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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On disappointment - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I have - in the past - been greatly enthralled by an author called Nassim Nicholas Taleb and by his writings (he wrote a book called "The Black Swan", among others) and ended up having a very high opinion of him. Then, rather uncharacteristically for myself, I joined his FB page.

That was just the cure I needed to remind me about separating fact from fiction and expectations from reality when it comes to humans. While it was obvious - from his writings - that the man has vaste personality problems, I had somehow conceived the idea that shared intellectual values would overcompensate for that. Wrong.

Taleb - the internet person at least - appears to enjoy the totally acritical adulation of a crowd of fanboys that practically swoon on his every utterance (if I were him, I could hardly resist to write now and then things like "Pass the salt"  or "Basketball shoes are really comfortable" and watch the waves. That possibly explains my shortage of fanboys).

Apparently endowed of a very short fuse, he proves to be very intolerant of differing opinions and absolutely incapable of acknowledging any misstep in his thinking. And, he makes several. In one recent post he absurdly likened the Roman Empire to the Sicilian Mafia - showing extreme poor understanding of both. Confronted by the annoyed reaction of some followers, he proceeded to:

1) refuse to admit he had written a piece of nonsense
2) restate it several times without further explanation, in the apparent attempt to test the temper of his opponents, while also calling them "rude". ("This is not an argument, it's contradiction" "No it isn't" "Yes it is" ""No it isn't" - Monty Python)
3) avail himself of a lifeline thrown to him by one of his supporters in a "My point exactly" sort of way. Too bad its point had been entirely different, not to mention hard to fathom. In any event it appeared to be a - rather childish, coming fron an ethnical Greek -  attempt to establish the moral superiority of ancient Greeks on ancient Romans.
4) proceeded to unfriend the opponents and expunge their rude (i.e. disagreeing) comments from the thread. ("I had chip on my shoulder, kid, and you just knocked it down")

The last straw - as far as I am concerned - is this amazingly hypocritical piece of prose, which I append for the comfort of any purely hypothetical reader (hi, Nassim!) and as a prevention against acts of the Ministry of Truth (cue Orwell):

"Friends, I need some help correcting a distortion.
When you "call a fraud a fraud" (that is the members of that 1% that-cause-harm-without-skin-in-the-game) the strategy has been to turn your message into its exact opposite, something misanthropic ("if he hates me, an economist-journalist-fragilista-modernity advocate, it means he hates everybody"). Or "if he hates modernity, he is a haughty elitist" (the exact opposite of the true message that holds the nobility & independence of "those who make a living stanfing up or lying down".)
The corruption of the message has been largely controlled with "one of my books' title". But people are still doing it with "another of my books' title".
So I would welcome some contribution to the comments to dispel the cognitive dissonance there. Thanks!"

In which Nassim asks his followers to  provide favorable reviews on Amazon for his books, with tasteful code words ("distortion","cognitive dissonance"). His lovers followed quickly suit, stuffing the Amazon page as required - with nary a lone dissenting voice, this time. My reaction was to go to the page and write my actual opinion on the book in question - which is, that I didn't like it very much , and considered it vastly inferior to his other books (which I have favorably reviewed in several occasions). That did of course get me unfriended in a nanosecond - what a surprise. (No, it did not hurt at all, but thank you anyway)

And this makes it for me. Although someone might considered this pettiness a minor sin, I see it  as a capital flaw coming from someone that regularly displays an amazing high handedness on subjects such as ethics, wisdom, intellectual integrity. In fact I find it destroys just about every single non technical bit in his books, which I will find quite hard to reccommend henceforth. It also validates a great deal of what his harshest critics tell of him, but that's a different story.

Well, 'sic transit gloria mundi', I guess.

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