Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Feb 28, 2006


A friend recently asked me whether I was ever nostalgic about some of our long-ago activities and I found myself somewhat startled by the question. After a while, I concluded that I really wasn't nostalgic, and it hadn't even occured to me that I should be.

It got me wondering about the nature of nostalgia. When I was younger I would have occasionally fierce bouts of nostalgia for when I was a small child, but I don't have these any more. I don't understand the purpose of the nostalgia items people buy (old-fashioned soda machines, copies of old shop signs, etc.).

I realized, then, that nostalgia is actually a very destructive emotion. It comes about, not because the past was bright, but because the present is grim and the future seems bleak. It is not about fond remembrances, it is about avoiding either the real nature of the present or the effort of striving for a better future. It is even worse when you paint the past in a rosy glow that it never really possessed, because this can serve to prevent you from taking pleasure in what you have now by comparing it to an impossible standard.

I have no reason to be nostalgic. At no time in my life was I ever better off than I am now, at this very moment, and the future promises to be very bright because I am acting to make it so. If you find yourself feeling nostalgic, I would seriously examine what's so wrong with your present that you feel a need to retreat from it. The answers may be very illuminating indeed.


EdMcGon said...

I agree with you on this as far as young people being nostalgic.

However, when old people get nostalgic, there is something else going on: recognition of pending mortality. Nostalgia for the elderly is more of an exercise in holding on to life and respecting those things whose time has past.

But that's just my theory.

Myrhaf said...

I think the psychology behind nostalgia is the same as that behind the idea of childhood as innocent: people remember their youth as a time when they had ideals. Their lives were imbued with excitement and a sense of purpose. Then they became adults and compromised their ideals. They stopped striving for lofty goals and settled into a routine.

That's bad nostalgia. But on the other hand, there could be rational nostalgia. The world was a different place before the New Leftist cultural revolution. When I see old movies from the '30s, I am fascinated by how stylized their lives were -- their clothes, hair, hats, speech, manners. All of this was swept away by the egalitarian tsunami that drowned the '60s and '70s.

Or how about this example? The 1959 Oldsmobile, I believe, had 900 lbs. of chrome on it. The thing was a tank (and safer for passengers in an accident than today's cars). Because of environmentalist regulations and union costs, such a car could not be built affordably today. I think it is perfectly rational to long for something that our encroaching state has destroyed.

(Sorry for going on so long. If I was still blogging, all this would have made a nice post.)

Jennifer Snow said...

I think getting nostalgic about another time, regardless of whether you're old or young, is a sign that you've relinquished the good times to the past and no longer hold out hope for having better ones in the future.

I can understand being nostalgic if you're very old and have started to lose functions, but I still don't think it's a good thing, much like it isn't good to get old and decrepit, it's just going to happen whether you like it or not.

EdMcGon said...

Myrhaf, there is a difference between nostalgia and respect for quality. I can respect the quality of a '59 Olds even though I was not alive at the time.