The Dangers of Lazy Logic

Desire to Know vs. Desire to Understand

It is our basic nature to be satisfied with just knowing certain facts. More often than not, our belief that we “know” a fact supersedes the desire to understand the complex details of the fact. Life is too busy to take the time to understand and analyze the over 50 GB of data our brains process every day. Knowing the train schedule is enough. I don’t need to understand the logic behind how the schedule was made. Knowing it will rain is enough to convince me I need an umbrella. I don’t need to understand or analyze the movement of high and low pressure systems.

For most of the information our brains process, just knowing is enough. However, being satisfied with “just knowing” can lead to gullible assumptions, acceptance of inaccurate information and lazy logic.  Abraham Maslow theorized that the desires to know, to understand and to analyze have a hierarchical order. The strength of these desires is dependent on our immediate motivational needs. For example, if I am hungry and I want to eat something that is reasonable healthy, I can choose something at a convenience store. Say I grab a microwaveable soy burger. I know this is food. I read the label and I don’t find anything particularly bad on the label. It says “healthy choice” and “no MSG” on the packaging. I am content that it is not harmful and will satisfy my hunger. I have no burning desire to understand exactly how it was made or how it will make my hunger vanish. Looks good, smells good, tastes good…hunger gone, I’m happy.

It is doubtful the microwaveable soy burger will have any long-term detrimental effects on my body, but I have gone out on a limb by trusting the words, “healthy choice”. My trust is based on a gullible assumption that I am not receiving inaccurate information. Marketing companies know this and use our satisfaction with “knowing” as a tactic to sell us all sorts of products. Politicians and their campaign managers use similar tactics in election campaigns.

What happens when what we think we “know” is actually wrong?

If what I think I know about the train schedule is wrong, I will probably miss the train. However, if what a person thinks they know about a political, environmental or social issue is wrong, it will probably lead to poor choices for mitigation of the negative consequences related to the issue. Fake news (a.k.a. “propaganda”), advertising, puffery, smear campaigning and hype are all tactics to spread information that is less than accurate. The problem is that although complex issues should trigger the desires to understand, systematize, organize and analyze information, human nature predisposes most of us to be intellectually lazy. We are easily satisfied if information (whether accurate or not) fits our mindset, our lifestyle and our belief systems. In the absence of cognitive dissonance, the desire to deeply analyze information is diminished. If our peer community accepts the same information as truth, our beliefs are further reinforced.

Lazy Logic

The Car Radio Example

Lazy logic is making an assumption that a correlation exists on the basis that two events occur within close temporal proximity. For example, years ago my neighbor used to give me a ride to work on occasion. Oddly enough, every time I rode in his car, the radio would stop working. Lazy logic tells us that I, in some way, interfered with the car radio signal. That assumption could lead to many other assumptions, such as I am an alien or I am radioactive. Both false.

So why did the radio stop working? Well, I left out one small bit of information. The only days my neighbor drove me to work were days that it rained and I didn’t want to ride my bicycle. Now, can you guess why the radio didn’t work? Well, his car was old and it had some wiring issues. Evidently, when it rained, something got wet and messed up the radio connection. The fact that I was in the car each time this happened is just a confounding variable and irrelevant to the real cause-and-effect relationship.

Listen to the Science

Listen to the science.” This is seemingly good advice. It sounds intelligent. It appears to be more than “just knowing”. If a fact is based on science, then believing it appears to show that the individual has done some higher level analysis—or at least is accepting for fact the conclusions of others who have conducted higher level analysis. For some scientific concepts, like gravity, “listening to the science” is easy because understanding gravity is relatively intuitive and constant. Not all science is constant. Science, by definition is an ever-changing process. Science evolves. As new knowledge is revealed, “facts” change. For example, carbon dating, which at best is a good theory, has evolved since the 1940s and calibration methods have changed. Those changes have led to re-considerations about the probable dates for the Dead Sea Scrolls, theories relating to deforestation on Easter Island and the probable dates of the first human settlements on Easter Island.

The Worst Type of Lazy Logic

The argument “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem” is one of the worst types of lazy logic because it is contingent on a long list of assumptions that need to be true. This argument is often used to persuade individuals to join in the collective mindset and belief system of a particular group. Here is a list of assumptions that need to be true to accept the conditional cause-and-effect claim, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem”:

  • The problem needs to exist.
  • A solution needs to exist.
  • The assumed solution needs to be the only solution. It is conceivable that being part of a different solution may actually be a better choice for mitigation of negative effects. For example, if a climate activist believes voting for a “green” candidate and “green” legislation is the solution to climate change and uses this argument to garner support for political initiatives, the argument is faulty. An Amish individual who does not vote would be considered part of the climate change problem when in reality that individual leads a life that is more representative of positive climate action than most of the general population.
  • The proposed solution cannot result in additional negative impacts. Otherwise, it would be part of the problem.
  • The proposed solution needs to work.
  • The proposed solution cannot negate any other possible solutions.
  • The proposed solution needs to be fair.
A better way to phrase it!

A New Brand of Capitalism

Born-Again Capitalism (Part 2)

“This is not the capitalism I signed up for!” The shriek of Rebecca Henderson’s attack on corporate globalization and her emphatic appeal to change the system are an attention grabber. It is not just the quiver in her voice that invites my curiosity , it is also the fact that she is a Harvard economics professor berating the status quo of corporate America during her TED Talks video (which is more of an advertisement for her book, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire than a real TED Talk). I quickly rewind the video to make sure I heard her correctly. Yes, she really said that.  All I can think is, “Well, Rebecca, you may not have signed up for this brand of capitalism, but for someone who has a net worth of over 30 million, you have benefitted from it handsomely.”

There is a an mounting multitude of top five-percenters who are just like Henderson in that they want to reimagine, rename or at least rebrand capitalism. This “new capitalism” has already arrived and it is a kinder, gentler, friendlier, greener capitalism that vows to preserve and protect our natural resources. (That is important because as it turns out, ruining the environment is actually bad for business. Plus, there is money to be made from natural resources!)

The Old Brand of Capitalism
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.” Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 456, para. 9.

Henderson is not alone in her claim that a new brand of capitalism is a solution (perhaps “the solution”) to the environmental woes and social injustices that the “old brand” of capitalism has heap upon us. Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida refers to a new capitalism in his policy proposals to move away from the recent era of Abenomics. In doing so he criticizes the old capitalism’s neo-liberal policies initiated by Yasuhiro Nakasone in the 1980s that continued during the reform era with the support of Junichiro Koizimi.

In the US, Barrack Obama (net worth: $70 million or so) and John Kerry (net worth: $250 million) have been preaching the good word about how spending more money will save the planet as we transition to green energy. And, every global investment company is touting socially responsible investing – a.k.a, Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG). Many investment firms and analysts now provide special ESG ratings of companies so that investors can decide if a company is green enough for investment dollars. A high ESG rating for a stock or exchange traded fund (ETF) can help investors feel their investment choices are righteous and that they are now part of the fight against climate change, environmental degradation and social injustice.

The idea of reinventing capitalism is enticing, but is it possible? Would capitalism even be capitalism if people were using their savings and investment dollars in a socially responsible manner that would be good for the environment as well as promote social justice? Would this new brand of capitalism mean that everyone would actually have savings and be able to use money to invest in ESG corporations with high ratings from financial brokers?

These questions highlight the conundrum of Rebecca Henderson’s book. In short, her thesis claims that if corporate CEOs, in unison with politicians and governments, make decisions based on social responsibility rather than short-term profits, the corporate world can create a utopia for the whole world. Sounds a bit like the meaningless tautology, “A hamburger is a hamburger.” A utopia is a utopia. If capitalism were to exist in a world in which everyone put social responsibility first, it would not be creating the utopia, it would be existing in a utopia. Communism or socialism or any other form of economic policy bonded to community government would have the same utopian outcome provided all members of a community made decisions absent of selfish greed and that they, in a community spirit, made decisions dedicated to a proposition of altruism and social responsibility. Even an autocracy would be a utopia if the autocrat were benevolent, selfless and altruistic in governing.

Note: The word “utopia” entered the English language via Sir Thomas Moore’s Latin book in 1516. The Greek word translates into “no place” and was the name of the island community as the setting for Moore’s book. However, the current nuance of the word may differ much from Moore’s Utopia, a place where slavery was a feature of life.

It is easy to agree with Henderson’s claim that unchecked capitalism destabilizes the environment and harms human health. However, her rationale for a new brand of capitalism grows murky as she reasons, “Business is screwed if we don’t fix climate change.” All I am hearing is, “Oh no, we screwed up the environment so bad, it is going to hurt business, Now, we need to fix the environment because that will be good for business. Oh, and we can make it a marketing campaign to sell more goods and do more business.” This is what I call “born-again capitalism”.

What is Born-Again Capitalism?

Born-again capitalism is the green-washing of neo-liberal economic policies that encourage globalization to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Born-again capitalism is the belief in and practice of using marketing campaigns that claim products and companies are environmentally friendly and socially responsible in order to sell products and attract investors.

Capitalism as a Religion

Born-Again Capitalism (Part 1)

To imply capitalism is a religion verges on cynicism. The term religion connotes a belief system that intends to purify the physical existence in preparation for the spiritual realm. By that interpretation, religion is a guide on the transcendental path away from selfish motivations toward spiritual enlightenment. Since the success of capitalism is dependent on selfish motivation (a.k.a., entrepreneurial spirit), capitalism should be the antithesis of religion. However, membership in institutionalized religion is not necessarily the same as a quest for spiritual enlightenment. Some may see institutionalized religion more as a ruse for establishing hierarchal order in the earthly realm. By that interpretation, capitalism may fall into the category of religion.

Capitalism is akin to institutionalized religion in that a major objective of “institutionalized capitalism” is to structure the perception of the world and justify the social hierarchies of a class system. A belief in capitalism generates absolution for selfish desires that create an uneven distribution of resources. Capitalism maintains an expiatory quality that allows for a freeing of the guilt associated with even the slightest responsibility for the inequalities of society. Institutionalized capitalism shapes that mindset. Like an ever present invisible hand, free markets are omnipotent in their justification and determination of social structures including systemic dominance and systemic inequalities.

Currency is communion, profit the deity to worship, and for the devout capitalist there is a promise of heaven on earth.

Brian J. English

Whether amusing metaphor or topic for bar-stool debate, institutionalized capitalism and institutionalized religion have commonalities:  

  • Wars have been fought for both.
  • Both seek to give hope (false hope?) to the poor.
  • Both have been bedfellows with systems of government.
  • Both rely on marketing tactics to survive.
  • The marketing tactics that are used by both are intentionally deceptive.
  • Propaganda has been essential to establish institutional dominance.
  • Both assume the authority to modify the world-view of their followers.
  • Both intend to structure the perception and thinking of the world.
  • Both are hegemonic systems in which the dominant culture intends to maintain its dominant position.

Go to Born-Again Capitalism (Part 2)