posted Mar 08, 2001

Self-negating prophecy
3/8/2001; 4:24:22 PM

Everybody's heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy... "Mr. National Anchorperson, I predict there will be a shortage of milk in the stores today, so I recommend that everybody immediately run to their local grocery store and buy all the milk they can possibly need." So of course there's a nationwide rush on milk.

Of course, self-fulfilling prophecies are not amazing when they come true; some, like the example above, would be amazing if they didn't come true. The prophecy itself has a hand in causing what it predicts.

Of course, if you get good at them, you can make a comfortable living making these prophecies. Just ask any television psychic. . . though they may not admit that's half of what they do.

The self-negating prophecy is less well recognized, because by their very nature, we don't see them happen. We tend to think someone who makes a self-negating prophecy was simply wrong, rather then wrong because the prophecy itself helped make it not happen.

Some examples: Security experts who predict certain flaws, which are then closed as a result of the prediction; the entire Y2K crises, averted because people were predicting catastrophe; a company announcing in advance that they will not meet Wall Street expectations (which are immediately revised downwards).

I'm adding this to my Glossary (an underused aspect of my site) because I find myself using the concept increasingly often, and I want a page to point people at explaining what I mean without having to explain every time


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