Forget resilient; antifragile's the thing, ...

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

.... os so reports Omah Malik in this week's THE in his witty, informative (but clearly infuriated) review of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don't Understand.

Malik sums up the Taleb concept of a scale of vulnerability to impact or stress:  fragile  –  robust  –  resilient  –  antifragile

  • Fragile is hard but liable to shatter (porcelain).
  • Robust is solid but cracks (cast iron).
  • Resilient is absorbent but bends (tempered steel).
  • Antifragile absorbs, learns and strengthens;  it evolves, hormesis in action.

You can see the attractions of antifragile immediately.  It's that reference to "learns and strengthens"; something we all aspire to, but which seems hard to do.  This idea is also one in the eye for the resilience groupies who always seem far too pleased with themselves for their own (or anyone else's) good.

The review is a good read.  Take ...

We are slaves to nature's immutable laws.  If you share my view that improving one's understanding of them is one of life's greatest pleasures, you will enjoy Taleb.  He is a large and pugnacious individual with a large and pugnacious mind.  He punches his weight for ethics and thunders against fraud, and against anyone who is aware of fraud and fails to oppose it.  He applies the test of reality to everything.  By this test, Sir Thomas More has much to answer for. His feeling that there must be a better place than Oxford is understandable.  (Of course there is.  It is called Cambridge.)  But More's Utopia is a false premise, a fairyland. Idealism always fails the reality test and does immeasurable harm.  All tellers of fairy tales, all snake-oil solutions and purveyors thereof are in Taleb's sights. He names and shames world-famous names, particularly detesting those who "have no skin in the game".  Would that he had turned his fire on the previous two British prime ministers and their acolytes.  Many economists have become hugely rich, not from following their own splendidly bad advice but from consultancy fees and the revolving door between lucrative appointments at Ivy League universities, the US government and big banks.

Malik goes on to show the flaws in the book's structure and style, but also points to why you'd want to read it.  I'm reaching for my £14.99 now.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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