The election of a new president in 2016 was the culmination of a 500-year history of disparagement of reason. That is the point Andersen wants to make in his book FantasyLand. As he said,
“Despite his nonstop lies and obvious fantasies—rather, because of them—Donald Trump was elected president. The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable. As particular fantasies get traction and become contagious, other fantasists are encouraged by a cascade of out-of-control tolerance. It’s a kind of twisted Golden Rule unconsciously followed: If those people believe that, then certainly we can believe this.”
Andersen argues, that a 500-year history of denigration of facts and reasoning in favour of belief without reasons has gradually led us to our particular modern circumstance where some can claim, truth is dead. He puts it this way in his inimical style:
“Each of the small fantasies and simulations we insert into our lives is harmless enough, replacing a small piece of the authentic but mundane here, another over there. The world looks a little more like a movie set and seems a little more exciting and glamorous, like Hitchcock’s definition of drama—life with the dull bits cut out. Each of us can feel like a sexier hero in a cooler story, younger than we actually are if we’re old or older if we’re young. Over time the patches of unreality take up more and more space in our lives. Eventually the whole lawn becomes AstroTurf.”
That history has landed us squarely and uncomfortably in FantasyLand. It is a world where we can believe whatever we want. Again, our wants are supreme. In the 1700s John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” But the fact is they are not stubborn enough. Fantasy can trump facts. No one knows that better than Trump.
Instead of being bound by facts, as Andersen says:
“…we are freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever or to pretend to be whomever we wish. Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, a matter of personal preference. There is a functioning synergy among our multiplying fantasies, the large and small ones, the toxic and the individually entertaining ones, the ones we know to be fiction, the ones we kinda sorta believe, and the religious and political and scientific ones we’re convinced aren’t fantasies at all. Scientists warn about the “cocktail effect” concerning chemicals in the environment and drugs in the brain, where various substances “potentiate” other substances. I think it’s like that. We’ve been drinking bottomless American cocktails mixed from all the different fantasy ingredients, and those various fantasies, conscious and semi-conscious, intensify the effects of others.”
Andersen does not deny that fantasies are abundant elsewhere too. A quick look around is all you need to realize that. Yet, for some reason, fantasy does seem to be deeper and more powerful and all consuming in America than anywhere else in the world. As Andersen said,
“This is not unique to America, people treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously. We’re just uniquely immersed… nowhere else in the rich world are such beliefs central to the self-identities of so many people. We are Fantasyland’s global crucible and epicenter.”
America is awash in fantasy and the world is awash in America. This is Andersen’s précis of 500 years of American history that has brought it to become the lord of fantasy:
“America was created by true believers and passionate dreamers, by hucksters and their suckers—which over the course of four centuries has made us susceptible to fantasy, as epitomized by everything from Salem hunting witches to Joseph Smith creating Mormonism, from P. T. Barnum to Henry David Thoreau to speaking in tongues, from Hollywood to Scientology to conspiracy theories, from Walt Disney to Billy Graham to Ronald Reagan to Oprah Winfrey to Donald Trump. In other words: mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled…how deeply this tendency has been encoded in our national DNA.”
The result is the modern world. Goya says “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” The modern world is here to prove him right.
That is the real problem.