Loneliness, nostalgia, wingnuttery. Yep, it’s the holidays.
Here’s something depressing—two of the first articles I read this morning when I was first able to read something were about the holidays and loneliness. The Salon article is okay, and it would be better without the whiff of evo psych just-so stories on it. There’s something more than a little fishy about engaging in elaborate and relatively undemonstrable fantasies about hunter-gatherer ancestors and how they must have felt about being alone. The truth is that the evidence that we’re social animals is right in front of us—no matter what society you’re talking about and no matter how they’re organized, ejection from it into the wilderness would mean certain death for the majority of people. This is true of hunter-gatherers, medieval people, and modern people. The “other people or die” theory doesn’t do shit to explain why some people feel lonely while surrounded by others. What saves the story from being trite is that the author gets another opinion besides the evo psychologist one on the nature of loneliness, and talks to another author who suggests that our society breeds distance between people, and loneliness with all its attendant health problems is the result. This makes more sense to me, and our bitter, grudge match political culture that encourages people to hate and fear their neighbors isn’t improving the situation. That’s why I hate the mandatory “bash the internet” part of these stories (get off your computer and see people, they preach), because before the internet, the opportunities to relieve loneliness were even worse. Go out and meet people, sure. But who and when and why? Internet communities are increasingly giving people an opportunity to develop real communities. Meeting your romantic partner online has gone from being sort of weird to more common than not.
Then there was this article in the LA Times about how psychologists are rethinking nostalgia. It used to be considered a wholly terrible emotion, but now they’re beginning to suspect that it’s a coping mechanism for loneliness that can hold some people back from the brink of depression. And that’s a depressing thought in itself, but as someone who thinks about these things politically, I’m more than a little alarmed at what this could mean. The problem with nostalgia is that it’s inherently rose-colored glasses. Whenever I feel nostalgia creeping in, I remember that there was usually a giant sucky part of life in those times, and that going back would actually suck, even if there were some good points. But someone really swamped by loneliness or depression who uses nostalgia as a coping mechanism might be allowing the sentimentality to completely take over. This has the potential to go way past taking a break to watch a childhood favorite and check out for a couple of hours, and right into living your life around fantasies constructed to relieve loneliness.
One thing we know is that right wingers have zero compunction about exploiting nostalgic fantasies of the past that never was. Fantasies about the perfect 50s are particularly lethal in a society where the biggest generation is the one that grew up in the 50s, and therefore have strong nostalgic tendencies towards that era. Are things just going to get worse as the Boomers age, children move out and start their own lives, and they get even lonelier? It’s a serious concern, especially since the villains in this story—feminists, liberals, gays—are a litany we can all recite in our sleep. A strong application of truth helps, but what we really need is ways to help people stay connected to each other, to avoid the encroaching loneliness.