New, Collectively

In times of chaos and turmoil,
We are forced to recoil.
While uncertainty rises,
A certain peace subsides within.
From the depth of the numinous waters in thyself,
Emerges remnants of primordial past.
A shared adversary that has plagued the course of human history
Begins to rekindle the collective necessity for collaboration.
Our faith in society’s infrastructure diminishes,
As our mandate to one another replenishes.
The finish line has become unclear—
A pervasive fog obscures the cognitive certainty once known.
Leaving us to either agonize about being alone,
Or rejoice in humanity’s change to a compassionate tone.

Unprecedented

While the markets closed with another one-day record high, it is important to think about the last few weeks, as well as place it in a historical context.

Within the last two weeks, we have witnessed multiple one-day record highs and lows. Simply looking at this past week, Monday started with a record one-day low, the worst drop since the crash of 1987, and then the markets set another record one-day high the Friday of this same week (Friday 13th, 2020). The week before last there had been days with record lows followed by record highs the very next day. This is market volatility on a different level.

For example, during the historic drop on Monday, the markets tripped the “circuit breaker,” a mechanism that automatically halts trading for a period of time when markets drop too sharply. This was the first time this mechanism was tripped since 1997; moreover, the circuit breaker was tripped two more times within this last week, due largely to the coronavirus fears.

It is well-established that the markets do not like uncertainty, however, that is exactly the situation that coronavirus is causing. During the 2008 financial crisis, the main issue was the popping of the housing market bubble that led the U.S. Federal Reserve to slash interest rates to zero and the government to approve the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act—a $700 billion bailout to buy mortgage-backed securities. Moreover, while the exact cause of the 1987 crash is subject to some debate, it involved investors’ growing concerns of an impending bear-market, the novelty of beginning to use computer systems on Wall Street, and issues surrounding the role the Chairman of Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, had in the matter. While both these cases resulted in significant economic effects and the loss of jobs for many, the current situation is quite different.

In general, people use the past as a model to predict the future and help inform decision-making. There is a slew of cognitive biases that effect this process; however, when it comes to Wall Street and the stock markets, it seems that there are some foundational assumptions that blind people from the notion that the future is novel. For example, The Black Swan Theory highlights the fact that people tend to have biases that blind them to the potential for rare and unexpected future events that may have significant effects. Nowhere is this more true than the stock market, which is literally based on decision theory—a fixed model of outcomes that ignores and/or minimizes the impact of events that are considered “outliers” or outcomes outside of the basic model.

Unfortunately, this is not how life unfolds, as we can look back on historic events that were quite rare, though having a significant impact. This is the reason for the recent headlines of articles featuring economists stating that “This time is different.” One notable economist sounding the alarm on this issue is Economist David Rosenberg. He was serving as the chief economist for Merrill Lynch during the 2008 financial crisis. However, in a recent article, he clearly delineates the 2008 crisis from the economic crisis currently happening when he states:

“In the financial crisis, air travel didn’t come to a halt, borders weren’t being closed, we weren’t talking about quarantines and self-isolation. In the financial crisis, people weren’t scared to leave their homes. We’re talking about palpable fear and when people get fearful, they withdraw from economic activity…. The reality is the financial crisis did not come with a mortality rate.”

The effects of the coronavirus have already led to unprecedented cancellations of events, activities, etc. These effects have already prompted The Federal Reserve to take action. Most recently, this action was in the form of $1.5 trillion in short-term loans to banks in order to “address [the] highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak,” The Federal Reserve remarked Thursday, March 12th. The response by the Federal Reserve is detailed and not limited to simply this one action. This plan will be implemented over the course of weeks, in addition to the possibility of cutting interest rates more (a move they already did a few weeks ago).

However, despite these moves by The Federal Reserve attempting to prevent an economic collapse, some like Christopher Whalen, investment banker and founder of Whalen Global Advisors, do not think The Federal Reserve will be able to stop what is coming. Whalen highlights the fact that the financial system was not healthy to begin with and states that “The virus was the catalyst but it’s not the cause. Both bonds and equities were inflated rather dramatically by our friends at the Fed. You’re seeing the end game for monetary policy here, which is at a certain point you have to stop. Otherwise you get grotesque asset bubbles like we saw, and the engine just runs out of fuel.” Whalen is pointing to a sickness in the symptoms that predated this coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, David Rosenberg wrote in detail about some of these issues in a Financial Post article dated February 7th, 2020. In this article, Rosenberg writes “Fed policy, the trajectory of GDP growth and global economic fundamentals in general all tell a cautionary tale. Both bonds and stocks can’t be right at this moment in time…the equity market no longer seems to trade off the economic fundamentals. Never before has there been such a loose relationship to economic growth.” He wrote this article before the coronavirus started having its significant effects; additionally, he never mentions the virus in the article. What Rosenberg was critiquing was the framework of the current economic system and the dysfunctions that existed, such as discrepancies between market values and asset values.

Taken in sum, these points that I have laid out indicate that the economic effects stemming from this virus were not limited to the coronavirus alone. Instead, the virus served as the catalyst that is now testing the economic foundation of the system itself. After all, this event is one that impacts all aspects of the economy, since it impacts daily life and social activities. This event has released a cascade of events that cannot be walked back; moreover, the temporal extent and the economic/societal impact of this outbreak are entirely uncertain. The only certainty is that the coupling of a pandemic—that has not reached its peak yet—with an economy that has been built using the most advanced technologies in human history and relies on mass, sustained and fast-paced consumerism, will produce an outcome that is entirely novel from the status quo we are accustomed to.

 

References

https://business.financialpost.com/news/economy/recession-feature

https://www.vox.com/2020/3/12/21176567/us-stock-markets-shut-down-trading-coronavirus-massive-sell-off-circuit-breaker

https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-to-inject-1-5-trillion-in-bid-to-prevent-unusual-disruptions-in-markets-11584033537

https://business.financialpost.com/investing/investing-pro/david-rosenberg-this-turbocharged-debt-cycle-will-end-miserably-its-just-a-matter-of-when

Uncertainty is Clear

Lines of division become more clear.
Our intertwined minds work to subdue fear.
Confusion runs rampant—
Fracturing even our desires to cheer.
What is going on here?
Should we prepare as though the end is near—
Or, downplay happenings by reviewing previous years?
Nevertheless, we trek onward into the unknown.
Some welcome this novelty with a delighted tone.
While others express distress over the state of unrest.
What is clear is there lacks a consensus on what is best.

Valentine’s Day Free Download

Four years ago, I published my first book A Two Sided Truth. It was during a time in my life surrounded by uncertainty and chaos. The compilation of this book involved gathering and editing poems, prose, and short-stories that I had written in college, and the process (though imperfect) provided me with a sense of completion.

This process of creative expression helped me to make meaning in an extremely difficult time in my life. Producing something containing your own words and effort is inherently vulnerable, but it helped me to cope with adversity; therefore, if it could be of help a single person like it helped me, it would be entirely worth embracing my own vulnerability and post this announcement:

From February 14th to February 17th, the kindle version of A Two Sided Truth: An Anthology of a Human Experience will be free to download on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2wgHKfJ

Peace in Pain

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The ease sets in.
The suddenness of the cold breeze fails to produce the usual sensation of dizziness.
Calamity and chaos produce the undercurrent of the waves that surround—
Yet, paradoxically, serenity internally abounds.
For those with ears to hear recognize the trumpet’s sound
Brazenly playing in the background.
This is where peace is found,
Knowing the one who is worthy of the crown,
Ignoring the deception of what the world renowns.
Relinquishing delusions of helping others from their own choosing,
Has surrendered my will and my fate at the feet of your gate.

God & Money

One general objection I have with some of the messages within the Christian faith is selective emphasis—that is, emphasizing certain verses of scriptures over others—in addition to selection bias: omitting certain verses from scripture.

Recently, there has been one verse that continually keeps coming into my life: “‘No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). While I had heard this verse in messages before, it was infrequent and rarely the center of any serious analysis; however, in my personal life, I recently had felt a great sense of comfort not merely by reading this verse in isolation, but in its complete context, spanning Matthew 6:19-34. It was through the added context of Jesus’ words that I truly understood what was being said in verse 24; moreover, the context and rich examples that Jesus uses provided me with the comfort, guidance, and reassurance of faith that I needed.

In our world, especially in American culture, materialism, work, production, and success are all encultured into you; moreover, they are blended up and somehow attached to your self-worth. As Jefferson Bethke writes (playing off Descartes’ famous words), “America’s mantra is, ‘I produce, therefore I am.’” It seems that our lives somehow have become intertwined with what it is that we produce or can show others. This goes hand-in-hand with our media-driven culture—however, let us return to scripture.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.’” Here, is a clear verse illustrating that we are called to produce fruit, but what kind of fruit? Well, John 15:15 says, “lasting fruit” or “fruit that will remain.” And, how do we accomplish such a task? We do so by following Jesus’ command: “‘Don’t store up treasures here on earth…Store your treasures in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:20-21, NLV).

So, why is this all so important? The issue comes back to what is being emphasized. As Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 say, “‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NIV). This is a matter of our hearts and, thus, is of remarkable relevance; moreover, it is regarding how our relationship to the material world should be, which is of paramount importance in the current culture in which we live.

Unfortunately, this message seems to not receive as much attention as it deserves—in fact, the attention it has received by some leaders within the Christian faith has been to emphasize the opposite point, and conflate the idea that inner works can be manifested materially. I will speak more on this in my next post as I discuss the emergence and growth of the prosperity gospel.

Doing & Becoming

Living in a constant cycle,
Moving in this perpetual flow.
Continual searching for how to know:
What is truth?
Where to go?
How is it that I grow?
Inundated by information
And cognitive processes of the mind,
I wonder if what I seek to find
Will not be determined through methods of this kind.
Instead, it seems that I am stuck in a state of motion;
Therefore, my devotion to feel comfort in a fixed notion
Is as futile as attempting to cease the tides of the ocean.
Rather, is the solution to quiet my own mind,
And embrace the natural anxiety produced by time?
Putting a halt to my persistent pursuing
And choosing to reexamine what it is that I am proving.
Nonetheless, it would appear that I am still doing,
Yet this reviewing is indeed quite amusing.

The Ebb and Flow of Letting Go

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It’s amazing what can happen once we stop believing in lies:
“I’m not good enough; I’ll fail –
Isolate myself away so that then everything will be okay, today.”
But this isn’t living, nor is it what we are called to.

Yes, it’s true that an unexamined life is not worth living;
Yet, it’s equally important to realize that an overanalyzed one is worthless, too.
It’s not easy to set aside these doubts,
Nor is it to overcome these apathetic bouts.

Nevertheless, it’s of paramount importance to keep on striving.
Neither for the sake of merely surviving or the continual ideal that we must be thriving.
What matters most is that we keep on trying.
Stop the fictional finality of moving goalposts to an unactualized “someday”
When everything is once and for all going to be okay.

Instead, embrace how you truly feel.
Validate that these emotions are indeed real.
Life is like a Ferris wheel, with some highs and some lows.
While this pattern is predictable,
The pace at which the cycle goes is a constant unknown.
Accepting this brings us to a choice:
Do we moan and groan seeking safety in being alone?
Or, do we change the tone, accept and atone, viewing each moment as a stepping stone?

Smoke & Mirrors

Let the smoke fill the air.
Carry forth the pretense that we do not care.
Refrain from addressing the tensions inside.
In masked desperation – attempting to maintain our pride –
The world confronts us now with nothing to hide.
Our eyes look to the sky for a guide.

“Oh Lord, give us a sign!”
Is it finally the time –
Or, is this just another war over some pipeline?
Bombarded by constant headlines of calamity,
My only taste of serenity,
now comes from the breath I breathe.
After all, I am free;
And you, my God, have always been my destiny,
Regardless of the haze I see.

 

Warning: Contains Political Content

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I have refrained from talking about the current political climate in America because the polarization of the “Us vs. Them” mindset seemed impossible to surmount. Out of fears of my inadequacies, I have chosen to remain silent, rationalizing to myself that my silence was justified: Peoples’ minds have chosen sides, and there is nothing that can be said or done to sway peoples’ opinions.

Upon recent reflection, I realized that I had let my cowardice get the best of me. Moreover, I discovered that within this presumption outlined above was the implicit acknowledgement of the “Us/Them” false dichotomy. However, even after this revelation, there still have been persistent beliefs within myself that allowed me to continue to bite my tongue: “You have nothing to offer, and, even if you did, it wouldn’t matter. No one would read it, even if they bothered to read it, it wouldn’t change their minds.” It was this last part that has compelled me to break my silence and finally write.

I am a counselor by trade, even so, it is still fascinating to discover irrational beliefs that produce internal (psychic) tension. The last part of this negative self-belief is where I illuminated a fundamental error in my line of thinking. Similar to the counseling process, the goal is not about changing someone’s mind, rather it is about providing new perspectives, experiences, reflections, etc. that further inquiry and help to refine and better define their beliefs, values, and aspirations.

Furthermore, this shift in my perspective about the starting point for political discussion has also allowed me to reflect upon the array of experiences I have been collecting. I am a member of groups and organizations that would be deemed “far-right,” as well as ones which lean towards the “far-left.” Initially, these group experiences produced a great sense of tension within me that was further exacerbated by the division being portrayed within the American news. However, through maintaining the delicate balance between being open-minded while, simultaneously, having the courage to hold to certain deeply held convictions, I have been able to resist the pull of absolutism; that is, the tendency to want to resolve my internal discomfort produced by the tensions of both sides and foreclose on one of them as the absolute truth and guiding principle that all people should adopt.

This has been a difficult endeavor to undertake, especially considering the political and cultural climate of America growing more rigid and extreme by the day. However, I am grateful for being able to be a part of the “in-group” for both groups of the left and the right, because it has allowed me to understand some of the more mundane experiences, issues, and concerns that are at the root of the larger movements and politics that flood the internet and media. It has provided me with faces and verbalized expressions of the people who hold certain ideologies, instead of the abstract, dehumanized, and dogmatic view of such ideologies that are often portrayed through media. The importance of the medium through which information is absorbed is often overlooked. When ideologies are provided, devoid of any relation to actual experience, it allows the individual’s assumptions, preconceptions, unconscious biases, and a host of other psychic content to be combined with their imaginative capacity. In turn, this perpetuates ideologies and beliefs as having a sort of life in and of themselves, outside of the lived experienced of individuals.

Moreover, this separation between ideologies and actual experiences is doing damage to our democracy, for many individuals have become so certain of the absolutism of their beliefs that there is no room for common ground. While the overt differences in beliefs are emphasized, the nuances within the ideologies of either side are overlooked or disregarded. Furthermore, these nuances have become beyond reproach, since they are entirely overshadowed by the perceived irreconcilable schism of the defining features of each ideology.

Therefore, the impetus for my writing about the topic of politics in America is to emphasize the aspects that are being overlooked. While the differences in ideologies and beliefs between the right and the left are being magnified–and, in fact, personified through the attack or defense of President Trump– the similarities of experienced shared by being a human being living in a world of struggle, change, uncertainty, with feelings of isolation, desire for belonging, and striving for purpose and meaning, are being entirely overlooked. Insofar, that these aspects that comprise life are being eliminated from communal discourse, unless both parties identify with one another politically and ideologically. This lack of communication between members of opposing sides will only deepen the divide that is already present, and it will erase the opportunity to live and interact as fellow citizens of a democracy, learning from one another and enriching each other’s lives through the sharing and celebrating of differences, as well as those of similarities.