Turkeys & Swans
The author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
The title: The Black Swan.
Forget swans; the guy’s a turkey. He’s smarter than me—no, than I am?—but he’s still a fucking turkey.
Since I’d probably lose an intellect to intellect battle (although, apparently, according to him, even that’s uncertain), I’ll focus on that. That’s something I can hang with him on.
So the guy gets on a flight and is sitting in first class. Page 22 of his book. He’s sitting there, right, spending his time tearing into the woman next to him. Poor woman. Yes, she’s “dripping” with gold jewelry and crunching on nuts nonstop as part of her ridiculous “low-carb diet”; she only drinks Evian (the horror!) and she has the nerve to read the European version of the WSJ. That woman! But get this. This is what’s worse. She kept trying to start a conversation with our man, Taleb. . . in broken French of all things because she saw him reading a book in French. Her nerve. How does our noble author respond to such outright gall. A polite, I’m tired? Maybe he tells her, I’m going to sleep. A smile and a short answer indicating he’s not interested in speaking to her. No! He finds it funny to tell her that he’s a limousine driver and an upper-end one at that and he smirks to himself, thinking that’ll teach this beast of a woman to start a conversation with him. And so she’s quiet and he’s proud of himself.
Who here is the dickhead, I wonder. The woman, self-conscious about her wait (no, weight) and her ability to communicate, or our beloved author.
Fine. So he’s smarter than I am (me?). And he has all these tricky stories about turkeys and stockbrokers. But intelligence isn’t everything, right? Doesn’t being nice count for something, too.
For what it’s worth, I (unempirically) agree with what he says. He has this theory, you see. Something about randomness and uncertainty. His book in a story. A turkey who eats the food a farmer provides him with will unknowingly think that the right thing to do will be to continue to eat from that hand until the day that that hand wrings its neck. Randomly. But what’s the turkey supposed to do? He’s in a cage. Still, there’s nothing that this Taleb guy hates more than the inability for people to see (and understand) that they cannot see (and understand) everything, that things are random, that we all suffer from cognitive biases. The statistician who applies statistics to everyone but his own life.
Fast forward 5 pages from the airplane incident. Noble Taleb is amidst one his diatribes, providing us with advice on how to deal with those who give us advice. (Ivan the Terrible, pg. 27.) Oh the irony here! Giving advice on how to prevent someone from giving advice. It is almost as if he fell victim to that which he rants about the most throughout his whole book—falling victim to the cognitive bias where you fail to see that rules that you apply to others fail to apply to your own live. But he’s much too smart for that.
But the guy’s still a turkey.