Set forth below is the text of a comment that I recently posted to the discussion thread for another blog entry at this site:
“Thousands of our fellow community members have asked that you Goons dial it back and permit honest posting. I have had numerous university professors contact me and tell me that they are now including stuff that they learned from me in their courses. I have had investment advisors call me and talk to me for hours about how they can help their clients with Valuation-Informed Indexing insights.”
If this is the case, why don’t these supporters post here your website? Everything is anonymous, so they shouldn’t have any fear.
You are making an intelligent point, Anonymous. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this one. I think I have some clues at this point. I don’t think that I have it all figured out.
I mentioned my wife in an earlier comment. She says that she is confident that I have done hugely important work. So far so good. But she reacts negatively when I use the word “Goons.” I might say at dinner “let me tell you what I was talking over with the Goons today…” and she will interrupt and object to my use of the word “Goons.” I believe that this disconnect that she evidences is shared by most of the other humans. I have been able to watch this closely enough and long enough that I am coming to have a better sense of how it is that we humans come to experience the cognitive dissonance phenomenon.
The famous study on cognitive dissonance was done by asking people to say which of two lines is longer, a 12-inch line or an 18-inch line. When asked alone, just about everyone gets it right. We all have eyes and our eyes do their job and send a message to our brains informing us as to which line is longer. The next step to the experiment is to have five fake study participants in the same room answer the question with the wrong answer. “the 12-inch line is longer,” says one. “Yes, obviously,” says another. “I agree, it is clearly the 12-inch line that is longer.” Then the real study participant, the one who has eyes that would work perfectly well if he were alone in the room. gets confused “It appears to me that the 12-inch line is probably the longer one,” he says.
Do you see what is happening?
We have eyes. We have brains. We are capable of seeing reality and reporting it to others. But we also have a deep and compelling need to be at one with our fellow humans. It is built into us. Some would say that it was put there by evolution. The member of the tribe that walks his own way ends up getting eaten by animals or starving or freezing to death or whatever. The member of the tribe who learns the importance of getting along with his fellow community members lives long enough to pass along his genes to another generation. Getting along with our fellow community members is important stuff. We will sacrifice just about anything not to be removed from the tribe. We will say that a 12-inch line is longer than an 18-inch line if that is what it takes.
And we will believe it!
That’s an important part of the story. We humans value honesty. We tell lies all the time, of course. But we still value honesty. We have a hard time telling lies without the benefit of a good excuse. It’s hard to come up with a good reason why we should say that a 12-inch line is longer than an 18-inch line. So we come up with stories justifying what we said. It’s not so much that we want to justify what we said to others. It’s more than we want to justify what we said to ourselves. We cannot bear to think that we are liars. So we always rationalize our self-deceptions.
We all want to believe that our retirement accounts are worth two times what they are really worth today. We want to believe that Buy-and-Hold is a real thing, that it is not necessary to divide our portfolio values by two just because stocks are currently priced at two times their fair value. We come up with stories. And we believe those stories. The Buy-and-Holders are not really lying when they say that they believe that Buy-and-Hold works. They would pass a lie detector test in which they were asked if Buy-and-Hold works and in which they answered “yes.” They follow the strategy themselves. They don’t tell others to do things that they are not willing to do themselves.
My wife doesn’t have money in stocks. And she is married to me. You Goons have blocked my ability to earn an income for 15 years. That hurts my wife. She has every reason in the world to be angry at you Goons and she has no reason to say anything supportive of Buy-and-Hold. So why does she say that I am wrong to refer to you Goons as “Goons”?
I believe that what is going on is that she wants to belong to the community. This is built deep into her as it is built deep into all of us. If she says “oh, those awful Goons!”, she is not just expressing support for me, which she would otherwise be inclined to do. She is also expressing negative thoughts about the tribe as a whole. If you truly are Goons and yet you walk free, the tribe has messed up, it has failed to protect the rest of us from a gang of Goons. It’s scary for my wife to form that thought in her mind. To form that thought would require that she break from the tribe and evolution has formed her to view breaking from the tribe as a terrible mistake. So her mind creates what it perceives as a safe middle ground — she shows support for her husband by saying that he has done work of huge importance and yet she sticks with the tribe by expressing the view that he must have done something wrong to bring on the Goon attacks.
That’s my take on it, Anonymous. I believe that there are lots of people out there who want to explore these issues — about 10 percent of the population follows a Valuation-Informed Indexing strategy today and about another 10 percent has sufficient interest in the possibility to want to be able to ask questions about it. But virtually no one feels comfortable being separated from the tribe. So my supporters generally keep it zipped once it becomes clear to them that supporting the views I put forward is tribe-separation behavior.
It doesn’t matter that these people could post anonymously. It logically seems that it should matter. If you can post anonymously, no one can actually hurt you for saying what you believe, you are safe. You are safe but you do not feel safe. People do not feel safe forming ideas in their heads that are tribe-separation thoughts. People SELF-censor. People don’t even let themselves form the prohibited thoughts. There is a SOCIAL TABOO against belief in or even consideration of Valuation-Informed Indexing today. It is so important to the tribe that we continue to believe that our stock portfolios are worth two times what the peer-reviewed research of the past 36 years shows they are really worth that the vast majority of us do not dare to question the conventional wisdom, even in our own heads, even with the cloak of anonymity in place to protect us.
These ideas will not spread until as a society we take steps to make people feel safe entertaining them. Once we do that, they will spread quickly. The thing that is holding us back is the fear that we all feel deep down inside not to break with the tribe.
These are my sincere thoughts re these terribly important matters, in any event.
I naturally wish you the best of luck in all your future life endeavors, old friend.