In my previous article, one of my focuses was on the difficulty of measuring the value of old social phenomena for human life against new social phenomena, assuming our vantage point was not so much on looking at them as two distinct sets of phenomena, but rather as a flow of evolution of the old into the new. How can one measure the relative value of these two sets, as the old social phenomena seem to merge into the new?
One way that most people deal intuitively with this problem is through nostalgia. Nostalgia jumps over all the labyrinthine analysis involved in value measurement and uses intuition to give positive value to phenomena from the past. Nostalgia ascribes positive value to things of the past by ascribing positive organic stimuli to them as a way of allowing people to bond strongly with them in their minds. By doing this, a person also contributes to his overall grounding in his living environment. Because, to have emotional grounding, it helps to have grounding in the past as well as in the future. Grounding in the future is based on a strong sense of hope. Nostalgia, hope and an organic connection to one’s living environment in the present through a sense of immediacy are the three legs of the tripod holding us in place at any given moment in our lives.
Nostalgia takes past reality and reconforms it in such a way as to maximize its grounding components. It focuses on the positive experiences we have had and separates them from the negative experiences such that we feel a special connection to the former. In extreme cases, nostalgic experiences from the past start to replace the real experiences from the present as the main points of orientation in our lives. Nostalgia has the capacity to turn our past life experiences into works of art that we can gaze on and admire.
At the other end of our temporal flow, hope has a way of reconforming the future by following a similar emotional process to that which is used for dealing with nostalgia. Positive anticipated experiences are emphasized and made to stand out while negative anticipated experiences are repressed in our minds.
Furthermore, certain physical places in our lives become associated with our past memories and others become associated with our future dreams. The associations for past memories can be based on actual things that have happened or else on what the places represent. For example, New Orleans, with its very traditional architecture, its traditional music, its traditional cuisine and perhaps, even more important, its traditional culture, can provoke a sense of nostalgia in people totally independent of specific personal experiences with New Orleans. These traditional generic images created by and of New Orleans can become associated with other specific personal experiences we have had that have similar feeling tones but that have nothing to do directly with New Orleans. One can obtain these images of New Orleans through books and magazines, movies and television. Or through the conversations with travelers who have been there. But there is no question, that New Orleans with its traditional living environments, traditional music, traditional cuisine and traditional culture in general is a past-oriented place very much more oriented towards feeling-tones of nostalgia rather than feeling-tones of hope focused on the future. One might almost say that New Orleans is like a nurturing mother with a commodious womb that one can long for and yet it is simply just this place that evokes nostalgia in the external world.
And what about future-oriented living environments? There are certainly a lot of future-oriented cities in a country like the United States which, in general, tends to have a very future-oriented attitude towards life and the world. Because of this, future-oriented cities don’t have the same scarcity value that a city like New Orleans has in the United States. Although there is a certain amount of grounding that one can obtain from dreams of one’s future, it simply doesn’t have the same sustaining flavor that nostalgia has. And this is true because nostalgia has definitely already happened, while hope creates images of completed grounding in the external world that may or may not fructify and become real.
Perhaps one can say that if hope provided too much grounding, one would not be motivated to move beyond hope to achieve that goal for which the hope has been elicited in the first place. Hope should provide just enough grounding to keep one oriented towards the goal.
The final leg of the tripod holding a person in place at any given moment is a strong sense of immediacy. Immediacy allows one to have a strong sense of where and when he is and keeps him fully conscious in the place and the moment. Furthermore, it is the fulcrum point from which he can observe the flow of the past into the future and weigh the relative merits for his life of a greater focus on nostalgia or a greater focus on hope. For many of the people who, for whatever reason, don’t have that much to look forward to in their lives, nostalgia for the past is that which sustains them and keeps them particularly well-grounded.