My Great-Uncle Alfred

Filed under Political
I have a fictitious great-uncle Alfred.  Everything he says is to be taken with a grain of salt.  He is a huge curmudgeon and ultra-contrarian.  If you tell him the sky is blue, he will tell you it's not really blue because yadda-yadda-yadda.  His reasoning is deeply flawed because he is senile.  But he doesn't know his flaws.  He just knows he's always right.  Most of the time he's not.  But sometimes, he says things that are profound and actually do follow logically.  After all, a stopped clock is right twice a day (unless it's military, then it's only right once a day).
 
A contrarian is a person with a preference for taking a position opposed to that of the majority view prevalent in the group of which they are a part.  Both Alfred and I are contrarians.  But Alfred is a total nut who can't be taken seriously and doesn't care anyway.  I, on the other hand, do care.  I want to be taken seriously and it bothers me to be ignored, unlike Alfred.
 
So if you tell Alfred he is sitting inside a motor vehicle, he will tell you there is no such thing as an "inside" to a motor vehicle.  The concept of "inside" is define in topological terms to him.  In topology, an object cannot have an "inside" if it also has a hole.  Alfred is technically correct from the standpoint of this very specific area of mathematics concerned with spatial properties.  But normal people do not think in those terms.  Alfred doesn't comprehend the normal terms.  He just assumes everybody knows what the heck he's talking about.  He is only interested in being contarian and you're supposed to know that if you're talking to him.  Alfred probably should be confined to a rubber room because although topology is an important area of study within mathematics, it is not something we apply in day-to-day life.  He wouldn't be inside the rubber room anyway, so he'd probably be fine with that situation.
 
I use the idea of Alfred in an attempt to temper my own assumptions.  When I am being contrarian in a dialog or debate (which is 99% of the time, it seems), these days I try to listen to myself as if Alfred is talking.  If this old curmudgeon says things that just sound off-the-wall, maybe they are.  Maybe I need to modify how I express my ideas so that they couldn't be said by Alfred.
 
For instance, if I say I don't trust government, isn't that exactly how Alfred would say it?  So maybe I can word it better.  If I word it in such a way that it is atypical of Alfred but still gets the same point across, my idea will be more convincing.
 
Instead of saying I don't trust the government, maybe I could assert that government doesn't seem to act in the best interest of most people.  That is a more reasonable assertion.  And it's also very atypical of something Alfred would say.
 
Alfred is also very set in his ways.  He learned one way to think about things and applies that way to all new situations.
 
Me: Have you ever heard of a "collar" trade in the stock market?  It's a risk management strategy that combines a covered call and a protective put.
 
Alfred: They're nuts!  That reminds me of portfolio insurance back in the 80's or credit default swaps in the 2000's.  The problem with using these schemes is that if everybody does it, there's not enough liquidity in a crisis to protect everyone's asses when everything unwinds at once.
 
Maybe Alfred is right about that.  But then again, maybe the markets figure out a way to address the lack of liquidity for massive collar trades.  I'm not saying there wouldn't be new problems as result of solving lack of liquidity.  But the specific problem Alfred cites isn't necessarily how it will go down just because that's what happened in the past.
 
Alfred thinks in absolute terms.  He is fine with his totalogy and this makes him frustrating to talk to.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy for me to sound like Alfred.  Even when I go to the trouble of carefully wording my assertions (something I don't always do), other people immediately hear Alfred anyway.
 
Besides, cermudgeons who end up being right only become bigger cermudgeons.

Posted via email from Anthony Martin's Weblog

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