of speech and other constitutional rights. Superficial discourse and reactions move quickly, yet the important question remains; how did we get to this narrow gun-sight consciousness?

It seems that in this country there is always an enemy, a boogieman. The people are told they should fear some evil that the government then promises to eliminate, even if by illegal means. Without one knowing it, society’s vision has become simple-minded fixation through a gun sight consciousness, leading to collective witch-hunts for ‘communists’ to ‘terrorists’, from Bin Laden to Julian Assange. It does not matter as long as crafted image can be captured in the media’s one-sided lens and fear is manipulated, leading to more loss of rights and unquestioning support of government repression.

To understand this, it is important to look at the process of perception and how the media over the years has become a powerful tool to intervene in how one views and interprets daily events. The work of perception management known as Public Relations can be traced back to Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays found a way to tap into unconscious desire, a great force that enables perception control of the masses. It is people’s blindness to these forces that make them susceptible to manipulation. With carefully targeted images, this approach to propaganda constructs characters projected onto a screen of the mind, which then focuses unconscious desires or fears. In the case of the US government, these are terrorists; WMD and immigrants who it is claimed will take over or destroy the ‘American way of life’. Constructed by PR puppet masters, these images come alive and work to trigger hidden motives and primitive reactions.

Whether it is ‘national security’, ‘defending freedom’ or ‘bringing democracy’, these sound bites rationalize irrational fear and anger and narrow the other down into the gun sight. What is actually beneath this fear is a perceived threat to the pervasive sense of entitlement of the middle class way of life. “After 9/11, Mr. Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping” (Friedman, July 20, 2008). What is implicit in the rhetoric of ‘threatening our freedom’ is license to be mindless consumers, which is only made possible through the exploitation of other countries and unsustainable extreme capitalism along with naked aggression and violence of the resource wars abroad. It is no wonder that this type of vitriol also bleeds back into domestic politics as we saw in Tucson.

These threats felt in a pre-conscious realm compel people to narrow their vision, to hunt for a target in the gun sights. But, by degrading others, we reduce our own humanity. Instead of confronting the source and manipulation of fear inside that drives people to act irrationally, those who wish to control public perception direct anger and frustration towards crafted enemies outside. Fixated on the target, one then continues chasing after ephemeral enemies. The fearful huddled masses turn attention outward to engage with projected simplistic images to blindly defend an arrogant sense of entitlement.

An ancient Greek sage once said, “Know Thyself”. This is simply said, but it is hard to do. Yet, without knowing who one is, the eyes get clouded. We blindly interact with our own projections. When we lose touch with ourselves, human discourse is derailed. Political debate naturally tends toward the hateful and simpleminded.

The killing of civilians that was revealed through the cross hairs view of the WikiLeaks Collateral Murder video confronted the world with the collective gun sight consciousness and narrow belief systems prevalent in US politics. The question is; when will we start looking backwards through the gun sights and open up to the victim’s perspective? When will it be time to widen our own perception? If we step back for a moment we may see that the world is really a mirror. This is essentially what WikiLeaks has done for US citizens: hold up a reflection of what we have become. It is through each person courageously choosing to love their supposed enemy that society can correct the nearsighted vision and allow us to look backward through the gun sights. This way we can set ourselves free to live again within the intricacy of inter-relationship that defines our common humanity.


Friedman, T. L. (2008, July 20). 9/11 and 4/11. The New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2011 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/20/opinion/20friedman.html?_r=1&em&ex=121...

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