Saturday, May 20, 2023
#140 / Doom Loop
Lots of people seem to be thinking that we are caught inside a "doom loop," or maybe several different kinds of doom loops! An explanation of what it means to be caught in a "doom loop" can be provided as follows: Things are bad, and are getting worse. Everything bad that happens makes some other bad things happen, so the doom gets darker, and the doom gets deeper, and catastrophe ultimately ensues.
A "doom loop" signifies that a possible catastrophe will become an inevitable catastrophe. Things are bad. We're in a "doom loop," and doom results. You get the picture! That "doom loop" thinking appears to be going around.
The diagram above shows how the Euro-zone is heading towards an economic disaster. The discussion that accompanies this "doom loop" diagram references an article in The Economist.
To provide another example, the San Francisco Chronicle has been speculating about the future of the City's downtown. That future is being described in the following terms: "Can San Francisco dodge a 'doom loop'?"
The San Jose Mercury News has the same concern, with its article titled, "Bay Area exodus: Wealthy resident departures worsen ‘doom loop’ fears."
New York Times columnist David Brooks is also worried by the "doom loop" phenomenon: "My greatest fear," he says, "is that we've entered a distrust doom loop: People are so untrusting of their institutions and their neighbors that they are unwilling to reach out, to actively renew their communities and their country, and so the dysfunction will continue, and the distrust will increase, and so on and so on."
Vox, an online magazine, has written about the future of public transportation, and Vox is at least trying to think positively, and to find some way out - some way to escape the "doom loop" they see coming. A recent article is titled, "How to save America’s public transit systems from a doom spiral."
In the Silicon Valley, where you might expect to hear applause when a major new technology is created, people are not, apparently, all that happy about the deployment of the newest A.I. chatbots. "Catastrophic thinking" seems to be prevailing, with all the characteristics of a "doom loop." At least, that is what David Wallace-Wells is reporting. Wallace-Wells is the author of The Uninhabitable Earth, and it's pretty easy to discern a characteristic set of "doom loop" circumstances in his report on global warming.
I am quite familiar with the "doom loop" phenomenon - and also with its antidote. I still vividly remember my first exposure to a discussion that opened my eyes to the phenomenon known as "circular and cumulative causation." I found out about it when I was an undergraduate student, at Stanford University. More or less by chance, I picked up a slim little book by a Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal - who was, by the way, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The title of the book I am talking about is Economic Theory And Under-Developed Regions. That book was published in 1957, and I believe it is now out of print. I value the copy I have! Myrdal makes clear that the phenomenon he describes can operate in both directions. His book was about how to stimulate economic development in underdeveloped regions. His prescription was just like a "doom loop," but moving in the opposite, and positive, direction. Start doing good things! Everything good that happens means more good things can and will happen, and..... Voilà!
My understanding of reality postulates that we live, most immediately, in a "human world," and that this human world is created by our own actions. Nothing is inevitable in the world we create. "Doom," specifically, is not inevitable. It is quite possible that "doom" may eventuate, but "doom loops" are not self-generating or self-sustaining. We can observe what has happened in the past, and what is happening now (and we may well be able to take measurements within a real, and growing, "doom loop," and see that such a "doom loop" is in progress). However, the continued progress of the "doom loops" we discern is not preordained. Description is not destiny. The reality we create - the reality that eventually precipitates itself from our past and current actions - will ultimately depend on what we do, and the actions we take. "Possibility" (including both good and bad possibilities) is the commanding category for the world in which we most immediately live. "Inevitability" is not!
Because that is true, and because the principle of circular and cumulative causation can operate in both directions, our future is never "predictable." Something new and revolutionary may occur, and that can break any "doom loop" whose progress we may be observing.
When we start hearing about all sorts of "doom loops" (as we currently are), we need to begin charting new set of processes that can change the direction of the processes now underway - the ones taking us towards "doom."
Because we tend to see ourselves, mostly, as "observers," as opposed to seeing ourselves as "actors," the "doom loops" that we construct in our minds, based on the accurate observations we make, seem to take on the quality of reality itself.
However, this mistakes our actual situation. The processes that result in the realities we inhabit are always "loops," because the realities we inhabit are all the product of some type of circular and cumulative causation. So, let's not be fooled. The "doom loops" we observe are not "inevitabilities." They may seem like it, but that's not an accurate perception of where we really are. "Observers," when that is all they do, find themselves trapped in the "loops" they see around them, whether those "loops" are doom-tinged or benign. Forget the "doom loops," at least insofar as you are tempted to think them as defining some sort of inevitable reality that is coming for us.
Action is the antidote.
Let's do what we need to do to start those "loops" turning in a positive direction. "Possibility," not "inevitability" is the nature of the reality we actually inhabit. Mesmerized by our "greatest fear," to use the words of David Brooks, we may forget, as we watch those "doom loops" spiral, that we can take an action that will change the world.