Go Ahead, Refashion The World In Your Image

“I don’t shop at Walmart,” the lefty bumper sticker proudly proclaims. Congratulations I sarcastically think to myself, wake me when you convince ten working class families to do the same.

Similarly, I suppose, I deserve congratulations for having dropped my ballot in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church ballot box last week, but I’d be far more impressed with myself if I convinced another person, or group of people, to vote the way I did.

Whether shopping or voting, I am one drop in ginormous buckets, but what if I tilt the buckets through persuading others to shop, vote, and think more like me? Easier said than done though, because to varying degrees, we’re all engaged in the art of persuasion.

Why are we so intent on getting others to shop, vote, think, and be like us? Because we’re so insecure? If that’s even partially correct, why are we so insecure? As long as I feel good about my daily decision making, why should I care whether others think and act similarly? Fortunately, we’re all different; consequently, what works for me, may not as well for others. And vice-versa. I want the autonomy to decide things mostly by myself, so why my impulse to influence others’ decision-making? Isn’t that a contradiction?

The ecologically minded among us would rightly say because the planet’s future depends upon it. But that reality doesn’t justify projecting all of our myriad beliefs upon others does it? It’s difficult to project our beliefs upon others without a certain arrogance that we know better than you where to shop, who to vote for, what lifestyle is best.

As I touched upon recently, the FIRE—Financial Independence Retire Early—Movement is having a moment. One of the main advocates is Pete Adeney who recently wrote a blog post titled “What Everybody is Getting Wrong About FIRE.” 

To which I wrote as a comment on his blog:

“. . . I don’t understand something fundamental to your thinking. Who cares? That Suze Orman and others hate the FIRE movement? That lots of people are critical of aspects of the Financial Independence Movement? That misperceptions abound? How do inaccuracies or flat out negativity effect you or other adherents of simple living? More generally, apart from the serious, negative ecological consequences of mindless materialism; who cares if someone chooses a long commute to a corporate cubicle? The stridency—everyone can and should follow our example to live better lives—almost harkens of evangelical Christianity. Or intense political partisanship—if only everyone was a Democrat or Republican like me. Every time I walk into the weight room, I see people with scary bad form, but that doesn’t mean I give them unsolicited advice on what to do differently to avoid injury. I totally get sitting around talking in-depth with close friends who are interested in all things financial independence, it’s the caring about what other people think and the proselytizing to the masses I don’t get.”

To which Adeney took issue in this return-of-serve:

“Do you really have to ask why I care about our society’s perception and adoption of these ideas I’m sharing?

I want them to SPREAD, and spread quickly. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

I care, because every bit of pollution and pointless inefficiency and unhappiness hurts all of us. And the solution is so obvious and easy.

My own problems and those of my close friends are already solved. Once you have your own shit set up nicely, it’s a pretty natural instinct to turn outwards and try to help others. And it’s also hella rewarding.”

To which I replied a second time:

“No offense meant, but I do. Concern about pollution is admirable; but ‘efficiency’ and ‘happiness’ are relative terms. That’s why social scientists use the term ‘subjective well being’. If the ideas were truly ‘obvious and easy’ financially independent minimalists wouldn’t be a distinct minority.”

To which another reader replied:

“Maybe you SHOULD help your fellow lifters out with unsolicited advice, before they blow out a knee or herniate a disc. They might even be grateful for your thoughtful intervention (like I am economically, with this particular blog here.)”

Adeney is beloved by his millions of readers, so I’ll always get pillared for daring to do anything but completely agree with him. His blog’s comment section, an echo chamber, is boring, but I digress.

In some ways, the weight room hypothetical is the heart of the matter. There is a middle ground, an alternative to my decision to not offer unsolicited advice and the reader’s suggestion to do exactly the opposite. And that is to offer a compelling enough example—through specialized knowledge, kindness, and care that eventually, some people will ASK for input.

  • How can I improve my finances? How can I save more? How should I invest?
  • How can I build strength without injuring myself? How should I train for a marathon?
  • What do you think about Candidate X? Initiative Y? Why?

Go forth and set compelling examples. And refashion the world in your image one inquisitive person at a time.

How to Retire in Your 30s With $1 Million in the Bank

The very good headline of this New York Times article on the FIRE—financial independence retire early—movement. 

As a minimalist and student of Stoicism, I’ve been intrigued by and read lots about this movement. I’ve even locked horns with the movement’s most popular spokesperson. Steven Kurutz does a nice job explaining the phenomenon. And he provides lots of good links for readers who want to dig deeper.

There’s lots to admire about FIRE folks, but too many of the movement’s advocates  wrongly assume anyone can save $1m and retire in their 30’s. They argue on their numerous blogs that people can do it if they only follow their steps which start with securing a high paying job usually in engineering or computer software. To which Kurutz writes:

“They are. . . benefiting from an lengthy bull run in the stock market and, in some cases, the privilege of class, race, gender and background. It’s difficult to retire at 40 if you work a minimum-wage job, say, or have crushing student-loan debt, or did not have the same opportunities as others because you grew up poor in a crime-ridden neighborhood.”

Those two sentences will not go unchallenged by the FIRE orthodoxy. Probably skimping on humanities and social science courses in college, FIRE zealots tend to overlook the fact that the US economy is not a level playing field. Their counter arguments will not be convincing. It’s their blindspot. 

It’s okay that they have a blindspot, because there’s a lot to admire about the movement, including the practitioners’ disciplined saving, their rejection of mindless consumerism, their emphasis on family, and their determined nonconformity especially in creating non-work identities.