Of Bipolar Bears, Bulls, Hawks, Doves, Crows…

The first time I ever heard of animals representing the market was in 1986 in a national income accounting class in college. I remember the lecture because our Professor, a student of Simon Kuznets, asked the class if we knew what a bearish market or a bullish market meant. Of course none of us had a clue. She decided it would be best illustrated by an enactment and proceeded to walk around the classroom in a forward slumping, inward crouching walk and explaining that the market behaved in this manner when it was bearish and then she looked up, adopted a loping gait and strode around to demonstrate the bullish contrast.

These days I conjure up an image of a growling, feral, grouchy, slouching bear at every waking hour, it seems. Perhaps I even dream of formidable grizzlies; it’s a good thing I never remember my dreams. The image is almost always accompanied by the words “slouching towards Bethlehem“, words that first appeared in Yeats’ Second Coming.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Joan Didion, one of my favorite essayists, titled one of her essays “Slouching towards Bethlehem”, in the preface to the book she talked about coming to terms with disorder in order to ever be able to write again.

I open my eyes every morning to a world that has unraveled just a little more overnight.

A little over a decade ago I remember placing and winning various bets with my rather bearish and Eeyore-ish boss about how much closer to the 10,000 mark the Dow Jones index was going to be the next day. The “bull” was certainly ebullient then. And sure enough it happened, one fine morning, for the first time in its history the DJIA had hit the 10000 mark. Celebrations, felicitations!

It kept up a steady climb over the years, getting up to and hovering around 12000 for a very long time. This morning as I was walking to work I decided not to avert my eyes from the scrolling electronic displays that appear around the city. I had been trying not to let the news about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch hobble my stride but in that instant I decided to face my fears and saw the 10559 number scroll by. It closed at 10609 today! Are we headed back to the pre-10000 days, will it stop there or are we headed right back to the 1930s as money takes flight?

Was this simply a decade long gargantuan bubble we were riding? Did this war torn, tense world give us the rising fuel costs which in turn gave us the worldwide food crises, the inflation, the defaulting mortgages, the collapse of the sub-prime lending industry and other real estate related investments? It is all connected and even a profoundly unaware person like me is aware of macroeconomic consequences and domino-like effects of things. How is it then that the McCain -Palin campaign believes that our economy is fundamentally sound? How can this nation possibly sustain a prolonged war and an ostrich-like approach to the economy, to the nation’s health care system, to social security, to the ever-growing energy crisis, to unemployment? How?

What makes so many people cheer on with the “Drill baby drill” slogan when smaller countries like Denmark and Iceland are paving the way and showing others how to wean themselves off fossil fuel completely? Has anyone even heard of the 2000 Watt Society here? How have things ended up in such an inescapable tangle here in this country?

Perhaps it would be a good idea to invest in mattress companies now as people think about storing their hard earned dollars under mattresses.

In our lifetime we learn to expect the cyclical nature of things, we retreat and reemerge and continue on until we finally move on, leaving future generations to come to terms with the roller coasters of their lives, but what if all of a sudden one is gripped with a fear that things won’t be quite so sinusoidal anymore? What if the bleeding is arterial and cannot be stemmed?

There were serial bomb blasts in Delhi a few days ago. A group called the Indian Mujahedeen took credit for the blasts. The blasts were ostensibly in retaliation to actions of the Bajrang Dal. A few weeks before that, all of a sudden, one started hearing about Christians being attacked in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. This morning I read about churches and monasteries being attacked in Mangalore in Karnataka, India. Before that I read several stories of India’s CRPF unleashing their brutality against Muslims in Kashmir. The CRPF! I’m certain their mandate includes serving and protecting and doesn’t include kicking and beating widowed, pregnant women in the belly, women officers!

What could ever justify that behavior, what history, what deep wounds? Are the reports I am reading fabricated? I don’t want to believe they are true. There is ‘us’ and ‘them’ rhetoric flying around everywhere, retaliation, counter-retaliation, nothing but violence and no signs of reason or sanity prevailing anywhere!

Another memory returns, this time of Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. My best friend’s Dad had brought to our attention his speech, it had been printed in the Times of India. After my friend’s Dad talked to us about the speech I remember having saved the newspaper clipping for a very long time. It had made quite an impression on me. What’s memorable about that speech is Elie Wiesel’s denunciation of anyone who chooses not to take a side, the right side.

Neutrality is cowardice disguised. If one wants to feel proud of ones humanity one needs to believe that and act on it. But how far does one go to discover how deep the wounds really run, to discover who is blameless and who is to blame and which side is indeed the right side? Are we all nothing but feral beasts when faced with desperation and utter hopelessness?

There are those of us, including yours truly, who will live our lives as armchair warriors and talking heads (although I am more of an armchair devil’s advocate or fence-sitter) . We’ll get on our soapboxes (just like this) to tell others what we think is wrong with the world. There will be long and pointless debates about who did what to whom first and where it all began and who deserves to be punished or compensated.

Another class, another lecture, comes to mind. This time a class on negotiations and a professor explaining “hawks” and “doves” to us. Some take a hawkish and violent, militant approach to settling a dispute and some are pacifists, mediators, hearing out each side and trying to come to a well-reasoned solution that usually settles around a compromise of sorts with all parties perhaps losing a little ground.

But the rest of us, the armchair warriors, the media, the bloggers are probably all carrion crows, cawing and enhancing the message of chaos, doing our bit to spread paranoia as we feed a frenzy and do our best to divide public opinion while cultivating a defense for the side we perceive is “right”.

The beast slowly rises and slouches towards Bethlehem.


  1. Excellent title that covers and relates many contemporary issues in finacial, political and social domains. Grrat writing.Arun K. Mishra

  2. Excellent writing, Prags! As an armchair warrior, I was shaken out of my slumber by this movie I watched over the weekend – Mumbai Meri Jaan – watch it if you can. Perhaps stopping by to greet someone, doing things we can to help others, diminishing our fears and stirring out of the safe confines of our neutral mindsets…can go a long way in changing our immediate worlds…and the chain can go on.

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