August 10, 2017

How America Lost Its Mind

Kurt Andersen – The Atlantic:

America was created by true believers and passionate dreamers, and by hucksters and their suckers, which made America successful—but also by a people uniquely susceptible to fantasy, as epitomized by everything from Salem’s hunting witches to Joseph Smith’s creating Mormonism, from P. T. Barnum to speaking in tongues, from Hollywood to Scientology to conspiracy theories, from Walt Disney to Billy Graham to Ronald Reagan to Oprah Winfrey to Trump. In other words: Mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that ferment for a few centuries; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s and the internet age. The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.

We need to adopt new protocols for information-media hygiene. Would you feed your kids a half-eaten casserole a stranger handed you on the bus, or give them medicine you got from some lady at the gym?

And fight the good fight in the public sphere. One main task, of course, is to contain the worst tendencies of Trumpism, and cut off its political-economic fuel supply, so that fantasy and lies don’t turn it into something much worse than just nasty, oafish, reality-show pseudo-conservatism. Progress is not inevitable, but it’s not impossible, either.

Thoughtful, long essay expounding on, as the article’s title indicates, how America lost its mind. It rings true, and may be the most cohesive long-term explication of our current American malaise. I highly recommend taking the time to read this and give it thought. It offers no solutions besides the final two paragraphs, cited above, but it does knit together a compelling view of how we got where we are culturally, politically, and economically. Perhaps its only glaring lapse is exclusion of the very long-simmering undercurrent of race in America, but then racism has always been built upon irrational thought, while those other aspects of American life were not.

The article also dovetails nicely with Asimov’s claim that “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.”

So where do we go from here? Has the American experiment succumbed to its own success, devolving into hundreds of millions of individual belief-worlds? Where is the end of the fake reality saddling us with anti-science, anti-intellectualism, and Donald Trump?

#american #culture #individualism #fake #reality

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