21

Of Black Swans and Worthless Elites

black-swan

 

 

Faithful readers of this blog know that I am fascinated by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007 book The Black Swan.  In this book Taleb took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling, Black Swan events.  Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

I think Donald Trump is a Black Swan event in American political history, but he is also a part of a growing global revolt  against a fairly worthless class of governing elites.  Taleb has a look at this in a recent post:

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligenzia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They cant tell science from scientism — in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science. (For instance it is trivial to show the following: much of what the Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types — those who want to “nudge” us into some behavior — much of what they would classify as “rational” or “irrational” (or some such categories indicating deviation from a desired or prescribed protocol) comes from their misunderstanding of probability theory and cosmetic use of first-order models.) They are also prone to mistake the ensemble for the linear aggregation of its components as we saw in the chapter extending the minority rule.


The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in most countries, the government’s role is between five and ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP). The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and is rarely seen outside specialized outlets, think tanks, the media, and universities — most people have proper jobs and there are not many openings for the IYI.

Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite. He fails to naturally detect sophistry.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

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4

Christ as the Greatest Black Swan: Explaining the Unexplainable

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The fourth and final part of our Advent look at Jesus as the greatest Black Swan event in human history.  Go here to read part one, here to read part two and here to read part three.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling.  Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

The all important question about Christ is the one He asked.  Who do you say that I am?  In trying to make sense of Christ and his ever present impact upon this world, that is the question that is ever addressed.

A popular answer among some atheists is that Christ never existed.  This has always been a minority position since the evidence for the historicity of Christ is so overwhelming, especially for a figure who lived in obscurity.  Written accounts by His followers were drafted within decades after His death.  Non-Christian accounts, notably Tacitus, mention Christ.  His followers in Rome are persecuted within thirty years after His death.  Attempts to get around all this involve large amounts of conspiracy theories, ignoring inconvenient facts and academic hand-waving.  Regarding Christ as a myth may satisfy a semi-educated atheist, but it simply is not an intellectually honest position. Continue Reading

9

Christ the Greatest Black Swan: The Unexpected Expected Messiah

Delphic-sibyl

 

 

The second part of our Advent look at Jesus as the greatest Black Swan event in human history.  Go here to read part one.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling.  Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

In regard to the first test of a Black Swan event, was the coming of Jesus unexpected?  The Old Testament is studded with texts that predict the coming of the Messiah.  Go here, here, here ,here, here, here, here, here , here here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here,   here, and here to read a handful of them.  These messianic interpretations were not merely Christians reading back into Scripture references to Christ.  For centuries before Christ Jews had debated and argued about whether a Messiah sent by God was coming and what he would be like if he came.  Greatly simplifying a very complex historical debate, most Jews who believed in a Messiah expected a scion of the House of David who would re-establish, with the help of God, the Jews as a great people ruling themselves.  A minority of Jews thought the Messiah might be humble and meek, the “suffering servant” of Messiah, while most Jews regarded such passages as a prophetic reference to the weak state of the Jewish nation.  A handful of Jews, some of the Essenes, believed that the Messiah had come about a century to a century and a half before the Christian Era and would come again.

Intriguingly some Romans believed about the time of Christ that some great change was about to enter the world.  One of the odder stories in the history of Rome is the purported purchase by the last Roman King Tarquinus Superbus.  Sybil means prophetess in Greek.  Lines of women prophets established themselves at various locations throughout the Greek world and were frequently consulted during times of crisis.  As the story goes, the Cumaean Sybil, located near Naples, offered to Superbus nine books of prophecies of the history of Rome written in Greek hexameters at an exorbitant price.  When he declined the offer she burned three of the books and repeated her offer.  The King declining again she burned three more books at which the King met her price for the final three books.  God alone knows what grains of truth are in this story.  What is quite historical is that the Roman Senate did have Sybilline Books, or rather scrolls, of prophecies, closely guarded by the Roman state and consulted in times of peril as to the religious observances that must be undertaken to avert the peril.  Kept in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol the original books were lost when the temple burned in 83 BC.  The Senate rounded up prophecies from other Sybils to replace them, and the new Sybilline books were placed in the restored temple to Jupiter.  Consul Flavius Stilicho ordered these books burned in 408 AD as they were being used by adversaries of the government. Continue Reading

7

Jesus as the Greatest of Black Swan Events

rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno

Juvenal

The completely unexpected in history has always fascinated me.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling.  Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

Unlike Mr. Taleb I think true Black Swan events, based upon the criteria he sets forth, are rather rare in the history of mankind.  Normally they fall down on the first element.  Taleb, for example, views the fall of the Soviet empire as a Black Swan occurrence.  I disagree in that the dissolution of the great colonial empires of the West had been a salient feature of the post World War II world.  Totalitarian controls allowed the Soviet Union to delay the process, but once the reins were loosened, and the threat of mass violence was no longer on the table, the dissolution came rapidly.

The Coming of Christ into this world is the greatest example of a Black Swan Event that I can think of, and over the remainder of this Advent we will see how looking at the Incarnation through this mental prism can give us a new appreciation of how unlikely, and startling, the impact of Christ on History has been.

Before we do this, let us take a moment to recall to mind the world into which Christ was born. Continue Reading