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The satire-nostalgia binarism

Feb 05,2022 - Last updated at Feb 05,2022

A familiar phenomenon which has dominated discourse in our society for some time now is the binarism pertaining to criticising and satirising the present, and eulogising and glorifying the past.

The present is bad, the past is good.

Such phenomenon, which simplifies and flattens matters in callous ways at times, is by no means confined to us in this part of the world, but can be detected the world over.

Nevertheless, it appears to be more prevalent and dominant as far as our society is concerned, perhaps due to the privileging of scientific thinking in many other societies, much more so than in ours.

The main premise, under this disturbing binarism, is that people are unhappy and unaccepting of the present, and more embracing of and attached to the past.

By the “present” we mean any present: The current present, the present which has just elapsed and become part of the past, and the present which will be dawning upon us soon.

In other words, if you take our current present, you will find the majority in our society complaining about it, and often deriding and blasting it. The minute it becomes a past, however, people start praising, glorifying and being nostalgic to it.

As for the “past”, it is also any past: the past as we know it, our present which will become past after a while, and the past which lies in the future now and then becomes past the minute we live it and leave it behind us.

Most of those who know well the main premise behind this binarism are those who study or read history, and are familiar with the thinking and writing of people in past eras.  

Do this small exercise: Inspect a few historical, societal, economic or literary texts from, say, a hundred, two hundred, or a thousand hears ago. You will find the binarism we are speaking about here embodied in them: Harsh criticism of the present and great nostalgia to the past.

People from my generation also know this premise very well as they have often experienced it, and still do.

I distinctly recall, for example, that our society was not happy with its “present” in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s.

In those days people were extremely dissatisfied with or complaining against everything: The politics, the economics, the developmental plans, the technology, the education, life in general, etc.

Many of us in those days in fact used to memorise and recite poetry which harshly satirises the times.

Today, by contrast, we view those decades romantically and nostalgically, as if they were free of flaws and as if we were extremely happy with them. “The good old days,” we say!

The fact of the matter is that each era, past or present, has its own pros and cons, which may be similar to or different from the pros and cons of any other era.

Based on this, what is required is not escape from the present by deriding or satirising it, or escape to the past by beautifying and glorifying it, but engaging enthusiastically and actively in both: Examining, studying, analysing and understanding aptly; in addition to confronting the challenges of the present head on, and learning lessons from past experiences for the purpose of improving life in the present.

To be sure, satire and nostalgia have their attraction and power over people’s psyches, and a degree of them is acceptable and perhaps even needed; but they should never be allowed to dominate and reign supreme.

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