Here we are again, following our reading calendar
This chapter introduces us to the paradox of stability. Antifragility needs stressors in order to work, and randomness is inevitable, so if we force the system to be stable, we make it more fragile and, eventually, when some random event occurs, the effect is a lot more catastrophic than a normal accident would be.
Taleb describes this phenomenon in several contexts, from financial systems to forest fires. The paradoxical moral is that in order to have systems that are more stable, we need some non-stability; to let some randomness move freely
In this chapter, Taleb is particularly playful and sarcastic, so it’s difficult to draw the line on what Taleb really believes. Clearly, he doesn’t address magnicide as a real solution for better politics, but it’s not clear to what level he believes that any attempt to bring stability will backfire, or that modernity is just a creator of problems for humans.
Taleb argues for a lot less intervention in international politics, and makes an ethical stance against systematic protection of the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia by the United States. In Taleb’s words:
“Time for American policy makers to understand that the more they intervene in other countries for the sake of stability, the more they bring instability (except for emergency-room-style case”
I particularly enjoyed his interpretation of divinations and other religious beliefs of the ancients as ways to introduce randomness in our daily lives. Of course it is partial, but it is both helpful to get a richer interpretation of how life was in ancient times as well as a practical recommendation to take better decisions in our daily activities.
It is also remarkable his description of an analyzing losses bias, by which, when facing a loss, we are unable to see the benefits of such a loss; but that’s how a small forest fire prevents a big, catastrophic one, or small disturbs in a country can avoid a civil war years later.
The other main subject of this chapter is how modernity is systematically separating humans
” from their randomness-laden ecology—physical and social, even epistemological. Modernity is not just the postmedieval, postagrarian, and postfeudal historical period as defined in sociology textbooks. It is rather the spirit of an age marked by rationalization (naive rationalism), the idea that society is understandable, hence must be designed, by humans.”
Taleb lists all the problems that such modernity has brought to our lives and considers that the main cause for such problems is denial of antifragility. Again,we shouldn’t read this as a narrative that tries to explain everything in history, but more like a cautionary tell to avoid our tendence to overvalue rationality and forget antifragility.
Let’s sing along: “We love randomness (to a point)”