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*Same As it Ever Was


Published in the December 2022 Issue Published online: Dec 09, 2022 Holidays
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By Gregg Losinsk

IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS A TIME OF NOSTALGIA FOR MOST OF US. As we sip our hot cocoa and trim our Christmas trees, we think of people and places that were near and dear to us but no longer exist. This is a natural human condition that brings us a warm feeling as we hang those special tattered and worn decorations that have been passed down for generations. It is one thing to remember a people and a past that no longer exists, but it is a totally different thing to not recognize the place you are at today.

Sociologists and ecologists have teamed up to coin a term called “Solastalgia.” It is used to describe the longing and sadness for a landscape that no longer exists. These feelings of loss are associated with not being able to engage with landscapes in culturally valued ways. The word is a combination of Latin and Greek and describes our emotional health as impacted by living through what we perceive as negative changes in the environment around us.

These changes can be physical, like not allowing a creche to be placed in front of the city hall, or they could even be cultural, like not allowing Christmas carols to be sung in schools that mention the entity entirely responsible for the holiday being celebrated in the first place. The point is that the world around us is changing right before our eyes and we aren’t able to process the changes because they are occurring so fast.

One day it’s a simple off-ramp from Interstate 15 heading to the truck stops and the next it is a contorted double roundabout from hell that leaves semis jackknifed and lifetime residents trapped on a concrete Mobius loop. We are seeing the world change right before our very eyes and we are not all that thrilled about what we’re seeing.

This fall during the elections, candidates were using the slogan “Keep Idaho, Idaho.” I found this an interesting phrase because some who were saying it had been residents of Idaho for a shorter length of time than my cat. But it was a prime example of tapping into Solastalgia. Never mind the question of what does “Keep Idaho, Idaho” even mean? It’s the perfect all-purpose slogan. It means everything and nothing at the same time.

I have friends that are part of the Shoshone Bannock tribe that would probably interpret the phrase “Keep Idaho, Idaho” rather differently than those friends I have that are descendants of some of the first outside pioneers to the area. For people to now gang up on those who are recently moving to the state and say “Keep Idaho, Idaho” is truly a surreal concept and certainly not keeping with the holiday spirit.

A few years ago, I was in Tokyo during the holiday season. The concept of Christmas is still a fairly abstract construct to many of the people there. They had strings of lights shaped into candy canes and reindeer; these were festive decorations, but with no foundation based on a belief system. Here most people at least understand the origin of the celebration even if they did not personally embrace it. The desire to embrace Western commercialism had changed the world around them before their very eyes. Solastagia in action!

The natural world is based on change. Nothing ever remains the same. The rate of change may be as instantaneous as the impact of an asteroid or as slow as a glacier scraping along. Change that we think is positive we call succession or progress. Other changes appear to result in disorder, and we call that entropy or chaos.

The point is that the idea of a static world is an illusion. It never existed and never will. Our world is a closed system just like a snow globe. We get extremely flustered when it gets shaken up. But because our planet, like a snow globe, is a closed system we need to take care of it and each other.

*Song title by 2009 Talking Heads


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