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July 24, 2018

The Wisdom of Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Ethics don’t scale, Taleb says in his latest book, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life.

People tend to be virtuous in small groups, he says; but, once the groups get large, ethical rules lose their force with respect to the group as a whole although not within the subgroups. This can and does lead to inter-subgroup hostility and bad behavior. People do things to members of other clans that they wouldn’t do to clanspeople. Because virtue doesn’t scale, you can’t just declare everybody to be one huge group and have a nirvana of good behavior and trust.

Putting Shiites, Christians, and Sunnis in one pot and asking them to sing “Kumbaya” around the campfire while holding hands in the name of unity and fraternity of mankind has failed (Interventionists aren’t yet aware that “should” is not a sufficiently empirically valid statement to “build nations.”) Blaming people for being “sectarian” – instead of making the best of such a natural tendency – is one of the stupidities of interventionistas. Separate tribes for administrative purpose (as the Ottomans did), or just put some markers somewhere, and they suddenly become friendly to one another.

Partition is certainly a very harsh prescription. A lot of what Taleb writes is harsh. But it’s obvious that the constituent states of what were once Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are happier individually and in total than they were when lashed together. BTW, Taleb does think the US federal model can be a viable way to deal with scale.

He quotes Geoff and Vince Graham (without saying who they are):

I am, at the Fed level, libertarian;

at the state level, Republican;

at the local level, Democrat;

and at the family and friends level, a socialist.

See also:

A Turkey Connects the Wrong Dots and Finds a Black Swan

Causes of Global Warming – Are We Fooled By Hubris?

Lesson for Next Time: Small is Beautiful

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