Self-fulfilling prophecy

This is about the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”, which is supposed to mean that our own thinking shapes or influences the reality around us up to a point where it produces a change in that reality.

The term was coined by Robert Merton (in sociology), with the easy-to-grasp illustration of a run on a bank:

  1. Everybody thinks the bank will crash. (THINK)
  2. Everybody starts withdrawing money. (DO)
  3. The bank crashes. (what HAPPENS).
  4. Everybody thinks “I was right!”

Same applies to racist stereotypes:

  1. We are convinced that orange people are lazy and stupid. Accordingly, increasing their opportunities to attend school will not improve them.
  2. Let’s stop/block programs aimed at educating orange people because they’re a waste anyway.
  3. Orange people remain stupid and (appear) lazy.
  4. See? We were right to believe orange people are stupid and lazy.

The negative perception of an imagined future brings about precisely that future.

The crucial element of a self-fulfilling prophecy is that it floats under our radar (=awareness).

This tells you that fear is stupid when fear becomes panic. When fear is not thought out, it can end up (and ends up in many cases) shaping our future behaviour and, worst of all, we will still be fooling ourselves that it was the correct behaviour because

“Look! I was right because Reality responded in the bad ways I predicted”.

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

A related (NOT equivalent, mmkay?) expression in Japanese is jigo-jitoku (自業自得) Self-Doing, Self-Earned.

Now, this Japanese expression tells somebody that the consequences of their actions are going to come back: karma. Karma for bad stuff says that if you do something bad, something bad will hit you back.

As we say in aikido

Good Causes [result in] Good Effects. Bad Causes [result in] Bad Effects.

善因善果、悪因悪果.

And it all comes Back to Us. Always.

必ず我が身にかえる

Chapter 20: Shadow-Virtue (陰徳)

Our thinking does affect reality (up to a point), and a lot of times it is our bad thinking which creates a bad reality. So what’s the lesson from aikido?

“Eliminate the bad, stop thinking bad thoughts because they’re going to be echoed back to you. Concentrate on what is good, concentrate on doing what is good”.

Achieving that which is good by improving: We are back to kaizen (改善 Change-into-Good).

It’s very easy to see “self-fulfilling prophecies” illustrated in our social reality in the 21st-century:

We’ve lived under this self-fulfilling prophecy from the first year of this century, all of us, from September 11, 2001, when the world has changed and it changed for everybody.

How did it change? It changed when a self-fulfilling prophecy was born and cheerfully adopted as policy: The terrorists, the war against terror starts at this point and we are still living in its framework.

What’s a “war on terror”? It’s a war in which we say “we are going to kill the bad guys”.

Who are the bad guys? “The bad guys are the guys who oppose us, so we try to kill them because they’re terrorists. And then they come back to us, they try to kill us, to bomb us, so you see, we were right to kill these guys, because they’re bad, they’re terrorists!”

Notice how it appears to be mirrored, echoed back by Reality, but it’s just as much a result of our own thinking that this is what’s happening, that our actions are calling back.

This is not to excuse anybody: Perpetrators of terrorism or those who are trying to eliminate them. This is not about giving excuses to anybody; this is an exhortation.

Let’s think about the problem we have rationally. Let’s use Reason, let’s go back to Socrates, let’s have a dialogue between the guys with the planes and the smart bombs and the heavy gear and all that, and the guys in their own countries (usually) with a different interpretation of how things should be run.

Let’s start talking about what is good, and stop talking about something bad that could happen.

Self-blinding must be replaced by self-reflection. Zen (善) doesn’t just mean doing the Good; it also involves looking at the reality around us, thinking about this reality.

ZEN: school of Mahayana Buddhism, 1727, from Japanese, from Chinese ch’an, ultimately from Sanskrit dhyana “thought, meditation,” from PIE root *dhya “to see, contemplate.”

In case you think I’m not “realistic” consider this piece of utopia about a concrete kaizen vision:

. . Only Yankee know-how and the mass-production system – Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, the magic names ! – could have done the trick, sent that ceaseless and almost witlessly noble flood of cheap one-dollar (the China Dollar, the trade dollar) television kits to every village and backwater of the Orient.

And when the kit had been assembled by some gaunt, feverish-minded youth in the village, starved for a chance, for that which the generous Americans held out to him, that tinny little instrument with its built-in power supply no larger than a marble began to receive.

And what did it receive? Crouching before the screen, the youths of the village – and often the elders as well – saw words. Instructions. How to read, first. Then the rest. How to dig a deeper well. Plow a deeper furrow. How to purify their water, heal their sick. Overhead, the American artificial moon wheeled, distributing the signal, carrying it everywhere . . . to all the waiting, avid masses of the East.

Philip K Dick “The Man in the High Castle” (Google e-book, pp. 165-166)

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