[ExI] Avoiding bad black swan events

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 13 21:42:09 UTC 2012

On Thursday, December 13, 2012 12:54 PM Adrian Tymes <atymes at gmail.com>> wrote:
> On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 1:24 AM, BillK <pharos at gmail.com>> wrote:
>> The preppers are getting quite a lot of flak at the moment as stocking
>> up with supplies and generators, etc. seems somehow to be 'unsporting'
>> and selfish. And obviously if a disaster happens they will become a
>> target for the rest of the desperate population.
>> But the problem I see is that a black swan event is not guaranteed.
>> How much do you spend on planning for an event that might not happen?
>> Do you want to double the cost of power satellites by building
>> possibly unnecessary protection?
>> Human history shows that usually we go for the cheapest version and
>> hope it will turn out OK.
> And it often does.

Well, it does, until a Black Swan event is kind of Taleb's point. But the record is more that many people will choose the cheapest version of something -- not that all will. Some will be different just to be different. Others might be prescient. And a few are, no doubt, nuts who overspend -- and if they happen to avoid a Black Swan with that it's more be sheer luck than anything else. (Of course, Taleb, in _Antifragility_, counsels that one do some random things and get random, though not lethal stressors all around -- in foods, investments, lifestyle, etc. -- to become more antifragile. Some of this reminds me of why some think scapulimancy* worked for hunters: it randomized where they would hunt. On any given hunt, this might actually mean failure, but it kept them, some opine, from overhunting any particular area, thus insuring the long range sustainability of their hunting -- of course, without the hunters ever understanding how this worked.)

> Almost all engineering students these days have heard of the
> Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but how many suspension bridges have
> been built - say, since 1800 - that have failed to self-destruct yet?

I think one reason Galloping Gertie is remembered so well is that it was captured on film. That makes it more memorable than a dry report of a bridge failure.

> There has been quite a bit of publicity about the attention given
> to airplane fatalities, vs. the overall record of being safer than
> automobiles.

This, again, seems to be more a problem of seeing versus just seeing some reports and stats. Also, the media tend to be driven to report tragedies when they're more striking -- and one off tragedies are much more striking than, say, a report on road fatalities in a given year for Western nations. Even though people are more likely to die on the road than in the air, the crash of a plane still seems more "real" to them, no? (With SSPSs, I can see the horror scenario arising of one crashing to Earth -- even though this is probably a tiny risk.)

> The flak direct at the preppers has, I suspect, more to do with
> how they are driving costs up for everyone else by taking
> supplies out of the economy, in exchange for protection that
> is unlikely to ever be of much value (especially once one
> discounts "peace of mind" and the like, since most people
> get peace of mind without spending any resources on
> protection against that particular black swan event).

If that's the reason why, I think it's misguided. Preppers, on the whole, probably remove a tiny amount of supplies from everyone else. I've yet to experience, going to the grocery store, any price increase that anyone's seriously related to those darn preppers. :) I suspect the flak directed at them is more because they're often kooky individuals -- rather than because they've caused a run on fuel oil at the truck stop or on animal feed at the farm goods store. :)



* I first read about it in _The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island_ by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo. There's actually a documentary on the book, but it doesn't mention the practice, which is just as well. Hunt and Lipo only mentioned it in passing as an example of a practice that people did that works well but obviously works well for reasons other than those who practice it believe. The same might be applied to all manner of folk and religious practices.
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