Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ness misses home

When I was growing up, my family's moves around the country paralleled my dad's climb up the corporate ladder. Homesickness became an all-too-familiar status ailment of my childhood. I'd spend the first several months in a new state yearning to be back in the one from which we'd just come, and spend the last several months there dreading the next move to to yet another place. Deracinate, re-root, repeat. So I felt a pang of sadness in realizing how accurate Steve Sailer's description of homesickness is in his review of a book on the subject:
Homesickness sounds like the least important topic imaginable. In modern America, a longing for the familiar places and people we are separated from is routinely castigated as an immature character flaw barely tolerable in children at summer camp, much less in adults.
It's not something I'd previously thought about at a societal level before, at least not explicitly. But my previous experiences with uprooting and how acute the pain of relocation can be have certainly affected my adult life. I've turned down promotional opportunities that would mean relocating outside the Kansas City metro area on multiple occasions with, I suspect, far less regret than most of my peers in a similar situation would have. Whether that's from moving frequently when I was younger or from being more naturally inclined towards my old stomping grounds than others are isn't something I can definitively answer, and it's probably some combination of both. But my point is, I get homesickness.

Anyway, there is a larger purpose to this post than mere self-indulgence. In the review, Steve writes:
Human emotions probably don't change much over time, but the words we use to describe them certainly cycle, whipped by fads and social forces. For example, Matt cites a pair of contemporary psychiatrists who note that many of their unhappy patients come to them having already self-diagnosed themselves as "depressed"—a respectable 21st Century malady for which pharmaceutical firms invent and market expensive pills—"but were in fact lonely."
And he quotes the book's author, Susan J. Matt:
"[As] the longtime companion and sometime synonym of homesickness, [nostalgia] has become a less troublesome emotion, signifying a diffuse, unthreatening, and painless longing for the past. ... As an emotion, nostalgia has come to be widely celebrated, perhaps because it is now seen as harmless. Whereas the homesick may believe they can return home, the nostalgic know that moving backwards in time is impossible."
I wondered if the history of the terms "homesick" and "nostalgic" in the American library would reflect this. As the former became tainted as a sign of puerility and the latter something goofily celebrated by SWPLs, we'd expect a decrease and an increase in literary frequencies, respectively. Well, that's exactly what we get (nostalgic, homesick):

The transition began after WWI and was proceeding in earnest by the end of WWII. Today, the term "nostalgic" is three times as common as the term "homesick" is. Go forth and be fruitful, I guess.


Jokah Macpherson said...

That's a very interesting graph but it's beyond me to explain it.

How did you settle on calling Kansas City home if you moved around a lot growing up?

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

Interesting indeed. But frankly, I was not aware that "homesick" had acquired pejorative freight, nor was I aware that "homesick" and "nostalgic" were synonyms. To my mind, homesick is a spatial term while nostalic is a temporal one.

Somewhat off topic, AE, but I've often wondered if mental illness is more common among those who self identify as liberal than those who self identify as conservative. I suspect the answer is a resounding "yes," but I don't know if there is solid evidence justifying my suspicion.

JOhn said...

Ed Tom Kowalsky:

There have been some studies on political views vs. the big 5 personality traits:

high on neuroticism--more liberal (you're right)
high on openness--more liberal
high on conscienciousness--more conservative
high on extroversion--more conservative
high on agreeabbleness--more liberal

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

Thanks, John.

Based upon what you've posted, I infer corellation between introversion and neurosis, which doesn't surprise me. I am slightly surprised, however, by the corellation between liberalism and agreeableness. My experience has been that liberals tend to be touchy and peevish and querelous.

Audacious Epigone said...


I was actually born nearby (in Joplin--the little town that was ravaged by a tornado over the summer), but more importantly, I've been here since high school, so it's become home by default, and I don't want to leave.

Ed Tom Kowalsky,

I'll look through the GSS database to see if there is something suggestive in there.

MC said...

An alternative explanation is that words with English roots (like "homesickness") have increasingly been shunted aside in favor of words with Latin or Greek roots (like "nostalgia"), most likely as a function of the rise of pseudo-intellectualism among our over-educated elites.