Saturday, July 25, 2009
Accepting the Chaos... and the Smallness of Man
We came from a recent meeting overseas with investment strategists and thinkers. As we’ve pointed out before, we make our living in the financial markets. It is a wonderful place to be for those who are connoisseurs of the absurd, as we are.
For one thing, “the market” is a bigger and wilder place than most investors seem to want to believe. A participant in the markets must grapple with the fact that little is in his control. Much of what happens over any stretch of time involves a lot of forces interacting and creating cascades of complexity that are hard to wrap one’s brain around. In the absence of such understanding, much of what happens seems a matter of luck or randomness. Meaningless.
It is, in short, a lot like life.
And yet… The thing that strikes us most among our peers is the earnest and never-ending effort to bring order to this chaos. People go to great lengths to explain small changes in stock prices, for instance, over short stretches of time. They go through great lengths to come up with rational ways to predict prices.
And the models people dream up to explain what they see are inherently ridiculous. For instance, there are a number of so-called “chart readers” in markets, or technicians. They think see patterns in stock charts and ascribe great meaning to certain of these patterns – such as when stock prices break through imaginary support lines or arbitrary moving averages.
To us it seems like reading entrails.
Indeed, it really represents a great futile struggle to give meaning and order to what is inherently unstable and whirling, even contradictory, even aberrant and irrational.
This also applies to life. People are constantly searching for meaning in events, struggling to fit them in some greater order for how the world ought to work. They are reluctant to see how small they are.
Another great allegory for life that makes this clear is the sea. Man is very small next to the powers of the great oceans. The sea makes man’s absurd condition hard to miss.
One of the great absurd novels is Melville’s Moby Dick, as Albert Camus noted. (Camus: “I could, at least in the realm of creation, list some truly absurd works. (Melville's Moby Dick, for instance).”)
The novel is absurd on many levels…. in Ahab’s futile quest, in the great power of sea and the White Whale… the meaningless quest … the feeling of being alone that touches all of the characters… the fine line they walk with suicide… death is always very near…
“If a painter of the Absurd has played a role in my idea of literary art,” Camus wrote, “it is the author of the admirable Moby-Dick, the American Melville.”
“I wonder,” says Stubbs, one of Ahab’s officers, “whether the world is anchored anywhere?”
The absurd man reasons that it isn't and he is not concerned. He knows life has no meaning and, therefore, he is free. He cheerfully accepts this fate, looks down into the abyss with a steady eye and is happy.