My Mother-in-Law had clipped this article from Vanity Fair for me to read. It’s about a quant programmer who works for Goldman Sachs. He got arrested and sentenced to eight years in jail for doing nothing wrong. Basically, he was the victim of being smarter than everyone else. I got sucked into the article because I have a close friend who does this kind of work for another company. Michael Lewis’ writing never fails to interest me and, even though I hadn’t noticed it was him writing until I went to look for the online link, this article was no exception. Most of the article was about HFT, the intricacies of programming, and the story of this apparent miscarriage of just. But this final paragraph in the story is what really knocked me back on my heels:
“If the incarceration experience doesn’t break your spirit, it changes you in a way that you lose many fears. You begin to realize that your life is not ruled by your ego and ambition and that it can end any day at any time. So why worry? You learn that, just like on the street, there is life in prison, and random people get there based on the jeopardy of the system. The prisons are filled with people who crossed the law, as well as by those who were incidentally and circumstantially picked and crushed by somebody else’s agenda. On the other hand, as a vivid benefit, you become very much independent of material property and learn to appreciate very simple pleasures in life such as the sunlight and morning breeze.”
One of the primary issues in my life so far has been the fear of being the victim of the machine. The power is always in someone else’s hand, and there really is no way to win the game, because it is rigged from the get-go. This programmer, who grew up in the ultimate rigged game of communist Russia, had to get sent to jail to learn his lesson, but, like Epictetus, he has learned that suffering comes from trying to control what you cannot control. Let it go, and focus on what is within our power and happiness is within our grasp.