Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

How I Weather a Bear Market

Prices in the stock markets have been dropping recently. Last night, on Christmas Eve, there was a massive sell-off. According to NPR, this has been the worst December for stocks since 1931. My Facebook news feed is filled with posts from people lamenting the losses. Everyone seems to think it’s a terrible thing.

The value of my investments have dropped along with those of everyone else who owns stocks, but it doesn’t seem to bother me at all. To me, it seems like everyone is upset because the sun went away and it started raining. Rain happens, and rain is necessary for growth. It can’t, and won’t, be sunny all the time.

There was a time in my life when my net-worth would fluctuate by six-figure amounts on a daily basis. When it was up, I felt great; when it was down, I felt terrible. It was very distracting. I’m not like that anymore. Perhaps it’s because I have less money now. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived through enough cycles to know that this is only temporary. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been recognizing that I am not able to control what happens. But it’s probably mostly because I’m beginning to understand that none of this has anything to do with me.

There is a body and brain called Duncan, a legal entity. That entity can be associated with various theoretical objects that “belong” to it. Thoughts, feelings, and other kinds of perceptions seem to arise in this body. I call objects theoretical only because it’s not possible to confirm that there are such things as objects. Clearly there is seeing, hearing, touching, and so on, but there is no way to know if there is anything real beyond that sensing.

There’s a whole other level of artificial reality that we create on top of this. We implicitly believe that there is a “me” that exists separate from everything else and that this me has things that are “mine.” Once there is a me, everything else must be “other:” other things and other people. Now that we have constructed this artificial game, we can have the concepts of “winning” and “losing.” I can “win” and I can “lose.”

When the assets I own go up in value, then I am “winning.” When they go down in value then I’m “losing.” But who is winning or losing? The stock price change is just something that’s happening; it’s just an event. So maybe the net-worth associated with this body goes up or down (along with that of many others); so what?

Maybe I need to cash-in investments to buy something, or to pay taxes. Well okay, then that’s a “problem.” But if I needed the cash now and I hadn’t sold the stock before, then perhaps selling would simply be the best move. It’s not like I could rewind time and change everything. This is just how it is.

Even if a separate “me” existed, and even if there was a sense that it’s possible to control things, how could anyone even know if the price going up or down is “good” for them. What if a retiree lost all her money and had to start working again and in the process found a cure for cancer and won a Nobel prize? But would that even be “winning?” Winning suggests that someone actually played a game that they were capable of losing.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to trace the source of decisions. All these bodies and brains are simply doing what they are doing, responding to the environment in the only way they can. There is never a moment of purely free choice, a moment in which one particular body-brain is able to look at all the data and then make a decision other than the decision it makes. Even if I decided to intentionally make a “bad” decision, everything that led to that intentionally “bad” decision would have already been in place.

Listen, I’m not walking around in some nihilistic stupor (I’m not a nihilist). I often feel inspired and motivated. I do all kinds of things. I find myself apparently solving problems and creating things. As everyone does, I always choose the apparently best option from my menu. I also sometimes take action to enhance the range of choices on my menu, which in itself would have to be a choice on my menu.

But I no longer have the delusion that I am in a position of real control, or that I ever had any real control. What apparently happened in the past, and what seems to be happening now, could not be any other way. It’s all unfolding effortlessly.

How can I be a “winner” or a “lower” when, ultimately, I couldn’t have done anything differently? This brain-body does what it does and the market does what it does. It all operates effortlessly as one seamless whole.

It’s sunny; wonderful. It’s rainy; wonderful. The stock market went up; wonderful. The stock market went down; wonderful. How insane is it to argue with what’s happening, to wish for reality to be any different than it is?


I want to add something about company ownership. When you own stock, you are a part-owner of a company. Unless you want to sell the company, it doesn’t matter what the market price is. If other people don’t want to pay you much for it, who cares? If other people want to pay you a lot for it, who cares? When other part-owners are selling their shares at a low price, it can be an opportunity for you to buy more of the company. Stocks are volatile investments for the long-term. Unless you’re using the stock market to gamble, it doesn’t matter what the market thinks your company is worth.