Yesterday, I listened to a discussion with Kurt Andersen about his new book Fantasyland – and something clicked. Because I haven’t actually read this book (though listened to a second interview), I won’t attempt to summarize his argument here. I will, however, run with his idea, which may or may not be true to his points (for that we’ll have to read his book…): The fundamental thing that differentiates the United States from Europe is that people in the U.S. tend toward living in Fantasyland. The white people who came to the colonies way back when self-selected based on the fantasy (as it turned out to be for many) that their lives would dramatically improve, so this is in the very fabric of the U.S..
And I see it everywhere from the fantasy that the U.S. is a country of the free (when that’s true only in the sense of a limited kind of freedom) to Facebook’s contention that the people I am connected to are friends (probably even the idea that it provides connections is a fantasy…). The U.S. self-image is largely based on fantasy. In reality, the promise of the country was (and still mostly is) limited to a very small group of rich white men. The U.S. was founded on stolen land with the blood and exploitation of people not even deemed fully human. The central idea of capitalism in the U.S. is also a fantasy: Hard work does not lead to success and happiness (at least not most of the time) – and it is becoming less so as what upward mobility was there is eroding.
Of course, Europeans aren’t immune to fantasy (their support of homeopathy is just one example) but they seem to be more grounded in reality, including less religious. Maybe the biggest fantasy has also prevented more of a social contract in the U.S.: Individualism. In Europe, workers are more likely to form and support unions because they know that individual success depends on others. They are less likely to subscribe to the fantasy of the “self-made man.”
All this typed, I am even more eager to read Andersen’s book because I want to see the evidence he presents, especially since I am realizing how I don’t yet fully understand his argument of how the U.S. went haywire in recent years. However, based on my own experience and limited research, the idea that USAmericans tend toward more pie-in-the-sky living resonates. And that idea might be very detrimental to us and the planet as a whole.