In Hucksters We Trust

America has always loved its hucksters and con-men (and women). In fact, one article described this ever-thriving industry the “American fantasy-industrial complex.”

America has always loved its hucksters and con-men (and women).

In fact, one article described this ever-thriving industry the “American fantasy-industrial complex”.

It would be easy to sum up American history as a series of explorations (sometimes literal) for everything from gold, to God to lost cities to the Fountain of Youth to mythical beings and encounters with forces (if not entities) from other galaxies, dimensions and realities.

Promises of wealth, eternal youth and quasi-magical (and mysteriously acquired) power were part of the marketing to get colonists to leave comfortable homes.

Fear, famine and religious, ethnic or political persecution were of course, useful in “inspiring” emigres (and more than a few were indentured servants, slaves or prisoners) but the promise of a “new world” stood — and for many still stands as the ultimate lure for entrepreneurs and opportunists from every corner of the world.

Mix in a measure of faith, fear and condemnation, and you have a potent if not irresistible force.

In most North American colonies for example, Massachusetts, in particular, the official, chartered “colonizers” were religious zealots — an extreme subset of an extreme faction (Puritans) of a new religion (Protestantism) who believed with an unyielding ferocity that they were God’s chosen people intentionally chosen and sent to the New World to create a theocracy, wage wars on Satan’s agents (Native people, witches) and await Jesus’s return.

It takes some audacity to claim scriptural and divine authority for one’s self and one’s mission and destiny.

But those colonizers were up for the task. The Conquistadors were even more focused. Combining lust for gold with divine proclamations (as in the horrific Doctrine of Discovery, which, in summary authorized the Church {Roman Catholic, of course} to either own everything it “discovered” or take it by force from any “pagans” who might hesitate to give it)

In Virginia, among other colonies, eventually, actual or potential colonists were convinced they would find gold and get rich, and took unbridled wealth as a given ever since, in spite of the lack of any actual gold — or any miracle substitute for economic servitude.

America, (both North and South) as most of us have probably forgotten, literally got its name from Amerigo Vespucci — who was not an explorer or colonist, and never ventured into the western hemisphere, but was a printer, and made a fortune selling maps featuring dragons, adventures and untold treasures with, of course, his name prominently placed across them all.

Streets paved with gold — or something like it

It would be easy to make the case that in America, the first colonizing white people in America self-selected for gullibility, being true believers and/or suckers.

Most world religions were founded a millennium (or two) ago in the parched desert regions of the world, but North America had its own “wilderness”, and as (at least on the East Coast” European culture and sensibilities collided with Native cultures and a level of “wildness” that boggled most sedate European minds, the inevitable happened – extravagant, if not intoxicating, highly supernatural religion, the rise of miracle cures and medical quackery, spiritualism, conspiracism, alien encounters and more.

Much more. The wilder and more preposterous, the better. Or at least the most profitable.

And many say that today, armed with technology and devices (in our hands and in front of our eyes) that seem designed to exaggerate our differences and our worst fears, insist that we’re going through a Second Great Delirium.

You might think of the 1950s as the era of the suburban sub-division with vast neighborhoods of look-alike houses and urban centers (and schools) across the country going for a “mid-century modern” quasi-industrial, or at least mass-produced, standardized look — and primarily it was — but it was also the era that offered, or at least promised, an escape from the dull conformity.

As different as they are, consider how similar the appeal, (if not product) these “movements” or industries were (and largely still are) selling — Las Vegas, Playboy, the Beats, Disneyland, Scientology, the Billy Graham Crusades and McCarthyism.

And if the Cold War and nuclear annihilation were not frightening enough, we came up with big screen terrors like King Kong or Godzilla.

And of course, super-heroes with magical powers (mysteriously acquired) who (we presumed) were on our side.

In their own way, those stories, places and commercially available experiences held aloft an escape; their own “promised land” with slogans that dangled like irresistible bait before the eyes of a culture hungry for more (or everything) and, apparently money to burn.

Who among us could resist “The happiest place on earth” or avoid at least fantasizing about the fine print or legal reach behind a phrase like “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”?

The 1960s were not that different, but with a different emphasis; the anti-establishment predisposition started becoming more and more extreme and dominant — and popular – leading eventually to the various “fair and balanced” “alternative facts” of the media constructed world we inhabit now.

And if you think we learned anything from those eras, you probably don’t (or choose not to ) remember the 1980s and early ’90s with the vastly overblown fear of child kidnapping, the promotion of bogus psychiatric diagnoses and false memories of abuse and extraterrestrial abduction, and most especially, the so-called Satanic Panic, in which dozens, if not hundreds of innocent people were convicted of performing satanic ritual abuse and imprisoned.

And who could forget the lurid, (and highly profitable) marketing wrapped around the “Left Behind” series?

With books and movies that warned about “globalism” and the “One world government” taking over our laws, health and our shopping habits, and with a recurring plot-line that believers “would never be deceived”, how could our culture be anything other than the vitriolic, self-righteous, burn-it all-down, right-at-any-cost, hostile and hyper-sensitive adversarial setting we currently find ourselves in?

From the local supermarket to family gatherings, breathless headlines and whispered conversations warn us all with vivid conspiracy theories about the New Agers, the New World Order and globalism, and of course, the never-ending fascination of “the end times”.

And now, who need aliens, “commies” or terrorists when we have “wokism” our own devices and “cancel -culture” to be afraid of?

When we assume that everyone, from Supreme Court justices to our next-door neighbor is deceiving us (or at least attempting to) we, like most children (and more than a few public figures) are projecting our fears and fantasies on everyone else around us.

Consider how many you might know who don’t like experts (in any area from public health to Constitutional rights) because they interfere with their rights as an American to believe or pretend that fictions are facts, to feel the truth, and see conspiracies everywhere; and, of course, the ever-popular fear that, up until recently, few would dare put into words, the tantalizing, and invigorating myths of white racial victimhood/replacement.

In every arena, we can do better than we have and as Abraham Lincoln, put it, we could appeal to our “better angels” instead of the near constant brawl and noise that seems to define us now.