Warren Buffett is a billionaire investor from Nebraska who is often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha.” Usurers and other financial managers concern themselves with teasing the sense out of his “nuggets of wisdom,” including the following widely-cited aphorism:This oft-repeated mantra, variations of which caption many photos such as the above—from countless MBA student presentations, no doubt—interests me because of what it implies about being naked. The language of this oracular utterance seems to reveal a bit of what’s behind the words when we talk about nudity. But what exactly does the phrase mean? Here’s one interpretation that sums up the general consensus: “you don’t really know or appreciate the risks that companies are taking until they are tested by adverse conditions–a corollary to the saying that everyone looks like a genius in a bull market.” Let’s contextualize this further, by accepting that there exists a widespread understanding of being naked as being exposed, as in being vulnerable. The value placed on nudity, then, is a negative one. In Buffett’s buff bluff, if you’re part of the group “who’s been swimming naked,” you haven’t been covering your ass financially.
The illustration above, from yet another website deciphering the phrase, crudely depicts the aggression of the allegedly savvy investor as opposed to the angst of the allegedly foolish investor. No doubt about it: the phrase is a pithy sound bite, just profound enough regarding the nature of the ocean that even land-locked Nebraskans can understand it. If we interpret its meaning as most people seem to do, then the phrase links nudity to fear, shame, and poor planning. Furthermore, it links swimsuits, brands, fashions, and the entire clothing industry to the conservative practice of sound financial investment. How utterly boring and unimaginative. How vexingly capitalist.
If, on the other hand, we unpack the meaning from a naturist standpoint, this “nugget of wisdom” stands on its head. The subversive, submersive skinny-dippers are the smart ones, out in the ocean enjoying a taste of freedom from bindings. The skinny-dippers are the smart ones who recognize that our bodies are much healthier in the natural environment when unencumbered, that our psyches are much healthier when we take pride in and know our bodies, with body acceptance instead of body shame. Buffett’s buff swimmers are the smart ones who choose to invest in the planet, not in the textile industry – according to a recent article in Vox, synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon now account for 60% of the material in clothing worldwide, and these fibers, when released in water from washing machines, make their way to the ocean and become one of the largest sources of microplastic pollution, contaminating the food chain through fish and seafood all the way up to humans. In other words, there is no more direct way to aggravate microplastic pollution in the ocean than to wear a swimsuit into the waves.
My personal reading of this aphorism, colored by my view and my life experience as a naturist, is that if you have to wait until the tide goes out to discover who the skinny-dippers are, then you’re missing the ‘big picture’! A naturist would not even offer up such a catchphrase in the first place, because the paradigm is inherently absurd. A billionaire naturist, moreover, would make investments not in the textile industry but in the promotion and dissemination of naturist values: body acceptance, and respect for the self, for others, and for the environment. Maybe a billionaire naturist “oracle” would utter something like this: “Only those who swim naked discover the true value of the ocean.”
For those would-be skinny-dippers who still think they have to cover up until they’re far enough out from shore to expose themselves, here is a clever compromise: