Breakfast Notes #23 (Kissinger, Buffett, Cancelling The Future)
Good morning friends. The conflict in Ukraine rages on. While I have been following the news closely, way more intelligent and seasoned thinkers can offer their wisdom. I have nothing much to add, so this will be a regular edition of Breakfast Notes.
- I apologise for missing out last week. I just moved house, and things are pretty hectic. To make it up to you, you can check out this article I just wrote for Channel News Asia on the truth of the 21st-century digital economy.
Here is a quote on conservatism by the late British writer and thinker, Roger Scruton that I am pondering about this week,
For the conservative, human beings come into this world burdened by obligations, and subject to institutions and traditions that contain within them a precious inheritance of wisdom, without which the exercise of freedom is as likely to destroy human rights and entitlements as to enhance them.
The Kissinger Opening
The conflict in Ukraine is heart-wrenching. In times like these, what can policymakers do?
I read Henry Kissinger's 2014 essay discussing Russia and Ukraine. The benefit of hindsight allows us to read his essay more objectively.
One thing I like about his essay is how he introduced his essay. He explicitly outlines the harsh reality of war and hints at the biggest blindsight policymakers miss.
Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.
As I said, I have nothing wise to add, so I encourage you to read his policy suggestions.
Not Another Buffett Biography
You might be tempted to think that the Oracle of Omaha is an investing savant that became the world's richest investor by his stroke of genius and cerebral mind.
But, he was also incredibly lucky.
Buffett is 92 this year and has accumulated a net worth of more than $81 billion. A big chunk came after his 50th birthday, and $70 billion came after he qualified for Social Security benefits in his mid-60s.
Morgan Housel brilliantly explains how Buffett exploited the compounding effect to amass such wealth.
Yet, it is equally important to know how lucky he is.
- He was lucky enough to live to his 90s, 14 years more than the US' male life expectancy.
- He was lucky enough to have groomed his interest as a young schoolboy where he could spend days in the customers' lounge of a regional stock brokerage near his father's own brokerage office.
- He was lucky enough to knock on the doors of GEICO until a janitor admitted him so that he would meet Lorimer Davidson, Geico's Vice President which he 'learned more from him in a conversation' than his years in college.
Even Buffett stated,
Good luck – occasionally extraordinary luck – has played its part at Berkshire. If Paul and I had not enjoyed a mutual friend – John Roach – TTI would not have found its home with us. But that ample serving of luck was only the beginning. TTI was soon to lead Berkshire to its most important acquisition.
I am trying to make the point that before you pick up the 50th Buffett biography selling you the hopes of becoming a billionaire. Remember that you don't have the same luck and circumstances, so please be judicious.
Visualisation Of The Day
This is a beautiful visualisation of how coffee can add more bulge than buzz if done wrong.
My favourite is an Americano, all buzz, zero bulge.
Slow Cancellation of The Future
The late British writer and critic, Mark Fisher once wrote about the slow cancellation of the future where life continues, but time has somehow stopped.
To paraphrase him, it's like mainstream culture is walking on a treadmill. We experience movement, but we do not experience progress.
The most poignant examples are in our cultural products. In the video game industry, we have yet another instalment of Call of Duty, NBA2K, FIFA with each year that comes. We praise cinematic universes/ franchises as the pinnacle of modern movie-making. The 2007 Transformers is indistinguishable from its 2018 Bumblebee in style, plot and special effects. The mainstream is about regurgitating the past and selling nostalgia.
One cannot help but be reminded of Jack's complaint in the film Fight Club: "Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy."
We have arrived in the age of optimisation, not innovation. In Fisherian thought, the idea of an exciting future is increasingly unimaginable and, thus, slowly cancelled.
To me, Fisher's thoughts act as a crucial reminder that nostalgia is a double-edged sword and should always be treated with caution. The dopamine hit of nostalgia can prevent us from imagining a radically different and more optimistic tomorrow.
Thank you for reading and may the sun shine upon your face,