This article was updated on May 9, 2005.
For the past three years the various early retirement discussion forums on the Internet have been inundated with rambling, intemperate 20-paragraph ravings on message board administration, arithmetic, and a perculiar plan for early retirement. This phenomenon is often described as 'Hocomania' by the discussion forums inflected with the pathology. Here's the definition from the New Urban Doctionary.
An early retirement plan that features quitting a high-paying job before you've saved enough money to be financially-independent only to accept sub-minimum wage work to make ends meet and feed your family.
Usage: He's still working, but the hocomania has him thinking he's retired.
For more on the Hocomania phenomenon see Passion Saving: The Path to Plentiful Free Time and Soul-Satisfying Work by Rob Bennett, and his web site www.passionsaving.com.
Causes of Hocomania
Researchers aren't sure of the exact source of this mania, but speculate on bi-polar disease, drug or alcohol addiction, a personality disorder, or schizophrenia as possible causes. Impotence and erectile dysfunction are also sometimes mentioned.
Some recent speculation has centered on Neurosyphilis as a cause of Hocomania. Neurosyphilis, once a common cause of admission to mental institutions, has become rare as a result of the invention of penicillin. However, AIDS has reintroduced the infection in certain urban settings. The infection is caused by the organism Treponema pallidum, which invades the parenchyma of the brain.
Neurosyphilis is usually clinically apparent only after a latent period of 10-20 years after the primary infection, although infection with HIV negates this general rule. Neurosyphilis primarily affects the frontal lobes, which can result in personality changes, irritability, decreased self-care, mania, and progressive dementia. Delusions of grandeur occur in 10-20% of patients. Sloppy handling of an unclean SWR Tool is the proximate cause of infection in these cases.
Another group of specialists who've examined the phenomenon found a non-medical cause for Hocomania, typically refering to YKW as a "run-of-the-mill dumbass."
How does Hocomania present in a clinical setting?
Hocomania typically presents in intemperate 20-paragraph ravings on Internet discussion forums where the patient complains about SWR, death threats, and message board administration. These long, rambling missives are frequently composed and posted in the early morning hours.
Diagnosing Hocomania with Google Adsense.
As part of our ongoing research activities, we stumbled upon Google's content-based advertising engine Google Adsense. This remarkable program actually reads the text of a web page, recognizes the context and message, then serves up ads appropriate to the subject matter. For most of the pages on the Retire Early web site, Google provides ads on retirement planning and investing.
To investigate the response of Google Adsense to Hocomania, we selected the classic "Book of Hook" rant (reproduced below.) The advertising that Google provided in response to Hocomania is displayed in the box below.
If you click the "refresh" button on your browser, Adsense will serve up another suite of ads -- typically for drug or alcohol abuse treatment, self-esteem issues, psychological counseling, and dating tips for men. If you hit the refresh button 4 or 5 times, Adsense eventually gets around to offering a 'Colon Cleansing' in response to Hocomania.
Full text of the The Book of Hook rant
Here's a wonderfully delusional example of Hocomania from the Book of Hook discussion forum.
I have a question about your plans for these boards. Is it permissible for community members to set up new boards? Or is that something that only you are able to do?
I posted for a long time at the Motley Fool's Retire Early Home Page (REHP) board. On May 13, 2002, I put up a post there questioning the results of a study put forward by the board founder (intercst) that led to a good bit of controversy. Over time, it was proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the study in fact had been prepared through use of an analytically invalid methodology and that the number intercst had been putting forward was indeed way off the mark. He started a smear campaign aimed at driving me and anyone who posted in support of me off the board. I asked Motley Fool for help, but TMFBogey's response was that he considered intercst the "Board General" of that board, and, thus, he would "probably" side with him regardless of what posting practices he engaged in to get rid of me and anyone else posting honestly on the subject matter of his study, safe withdrawal rates (SWRs).
There was a great deal of support for my position in the early days of the discussions; I had three of the top six most popular on-topic posts of the year 2002. Thus, it took a great deal of effort on the part of the group supporting intercst to have me removed. Many board members asked that reasoned debate of SWRs be permitted, but intercst and his supporters hotly opposed this idea. Ultimately, they resorted to threats of physical violence and even death threats as a means of intimidating anyone who posted accurate information about SWRs. Most of the best posters from the board left in disgust as these tactics continued and Motley Fool failed to take any action.
Last May, Motley Fool banned me from the site for life. They did not claim that I broke any rules (and I did not). But they said that they were losing too many community members because of the SWR discussions. It is true that many posters left as a result of the smear campaign. Today, the board is a shadow of the resource it once was. Most of the threads today deal with political junk because most of the posters who were informed on the subject matter of the board are gone.
I intend to create a new community of people interested in learning how to achieve financial independence early in life. I started posting at the REHP board with the aim of building a community that would create the most valuable resource on Planet Earth for learning about the subject. My efforts were successful. Before I started posting, the REHP board was a small board. I was able with my posts to attract enough great posters to make that board the second most successful financial board in TMF history (second to the LBYM board). I want to build a new community of posters interested in sharing information about financial independence, and I want the new one to be protected from intercst-type posters and other sorts of disruption.
I don't have time to work on this today. I have several projects that are keeping me very busy. But I am hoping that some time will open up in a few months. I am aiming to have a web site up by May, and I will be using the web site to promote a book that I have written on how to save effectively. I will be providing lots of free stuff at the web site to draw people there and to hold them there. I would like to have a message board system available to permit them to have conversations about what they learn, and to share information they have picked up from their own research or personal experience.
One possibility is that I will set up my own message board site, similar to what you have set up here. Given my experiences with Motley Fool, I have a desire to have as much control as possible over the message boards I set up.
That said, there are downsides to setting up my own site. Cost is one. Another is the time that must be put into administration. A third is that there is not a base of people in place to post at a new site. So I would consider putting up my new boards here, in the event that you saw appeal in that.
I am not sure what the focus of the first board would be. One possibility is that it would be a general Financial Independence board. Another is that it would focus on my book. A third is that it would focus on the question of Safe Withdrawal Rates (SWRs). The level of controversy that the SWR discussions inspired (there were tens of thousands of posts responding to the ideas I put forward) has made me interested in digging a lot deeper into the SWR question. It's possible that in time I would like to have separate boards on each of these topics, and perhaps some others as well.
I also have a desire to gain control of the REHP board at the Motley Fool site. That site has a great eyeball-generation engine. There are always new people stopping by to hear the ongoing discussions. I would like to have a board there that could be used to attract newcomers to the Financial Independence movement, and also have other, smaller, boards not governed by Motley Fool that could be used to explore issues in-depth.
There were hundreds of fine posters who built the REHP board into a valuable resource, and I believe that Motley Fool was out of line in failing to enforce the published posting rules against intercst when he engaged in efforts to destroy the resource those many fine posters created. Posters at TMF pay for access to the boards and the Terms of Service are a contract between the site owners and community members, in my view. I believe that Motley Fool should be held accountable for the damage they have done to the REHP community. For an early retiree planning on living on $60,000 a year in retirement, the intercst study gets the amount of capital that needs to be accumulated to provide for a safe retirement wrong by $1.5 million. So the financial losses that have been suffered and that will be suffered by Retire Early community members are substantial.
My intent is to use a new board not only to permit the sharing of ideas on financial independence, but also for the purpose of building a community that will be used to take over control of the REHP board. Once I am voted in as "Board General" of the REHP board, I plan to lead a campaign for establishment of a system that provides protection from intercst-type posters for people using the boards for legitimate purposes.
I believe that internet message boards have the potential to be a valuable communications medium of the future. But I do not think that they will be able to achieve their potential until systems are put into place that require site owners to administer their rules in a reasonable fashion. Given the great value that the REHP board provided in the days when I was the dominant force in building it, and the decline it has experienced since Motley Fool made the decision that it would not enforce the site rules against individuals it designates as "board generals" (a concept mentioned nowhere in the published rules), I believe that the SWR controversy constitutes an outstanding case study of the importance of reasonable rules enforcement. I hope to be able to use this case study as a tool for attracting public attention to the irresponsible board administration practices followed at Motley Fool, and to generate public pressure for changes in those practices.
My question is--Do you have any interest in me setting up boards along the lines described above at your site, or would you prefer that I set up my own site for them? My inclination is to set up my own site regardless. But in the event that you had an interest in me putting the new boards here, I might want to spend some time thinking through the pros and cons of the two alternatives.
I am grateful for any input you can provide.
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Copyright © 2005 John P. Greaney, All rights reserved.