They say you shouldn’t talk yourself out of success. “You don’t know until you try” is the mantra of mothers, personal trainers and enthusiastic internet friends.
“Don’t negotiate against yourself.” People fumble their own ball all the time. Watching men strike out with women is practically an entire genre of social media. Confidence is key and reality might reward you more than you would be inclined to reward yourself. Go for the girl!
But I don’t think I realized we could talk an entire culture out of success until recently. Which is on me. I’m well versed in propaganda and media, so I should have had the priors for this intuition but it didn’t seem so clear to me until recently that humans were being talked into failure to launch.
This article in the Financial Times asks if the West is talking itself into decline. And it’s a bit bleak.
Another interesting theory is that of economic historian Joel Mokyr, who argues in his 2016 book A Culture of Growth that it was broader cultural change that laid the groundwork for the industrial revolution. Prominent British thinkers including Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton championed a progress-oriented view of the world, centred on the idea that science and experimentation were key to increasing human wellbeingIs the west talking itself into decline?
It seems that there is now an interesting new overview that gives us some proof of what was being said across different narratives in different cultures. Mokyr’s theories being proven out by economic historians is encouraging for a few reasons. The British has a much more progress and technical oriented literature than the Spanish and got to the Industrial Revolution faster despite the Spanish lead on colonial mercantilism.
So what can we take away from this bit of economic history? The West has begun shifting its language away from technology and progress and back into caution, worry and threat.
If we can simply improve on our situation by believing we can advance, improve, and progress then we should spend all of our time talking about the possible better futures.
I wasn’t allowed much television as a child but my mother believed in Gene Roddenberry’s positive future. Wasn’t it a delight that the best of humanity was seeking out new life and new civilizations? Let’s try not to get too fixated on the failures to imagine perfect futures to remember that we aspired to good futures. No don’t let good be the enemy of perfect and get out there and make something.