“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – Prov 27:17
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” – Prov 27:5
I was scrolling through the twitter feed not that long ago and saw something from Nicholas Taleb about anti-fragile systems. I haven’t read his book on the subject, but I’ve read enough to get the gist. There are some systems that are strengthened by adversity and weakened by ease.
We can apply the concept to quite a few systems …
Office talk of the political laity
I’ve long held that this concept describes the political argumentation for blue state conservatives and red state liberals (anti-fragile). When you are surrounded by people who only agree with you, your thinking becomes atrophied. Nobody pushes back, so you assume your position must have been logical and well defended. This is what many red state conservatives and blue state liberals face.
The counter argument holds for blue state conservatives and red state liberals. Being constantly challenged by the majority of your peers, you become more adept at defending your positions, and you abandon arguments (and positions) that don’t work.
Central planning versus free market economies
Price discovery is the invisible hand of the free market. When everybody decides for themselves what is valuable and what is not, it spurs the producers (which can be just about everybody) to make things that are valued and abandon things that are not. Bad ideas fail, good ideas succeed. The system gets stronger.
The central planning economy is quite the opposite. Production goals and prices are set by fiat with little tie back to the actual (population relative) value of things. Those quotas and prices are then shielded vigorously from competition. The system drags on for a while until the obvious wastefulness becomes too much. Then comes collapse.
The cocoon of the political left and Trump vs Clinton
To my mind the recent election provided a classic case of the failure brought on by shielding bad ideas from difficulty.
In 2008 when Barack Obama won the democratic nomination, he did so as an outsider. He inspired the left (and some on the center-right) and won against one of the most feared political machines – the Clintons.
After losing in 2008 it was all but decided that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee in 2016. It was “her turn” – the idea was given full protection of the left. The Democratic National Committee was on board. The mainstream media (90% left leaning) was on board. They protected her at every turn.
When she stumbled through the failures of Benghazi and the comical hearings afterward, she should have been finished politically. Nope – the machine went to work to defend her, to save her career, to protect her from difficulty.
When socialist Bernie Sanders caught fire and inspired the far left she should have been forced to stand and fight. Nope – the DNC planted questions for her with CNN contacts and gave her dirt to use on Sanders.
The list could go on and on. The point is, had she been allowed to face adversity somewhere in the last 16 years of politics, she would have either (a) been exposed as a weak candidate unworthy of such a high nomination or (b) adapted to become a strong candidate capable of winning an office that wasn’t handed to her on a silver platter.
This nonsense stands in stark contrast to the Trump candidacy. He was an outsider from day one. The Republican machine was out to get him from day one. He was attacked up and down the line, and do you know what happened? He got better. I’m not saying he got principles, he just got better as a politician. He got better at not doing stupid stuff. He got better at not taking every little dig personally and trying to at least act like the bigger person.
Had the Republican machine just backed off a little bit, not refined Trump, not sharpened him, he probably couldn’t have won the presidency. But, so intense was the firestorm chasing this guy that he was able to morph into a winning candidate – which almost nobody thought possible.