Everything sucks these days, or so it seems, or so they say, so nostalgia is having a lot of appeal these days. There is no question that nostalgia does indeed have such great psychic zing to it and even has a healthy role in life, but it’s hardly the kind of substitute for coping with the world as it is or planning for what the future should look like, the way too many people seem to suggest these days — “If only we could go back to…” We’ve reached the stage of nostalgia overload.
The basic thesis in this informal paper is that a lot of people seem overwhelmed by the state of the world, country, society, technology, you name it, and nostalgia has a very alluring appeal, but ultimately it is not very satisfying at all. Everybody (so many people, that is) desperately want some significant aspects of their personal and group nostalgia restored in the present time, but, that: 1) isn’t possible, and 2) won’t work, even if everybody could agree, and they can’t.
So, the real question and challenge then is how to… TRANSCEND nostalgia, to distill “lessons learned” and then figure out how to blend present day life and at least some of those “lessons from nostalgia” in some at least halfway-consensual manner that produces… happiness, of some sort, for the greatest number of people.
The crux of the problem is that so many groups want, insist, and DEMAND that ALL of their chosen personal or group nostalgia MUST be restored to present day America. No compromise, either — ALL of it, period. As they say on the streets of NYC… good luck with that!
One big question for people to ponder…
For you, personally (and your main preferred social group), is nostalgia:
- An amusing but fleeting thought?
- A pleasant reminder of The Good Life — that you would like to restore?
- An unpleasant reminder of The Good Life — that you know is gone forever or wasn’t that great in the first place?
- A great passion?
- An obsession?
- Living in the past is fine, just ignore those who don’t share your vision of “the good life”?
More questions to follow. First, some background.
Aspects of nostalgia
What do me mean by nostalgia? Typically we mean some combination of:
- Our own personal lives at some moment, when things were going really well for us.
- Where we lived, worked, went to school, played, etc.
- Our own health.
- Our own wealth.
- People we have lost since then.
- Culture — music, movies, TV shows, magazines, games, sports teams, events, personalities.
- Leaders — political, business, spiritual, activists.
- Modes of transportation.
- Recreational opportunities.
- Moral code.
- Educational opportunities.
- Economic opportunities.
- Health care.
- Housing opportunities.
- Racial and ethnic relations.
- Lucky breaks that we had.
- Great successes we had.
- Misfortunes that befell us and what could have been.
- Missed opportunities.
Here are some questions to ponder:
- What does nostalgia mean to you, besides the specifics? Already covered that question in the introduction.
- What decade would you like to go back to?
- What year would you like to go back to?
- What 3–5 year period would you like to go back to?
- What relatively recent year would you like to go back to that would make you so much happier than you are today?
- What is the earliest recent year that you definitely wouldn’t want to go back to since later years were so much better for you and earlier years were so much worse?
What would be best for others in society?
The answers to these tests may vary significantly depending on who you are trying to answer them for:
- Your own family.
- Your friends.
- Your own neighborhood.
- Your own community.
- Your own social group.
- Your own career.
- Your own company or industry.
- Your own race, ethnicity, gender, and overall income.
- Any of the above for somebody else or different circumstances.
- All of society.
Some challenging aspects
Not meaning to be exhaustive, here are some challenging questions to consider when contemplating the desirability of returning to any given year or decade:
- What would be your chances of surviving or being cured of cancer be like?
- What level of medical care would you get?
- What would the buying power of your household income be?
- What would race and ethnic relations be like?
- In what decade or year did women have greater access to opportunity?
- In what decade or year were racial relations better?
- In what decade or year would race relations be better for blacks?
- In what decade or year would race relations be better for Hispanics?
- In what decade or year would race relations be better for Asians?
- In what decade or year would relations be better for immigrants?
- In what decade or year would you have an easier time getting a job?
- In what decade or year would you have greater educational opportunities?
- In what decade or year would you have greater access to quality health care?
- In what decade or year would you have greater respect for politicians?
- In what decade or year would you have greater respect for business leaders?
- In what decade or year would you have greater respect for social activists?
- In what decade or year would you have greater respect for the media — newspapers, magazines, TV, radio?
- In what decade or year would you have greater respect for professional athletes?
- In what decade or year would you have greater respect for hollywood movie stars?
- Would you be better off with or without social media?
- Would you be better off with or without the Internet?
- Would you be better off with or without TV?
- Would you be better off with or without rock and roll music?
When considering our chosen nostalgia and comparing it to recent years, exactly what lessons can we learn from:
- What we had then.
- What we lost after that.
- What we gained since then.
And just as importantly:
- What others had.
- What others lost.
- What others gained.
- Other individuals, friends, family, colleagues, or strangers.
- Other races.
- Other ethnicities.
- Other income levels.
- Other careers.
- Other schools.
- Other neighborhoods.
- Other communities.
- Other companies.
- Other industries.
- Other states.
- The entire country.
Blending nostalgia and the present day and future
There will be plenty of conflicts between everybody’s preferred nostalgic periods. This results in some combination of:
- Win-lose — a win for one person or group may be a loss for another person or group.
- Win-win — certainly there are areas in which everybody or nearly everybody is better off in at least some aspects of society.
- Roll the dice — sometimes a risk is better than any known certainty.
- Status quo — plenty of things can’t or won’t be changed, or were just fine to some degree.
- Trends — some changes and outcomes are inevitable. You can see the writing on the wall.
- Unknown — regardless of what we want, some change will just happen, no matter what, with no significant advance warning.
Consensus and compromise
Maybe we can all come to agreement, maybe not.
Sometimes consensus is achievable, sometimes not. How badly do we want it? Some may not even like consensus, even if achievable.
Sometimes a little compromise will do the trick, sometimes a lot of compromise is needed. And sometimes some people and groups simply can’t accept compromise, no matter what.
Sometimes we have no choice than to accept fate. Free will, choice, consensus, and compromise are great, when they can be had, but sometimes they just can’t be had, at any price.
Back to nostalgia
Sometimes the future is simply too difficult to grasp or grapple with.
Sometimes even the present is too difficult to grasp, grapple, or even cope with.
Nostalgia to the rescue! Or so we think.
Nostalgia is great for what it is, memories of the past. At least some of them are pleasant.
Just make sure you keep in mind that there are other people in the boat of life than you, your friends, and people like you.
And even if you could magically restore things to just the way they were, wouldn’t it be so much grander to make them even better, even if just for yourself, but for everybody else as well?
No magic answer
Sorry, I have no magic answer. The intent here is to get people to think more carefully about the role of nostalgia in their lives, to try to think of others with divergent views, and then to contemplate how to blend all of our pasts, all of our presents, and all of our preferences in some semi-consensual manner.
Meanwhile, until such a happy consensus emerges, enjoy the slugfest!
Oh, and do feel free to enjoy at least some of your own personal nostalgia, just in moderation, please.