Taleb Wisdom, and Rationality

Originally posted on June 16, 2020 @ 8:54 AM

imageMost people in the safety and risk game should know the name of Nassim Taleb, author and maverick mathematician of Black Swan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Swan:_The_Impact_of_the_Highly_Improbable). Unfortunately, the moment he writes in Maths I need a translator, similarly any language like Finnish. If you haven’t read Antifragile then do so (http://kgt.bme.hu/files//BMEGT30M400/Taleb_Antifragile__2012.pdf ). Taleb uses Maths to demonstrate how many assumptions and activities of the risk and safety industry are flawed. You can read more of Taleb here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nassim_Nicholas_Taleb.

Amalberti does the same as Taleb in smashing the nonsense of zero and the delusions of prediction in his discussion of hyper-safety . I have previously written about the obsessions of safetyism here: https://safetyrisk.net/the-sickness-of-safetyism/

When Taleb and Amalberti get going and breakout into Maths I wish I had not dropped the subject in Year 8, thank god I have a mate with a PhD in pure Maths. However, when Amalberi and Taleb explain their work, it makes so much sense.

Recently Taleb wrote a piece called The Masks Masquerade (https://medium.com/incerto/the-masks-masquerade-7de897b517b7) a very simple piece on the errors in thinking about wearing masks. In this time of such much propaganda and misinformation, it’s always good to have someone like Taleb to settle the score, with Maths. Maths and spreadsheets seems to be the addiction of Engineers and Bureaucrats.

Whilst not a psychologist, Taleb does a great job of explaining: the compounding effect, non-linearity, non-evidence errors, market forces, the precautionary principle and homeostasis. Perhaps what he doesn’t deal so well with is the social psychological dynamics that trigger cult-like delusion, religious irrationality, fundamentalisms, indoctrination and the faith-belief dialectic. However, in the end his work always draws one into the political, ideological and ethical dilemmas we create by belief in propagandistic ideas like: risk matrices, pyramids, data analytics, predictive analytics and other delusions of control. His final note is telling ‘I truly believe that the pseudolibertarians are sociopaths and misanthropes looking for a political party that they think fits their misanthropy.”

Unfortunately, the nature of Politics, power and Ethics are not Disciplines someone studies in the AIHS BoK or safety curriculum. These have to be studied elsewhere in a transdisciplinary approach to risk.

Of course, the metaphor of the mask should not be lost on readers either. Much that is bad and unethical is always ‘masked’ in the name of good, such is the nature of zero and associated fixation on numerics, paperwork and compliance. The global mantra of zero is the magnet that draws safety people away from humanizing risk and masks binary thinking as its logic. In this case de-masking is the best safety action.

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