Mortification of the Flesh


Jöns: What’s that rubbish there?

Painter: People think the plague is a punishment from God. Crowds wander the land lashing each other to please the Lord.

Jöns: Lashing each other?

Painter: Yes, it’s a horrible sight. You feel like hiding when they pass.

Jöns: Give me a gin. I’ve had nothing but water. I feel as thirsty as a desert camel.

Painter: Scared after all?

The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal is a film about the silence of God. It’s set in medieval Europe, during the Plague and the Crusades. The protagonist, the knight Antonius Block, spends the film looking for signs of God’s existence. He stalls Death with a now-iconic game of chess.

They just don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks. We’re too clever for movies that take religion so seriously. So literally. It’s all too earnest for The Age of Snark.

Anyway, as much as it’s about Antonious Block’s existential crisis, The Seventh Seal is about medieval European society’s response to the apocalyptic destruction wrought by the plague. And boy, it ain’t pretty. Inquisitors burn witches. Charlatan theologians prey on the weak and the naive. Flagellants wander from town to town, putting on bizarre religious displays.

Observing a procession of flagellants, Block’s squire mutters:

Is this what we offer to modern men’s minds? Do they really believe we will take all of this seriously?

As investors, we too wrestle with God’s silence. It’s not war or plague that shakes our faith but changes in the structure and behavior of financial markets. How do we respond?

Inquisitors burn witches.

Charlatan theologians prey on the weak and the naive.

Flagellants put on bizarre religious displays.

In many circles–particularly those of the fundamental discretionary persuasion–there has emerged a kind of millenarian cult mindset. We endure this suffering to purge our sins. To mortify the flesh. When The Great Reckoning arrives, the Algos and the Indexers and the Risk Parity Heretics shall be cast into the flames. And we, The True Investors, shall emerge from the hellfire unblemished, as did Buffett after the Dot Com Bubble.

Make no mistake. This is religion. Yes, the sermon comes with charts. There will be CAPE charts. There will be Value/Growth dispersion charts. There will be Active/Passive cycle charts. But these charts aren’t science. They’re religious icons.

As we begin meeting with clients, investment managers and management teams in 2019, I’d encourage us all to look at the arguments and data we’re being presented though this lens.

How much of what’s passed off as “analysis” is, in fact, religious fanaticism clothed in the language and trappings of science?

How much of what’s passed off as “analysis” is, in fact, religious art?

How often, when we laud “conviction,” are we just promoting the mortification of the flesh?

7 thoughts on “Mortification of the Flesh

  1. Analysis, Facts, Religious Art and the Flesh…

    I am curiouse where in this same environment do you place “Narrative?” I ask because I am a huge fan of Ben & Rusty at ET…but here is my thing…do not drink anyone’s coo-laid! I have seen it time and time again, name a group: Crossfit, Value Inv, and now data science (Quid/narrative),,,like most things, recognize a good tool, genuine people and their ideas but don’t drink the coo-laid….Adapt or Die! You take Ben Hunt, awesome communicator but some times I see in some of his thoughts/prognostications; and he is not the only one, a combo of Confirmation Bias and Paranoia of which I call “Confirmed Paranoia,” we see it everyday! When you develop an awesome organization/brand/culture/Team…you become tribal and people drink the coo-laid and who ever the prime missionary is they become Jesus Fricken Christ…just some random thoughts…enjoy your content, what do you think? Thanks Mike

      1. Would greatly appreciate that…Thanks, always interested in smart conversations with smart people, and I include Ben, Rusty, and a hand full of others in that circle…

  2. Analysis becomes religion when the analyst, usually due to self interest, can only come to one conclusion. As the old saying goes, “A barber is never going to tell you you don’t need a haircut”, so it follows that an active manager is never going to extol the benefits of passive or algos etc. Rather, their ‘Analysis’ will essentially provide the audience a Hobson’s choice (shout out to ET). I think this is a parallel to what Rusty wrote regarding the difference between Audacity (analytical conviction) and Pride (religious conviction) with the primary difference being a recongnition and acceptance of one’s own fallibility.

    1. Good points, only thing I would add is once you have money in the market, you are no longer objective, you cannot be, you’re conditioned not to, that recognition/acceptance is accepting one’s own fallibility…that right there starts with not drinking anyone’s coo-laid. I guess it’s trying to reach/sustain an equilibrium/balance at some level as you cut through the noise…always a Skeptic but still an Optimist. Thanks

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