To understand the criticism of Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature by Taleb, a celebrity mathematical statistician and author of many fine books including Skin in the Game, you can peruse here Pasquale Cirillo and Nassim Taleb and here Steven Pinker. It is, I sense with some trepidation, an unnecessary debate just as WWII was in Churchill’s words, “An unnecessary war,” but if you’ve read White’s The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, out of a hundred most terrible manmade events in history, WWII takes first place, and is in any event, a special case which I will address below. I have read Pinker’s and Taleb’s works and can tell you with confidence that this is a dispute between an optimist and a pessimist, (although Taleb might claim using his expressions that it was between a ‘fragilist’—Pinker the optimist—and an ‘antifragilist’—Taleb the pessimist. At the onset I can declare my impartiality for as a free market libertarian, I have in essence no argument with either thinker on their main points and they both probably (even unthinkingly), dismiss the libertarian alternative. Moreover, though he is a political liberal, I here intend to defend Pinker’s optimism on theoretical grounds while conceding some of Taleb’s criticism about these three: optimism, liberals and progress.
From Teleb's Antifragile: “We can also see from the turkey story the mother of all harmful mistakes: mistaking absence of evidence (of harm) for evidence of absence, a mistake that we will see tends to prevail in intellectual circles and one that is grounded in the social sciences. ... So our mission in life becomes simply how not to be a turkey ...”
I am a study on Karl Popper and he is one of the six modern philosophers I endorse, all of them having these essential qualities: they all believed in reason to get to objective reality, they were all atheists, democrats, moderates, optimistic and polite in dealing with their intellectual opponents. Although Thomas Sowell mildly criticizes Santayana for moving to Fascist Italy to retire, I believe Santayana valiantly tried to live a life of reason and practiced what he preached. Moreover, the hard science criterion for objective knowledge “better explanations” leave any so-called “orthodox Christian” such as Taleb in a meagre way and may go some way to explain his unwarranted attack and outright discourtesy to Pinker. This article has much to do with manners as does Pinker's Better Angels. Popper preached to an almost deaf world—(esp., between 1950s-80s) insisted in fact—that it is the moral obligation of every reasonable person to be optimistic about humankind, its societies, its civilizations and its chances of attaining enough knowledge to save itself at any given time whatever the crisis. So it is important to understand that Steven Pinker is an atheist and humanist in this dispute and is one of the first social scientists (he’s a cognitive psychologist and a linguist), to look at the libertarian data on Marxist democide and anti-communist state killing financed by the empire of the West during the Cold War. He realized that Norbert Elias’ theory (mislaid during WWII) in The Civilizing Process (which I wrote about intently as early as 2005), that manners affected the murder rate, held stock. Better Angels is not Fat Tails and never will be. It was 2500 pages on my desktop reader (Calibre) and has no doubt, a few turkeys in it. It’s perhaps like Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (4211 pages in hard copy and 8000 pages on my Calibre desktop) lots of folks say they’ve read it but I wonder how true would be that stat? Perhaps Taleb quick-read Better Angels and dismissed it out of hand when the statistical rigor put him off, and after all, like bankers, social scientists trouble him (both I am sure for good historical reasons). It would be incorrect criticizing so small an area of Pinker’s thesis and then tossing the whole effort. The number one human rights violation in the world historically has been murder not war. It would be like condemning Noam Chomsky for criticising the West because he underestimated Marxists’ murder in the East. Western murder, like Marxists’ murder, is still state condoned democide (i.e., murder). Violence in tandem with human progress is exceedingly complicated; indeed, as Thomas Sowell established in The Cultural Series (1,383 pages in hard copy) and his many other works, no one (culture) progressed more than the conquered in historical terms and no one remains poorer than the isolated.
Notwithstanding, nothing, not even murder, could be worse for us collectively than nuclear holocaust and you certainly can’t bracket a possible future event like that anymore than an asteroid strike like the Cretaceous–Palaeogene extinction event, (so some negativity is indeed warranted); however, having admitted to some conduits to extreme pessimism, in life expectancy alone some optimism is justified: in 1950 it was 48.2 for the whole world and today for the eight billion souls, it is well over 72 years of age; that’s over 70 years, more than a year for every year, “fuhgeddaboudit” to employ Taleb’s often-used glib rejoinder from Fat Tails to show it’s not worth saying anything further.
Thomas Sowell, perhaps one of the five wisest (still living) humans on the planet, has said of social scientists and intellectuals that they have unconstrained visions of human nature and both Pinker and Taleb may be rightly accused of this in some manner. If you’ve read The Language Instinct, Pinker does support the view that evolution has provided us (in the evolutionary painstaking time-scale) with an almost immutable human nature. Nonetheless, I think to be in the wisest category you have to be as old as Dawkins, Chomsky, Ridley, Diamond and Sowell and here Pinker qualifies. I have read their works and they are brilliant, and bring the complexity of life to the forefront of human knowledge. I can say with some confidence that Dawkin’s neo-Darwinism, Chomsky’s criticism of the military industrial complex, Ridley’s defense of optimism, Diamond’s descriptions of past and present civilizations and Sowell’s cautionary warnings of social experimentation in human ordering, should engender wariness in the social and economic fields of endeavour. Taleb is an ego-centric thinker like me except with what he calls a lot of F U money but also with a supernaturalist’s downside which long ago I shed. I will address this self-inflicted deficit for any modern thinker, below.
Taleb's Antifragile (near the end): “And it seems to me that human nature does, deep down, know when to resort to the solace of religion, and when to switch to science”. Exactly Freeman Dyson’s view; however I say: Have you been to worship anywhere in small-town America and seen the church goers? They are mostly old and/or obese or both; there is no dynamo on the pulpit preaching the hard life for 2023: Stay out of the malls. Stop watching Fox News and CNN. Read Books. Discontinue the ingestion of toxic carbohydrates. Use reason/science to understand objective reality. Laugh. Enjoy many varied activities. Exercise, exercise, exercise! Fast often! So my flock rise now and we’ll go forth for a 10 kilometre walk while we pray. Absurd and will never happen!
Some on the Right and Left
would profess that Thomas Sowell and Noam Chomsky are polar opposites in every manner of ways, but they are not; for instance, they both constantly caution intellectuals to get their facts right and to understand their responsibilities. In the great scheme of things these two American giants are brothers from different mothers as much as the Christian Conservative, Peter Hitchens
was the actual brother to his militant atheist and Trotskyite brother, Christopher
. Their actual opposites are folks like Henry Kissinger and Jack Kennedy not Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, who are from the same island/time-frame and shared many commonalities. Politics is the great divider and it seems any lying fool who fibs like a Bernie Madoff can become a Jair Bolsonaro, Silvio Berlusconi, Richard Nixon, Donald Trump, Hugo Chavez or Hilary Clinton. Much of modern politics are worldly religions; it’s a nasty hard-to-understand business. My view as a libertarian is that bringing reason/science into our lives is our only hope for a better democracy; yet it will be exceedingly thorny—but no rose without it.
HOW CAN WE BE A NEUTRAL OBSERVER?
As for the Enlightenment, it brought the light of reason into this rueful world of ours; I would never dispute it; however, the optimistic over-exuberance and absolute certainty of the thinkers from Hume, Locke, Smith, all the way to Comte, Spencer, Mills and so many other philosophers who practiced “Scientism” was a political disaster. The cost and pace of progress set against human suffering is indeed on a massive scale. Humans are the fragile slow-learner from a village of scared, xenophobic hunter-gatherers and there is every possible subjective temptation known to everyone of us producers/directors who create a “video, documentary, movie, etc.,” of our life. At this point in history, anyone who thinks their version is, “THE TRUE”, version is just plain, uninspired and even foolish.
Taleb’s Excellent Black Swan Robust:
1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.
2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.
3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.
4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.
5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.
6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning. Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.
7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.
8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.
9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).
10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.
You can see Taleb is no dummy but sometimes you win an argument on a bright technicality where and when in meta-terms you’ve actually lost it. For instance, Taleb shows-off; after reading The Statistical Consequences of Fat Tails, I had to wiki the concept to understand what it actually meant. Sowell’s Basic Economics is without graphs, stats or math. It is what humble intellectuals do, better explanations for the pedestrian like me, books such as Einstein’s Relativity, Deutscher’s The Unfolding of Language, Hawkins’ A Brief History of Time, March’s Physics for Poets, Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist or Hazlitt’s Economics in One Easy Lesson.
Mathematicians like to make Platonic claims and brag their skill. Taleb is not guilty of the former but indulges in the latter in writings such as Fat Tails; everyone can understand the delusion of turkeys without seeing the mathematical formula. We can also realize, bird-brain or not, that we suffer from the same problem as the turkey in our perceptions of reality. He also traces the notion of creative destruction first coined by W Sombart back to Marx which is utterly silly. It unfolded with Schumpeter, Marx was a total Platonist and he no more understood the upside of a capitalist-concept like creative destruction and human progress than Maynard Keynes understood Marginal Utility.
Here is the thing about giving Nietzsche, ("Only fighting yields happiness on earth"), or Marx, ("Keep people from their history and they are easily controlled"), credit without criticism: I read as an individualist Nietzsche with open fascination when I was younger—every single book—at the time I thought him brilliant and beyond reproach; however, with many years gone by and numerous other thinkers visited, I have, just as Ayn Rand did before me, come to judge him as one of the most incautious philosophers of all time. His revolt against Aristotelian (Thomistic) morality, civil discourse, the open society, individual human rights, property titles, a free press and the glorification of the genius of art, the originator of a dangling concept, the brilliant forger of history and the lone architect of destiny, (with a constant hint that the regular things like family, fidelity, friends, fun, having a profession and so forth were uninspired mercantilism and unworthy pursuits in life); he was the very betrayer of middle class values (bourgeois virtue) (or as Taleb might call us via Fat Tony, “the suckers”) and Nietzsche, (perhaps unwittingly), encouraged the Teutonic romantics, (“blonde Teuton Beasts”), everywhere in the 1920s and 30s to hang their hatreds of modern life on what they saw as the dull, plotting common people like me-&-mine and certainly helped catapult the fascists, racists and totalitarians into power with his Uberman ideology and love of broad strokes without prudence. In my opinion, he sincerely deserves the epitaph of insane. Having said that, I am not putting him on the same plane of blame with Marx who was a foolish, hateful warmonger, a violent declinist and a religious prophet of doom, and is I dare say, directly and/or ultimately responsible for much of the Marxist murders of the twentieth century. In this Taleb is so blind in his distrust of the Enlightenment, he even mentions Marx several times without any condemnation whatsoever. Marx was a foul-mouthed, reckless, hater, a relentless promoter of bloodshed, and the outright assassin of liberty.
This is what lack of caution sounds like: “The workers must, above all, during the conflict and immediately after the struggle, counteract, as much as possible, bourgeois efforts to calm things down and force the democrats to carry out their current terrorist phrases. They must work towards ensuring [that] the immediate revolutionary excitement not be suppressed right after the victory of the revolution. Just the opposite, they must attempt to keep it up. Far from opposing so-called excesses, examples of the people’s revenge on hated individuals or public buildings connected with hateful memories, they must not just tolerate such excesses but take over the leadership of them.”
These types of complaints against modernity are found as well in Harari’s Sapiens, a work which makes many smart observations on the evolutionary side, and then like the philosopher Foucault, talks absolute economic rubbish which turns out to be no more than Modern Myths; Harari is 47 years old, a mere child by my reckoning: it takes seven or eight decades to read 7, 8 or 9,000 books so that you’re not talking foolishness about the broad spectrum and complexity of the human enterprise. It is counterintuitive but as Hayek, Ridley, Mises and many others have shown, there is spontaneous order in the market place, and not to be mean, Harari seems of a fine mind, but keep reading is what I urge.
Shockingly, Michel Foucault was so isolated and arrogant in his insulated European Neo-Marxist quagmire that he didn’t even read the brilliant and prophetic Thomas Szasz. Szasz predicted the complete psycho-medicalization of our modern world by the state-licensed psychiatric-power and other social scientists which is exactly what has happened. Full of youthful piss & vinegar?, we have a medical name for that now; grieving?, one for that as well, sad?, that too, and pills to administer for all common human moods that half a century ago saw little or no medication at all to treat these afflictions that spare none of us.
Chomsky is 95 years old 2023 (hoping he makes it as a centenarian) and his criticism of the US military empire specifically comes with hard fought wisdom. Sowell is 92 and his unfailing and multifaceted assessment of human capital and wealth on the one side and isolation and poverty on the other is layered with the acumen of nine decades. Diamond is 85 and his knowledge and critique of past and present civilizations is simply outstanding and is taken from many locales around the planet, many of them where he had years of hands-on experience, what Taleb might in a sense call skin in the game. Dawkins is 81 and his re-clarification of Darwinism—the so-called neo-Darwinism revolution—is stupendous as are all of his books. He has become one of the most elegant (and humble) science writers in the West, indeed even the world. He has proved to my satisfaction and millions of others that a belief in the supernatural, no matter how tempting, is unnecessary and filled with much more down than up and that hard objective science even forbids any belief in such myths as implausible as Thor, Zeus, Marxism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism no matter how much wisdom there might be in their religious traditions, they are not actually true and people who think they are, (or lie and say they are), really should be judged accordingly as irrational. Ridley is 64 and his against-the-current defense of optimism—this necessary Popperian criterion and backstop for scientists and philosophers in these gloom-and-doom times and for all times—is brave and downright breathtaking. David Attenborough, another human being worth paying attention to, is 96; (Freeman Dyson—97 years of age, passed in 2020—would surely also be on this list if he had not recently departed). Though not involved with this particular effort, David D Friedman, Milton Friedman’s son is 77; somewhat the sum of years required to be a physicist, legal scholar, economist and all-round renaissance dilettante—i.e., the length of time on this planet requisite to read and study so many books in so many areas—this ‘free-market anarchist’ and the remarkable David Deutsch, 69 years old are incredible thinkers. Taleb is 61 and Pinker several years older than Ridley at 68. Age alone, of course, does not equal wisdom, nor could any old fool at ninety claim to have it unless they were intellectually swimming up river, and dancing as fast as they could, all through the years, such as those mentioned above, (and I am sure, there are many others like Neil deGrasse Tyson).
From Enlightenment Now: “Many left-wing colleagues who learned that I was writing a book on reason and humanism egged me on, relishing the prospect of an arsenal of talking points against the right. But not so long ago the left was sympathetic to nationalism when it was fused with Marxist liberation movements. And many on the left encourage identity politicians and social justice warriors who downplay individual rights in favor of equalizing the standing of races, classes, and genders, which they see as being pitted in zero-sum competition.”
As a general point, Taleb the “Orthodox Christian” is up against an atheist-humanist and has taken apparent affront at the conclusion of Better Angels. Taleb: “If something that makes no sense to you (say, religion—if you are an atheist—or some age-old habit or practice called irrational); if that something has been around for a very, very long time, then, irrational or not, you can expect it to stick around much longer, and outlive those who call for its demise.”
If you bracketed WWII as ideological/religious fighting, some of Taleb’s sting falls away. For if this one wild and unpredicted event which led to so much catastrophic casualties on so many levels and layers in recent times is taken away; it is hard not to see human progress even regarding war violence. Admittedly the black swan event over time for war casualties can’t really work this way (I do begrudgingly understand this). A single nuclear war could destroy all progress as far as the numbers go or even some world war three event in the future which used some runaway robotic or drone technology; however, if we look through the years at the phenomena of Christianity: the seemingly unending torture, the Crusades, child rape by priests, intolerance murder, the self-inflicted filth and poverty, pogroms against other religious minorities/heretics through both the non-warring and warring years over many centuries, plus add on to that the 1000 year technological devolution which was the Dark Ages and deprived humans of many of their years, in addition to the actual large Christian wars like The Thirty Years War after the reformation, I dare say, it would, I’m guessing, even pale the numbers for WWII, the political murders in Maoist China and Genghis Khan’s conquering wars all rolled together. So are the Christian apologists, like so many neo-Marxists ones, on the wrong side of history?
The real current debates happen not between wide-eyed youthful Marxists/ Christian-Liberationist/ socialists versus Christian/ Islamic/ Hindi/ fill-in-the-blank conservatives, but more importantly between ‘Leftist’ Liberals like the late John Rawls who endorsed state solutions to almost everything and the free market ‘Libertarians’ like Rawls’ friend, Robert Nozick who defended the hidden order in market chaos and individual liberty.
Pinker says in Enlightenment Now: “And tellingly, the number of libertarian paradises in the world—developed countries without substantial social spending—is zero.” This is an amazing charge since libertarianism hasn’t been tried anywhere like a whole nation—rich or poor—and we aren’t promoting any paradise, we are selling the red pill not the blue one (i.e., the hard life and modern stoicism). In fact we are saying two essential things: it is better to make a smart phone for $10 (the Indian smart-phone Freedom 251, costs 251 rupees, around $3.50US), than to give a poor person $10. When the state does collect $10 to give to a poor person, seven to nine dollars goes to the bureaucracy and one to three dollars taxable might make it to the politically connected poor. The state can neither make the phone nor end poverty. In the broad sweep of humankind’s economic history, welfare is bad philosophy, the worst of democratic politics and the waste of valuable resources for everyone except the political class to which as a tenured professor, Steven Pinker is a member, as almost all liberals are—their extraordinary foregone-conclusion about the state is their blindfold against market liberty. They suffer from the cognitive optimism bias in regards to the functions of government despite hundreds of years of evidence to the contrary. Without the state’s protection and gross subsidy, the retrogressive liberal-gulag of university feudalism is foisted on three fronts: the political class’ fight against general economic liberty, the crass liberal moral justification for unnecessary utilitarianism—i.e., human sacrifice—and the outright and complete prejudiced distortion of classical-liberalism by the status-quo left-economists, big corporation journalists and neo-Marxist elites. Without the state, the whole enterprise would collapse in a short period into actual education; the cost alone would be a fraction of the laughable expenditure it is now.
Right and left wing bullies use the state as fodder for their fiefdoms and their ideologies as a modern revolt against reason and liberty —these conjoined concepts produced by the Enlightenment’s classical liberals—are abused and compromised by the political quandary we are in today. The obese modern democratic governments refuse to get on a treadmill; they only want to eat donuts and potato chips—not a sunset clause in sight—and it will do anything BUT use reason and science to help solve our collective problems. Is that what Steven Pinker means when he is talking about libertarianism?
Taleb’s Antifragile rules are inceptive—even luminous—don’t get fragile with debt, obesity, bloated bureaucracy and unnecessary complication and/or complexity in social arrangements. The new Liberals (the statists) argue against the real liberals (the Libertarians). They imply that the libertarian’s claim is false; i.e., Pinker and other liberals’ charge that the growth of the modern state in the Western Democracies has NOT been a “slippery slope” toward a gentler, kinder “deep state” totalitarianism which is leading directly to socialism. Indeed the "regressive-left" asserts that the actual growth of government has been over the decades, modest. Just on the face of this, it is illogical and doesn’t hold up to reason as reading any one of Thomas Sowell’s many books will show you. Any statistician can see that in a century, especially after WWII, the “nanny states” of the West have mushroomed beyond any classical liberal’s worst fears.
Taleb’s overemphasis on the ancient thinkers in his bias against the Enlightenment is nonetheless spurious and annoying; many Christian intellectuals were against even simple things like laughter, bathing, same-sex love, women having any rights and freedom of thought (to say nothing of wealth, let alone, F U money). Many earlier Greek thinkers held ideas like infanticide, slavery, rape, murder and many others too misogynistic and xenophobic to analyse here. Perhaps we could cherry-pick Daoism, so what? I’ve read Lao Tzu and there’s some libertarian wisdom to be found although to my knowledge no Taoist intellectual ever became a defender of reason because of it. Apparently, (according to Taleb) even ‘the naive rationalist’ Popper has an ancient predecessor: the skeptical-empirical school of medicine of the postclassical era in the Eastern Mediterranean in the third century BCE.
It Is Too Much
Here’s the how of Popper: the actual intellectual flow worked out to get to a certain end to nuance the problem of induction: without Menger, no Bohn-Bawerk, no Bawerk, no Mises, no Mises, no Hayek and no Hayek, no Popper; it’s the rich conclusion (or beginning) of a ratchet-up against Marxism, socialism, bureaucracy, and the constant fight against the liberal belief that people can trust the state, that they can make government efficient with science and a belief in the easily-refuted myth that planned economies out-perform the market place. It’s an unending brawl against this communal charm in us to suppose, what Auden calls the strength of collective man and his psychopathic god; that the state will not become a corpulent totalitarian obesity in the execution of its power, and notwithstanding the designation; democracy, theocracy or autocracy.
This is the law of fat tails: Rare events are rare. Should we dismiss or scorn the Enlightenment on the basis that the earth has had three near extinction events? Reason is damned seeing as people are in an important way emotive and/or irrational? Should massive increases in life expectancy be down-played for fear of another pandemic like the Spanish flu with its 100 million victims and three waves lasting four years or an equally harmful incident? Recall that the number one human rights violation in the world historically has been murder not war.
So Let’s Talk Turkey
Taleb: “The Paleo people are carnivores who try to replicate the supposed ancestral high-meat, high-animal-fat diet of hunter-gatherers.” He obviously hasn’t read a single modern representative: Sisson, Cordain, Wolf, Whals, Landry, or any other, although he mentions De Vany who is good. None of these lifestyle gurus use that sort of language. The restrictions on protein and fat are huge, incredibly selective, as scientific as a growing-evolving movement can be, and most have settled into pegan positions, with much respect for vegan, keto, and other lifestyle changes as long as there is much fasting, a good deal of exercising, no processed food—zero—and many other restrictions. It’s an intellectual movement about lifestyle choices not a cult, for instance like all the sects of Christianity, to one of which Taleb belongs. I don’t want to be accused of nitpicking a great thinker like Taleb about everyday life choices but he cherry-picks things like this to make his argument about religious fasting, and btw, salads are not “boring” if you use your imagination in the kitchen, create your own dressings and use variety—sometimes I can make ones with 50 fruits, ferments, dried-fruits & nuts and veggies—totally delicious and I have boasted to my friends that I can make a salad taste better than chocolate cake and ice cream. Moreover, and contrarily to what he says in antifragile, —no proven causation between salt and hypertension,— salt is definitely problematic for modern diets; the food industry puts sodium in everything processed; at least switch to dirty salt. Diamond mentions a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Africa that have less salt in their diet in a year than a small snack size bag of potato chips, —a whole year!
Antifragile: “Recall our mission to not be a turkey. The take-home is that, when facing a long sample subjected to turkey problems, one tends to estimate a lower number of adverse events—simply, rare events are rare, and tend not to show up in past samples, and given that the rare is almost always negative, we get a rosier picture than reality. But here we face the mirror image, the reverse situation. Under positive asymmetries, that is, the antifragile case, the ‘unseen’ is positive. So empirical evidence tends to miss positive events and underestimate the total benefits.” And more from Antifragile: “It has been difficult for people to understand that, historically, skepticism has been mostly skepticism of expert knowledge rather than skepticism about abstract entities like God, and that all the great skeptics have been largely either religious or, at least, pro-religion (that is, in favor of others being religious).”
This is certainly true of Brand Blanshard, (atheist), Freeman Dyson, (Christian), and George Santayana, (atheist); they were in favour of the ceremonial, the mysterious and especially the collective wisdom of the religious communities and perhaps they were respected notions for them as much as democracy, science and other qualities; however, these guardians of reason and liberty in toto committed a certain kind of trade-off that I find unexceptional and perhaps in these times even objectionable for the eight billion souls trying to get along in our ‘shrinking’ world and solve our collective problems today. If you are currently an adult Marxist or a neo-Marxist you forfeit your moral integrity in the same way as indeed do any fundamental or orthodox religious persons, ideologues or intellectuals who profess to actually believe that Vishnu, Zeus, Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha and/or Marxist-cosmic-justice is real, divine/achievable and/or eminently plausible, on the evidentiary plane. Sure, the Lord God sent his son to some idiot-filled dirt-poor illiterate village in the Middle East and in his three decades on the planet this human god never shut up about demons and human greed except he fails to mention reason, China, dinosaurs, evolution, that the earth spins on its axis or even Democritus, but he’s a capital G God who brings the dead back to life (indeed comes back to life himself). That’s what you are selling and Steven Pinker “can’t recognize the difference between rigorous empiricism and anecdotal statements”? It is a lot to stomach from a brilliant sceptic with so much hard-found wisdom, “fuhgeddaboudit”.
I know what it is like to read thousands upon thousands of books, quick-read the boring ones, riveted to the ones like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Beyond Infinity, Intellectuals and Society, Outliers, The Black Swan, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Black Mass, Planned Chaos, The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard, The Counter Revolution of Science, A History of Western Philosophy or The Myth of Mental Illness and follow your serendipity on your very own intellectual adventure without the confines of any academic restrictions; it’s apodictic and Taleb has done it perhaps better than anyone else in the world. I am sure if Santayana, Popper and Szasz can live without ‘Baby Jesus’ or whoever, so can Taleb. To censure Steven Pinker for the reason that he wrote a critical book review on one of Gladwell’s many fine books, is ridiculous; and Gladwell, who has a wonderful mind and is a friend of Taleb’s, has to take the sunny with the appalling. It is a cost of intellectual fame and I don’t wish it on any good person in today's sickening wokish climate of identity politics.
Maybe you can’t statistically prove Gladwell’s 10 thousand hour rule, who cares? The ancient wisdom is beyond dispute, ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ and if you do something thousands and thousands of hours, and if you are anything close to human, you are going to be pretty damn good at it. So if some pessimistic and jealous card-carrying PhD who denies progress and wants to prove otherwise since he didn’t think of the dazzling notion himself, what does it matter? The critic taints himself in public as Taleb has come close to doing with his disparagement of Steven Pinker’s theory on human progress since The Enlightenment—we are talking of billions of lives saved by science just in the eradication of diseases alone.
If you give the people the choice, many like me will read far and wide; they will eventually conform to science and reason, even be creative and leave the myths behind as stories with some wisdom like the Grimm’s fairy tales. Others will continue to fall to their knees and ask, Why should I live? There must be something else out there! All of this while Taleb is in fact rationally opposed to the very intellectuals who are the Platonic enemies of humankind, and in every way, dangerous utopians like Liberals, Marxists, Catholic-Liberationists, Existentialists and neo-Marxists. That’s what he is doing, throwing a Bertrand Russell or a George Orwell under the bus, for whatever their faults were, they were amazing thinkers, writers and contrarians who often wrote against their own Platonic inclinations and understood like the Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens that the open secular society is a thing worth defending; i.e., despite their vampirish British positivism, that’s the most you can hope for from an intellectual, so you should celebrate it, not condemn it; bravo for Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson and Malcolm Gladwell and hooray for Canada for being from where they got their start. Some of my frustration with Talib's traditionism-conservationism can also be applied to The Hunter Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century.