Post-Truth Politics is a term that may have just come in to focus in after the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump. But Kurt Andersen shows readers we’ve been drifting away from truth for a long time with his book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

First, it’s important to figure out what Fantasyland is. Fantasyland is what Andersen posits is a uniquely American state of mind that allows people to believe profoundly unlikely or impossible things. Like when 45% people believe in ghosts, or that vaccinations cause autism despite the science, or that 15% of people say the most likely road to riches is the lottery, or that being able to pick your lottery numbers makes you more likely to win the lottery (it doesn’t). It’s believing that zombies will one day walk the earth (a surprisingly common fantasy). It’s unjustified confidence. It’s cosplay. It’s 9/11 conspiracies. It’s Mormonism. It’s Scientology. It’s fear of Zionist plots and lizard people. It’s creationism. It’s celebrity worship. It’s wrestling. It’s gun culture. It’s saying millions of illegal votes lost the popular vote. It’s believing millions of illegal votes lost the popular vote. It’s the rampant spread of those ideas through the power of the internet. Fantasyland is believing that truth is relative. Fantasyland is believing that if one believes something, that’s as valid as someone who can prove something.

If you’re like me, you may think our fixation with untruth and façade started around the time of social media, or television, or movies. But Andersen posits this disconnect is really the ultimate expression of the many compromises to truth we’ve made in the United States. Andersen examines how our nation started with hucksterism, and continued on rewarding and perverting untruth. He tells the story that for a long time we’ve let the power of truth be on the same level as the power of opinion.

He also examines many stories of untruths we’ve believed as a nation, and the consequences of those untruths. Like the Satanic Panic of the 80s; or Pizzagate; or Celebration, Florida; or the National Institutes of Health’s Alternative Medical Center. Each story gives a deeper understanding of how common and detrimental untruth is.

Untruth has something that I have been growing sour on. From Donald Trump saying outright lies, to the perfect photo on Instagram set up to look caught in the act (who took that photo anyway?). And, in that sense, this book serves as a pat on the back rant for those who are tired of being inundated with bullshit. It doesn’t prove anything to the unbelievers of untruth. You have to be open to these ideas to learn from them.

Fantasyland also doesn’t really prescribe a fix. But, maybe diagnosing the problem will help serve to identify it easier in the future.

I don’t know if this is an empirically good book. But, I liked it. And I guess that counts for something?

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fantasyland-how-america-went-haywire-a-500-year-history-by-kurt-andersenI don't know if this is an empirically good book. But, I liked it. And I guess that counts for something?