Ask a turkey a week before Thanksgiving if the farmer loves him.
The farmer comes every day to feed the turkey and feed him well.
He provides free accommodations: a nice yard to peck around in, water, shelter from predators.
From the turkey’s perspective, a week before Thanksgiving, life has never been better.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains “The Great Turkey Problem” in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.
A turkey is fed for a thousand days by a butcher. Every day confirms to its staff of analysts that butchers love turkeys, with increased statistical confidence. The butcher will keep feeding the turkey until a few days before Thanksgiving. Then comes the day when it is really not a very good idea to be a turkey.
So with the butcher surprising it, the turkey will have a revision of belief, right when its confidence in the statement that the butcher loves turkeys is maximal and it is very quiet and soothingly predictable in the life of the turkey…
The key here is that such a surprise will be a black swan event, but just for the turkey, not for the butcher.
We can also see from the turkey story the mother of all harmful mistakes. Mistaking absence of evidence of harm for evidence of absence…
So our mission in life becomes simply, how not to be a turkey, or if possible, how to be a turkey in reverse. Antifragile that is.
Not being a turkey starts with figuring out the difference between true and manufactured stability.
A black swan event is an unexpected outlier event, difficult to predict because it is beyond the usual.
But how do you prepare for such an event? The whole point is that you don’t know when it will take place, or what exactly will happen. It could be a financial collapse, a civil war, or an earthquake. The butcher would be bankers, the government, or mother nature.
The answer is to become antifragile.
Fragile people will be the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. These are the people whose only retirement plan is Social Security, who trade their rights for government security, or who build their homes in a flood zone.
And what’s the opposite of fragile?
Most people say robust, or unbreakable. But this isn’t quite right. Something fragile suffers from chaos. Something robust is unaffected by a bumpy ride.
But something antifragile benefits from turmoil.
Perhaps one method of becoming antifragile is to be diverse. Diversifying things like investments, skills, even diet and exercise at least makes you robust and could make you antifragile.
If you’re holding cash when the housing market crashes, you can benefit by deploying that cash to scoop up property.
But being all in cash exposes you to more risk if the black swan event is hyperinflation. So you also hold precious metals, which could cushion a stock market or currency collapse–robust–or even make you money in the right scenarios–antifragile.
One hobby of mine is foraging for wild edible and medicinal plants. I’m also into reading up on food as medicine, and which compounds in herbs show promise in treating particular ailments.
Currently, all this can be found online. It’s just a fun hobby, an extra activity during my frequent hikes in the woods.
But if a certain type of black swan event wreaks havoc on our society, which has never been more stable…
Well, a medicine man might make more than a writer in a post-apocalypse economy…
Tell me in the comments the ways in which you are antifragile.
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