Thank You Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I have been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. I have, so far, read Chapters 1-10. I thought I should finish reading the book before I put my thoughts down. But I decided not to wait. Because I have the urge to write this blog as I absolutely and immediately want to thank Nassim Nicholas Taleb for a number of things. It’s a debt I have to pay right away. Because, after a long interval, today, I am feeling stimulated and full of energy. There’s a light in my eyes and a spring in my steps.

The first thing I wish to thank Taleb for is the book itself. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a read as much as this one. In fact, I have lately been wondering why I seemed to have lost interest in reading. I have even been distressed by the fact that perhaps age is working its usual slowdown effect – dimming eyesight, the glare of the iPad retina display, an inability to concentrate. Well, last night Taleb made me one happy camper. Because I had none of those issues and was happily turning the pages devouring his words. The experience told me that there was nothing wrong with me after all. The issue lay in not having come across a book that could hold my interest.

I love the Internet. But, like everything else in life, the worldwide web has its downside. It has created a problem of plenty. You have to sift through the 24*7 noise and look hard for signals that tell you here is a book that should be read. I am shamelessly using Taleb’s definition here: “Noise is what you are supposed to ignore, signal what you need to heed.” (Chapter 7).

Fortunately, an interview I had read a month or so ago in The Economic Times, India with Taleb had caught my interest. And I went looking for books authored by him. It also helped that I had read The Black Swan some years ago. Anyway, I am happy to know that I haven’t lost my interest in reading. What I have been missing is material to stimulate my grey cells.

The second reason why I wish to extend a ‘thank you’ to Nassim Nicholas Taleb is because I was just delighted to come across an endorsement of my working style. In Chapter 7, Taleb also says, “I use procrastination as a message from my inner self and my deep evolutionary past to resist interventionism in my writing.” Elsewhere he writes, “If I defer writing a section, it must be eliminated. This is simple ethics: Why should I try to fool people by writing about a subject for which I feel no natural drive?” 

I wholeheartedly agree with both statements. Not the procrastination bit because I am not a procrastinator. But I certainly hold to the parts about ‘interventionism’ and ‘fooling people.’ In my career, many people have attempted down the years to mould my personality to suit a corporate view of how a person must walk, talk, write, present, dress and behave. I have capitulated here and there in the interests of survival but have always wondered about the counter intuitiveness of a world, which in the same breath waxes eloquent about innovation and then asks you to toe the line. Can clones innovate? There is too much ‘fooling’ also taking place. And I, for one, have always been extremely discomfited by that. So much simpler to go with conviction and honesty. Less stress that way, too!

So, thank you Nassim Nicholas Taleb because today I have found a natural drive to write! Plus, I was relieved to find that I am not alone in the world in the way I think and operate.

The third reason I want to say thank you to Taleb is because the rich thinking material in Antifragile set me thinking and made me wonder if the Hindu religion has survived for so many thousands of years because its antifragile.

I’ll explain in a minute. But first, a disclaimer is important. This is not a pitch for the Hindu religion. And I am not big on religion.

On page 3, Taleb writes, “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”  Elsewhere, Taleb points out, “We humans are afraid of…variability and naively fragilize systems – or prevent their antifragility – by protecting them” (p.85).

In order to make something robust, or even better antifragile, Taleb advocates leaving things alone. His book is full of examples of how an antifragile state is better for survival and more important, growth. The example that set me thinking on religion was the one on Switzerland.

According to Taleb, Switzerland is the most antifragile place on the planet – it benefits from shocks that take place in the rest of the world. Or, at least it used to be because now the rest of the world is forcing Switzerland to give up its safe haven position – at least, for tax dodgers. But, Taleb’s point is still valid that Switzerland’s success can be attributed to the fact that Switzerland is governed by entirely bottom-up, regional entities called cantons. This structure provides plenty of volatility but crucially provides protection against the romanticism of utopias, since no big ideas can be generated in such an unintellectual atmosphere.

That’s when I began thinking about various world religions and the attempt to make them into big, central government systems. Hinduism is different because it has no top down structure. Some 5000 years ago, the Hindu scriptures merely described Sanatan Dharma (worldview or way of living). There is no hierarchy of priests or central governing body.

Now Taleb may get annoyed with me here. But the best way to explain my point is to quote an economist, Sanjeev Sanyal. Or perhaps, Taleb may make an exception for Sanyal as he, too, is majorly into philosophy.

In an article The Architecture of Hinduism, Sanyal explains that Hinduism “should be thought of as an organic, evolving ecosystem of interrelated and interdependent elements that are constantly interacting with each other (and with the outside world).” Sanyal also points out that Hinduism’s key strength “has been its ability to evolve, adapt and innovate. This ability needs to be actively enhanced and strategically deployed in order to keep Hinduism healthy.”

Today, orthodox Hindus or the so-called Hindutva movement is attempting to turn Hinduism into a top down, ‘rajya’ system. If these people succeed, whatever their agenda may be, it will ring the death knell on this religion. Far better that, to quote Sanyal, “Hindu leaders refrain from being too prescriptive of where Hinduism should go in the long run. Much better that they focus on continuously updating and reforming the system on an ongoing basis while taking care to maintain internal diversity. The lack of uniformity may seem like a disadvantage in the short-run but is a big advantage when dealing with an unpredictable long-term future. This is analogous to a species maintaining genetic diversity as a bulwark against epidemics and other shocks.” 

Come to think of it, Sanyal is speaking the same language as Taleb:)

The message of both these philosophers needs to reach the Narendra Modi government and particularly the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) fundamentalists. As also, all the self-appointed leaders of religions around the world. A friend of mine, Nikhil Vaish, has made an earnest effort to send such a message in his blog Bet Big on India with One Big Caveat (link available at the end of this post).

I am adding to Vaish’s message here. Leave Hinduism alone. Let it stay chaotic and antifragile. Turning Hinduism into a top down, strictured affair (even in self-defense against other religions) will simply lead to destruction. As Taleb says, one needs to know when to intervene and when to leave systems alone.

Fortunately, thus far, the Hindus don’t seem enamoured by the Hindutva movement. They seem to love their freedom too much.

As for the leaders of all the futile, religion based strife created in an attempt to control and command the world? Well, they need to think about Taleb’s advice and introduce the idea of harm and fragility into their vocabulary and formulate appropriate policies to ensure that they don’t end up blowing up the planet and every living species on it.

The leaders of religion are making the world fragile. They have to stop and create an antifragile world. If nothing, for the very religions they purport to defend!

Thank you for reading this post. If you enjoyed the read and found value, may I request that you share the post with your networks? Perhaps you would also like to subscribe to my blog site? Or connect with me via LinkedIn or Twitter where I regularly publish my posts on my feed?

#Antifragile #BlackSwanMoments #Hindutva #ReligiousFreedom


Featured Image Credit: Balls of Fire by Harsha K R (Flickr.com CC BY-SA 2.0)

Related Links:

Sanjeev Sanyal, The Architecture of Hinduism – http://swarajyamag.com/culture/the-logic-of-hinduism/

Nikhil Vaish, Bet Big on India with One Big Caveat – http://www.vaishwords.com/2015/03/bet-big-on-india-with-one-big-caveat.html

ET Bureau ET Global Business Summit: Nassim Nicholas Taleb on why he agrees with PM Modi’s ‘small is beautiful’ thesis – http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-18/news/58200731_1_black-swan-volatility-nassim-nicholas-taleb

 

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