Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hubris and Risk Management

Now you might think, from the title, that this is a post related to the stock market or hedge funds or banks losing billions.   But you'd be wrong.  It's actually about hubris in another area entirely.  But the insight, yes, came when I was reading a brilliant blog, which I'd describe as hedging for dummies.

As I was reading,  a little light bulb came on:  All of life is basically risk management. From cradle to grave we're learning.  How to do this or that - without making a mess or toppling over.  School.  Career.  Marriage.  Parenting.  Same thing.  Till we get to old age when suddenly we go into reverse gear, maybe needing a cane or a walker.  All to manage risk.

Now risk management, I've concluded, relates to unpredictability.  Trying to manage that or reduce it if possible.  If something is totally in the hands of one person, you've reduced the risk of having to negotiate decisions, but you may magnify risks, if you have failed to consult those you're trying to manage.  On the other hand, the more people who are involved, the more difficult the decision-making process, but the greater likelihood those involved will sign on to the decision.

This insight not only explains one's own life.  It explains everything.  Suddenly I can see why politics is so polarized.  It gives us insight into history.  We see, for example, St. Paul concerned about "factions"- urging people to cooperate - presumably to reduce the risk of his little churches breaking up.  Once upon a time, for example, the Catholic Church insisted that everywhere in the world Masses would be in Latin.  Similar strategy to what Paul was doing.  Probably for the same reasons.

So where does hubris come into this?  Let's go back to that blog I read:  The Tale Of A Whale Of A Fail.  JP Morgan Chase just lost 2 billion dollars (and counting) due to one big risk management trader (they call him a whale due to his HUGE financial bets).  This guy apparently backed himself (and Chase) into a corner they can't get out of.  Not till all the hedging contracts he bought and sold expire...  And no one knows the ultimate outcome here, since the market for such contracts has now dried up.  Something they never expected!  Due to hubris - since they believed they had a sure bet (and the market cornered) to make a bundle of billions!  Except their bet was so big other people noticed... and took precautions (risk management!).  And now no one will help them get out of the corner they've backed themselves into.

I think something very similar is happening in Rome.  Let's take a look:

The Vatican prefers it when one person, the pope, makes all the decisions and when everybody follows suit and gets into line - like good little soldiers.   To accomplish this feat, the Vatican came up with something called infallibility.  Infallibility is a risk management policy, which is supposed to never expire.  The RCC faithful (everybody except the pope) are expected to follow whatever the pope decides.  Even if he makes a mistake.   To ensure this, they came up with one more risk management strategy:  Any dissenter would be silenced or excommunicated or branded a heretic.  And the threat of that happening, it was assumed, would result in good little soldiers getting into line and faithfully following the pope.  All of this is supposed to reduce the Vatican's risk and make things more predictable.  For them.

Except it's not working....

Something akin to JP Morgan in a corner seems to have happened in Rome.  Vatican Hubris assumed that its risk management strategies (infallibility and threats) would always keep the troops in line.  And Vatican hubris believed it had control of the sole market for Catholic thinking - which was assumed to exist only in Rome.  Or from Rome.  Or under Rome's approval.

Oops!  Hubris Fail.  Vatican in a corner!

You see, people are no longer frightened of the Vatican's threats.  They're educated.  They think for themselves.  They don't need anybody to do their thinking and deciding for them.  And we're getting to the point, where no matter how many priests or nuns or lay people they try to browbeat or silence or brand as heretics, the very effort to do so is backfiringAs the Vatican backs itself - more and more - into a corner.  Plus, like JP Morgan, their stock is falling.  Their shareholders are revolting.  As some of their most precious policies go unheeded.  By millions!  Maybe even billions...  And no one can predict where this will end....

Because, unless the Vatican arrives at the point where they can admit mistakes (as Chase has doneits reputation severely damaged) the pope has put himself in a corner - complete with papal dunce cap.  

Hubris.  It all comes down to hubris.  The delusion one is always right.  Together with the desire to inflict that on others.

It's humility versus hubris.  One strategy builds.  The other destroys.  Once you get the simple insight, you can see it everywhere

Let this be a lesson to us all:  Humility.  Compassion.    
As taught so well by Jesus.        

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