It happened today - October 8, 2015
On October 8 of 1897 a journalist named Charles Henry Dow, who founded the Wall Street Journal, started tracking the price of stocks and bonds. I wish he hadn’t. It’s good that he founded the WSJ, a consistent voice for sanity in a world short of same. But stock and bond indexes, and obsessive media reporting of what they’ve done, are nonsense.
Worse, they are characteristic nonsense for an age obsessed with mathematics. We are convinced that if we know what this or that index has done recently some formula or algorithm will tell us what it’s going to do next, what the economy will do next or something. Business news keeps telling us an index is up three points or down 14 or back up or flat or whatever.
All we ever really know is that a given trend will continue until it stops unless it intensifies or reverses. But it’s not harmless because what William Barrett called the illusion of technique creates the illusion of knowledge and we waste time pursuing it that we could have used to seek real knowledge or even wisdom, and we end up thinking we know things we don’t and acting unwisely in consequence.
I know, I know. It was the spirit of the age and if Dow hadn’t done it someone else almost certainly would have. But that’s no excuse for misconduct in our lives nor in his.
So I still say it’s a pity it happened.