Friday, January 08, 2010

Nostalgia and Munroe's Law

The Daily Show's incomparable John Oliver explores some of the nostalgia coming from conservatives:
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Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Even I find myself nostalgic for the '90s sometimes (which I associate with my youth more than the '80s, despite having been born in 1981). In the back of my mind I realize that tolerance for gay people has increased since then, violent crime was much higher then, and barriers for women and minorities that existed then are being steadily eroded, not to mention the fact that the Internet has opened up countless entertainment and communication possibilities and has made being an informed citizen easier than ever before... but dude, Nirvana is way better than this Nickelback shit.

I'm not gonna go around like Candide and say that we live in the best of all possible worlds here, of course. I liked politics without all the senseless fearmongering over terrorism. I liked the fact that we weren't involved in two major wars. I liked the balanced budget.

Nostalgia, like all drugs, isn't necessarily bad if used properly. Returning to happy childhood memories can have a great calming effect. But in the end, as I mentioned a few posts ago, when we force government to indulge our childish fantasies we're bound to have a problem. In a way, the Beck clip Oliver shows at the beginning of his segment has a point: when we ask government to return us to some nebulous state that may have existed only in our own imaginations, we're causing more problems than we solve. Sadly, Beck pays no mind to his own warning - by agitating for a larger role for the executive in terrorism issues and government control over private decisions, he's consistently doing exactly what he warns against.

Munroe's Law, based on this comic, states that "more harm has been done by people panicked over societal decline than societal decline ever did." This is because the idea of societal decline is tied in heavily with nostalgia. If we have some sugar-coated view of the era of our childhood, of course any change from that era is going to look like decline whether or not it's actually bad... so we often oppose beneficial change because, under the influence of nostalgia, we view it as decline. And we often support harmful or interventionist reactionary policies because we view them as reversing decline.

The lesson here, I guess, is to grapple with change on its own terms, and to do that requires us to stop idealizing our childhood eras and applying this idealization to politics. When we accept that some things about the era we grew up in weren't so great, we can start to look at the actual effects of changes and embrace or fight them based on that.

Anyway, I guess this is a long, drawn-out way of saying that I'm nostalgic for the 2006 college football championship game. Why, when I was that age, Mack Brown didn't call a timeout so he could call an ill-conceived shovel pass before halftime...

1 comment:

-Dave said...

I'm a huge Star Wars fan. I pulled up that episode of TDS on Hulu because of the George Lucas interview. After this segment, I paused the film and went and told my roommate that I hadn't seen the Lucas interview yet, but there's no way it could be better than this.

Coming on the heels of Brooks' "Johnny" column, these capture succintly the state of political discourse in the States today.