Dec. 22 WEEKENDER: Second Opinion – The great American illusion

Once we reach a certain age, we usually have to admit that our mirrors are lying to us.

Grand Forks Gazette WEEKENDER columnist Jim Holtz.

Grand Forks Gazette WEEKENDER columnist Jim Holtz.

Once we reach a certain age, we usually have to admit that our mirrors are lying to us.  It is a humbling admission. We would like to maintain the fantasy of our physical appearance, the illusion on which we base our self-esteem but those discomforting photos from the Christmas party prove that really, we are older, greyer, flabbier than we wanted to believe.

There is an oddly similar delusion clung to by millions of our neighbours to the south. It is a self image based on a cultural legacy of celluloid heroes: pioneers, sheriffs, soldiers, rogue cops and space explorers, everyone a lone, gun-wielding warrior capable of defeating whole gangs of outlaws, terrorists and/or alien monsters single-handedly.

The fantasy of the gun-toting American hero is so engrained, the myths so often repeated, that Americans have come to accept them as a kind of underlying reality and so have armed themselves with 300,000,000 guns in order to oppose these imagined, inevitable invasions of their homes and country by criminals and hostile armies.

By doing so, they accept, affirm and claim for themselves this image of the strong, independent hero who defies authority and does only what he wants to do.  In contrast, they distrust governments, seeing them as merely enabling the weak.

Therefore many align themselves only with other heroic individuals in survivalist enclaves, subscribe to internet alliances of other “preppers,” and stock up on food, water and ammunition, certain that the day is near when only a select few will survive the coming holocaust, just like in the movies.

Even mainstream Americans are swept up, buying record numbers of guns, survival kits and even bulletproof backpacks for their children.

The American self-image is an illusion. There are no Rooster Cogburns or Rambos in real life, only their deranged derivatives, the Adam Lanzas who dress like ninja warriors and attack unarmed enemies. But Americans see only the reflection of their heroes in the mirror; the horror and ridicule with which other nations regard this continued delusion is given no weight. Neither are the facts: more than 9,000 Americans are killed by guns every year.

The U.S. government may pass legislation limiting assault rifle ownership, but that will just make many Americans even more certain that their God-given rights are being taken away by an illegitimate authority. Thousands will continue to die every year until Americans realize that there are no terrorists lurking behind every bush, and no hero reflected in every mirror.

– Jim Holtz is WEEKENDER columnist and former reporter for the Grand Forks Gazette.