Saturday, July 5, 2014

Taleb, 2012, Antifragile

I started with Taleb’s (2010) The Black Swan: The Impact of Highly Improbable Fragility.  In the long introduction to Anti-Fragile, Taleb explains that his three main books, Fooled by Randomness, the Black Swan, and Anti-Fragile, revolve around the central theme of probability and resilience, and that anti-fragile is his capstone achievement.  Anti-Fragile is about things that thrive in disorder.  I found the digs at “fragilistas” rather offensive, because I am one.  War lords and black markets are anti-fragile, but they don’t contribute as much to civilization and society as medicare and good policing, which are at best resilient and at worst quite fragile.  He contrasts fragile-robust-antifragile as damocles-phoenix-hydra, and champions the hydra, but most of his examples (and an enormous number of tangential stories which are entertaining but add to the bulk of the book without improving its readability or coherence) demonstrate to me that antifragility is more likely to be anti-social than fragility or robustness.  The process of evolving civilization has largely been the story of making the world safe for the fragile, and for fragilistas like me. A great deal of the security paradigm is about preventing hyrdras, and weeds, and other anti-fragile phenomena.  robustness and relience are ok, but I’m not convinced that antifragility is always or even often a good thing, except in small cases at the margin as a hedge against collapse, and then we might just end up with a garden full of noxious weeds, that will delay the return of the good but fragile plants civilization would prefer.  
David Last, 24 July 2012

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