What it is
Declinism is the belief that the world and our society is inevitably getting worse. It is caused by our tendency to view the past with rosy retrospection, a positive outlook, and to view our present with a negative bias.
Why it happens
In the present, we tend to focus on the negative things that happen as a survival instinct to always be on the lookout for threats that could harm us. Since we do not need to have the same survival instinct when thinking of the past, positive memories are more likely to be remembered. When we compare our negative view of the present with our positive view of the past, it is easy to think that things are getting worse and worse.
When we approach the world with a negative mindset, we are then more likely to seek out information that confirms that mindset. This is called the confirmation bias and leads to a repetitive and vicious cycle of determinism that can negatively affect our emotions, health, and decision-making.
Example 1 – political strategy
When we feel that the state of the world is in decline, we are likely to blame the political elite. Emerging political leaders can capitalize on declinism by positioning themselves as different to the current leaders and using language that is reminiscent of bringing things back to the way they once were. Declinism therefore allows populist campaigns to gain traction and can sway people away from their political party.
Example 2 – Environmental activism
Declinism causes us to feel pretty hopeless about the state of our society and the problems it is facing. These pessimistic feelings are further perpetuated by news outlets that grab our attention with violent headlines. If we believe the decline is inevitable, we are unlikely to be motivated to take action. Declinism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where because we do not do anything to counter the challenges we face, they get worse and worse.
How to avoid it
Emotions, especially negative ones, have a strong impact on our decision-making. They make it hard to make rational and logical decisions. To counter declinism, we can try to remind ourselves that nostalgia warps our view of the past and negative bias does the same for our present. To change our view of the present, we can seek out and write down positive statistics and stories that are happening, in order to remind ourselves that things aren’t always as bad as they may seem.