IMNN Tim Wildschut interviewed: The politics of nostalgia

Faced with a future that presents itself as non-negotiable, the temptation is to turn towards the past.

The Mirror of Erised. Credit: Flickr/Breezy Baldwin. Some rights reserved.

When Harry Potter discovers the Mirror of Erised in The Philosopher’s Stonea mirror that shows us our deepest dreams—he repeatedly returns to it in secret. Each night in its reflection he lives his longed-for life: his parents are by his side, his relatives surround him, and all are smiling. When the wise headmaster Dumbledore discovers Harry’s nostalgic habit, however, he is dismayed. This is no harmless moment of fantasy. “It does not do to dwell on dreams Harry,” he warns, “and forget to live.”

In today’s political climate we would do well to heed Dumbledore’s advice, since Britain is slowly turning into a hall of Erised Mirrors itself. Whichever way we turn, we see, not only an idealised picture of a past that can never be the present, but a past that never was. Since Brexit, the Sun has run a campaign demanding that British passports be returned to their traditional blue covers as a “symbol of British independence.” The Daily Telegraph has called on the UK Government to resurrect the Royal Yacht Britannia (decommissioned in 1997), so that it can “rule the waves” and secure international trade deals for post-Brexit Britain.

These newspapers stare into their mirrors and see the British, unchained from the bureaucracy of Brussels, blue passports in their pockets, the Queen by their side, new-found sovereignty in their lungs, sailing the seven seas again. Aboard the Britannia, carried along by the winds and waves of nostalgia, Britain will once again parade its freedom around the world.

….We are like a couple who move into their new apartment and hang family photographs on the wall, hoping to inject its emptiness with a meaning they can understand. Nostalgia is always a yearning to belong, but in this world of shifting sands it is belonging that escapes us. As Dr Tim Wildschut, a senior researcher in psychology at the University of Southampton concludes, “nostalgia compensates for uncomfortable states of mind.”….

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