Antifragile

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Hydra, in Greek mythology, is a serpent-like creature that dwells in the lake of Lerna, near Argos, and has numerous heads. Each time one is cut off, two grow back. So harm is what it likes. Hydra represents antifragility.

 

The sword of Damocles represents the side effect of power and success: you cannot rise and rule without facing this continuous danger—someone out there will be actively working to topple you. And like the sword, the danger will be silent, inexorable, and discontinuous. It will fall abruptly after long periods of quiet, perhaps at the very moment one has gotten used to it and forgotten about its existence. Black Swans will be out there to get you as you now have much more to lose, a cost of success (and growth), perhaps an unavoidable penalty of excessive success. At the end, what matters is the strength of the string—not the wealth and power of the dining party. But, luckily, this is an identifiable, measurable, and tractable vulnerability, for those who want to listen. The entire point of the Triad is that in many situations we can measure the strength of the string.

 

Further, consider how toxic such growth-followed-by-a-fall can be to society, as the fall of the dining guest, in response to the fall of the sword of Damocles, will bring what we now call collateral damage, harming others. For instance, the collapse of a large institution will have effects on society.

 

Sophistication, a certain brand of sophistication, also brings fragility to Black Swans: as societies gain in complexity, with more and more “cutting edge” sophistication in them, and more and more specialization, they become increasingly vulnerable to collapse. This idea has been brilliantly—and convincingly—adumbrated by the archeologist Joseph Tainter. But it does not have to be so: it is so only for those unwilling to go the extra step and understand the matrix of reality. To counter success, you need a high offsetting dose of robustness, even high doses of antifragility. You want to be Phoenix, or possibly Hydra. Otherwise the sword of Damocles will get you.

 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (Random House Publishing Group, 2012), 90-92.

 

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