It's cold outside, the socializing season is done and the world at large gets weirder every day. In other words, this would appear to be a great time for nesting. The temptation to hibernate is strong: to stay home, open a good book and a good bottle of wine, and discuss the former over the latter with those whose conversational skills you enjoy best.
Let's not do that.
Over the past few months, I have noticed an inclination toward dropping out of the fray, and it dismays me. In my personal life, friends reveal that they are avoiding events because they are worn down by conflict; online, smart people like the feminist writer Lindy West are leaving Twitter because the harassment is openly toxic.
I respect these decisions on an individual level. I also worry about what it adds up to.
Ms. West compared Twitter to the mall, and advised users who are unhappy that the platform seems uninterested in controlling misuse to "keep the friends. Ditch the mall." But abdicating public space to the loudest bullies in favour of fireside chats with those we agree with seems like a terrible idea.
For one, the friction of (smart and respectful) disagreement is important for each of us, to help sharpen our ideas, values and goals. On a larger scale, public space is important. All sorts of marginalized people have spent a lot of energy insisting on the right to participate in public life – this country got its first Somali-Canadian cabinet minister this week, former refugee Ahmed Hussen. Most of us have foremothers (and fathers) who fought hard to highlight our humanity. Now is not the time to take that for granted.
I had already been thinking of the dangers of nesting when outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama made his farewell speech on Tuesday night. More than once, he implored Americans not to respond to the Democrats' defeat by folding inward toward like minds.
"For too many of us, it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, …" he said, "surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions." This is more shameful the luckier you are, and Mr. Obama sent a special jab toward "the wealthy" who "withdraw into their private enclaves." He promised to stay present and stay public, and named it as a responsibility of citizenship.
Nesting is a universal instinct, and a universal problem. Last November, the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins wrote an awesome, chewy takedown of the current obsession with hygge. If you have missed the trend, you're lucky, as home and design types have been pushing it hard for two or three years now.
Hygge is a Danish term, and it is not just a word, but a lifestyle. It means cozy, but (as endless articles have informed me) more than cozy. It's not just about snuggly socks, but what happens when the good feelings imparted by warm drinks and flickering candlelight infiltrate your inner being and become part of your very soul. Or something.
I gleefully snuggled into my couch to read Ms. Higgins' piece, and it satisfied my yearning for an excoriation of the aggressive commodification of coziness. What I was not expecting was an astute critique of what hygge means in the political realm.
Hygge is an insularity that seems nefarious in a post-Brexit, increasingly anti-immigrant Europe. Hygge, Ms. Higgins writes, is something that "can only really exist within groups who know each other already." As such, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Danish People's Party has positioned herself as a defender of all things hygge.
"Hygge is a useful strategy for disguising power," Danish newspaper executive Mette Davidsen-Nielsen told Higgins. "Politically, you can cloak quite aggressive or radical acts with an impression of hygge. Hygge says, let's forget about everything. Let's block out the world and have some candy."
Even if your personal brand of cozy nesting is not xenophobic so much as escapist, in times such as these, that is still troublesome.
Yes, it's cold out, which makes it nice to wear soft fleecy things and eat sweet fatty things while cuddling my loved ones and avoiding going outside. For a minute. More than one weekend engaging in such activities would drive me bored and batty – and it might have a darker side, too.