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20130609 Antifragile

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An interesting take on the world as it exists with non-trivial philosophical approach are presented in this book. I found it very consistent with my own believes and experiences.

The most important part of this approach is acceptance of the world as a given set of material substances and all events in this world as pretty much random and unpredictable sequences with no real meaning and / or objective behind it. It is not really important if there is something supernatural behind all of this or not because we cannot comprehend it anyway. My personal believes is simple – there is nothing to comprehend.

So in this unpredictable world filled with random events when in vast majority of cases the previous experience does not allow to predict future events, all systems from simple to complex created by humans or by nature have 3 levels of survivability status – Fragility, Robustness, and Antifragility. Fragility level is a condition of the system when unexpected changes are easily capable to destroy the system, Robustness level is a condition when system is capable to continue as it is despite significant changes occurred outside, and Antifragility is a condition of the system when it can change itself and self improve in response to changes.

Not surprisingly it comes down to difference between man made mechanical, chemical, or organizational systems and evolution made organic systems. A simple example of these notions would be a vessel to collect and keep water. It could be a glass bottle, a plastic container, or a leave of a plant. Obviously the glass bottle is fragile. It would break and spill all water if dropped on the hard floor. The plastic container is robust and will not break, but it would not change either. The plant’s leaves would change if not right away, then over time via process of evolution. So if we put up these three different containers with objective to collect water for a very long period of time the glass bottle will probably not survive strong wind or earthquake. The plastic bottle being robust would survive, but it would always collect water from the same area and always to the amount of its volume. The plant however would change from generation to generation and if climate become to be drier, it would expand its leaves to collect water from wider area. If climate changed to be wet, it could change form of leaves develop them into something quite different like pine needles to take advantage of abundance of water.

There is a very interesting discussion of this idea in application to human society with convincing argument that society build on libertarian market oriented principles with local democratic form of government is inherently superior to large scale bureaucratic state even if bureaucracy is limited by relatively democratic form. In turn even big bureaucratic, but at least somewhat democratic state with some level of rule of law is greatly superior to authoritarian state with level of fragility going up dramatically from local democracy to bureaucratic democracy to autocracy.

There is also an interesting discussion about system / subsystem relationship when subsystem, for example an individual is necessarily fragile in order to provide for high level of Antifragility for the system as whole – society this individual belongs to.

The book is also provides an interesting insight into human organizations from firms to society as whole depending on its setup for positive and negative feedbacks. In terms of this book it is treated as transfer of fragility from one subsystem to another for example from CEO to shareholders which could lead to destruction of the system as whole (firm) with prosperity of some subsystem (CEO) at expense of others (shareholders).

Overall I think this book is an excellent argument for libertarianism and for small local democracies against bureaucratic crony capitalism that currently is the organizational principle of majority of Western societies. Logically it leads to conclusion that we’d better start working now on developing general understanding and acceptance of these ideas if we want to be ready for inevitable self-destruction of super fragile contemporary societies. If we are successful, we’ll be able to smooth the transition to more Antifragile forms minimizing pain and suffering of this transition. If we’ll fail, the transition could be extremely painful. Just look at billions of lives lost and / or screwed in XX century’s painful transfer from autocratic states of kings and queens to democratic welfare states of politicians and bureaucrats.


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