Following our reading calendar, here it is chapter 4.
In this chapter, Taleb explores the paradox between individuals and the collective. Individuals want to be antifragile themselves, but the collective needs lots of fragile individuals that try it hard, make mistakes and disappear, so the collective ends up as antifragile as possible. That’s the way natural selection works, killing millions of individuals in order to make species appear and improve, and also the economy: restaurants as an institution are antifragile, because individual restaurants are tremendously fragile.
This is because antifragility loves, needs stressors and disorder in order to be built. Otherwise they wouldn’t develop the mechanisms that go beyond robustness in order to “reinvent themselves each generation”.
I’m not an expert in biology, but in my readings -mostly of popular science- I’ve never met such a interesting idea: evolution is possible not only because of the randomness of the reproduction process (sexual reproduction, mutations) but also because the environment is subject to big random transformations. No stressors, no evolution. This is another indication of how important the idea of antifragility can be.
The text also points out at the importance of commiting errors, and how helpful are for us. It is important, though, to learn from errors, and try not to make the same error a second life. A “loser” for Taleb is someone that instead of accepting his or her errors and try to learn from them, imagines instead excuses to explain why it wasn’t really an error, or it wasn’t really his or her fault.
However, in order to do so, we need to keep the effect of errors confined. Taleb compares here commercial aviation, in which every car crash helps to get better flying and better security and economics, in which errors propagate without control.
Taleb also points out to an interesting bias on how endurance makes people that are more prepared for life. He points at the common talk in the press on how Russian mafia members are very tough because some of them were hardened in the Gulags. Taleb observes that it could be the other way around, Gulag could be just a selection machine that kills people that are weak and only the ruthless survive, but the Gulag didn’t turn them into ruthless people, they were already.
By the end of the chapter, Taleb makes a very important ethical point. He is not defending the wisdom of markets or the right of the fittest to live and the others to disappear. Taleb presents himself as a Humanist. In Taleb’s words:
I detest the notion of improvement thanks to harm to others. As a humanist, I stand against the antifragility of systems at the expense of individuals, for if you follow the reasoning, this makes us human individually irrelevant. (p. 142)
On a happier note, the chapter (and the first book) ends up with this fascinating idea of the National Enterpreneur Day:
Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are at the source of our anti