I remember in first year med school I was studying the extrinsic and intrinsic pathways of clotting. The pathways first year are taught as part of cascade reactions in the biochemistry course. I decided to learn a little more so I checked out a 2500 page 20 pound text book on Hematology from the reference desk at the library. The book was so dense it took me half an hour just to find the cascades. Once I did I found there was a lot more to know. It was that experience that taught me the level of knowledge I was up against.
Medical school was about learning 10 things, and you were tested on those 10 things. The “neurosurgeons to be” learned their 10 things perfectly. Some others learned less completely, we all learned enough, but here in my hands was a book that contained nearly all there was to know about Hematology at the time of its publication. My 10 things weren’t even in the index. You learn more than 10 things as you progress and more than thousands of thing as you pass through residency to become attending, It starts with 10 but hardly ends there.
I’ve been thinking about CD’s retort that I’m the Socratic Gadfly of FIRE. It is true, but why is it true? Why don’t I just accept the MMM boiler plate? Why do I think that FIRE movie is propaganda? Why when I read misuse of the Pareto principal does it raise my ire? Why do I care? The essential reason I care is people are basing their futures on what is written. They are basing their futures on learning 10 things. In medicine you learn 10 things, then move onto the clinics and those 10 things are fleshed out into the blood sweat and tears of sick people. If you pay attention the 10 things become more than the cliff notes.
I had a pt once the first day of 4th year on the cancer service at the VA, who came in with extremis. It was the day I learned some people come to the hospital to die. It was also the day I met my wife in a bar as I considered what had happened. The patient came incoherent. I spent a couple hours trying to get an IV in him. I would get into a vein, but no flash. I could advance the catheter but no return and eventually the catheter would “blow”. I would pull out the cath and then it would bleed profusely. I thought WTF? and deduced the PT was in DIC. This was the expression of the cascades in reality. During the course he threw a clot or a wad of cancer from a leg vein to saddle in the pulmonary artery and died. The guy was riddled with metastatic CA and the 4th year resident showed up and cancelled the code. In reality there was nothing to do but that didn’t quench my feeling of inadequacy that I somehow let this guy down. The 4th year knew more than 10 things, way more.
It’s this kind of thing I see in the FIRE movement. I see a lot of people who know their 10 things, but knowing 10 things is woeful. There is a whole 2500 pages to know. I see people spouting those 10 things as if that’s all there is. It’s like a blind man exploring an alligator, not big deal till you find the mouth.
There is a kind of scholastic philosophy called essentialism. It is basically classical education, where you learn rhetoric, English, languages, math history, sciences, philosophy, religion. In studying that body of thought a societal cohesion is formed, and a kind of brotherhood of belonging in a way tat fixes you in space. It’s the education I gave to my children. It’s not just 10 things but it’s the 10 essential things that underpin the truth of shared human experience.
FIRE doesn’t have that. It has no truth. It has millions of opinions expressed for millions of reasons, promoting millions of narratives and agendas. It promotes a mechanism of using index funds to risk money in some simplistic formula, but in the end nobody believes that. It could have truth if it was broken down to the essentials, but as long as it’s every man for himself it does not constitute a body of knowledge. It’s a collection of half truths showcased as the truth, and then marketed as the truth. People are hanging their futures on marketed half truths, while the marketeers clean up. I find that disturbing.
There is a fallacy called the planning fallacy which basically states any plan takes longer to complete than planned. Plans are projection and projections don’t lead necessarily to reality. I break FIR down to 2 parts accumulation and retirement, very different beasts requiring very different plans. Refer to the planning fallacy when considering each
Attaining FI is certainly possible but RE doesn’t necessarily follow. Knowledge of 10 things is not enough knowledge to retire. FI may not actually be FI once you take risk into account. MMM became super frugal, made 1M and retired at 30 on 27K/yr aka WR = 2.7% a far cry from 4%. That plan at 60/40 AA has a good 98.68 chance of lasting 60 years, but what about health care inflation? You move to the alpo diet and hope you don’t wreck and fracture a hip on that bike in the Colorado snow. I guess we missed essential “thing” 11 and 12, yet they are glaringly obvious. It’s 98.68 with the caveat: if nothing goes wrong. What could possibly go wrong?
I guess part of my skepticism comes from not knowing about FIRE narratives in accumulation and reaching retirement financially independent by separate means. First time I heard about FIRE was a year after I quit, so FIRE didn’t bring me to the dance. I didn’t know the 10 things, so I had to manufacture essential things to get here. The MMM narrative is not my narrative and I find it remarkably shallow and self serving, so I don’t buy the soap, sometimes I wish I could.
My goal is not to rain on the FIRE parade but to think about that cliff outside in the cold distance.
No reason to get excited
The thief he kindly spoke
There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late
Outside in the distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl