I’ve been thinking about the word nostalgia lately. We tend to consider nostalgia as a warm and cozy feeling– of the sensation of comfort food, or at least comfort in that which was. I’ve been saying the word aloud to myself. It doesn’t sound like comfort, though. It sounds like an ailment. In fact, the suffix -algia means pain: Arthralgia (joint pain),Myalgia (muscle pain), Neuralgia (nerve pain), Fibromyalgia (widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue) are the most common -algias, except for the all consuming cultural ailment, Nostalgia. The closest association with pain might be homesickness, although we use the term nostalgia differently, and with decidedly positive associations. Perhaps nostalgia connotes a sense of childhood home, but it is often used more broadly as an evocation of affection for the past, which is remembered as being better than the present. If anything, nostalgia, rather than evoking pain, has an almost analgesic quality.
Technology has enabled increasing nostalgia, as film preservation and digital imaging has become more pervasive over the last few decades. Being able to revisit the cultural sign posts (especially through movies and tv,as well as restored audio/music), and the availability to watch and listen at any moment, has given us an unprecedented human experience of engaging with the past. We can not only remember and recall experientially, but we can watch and see and hear in the present while emotionally connecting to an experience not of the present, but of the past. Moreover, it feels anything but painful. It is comforting and often joyful. It is an escape from the pains of the present. In fact, our current high-tech culture allows us to dwell in the past and create an idealized version of the non-present. Nostalgia is selective memory that mutes pain. Perhaps the -algia suffix that refers to pain, is the pain of life that we seek to escape through selective memory or false memory.
The ever availability of accessing the sights and sounds of another time has been entertaining and relaxing, but it has also had an insidious effect of distorting not only time, but reality. Nostalgia has begun to infect our progress, by simplifying complex (cultural) organisms and processes that unfold over time, and deluding us into glorifying a time and/or place that didn’t have our current burdens.
Some have a distorted sense of nostalgia, which includes a perverted concept of culture and history. Lately we have seen and heard outrageous bigots caught revealing their hateful views. Whether it’s Cliven Bundy or Don Sterling, or F. Glenn Miller (who went on a shooting spree at Jewish Centers and killed people who were not even Jewish), or Paula Deen or George Zimmerman, these now infamous bigots, along with the many not so famous bigots, are the outliers (albeit too many in number) who have yet to evolve from or even understand the virulence of selfishness and hate. Even odder, many who claim that racism is a thing of the past because we have civil rights laws, indulge their own outrageous hate fantasies with the cognitive dissonance that allows them to see themselves as not-racists, but just as individuals with individual preferences. Of course, they often couch their personal beliefs in the good old days that never really existed. This is distorted nostalgia that infects.
Like the resurgence of Whooping Cough and Measles, once terrible diseases that were relatively easily eradicated in childhood through vaccination, bigotry and hate are making a comeback, and lately seem to be rather virulent. Scientists have expressed concern that those who have not vaccinated their children against terrible childhood diseases have contributed to recent outbreaks of these diseases, thought to have been nearly eliminated. The idea that one’s own preference or experience is all that matters, and the notion that there is more at risk today than ever, are the kinds of distortions that allow even a minority of people to inflict immense pain and difficulty upon others.
This wave of Libertarianism/hyper-individualism in the age of the Internet, combined with a fondness for nostalgia which emphasizes only what one finds delightful or of his/her experience, and disregards the rest, ignores the complexities of science and history, as well as cultural health. Re-examining protocols of the past, and ensuring that laws and practices protect the most vulnerable and the public at large, is an ongoing worthwhile pursuit. However, we can not retreat to nostalgia, which, although pain relieving, is distorting, and for some, ignores serious complexities that demand our attention to keep us healthy.
2 thoughts on “Nostalgia and Other Ailments”
This part…Re-examining protocols of the past, and ensuring that laws and practices protect the most vulnerable and the public at large, is an ongoing worthwhile pursuit. However, we can not retreat to nostalgia, which, although pain relieving, is distorting, and for some, ignores serious complexities that demand our attention to keep us healthy…exactly! Well said. Great post!