For my next trick I will try to understand Nicholas Taleb

The writer/trader/professor Nicholas Taleb has been puzzling a number of commentators recently and Grid-group Cultural theory also provides a clear context for his approach: he is a Fatalist activist who is looking for a political constituency that understands Fatalism. The British Conservative Party may well not be it.

From the Cultural Theory perspective, Taleb has a position that is under-represented in politics, but one that is instantly recognisable in everyday life. The three acceptable positions on climate change are:

  • Egalitarian: things are getting worse and we have to come together to solve our problems collectively (but really we need to change our values too);
  • Hierarchical: it’s a risk management issue and now that we have a Minister for Climate Change things are being managed better than ever. Next highlight – a global treaty; and
  • Individualist: things are getting better – that’s Progress and all ‘environmental problems’ are simply opportunities for human ingenuity to shine (and make a profit). The real problem is too many rules and too many greenies.

Taleb’s position, Cultural theory would predict, is none of the above. A Fatalist position on climate change is superficially similar to the Individualist position: ‘climates change’. But whereas Individualism interprets this as meaning: prepare to find new ways of making money, Fatalism interprets this as: prepare to duck, and keep your head down for as long as it takes. Solidarity, management and skill-derived benefit are all illusions. The only hope of advancement is through luck and risk-averse opportunism. I didn’t get this from Taleb, I got it from my reading of writers such as Mary Douglas, Christopher Hood, Marco Verweij and Michael Thompson.

A bit like the magician Derren Brown who claims to be able to predict the lottery numbers, I am writing this in advance of reading Taleb’s own clarification of his position in a recent letter to the Financial Times. Now I’ll read it and see how well my prediction went… Continue reading “For my next trick I will try to understand Nicholas Taleb”