Fantasyland Part 1. How America Went Haywire. A 500-Year History.

Preface. This a review of the “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.  A 500-Year History”. If you want to understand what’s wrong with America, and be highly entertained at the same time, this is the book for you, one of my favorites.

Some of the crazy evangelist religious beliefs today are due to corporations (see “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America”), though people with fundamentalist religious beliefs of any kind are the most vulnerable to being manipulated, since critical thinking skills are discouraged.

Links to the 9 parts of this book review:  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Kurt Anderson. 2017. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.  Random House.

So what’s the harm?

It’s literally costing us our lives. The U.S. is 26th out of the 36 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), yet we are the richest nation that has ever existed, or ever will exist.  There’s no better sign of a country’s health and wealth than height. Americans used to tower over all other nations, now we are 40th due to poor health care and diets.  We are 108th of 140 nations in happiness.

Two hundred innocent people went to jail and lost their careers, businesses, and families after being accused of being satanic cult baby killers in the 1980s and 1990s (and meanwhile Catholic priests were getting away with raping children).  This was as bad, if not worse than the Salem Witch Hunt, which lasted just months.  But these satanic baby killing cult trials went on for a decade.  For example, these cases:  Kern County child abuse cases, McMartin preschool trial, Ricky Kasso, West Memphis 3, Little Rascals Day Care Center, Oak Hill satanic ritual abuse trial, Fells Acres Day Care Center preschool trial, and Pace memorandum.  A third of Americans saw Geraldo Rivera’s TV show where he estimated that there are over 1 million Satanists in America linked in a highly organized secret network dedicated to satanic ritual child abuse and satanic murders.  Americans agonized for 3 centuries over the Salem witch trial, but I haven’t read anything or heard anyone talk about this since then.  And there are still regular satanic ritual abuse conferences.

The loss of basic rights: birth control and abortion, Republican gerrymandering of districts to gain an unfair advantage, as well as Koch brothers and other dark money allowed after Citizens United, and so on.

Thomas Jefferson once said that as long as a belief didn’t pick his pocket or break his leg, he was fine with it.  But these nutty beliefs are picking our pockets (deregulation, cutting the budget of the FDA and other watchdog agencies) and breaking our legs (getting rid of affordable health care, not getting children vaccinated, alternative medicine, and in 2017 the Republicans want to cut SNAP, the food stamp program, that in 2012 fed 45 million people).

Superstition is fun, isn’t it?

For most of human history there was no choice but to rely on myths and superstitions. And if you read anthropology you’ll run across a great deal of information on what it is like. It sure doesn’t sound like any fun to me. To be religious / superstitious is to be in constant fear of bad spirits. For leaders to justify taxing and starving and killing others.  In many societies the death of a member is blamed on a someone in another village and the tribe attacks the town in revenge, killing even more people and starting blood feuds that can go on for decades or even centuries.  To feel at all times that a mistake could result in demonic punishment, to be told that you are responsible for a drought and consequent famine because you didn’t obey taboos to the letter, is to feel out of control, to live in constant fear.  More on this can be found in Carl Sagan’s book “The Demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark”.

The wacko beliefs in America go all the way back to our founding 500 years ago by people with religious beliefs so extreme they weren’t welcome in their own societies — for good reason. This is best described in Bernard Bailyn’s “The Barbarous Years. The peopling of British North America: the conflict of civilizations, 1600-1675”. My comment: Let’s hope we’re not doomed by our DNA, Andersen never says this.

In the good old days the centrist Republicans and media stepped in to nip nuttiness in the bud, such as the John Birch Society.  But now that media is profit driven, which means only presenting information that we the ignorant public want to hear, and no longer believes that serving the public good is a paramount duty, all hell has broken loose as Fantasyland spins out of control into more and more madness.

Even academia has abandoned reason as one of the pillars they stand for.  Heaven forbid they trample on any student’s right to believe in anything by criticizing it.  All truths are equal. My comment: Andersen covers how this came to be at great length, with a long history of scholars who brought universities to such depths.

And so the gyre keeps widening and spinning into self-induced madness, rather than toward the The Enlightenment as in nearly all other developed nations.

The Tea Party, National Rifle Association, and right-wing evangelist and fundamentalist churches have ratcheted up the insanity, and totally cowed the more middle-of-the-road, reasonable old school Republicans.  Chapter 40 is all about how the GOP went off the rails, responsible for much of this.

The GOP today are the first political party in history to explicitly endorse a religion.  Despite the efforts of the founding fathers to prevent this. The First Amendment is an explicit statement of separation of church and state.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe in conspiracies.  For example, consider Agenda 21, a United Nations 1992 Earth Summit paper full of ideas for sustainable development and improving the environment in areas like deforestation, protecting fragile environments, protecting biodiversity, controlling pollution, minimizing radioactive wastes, and protecting the atmosphere.  But FOX and the Republicans accuse Agenda 21 of being a plot for one-world totalitarian and Communist domination. The last two GOP platforms have had anti-Agenda 21 planks, and a dozen state legislatures have passed resolutions cursing it.

Nor are there enough rational congressional staff to advise our leaders at every level of government, because in the 1980s, Newt Gingrich began what is now the Republican practice of cutting the budget for staff. This is why politicians have to get advice from lobbyists instead.

Republicans are also especially good at cherry-picking: let business do whatever it wants, but don’t spoil poor people with government handouts; let individuals have gun arsenals but not abortions or recreational drugs, and Ayn Rand is a blueprint for many of them (House speaker Paul Ryan and his son Ron Paul, Ronald Reagan, Justice Clarence Thomas, Alan Greenspan, and so on).

The overarching harm Republicans have done is to convince voters that the media can’t be trusted, to ignore facts about their policies – inflexible and absolutely hysterical like the gun lobby.  “Reasonable Republicanism was replaced by absolutism: NO new taxes, NO regulation, ABOLISH the EPA, IRS, and Federal Reserve, FORBID funding of studies on guns or global warming.”

There’s simply no evidence that Democrats are doing as much harm or believe in as many bizarre conspiracies or religious beliefs.  Polls have shown this.  Those who accuse Democrats of being socialists conveniently forget that Denmark is a real country, and like other “socialist” Scandinavian nations are the happiest, healthiest, and wealthiest per capita nations on earth.

This nuttiness may even be a sign of collapse.  If you look at the Greeks, the age of reason only lasted for 200 of the 700 years they existed.  After that  period, Greeks returned to astrology, magical cures, and alchemy, perhaps because they found freedom too scary, and were too frightened by the idea that their lives and fates weren’t predestined or managed by gods – of being on their own.

America’s Age of Enlightenment also appears to have only lasted for 200 years, from roughly 1800 to 2000.

Below are some, but by no means all, of the fantasyland topics Andersen covers. Some of them will be discussed in the next 8 posts, but not all of them.

  1. Evangelical Christian’s involvement in national politics.
  2. Drug use: speed, weed, psychedelics, tranquilizers, etc
  3. Scientology and what their main beliefs are (will save you tens of thousands of dollars to learn from this book rather than take courses…)
  4. The McCarthy persecution of imaginary communists, with Hollywood cooperation, ruining the careers and lives of many innocent people.
  5. Preacher Billy Graham: “communism was master-minded by Satan”.
  6. Since the 1920s, a hundred evangelical Bible institutes, plus colleges had opened.
  7. Fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches multiplied.
  8. Eisenhower was baptized at age 63 while President, appeared at 1st National Prayer Breakfast organized by fundamentalist Christians, added “under God” into the 87-year-old Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on the currency, made prayer a regular part of cabinet meetings
  9. Norman Vincent Peale: one of the first who marketed magical thinking about wealth and success, such as repeating bullet-point affirmations over and over
  10. Oral Roberts bought time on hundreds of TV stations to faith-heal people
  11. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network
  12. Jim Bakker & Tammy Faye
  13. Satan and the antichrist were taking over the world (the late great planet earth), which led to endless new satanic agents after that: China! Iran! Vaccines! Obama! Pope Francis! ISIS!
  14. Craziness existed on both the left and right. Anything goes meant leftist beliefs were just fine if you wanted to believe them, i.e. New Age shamans, astrology, ESP, homeopathy, healing crystals for particular invisible bodily chakra’s, non-christian faith healing via Reiki, channeling the spirits of the dead, channeling totally fictional people who never existed like Seth and Ramtha, getting touch with past lives.
  15. Dr Oz and half or more of everything he ever said on Oprah or his own TV show. He promotes miracle elixirs, homeopathy, imaginary energies, psychics who communicate with the dead, green coffee beans as a magical weight-loss cure, vaccines cause autism and other illnesses.
  16. Andrew Weil: Reiki, herbal, aromatherapy, magical energies.
  17. Alternative medicine. Replace the word “alternative” with “untested”.  Why can’t supplement companies and others selling snake oil who are earning billions of dollars afford to test what they’re selling, to not only make sure it’s effective, but SAFE?
  18. The Secret: the law of attraction. If you crave anything hard enough, it will become yours! This book sold 20 million copies! Guess what, the only reason a person doesn’t have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with your thoughts. Leave the details to the Universe about how it will happen.  But this magic can be wrecked by understanding the real world, such as watching the news or reading newspapers.
  19. Since reality was whatever you liked, this even more increased right wing extreme Christianity, full-blown conspiracism, libertarianism, unembarrassed greed, capitalist removal of regulations and taxes than beliefs on the left .
  20. Both left and right abandoned claims of reason and rationality.
  21. But the right used the anything goes idea to believe in far more dangerous and crazy things: gun rights, black helicopter conspiracism, climate change denial, biblical literacy, white supremacy, speaking in tongues, driving demons out of the possessed, Creationism and the denial of evolution, FEMA concentration camps, heaven, angels, hell, and Satan are REAL. Homeschooling and bible churches to teach creationism and keep children from being exposed to science.
  22. The setting of dates for The End of the World: the 2012 Mayan calendar, and too many cult and PEFC dates to list
  23. In the 1960s the idea that you could believe whatever you wish blossomed. Find your own truth. Mistrust authority. This empowered the right way more than the left.
  24. Esalen: a mother church for people who don’t like churches or religious but still want to believe in the supernatural. Especially other understandings of reality, such as Native American, Asian, or shamanistic traditions. Invisible energies, past lives, astral projection, Gestalt therapy,
  25. Mental illness as a superior way of perceiving reality and the dismantling of U.S. mental health facilities, science is a sinister scheme.
  26. Guru Maharaj Ji: followers were told that believers would be able to lift the Astrodome from the earth, and that Majaraj Ji would soon be revealed to be the One who was waited for by every religion for all times.
  27. The role of LSD and other drugs in helping to turn America into Fantasyland
  28. Flying saucer cults and abduction by aliens
  29. Starting in 1961, academics such as Michel Foucault, Thomas Kuhn, Charles Tart, and too many mentioned in the book to list, promoted the idea that all beliefs and approximations of truth, science as much as fables or religion, are merely stories devised by people to suit their own needs or interests. Reality is itself a social construction of useful or wishful myths that members of society have been persuaded to believe. Superstitions, magical thinking, and delusions are as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science.
  30. In short, academia said that you can believe whatever you want, because it’s pretty much all equally true and false.
  31. Anthropologists decided that oracles, diviners, incantations, and magical objects should be not just respected by considered equivalent to reason and science.
  32. Carlos Castaneda “Teachings of Don Juan”
  33. Parapsychology at UCLA, Princeton
  34. The war in Viet Nam longer than need be due to McNamara and Herman Kahn believing their shiny computerized approach was telling them the truth and solving complex military problems by feeding in the right variables. Lack of realizing that emotion drove the war far more than reason, as well as exaggerated fear of communism and concern for America’s superpower reputation
  35. SDS and other underground militant cells setting off hundreds of bombs and robbing banks
  36. John Birch Society. They believed 50-70% of the federal government was under the control of the Communist party, as well as academia, foundations, news media, the AMA, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Communism was a part of a greater global master conspiracy going back to the 18th century Illuminati. Even Eisenhower was obeying Communist orders, and had been for his whole life! But because the rise of the Birchers happened in the early 60s, before the forces of reason really started losing control, the mainstream media was able to quash it.  Especially by the establishment right, leaders of the conservative movement such as William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk.
  37. Not that it did any good. The book “None dare call it treason” authors accused a conspiracy of wealthy, educated, cultured insiders like the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, academia, mass media, and Illuminati were intent on creating a “world supra-government”.
  38. JFK conspiracies
  39. Christian home schooling to keep them within Bible-based bubbles of family and church
  40. Convicted their and embezzler Erich von Daniken’s book “Chariot of the Gods” which said that extraterrestrials had built the pyramids, Stonehenge, and more – this book sold tens of millions of copies.
  41. Fantasyland was further magnified by TV, movies, the internet, computer games, and other media. Disney land, civil war re-enactments, Middle Ages Society for Creative Anachronism.  Theme shopping malls, Old West steakhouses, Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, and architecture. It permeates our society.
  42. Lotteries, gambling, pornography, cosmetic surgery, pro-wrestling, Celebrities, Reality TV,
  43. Casino fantasy themes – ancient Egypt (the Luxor), medieval England (Excalibur), 17th century Caribbean (Treasure Island), Renaissance Italy (Venetian) and so on.
  44. Adults wearing costumes at Halloween, reading comic books, fantasy sports and camps,
  45. True right-wing believers had a fundamentalist religious faith in markets, a knee-jerk opposition to the government making markets work more fairly and better, and taxes of any kind. Now selfishness could be cloaked as righteousness, as Gordon Gekko proclaimed in the fiction book “Greed is good”. Real people claimed their moneymaking lust and skill made the virtuous.
  46. Ronald Reagan who made it known he expected apocalyptic biblical prophecies to be fulfilled soon due to his Christian end-of-days beliefs since the late 1960s. His many end-time proclamations would have been a shocking national embarrassment a decade earlier.
  47. The end of the Fairness Doctrine, which allowed Rush Limbaughs national right-wing radio show to flourish in 1988, followed by Fox News.
  48. In 1992 when author Andersen was reporting in Time magazine about talk radio, Roger Ailes was at NBC (later Fox). Ailes phoned Andersen out of the blue to yell at him about an article that didn’t exist. He said “How would you like it if I sent a CNBC camera crew to follow your kids home from school?” My daughters were four and six.  Anderson replied “Wow, I’m sure Jack Welch, the CEO of GE which owned NBC, would be interested to hear that his new news executive is planning to stalk a journalist’s children.
  49. Limbaugh and Fox meant that media stopped serving an important Democratic function – the presentation of a shared set of facts.
  50. Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. David Koresh took 75 of his disciples with him.
  51. Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber
  52. 9-11 was a government conspiracy
  53. Vincent Foster’s suicide
  54. Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM which hosts conspiracy theorists and promoters of political, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and apocalyptic beliefs of all kinds
  55. Alex Jones who rants against gun regulation, government subsidized healthcare, taxes, climate change is a hoax, Sandy Hook never happened and was staged with fake actors, cancer viruses in vaccines, and is followed by President Trump!!!!
  56. Conspiracies in The New World Order and Behold a Pale Horse about everyone from the Illuminate to the Federal Reserve in league to create a satanic one-world government as predicted in Revelation
  57. recovered memories of daughters that led them to accuse their fathers of raping them and participating in satanic rituals of human sacrifice and cannibalism, the invention of the fake diagnosis of multiple personality disorder,
  58. Shape shifting reptilian humanoids (see Time magazine’s article “The Reptilian Elite
  59. A movement called the Third Wave or dominionism to replace secular laws and constitutions with Biblical laws and a fully theocratic nation
  60. Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and was a Muslim
  61. The Tea Party, Drudge Report, Infowars, Breitbart
  62. Spy magazine wrote dozens of articles about Trump from 1986 to 1993, exposing his lies, brutishness, egomania, and absurdity. In return he sent threating letters and called them in public “a piece of garbage”.  Trump is driven by resentment of the Establishment. He doesn’t like experts because they interfere with his right as an American to believe or pretend that fictions are facts, to FEEL the truth. He sees conspiracies everywhere. He exploits the myths of white racial victimhood.  He’s a spoiled, impulsive, moody, 70-year-old BRAT.  And many more pages about Trump that are great but too long to paraphrase.
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One Response to Fantasyland Part 1. How America Went Haywire. A 500-Year History.

  1. pete markeiwicz says:

    A good compliment to this – Gary Lachman’s great “Turn off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius” –