Humans: When Progress Isn’t Progress

I find it useful, refreshing even, to take a step back from time to time. Especially when the market narrative gets unduly tedious or otherwise descends into semantic quibbling. Perspective can be a source of respite when the debate (the macro topic du jour) is couched entirely in labels referencing the series of overlapping, intersubjective constructs that we (incorrectly) identify with reality, having many of us long ago forgotten what it means to be truly alive. "Recessions," "bear markets"

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15 thoughts on “Humans: When Progress Isn’t Progress

    1. I’ve mentioned her often. She was a good person. And I don’t generally traffic in normative statements. For years, she sent me birthday gifts regardless of how onerous the exchange rate was, and despite having very little in the way of means. All she ever asked from me was that I send her a jar of sand from the island where I live. I never took the time to do it. Until last year, I had no regrets in life. Now I have one. I wish I’d sent her that jar of sand.

  1. I really enjoy the more philosophical articles H pens on occasion, this one was no exception. Personally, I find asking ourselves these questions is not only worthwhile but healthy, especially for those of us fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to make a living from playing games involving abstractions of abstractions. I must confess sometimes I see farmers and fishermen in my area and I feel what I can only describe as a tingle of envy, their work and daily tasks is rooted in a world that can seem as distant as it is real some days.

  2. Sorry for the loss of your friend H.

    Friendships are not abstractions of abstractions. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Therefore it should follow that friendships like yours have a higher value than money, because it is much more real.

    I think poor people generally are a little and perhaps a lot happier than rich people. Money, distorts value on this plane in my opinion.

  3. Thanks very much for the ideas you’ve shared here and your broader observations in this post. Definitely a change of pace (and an enjoyable change of perspective) for a busy guy like you. I’m completely with you on the point that imagination drives our perceptions. In so many ways, like in the markets, life is Tinker Toys, or Monopoly, or Stock Market (a wonderful game I played as a very young, budding investor). The use of human imagination in constructing our markets, and our perceptions generally is a fact that we typically do not consider while reviewing business news and financials. But the light you shed today brought into good focus the role of imagination not just in how we play with financial toys, but also how we navigate the myriad aspects of existence.

    The predominant trait that differentiates humans from other critters, or so my philosophy professors said, is the fact that human beings are conscious of consciousness. Other critters do not have a capacity for self-reflection. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all well-skilled in directing our own actions. More broadly speaking, human evolution proceeds randomly and unpredictably. I believe we, as a society, dare I say, have evolved at least a bit. And we are collectively asking ourselves a question similar to Erik Erikson’s, but in a broader scope: “Who are we?” And it comes from the same, subjective and uncertain place. It’s the human mind trying to apply itself and imagine changes to the known reality. But today’s world is increasingly uncertain and treacherous.

    I believe Putin doesn’t see financial markets as a construction of human imagination. I reckon he’s a closet megalomaniac, not unlike Stalin from “the good old days.” And I believe Putin represents a serious threat to the well-being of the entire world. We’ll be damn lucky if he is removed from office. I’m honestly afraid for the world and for our good old American economy as long as Putin is in power.

    Thanks for the quotations you shared from Yuval Harari, and the quote from Erik Erickson. We ask ourselves the question, who am I? But it’s a question we answer from differing perspectives at different times in our lives, if we care to ask the question at all. Harari’s observation is accurate: “Today, more people die from obesity than from starvation; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed in war.” So, workout, see your doctor regularly, and keep your head on straight.

    1. As much as I detest Putin’s view of the world (Stalin), I smiled when I read what he said about the G-7 leaders.

      I am paraphrasing here- but he basically offered to a contest with them in which they all either strip down to the waist or even below….and this is a (translated?) direct quote “but in order for everything to be so harmonious, you need to give up alcohol abuse, other bad habits, work out, do sport”.
      He is not wrong!

    1. My grandparents owned a 600 acre farm in Oklahoma in the 20th Century. Spent every summer there in my formative years, milking cows and learning about farming. Grandpa bought all kinds of machines to do it with, had’em stored in four or five big barns.
      But as the years passed, he started letting wildcatters drill for oil on it. A lot of them struck oil and eventually the entire 600 acres was covered with oil wells.
      I did appreciate that I at least learned how to farm, though.

    2. Farming is completely different than agriculture production.
      A majority of folks who call themselves a “farmer” are generally afraid of the future. They also think it’s “just like when grandpa did it”. And yet they lease the biggest JD equipment they can get Deere to fund, cash buy pickups, and keep repairing buildings that should be replaced. Then there are the latest chemicals, hybrids and hormones that an operator must educate themselves to use effectively. And don’t leave out all the necessary paperwork, which is the same as any other factory. If “grandpa” couldn’t make a profit then, why do they think they’ll be any different?
      Owning and operating an agriculture operation is no different than any other manufacturing or packaging business. The product is time and condition sensitive which has a nearly 50% failure rate.
      But when the “factory” is humming smoothly along, the margin is HUGE.
      I love farming as a business. Now that the kids run it, I just tinker and tend the bees. Even more satisfying now but, I wishing I knew then what I know now.

  4. Great quote by Erickson. It reminded me of something I heard recently that kicked off another sort of comparison in my mind . . .

    An American woman here in Paris—a woman in her 80s—was telling me about life here when she was in her 20s. She said that she and a bunch of other young women lived in some sort of communal situation up in Montmartre, and that there was a common toilet out back behind the building & they had to go out in pairs (especially at night) for protection. But they had almost unlimited freedom to do whatever the hell it was they wanted to do, day and night.

    And I was comparing that to life in Paris today. We have modern plumbing and the like everywhere, but we can’t do anything without a mountain of paperwork. Twice I’ve had to call a plumber to my apartment, and both times I’ve had to fill out paperwork generated by the government that answered questions about how the work related to energy conservation, going green, and all sorts of other shit. The bottom line was whether I had to pay VAT on the work. And it’s like that with everything: paperwork, paperwork, and still more paperwork.

    And I was reflecting that hardship for this woman back in her youth was the lack of modern plumbing (and probably a few other amenities), while the hardship today—when we have all the amenities of modern living that one could ask for—is constantly answering to the administrative state. And I think that if I had to choose between the two, I might just choose the former.

  5. Top drawer, H. You truly are a gifted practical philosopher. You are also an expert synthesizer of information. There just aren’t many of you around and I, for one, cherish what I can learn from you. I read a Chinese aphorism once which said: “Who we are arises from all that we have thought.” You are also a brave man in the best sense of the word, not afraid to see and be yourself. Kudos.

  6. “In all civilized countries the people fall into different classes having a real or supposed difference of interests.
    There will be creditors and debtors, farmers, merchants and manufacturers.
    There will be particularly the distinction of rich and poor…

    In the future, there will be even greater inequality. In increase of population will of increase the proportion who will labor under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of it’s blessings.”

  7. Molly Bloom says, “I fear those big words which make us so unhappy.” The idea of progress has no more meaning to those feeling truly alive than the subject of ornithology has meaning for the birds.

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