Dear readers, today I share my recent reading experience of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books (author of “Incerto” triad “Antifragile, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness”) and his recent blog article “The Intellectual Yet Idiot”, published on medium.com. I think introduction is so far not necessary when we read Taleb’s books or articles he published medium or elsewhere.
Taleb’s works, his phrasing-and-paraphrasing, controversial argumentation, and his textual journey to the societal hive by great certainty not new to the intellectual community and conscious readers who follows him. They’re akin to his methodical randomness since from the last one and half decade.
As a kinsfolk reader of Fragile, Certainty, Predictability, Abundance and Randomness, author always move his camera to the opposite, so that he could write his script and shoot it to break the alluring fence of fragilities. He named the movie “Antifragile”. What’s the majesty of “Fragile” by an addition of “Anti” with this? Taleb searching the answer since from the last one decade and now earnestly believe that:
“We have been unconsciously exploiting antifragility in practical life and, consciously, rejecting it—particularly in intellectual life.”
The world thesaurus and archaeological knowledge of human race is closely akin to the notion of “fragility” but not the opposite Taleb wish to name it the “Anti”. Yeah, thesaurus and archival knowledge source are yet dark about the new spelling texture of “antifragile”. The wavy red-sign of any spell checker indicates the “anti” as an error and the author’s journey was begins from this spelling mistake. He wrapped his luggage by a new tag “ANTIFRAGILE: PLEASE MISHANDLE” and sent it to the intellectual community, so that they feel bit embarrassed to see the new tag and indeed a new definition of notion and ideas.
Taleb packed his luggage by lot of these faulty “fragilistas” with an assurance of mishandling and misinterpretation of the luggage. Okay fine, but what’s the meaning of this mishandled term “Antifragile”? Taleb digs, narrates, explain and analyze it with practical details in his triad of Incerto (* Latin form of Uncertainty, Doubt and maybe Randomness) series. The simple introductory glance of his book “Antifragile” tells something that:
“The antifragile loves randomness and uncertainty, which also means—crucially—a love of errors, a certain class of errors. Antifragility has a singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them—and do them well. Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility.”
“…anything that has more upside than downside from random events (or certain shocks) is antifragile; the reverse is fragile.”
The next question naturally rises in mind that “why antifragile or antifragility?” Author extended the reason in his book “The Black Swan” and “Fooled by Randomness” with vast detail and summarized the whole in the middle line of his triad “Antifragile”. I just picked some quotes (underline is mine) here from the prologue. Author narrates:
“Life is more, a lot more, labyrinthine than shown in our memory—our minds are in the business of turning history into something smooth and linear, which makes us underestimate randomness.”
“So the modern world may be increasing in technological knowledge, but, paradoxically, it is making things a lot more unpredictable. Now for reasons that have to do with the increase of the artificial, the move away from ancestral and natural models, and the loss in robustness owing to complications in the design of everything, the role of Black Swans in increasing. Further, we are victims to a new disease, called in this book neomania, that makes us build Black Swan–vulnerable systems—“progress.”
“I suddenly realized one day that fragility—which had been lacking a technical definition—could be expressed as what does not like volatility, and that what does not like volatility does not like randomness, uncertainty, disorder, errors, stressors, etc.”
“And antifragility flows—sort of—from this explicit definition of fragility. It likes volatility et al. It also likes time. And there is a powerful and helpful link to nonlinearity: everything nonlinear in response is either fragile or antifragile to a certain source of randomness.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is working and testing the notion of antifragility under the most fragile moments of life since from the last decades. “Goodreads” entitled him as the “Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute”. He was honored many other adjectives, just like to say, -New York Times bestselling author of “The Black Swan”, an expert in randomness, uncertainty or risk management principles in human life, scholar on the field of banking and wall street predictability, keen and satirical critic to the academician’s knowledge-making establishment and lot extras.
I think these adjectives tells a very little about Taleb’s objective and his hardship effort to the subject that “be brave and lift the weight just like the weightlifter as far your body allowed you; pick the weight from the nonlinear randomness of life and increase the weightlifting capacities so far the body-biology allowed you to do it.” He provoked his text to break the fence between “academicians” and the “plebeian”, because they have distinguished difference to read, deal or lifted the weight of antifragile elements from the random and uncertain moments of life.
Taleb’s Lebanese origin not offering his soul to just write-down a thought-oriented book by reading, googling and lecturing, just to get some applause by the academician erudite. He saw the Lebanese civil war, saw the fragility of Lebanon’s old city and the antifragility of rebuild it again, -not for one time, the city rebuild it eighth times to better than the previous rebuild. This is the antifragility, as Taleb quoted an Irish revolutionary song that: “The higher you build your barricades, the stronger we become.”
The strength of his thought and notion is not lying in the academic intellectual surface of the modern western world. He is the member and participator of that hub but his body always moves him to walk on the busy street, airport, rail station, share market and many other places where the “common” the “ordinary” the “neglected” but strongly antifragile elements are wait to be exploited and exploded by the right moments. Taleb tried to near them despite his scholarly outfit and touch the soil that we usually called by name “the commonsense”. Yes, his scholarly words try to think of as like the “common and ordinary world” thinks or commenting to sip the daily life.
Peoples are talking about many things. They talk on “power and polity, voting and unemployment, medicine and medication, education and aim of life, economic recession or weather forecast, unemployment or climate changes, they’re thriving on porn star to soccer game and the daily soap opera to the futuristic fate of human species in this naturally inbuilt planet.” Taleb’s field of study takes all these to stands on the battleground of uncertainty against the certainty and antifragility against the fragile quandary. In his triad books he talks, debates, converse, laugh, satires to the fragile-addicts and spits his laughter to the morbid question of life that “how life should have gone”, -fixed by the knowledge-makers of modern centuries from the very beginning of our journey.
Is Taleb howl for antiestablishment in his bit paranoid paraphrases? I don’t think so. This man not intended to promote anti-establishment postmodern phenomena (as we see a lot in Michel Foucault to Edward Said and even Noam Chomsky’s intellectual mainframe), but he fights to reach the inner soul of human, which we lost since the very beginning of our footsteps to the human civilization. Classification, categorization, synonyms and antonyms of words and language… everything is required to classify our rules and responsibilities to the life, but it’s more exigent to elevate the weight that:
“Hi! What do you know about life and how do you classify your capacity of weightlifting to it.”
Taleb elevates the damn old silly heft over-and-again by traveling the realm of finite to infinite, risk free to risk-taker, certainly ordered to uncertainly disorder and of the many that he discussed in his triad. To him, antifragility means the Darwinian survival equation; it’s the battle against gear up the wheel next to the most threatened and challenging cluster of chaos and disorder.
Chaos makes men to survive and Taleb rationalizing it for the most positive trend of human progress, because chaos and randomness follows the Newtonian third principle that, “For every action, there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction”. When we strive to fix and secure everything, the infamous Black Swan starts swimming from the danger-free zone of the river, that’s the fragility backfired us from the behind.
Now, the next question rise on mind, “What’s the action of fragility and be the Anti.”
Taleb’s saga is actually the long narrative of fragile and antifragile actions, and he narrates the characters as Marcel Proust narrates his novel with detail of lingual textures. The action of fragility-cluster that is perhaps the “(i) money-flow by banking channel, (ii) job and social security for the citizens, (iii) state policy to risk management, (iv) general insurance of public deposit, (v) techno-based and tech-biased wisdom, (vi) scientific progress and religious faith colloquial, and obviously the (vii) extinction-fear of human race.” is reversely affected by the antifragile cluster of “(i) uncertainty, (ii) variability, (iii) imperfect, incomplete knowledge, (iv) chance, (v) chaos, (vi) volatility, (vii) disorder, (viii) entropy, (ix) time, (x) the unknown, (xi) randomness, (xii) turmoil, (xiii) stressor, (xiv) error, (xv) dispersion of outcomes, (xvi) unknowledge”.
Taleb enjoy the “antifragile cluster” as sprouting strength to the feeling that we could survive if we take the chaos as a chance to survive against the most orderly situation (the list is now heavier than the existence of human race) of life, which maybe the worst condition to compare the chaos.
Does Taleb say something new? I don’t think like this. Michael Foucault dealt the question margins even before on Taleb’s prolonged narratives. Foucault raised the margin, perceived the margin and handled it by his own style of perception he actually used to handle. He summarized his works to the notion that, –we human cut the commonsense to categories things orderly and be the knowledge too, and to the parallel we imprisoned our soul for the slavery’s of “order and discipline” forever. Immanuel Kant perhaps said this that, “…enlightenment was the first giant leap of human race from the under-aged ignorance to adulthood maturity.” Foucault questioned him to the milieu, -“is it!”
He opposed the wise-seeker philosopher of Königsberg that, enlightenment not enlightened us to cut the knowledge of things in order, instead manacled our mind to the most provocative futile aim of life that, –we have to be secured our bodily soul to handicapped. The orderly fashion of life lost its natural tune not for the general or ordinary mass people; life lost its natural beats for the rapid leaps of seminar-fetish power-class groups of the society (intellectuals be the member of this). They cut down the origin of ideas and risk factors, which always emerges and flows on the world of ordinary folks. I memorized Foucault in many times to read Taleb’s triad, when he narrates:
“So thanks to the fragilista, modern culture has been increasingly building blindness to the mysterious, the impenetrable, what Nietzsche called the Dionysian, in life. …
In short, the fragilista (medical, economic, social planning) is one who makes you engage in policies and actions, all artificial, in which the benefits are small and visible, and the side effects potentially severe and invisible.
There is the medical fragilista who overintervenes in denying the body’s natural ability to heal and gives you medications with potentially very severe side effects; the policy fragilista (the interventionist social planner) who mistakes the economy for a washing machine that continuously needs fixing (by him) and blows it up; the psychiatric fragilista who medicates children to “improve” their intellectual and emotional life; the soccer-mom fragilista; the financial fragilista who makes people use “risk” models that destroy the banking system (then uses them again); the military fragilista who disturbs complex systems; the predictor fragilista who encourages you to take more risks; and many more.2
Indeed, the political discourse is lacking a concept. Politicians in their speeches, goals, and promises aim at the timid concepts of “resilience,” “solidity,” not antifragility, and in the process are stifling the mechanisms of growth and evolution. We didn’t get where we are thanks to the sissy notion of resilience. And, what’s worse, we didn’t get where we are today thanks to policy makers—but thanks to the appetite for risks and errors of a certain class of people we need to encourage, protect, and respect.” and when he wrote: “What I propose is a road map to modify our man-made systems to let the simple— and natural—take their course.”
I remembered Foucault’s comments on the contrary:
“There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than “politicians” think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them. Ideas do not rule the world. But it is because the world has ideas (and because it constantly produces them) that it is not passively ruled by those who are its leaders or those who would like to teach it, once and for all, what it must think.” (Michel Foucault, Corriere Della Sera, Nov. 1978)
Fragilistic syndrome perhaps comes to the fear of facing the unknown in extremely hostile sphere at remote past and we don’t want to go back there again. The urge of circling the secured fence of fragility should perhaps grow in our mind for the anxieties that, -we could fall-down the hostile sphere again if we not secured our surface up to the end. It’s an inertiatic syndrome indeed, but Taleb not discussed lot about the inner psychopath of human mind by tracing it to the million years biological evolution of human species; and he (if I’m understand his words) escaped from the dialectical power-contraction of human society during the race of evolution. Michael Foucault clearly and consequently analyzed this in his archaeological investigation and dissection.
Knowledge is power to break the inertiatic fragile certainty of life and takes a journey to the antifragile realms of new ideas, notions, risk, thrill and a lot, but the condition depended on the quotation mark that “who’s ruling over the society and by what’s way.”
However, Taleb is impressive and indefinite to his nonlinear satirical approach of considering the whole paradigm again to take a risk for the grand paradigm-shift by anybody if possible. His field of study is astoundingly wide to the surface of our everyday action and reactions to the life.
Today we concerned lot about the mathematical model of “Chaos and reduction” and the fractal geometries of nature, after the great contribution of Edward Lorenz, Benoit Mandelbrot and lot other. Taleb’s “Antifragilist” leap against the “Fragilista” perhaps get some inspire from the “chaos” theories, but his thinking-patterns and the notions are more likely echoing to the “common plebeian”; we know they are live everywhere as treated marginal despite the true fact that, –these people are the majority of population model.
These mass, ordinary, public, common, citizens still now treated negligible to the powerhouses of state, constitution, bureaucrats, news media and the “academia”. They seize the capacity of masses by provoking them to the confusing fragilities of policy-making, development planning, debt financing, poverty reduction by long-term interest-cycle of World Bank and IMF’s, job-paradigm-shifting and tech-biased investments to serve the corporate interest and lot. Reason is clear, -made the people depended to the “under controlled” system-chain, so that they have no more choice to think their own or takes another path. The modern techno-biased society is the burning example of “choice your certainty from the display board.” Taleb wrote detail on it and truly marked it as “The Black Swan” problem of human society, where everything just rotates to serve the “self-interest” of some groups of bandits and nothing else.
The inertia of public commonsense threatened by the deterministic words of world-power-hives, as like the states, educational institutions, corporate-financed universities, political parties, under-world don, so-called mass media, cultural and scientific personas and many other techno-manic implementation and the blind deity of justice. When you think to being an antifragile in rest of your life, you have to face all these to stands on the giant screen of “more certainty means more durability” propaganda. Is it easy to take the risk to be antifragile to destroy the giant screen? Taleb tried to answer this question positively in his own style and still be trying to do this by writing new articles.
He discussed a lot in his triad about the problematic factors and the distinctive distance between “common people’s perception” and the “uncommon academia’s perception”, where the “uncommon” always dedicate them to determine the rules of game that “what’s perfect for the common to play.” The shocking result we see nowadays on bankruptcy and bail out, Brexit or Donald Trump’s victory to demolish the cynical polling forecast.
The emergent of knowledge when somehow going to fix every action of human an opposite reaction rapidly grows in societal hive, but the intelligent minds of modern “academia” and “establishment” strangely missing the trend of public’s “protest, rebel, refusal, falsification of notion and ideas and be the polling forecast” and also be the million words heavier academic thesis and antithesis.”
The ground philosophy to “carry the life as natural” sadly killed by the giant structures of modern humanoid intelligence. Taleb just notify this in his heavy-looking triad and blog-articles. I personally enjoy his satire and fetishism on “antifragility” to save his soul from the fragility of certainties.
Yeah, it’s true when we try to fix our daily life to the certain order-cycle of copulating, breeding, educating, employing, aiming and even tries to fix us in table manners to reading a book to trust the “NYT” review, we unevenly kill our basic sense that “which’s preferable for life to carry on”.
Taleb is necessary to read in that context and I hope readers will read more to pinch his rhetorical mind by their own ways of being “antifragile”.
Notes: I share the link of Taleb’s blog article here under the rules of game he declared his blog that “this piece can be reproduced, translated, and published by anyone under the condition that it is in its entirety and mentions that it is extracted from Skin in the Game.”
I hope if my little introduction and the link-share catch his sight of in chance, he will never mind for this antifragile action.
Link of the Blog-Article: Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s recent article in medium.com
The Intellectual Yet Idiot
We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We talk about Religion
The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority
More on Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s works to read:
Anti-fragility: riding Nassim Taleb’s tiger by Charles Jansen
INCERTO a philosophical and practical essay on uncertainty
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Editor of opacity.com; Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Goodreads
Photo Credit: alternative-right.blogspot.com;innolution.com; engineering.nyu.edu; greyenlightenment.com; openclipart.org; wanderings.net;