I wanted to cover a topic that has been concerning me a lot lately, and which should be concerning you, too. It’s a little distasteful, a little uncomfortable, and a little gross, but we’ve got to address it. That’s right, I’m talking about cannibalism in the FIRE community.
Clickbait title aside, there really is a problem in the FIRE community when it comes to turning on our own. The New Yorker just published a piece on Mr. Money Mustache, and all across the web, people came out to feast. From Reddit to Bogleheads, everyone had an opinion, many of them unflattering. People across the web who self-identified as seeking FIRE devoured Mr. Money Mustache whole, ridiculing his parenting, his recreational marijuana use (in a state where it is legal), and even his choice to hang his laundry rather than purchase a dryer. He was too obsessive about energy use. He makes too much money on his blog.
He stirs his peanut butter funny (seriously!).
Personally, I’ve always really liked Mr. Money Mustache. He was my introduction to the concept of FIRE and his message of self-reliance, minimalism, and radical individuality has always resonated with me. That’s why it’s always seemed odd to me that it’s acceptable for any highly visible member of our community to be successful, but only so long as they don’t become too successful, and as long as they aren’t weird while they do it.
Well, I’ve got news for you, dear readers. We are all weird. That’s true of human beings in general, and particularly true for the FIRE community. I sing alternate Taylor Swift lyrics to my dogs (“Barkers gonna bark bark bark bark bark…“). I dry fruit with a box fan. I’m a freaking weirdo.
Weirdness is literally a pre-requisite for achieving FIRE for most of us, because it involves diverging radically from the norm. I spend less (“Isn’t it weird that he never comes out drinking and uses a five year old phone?”), I buy properties thousands of miles away (“Isn’t it weird how they haven’t set a date for the wedding yet, but he’s buying property?”), we travel to unexpected places when the opportunities arise (“Isn’t it weird that they actually wanted to go to Egypt?”).
I love my weirdness. I embrace my weirdness. My truest friends embrace my weirdness too. As for the rest? Excuse the language, but F those guys.
So, if I can embrace my own quirks and demand that society accept me on my own terms, why can’t the FIRE community do the same for each other? Does it diminish the truth of MMM’s message one iota that he may (or may not) be idiosyncratic? Does the fact that his blog is raking in $400,000 per year make him any more obliged to spend that money, to not spend it, or to put it towards a purpose of our choosing? If he spends the money he makes on his kids, he’s a phony. If he keeps it all, he’s a profiteer.
No. F those guys. FIRE is about choosing your own path, and being a visible proponent of it doesn’t come with any particular obligation to behave as the community desires. If FIRE is about freedom, and not just money, then we owe it to one another to not eat our own. Be kind to each other. Learn something where you can, and pass over the stuff where you can’t. If someone’s personal lifestyle in FIRE doesn’t match your own imagining, feel free not to live that way.
Being a weirdo is tough enough without having to worry about cannibals.