Who is drawn to mass movements?

Book review of The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer.


Over the last few years, I have been compelled to curiosity about the nature of mass hysteria. I previously reviewed Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay.

The True Believer focuses on who gets involved in movements before they become established institutions – Bolsheviks in 1920, Nazis in 1925, Christians before Constantine and so on.

That’s a motley collection of mass movements, so I must add that Eric claims he does not see mass movements as necessarily bad. This book is mostly read as a warning about how extremist movements get started but it could equally be read as a how-to guide for getting a noble cause off the ground. Keep that in mind as we continue.

Eric’s main assertion is that true believers are, for the most part, unsuccessful and unhappy people:

. . . people with a sense of fulfillment think it a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change.

Discontent is not enough. There must also be a sense of power to change things. An extremely poor peasant with no rights is unlikely to join a mass movement unless something convinces him it may succeed, perhaps a charismatic leader who seems infallible or firm belief in a doctrine.

The true believer seeks to join a movement primarily as a way of escaping himself.

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Word from the Dark Side – illegal flag, kids don’t shag, prayer room snag and fungal swag

Anyone remember this one? Low by Cracker, 1993

British Veteran Arrested for Causing ‘Anxiety’ by Displaying LGBT Flags as Swastika:

“Mr. Brady is British Army Veteran and they were trying to extort him for money by making him pay around £80 for educational course so he could downgrade from a crime to a non-crime, which would still show up in a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.” ( . . . )

When the police returned, they placed Brady in handcuffs after he informed them of his decision not to attend the “re-education” class and pay the fine, prompting Fox to begin filming the arrest, which has since gone viral.

Judge who OK’d Mar-a-Lago raid Obama donor once linked to Jeffrey Epstein:

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Word from the Dark Side – the dragon wakes, teambuilding mistakes, rural population breaks and Rolex headaches

Mama Luba by Serebro, 2011. HT commenter PrinzEugen from this post

Pulling apart a Salon agitprop piece about the Ukraine war:

Russia has lots of heavy bombers. Where are they? Also, didn’t the Jewish Comedian just recently fire half his command staff? I know they just deployed the closest thing we will ever see to the literal 45th Mechanized Hairdresser Battalion — those snazzy unicorn patches must really be bucking up the guys at the front — but… you know.

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The Secret History of Taiwan

Taiwan Aboriginal skull wall. Source

I’ve been meaning to write a post on Taiwan for a long time. I decided to rush one out before it’s too late.

The intention of this post is to correct common misapprehensions about Taiwan’s fascinating history. It is not to argue that the island does or does not belong to the PRC. That is to be decided by their willingness and ability to defend themselves. As Stalin supposedly said of the Pope, how many divisions does historical truth have?

The common, misleading version of Taiwanese history goes like this: Taiwan was once a province of China. Toward the end of the Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces fled there and that’s how it ended up out of CCP control.

The real history goes more as follows. Obviously this must be a brief summary so pipe up in the comments if you think I’ve missed something vital or just interesting. I’ll also get things wrong because this is partly from memory.

In the beginning

Taiwan was ruled by warring Aboriginal tribes almost until modern times. Many made a custom of headhunting and decorating their villages with impressive skull walls as pictured above. Other tribes along the coast were more peaceable and lived by fishing.

Small groups of Chinese and Japanese sometimes visited the coast, often pirates hiding out from their respective governments. At this time, Taiwan was considered a wild and barbarous place by Chinese authorities and they had little interest in doing anything with it. Han imperial expansion went in every direction but east.

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Word from the Dark Side – Monkeys a-poxxin, playwrights agitproppin, elites a-plottin and town managers a-droppin.

Mozart’s Requiem, composed 1791, performed by the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina, 2015.
This work was commissioned anonymously. Mozart realized his secret patron was God, that the requiem was for his own death, and that he must repent. Mozart died before it was complete and you can hear him gradually fading through the piece.
You might be skeptical about this story. You might even have evidence. But is it really worth losing your online friends over? Mozart’s Requiem was commissioned by God.

Soros Minion Comes Down with Monkeypox Celebrating Pride Month; You Are to Blame:

And then a whole bunch of Sorrows of Job happened to this 39 year old Swedish immigrant named Kohn living in Brooklyn and working for George Soros in sexual health, which must totally be the fault of the NYC health bureaucrats as opposed to him showing his New York Pride pride by having sex with several guys over the weekend.

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Friday Finance – what happens when empires crumble?

Some assume that a retracting Global American Empire will cause economic chaos.

On the face of it, this makes sense. The US controls Middle East oil and the global currency (those two go together like electromagnetism), shipping lanes to Asia, plus it has massive sway in global bodies like the IMF, World Bank and so on.

Countries that attempt to break out of the GAE system tend to be destroyed or isolated and impoverished.

However, all of these are now under threat. Some countries are starting to use alternative currencies, including oil producers. China is asserting control over the South China Sea and is either taking over or creating alternatives to international organisations.

Small countries are not yet able to blatantly defy America and get away with it but China, Russia and India can do as they please. Much of the non-Western world is on the cusp of slipping the collar:

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Managed decline

The biggest issue on Earth right now is demographics. Everything else is a sideshow.

We are living at a world-historical moment. Have a look:

Over the 20th century, we went through a phase of massive population growth enabled by the Green Revolution, improved hygiene, nutrition and development in general.

Since 1945, famines have only occurred alongside war or other political problems. The massive plagues of the past also appear to be over. Compare Sweden’s historic death rate spikes compared to the piddly, modern Covid bump:

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Word from the Dark Side – Down From Dover, war guilt drove her, beat the broker and faces are over

Down From Dover by Dolly Parton, 1970

Body of Russian model who branded Putin ‘a psychopath’ found in suitcase year after going missing. Read to the end and you’ll see that this story is mostly about Yahoo News.

Did you know??? A bunch of (mostly) socialists blockaded a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne, 2000. Eventually the riot squad (remember them?) took off their badges and bashed them stupid. The event was called the S11 Protest, after the starting date of September 11th, a moniker which was overwritten a year later.

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Friday Finance: beating the house

I often refer to the S&P 500 on these pages. It is an index of the largest 500 US stocks.

This is because, as far as investing is concerned, the S&P 500 is The House. It is the standard by which all other investments are measured.

This is not because an index fund based on this particular index is necessarily the best. One that is even broader, encompassing thousands of stocks or perhaps including international stocks, might better suit some investors.

Rather, the S&P 500 is the house because (a) it is the biggest game in town, featuring the world’s largest companies, (b) it is the most well-known index, (c) it has excellent statistics and charts available going way back, and (d) its size and importance makes it a good proxy for how well stocks perform in general. Many other stock market indexes closely correlate with the S&P.

If you want to know how well some other investment option has historically performed, you must ask: compared to what? And the ‘what’ will be the S&P 500, just as you’d compare the carbohydrate content of sorghum against wheat or the strength of chromium against steel. It is the bog-standard investment everybody knows and understands, it’s been around for a long time and it is as mainstream as you can get.

The Holy Grail of investing is to beat this index.

We know that a few manage to do it – Warren Buffet, some lucky geeks who sold their crypto just in time and so on. It is physically possible.

We also know that very few actually manage to do it. The average investor underperforms the S&P because he buys high and sells low rather than buying and holding for the long term.

In this post we’ll analyze various investment options spruiked by some as index-beating miracles and see how well they do. The results may be surprising.

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The origin of food

Source

It’s funny to think that the potato is a New World species.

We think of its role in the Irish Famine, curries, French Fries and so on, but until Columbus sailed the the ocean blue it was unknown outside the Americas.

The same goes for tomatoes. Think of those millennia of Italian history before tomatoes!

You know another New World crop? Peanuts! Alexander the Great never ate a peanut. Nor did Caesar, Charlemagne or Tamerlane. Napoleon probably had a few.

Other crops restricted to the Americas until the 1500s or so include avocado (thus premodern young people could more easily afford a down payment on a house), chili peppers (think of India again), passionfruit, strawberries, walnuts and cashews.

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Word from the Dark Side – Moonie donation, ambassadorial celebration, beating inflation and meme conflagration

Chinese Café by Joni Mitchell, 1982

More details emerge about the Abe shooter. Seems his mother donated about $1 million to the Moonies, thus bankrupting her and depriving the son of a chance to attend university.

Another article mentions that he originally planned to attack the head of the church, Mr Moon’s widow, but couldn’t because Covid restrictions prevented her from visiting Japan.

This technically makes Abe the only major world leader to die of Covid-related causes, ne?

This has to win the award for World’s Busiest Headline:

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This is financial advice (for Smaug)

Smaug the Magnificent by Michael Hague

Smaug pursues a unique financial strategy.

Being the Middle Earth version of the Wolf of Wall Street, he emerges from the Grey Mountains and attacks the great Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, located beneath the Lonely Mountain, in 2770. He piles up all the treasure of the underground kingdom in a great hall and makes it his residence. Forbes estimates his net wealth at USD $62 billion.

From this time on, Smaug only emerges occasionally to steal and eat a maiden from neighbouring Lake Town. Good thing he didn’t live anywhere near my town or he’d have been a very hungry worm. Eventually Lake Town is abandoned and he disappears for a long time, presumably inactive and asleep like those snakes in zoos that do nothing and only need to eat once every two years or so.

Smaug chooses not to invest his wealth in stocks, bonds, real estate (aside from the mountain) or in money market accounts. He doesn’t even have a bank account. Instead, he keeps it all in its original treasure form, mostly physical gold but also priceless antiques such as mithril armour and the Arkenstone.

Finally Smaug is killed in 2941, ending his wicked reign of 171 years.

Here are some finance tips that might have helped Smaug.

The Good

1. Bookkeeping
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Word from the Dark Side – the fash are attractive, America’s radioactive, soccer’s extractive and Tassies are slappive [updated]

Jump by Van Halen, 1983

On America:

The USA was a shining beacon to the poor, the downtrodden, but also to the industrious, adventurous and free-spirited. America absorbed these newcomers and turned them into Americans. To be an American was to better than the rest. No longer held hostage to Old World grudges and rigid class structures, the American was free to make of himself what he could: a New Man.

That American Dream is long dead.

Ask any GenXer from Ontario or Quebec (or most likely anywhere else in Canada) their memories of the first time that they crossed the border into the USA and you will hear a familiar refrain: “I couldn’t believe how run down it was!”

The number of Australian Aborigines has doubled over the last 20 years.

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Friday Finance – DON’T PANIC!

The S&P 500 is down 21% at the time of writing, making this the worst first half of a calendar year on the market since 1970.

PANIC! SELL EVERYTHING! SET FIRE TO YOUR KITCHEN! EAT YOUR DOG! PUT A PAIR OF UNDERPANTS ON YOUR HEAD! This is financial advice.

Okay, if you’ve been reading this for a while you’ll know why that’s the worst thing to do. Unless you sell, the losses are paper losses. Wait long enough and stocks will recover. Based on history, this is likely to take anywhere from several months to several years.

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Word from the Dark Side – banning Nazi signs, dangerous times, tapping Zoomer spines and crab boiling fines

Displaying swastikas in Victoria, Australia, is now illegal (along with everything else) because the symbols have apparently become dangerous 77 years after we defeated the Nazis. Swastikas were legal throughout the war itself, back when we had real problems to deal with.

The ban might lead to odd situations:

. . . I was working on the Census and my immediate boss was Jewish, he was a good boss. He was a modeller who made models of ships and aircraft. He told me about a problem that he had building a 32nd scale Stuka. Every German plane in WWII had two swastikas painted on the tail fin, one on each side for identification purposes. Painting such details onto a model aircraft requires a level of skill few possess, so instead the model companies include decals which you wet and then put onto the aircraft where it dries and stays in place. But the two swastikas were not included with the kit, in fact they had been cut out of the sheet of decals because in some European countries it’s illegal to buy, sell or display symbols from the Third Reich.

I asked him ‘so how did you get around that?’

He told me that you can buy a sheet of 100 swastika decals of various sizes through the mail. So he bought his 100 swastikas, used two and by now he might have used a few more. But I’m guessing that he hasn’t used them all, so in some Jewish guy’s house there are now a collection of swastikas.

No word on banning the Rising Sun flag, which would be tricky because the navy of Japan, now our ally once again, still uses it.

One should not assume special treatment for Jews in Victoria. Be the wrong sort and you might get arrested at the airport for no reason:

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Friday Finance – stuffing up the 3 basics

It’s now been long enough since I published my book that I’ve received some feedback and seen how it has or has not helped people.

I was initially concerned about higher-level issues, given that it was aimed at absolute beginners: will they be able to figure out the most appropriate index funds/EFTs without me holding their hand? Did I explain the pros and cons of owning real estate well enough for them to make the best decision for themselves? Will an advisor overcharge them just to put their money in shitty managed funds, despite all I’ve said?

As it turned out, these problems rarely arise. It seems that people either get everything, from the basics up, or they grasp nothing at all.

Here are the three biggest finance blunders people are running into, even after reading the book:

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Word from the Dark Side – money blues, Afro dues, doomers lose and bad news . . .

. . . for my haters! I’m back.

Against coronadoom:

[Excess deaths in Germany] are at the very top of the normal range. People have spent two years avoiding routine medical check-ups, getting very little exercise, eating terrible food, dealing with depression – and yes, being vaccinated and revaccinated with our miraculous mRNA elixirs. They’re not doing great, but they’re not dying in droves either.

Timeless finance lessons from the last three years:

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Friday Finance – Millennials will save America

The hard sell

‘Millennials will make the American economy boom over the 2020s.’

It’s an unusual sentiment to hear in this age of doom and gloom.

My first reaction was the same as yours, but Tom Lee has put together a convincing demographic case that American growth ought to be stronger than than of other major economies into the 2030s due to its comparatively large Millennial population.

Let’s examine the stats and consider counterarguments.

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