Declinism: Why We Think the Past Was Better Than the Present

Declinism cognitive bias

Declinism is a cognitive bias that views the present and future negatively in comparison to the past. It is rooted in the belief that the world is inevitably heading towards a worse state, and may be driven by factors such as pessimism, nostalgia, and exposure to negative news.

Declinism may not be just an opinion, but a mindset that can have negative consequences on a person’s mental and emotional well-being. People who view the world through a lens of declinism may become overly pessimistic and anxious, as well as feel hopeless about the future.

Why It Occurs?

One of the reasons that people may view the past as better is nostalgia. Nostalgia is a sentimental longing for the past, often characterized by a longing for a simpler time. People often tend to view the past through rose-tinted glasses and forget the negative aspects, leading them to believe that things were better in the past.

Another reason for declinism may be exposure to negative news and media. The media tends to focus on negative events, such as crime, disasters, and conflicts, which can potentially create a skewed perception of reality.

Additionally, the exponential development of technology has introduced new ground-breaking tools almost every other decade, which might lead people to believe that things were better in the past when technology was not as advanced.

Overcoming Declinism

One of the ways to overcome declinism is to be more aware of the bias and question the evidence supporting the belief that everything is in a state of decline. It is important to remember that progress and improvement in certain areas do not mean that everything is perfect, but that progress is still being made. Furthermore, seeking out positive information and perspectives can help to counter the bias. For example, reading about positive developments in healthcare, education, and technology can help to balance out the effect of negative news on the topics.

It is also essential to recognize that it’s not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, there have been waves of declinism in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In the US, according to The Economist, there have been several waves of declinism since 1950, predicting the inevitable doom of the country. The Great Depression kickstarted this trend in the 20th century, but there were other events such as the WWII post-war era or the Cold War. In Britain, as many as 70% of the population believes “things are worse than they used to be” despite of improvements in wealth and life expectancy, among others.

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