Cynicism and LinkedIn

What makes a cynic? Reason and experience in life or the cold hand of genetic inheritance?

Are cynics just born? Or do they become imbued with cynicism as they travel through life and become convinced by absurdity?

According to Wikipedia, a contemporary cynic has an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives. “A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialism, goals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment.”

In ancient Greece, where the term originated, Diogenes lived in a barrel on the streets of ancient Athens.  Again as per Wikipedia, ancient cynics believed “people can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions”.

The cynic should be using LinkedOut, not LinkedIn.  I was browsing LinkedIn this morning and my immediate and strong emotion was one of cynicism.

Behavior in life is truly fractal. We all spring from the same simple cells which first divided to form life millions of years ago; and so it is of little surprise perhaps that the behavior of life is fractal from the smallest microbe upwards.  Life fights to the death. Bacteria struggles to overcome and dominate. The fungi battle against competing species to achieve dominance so they can fruit and spread their spores. The fox kills and eats the chicken to survive and spread his selfish gene and so on up to the level of the human race.

Business is a battleground. In some countries of the world, life is still largely physical and hence violence is too.  The rule of law is such in many of the world’s ghastly corners that humans can still behave like the fox or the jackal. Or indeed like bacteria or fungi. They club and fight and kill for land and possessions so that they too can pass on their unworthy genes. And so on into the next unworthy and unpleasant generation.

In the more “civilized” West, fractal violence has had to adapt to a better enforced and more sophisticated rule of law.

Social media has become the latest battleground where, instead of clubbing your fellow man to steal his food, shelter and wife you have to convince him to part with all three without violence.

Commerce is the new violence. In the beginning was the mouth and the tooth and the claw. In the beginning was physical violence. And since behavior is fractal, for most species on earth outside of humanity, violence is still the means to survive and prosper.

Think of cancer cells.

But oh so clever man with his gift (or curse?) of consciousness now uses business to conquer and survive. Where he can, man will still use genuine violence in business. He seeks to ruin his competitor and drive him out of business. He seeks to convince the hapless and foolish consumer that his goods or services have value and more value than those of his competitors.

Nowhere is Darwinism more evident than in the world of finance. The tooth and the claw have been replaced by marketing and sales.  The bookies and the forex dealers, the stock brokers and the sellers of investment systems must at one level know that they are selling poison and destruction but they don’t give a damn. If they did they would not survive.

How can any man in good conscience sell bets or betting services when he knows that ruin is the outcome for the consumer? How can men sell endless seminars promising to teach fools to trade when they must know they are selling moonshine and bullshit?

How can the forex broker and execution only stock broker fill his website with useless trading tips and promises when he knows (or ought to know) that he is selling snake-oil with the intention of transferring wealth (and hence Darwinian survival) from the punters’ pockets to his own?

Someone quite rightly recently admonished me by pointing out that there are good things happening in the world.

I must scour LinkedOut for good people doing good things. They must be there.


  1. I enjoyed reading through this posting this morning and I can see the value in your unflinching criticism of those who would pretend to offer something of value, when in fact they are simply trying to scam the unaware or the vulnerable in the world. Such characters do often seem to be in the mainstream far too often, and unfortunately for us folks across the pond from you, we are enduring a period of being governed by one of the most accomplished charlatans of our American history. Lots of the pundits are forecasting gloom and doom, but even the most jaded cynic can review American history and find episodes where circumstances were far worse, and somehow we have managed to get through them.

    Steven Colbert, an American comedian on late night television once said in an interview:

    “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it…because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge.”

    We cannot plod along blindly and suppose that all is well when our circumstances clearly aren’t well at all, but neither can we manage especially well if we only see what’s wrong in the world. It is not always convenient to strive for balance in our worldview, whether we see the glass as half-full or half-empty, but with effort, and an occasional bit of good fortune, hope for a better view is at least possible.

    Oscar Wilde famously wrote, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing,” and while this is an oversimplification of cynicism, the emphasis on not seeing the value which may exist even within an environment where the snake oil salesmen seem to flourish is pointing toward another possibility. We tend to see what we look for generally, and when we see individuals working to “convince the hapless and foolish consumer,” of some scam, we also see that it pays to be well-informed, and perhaps, with sour results from being less so, we might be inspired to correct ourselves and be smarter next time.

    Your expression of contrary views and keen insights won through years of determined effort are valuable and beneficial to those less familiar with the workings of the financial world, and maybe your hard-won knowledge might be applied to provide some hapless person with a bulwark against being duped by such scoundrels.


    1. I believe that partly I am the victim of my physiology in viewing the glass as half full. you are quite correct. You very rightly pointed out a while ago the progress in prison reform in Scandinavia and Greenland. so some things are going right in some places. Reality is most usually in the eye of the beholder. Although I still firmly believe we need to stop “growth” and concentrate on quality rather than quantity.


  2. Anthony,
    I’m not going to say that you’re wrong about the horrors of human existence. In fact I think that I’d go much darker. But here’s the thing. It’s also possible to comprehend this sort of thing in an intellectual capacity, and without being all that harmed by all the suffering and cringeworthy hypocrisy yourself. You might shield yourself from this sort of thing (as I do), and make no mistake, it’s important to be healthy! If some things are indeed horrible, then yes try to grasp them, but also try to not let yourself be taken down as well. I’d have you understand the poison, though drink as little of it as possible yourself. And certainly fight it if you can. But how? What we need most I think, is to formally grasp our nature in a non sugarcoated way.

    Here’s my perception of humanity’s past and (spoiler alert!) future:

    Of course the proto human was a smart mammal which thus developed also sorts of cognitive tools, the most definitive of which would be our natural languages, and perhaps a million years ago. Though tremendously important in a cognitive sense, we remained essentially “animals” until civilization brought specialized occupations, and so tremendous power. Written languages would be our third great revolution I think, with hard science bringing us to the present miraculous state.

    But how might we figure out how to use our amazing power in more effective ways? I believe that we’ll need progress in philosophy and our mental and behavioral sciences. Straightening these fields out should cause a fifth great human revolution, or one that teaches us how to better lead our lives and structure our societies. Note that in absolute terms we’re obscenely wealthy (which our ecosystem should continue to suffer for regardless of standard “environmentalism” hypocrisy). And yet our species suffers tremendously on the whole.

    I believe that we’ll figure out how to wire ourselves up to “pleasure machines” soon enough (which can already be done for mice). Happiness here should required far less resources that expensive food, vacations, housing, and so on, or the very thing which is most destructive to our ecosystem. Eventually we should generally be hooked up to these machines perpetually.

    The standard perspective is that our destiny is to conquer the universe. I think we’ll instead conquer ourselves.


    1. Yes, I agree in progress in philosophy. Diogenes is all very well but few of us really want to live in a barrel. Pleasure machines are indeed essential, whether those arrive as drugs or some sort of alteration in our DNA. I too believe it will happen. I wholeheartedly agree with the necessity to conquer ourselves. It is 100% necessary to alter our innermost views so that we can live better, more altruistically. We are brutes still. We are little better than cancers. As you so rightly say we need philosophy to fully realize and express this and then science to give us the means to alter ourselves.


  3. God yes, LinkedIn was a whirlpool in a cesspit when I joined. Soon deleted my account there. Full of people writing banal advice on how to attract attention to your stuff, ponzi schemes, those what-jer-call-ems, opinion leaders or persuaders or some other up-yerself name I can’t remember. I suppose one might be able to start filtering all that and make connections with people who are actually worth talking to, but certainly the default view was just a mash-up of people trying to teach you how to make cash (often just by teaching others how to make cash).

    I have to say I concur with your general characterizing of biology as competitive (and I was definitely a full-blown cynic when I was younger). Even the evolved function of cooperation (hundreds of millions of years old, but more sophisticated in humans) is more correctly “collusion”, beneficial to those colluding, by making their competitive power all the more potent against the out-group or prey – super for lions, terrifying for wildebeest – and our wonderfully advanced human cooperation (always on a knife edge) has allowed us to cause half the rest of the biosphere to go extinct while we spread, as you say, cancer-like.

    But in recent years or decades I began to see it differently. Humanity has been improving and has the potential for great transformation. Almost every statistic, murders and war casualities, the genocides and oppression, the rape and child molestation, the sexism and racism, all are reducing. We’re bombarded with media stories that make us think otherwise, and our awareness of such things, and our general outrage at them, is very different from how it was just a generation or so ago. Yes, we’re destroying the planet, but there’s a strong chance we might draw back from that, and it looks very much like we’ve just reached that social turning point on climate change.

    Our species is learning right now that this collusion-exploitation game doesn’t work. We’re learning that we don’t have somewhere else to move when the river is fished out or the midden is full – the default position for all of our history – because all the seas are fished out and the world is a midden. We’re learning that we’re dependent on the whole ecosystem. This message, this wake-up call, is now echoing around the globe, and the deniers are becoming pariahs. That social pressure is enormous.

    Personally, I think Extinction Rebellion is making big mistakes with the targets they choose for their demos, but it’s early days and they’ll learn. I mean, if you’re just thinking about lowering your carbon footprint and leave the car at home and take a punt that the train will be on time, only to find some ER twonk standing on top of it so it can’t run…pfff. Save the planet – make public transport work even worse than it already does. Ejits. Not that they should be stopping the road traffic either, IMHO. We need to find better ways, target politicians, business leaders, major polluters. Joe Bloggs needs encouragement and green opportunities.

    But the good people are there, and we’re rallying our forces. I include you in that, obviously, for writing this and your later one if nothing else (and I’m sure there’s more). You’ll probably get your wish for reduced population – if we don’t make enough progress there will be massive deaths in war, famine, plagues…once the wealthy, spoilt climate refugees from flooded coastal cities start spreading inland and wanting to be fed, things could get messy, especially in the USA where they’re armed to the teeth.


    1. I am very glad that you feel able to express such a positive view. You are absolutely right about needing to persuade those who have the power to alter society. And at least Extinction Rebellion, Swampy and all the other touchie-feelies are raising public awareness and rallying opinion.

      I am far too black.

      The other thing of course is that I ought to be doing something positive about the situation. I strongly believe in population control and returning what is left of the planet to nature again. And it does not have to lead to dystopia if done correctly.


  4. Or as the late, great, Reverend Dr. Sir Monty Python once said, “Always look on the bright side of life, / wh wh, / wh wh wh wh wh wh.”


      1. Long/short US-largecaps
        No I am not leasing it out there, you can get about $250 a month but they could theoretically just use it for any amount of money. I could probably try to put it up for an extremely large price and see what happens…


      2. THB with CAGR of 20% I would not bother. So long as you have a few hundred thousand to trade it. We ought to get together for coffee again. I would enjoy hearing your experience with Quantconnect and quantopian. Having worked out how to use Quantopian I am feeling a bit bored by the prospect of learning Quantconnect. My Python is fine but learning to use someone else’s code is always a bit dull. The only reason I am bothering is that they have minute data and also I might use them to trade my account on autopilot.


      3. Unfortunately I don’t have those few hundred thousand since I spend my life chasing this holy grail (or white elephant?).
        Learning QC is not that hard, I try to keep most of my Q code intact. You can also check out Alpaca Markets, they allow livetrading Q algos afaik.


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