July 5

A Capital Idea Part 16: Conspiracy by Consensus

Today's topic regards not so much an actual conspiracy, as a de facto one that applies to what one might call "average everyday millionaires." Next time, I will discuss what may be an actual conspiracy involving certain weathy families in the United States, but for now, I will discuss cognitive laziness and sheeplike behavior which create a troubling status quo which is difficult to fix.

The root of the problem may be in so-called "free-market capitalism" once again, or as I call it, "lazy unfair capitalism." Social and Health Psychologist Shelley Taylor has called people "cognitive misers" based on research regarding peoples' use of cognitive effort or lack thereof. That is, people tend to do the least amount of thinking that they need to get by. Heuristics (cognitive shortcuts) are relied upon as much as possible, even when it results in predictable errors. Actually, a Cognitive Psychologist named Kahnemann won the Nobel Prize in Economics a few years ago by showing that people use heuristics when investing in the stock market. Over reliance on older, established ways of doing things has also frrequently been demonstrated in Psychology research. There are a number of related terms used by Psychologists such as top-down processing, functional fixedness, or confirmation bias -- all of which lead to errors in thinking.

Thus, it comes as no surprise to find that the dominant economic system used in the United States, if not the world now, involves not active involvement in the regulation, but rather, as little regulation as possible. The rationale for deregulation or a lack of economic regulation is that somehow, the economy is supposed to take care of itself. The "free-market" will find an optimal equilibrium according to the apologists for our current economic woes, and everyone will be paid what he or she is "worth." According to the social Darwinists who believe this, it is only natural that a few economic elite will capture most of the world's resources to create their own personal playground of the world's economy. The rest of the population is to remain in relative poverty feeding on economic handouts given them by the rich, or perhaps even starving to death unless taken pity upon by some wealthy person. Of course, members of the economic elite will not say this publicly, and many conservatives do not believe this, preferring instead to believe that somehow, the "free-market" will eventually make everyone wealthy, except for laggards and freeloaders who refuse to work. Never mind that we are all born as freeloaders.

How convenient it is that the people who run the system believe that the system will run itself! That frees them to concentrate on making money, and using that money to create more money, rather than worry about regulating each other! While the ideas presented this essay are certainly not novel, its major point is that the most convenient possible conspiracy by consensus has developed, in which those who run the machinery of the economy tend to view it as some sort of infallible, perpetual motion machine which will continue to run to the benefit of humanity ad infinitum without maintenance. After all, these people created this "machine" and as leaders of the world economy, they must really "know" what they are doing, just as BP's executives must have thought until their big oil pipe broke and they didn't know how to fix it, and still don't. I realize that I may be engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, and not all of the United States' and certainly not all of the world's, economic elite prescribe to the unregulated free-market ideology, but this certainly is the direction that the world, led by the United States, has been going over the past few decades.

If a person happens to run a lucrative business and enjoys considerable wealth, why not "go with the flow." After all, if it's not broken, why fix it? Of course, the belief that the system is not broken is a result of being one of its prime beneficiaries. For generations of people living in poverty, the system has never worked. But being out of the power loop, the majority of us have only very limited power to change the system, by perhaps electing politicians who want to change the system, and by complaining and insisting upon change. Meanwhile, those with the money to do so, work to shape the public's attitude so that they will not elect such politicians, and manipulate the system so that if such politicians are elected, it will be difficult for them to enact change. We are seeing this process play out in Washington politics now. Thus, the conspiracy by consensus and the inertia it creates, continues for the time being, but that may change soon. Once people, even wealthy ones, realize en masse that an unregulated economic system will inevitably lead to disaster, the consensus will break down, and real reform will be possible. I believe that we are currently in the process of seeing the public begin to reject the "free market" economic model. Once the economically average citizen rejects the "free market" model, and once its inadequacies become apparent to even the wealthy, they will eventually be forced to accept economic regulation.


Poor Richard's picture
Poor Richard 9 years 19 weeks ago


Only one criticism. I don't like your catch phrase "conspiracy by consensus." Conspiracy is already a consensus (or at least a congruence) among conspirators.

Years ago I coined the phrase "conspiracy of omission" (as distinguished from the typical conspiracy of comission) after the sense of "sins of omission".

Your "lazy unfair capitalism", by eschewing regulation, would possibly qualify as a conspiracy of omission. You are welcome to use the term if you like.

Poor Richard

"Green Free-Enterprise"

Poor Richard's Almanack 2010

Worldchangeguy's picture
Worldchangeguy 9 years 19 weeks ago

Natural Lefty,

Excellent post! Our survival as individuals and a world depends on our ability to see the ideas we accept as beliefs for what they are, where they come from and where they will take us. Refusing to do so works against us.

We are born with imagination and free will, and the nature and complexity of our experience requires we develop and use these abilities. If society fails to teach us this, we need to learn it on our own. Imagine the change we would create if, instead of asking ourselves, what's going to work best for "me", we ask, what's going to work best for ALL of us - in personal terms and in terms of business, education, the environment and peace?

Think about how much this empowers us as individuals. In one instant, we decrease the need and expense for government and external control because we see a larger picture and we choose to take responsibility (think!) for ourselves. When we decide we are part of the larger whole, not separate from it, we act more responsibly. We become mind-full, not mind-less.

To borrow a phrase from Thom, "Good on you!"

Roger Peterson - http://realtalkworld.com

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Responsibility (response-ability, accountability, creativity and self-development) is the price of freedom, peace and long-term human survival. We can experience life as a burdensome journey of pain and suffering or a creative opportunity to learn and grow. As creative beings our ultimate challenge is to see where we are, decide where we want to be, and get from here to there, safely and responsibly.

We create our own reality from what we choose to believe about ourselves, and the world around us.

How we define ourselves, and the world around us, forms our intent, which in turn, forms our reality.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 9 years 19 weeks ago

Poor Richard, allow me to respond to WorldChangeGuy first. We go back a long ways.

Greetings and felicitations, Roger! I didn't know you frequented Thom's site anymore. The last time I tried to go to your site, a few months ago, it didn't go through. Perhaps you have changed your URL? I will try the new link. Also, when I tried to post on your site, there was always some long password it gave me that was difficult to remember. I hope it is easier, now. By the way, Poor Richard has his own site, too. Thank you for your extremely supportive comments, Roger. We are clearly seeing this issue the same way. I find my training as a Social Psychologist really helpful in understanding how easy it is for people to let things slide into an inadequate status quo until reality slaps them in the face.

Poor Richard, I think you are correct. I was trying to think of a term which captured the sense of apathy or inaction which I describe, but it did not come to me. I think "conspiracy of omission" or "conspiracy of inaction" is better. Thanks for offering to let me use your phrase. I think I will use it in the future.

Robindell's picture
Robindell 9 years 19 weeks ago

I would be intererested to know what Natural Lefty's opinion is of a certain speciality within psychology called Positive Psychology. Author Barbara Ehrenreich has written a book about the positive thinking movement in American culture, called Bright-Sided. That is not the full title, but that is sufficient in case anyone is interested in finding the book. Her take on it is that it largely consists of what you described as "cognitive laziness." Most practioners and proponents of positive thinking are not academicians. Rather, they are clergy such as Rev. Norman Vincent Peale or, more recently, Rev. Joel Osteen along with his wife, and others who are referred to as "prosperity preachers." There are also secular personal coaches who are not licensed as professionals, and motivational speakers. And they are corporate executives who according to observers of big business have become increasingly irrationale and mystical in their embrace of unbridled optimisim. One of the main ideas of positive thinking is the "law of attraction," in which you can acquire anything you desire just by imagining it. Ehrenreich has a chapter on how positive thinking on the part of financial executives wrecked the economy. They couldn't see a possible downside to anything that they were involved with. Some have suggested that more positive thinking would get people back into the mood for buying which would revive the economy, but the excessive risk-taking and bodacious level of confidence were behind much of the collapse.

The strict Calvinsim of the 19th Century was replaced with a more positive approach in religion. Christian Science is an example of a kind of faith-based healing that was a reaction to the puritanical strictures of the past.

Then, there is a chapter on Positive Psychology, which was started and developed by, as Natural Lefty probably knows, a psychologist from the Univerisity of Pennsylvania by the name of Martin Seigelman. He also has a co-author whose name I don't have before me. There are now graduate degree programs at universities all over the world in Positive Psychology. There are Positive Psychology meetings and seminars. Ehrenreich discusses a psychology professor from a private college who is a critic of both Seigelman and the entire field of Positive Psychology. The research in this field has not been as conclusive or certain as its proponents would have liked. They say that the science will follow the ideas and applications. Ehrenreich writes there is talk of expanding the field so that it is more sociological and so that it also includes an element of economics. The author is skeptical about the whole endeavor. Research trying to show that people who are positive have better health or at least less illness than those who are negative has not been clearcut. A correlation, to the exent there is one, does not prove causation, as oft-repeated.

The main objection to positive thinking that it ignores evidence of difficult problems or circumstances, which are seen as mere excuses to being successful. If you are laid off from your job, that is only an opportunity to go onto something new and better. I think a majority of people who have lost their jobs due to corporate downsizing, if they find a new one, end up earning less than they did before. Many laid-off professionals seem to be forced into accepting jobs that do not involve the knowledge and skills which they have acquired through education and experience.

The idea that a negative attitude is all that is holding someone back from success is a generalization that just seems to be wishful thinking in too many instances. I have had reason to be negative in my own life, but others dismissed my concerns, which were more complex and frustrating than society is willing to acknowledge. Instead of having positive psychologists try and prove that being negative is destructive, it would be interesting to have a social psychologist investigate some of the unrealistic affects of positive thinking if carried to an extreme, which oftten seems to be the case in our "can do" capitalist society.

Worldchangeguy's picture
Worldchangeguy 9 years 19 weeks ago

Natural Lefty,

It's great to connect with you again!

I've had difficulty getting to my website in the past too. I complained about it and my host company, iPower, seems to have fixed it. Regarding long WordPress passwords, I don't know what to say. Isn't there some way for you to store passwords for other sites on your hard drive? Norton Security software does it for me. You can also go into your Real Talk World account and manually change your password. Give it another try and let me know how it goes.

By the way, how's Thom's Shoulder? I haven't heard him say anything about it since he asked for helpful suggestions several weeks ago.


Active and thoughtful participation in the creation of our reality is the change we have been waiting for!

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 9 years 19 weeks ago

Robin, I will check out my textbook's description of "positive psychology" in more detail and get back to you with a more definitive answer. You see, as I recall, the author of the book I use for General Psychology class, Laura A. King, describes herself as a humanist and positive psychologist, I recall. I would call myself an eclectic humanist/cognitive psychologist/social cognitive psychologist in that order, and an overall optimist, but not necessarily a postiive psychologist. My question at this point is whether the preachers such as Joel Osteen, and the psychologists are talking about the same thing, or two different things. The positive psychology you described to me sounds like a bit of a croc, but what I read in my textbook does not. It talks about studying topics such as what makes people truly happy, how having a good attitude can improve one's mental and physical health, etc. I like Wayne Dyer, a Psychologist who does inspirational shows on public television, but one thing he does that bothers me is exactly what you describe: "If you think it, it will come true" type of thinking. Yes, we do shape the world we live in, maybe even influencing it with our mental vibes, but obviously, this "Law of Attraction" is false. If it were true, we would all lead charmed lives and never suffer misfortune.

Thank you for your well-written, intelligent and thoughtful reply, Robindell. I wish we had the friends function, messages and other functions on this version of Thom's website that the old one does, but I don't see anything like that. Oh well! There do seem to be more people on this site, and I am getting lots of replies recently.

Roger/Pete/WorldChangeGuy, I checked the link to your site yesterday and it did work. By the way, I replied to your recent post, too. I did not know that you could change the password. I will try doing that, and if not that, save the password. I kept forgetting it. I usually use the same reliable password. I think Thom's shoulder is recovering okay, but he keeps missing shows to write his books I think. He must be behind in his writing.

Goodbye to all in ThomLand for now from Natural Lefty/Robert/The Invader from the planet PLUTON where everyone has a TON of Peace, Love and Understanding. About that PLUTON thing, I am not really that crazy, but let's try to make our own PLUTON here on earth.

p.s. Robindell, I just recalled your "can do" comment, which has an amazing connotation for me. I just mentioned this to 2 of my friends on Facebook recently, where I have a blogging group. One of my great grandfathers was from Cando, North Dakota, which was named to mean "can do," as in the American attitude you mentioned. He was an attorney and farmer who became rich by buying up neighboring farms, then went into politics and became a Senator from North Dakota. He was a Democrat for what that is worth. He was also around during the time that North Dakota created its state bank, although I couldn't find out anything about whether or not he was involved in that. Unfortunately, current conservative icon Dick Armey is also from Cando, North Dakota. I just thought it was quite a coincidence that you mentioned the "can do" attitude in your post. One of my brother's middle name is the same as the county that Cando, N.D. is in, but his middle name is not "Cando." That would be a bit much.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 9 years 18 weeks ago

Robindell, I finally did an internet search on postiive psychology, which I was curious about too. The 2 psycholgogists credited with originating positive psychology are Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. They are legitimate researchers and psychologists, and very well known. Seligman studies topics such as optimism versus pessimism's effects on people, and Csikszentmihalyi studies creativity at Claremont Graduate School. (I went to Claremont as an undergrad.) As far as I can tell, this positive psychology has nothing to do with pastors who promise whatever you pray for will magically appear or "inspirational" or "motivational" speakers such as Wayne Dyer who endorse "the law of attraction" which states that you will attract what you need to yourself if you have confidence. I would say that this law of attraction stuff is not real psychology, at least not real positive psychology. It seems like hocus pocus, unless they can prove that the law of attraction really works, which they haven't done I suspect because it doesn't work.

Here are a couple of links I found. In addition, positive psychology is found on a bunch of other sites including Wikipedia but the Wikipedia link didn't work on my computer.



The second one is Csikszentmihalyi's site from Claremont Graduate School.

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