On Decline by Andrew Potter (book review)

Do you think we’re* in “decline”. This book argues that we are. Basically, economic stagnation breeds zero sum (your gain is my loss) thinking, playing into political tribalism which inhibits reason. All this taking place in a media environment (social media, smartphones and everything else designed as “casinos”) intended to short-circuit critical thought. That’s the overall argument. It’s heavy on “the enlightenment” and lacks for political and social context. That said, I was well prepared to dismiss the book but it kinda won me over. The basics of the analysis are true even if much is true in addition.

More content not saying I agree or disagree: we’re lucky to live in the current day rich world where “survival” isn’t a concern but… status seeking has replaced survival resulting in absurd behaviours and beliefs detached from practical reality. This can be generalized to the level of countries (for ex. Canada’s mismanagement of Covid-19 is papered over by how rich we are). The political right is the new counterculture** (flouting rules and conformity) while the left imposes new social rules. Smartphones and social media are genuinely more bad than good. “Democracy, technology and progress” once aligned but we’re out of “low hanging fruit”. Decline is not a matter of apocalypse but rather many different smaller problems amounting to one giant slow moving disaster.

*Who comprises the “we” anyway? Always a fun and uncontroversial question.

**His point is that the whole concept of “counterculture” is stupid though.

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