Monday, September 03, 2007

One Existential Crisis for the 21st Century: Part I

A surprising number of people in the financial world are well-versed in Philosophy, some of them more knowledgeable than I am, without having any coursework in the discipline. For example, a manager at Merrill Lynch recently tried to engage me in a discussion of Hegel while simultaneously selling me an options contract. He really didn't want to talk about the deal at all, just Hegel. A snippet of that conversation:

Ben: "No, I'm over at eXis now"
Manager: "Not everyone can work here, what did you major in at school?"
Ben: "Philosophy"
Manager:"Really? Whose your favorite philosopher?"
Ben: "We need to talk about what you can price us on Oct puts"
Ben: "Marx, but I'm no communist"
Manager: "If you had to take one idea from Marx that was particularly appealing to you, what would it be?"
Ben[trying to be very politically sensitive I picked a mundane issue]: "I think his conception of history was the most appealing. Of course, his ideas about the rising of the prols were supported by Hegel's conception of history."
Manager: "What is Hegel's conception of History?"
Ben: "Synthesis, Antithesis."
Manager: "Do you know what it leads up to?"
Ben: "Thesis"
Manger: "Good"
Ben: "We are looking to grab BPOP at 80 cents a share"
Manager:"I really like Hegel too"
Ben:"Of course there's this really smart guy, I don't know if you've heard of him, who erronously declared history over after the fall of the Berlin wall, his name was Francis Fukayama and the book was"
Manager: "The End of History"
Ben: "Oh, you know."
Manager: "How did Hegel come up with his theory"
Ben:"I have no idea Mr. [blank]"
Manager: "It was from the Battle of Jenna, I could be wrong, but I think it was from an analysis of Napoleon's movements during the Battle of Jenna."
Ben: "Didn't know that"
Manager: "80,000 shares at 80 cents is no problem, we'll call [blank]"

So I was DOMed. Many of the traders I know are well versed in Philosophy, indeed the best ones often tout Philosophy as their love....Robert Rubin, George Soros, Taleb.

Being on the trading floor is an incredible, cathartic experience and I have met more than just interesting people from all walks of life, as the recruiting pamphlets proudly offer as one of the reasons to work at their respective organizations. These guys are straight up warriors, always on the brink, always exercising their creativity, their wits, and constantly battling themselves. Many of them take 2-3 year breaks from the business in order not to lose their heads. Some of them actually do lose their heads[one guy from Soros' fund lost his money and his family after he started wearing a bike helmet everywhere, even in the car with his kids, who he made wear helmets] A couple of the guys are the Chinese calculating type who never seem to sweat. But most of them, at least at my fund,...most of the people on the trading floor and on the exchange floor are constantly facing an existential crisis. The don't call themselves traders, rather they describe what they do as a movement, an existential movement, a cathartic "thing." "This thing, Ben", they say. "We are pricing everything here; energy, goods, raw materials, companies themselves." They are always waxing their jobs on philosophical terms. The crisis is getting through the day, using these largely philosophical issues as a guide. "This Thing called Life" is now "This thing called Trading."

On my first day of work, my boss came over to me and said, "You've never been exposed to this envoirnment , but this is very serious, people will be swearing and telling jokes but its only to relieve the pressure we're under and that you will oneday face. Your an emotional guy, and so am I...but you need to stay FLAT. It's all worth it because of the money and because this is the enviornment in which we thrive. You need to stay flat." He then spread his arms out and brought them together as if he was running his hands along a flat surface. The same guy told me once that there was "no hiding here", as in personality.

At first I thought that this was ridiculous and felt like saying "0o0o00o" to him in his fucking face when he started waxing philosophical, because I felt he was over compensating for his lack of importance . But then I realized that everything he was saying was true. I was blown away. The stress, the expression of self, and millions of dollars on the line, adds up to unbridled cathartic passion, the kind you used to dream about in college. It is truley do or die. And it is up to you and only you. Enlightenment ideals are fulfilled in this enviorment.

The existential crisis in trading is getting through the day: it requires focus, precision, a bottom-line personality, emotional discipline, and to know where you are going before you actually get there. You are constantly reworking where you are going, who you are, who you must be, adjusting to the factors around you. As a result, the skill set I am learning is greatly applicable to life, in the largest and most severe of senses.....a skill set that will help me face whatever challenges life may throw in my face as it does at my desk.

Who can deny that the 21st Century will usher in a New World Order, both internationally, domestically, culturally, and interpersonally? Who can deny that what is formenting these changes are the markets? This will be the focus in part 2.

8 Comments:

Blogger Benjamin said...

Mr. Liberty, you are among the theologans.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Sebonde said...

It's thesis, antithesis, and, then, synthesis, and you don't have to have studied Hegel to know this; one need only watch re-runs of Nothern Exposure. Furthermore, people who have actually studied Hegel will tell you that the thesis/antithesis schemata is a lousy model for understanding the dynamism of the Aufhebung.

10:14 PM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...

Yo, do people like talk about like Sun-Tzu?

11:04 AM  
Blogger John Liberty said...

Sebonde: Northern Exposure doesn't tell you that the "schemata" was derived from a study of Napoleon's Battle of Jenin. That takes some research.

8:19 PM  
Blogger John Liberty said...

god help us if someone in finance knows something

8:27 PM  
Blogger Sebonde said...

It's J-e-n-a.

2:55 AM  
Blogger Sebonde said...

Damn! I almost missed your classic Zionist slip, Mr. Liberty. Hegel thought the battle of Jena in 1806 was the end of history because it ultimately represented (for Hegel, at least) the beginning of the spread of the ideals of the French Revolution throughout the world, and that would finally stop motor of world history, namely the master-slave dialectic. But your subconscious had your fingers slip and type "Jenin". So, your subconscience apparently thinks that history has its consummation not in the globalization of human rights but in the Zionists' wanton destruction of their enemies.

9:37 PM  
Blogger John Liberty said...

way to dodge the issue you originally brought up

9:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home