The MeToo# campaign has quieted a little, so what I am saying need not be focused only on how the campaign attracted attention, held it, and how/ why it then sobered down. What I am saying applies in general to a much larger range of trends that follow similar patterns in evolution.
Declaimer: This article was originally in January 2019, and some of the data points may be outdated
It’s seen across Nature, in how trends are sparked, take root, flare up, and then ‘sober down’. For example, WILDFIRES. Wildfires happen when the underlying conditions are ‘fertile’, i.e., the soil is full of dried timber or agri-residue. They have a role in evolution, in that they ‘recycle’ the organic matter in dead leaves and turn them into ashes, so that they may be regenerated in the form of new organic matter.
We see this in human behaviour too, but with a pernicious difference. Conditions turn ‘fertile’, in the sense that people ‘get bored’, a common human condition, often called MindWandering in intelligent company. And then they switch on the TV, which turns them into ‘dry timber’ waiting to be ‘sparked’.
This is where the crowd becomes fair game for the Media. Once the TV has been turned on, the battle commences in right earnest to catch the ‘eyeballs’. And everything that catches eyeballs is on display as entertainment, infotainment (in the name of News) and what have you. So what drives eyeballs?
We have 46 basic emotions and an important motivator is Anger. Mostly, Anger is defined as ‘feeling thwarted’ (from an explicit or subliminal objective), but it has shades of grey. One of the important grey areas around Anger is Righteous Indignation, the feeling of conflict when we feel our Value Systems have been violated.
In itself, Righteous indignation is a strong enough emotion, rooted in our sense of Right & Wrong. Also known as our morality, it’s mostly supplied by the Collective Unconscious, (made famous by Carl Jung) which is filled with our religious principles and our Culture. But it’s made doubly strong because it is fed by Herding, which transmits this emotion from one to another across the population. Do you get the connection with dry timber feeding a forest fire?
So now let’s come to the second stage, after ‘fertile conditions’. You need a ‘spark’ to set the forest floor on fire, and that’s provided by Righteous Indignation. So anything that catches the imagination (and Anger is the perfect Limbic emotion), can contribute to such a ‘spark’.
But this is where the analogy veers off. Nature has a specific objective in creating wildfires and recycling organic matter. But suppose there was an arsonist, who’s going around creating wildfires randomly, wherever he sees ‘fertile conditions’, that’s his business.
Exactly that’s what happens in human behaviour. There’s an entire business, the Media, that’s devoted to sparking wildfires, where there are ‘fertile conditions’. This is not ‘intelligent evolution’ with a purpose, it’s just a predator waiting to prey on the weak (a.k.a. the stupid). One of the critical life skills in the modern world is to understand how (and why) the Media works, and the underlying (limbic) emotions that it harnesses to trap you into an irrationality. And that Irrationality is seriously damaging to your (financial) health. To live in this jungle of modern civilization, it’s very important to know about this predatory animal, as much as it is important to know about the snakes and tigers that peopled the jungles that we have come out of.
We often call the Media scurrilous, increasingly voiced in Social Media these days. But the Media is neither a person nor an institution with any centralized (thinking) mind of its own. Whenever you give a monolithic name to something (a country, a religion, the Judiciary, or the Media), you credit that monolith with a thinking mind. But the Media is an unthinking animal, rather like Tigers…..they are a danger the moment you enter the forest, but it’s nothing personal….they are neither specifically looking for you, nor do they have any enmity while they are preying on you, NOR do they even remember the mauling they gave you because you were not careful. Anybody who sits in the public eye is exposed to this Risk, just as anyone who seeks to take a walk in the forest, must risk the prospect of suddenly coming up against a tiger.
We see this regularly in markets, should we dare to buy a publicly listed company, especially one in the glare of the Media. The excess volatility and the noise surrounding the F&O stocks, make much of little changes in business prospects (see the recent movements in the stock prices of Indigo, Tata Steel, or Sun Pharma, and compare it with the long-term change in business prospects), is entirely the creation of the TV Media. Anticipating this news and being able to handle the resultant mayhem, is a critical business for the Derivatives trader it’s almost all he does.
But back to the MeToo# movement to explain an important point. The original spark is unimportant, but the underlying emotion is always Righteous Indignation. Just like the Media latched onto the unfortunate rape victim (who was raped in a moving bus)….well, that was certainly news. Still, without the macabre violence, it would have remained a minor statistic in Police records. By giving the victim a name, this was turned into a major emotive issue that harnessed (you guessed it!!!) Righteous Indignation. That is a violation of our Value Systems that brings out Anger. And that brings the eyeballs.
The point I am making is not the merit of the sparking event, but the way events unfolded thereafter. Those serve the animal, not the original victim. Rather like the accident of you getting lost in the forest, is a minor detail….thereafter, it’s for the tiger who found you, to decide his pleasure with you.
So if Steel prices in China have dropped by 20%, it is then linearly assumed that the same will happen in India. And depending on the nature of the coverage, stock prices will follow suit. Never mind if steel imports don’t tick up, and reality is far removed from the reportage. Surviving this Media-led stampede is a critical life skill in markets, and it is not for you to ask why these things happen as much as it is not for you to ask what the tiger has against you.
The original plaintiff in the Indian MeToo# may have been advised that it would be a good idea to apply for her US citizenship through Political Asylum. So she picked on poor Nana Patekar, whose sympathizers were a major political party. What matters is that this is ‘news’, and the rampaging mobs of clicking photographers don’t have a mind. Because 5 years later, they will be a different bunch, with no memory of what the previous bunches have been doing for the last many years. This is identical to Mr. Market, who never learns, even though individual market participants do. This is why market-watching, as much as media-watching, can be an entirely interesting and productive occupation.
An understanding of the underlying driving emotions is, therefore, a critical Life Skill if you want to live in the modern world. As much as a deep knowledge of the various predators stalking you in the jungle is a critical survival skill. The point is, this is not counted as Education in the financial courses, and is a critical missing link. The current state of financial education is like teaching about the jungle (of human civilization) by putting up a map….how useful is that knowledge, against the appearance of a tiger?!