Questions of the Times

There will be a day when it takes all your power, concentration and energy to keep the darkness at bay. But, for how long can I keep these shadows away? And with what do I use to keep them this way—Should I retreat to my inner cave?

Because none of this is set to remain, rather we are all destined to one day return to our life as sand. Therefore, when is it the right moment to take a stand? A better question might be: How much more can I withstand?

Isn’t this the continual background theme spanning the story of human history? Is the way we progress not in some way shaped by the past? The past is far more vast than our notion of a personal past.

Both kinds of past influence what we define as “normal” or what constitutes “the best.” What does it mean to last? What does it mean when something endures the test of time? Is it not the case that each morning we awake a refined version of ourselves? What happens if choose to skip out on some of life’s tests; would this help in alleviating some stress? Will this insight change the way we invest; will it shift the content with which we obsess—will it do anything to relieve the burdens of the oppressed?

We all face a similar distress, but if we do not identify what we know to be best, then we run the risk of slipping back into the primordial unconsciousness from which we emerged.

Is this time of turmoil a result of a tension between the light of consciousness and ignorance of darkness? Will we find that we have acquiesced to a primitive mind, and a simpler time, free from obligation or responsibilities to think or to find, merely to survive and get by.

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

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.

A Self in Society

Conditioned to be polite,
We converse wearing our social decorum.
But, is this for us or for them?
Moreover, since when did disagreement become synonymous with intolerance –
If we all agree, will we still be free?
To some degree, it would appear that the fervent desire to unify as one
Is causing our nation to become undone.

With that said, there are issues on which we must agree:
Some form of common sense logic must be present as foundation to stand upon.
This does not dictate any issue,
Rather it provides us with a necessary tool to engage in discourse.
Embarking on these sorts of endeavors without common ground
is predestined to forever circle round and round.
Therefore, remember that it is okay to have some remorse;
It’s okay to change your mind in light of new evidence.
This is not something to feel ashamed of though –
It is, however, a test of letting go,
The pieces of one’s ego necessary for growth.
Through taking this oath,
One may become flexible enough to tolerate viewpoints of both.
This requires great vulnerability, and without this there is no true strength –
Only an inflated self-esteem kept afloat by the desperation of others
Who, too, refuse to change and prefer to remain the same.

This is the what it means to be enslaved to oneself, ensnared by pride.
Terrified to be denied, one chooses to continually lie.
For the sake of pride, one cannot hide;
Therefore, the fear of mortification leads to emotional amplification.
Allied together under a noble cause: Defend this nation, at all costs.
However, the lack of insight veils the perception of one’s self,
Instead, projecting outward blaming others for their rage.
Not knowing that it is a manifestation of residing in a cage of their own making.

Carefree Incongruity

A constant pretense always engaged in a reality that’s counterfeit
And filled with frivolities that disguise themselves as serious beliefs.
Mesmerize me, and I’ll ignore the bleed.
Let those that are chosen to lead continue to be the ones to fill our needs.
Never question whether you’re free, for you’ve been given more than you see.
Shall this fallacy of relative privation squash all doubts and questions regarding my salvation?
Is it worth just accepting what the majority tells you is the correct story;
Or, is there an essence inside that refuses to hide in the face of intolerance?

“What You Resist Persists”

Today’s social and political climate is polarizing. It is times like these that we need to remember what we are fighting for.

A cause may start as a righteous one, but it quickly descends into treachery the moment the fight itself becomes pleasurable: when we derive joy from the suffering of others, even those most heinous; we have lost the way.

It is easy to loathe and idea, a cause, or someone that embodies them; but, if we fine tune our focus on the feelings of hatred, then our minds are shifted from the change that we want to bring and consumed by the flames of hatred that we are fueling within ourselves.

Remember that any battle should not be about the battle nor the opponent; it is about the outcome. And if the desired outcome be peace, then it cannot be manifested by those who are consumed by even a seemingly “righteous” hate.

Resistance is necessary. Enjoyment is not. The eye’s gaze should never  leave the vision of beauty. If you are consumed by your enemy, you will never win. If you are consumed by your vision, you cannot lose.

 

Critical Thinking on Sustaining Power

“The best way to control people is to make it so subtle they know not they are being controlled. Allow some freedoms so they do not question but retard the true potential possessed in the human.”

It would be much easier to rule if simply all accepted to be ruled, but for the masses to accept a ruling agenda, it must sound like it will benefit them. If one rules by force, there will always be some factions that conspires to use force against them; and, one day, they will overthrow them because of the difference in numbers between the ruling and the ruled. But if you rule by benevolence, perceived or authentic, you limit those conspirators to nil or few; the few would be shunned by the masses as outliers and not allowed to influence the other group members that make up the whole.

A Dialogue of Deception

“All warfare is based on deception” – Sun Tzu

But with whom are you at war?

Those who have deceived me.

But if you’re deceived by them how can you defeat them?

I was deceived, but through truth, I have become the deceiver while they still believe themselves to be.

Well, who are these that you speak of who have previously deceived you?

You would know – if you were not one of the deceived.

How would I be so sure I wasn’t just paranoid?

Because once you have peered behind the screen of the magician, you realize there was never magic at all, but instead simply the appearance of it orchestrated by a feeble puppet master. . . once the trick is exposed, one can never go back into the submissive role of being the deceived, but instead becomes the deceiver.

But, if he becomes the deceiver, isn’t he just as bad as the original deceiver?

He could be – if he chooses self – but if he chooses others and views them as himself, then he will not fail.

“If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu

 

 

 

If I were a King?

When I think of being a king, I think of ruling.

But that is where I have made my first mistake.

A king should not rule.

In actuality, if I were asked to make my first rule. I would automatically say, “that there are no rules.”

If this is the case, then nothing and no limitations can be put on anything after the fact because it would violate the first rule of no rules.

And what is something that has no limitations or restraints?

That is freedom and by definition it can have neither because if it does then it would not be free.