Why We Write

It’s 1942 and Frank Capra is about to embark on his most challenging project to date. By this point Capra, one of the most influential American film directors of all time, had all ready conquered Hollywood. He had already won the Academy award for Best Director three times. And he’d produced, what would become, some of the most influential movies of all time. Amongst them: It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr Smith Goes to Washington. But this was his toughest challenge to date. To persuade the American people to fight and die for their country against the growing fascist tide. To explain to them: Why We Fight.

By most reckonings, the Why We Fight films were a success. But hindsight masks what a difficult task this was. Even though the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor, the US had engaged in a decades long non-interventionist policy. That’s not to mention that the country had only just started taking tentative steps out of the Great Depression, would be siding with their antithesis would-be allies the Soviets, and just 20 years ago bloodily tipped the balance in the “War to end all Wars“.

During WWI it was speeches that mainly served to bolster morale. Whilst some speeches would continue to hold such power, it was film, the growing medium at the time, that would spear the fascist propaganda machine. The first of the films, Prelude to War would win the Academy Award for Best Documentary. And the films would have a long-lasting cultural impact on the US. In particular, that the US were the force of good who had a moral duty to fight the forces of evil (the films are available in the public domain, although do bear in mind that, as propaganda films, they contain many untruths and sometimes even outright racism towards other nations).

Why we write

This past week I’ve been reflecting on my experience so far writing this blog. I’ve been following the FI community for a long time, both through many blogs and podcasts. Some of those writers are what encouraged me to reach to FI. When I left my job just over a year ago, I had planned to do some writing. However, I still wasn’t sure whether I would “do the blogging thing”.

For some time, I had reflected on my “word emissions”. Whilst I’ve never been the most talkative of folks, I’d always aimed to say something if it felt important. But I was feeling I was just another emitter of chatter in a world polluted by noise. Over time, I’d been slowly withdrawing away from commenting online and sharing my own thoughts in the Personal Finance community. That’s not to say I didn’t have things to talk about; rather I had felt drowned out in a sea of noise. I questioned what special insight I had over thousands, millions of others.

I’ll confess that it was Mrs YFG who really encouraged me to start blogging. She thought that I should share my thoughts (and rants) with other people. And that those people would find what I had to say both entertaining and enlightening.

Starting the blog

So I started the blog halfheartedly. I wrote a few pieces, but made no attempt to promote them. A turning point came when I felt compelled to leave a comment on the Monevator website. In fact, it was more so the troll response that I got from another commenter. I was frustrated by their (wrong) personal attacks but I was just going to ignore it. But Mrs YFG told me: you’re right, they’re wrong – you know more about this stuff than 99% of people – why don’t you explain. And so I responded.

It was that response that started a trickle to the blog. And that trickle left many positive comments. These comments encouraged me that, opposite to my gut feel, I wasn’t just “adding more noise”. Feeling more confident I wrote some more, and started to go back to my old habit of writing comments on some of the blogs I followed.

The trickle has turned into a daily flow of readers. Now up to 10,000 total visits. And to all those visitors, the commenters and especially the persons who have linked to and shared my posts, I am immensely grateful.

Learning the Internets

An irony in all this is that Mrs YFG and I have another social media account with the best part of 100,000 followers. 10,000 views is a fraction of what each post gets. Not to mention a single post usually gets more comments than this entire blog has to date. But I tell you this, each comment I’ve got on this blog has felt so valuable. Each a small confirmation that I was right to start writing.

Another slice of irony is that, for a millennial, I am incredibly old-fashioned. Most of my posts originate with the simplicity of pen and paper (including this one). I don’t have Facebook, and have no real clue how to promote posts in social media circles (let alone maximising your SEO, whatever that means). I’m on twitter however, mainly due to the insistence of a good friend of mine (I’m still learning how to use it).

That leads me towards the denouement of this piece. The other night, I was reflecting on my blog journey thus far. The thing I’ve found most valuable was being, once again, tapped back into the Personal Finance community.

I’ve enjoyed so much reading the blogs and comments from people I had never seen before. Some of those posts have changed my view on things. But what struck me most was how much excellent content out there and being talked about. In my semi self-imposed absence, the Personal Finance community has grown from being, what used to feel like a couple of strange dudes whispering in the corner of the bar, to being the loud diverse party slap centre in the bar.

The Good Fight

That’s important. Because whilst there’s been a great deal of progress in the Personal Finance space over the past few years there’s still lots of problems. Financial illiteracy is still rife. Much of the Finance industry still engages in opaque practises and deliberate attempts to bamboozle the public, and is being dragged kicking and screaming towards accountability and transparency. And whilst the mainstream media is improving its financial media, much of it falls woefully short and in some cases is downright dangerous to investors.

That’s what conjured up the image of Why We Fight. The fight against fascism replaced by the fight against wage-slavery and poor financial decisions. A collective attempt to unwind the prevailing propaganda in Western society. That spending money will buy you happiness. That a Finance industry that works for its benefit, rather than yours, is fine. That being ignorant of how taxes, pensions and investing works is OK. It’s why we write.

Since starting my blog, I’ve been encouraged, in a way more than ever, that the forces of good in the Personal Finance community will prevail. But I do wonder whether blogs, podcasts and social media is how we will win. What do you think? How can we best bring the fight?

All the best,

Young FI Guy

15 thoughts on “Why We Write

  1. Great post as ever YFG and I share much of the sentiment regarding the inspiration and support from the FI community.

    As to the fight, yes blogs etc from those who have walked the walk so to speak and can share some of their experiences with those who are learning to ‘walk’ is a part of the solution. However, the reasons why so many remain financially illiterate seems to be a complex matter and I suspect progress to improve things will be slow.

    I touched on some of the issues in a recent post relating to financial literacy
    and I came to the conclusion there is a large section of our society who may never be competent to set up a simple savings plan, or monitor income/expenditure let alone manage an investment portfolio. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

    1. Hi Diy Investor, that is a very interesting post and quite ‘sobering’ as you put it. Incidentally, I’m currently reading ‘Factfulness’ by the late Hans Rosling and family. I couldn’t help but see the obvious similarities between those simple questions you set out (and the majority of people getting them wrong) and Hans’ set of questions on world health, wealth and population that ‘people do worse on than the chimps’. There’s lot of questions on how there can be such a wide disconnect with what people know (or think they know) and what the actual facts are. At the moment, there seems a shortage on answers. I’m hoping Hans’ book will help with that!

      I’ll confess though, that my current thinking/planning is a business that ‘exploits’ this knowledge gap for people and their finances, with the aim of helping them make better financial decisions.

  2. That’s what conjured up the image of Why We Fight. The fight against fascism replaced by the fight against wage-slavery and poor financial decisions.

    Yes! Godwin’s Law and its not even in the comments – absolutely brilliant!

    I’d give your blog 5* Tripadvisor rating – its a good read, bravo..

    I may take that Hans Rosling book as a recommendation if I may – I have been blown away by his TED talks.

    I’m just finishing Origins of Virtue by Ridley (Ridleys books always take me ages to read) and it is really, really good. Reminds me that I need to read the Rational Optimist sooner rather than later..

  3. Thanks Rhino. I have to confess I had ‘Godwin’s Law’ in the back of mind when I writing this – “Am I really comparing rip off payday lenders and their ilk to Nazis?!” I hope I just got about away with it, maybe it’s justified?

    I’d highly recommend the book so far based on the first half dozen chapters. I’m really enjoying it and it’s hard not to read the book without imagining his characteristic enthusiastic voice booming from the pages.

  4. Hey. Re: having less ‘views’ on this site vs other subjects, well it depends what you want, a fisherman adjusts his bait according to what he wants to catch – if you want to teach or debate on such sophisticated & life changing topics as finance, philosophy, psychology – you have to accept the available audience is small. Few people are thinkers, most are just sheep …..you can get their millions of clicks with funny pictures of cute animals wearing hats – the only real question is what’s important to you, attention, learning, curiousity, trying to improve the world?

    How to get people’s attention/educate them, well, that’s very difficult if it’s for their own good, the populists are having a good time world-wide right now, with autocracy of various forms running riot. They more fully understand what makes people tick & promise it to them, [which is very different to giving it to them] you will only win by appealing to the same flaws in the human condition as they do, but for the good. Naomi Klein’s iconic tome ‘The Shock Doctrine’ is a seminal work in showing how the neoliberal revolution is taking the world back to the injustices of feudalism. It is so effective, showing how the sheeple have run happily towards the abattoir for the last 5 decades, so to even have a chance you really have to use the same techniques because they’re the ones that’ve worked the best. To give a simplistic example, you could appeal to parents’ fear for their families to interest them enough to listen to your knowledge enough to improve their finances whereby they can thus ensure the security of their families.

    1. Hi Survivor, thanks for commenting. I was referring to the other social media account in a positive away and, if anything, to poke fun at myself. It’s kinda odd, that on the one hand, Mrs YFG and I have this thing that’s been wildly popular and to many outsiders would make us seem like “social media experts” (or influencers… *shudder*) but on the other hand I’m completely bamboozled by all the flashing notifications and buttons and toggles on WordPress. I’m a complete rank amateur, like a Joe Bloggs thrust behind the controls of a spaceship. I’ve come to quickly appreciate that there is a great deal of expertise to learn!

      On the second part of your comment, fear/shock. I think a lot of what you say is (unfortunately?) right. What immediately sprang to mind is the desperate land grab for places at ‘top’ state schools or the parent who funnel money at private schools to give their kids ‘the best possible shot at life’. But wouldn’t sticking that 30k a year in an index fund for 10+ years be a better investment?

      Anyway, I’m rambling, but I wonder how far fear goes. A friend of mine very recently got themselves into a terrible financial and life position. And even with the threat of genuine severe hardship they still couldn’t get their finances in order. Try as I might, I couldn’t help them. I’ll confess that it has left me more pessimistic about how much people are willing to help themselves.

  5. Ah, sorry if I was too caustic so not seeing the humour …..I was in a dark mood because I just got off the phone & had failed to help convince my own mother to switch power provider because they’re abusing her loyalty. It goes to the heart of your point, the frustration of people fighting off help, I thought that if I can’t help the one person I’d do anything for, what hope is there for people to become financial adults?

    Ramble all you like dude, you’re interesting which is why people came to your site & an intelligent person is always worth paying attention to. Some of the most illuminating truths I’ve remembered were [perhaps inadvertently due to the unwitting-honesty effect] picked up in drunken meaning-of-life rants with smart people ?

    1. No need to apologise Survivor, I know your comments come from a good place. That conversation sounds almost identical to the ones I have with my mum, in fact we even joke now that she: “doesn’t like change”.

  6. All good. By the way, the troll you refer to that tried to zap you on the Monevator site has unfortunately haunted our niche interest zone for a while now, it attacked me too a little while back on the ermine’s site. That particular individual is a dinosaur unable to accept that the world has changed & is lashing out in anger because it can’t go back to a purer time when everyone looked, acted & sounded the same. Their ilk ignore the other side of the coin, that back then there were massive problems of a different sort too, like the things they remember fondly were built off the profits of slavery & gunboat diplomacy …..they prefer to sepia-coat badger-baiting, witch-dunking & worshiping stones.

    Knowing it’s hard, I was impressed, I’m sure like many others, that you responded in such a civilised manner in the face of such provocation …..which gives away that they’re a sociopath. [see Jon Ronson’s ‘The psychopath test’ if you’re interested in spotting sociopathy before they damage your life] Since he was particularly angry with you & has form as a rabid, facist, bigot in his commentary going way back, I suspect it was because you pushed his most sensitive button. In his eyes, you must have blastphemed against the sanctity of brexit, so he lost it – but actually he did you a favour, because your very mature reaction is what led everyone to your site. So in the same way that even extreme irritants like flies have a use in the world, maybe so too with trolling – if it helps out them before they can get close enough to hurt people…..

  7. I think you’re off to a strong start YFIG — a challenge will be keeping this standard up!

    Very pleased something good came from a troll comment, too. I’ve almost thrown the towel in now and then due to comments, and my readers are 95% constructive!

    Keep up the good fight.

  8. Thanks TI and Survivor. I know that there’s a small segment of commenters that only ever seem to say negative things. It’d be a shame to let that small minority ‘ruin’ things for the 95%. I’ve watched over the years you wrestle with the comments TI – I often wonder how you manage it! You’re made of tough stuff. I think I’d be far less ‘democratic’ than you. I’ve always thought of a blog as being invited into somebody’s living room – their personal space. In that sense, if you start mouthing off, you should be expected to be thrown out!

    1. Slightly contrarian viewpoint here and I’m aware I’m on thin ice here – I’d say 100% positive comments is actually not what you want. A few % negative stresses the system and serves to make it stronger.

      For my money, thats what makes the MV comments so good. The balance is pretty much perfect.

      For sure, it can’t be too much or its oppressive and it has to be smart negative, not abusive negative. Echo chambers are not much use to anyone.

      1. That’s fair enough Rhino. I’ve got no issue where people disagree but you can disagree and be pleasant or disagree and be a jerk. For example, there were lots of really thoughtful disagreeing comments on my car post.

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