The Slippery Slope That Is Nostalgia

“It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.” – Ally Condie

Nostalgia. It was something I heard grown-ups talk about a lot when I was a kid. I couldn’t grasp what it meant at the time, and I didn’t give much thought to it. As time has passed though, I find myself torn between active wool-gathering and passive longing for the past. I’m either making up grand futures in my mind, or I’m replaying moments that have already passed. Somehow I do get my things done, so that’s good, I guess.

While we’re still on the topic of nostalgia, I’d like to mention my ambivalence towards nostalgia. Nostalgia can be a powerful tool. On one hand, it can rescue us from moments of self-doubt and sadness. By replaying those key moments, we rediscover all the trials and tribulations we have successfully overcome in the past. It gives us the strength to face the current challenges; nostalgia reminds us that we have it in ourselves to beat those challenges.

And then, there’s the negative side of nostalgia that worries me more. Despite all the pleasure nostalgia brings us, it can quickly become an addiction, a slippery slope. It is quite easy to lose yourself in an endless loop of mental-reruns of your life. I know this for a fact because I’ve been in this situation before.

You open your eyes every day, only to be filled immediately with a sense of dread and impending doom. Nothing you do or see or feel or experience feels as good as before. You feel as if your life has peaked— as if every good moment in your life is behind you now. So instead of living your life to confirm the theory, you just coast through it, all the while remembering the good old days and how amazing life was then.

As The Shining Gem has written, there are people who keep living in the past, resting on past laurels and never planning for their present or future. The memories of past victories and cleared obstacles are more important to them than being uncomfortable in the present for another victory in the future.

This is what nostalgia looks like. Or does it?

Living in the past is okay in moderation. It allows for retrospection— analyzing our past actions and provides a venue to learn from them. But when all you do is live in the past, it seriously impedes any chance of progress.

SG also writes about how collective nostalgia can be harmful. Nostalgia turns good movies into franchises filled with shitty movies. /Insert joke about that series with the “don’t have friends, have got a family” line./ Nostalgia is the reason for dozens of classic games getting reboots in recent years. But what happens when nostalgia is used as a crutch to account for your current situation? And by an entire nation?

In 2015, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel mentioned that he didn’t want Snapchat to be used by people in poor countries like India and Spain. Quite obviously, a vocal majority of Indians were offended by these remarks. They raged against the machine the only way they could when dealing with a software: ratings on the app stores. Poor ratings and reviews did hurt the overall ratings of Snapchat, but in the end, Evan Spiegel got exactly what he wanted: almost every Indian deleted the app.

As the Snapchat drama unfolded, I watched with interest as angry reviews piled up on the Google Play Store. A common comeback used by these Digital Defenders looked something like this: “You mock us as poor, but you should know that India has a rich heritage dating back thousands of years. No other nation does. India was the richest country in the world before your ancestors looted and plundered and made us slaves for well over two hundred years. If not for that, India would still be the richest country.”

This wasn’t the actual review and I tried to be as accurate as possible when paraphrasing. “Heritage”. “Past riches”. These two terms were common across a lot of angry reviews. And rightly so. It is a common crutch used by Indians: resting on past laurels and glory to justify being entitled in the present. Is there a problem with being proud of your heritage and past? Absolutely not. People can be, and I’m okay with that.

What is not acceptable is people singing about past victories and glory to hide the present state of things and to brush away duty that is required of them now. This “rich heritage, rich past” argument that gets thrown around by jingoistic nationalists during debates is in its most basic form, a type of nostalgia. It is not benign. This nostalgia actively denies the real state of things, places the blame on others and even plays the victim card.

Sure, India was rich and was plundered. But that does not mean that we, as a country, mope around to this day about how we were looted. Nor should we be proud of this past achievement, especially when there are thousands of us starving today. Placing the blame on others and engaging in wishful nostalgia feels good in the moment, but it is hurting us more than we would wish to acknowledge.

By existing in a glorified vision of the past, we are ruining our present. We are wasting away time that can be used to tackle problems and ensure that no company ignores India in the future. But no, jingoists have the ape brain. To them, visions of a past are better than a future where everyone leads better lives. For such people, this tendency to turn towards the past is more of a coping mechanism that lets them manage the grim realities of our present.

Another point that I want to mention is the unreliability of our own memories. Human memories are prone to incredible changes as time passes. Our memories are influenced by our emotions at the time of their formation. This is one reason why eye-witnesses are not reliable. SG argues that nostalgia is prone to such inaccuracies as well. The past we visualize is often distorted, modified and sometimes exaggerated. This could very well be true for the history of India. Maybe there were untold riches in the geographical area that is now India, but even so, these riches would most likely have been concentrated in the hands of a minority. You can see how the past isn’t so different from the present. But nostalgia blurs this; the past looks grander than it actually was, and the present looks shittier than it is.

When talking about nostalgia, you cannot not talk about Juvenoia, the feeling that “the good old days” were better than the present; that “kids these days” don’t have as awesome a childhood as grownups did when they were kids.

When I was 10, I was finally able to wrap my head around the concept of ‘nostalgia’, even though it would be a few more years before I experienced it. I imagined nostalgia as being a good thing, a feeling that serves as an anchor for our minds, allowing us to return to our safe spots when need be. But only later did I realise the potential disasters that await people who dive head deep into it, leaving behind their present and their future. At this point, it’s probably wise to close this with a witty, catchy statement. I pondered over it, but I came up short. So here’s SG’s closing thoughts on the matter:

I, for one, love the good old days as much as the next guy, possibly even more, but I realize that making memories is more important than reminiscing about old ones.

Props to The Shining Gem for writing the post that served as in inspiration to this post. If you aren’t already following the blog, do so now! Great content that’s thought out, at a more consistent rate than me. 😉

Image: bogitw on Pixabay

3 thoughts on “The Slippery Slope That Is Nostalgia

  1. Thanks for the shout out bro! And well done on the write up, extremely relevant, and a very apt example in snapchat. Although I must point one thing out, since most of the reviewers weren’t even born during the time india was indeed “The Golden Bird”, I don’t think it’s the nostalgia speaking but the collective pseudo nationalism, yet still I see where you’re coming from with this viewpoint. Nostalgia or otherwise, this sort of “living in the past” mentality only dies harm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the people who got offended over the Snapchat incident are definitely too young to remember the golden age of India, but it is a vision of a utopia/good era that they have been fed since childhood. That mixed with their nationalism, the higher than thou attitude some Indians have about their perceived abundance of heritage, was what led to the whole Snapchat debacle.

      Like

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