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Anti-fragile = ugly

Taleb has a concept called “anti-fragility”—it refers to things that gain from disorder, as opposed to fragile things that are destroyed by disorder (chewing gum versus a Ming vase). Concrete examples include the free market, Silicon Valley, and the airline industry: when an aircraft crashes there is a huge investigation and an effort to improve after the event, so that every crash makes aircraft safer and safer—things that gain from disorder. The principle can even be observed in very divergent fields: the graphs below show the seismic impact from an earthquake and a nuclear bomb—the natural earthquake has many small variations (anti-fragile), whereas the nuclear bomb is one huge spike (a black swan event); essentially, nature has small fluctuations but is metastable, whereas what is artificial tends towards sudden unexpected explosions.

Here is the problem: what is anti-fragile is also ugly. Two more anti-fragile institutions to consider: the Israeli Knesset and the Italian Parliament. Both Israeli and Italian politics are characterised by small-scale fluctuations—the governing coalitions fall apart constantly, elections are held every other year; and the politicians shout and haggle with each other, very much like Lebanese merchants in the souk Taleb so admires. However, despite this apparent chaos, both Israel and Italy have very stable politics—all those collapsed coalitions and absurd fights in parliament between bimbos and gabagools amount to complete stability.

So, guess what? Corruption is anti-fragile. That’s right, both Italy and Israel are staggeringly corrupt countries—and their political systems are staggeringly ugly. All the parties, the shouting, the theatre amounts to a stable life—just like the old couple who bicker all the time but never split up (bickering is anti-fragile).

Beauty is fragile—God is fragile. The society that aims to become anti-fragile is no longer beautiful and no longer seeks the divine; it is also static and sclerotic—it cannot develop and innovate; it becomes a talking shop for old, sick women who decide everything through gossip. It is no surprise that the Freemasons play such a prominent role in Italian politics—they thrive in this corrupt anti-fragile environment where a “network of pals” sorts it out in private.

Taleb contrasts “robust immortality” to anti-fragility: think about the cartoon character Mr. Burns, who, according to his doctors, only survives because—as with a Three Stooges film—he has so many illnesses trying to get through his body’s “door” at once they have become stuck. Burns has so many little illnesses he has become anti-fragile. Yet he is also a very ugly and corrupt man. The opposite, per Taleb, constitutes “robust health”—immortality is robust and fragile. Would you prefer to be a “fragile” robust man who is immortal (beautiful) or would you prefer to be an “anti-fragile” sick man who is long-lived but mortal?

Taleb worships the merchant, he worships the souk—and the souk is anti-fragile. As with Land, Deleuze, and Jung he worships the rhizome: the root network, the root network is anti-fragile. What else is the root network, the rhizome? Hell. Yes, Hell is anti-fragile—it gains from disorder. The merchant, the bent Italian politician, the Freemason, the free-market wheeler-dealer, the Zionist lobbyist—they are all anti-fragile. They will live long—as with Methuselah, the Wandering Jew is anti-fragile. Yet they will never be immortal—only long-lived and ugly. They are corrupt, sick, and filled with multiple diseases.

What is immortal is exceptional; it is like the sun—it is like the atomic explosion above. The sun is a black swan. It is fragile because it is easily corrupted—especially by men like Taleb, a man who thinks gangsters are admirable role models for life. The British Parliament is much more beautiful and robust than the Italian and Israeli parliaments because it is competitive and quasi-aristocratic; it is antagonistic—the leaders fence across the chamber, they do not form cosy little anti-fragile “deals” in back rooms (fencing > weightlifting).

Genuine progress depends on an aristocratic, beautiful, and robust system that produces “black suns”—sudden explosions of insight that blind people and destroy the corrupt deals, backscratching, and quasi-gangsterism promoted by men like Taleb. The sun is a black swan. Ultimately, the anti-fragile are greedy people who cling to life—they always wanna cut a deal; and this is why they are in Hell, damned to the material root network. Yet we who want to be higher will clamber down the Devil’s fur, as did Dante, into Heaven—a place that is fragile, robust, and beautiful. We are, as Leonard Cohen sang, “The dealer who is searching for a card that is so high and wild that he’ll never have to deal another.”


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