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“The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering’. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”

― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. A coping mechanism, an inspiration, or a manipulative rhetorical tool. For quite some time, the inhabitants of the West have found themselves conscripted onto a battlefield of the mind. Society has been reshaping itself or being reshaped at a frenetic pace for decades now. Nostalgia has proven itself to be a potent weapon in the arsenals of every faction on that battlefield.

The power of contrast should never be underestimated. Humans are living, breathing, pattern-recognition machines. We cannot help but compare proposed plans and present circumstances to historical outcomes. This is normal, this is healthy: It lets the human mind achieve some measure of confidence in predicting what happens next. The human mind loathes unpredictability more than anything else. The unknown noise in the dark is far more terrifying than the wild animal on the ridgeline that you can observe and predict.

The regime knows that contrast holds such power, because it allows for critique. Such was the power of Florida during COVID, for instance. Without a state that was free of lockdowns and mandates, foisting the same circumstances on an entire population across the board would have caused less negative sentiment of those measures. This was the real reason for the mass psychosis and peer pressure of that era. It’s much more difficult to make someone take a bite of a turd sandwich insistently offered to them when there are other options.

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“The past is a candle at great distance: too close to let you quit, too far to comfort you.”

― Amy Bloom, Away

“Hireath” is an old Welsh word that describes a feeling of homesickness for something that no longer exists or perhaps never did. Millennials stand astride the old world before 9/11 and the new one, with memories of a higher-trust society with much more prosperity and unity than what we have now. These feelings are amplified by the fact that due to their age, the entirety of the era before the shift was viewed through the rose-colored glasses of childhood. Essentially, millennials are too young to remember the 1992 L.A. riots or the Oklahoma City bombing with any sense of clarity or context, but old enough to remember when innocence was valued and optimism about the future was commonplace.

This contrast between a less anxious past and a present that consists of never-ending psychological warfare can be many things. The past can be pointed to as a critique of how far we have fallen and thrown in the faces of the ruling order as dissent. It can also be a coping mechanism, both healthy and unhealthy. From vaporwave to homesteading, from filtered edits of 1980s Miami to thinking about the Roman empire, the aesthetics and contrast of the past are coming back with a vengeance as the present is too Lovecraftian to personify.

My personal favorite example of this has been the meteoric resurgence of the band Creed. While the band broke up in 2004, they have miraculously been memed back to life. A video of the 2001 Thanksgiving halftime show they performed in Dallas went viral. Taking place just two months after 9/11, that snapshot in time captured and distilled both the optimism of the time and the resilience of its people. The video entered the narrative bloodstream, provoking remarks about how “we used to be a real country” and with it, the demand that we deserve something better than this because we once had something better than this.

Shortly afterwards the Texas Rangers began to streak toward the World Series after a rough start. The team gave the credit for their comeback to Creed, which they began to play constantly in the locker room for motivation. Home games in Dallas blared “Higher” and “My Sacrifice” prompting the fans to sing along in a massive chorus. The Rangers would go on to win the World Series, with a reunited Creed attending the game with Jerseys and a newly announced tour across the United States. The winner of this season of The Voice was a burly white guy belting out Creed’s “Higher” during his finale. In a dark time of “Its So Over” lies the burning embers of a “We Are So Back”.

“Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.”

― Albert Camus, The Rebel

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But the regime understands the power of contrast, too. The solution to this problem has been to tear down or change the past. Beloved franchises that influence culture are butchered ignobly by the likes of Kathleen Kennedy. Films and shows of historical fiction are made to impose contemporary norms of sex, diversity, and sarcastic cynicism upon our past. Suddenly there have always been black Scandinavians, African Roman legionnaires in Britain, and the great men of history have their conquests and achievements “reimagined” to give someone else the credit. Wikipedia is edited, and classical literature and its heroes are “reimagined” and judged through a contemporary lens.

Visual media is obviously the most powerful avenue with which to do this. A series like Stranger Things seeks to recreate the most familiar possible representation of the 1980s, only to subtly slip in the values the regime wishes to promote as if this state of affairs has always been the norm. Yellowstone receives critical acclaim only for tough cowboys and patriarchal dynasties to spend spare moments reinforcing that a good feller ought to be a feminist. Like an angler fish with a pretty lure and a poisonous bite, designed to entertain you just enough to where the subversion can slip through.

This adds a certain sense of urgency to stopping the rot. It is why we must promote and share the best parts of our past, even if it’s something like a halftime show played by Creed. Those of us who remember the time before the world moved on must pass down what was normal and what was good to the generations born inside the throes of hell world who don’t know any better. It is our duty to shout from the rooftops that this isn’t the best we can do, and it’s not the best we’ve ever done. Even if the past must stay in the past, it provides a blueprint for the right kind of future.

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