I had a weird experience on YouTube recently.
I’m into music, so I had liked and watched several videos of a music instrument store in Texas called ‘Alamo Pianos’.
It seems the Alamo – a Texan fort that a small group of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant American settlers once defended against a horde of Mexican troops – is a touchstone word for US right-wing groups. Soon the YouTube algorithm flooded my recommendations with large, bearded white men taking about defending their homeland, family, traditions, and of course, their ‘right’ to own and shoot guns.
Some YouTube gun content is innocent enough: guys having fun on the firing range, seeing what they can hit at 100 meters, trying out the latest rifle or scope or whatever.
But then you get the weird stuff: people who are convinced that denying them an AK47 is an egregious violation of their rights.
Guys saying that the best way to survive the Covid-19 pandemic is to stock up, not on hand sanitizer and vaccines, but on guns and ammunition – to save yourself from the coming total collapse of law and order. Those insisting that giving civilians the right to own any kind of firearm is the only way to protect against coups and dictatorships.
An acquaintance with facts will reveal these arguments to be rubbish. When the US was subject to an attempted coup by Mr. Trump, the gun owners either sat at home or actively sided with the coup plotters. So far, Covid-19 has seen an increase in law enforcement around the world, which for the most part has been obeyed.
Maybe the push for tighter gun licensing requirements in the US has something to do with preventing school shootings and massacres at the mall?
I could go on. Let me not, I don’t have the patience.
It struck me how easy it is to live an alternative reality with ‘alternative facts’. Bear in mind that if you ‘like’ a certain thing, the social media algorithms respond by giving you more of the same.
If you consume content on the daily that tries to sell you body armor and other gear that used to be the domain of soldiers, that suggests you need your Glock pistol under your jacket even for a suburban trip to buy milk, that comes up with new ‘threat scenarios’ on the daily… Isn’t that going to affect your mind?
Doesn’t it make you more likely to respond to your worst prejudices, to become the racist cop or xenophobic vigilante who one day guns down an innocent person?
Namibia has its own gun culture, which I find equally weird.
I can see the necessity of a largely rural nation owning bird guns and hunting rifles. But it surprises me how many young men see the need to carry a pistol or tactical knife in broad daylight in the safest country on the African continent.
Many of these pistols and knives will probably end up being used in anger in pointless arguments, or find their way into the hands of children.
I’m no angel here. I’m complicit in the problems I describe.
I subscribe to a neighborhood watch, which in my neighborhood is, in effect, a private (armed) policing service. I think my ‘watch’ is competent and professional, at least as far as I know, but I have heard of those that are nothing more than hyper-aggressive white men terrorizing local black youths.
After a nasty incident with a pit-bull terrier, I do occasionally carry a can of pepper spray, and I am as astounded as I was on the day I bought it that the Namibian government has absolutely no licensing regime for less-lethal weapons.
It’s easier to get your hands on firearms and other weapons in Namibia than it is to get a driving license. Government should take steps to rectify this situation.
I’ve spoken out in the past against Government regulation of social media, but we the people do need to become more aware of what we consume on the Internet and more questioning as to whether it contains any truth.
Those of us who are privileged in society – whether WASPy Americans or middle-class Namibian men – should do more to question our common assumptions and ascertain whether the ‘threats’ we claim to face are real or imaginary.
Hugh Ellis is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com