A review of Fantastyland – How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History, Kurt Andersen, Random House, 2017.
Where to begin and end? As a pal in my book club put it, this book is “so rich” with content we may need two meetings to discuss it.
From 1517 to the present time, the author relentlessly exposes how and why Americans tend to believe what we want to believe, regardless of the facts. Americans, free and independent, have built a nation in many ways on a foundation of fantasy – Fantasyland.
The author doesn’t conclude that all beliefs, conspiracy theories and dreams are irrational, just the ones that go “…overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts.”
From beliefs in recent trips to and from Heaven to government conspirators hiding all manner of truths and conspiracies from us; from Satan on Earth today to real estate prices that would always increase; from believing risky debt isn’t risky to extraterrestials among us; from the dangers of vaccines to life’s creation several thousand years ago; from the phony moon landing to the government’s 9/11 plot; from hoarding firearms to thwart thugs and terrorists to the origins of AIDS; from pretending we’re soldiers “…or elves or zombies….” to sitting at our personal computers to engage in virtual battles; from believing the vapor contrails formed by aircraft at altitude are really secret gasses emitted to control us to believing Satan recruited Indians from Asia to North America to impede Christianity – in Fantastyland many have believed all this and more, and in some cases still believe, therefore it’s true.
In a footnote on page 7 the author discloses the source of survey data that tell us only a third of us believe emissions from cars and factories are causing global warming; only a third of us don’t think telepathy and ghost are real; a fourth of us believe Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016; a third of us believe the government is keeping natural cures for cancer a secret so “Big Pharma” can make more money – the list goes on.
We have facts and access to facts in America, but in many aspects of our lives we are exposed to misrepresentations, made-up stuff, spins, alternative facts, misdirection, and outright lies, and we’ve had all of it in varying degrees since the first “settlers” arrived.
In its 462 pages, including an index, this book offers an opportunity to discover how the differences between opinion, belief, and fact all got blurred in America from the very beginning of the country, and how by now have all but disappeared.
“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan