A Pause For Reflection


It’s a bit hard for me to believe but I’ve apparently published 200 posts on this blog since I started writing it in September 2017. When I got this notification it prompted some introspection. I went back to my very first post, Zen & The Art of Investment Research. There I articulated a hazy vision for the ideas I wanted to explore here, writing:

Some people will argue there are compliance procedures like departmental firewalls to prevent conflicts of interest from influencing analysts’ recommendations. To which I would respond with The Golden Rule: He Who Hath The Gold, Maketh The Rules.

You may quote me chapter and verse from a compliance manual. I do not care what is written in someone’s compliance manual. In practice, if ever there is a dispute between a profit center like an investment banking group and a much smaller profit center (or, god forbid, a cost center) like a research group the profit center will win out every time.

Examining applications of The Golden Rule throughout history and contemporary events is part of what this blog will be about. This blog will also be about exploring the way the world works, through the lens of The Golden Rule, without needing to worry about where we end up and whether our conclusions might cost us our jobs.

One of the things that drew me to investment research is that in its purest form, it provides clears incentives, both positive and negative, for intellectual honesty, regardless of whether something makes you uncomfortable ideologically.

I think I’ve done a pretty good job executing on that vision over the last year and a half, though my reading and writing have gradually drifted from “pure” finance and economics to more of a focus on narrative abstraction, and how narrative abstraction is used to shape financial markets (not to mention our world). I expect this to continue to be my focus for the foreseeable future.

Something I’ve spent more and more time thinking about lately, especially as Demonetized has attracted a (very small) audience, is what I want this blog to be.

One thing I’ve decided it will not be is a business. Will I potentially write other things that I’ll attempt to sell? Yes. But this blog will remain Demonetized (actually more like un-monetized). I’ve got two major reasons for this.

First, this blog doesn’t lend itself to monetization. Maybe some affiliate links. But the writing itself isn’t the kind of (shudder) “content” that works as a product.

Second, I want this blog to be a place where I can follow my interests as they evolve over time.

Something I’ve observed studying narrative is that if you’re a public intellectual, and you make a living as a public intellectual, you essentially become locked into a particular shtick over time. This isn’t necessarily grifting (though it can be). It’s a function of the fact that your followers customers sketch out mental models of you over time. These models aren’t robust. They’re brittle. They fuel what my friends at Epsilon Theory call the game of you: “mirror” or “rage” engagements.

What brings out the real emotion and the real confusion is when a mirror engagement goes awry. It’s also confusing when a rage engagement goes against type and agrees with you on something, but the reaction isn’t upsettedness … it’s boredom. The emotion when a mirror engagement goes against type is much more pronounced, much more urgent. It’s a betrayal.

Not a big betrayal. Not a personal betrayal. Not (usually) a permanent betrayal. It’s not even a Heel Turn, to use the pro wrestling phrase, when a Baby Face (a good guy) flips the script and becomes a Heel (a bad guy) in some shocking plot twist.

No, it’s more like when your favorite sitcom has a “very special episode” where they deal with some social issue du jour in a “serious” fashion that of course you find cringe-worthy. That’s not what you want from Three’s Company!

When you’ve got a dedicated audience (or maybe an anti-audience, if you tend to attract rage engagements), the audience isn’t drawn to you (a complex individual who is likely to change over time), but rather a cartoon of you (a sketch that’s appealing on the basis of prospective mirror or rage engagements). It’s this cartoon that’s brittle. Evolve your views and interests “against type” and you risk breaking the cartoon. You risk losing your audience. Not to mention your revenue.

This incentivizes stagnation.

And stagnation is the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve here.

So over time I will go where curiosity takes me, albeit with an emphasis on ideas connected to finance, economics and geopolitics.

Maybe I’ll pause to reflect again in another couple hundred posts.

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