Relive a little

When I came to America, all I wanted was a green card; when I got it, all I wanted to do was to study; when I got an opportunity to study and understand the subject I had chosen, I wanted to gain a passing understanding of countless subjects from nightclubbing in NYC to Lie groups. I found incredible mentors in every subject, and I emulated all their individual loves. 

Now I want to be rich. Very rich. My mother said: well, go make money. She doesn’t get it; I don’t want to make money, I want to be rich. 

Meaning, I regret my past choices. 

Schopenhauer says our existence is a cruel negative joke. We are doomed to repent the past and waste the present. He was born with some money that was at the risk of being lost. But he recovered it in his 20s through relentless litigation. After that, he lived frugally and never worked a day, read copious amount of shit on all subjects, and wrote the most astounding books and essays. 

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards money is the same as Howard Marks or Buffett or  Ben Graham: keep a good margin of safety and avoid large losses. Then you can at least spend this joke of a life on activities that interest you. 

But was I really interested in the activities that I had wasted my life on? To find out, I made a list of movies and plays I had enjoyed in my youth, from Andy Warhol and Woody Allen to the AIDS era productions like Parting Glances and Jeffrey and Hedwig and Beautiful Thing to indie Asian cinema like Yi Yi, and binge watched them. My grand operatic aim was to flagellate and berate myself for passing on NYC real estate when it was affordable. 

As the movies rolled, I was, to my surprise, once again enraptured by the life they had opened for me and my partner in crime.  Our friendship and love for each other was on show ever night at the movies and the theater, and even though we never said much to each other, we lived gloriously in the artistic expressions of those more gifted than us. My love for my friend overspilled into my love for knowledge. I loved telling him all the crazy ass shit I had learned. And he would listen raptly and retreat into his own private world, enchanted. 

Now he’s gone and I am here. 

Schopenhauer says a man is surprised to find himself doing the same thing over and over again. Because a man doesn’t realize that he’s only free to do what he was predestined by his eternal unchanging Nature to do. On cue, I had done it too. I had once again gotten sucked in to the artistic, and had forgotten about the cheap real estate. 

No matter how many lives I am granted, I will spend my youth on arts and knowledge, and my middle age lusting for the cheap real estate and the lost love of my past. 

Meanwhile, the present, the most gorgeous of all beings I’ve ever met, incessantly and fruitlessly flirts with me. 

Other people 

I look down on a lot of people. I think they are shallow; I am happy I am not them; I revel in making them uncomfortable and regretful about their own life choices; I thrill in being able to do things we all know they can’t; I get upset when they flee and repulse me and try to cut me down. I play mindless  Aumman common knowledge mind games with their insecurities. 

But I am hoisted by my own petard, because when I needed them the most, they were there to help me. I stand here because of their goodwill.  

Schopenhauer said life is a joke; negativity is the rule, and positive the aberration. He said that men fear the future, regret the past, and waste the only true gift, the present. He formally proved in Book 4 of World as Will and Representation  that the only way to live a free life is to do what Eastern philosophy has always asserted: to learn to see that the will in me is the same will in you.  Sometimes I can blur the I vs the not-I and enjoy the unity of all entities. But too often, I shrink into my I and repulse the not-I. 

Once I had someone who could effortlessly snap me back into the not-I. I now have to learn to do it myself, knowing that his soul is somewhere in the universal not-I. 

Delusions of grandeur

Can you make an instant list of people you worship unabashedly? If not, you’re delusional.

My instant list:

1. Michael Jackson. Total genius who changed the Super Bowl.

2. Terry Tao. What an expositor! Read his fall 2015 probability notes if you don’t believe me.

3. Schopenhauer. Fourfold root of reason. Genius. World as will and representation. Even more genius. Contains the most profound theory of race and sexuality with an incredible appendix on LGBT. The  theory of equality of races and cultures is in the main text. A disaster of a book on gender issues, however.

4 Bill Gates. How can he read so much? And run his foundation and myriad of startups (myriad of! Remember that scene in Heathers? Genius movie.)

5. Charlie Munger. His almanac and his article on psychological biases are genius. After many many tries, I finally understood what his lollapalooza effect is all about. It’s everywhere. Look up. If you don’t see it in the first thing you see, you don’t get Carlie Munger and his genius.

6. Wanda Landowska. LGBT Bach genius. No one comes close. Not Gould. Not Fellner. Not Guida.

I can go on and on.

Save for Spinoza 

Ask any great investor — Buffett, Graham, Swenson — and they will say that dollar cost investing, where you take all your savings at the end of the month and put it in S&P 500 irrespective of what the market is doing, is the best investment strategy. 

But this is incredibly hard to do. Why? Because Spinoza, says Graham. People freak out when the market tanks (see Here). 

Why do people freak out?

To understand this, you need to think of human history in terms of my favorite movie Alien vs Predator (remember Chris Rock’s Oscar interview in south central LA?), where humans are caught between two powerful warring entities. In real life, the two entities are closeted LGBT fighting to crush the out LGBT (think of the acts of Zhou Enlai, G. Harold Carswell, Dennis Hastert, e.g.,). Of the many LGBT heroes, Kolmogoroff, Turing, etc., none comes close to Deirdre Mccloskey. She taught me how to think about capitalism in a deep philosophical manner. 

Most lovers and haters of capitalism, I realized, begin by first caricaturing it. Only Deirdre has seen it correctly (tech alpha male Peter Theil has openly mused whether being an out LGBT gives one superior clarity into human affairs; and the only cause Jeff Bezos has given to is LGBT. Most of the hedge fund financiers of the GOP are LGBT donors; they have even extracted LGBT safety oaths from the likes of Ted Cruz ). Whatever the reason, Deirdre has nailed capitalism. Read her website. 

Once you have philosophically understood capitalism, a very hard thing to do, the gyrations of the markets become leaves in the  wind. You realize that the day capitalism truly falls, you are dead anyway. (If you don’t get what dead means in this context, you haven’t gotten Deirdre or dollar cost averaging). 

Spinoza says that freedom is being immune to gyrations. But that freedom is hard won. Ask Deirdre!

No MBA for Sheryl Sandberg

The Facebook CEO went on record recently saying an MBA is not needed at Facebook. Her tone may be mellow, but her message is in the same tune as the harsher notes of tech alpha males like Ben Horowitz and Peter Theil. These guys go the jugular of top MBA programs like Stanford. 

Sandberg herself got an MBA and says she had a nice time — like a restaurant or a movie that was okay at the time but one you wouldn’t recommend to friends. 

So I began thinking about this. One of the biggest surprises for me recently was to discover how many female entrepreneurs my mother has nurtured from her home over the years. These women have gone off to do their own thing management, medicine, art history, retail, etc.

While business schools and others — see the recent NYT article — are designing all these avant garde modules on entrepreneurship, my mother’s approach is entirely rooted in philosophy, literature, cultural heritage, and listening. What many entrepreneurs need most is not a primer on budgeting, but help understanding themselves and their inner drive to do their own thing. Only then can they put budgeting and market research and “business tools” in perspective. 

Business schools professors researching analyst forecast bias and optimal disclosure and investment policies are utterly useless for this purpose. You can have limitless money and buildings and chaired professors, but not much will come out of it unless they help the entrepreneur find herself (see my post on the literate billionaires). As Shakespeare said presciently about his own work, which has outlasted most buildings of his time:

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

Instead what become crucial are factors such as race gender sexuality, because they help a female understand herself and others around her. But much of the arts and philosophy — the best way for us to understand ourselves — take a male perspective, leaving it entirely to females to extract whatever they can out of the male experience. And if the female is gay and woman of color, she is entirely on her own. Many men I have known have at some point openly disparaged such women and then have worked to crush them. 

Recently, I saw an amazing movie on a female entrepreneur co-screenwritten by the movie’s star herself; the movie is called Mistress America. It’s an entirely different perspective than Steve Jobs or Zuckerberg or whatever. But it is as gripping a commentary on innovation and creativity and stealing of ideas. 

Many years ago the Nobel committee gave its prize to a male author who excelled in writing about the female. Needless to say, no one reads him. But books like that are far more useful to business schools in getting the entrepreneur started than an expert on analyst forecast bias. 

From the Nobel Committee 1973:

White’s last two books are among his greatest feats, both as to size and to frenzied building up of tension. The Vivisector is the imaginary biography of an artist, in which a whole life is disclosed in a relentless scrutiny of motives and springs of action: an artist’s untiring battle to express the utmost while sacrificing both himself and his fellow-beings in the attempt. The Eye of the Storm places an old, dying woman in the centre of a narrative which revolves round, and encloses, the whole of her environment, past and present, until we have come to share an entire life panorama, in which everyone is on a decisive dramatic footing with the old lady.

One of the best entrepreneurial center for women was at Bryn Mawr. You can’t get anywhere in modern algebra (and, by extension, in modern physics and CS and cryptography and quantum chemistry and many other subjects) without Noether’s ideas. 

So, no MBA for Sheryl Sandberg. 

The dollar literati 

A common theme in many billionaires’ writings — Charlie Munger, Howard Marks, Buffett’s Guru Ben Graham — is an appeal to philosophers. Doesn’t matter what life purpose — to save the world, or to make money and underpay taxes, or both — you first need to understand yourself. Philosophers are naturally the first source. Then you can move to Shakespeare and psychologists (see, e.g., Munger’s article on behavioral biases). Ben Graham’s appeal to Spinoza’s Ethics, while completely contrary to Spinoza’s purpose, is most apt. Spinoza nails exactly why investing is difficult. 

In his recent letter to shareholders, Munger says he wants a CEO who reads a lot. Where did he get that idea? Maybe here? He and Buffett both read constantly. Bill Gates reads more than me; and I have far fewer responsibilities.