I figure it’s about time to admit where I was three weekends ago. Long story short, I drove to Marfa, Texas for a gathering of ZeroHedge readers.
I’ve been reading ZeroHedge regularly for over five years. Honestly, I still have trouble describing the site, but maybe the following example will help: Every month, when new employment numbers come out, I can turn on almost any television news network or read almost any financial website and have sunshine blown up my ass about how the unemployment rate has fallen for the umpteenth month in a row. When I read ZeroHedge, I instead find analysis of the numbers behind the numbers. How the improving unemployment rate is at least in part due to a rising number of working-age laborers leaving the workforce. How many of the high-paying jobs are being replaced by low-paying ones. How a lot of the newly employed are senior citizens leaving retirement and not young people getting their start in life.
I realize I’ve painted a rather gloomy picture of the labor market with my example, but you can’t get to the truth of much of anything without weighing the evidence from all sides. Few mainstream news sources are willing to pull the curtain back on “good” financial news, especially if it might upset their advertisers. Personally, I’d rather read both the good and the bad news and decide for myself.
However, the real gem of ZeroHedge is the comments section. Oftentimes commenters add their own analysis, flush out faults in the original analysis, or provide supporting or refuting data from other sources. Perhaps not surprisingly, the comments often get heated and sometimes rather offensive. This is the free-speech zone I mentioned in an earlier post, and it’s not for the faint of heart. It earns its reputation as Fight Club.
So what happens when several dozen readers of a “pessimistic” or “conspiratorial” alternative financial website get together for a three-day symposium in a beautiful, hippie artist enclave in West Texas? Well, first of all — I didn’t find this out until later, by the way — there was apparently a petition circulating around Marfa to prevent us from even meeting. Someone got the silly idea we were a bunch of violent white supremacists. For what it’s worth, quite a few of us turned out not to be white. Needless to say, the petition was not successful.
Moreover, in spite of all the anger built up in this online community, in real life we were nothing but peaceful. Dare I even say, loving? Everyone I met was hope-filled and happy to be there, even as we were discussing ways to disintermediate the corrupt institutions we rant about on the internet. There were lots of spontaneous conversations and many six-packs of beer shared with one another. I think we were all just overjoyed to be surrounded by others who shared the same view of the world. There was a lot of talk of community-building — something I personally need to work on. For me, this event was a good start.