PARADISE POSTPONED: MARTYRS AND TRADERS
December 13, 2002
A martyr is defined as a person who suffers or is put to death for refusing to renounce his faith or belief. In today’s world of international crisis and terrorism, the concept and experience of martyrdom has been associated in the Western media most often with radical Islamic fundamentalists claiming martyrdom as the consequence and reward for self-sacrifice and violence against perceived enemies. Historically, as for example, during the Spanish Inquisition, the word martyr applied to a person who voluntarily embraced the penalty of death for refusing to renounce his faith. In willingly sacrificing one’s own life for one’s religious beliefs, martyrdom has been considered by many as worthy of honor and respect. At the same time, the martyr has just as often been diagnosed as a person who is so self-absorbed and mentally engrossed in a particular cause as to suffer from delusions, that is, the obsessive devotion to an extremely narrow range of thinking or consciousness. However, I would argue that the delusion and self-absorption associated with being a religious martyr is almost identical to what transpires daily on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The trader is of necessity delusional and lives by a doctrine which states: ‘make the transaction happen.’ In the same way the Islamic fundamentalist does not intentionally wish to bring harm to civilians, traders do not intentionally wish to defraud investors. Therefore, to protect himself from facing the fiscal and legal consequences of oftentimes inappropriate behavior and decision making, the trader’s mission is one of self-righteousness and narcissism. Still, why choose death when you have everything to live for? Martyrs of religion seek a better existence in the afterlife just as traders seek paradise in the present due to their delusional worship of money. Both martyr groups suffer from self-absorption, overconfidence and irrational belief.
My job as a NASDAQ trader has many benefits. However the daily costs, psychological, physical, and financial, associated with survival within the financial marketplace must be added to the equation. I would like to suggest that over the past two decades, traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange have taken on the role of the martyr in many ways parallel to, if at opposite ends of an ideological/political pole from that of the example, Palestinian suicide bomber. A profitable or unprofitable trader refuses to surrender and is compelled to achieve the impossible, at whatever the cost. Research and the continuous reading of live breaking news, corporate announcements and number crunching is the life blood of what I do for a living. The trader lives in a world of constant interruptions and must make a decision within seconds. In the event of an error, the trader must solve the problem efficiently and without havoc. The trader is required to make a miracle happen and at whatever the cost (monthly commissions or breaking the law).
Throughout history, political and religious martyrs have fought for freedom of speech, independence from government dictatorships, and a better way of life. A martyr is someone who makes a statement by their actions, one who is willing to sacrifice all that is important to achieve a substantial reward. The reward may be material and economic improvement, a more just political system, or attaining peace in the afterlife. Author Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer, argues that the individual most likely to join a mass movement is one frustrated with self. Therefore, the frustrated individual seeks freedom from self and finds peace and comfort in belonging to a mass movement. The Palestinian suicide bomber in the Gaza strip, it can be argued, is thus frustrated by his quality of life and welcomes the opportunity to become a martyr and to make a religious and political statement. Palestinian parents also are likewise motivated to offer their children as a sacrifice to “open the doors of Jihad.”
On April 15, 2002, the For examplefollowing article
appeared in the New York Times (Page A.11)
“Arafats Wife Praises Suicide Bombings”:
In an interview published Friday in Al Majalla, a London-based, Saudi owned weekly, Mrs. Arafat said that if she had a son, there would be ‘no greater honor than to sacrifice him for the Palestinian cause.” Additionally, Mrs. Arafat added: “Would you expect me and my children to be less patriotic and more eager to live than my countrymen and their father and leader who is seeking martyrdom?”
Just as suicide bombers strike in public places, such as market places, cafes and restaurants, night clubs, and public transit, traders awake and begin the day, marking-up stock prices for their benefit but not intentionally to defraud investors. There activities are carried out in public view, such as it is, with the confidence and legitimacy granted the captains of American capitalism. In the Enron debacle, for example, the role of the martyr was played out to disastrous consequence by the top ranking officials to the head energy trader. The intention of the CEO, accountants and traders was not to create havoc or defraud investors, but to temporarily cook the books and at a later date the real earnings would be re-stated, to reflect the true numbers. In addition to accounting fraud, Enron traders took advantage of the energy crisis in California. While California businesses scrambled to remain open during a period of rolling blackouts, the energy traders of Enron used the crisis as an opportunity to line their pockets for the summer. In the aftermath, careers, image and family life were ruined. The Enron debacle affected not only insiders of the corporation but faithful investors as well. If one had the opportunity to it all over again, would anything be done differently? CEO’s, traders and accountants may be rational thinkers in their personal lives; however, on the trading room floor or in the board room, all are irrational. Capitalism, consumerism, and globalization/McWorld were the driving force behind the collapse of the seventh largest corporation in the United States. As a seasoned financial services professional, I would argue that Enron is not alone in such practices. The end to corporate and stockholder fraud is nowhere in sight.
Author Gordon Thomas, in his article To Believe is to Die, explains the training and interviewing process of suicide bombers. The interview process begins testing the candidates’ knowledge of the Koran and how often the individual attends mosque. Once the individual passes the initial screening process, he is invited to meet the Jihad committee. Thomas states that “these meetings are often held in public places, again to reduce the risk of electronic surveillance. After the candidate’s evaluation and successful testing, he or she will be placed in the pipeline for future suicide missions.” (6).] The motivation for the martyr, according to Thomas is as follows: “that on the day of Judgment, he or she will be allowed upon entering Paradise, to choose seventy relatives to also enter; that in Heaven, a candidate will have at his disposal 72 houris, the celestial virgins who, he is told, live there.” (7-8).] From the inception to the final mission the martyr is trained for success. Days prior to the final mission, the martyr lives in a room with painted images of grapes, trees and verses of the Koran. The brainwashed and delusional martyr is now ready to exit life in the present and begin living in Paradise with its many rewards and perpetual happiness (Thomas, 6-8).
On October 23, 2002, an article titled: “Moroccan man on trial admits terror training,” appeared in the Houston Chronicle. Mounir el Motassadeq is the first person to be formally charged with the suicide killings of September 11, 2001. El Motassadeq was trained to fire a Kalashnikov assault rifle in mid 2000. According to el Motassadeq: “I learned that bin Laden was responsible for the camp and had been at the camp sometimes,” he said. But he added, “I didn’t know that beforehand, and I didn’t meet him either.” It appears that el Motassadeq was in training for a future mission and unaware or unconcerned with whom might be harmed as a result of a suicide mission. El Motassadeq, if convicted is expected to receive a life sentence which is worse than being put to death. For a religious martyr, being sentenced to death for a crime committed, for Jihad is martyrdom. Although el Motassadeq will rendezvous with his brothers and the virgins somewhat behind schedule, martyrdom has been achieved (Houston Chronicle, 25).
Unlikely as it may seem, the process involved in nurturing suicide bombers, as outlined by Gordon Thomas, is almost identical to the formal training for the production trader according to my observations and experience. The trader candidate begins with a written examination testing personality traits and quantitative ability. In the event that the test results don’t produce a profile match, the applicant will not be contacted for further discussion. A candidate successfully completing the corporate profile, a recruiter at a later date contacts the individual to schedule a marathon interview. The marathon interview consists of several numerous, forty-five minutes each, meetings with trading peers, senior traders and a managing director. By demonstrating an aggressive attitude, sense of hunger, humor, and narrowly focused critical thinking skills the individual will be hired.
Upon being hired, the associate will be assigned to work with a mentor. Over the next twelve months, the trader is brainwashed and molded. The training consists of very intense days without lunch breaks, as the market opens promptly at 9:30 AM and ceases operation at 4:00 PM. The associate must learn to talk and understand a new and coded language while executing trades efficiently and without error. The trader in the initial months of training eats, sleeps, and is programmed to robotically fulfill the duties of a production trader.
In February of 1995, futures trader Nick Leeson became a martyr. He made history as the Rogue trader responsible for the collapse of Barings Bank. Nick Leeson was an execution trader, responsible for the execution of customer orders. One day shortly after his relocation to Singapore from London, Nick inherited an erroneous position. The position exploded the following day leaving Nick to become creative and make a miracle happen. Leeson successfully reversed the loss and broke even. From this experience he became overconfident and felt that he was invincible with regard to market conditions. Although not in his job description, Nick began trading positions in an effort to increase profitability for the Singapore operation. Leeson was a huge success in his initial months in Asia; he had become addicted to position trading. After six months of profitability, Leeson created a bad position and to due to a free falling market combined with adverse economic conditions, the position became more cumbersome. Nick, living on borrowed time, continued to increase the position size but he was unsuccessful. Leeson used photocopies of signatures in a effort to cover the daily margin calls. Leeson came to recognize that he had to leave Singapore and return to London to save his reputation and avoid prosecution in Asia. Before Leeson boarded his flight, Baring was publicly disclosed as the account holder and forced to shut-down due to minimum capital requirements by regulatory standards. Barings Bank immediately filed for bankruptcy protection and ceased operation worldwide. Leeson was captured before reaching London. In the end, he was barred from the industry and fined. After having served more than six years in prison, Leeson is once again a free man. He was formally charged with inappropriate trading practices and fraud. Although he is now a free man, his wife remarried. Due to fines imposed by the courts, Nick is now bankrupt and unemployable within the industry. The final outcome for Nick Leeson is more painful than death.
Joseph Jett was a government bond trader exposed in 1993 for accounting fraud. Jett was accused of falsifying bond trading profits. According to Kidder Peabody, the management was unaware of the system malfunction that contributed to Jetts misfortune as a bond trader. According to Jett, he was instructed by mentors, specifically how to defraud the order entry system and the booked bond transactions that never settled in the real world. Settlement is a process that delivers physical ownership to buyers and sales proceeds to sellers. Within six months, Jett produced $412 thousand, receiving a $5000 thousand dollar bonus and a warning; ‘shape-up or get-out.’ After several meetings with trading group managers and mentors, Jett now had the formula for success (fictitious trades). Jett produced $28 million within twelve months and received a two million dollar bonus. Jett was delusional and motivated to break the rules. The bonus incentive of two million created his desire to be ‘Superman Trader.’ Joseph Jett: A Scoundrel or a Scapegoat?
“Superman Trader: A Sputtering Career Finds a Vehicle.
I think that Joe was someone who had a tremendous psychological need to be a star trader,” said a former top Kidder executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It was like a lab Rat in a cage. He pushed the lever, and the food came out. The rat doesn’t give much thought to why the food came out (pg. 3).
Trader at Battle
Trading intraday might be percieved as battling war. The difference between trading and a hot war is as follows: War trading begins at 9:30 AM and concludes at 4:00 PM daily and continues consistently for almost three hundred sixty-five days a year (some religious holidays observed). The game of trading is similar to a hot war, in that one lives while other traders are figuratively killed in the line of duty. The trader aggressively makes every attempt to kill his opponent by executing transactions via an Electronic Communication Network. The trader, by executing a series of transactions for a specific corporate issue, attempts to gain control of the issues price and influences others on the street to do the same. The battle continues by the minute with new forces attempting to take control of the market. Market psychology is effective and useless by fifty percent. When in doubt, don’t become emotional!
Through compulsive service and death made into a game, the trader is enamored with monetary returns and worship of a false god, which is money. The greed is delusional and interferes with the trader’s ability to rationalize his actions. Therefore the trader does not make a conscious decision to defraud investors. The laws of the industry are not consciously broken but overlooked temporarily. In other words, the trader will make restitution in the form a charitable contribution to charity.
Martyrs of Religion
Many accounts of the battle of Armageddon and the end of the world as we know it, has been documented in a most identical fashion. Possibly historians were and currently are basing their research on identical models and research sources. The Bible is one doctrine as is the Koran is another. Religion is similar in varying degrees with minor modifications for Catholics, Protestant and Anglicans. Islam and Hindu are two extremes battling for dominance. Some religious faith is about heaven and eternal brightness, reunification with loved ones, who departed this life decades prior to others. The afterlife for a more militant form of religion consists of days of more than twenty-four hours and eternal happiness with beautiful virgins. Without making reference to any particular religious practice, martyrdom has existed for all.
Jim Jones founded the Peoples Temple in late 1973. The organization itself was an independent Christian organization. Jones recruited inner-city African Americans combined with their life savings. Jones was a man of God and a politician. He was well known in San Francisco politics and an advocate of Mayor George Moscone. While Jones worked in politics in late 1977, he was recognized as a humanitarian. The humanitarian award of 1977 provided Jones with fame and made possible fundraising to begin the Peoples Temple. Jones in the midst of a federal investigation ended life on earth. The members of the People’s Temple all committed suicide as had been practiced in regular drills.
Spainish author and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno was an active participant in the Religious Crisis of 1896-97. Unamuno studied initially at the Colegio de San Nicolas and received his doctorate from the Universidad de Madrid. Life in Madrid greatly influenced Unamuno to think outside of the box. After completing his doctorate, Unamuno founded a socialist journal called ‘La Lucha de Clases.’ The religious crisis for Unamuno, profoundly changed his belief in finding a rational explanation of God and the true meaning of life. Unamuno focused on the individual and spiritual struggles with regard to death and immortality. Unamuno is famous for the following quote: “Wisdom is to life what science is to death, or if you will, wisdom is to death what science is to life.” Unanumo concluded that when reason leads to despair, the individual should in turn, abandon all pretense of rationalism and seek solace in religious faith.
Unamuno was labeled an outcast to ditactors Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco. He was removed from the position that he so loved as rector twice at the Universidad de Salamanca by both dictators. Additionally, Unamuno exiled to Fuertevana in the Canary Islands during the dictatorship of General Primo Rivera. Unamuno was a ‘true believer’ of his self made doctrine and made the decision to live against popular culture. Unamuno was placed under house arrest by the Franquista on December 31, 1936, where he later died a martyr, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War (El Golpe del Estado).
What is considered honorable to one person may be viewed as a hindrance to another. Martyrs that have risked life and limb for freedom of speech are viewed as honorable by the majority of Americans. The selfish intent of the martyr who commits suicide, however, while taking the innocent lives of others in the name of Jihad, is viewed as not worthy of the same honor by the majority of rational people. The religious warriors, the money hungry trader and the suicide bomber are identical in the ultimate mission for self. Regardless of the fact that one martyr makes a statement for religion, money or freedom of speech, the ultimate goal is to receive recognition and a substantial reward. The martyr, regardless of group classification, wishes to conquer the obstacles which impede his well being and existence. In the example of a trader, he makes a miracle happen daily and lives a superior life due to his daily risk. The religious martyr seeks happiness away from the challenges of earthly life and chooses to end existence in the present. The characteristics of martyrdom are identical with differences only in the final reward.
The ultimate solution to religious martyrdom will require more liberal leaders with an open mind. Over the years, Catholicism has opened its doors to acceptance of divorce, premarital relationships, and welcomed other religious organizations into the church in an effort to create worldwide peace. This is not to say that the Church changed overnight or that the distance traveled is sufficient, but rather that Catholicism has made progress with regard to modernization. Islam, on the other hand, as proselytized by militant fundamentalists, is an unchangeable ancient doctrine. The religious rules are strict and clearly not meld with the global world in which we all live. Islam requires an overwhelming amount of sacrifice which in some cases may contribute to both the despair and desire of would-be martyrs. Unless change is progressive within all forms of religion, perhaps especially Islam, we may witness the end of the world in our lifetime, as recorded by so many religious doctrines.
Traders have witnessed changes industry-wide due to class action lawsuits and the recent media frenzy concerning Enron and WorldCom. The Securities and Exchange Commission has taken swift action against traders in an effort discourage future fraudulent practices, just as the federal government implemented antitrust regulations in an effort to discourage monopoly abuses in corporate America. However, the change required will not witness in our lifetime. The compensation structure is the cause of the delusional trader. Until the compensation is adjusted to more realistic levels and the incentive moved to a more level playing field, with less pressure, traders will continue seeking martyrdom. The average trader, due to corporate culture and management pressure, is not fully conscious of his actions. Furthermore, the industry is in need of a complete overhaul. A new Self Regulatory Organization must be established. The Securities and Exchange Commission has not sufficiently monitored operations or investigated complaints. Until the Bush Administration implements the long over due reorganization, the havoc will continue and at a greater magnitude as has been previously witnessed.
The events of September 11, 2001, combined with the corporate scandals involving Enron and WorldCom, have raised awareness with regard to the world in which we currently live. A world that is less tolerant and filled with fraud. Will the events of the past two years promote the change needed to improve ethics in corporate America and Peace worldwide? Unless the blatant terrorism of traders, CEO and religious ‘foot soldiers’ are attacked by global government reform, raising awareness is of little importance. Although gradual change is less than satisfactory solution, forcing a more rapid modernization process will only make matters worse. The most desireable antidote for the negative aspects of martyrdom would be a world without war and political conflict. Governments should promote societal well being, not repression. Corporate America should instill a code of ethics with a zero tolerance policy for fraud. After the late 1990's boom the rules within corporate America were suddenly non-existent. A democratic Palestine and Iraq, would discourage the candidate seeking martyrdom, as more young people find something to live for in the present. Life filled with family, friends and a sense of peace would prove more desireable. The ‘invisible hand’ could adjust all forces to compromise and harmony. Although we may achieve the goal of peace, ethics and societal well being eventually, we could start now to improve the 'timeset' of martrys and traders so that they will not use any Machiavellian means to achieve a promise of paradise.
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