Thoughts on Nostalgia and an American Mid-Life Crisis

The 20th century started with an explosion of new technologies and excitement for a new world and it ended with nostalgia. The 21st century continues to grow at an exponential rate. Technology is improving faster than we can keep up with. Advancements in the medical field, business, transportation and entertainment continue to climb quickly. However, we desire to hit pause instead of riding this wave into a different earth, an unfamiliar future, a future that is at this point inevitable. We have hit pause globally. Public unrest is brewing. People are loosing their jobs to these advancements. Social media provides an accessible platform for hate and is where the growing frustrations of those effected lash out. And thus, we’re left with two groups: the young and/or the adaptable vs. the world. 

I wonder if this global unrest, this aversion to change and adaptability, is new. Or like the future we are rolling into, is it inevitable? What is inevitability exactly and how can it be determined? I believe anything and everything is inevitable as long as it happens. However, the word inevitable is seemingly unchangeable, stubborn, a set of fates that lead to only one outcome. Humans have proven to make changes that twist outcomes, even outcomes that once were deemed inevitable. The young generations embrace inevitability more or less. They do not wish to fight it. The older generations, and I’m generalizing here, see only the negative effects of rapid change. That rapid change affects their jobs. It affects their wallets. It affects their comfort. They are mad and rightfully so. 

Now, I’m only speaking upon changes that hurt jobs because, let’s be honest, this is all that the public cares about in the grand scheme of things. Climate change for instance is a rapid change people are fighting against, and also technological advancements that endanger earth and the living things on it. 

The unrest by those impacted by 20th and 21st century advancements have been brewing under the surface since the Industrial Revolution. Their desire to hit pause has turned into a smashing of the rewind button. There is now a global desire to start over. This is apparent on both sides (liberal and conservative). Generally, conservatives want to rewind and recycle old ideologies in order to recreate a collective memory. And liberals want to burn down the old institutions and rebuild a future that is in line with new advancements. The middle ground? Not burning anything down and not resorting to old ideas. We should reference American history in this instance. Every decision we have made as a nation so far has been in response to decisions made prior. We build upon ideas. We do not throw them away and start over. At least, we shouldn’t anyway. Politically, and in opposition to the fundamentals of American philosophy, we have frequently made poor decisions directly as a result of this “starting over” syndrome that’s led to a crossroad and another massive divide in America. Both parties want to do the same thing; burn it, burn it all! Granted, they want to tear everything down for different reasons - starkly opposing reasons. We stand on the battle field with Pelosi on one side and McConnell on the other, swords and shields raised, yelling and hollering from yards away doing absolutely nothing more. Then, there’s the progressives who scream “Fuck this! Let’s do something.” They are struck down by both sides and we continue a stale mate yelling match. 

Is nostalgia a reoccurring disease at the turn of every socio-cultural era? We’ve entered the Information Age, for instance. Were similar global discomforts apparent at the onset of the early Industrial Revolution or the “Machine Age?” The American Civil Rights Era? The discovery of the New World? I refer to nostalgia as a disease because it for one started as a medical condition and not a political or poetic contrivance, of which is better suited for poetry but I digress.

Nostalgia is not a bad thing. Nostalgia is also not a fight against contemporary ideas or even progress. Nostalgia is simply enjoying a past moment or set of events or years that one believes are some of the best snippets of their life. Everyone has had varying levels of nostalgia. Many desire to go back to their golden age, resulting in some kind of mid-life crisis. So yes, nostalgia can turn into an action, and still, there is nothing wrong with that. A community’s desire to turn back time can be dangerous. If enough people want change, politically they can bring their desires into reality not just for them but for everyone. The nostalgic Trumpian desires are a fantasy. As opposed to a desire for more job growth or better health care, nostalgia is not real. It is a feeling. We are living in an ongoing attempt to create a fantasy that little less than half the country desired to be in in 2016. We are living in a “Make America Great Again” land where the President readily fights to enable a collective mid-life crisis.

And so, those who have helped slowly erase the lines between fantasy and reality are unknowingly paying the price along with the rest of us. “Fake news” and the lack of truth is a direct result of our current mid-life crisis. Reason is dead. Not permanently but it is in a coma. Feelings are dominant not because we choose to run away from the truth - feelings are all that’s left. There is no truth. There is no reliable source. I do want to say Trump’s incessant lying and enabling of a fantasy world isn’t entirely at fault per se. This is also a downfall of the Information Age, ironically enough. When we are faced with so much information from so many sources, the truth is buried. It is inevitable. 

However, through history we’ve never truly had a “reliable source.” There is technically no way to find the origin of most things and the fundamental truth is elusive in almost any field of study. Before the internet we looked to the President, government officials, a handful of news stations that brought on “experts” and various other public figures that held the public’s trust. All of these reliable sources cannot provide us with absolute accuracy for one reason or another. We have lost our trust, whether consciously or subconsciously or at the hands of our own intuitions or the influence of the president. We now equate the incredibility of Wikipedia with CNN for some reason. We’ve destroyed the only reliable sources we’ve had in the modern world. And I say “we” because this paranoia is happening on a massive scale. We now have little to rely upon other than our own feelings. And boy, do we have a lot of feelings. The President wants us to continue relying on our feelings. He wants us to turn our feelings into weapons. He wants us to avoid reason. He wants us to attack each other and he wants us to have no other choice than to give in to his fantasy. He wants the mid-life crisis to grow stronger.

The Information Age is special. It’s special because there is a lot of truthful information on the web written by experts. With a little google literacy, most people can acquire skills once impossible without formal education. You just have to know where to look. We should use this information as our weapon against the fantasy. And we are. We have been since 2016. We are trying. We truly are. Feeling is hard to fight because feeling and trust go hand in hand. Accurate information will never be accurate when trust is destroyed. This vicious cycle must stop in 2020 and must stop all around the world.