American Chimera: Our Long History of Delusion

As Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration draws near, the level of apprehension over the potential for violence increases. Violence premised on a lie. Violence instigated with no basis of moral, legal, or ethical reasoning. Violence threatened by those either unwilling or unable to discern fact from fiction. It would seem we have a long history of such things.

Mayflower Lives' Review: The Pilgrims in Flesh and Spirit - WSJ
Wall Street Journal Image

The history they taught me about the “discovery” of America was a false narrative. The Pilgrims, or a more accurate appellation, Puritans, didn’t come here to establish religious freedom. They came here to escape religious persecution by the Church of England and to establish their own theocracy.

It wasn’t religious tolerance they sought, it was doctrinal dominance. Soon after, nights lit by the burning of witches revealed their embracing myths and lies. And let’s not even go down the road of a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner shared with the natives. Another twisted image of reality.

This foundation of a white-washed image of the beginnings of English influence in America sheds light on our proclivity to self-deception. One might argue many of those who came to America were chasing a lie. And the tendency to twist the facts to fit their own truth became ingrained in our society.

I am reading a fascinating book called Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen. He paints a picture of the falsehoods and lies sold to many English to lure them to this new land.

“Most of the 120,000 indentured servants and adventurers who sailed to the [South] in the seventeenth century,” according to the University of Pennsylvania historian Walter McDougall’s history of America, Freedom Just Around the Corner, “did not know what lay ahead but were taken in by the propaganda of the sponsors.” The historian Daniel Boorstin went even further, suggesting that “American civilization [has] been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising.” Western civilization’s first great advertising campaign was created in order to inspire enough dreamers and suckers to create America.

Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History (p. 22). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. location 444

It would seem we have often been taken in by the words and lies of someone like Donald Trump almost from the beginning of the nation. And now we have taken it to a new height. A significant number of Americans embrace two poorly crafted fantasies devoid of even a semblance of validity, the Q-Anon Conspiracy and the lies this election was stolen from Donald Trump by an equally sophisticated and widespread conspiracy.

I’ve struggled to understand how so many otherwise rational Americans are taken in by such nonsense. How is it Americans firmly believe in things that cannot be proven or often are easily disproven?

From a variety of respectable survey organizations, we have these startling statistics :

  • 55 percent of Americans say they believe in angels.
  • Only 39 percent say they accept the concept of evolution.
  • Only 36 percent say they believe global warming is partly anthropogenic (i.e., caused by human activity).
  • 34 percent say they believe in ghosts.
  • 34 percent believe in UFOs.

As many as 69% of Americans who regularly attend religious services accept the “creationist” viewpoint, i.e., the belief that a single, omnipotent God literally created all there is.

Psychology Today

We are a nation lacking a fundamental understanding of basic science. We are inclined to fantasies more than facts. The biologist E. O. Wilson said, “We have created a Star Wars civilization with Stone Age emotions.”

“If one has enough belief in the supernatural plan, if one’s personal faith is strong enough, false prophecies are just unfortunate miscalculations that don’t falsify anything. If you’re fanatical enough about enacting and enforcing your fiction, it becomes indistinguishable from nonfiction.”

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen Kindle version location 595

Francis Bacon, the English Philosopher, was a strong purveyor of the myths of migrating to America and often promulgated the same unsubstantiated misrepresentations or, at worst, outright lies about the abundance of gold in the New World and the welcoming arms of the locals toward Englishmen. Locals, those encouraging emigration to the New World insisted, were desperate to embrace the “enlightenment” of English civilization.

“We have created a Star Wars civilization with Stone Age emotions.”

E.O. Wilson

Perhaps the willingness of many to plunge into the New World based on such myths led him to write this about human understanding.

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate….And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much oftener, neglect and pass them by.”

Francis Bacon, The New Organon

And further on, he says,

“Once the human mind has favored certain views, it pulls everything else into agreement with and support for them. Should they be outweighed by more powerful countervailing considerations, it either fails to notice these, or scorns them, or makes fine distinctions in order to neutralize and so reject them.”

(Francis Bacon, The New Organon)

So perhaps it is in our DNA to embrace those fallacies because they appeal to something innate within us. Maybe this explains why, since the incident of January 6th, 2021, many have spent hours and days crafting explanations and justifications for that which can never be justified. Yet, it finds acceptance by those whose fundamental beliefs need soothing reassurance.

If violence rages once again on Inauguration day, Wilson’s contention we have Stone Age emotions may be overly generous.

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An Open Letter to President-Elect Joe Biden

Here’s an earlier piece I wrote way back in June 2019 in the good ‘ole days before Covid-19. Back then the outlook for a change of administrations was an uncertainty. Now, it is a reality.

Yet, more so than ever, we need to hold President-elect Biden to these higher standards and we expect, no, we demand, a return of the America we lost during these last four years. And we expect that while he cannot change the past, he will insure a better future by not ignoring science and rationalism overself-aggrandizing political posturing and lies.

It would seem to me he has kept some of these promises already in the manner in which he ran his campaign, in the historic and long overdue selection of a woman of color to be Vice-President, and in his focus on surrounding himself with the best and the brightest to combat the pandemic.

But we expect more of the same.

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Seal of the President of the United States - Wikipedia

Promise Me, Joe

Before America puts its fate in your hands, we need some assurances. You, more so than most candidates, including the incumbent, appreciate the enormous burdens and responsibilities facing the President of the United States. While you can tell us what you want to accomplish, anyone with any common sense understands how the realities of the world can change the best of intentions. With that in mind I’d like you to promise me some things.

Promise me, Joe.

Promise me, Joe, you will run a campaign focusing on the issues facing America not wallow in the infantile churlish behavior of name calling twitter wars.

Promise me, Joe, you will act in accordance with what is in the best interest of the American people not what tracks with any political agenda or platform yet always bearing in mind we are part of the world at large.

Promise me, Joe, you will remember we have a government comprising
three equal powers and you will treat them with the same dignity and respect you expect for the office you seek.

Promise me, Joe, you will work to embrace bi-partisan cooperation with Congress. Do not seek Congressional acquiescence seek their input into developing policies and laws which lead America out of the morass of the past few years.  

Promise me, Joe, you will restore the dignity and respect for the Office of the President so callously and foolishly twittered away over the past few years.

Promise me, Joe, you will form policies that protect America
without losing our willingness to embrace those in need.

Promise me, Joe, you will never put children in cages no matter what resources it may take to accomplish this. Of all the disasters of policy, this is the most troubling.

Promise me, Joe, you will not waste time attacking the media or your critics but focus on addressing legitimate problems the freedom of the press uncovers and valid criticisms raised.

Promise me, Joe, you will not waste time talking about making America great again but foster the things that have always made us
great.

Promise me, Joe, you will restore America’s standing in the eyes of the world not threaten and challenge to promote jingoistic and nationalist propaganda.

Promise me, Joe, you will foster a global approach to policy recognizing the inherent right of all people, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin, to live in a peaceful world with a fair opportunity to thrive.

Promise me, Joe, you will renew the promise of the enlightenment where intelligent discourse arrives at solutions based on rational, in-depth analysis.

Promise me, Joe, you will select Supreme Court candidates not for their willingness to promote your policies but for their fealty to the Constitution of the United States.

Promise me, Joe, you will work diligently to ensure the rights of women to control their own bodies is not usurped by selfish religious fervor disguised as concern for others.

Promise me, Joe, you will wield the enormous military power of this country to defend us, our allies, and those who cannot defend themselves. Never to intimidate, cajole, or terrorize others.

Promise me, Joe, you will recapture the spirit of those great men who have gone before you into the Office of the President and,

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

President John F. Kennedy

Promise me, Joe, we will no longer be the nation once described by a former ally who said,

“It is hard to be America’s enemy, but it is harder to be her friend.”

President Thieu, Republic of South

Promise me, Joe, it will never once again be difficult to be America’s friend and you will lead the nation with a firm but fair hand, with a bent toward compassion, and with willingness to ensure the continuity of the greatness of America.

Promise me, Joe, you will remember the greatness of America comes not from our power as a nation but from the American people themselves.

Promise me, Joe. There has never been a greater time in history when the world needs to know America is that bright, shining city on the hill.

Promise me, Joe.

We DID Start The Fire…

Two fires are burning in America, both fueled by ignorance, indifference, and plain old stupidity.

Curious Kids: when I swipe a matchstick how does it make fire?

In the western US, wildfires burn out of control, consuming millions of acres of forests, entire towns, killing unknown numbers of wildlife, and destroying humans. Many of our fellow Americans push aside the overwhelming evidence of climate change—the intensity of these fires and resulting firestorms are a symptom of the problem—for politics or because of a vested interest in ignoring the science.

Despite the enormous evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we have a President who ignores it all and tells people to “rake their leaves.” That such an unsophisticated, uninformed, scientifically bereft attitude exists in 21st century America is astounding.

We are returning to the Dark Ages where mystics and charlatans guided decisions absent any rational basis. They hide their actions from us by the smoke of fires of our own creation.

We ignore these signs at our own peril, for the earth is resilient. Like any sophisticated, self-sustaining system, our planet has an immune system. If we continue down this path, the earth may come to see us not as the most fantastic product of evolution, but a dangerous one. The signs are already there with glaciers disappearing, sea levels rising, temperatures climbing, and storm intensities increasing.

The planet will protect itself either with us… or from us.

We repeat the pattern of ignoring problems in hopes they will just go away in other matters, the other fire burning across this country—the fire of racism, intolerance, and violent resistance to acknowleding the inequalities in our society.

Despite the mounds of evidence of climate change and racism, we continue to ignore the signs. The only difference between these two issues is we have been ignoring racism for a much longer period, despite having documented it with our own words. Words written by well-intentioned (mostly) individuals or commissions, published with a grand ceremony, then forgotten when the attention fades,

In 1922, the Chicago Commission of Race Relations published a seven-hundred-page report entitled “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and Race Riot.” The report documented evidence of housing and employment discrimination and brutal mistreatment at the hands of the police and the criminal justice system.

(From the report) “… investigations indicate that Negroes are more commonly arrested, subjected to police identification, and convicted than white offenders, that on similar evidence they are generally held and convicted on more serious charges, and that they are given longer sentence… These practices and tendencies are not only unfair to Negroes, but weaken the machinery of Justice and, when taken with the greater inability of Negroes to pay fines in addition to or in lieu of terms of jail, produce misleading statistics of Negro crime.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1935, following riots in Harlem, another report said.

“… The sudden breach of the public order was the result of a highly emotional situation among the colored people of Harlem, due in large part to the nervous strain of years of unemployment and insecurity…it is probable that their justifiable pent-up feelings, that they were victims of gross injustice and prejudice, would sooner or later have brought about an explosion…

The blame belongs to a society that tolerates inadequate and often wretched housing, inadequate and inefficient schools and other public facilities, unemployment, unduly high rents, lack of recreational grounds, discrimination in industry and public utilities against colored people, brutality and lack of courtesy of the police.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1977, Michael Lipsky and David J. Olson published a study entitled “Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America.” They said between 1917 and 1943, at least twenty-one commissions were appointed to investigate race riots.

Take a look at you and me,

are we too blind to see,

do we simply turn our heads

and look the other way

Well the world turns

Despite the sincerity and good intentions of theses twenty-one commissions, nothing changed. The reports were printed, distributed, read, and forgotten.

The Kerner Commission, the grandaddy of race riot reports written after the Watts Riot in LA in the 1960s, is another example. Well written and meticulously researched, it documented the conditions leading to the riot and was largely ignored.

President Lyndon Johnson, who could not understand why his Great Society initiative—Voter Rights Act, Welfare Reform, and other programs—did not solve the problem, refused to accept it.

Nothing changed.

In 1969, Elvis Presley had a hit record called In the Ghetto, written by Mac Davis. A prophetic tune then, and now.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
’cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
it’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
People, don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way
Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
And his hunger burns
so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal
and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto
Then one night in desperation
a young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto
As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

 We face a turning point in America. The challenges we face– the raging inferno of wildfires amplified by climate change, and the hellish nightmare of our failure to address racism and discrimination against our fellow Americans–can be our descent into Armageddon or our rise to Enlightenment.

There have been times in our history when a leader emerged—often one we might least suspect of having the courage or ability—to guide and unite us in a time of need.

George Washington, a surveyor and soldier, who rose to become the epitome of a selfless statesman dedicated to the good of the country, led us through the birth of a nation.

Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky woodsman who rose to lead us toward reunifying the country and abolishing slavery. Who knows how different we might have been if he had lived out his second term?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once seen as weak and ineffectual, rose to lead us out of not one, but two dangerous dark times in our history, the Great Depression and World War II.

We face such a choice this November. Can Joe Biden rise to this moment in history and lead this country out of the conflagration we face? I am uncertain. But I am sure of this; Mr. Trump will not. He is not the leader we desperately need at this moment in history.

We need someone to quell the flames, not fan them.

We need someone who embraces science and reason, not disparages it,

We need someone with compassion for the challenges facing people of color, not one who openly encourages white supremacy and fear-mongering.

There is one other thing I am confident we do not need. We do not need another commission to study these problems. We need a leader who will gather the best and the brightest among us and craft solutions.

Or the song will just repeat itself all over again and the country will continue to burn until there is nothing left of America…

As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

Signup here for our mailing list for information on all upcoming releases, book signings, and media appearances.