Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile is not a new book. It was written in 2012. However it is new to me, and like it’s predecessor, The Black Swan, has had a profound effect on me and my thought processes and processes related to survival.
The main premise of the book is that fragility is endemic in complex systems. This causes these systems to crash with often catastrophic results. For example, the sinking of the Titanic was a result of fragile systems that failed in succession creating a catastrophic failure.
We tend to think of robustness as the opposite of fragile. When a computer drive fails, we have a back-up from the day before and can restore the data to where it was right before the failure. Robustness refers to a return to the status quo.
Taleb defines a new term: “Anti-Fragility”. This refers to systems that are not robust. They do not return to the status quo. In fact, an anti-fragile system prospers after a black swan. It uses the chaos to improve on the prior system.
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”
“The antifragile loves randomness and uncertainty, which crucially means love of errors, a certain class of errors. Antifragility has the singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them – and do them well.”
I consider myself as having a strong bias for action. I do not feel the need to try to control all the elements of a system, or to plan to the Nth degree. I just wade in and try to make sense of it as I go. For example, I am restoring a Jeep. I will look at a complex upgrade, read a bit about it, maybe watch a YouTube, and then just start taking things apart. When I start reassembling, I often make mistakes, and have to do it several times. But when I finally get it all working, I have a much better understanding of how the system works than if I just followed a set of instructions. Which means I can service it better in the field in the event of a breakdown.
Humans want predictability. We want to know that systems will function as planned and designed. We have experts whose job is creating business plans that try to create a predictable path towards a goal. But, we will add fragility to a system by removing randomness and volatility. We make things fragile by trying to control the uncontrollable.
There is a common saying in the military. “No plan survives first contact.” In other words, the chaos of a battlefield make control a very difficult proposition. We want to eliminate as many variables as possible, but no matter the degree of planning, random acts (Murphy’s Law) always create instability and unpredictability. As Gen Patton once said, “A plan is a wish in a party dress.”
By Taleb’s definition of antifragile, do we abandon planning? Of course not. But we realize the fragility of that plan. To compensate for fragility, we train. The motto of onPoint Tactical is “TRAINING TRUMPS GEAR!” This recognizes that having gear and a plan are important. But because of randomness, it is the individual’s training that keeps one alive.
This, in my mind, explains why Special Operations Forces survive so well. They are antifragile. The more chaotic the environment, the better they perform. Using the mythical character of Hooch in Blackhawk Down as an example, when things got their most chaotic, Hooch seemed to calm down and get better. He knew how to react and improvise due to his superior training and problem solving ability, not because the Ranger Handbook said do x, y, and z.
How does antifragility apply to the prepper? I hear so many preppers talking about specific scenarios that they are prepping for. The imposition of martial law, an economic collapse disrupting the delivery of goods and services, an EMP destroying the electric grid, a terrorist attack, a nuclear war and on and on it goes.
The problem is, we have no idea what the black swans are that will disrupt society, or even what the disruption will mean. So does that mean I should not have Potassium Iodide pills to protect my thyroid after a nuke? No. But I should rather focus on a broad range of skills that may include dealing with radiation, but should involve many other types of training. And that should be way more than gun and survival training. Consider the following:
“People who build their strength using these modern expensive gym machines can lift extremely large weights, show great numbers and develop impressive-looking muscles, but fail to lift a stone; they get completely hammered in a street fight by someone trained in more disorderly settings. Their strength is extremely domain-specific and their domain doesn’t exist outside of ludic—extremely organized—constructs. In fact their strength, as with over-specialized athletes, is the result of a deformity.
I thought it was the same with people who were selected for trying to get high grades in a small number of subjects rather than follow their curiosity: try taking them slightly away from what they studied and watch their decomposition, loss of confidence, and denial. (Just like corporate executives are selected for their ability to put up with the boredom of meetings, many of these people were selected for their ability to concentrate on boring material.) I’ve debated many economists who claim to specialize in risk and probability: when one takes them slightly outside their narrow focus, but within the discipline of probability, they fall apart, with the disconsolate face of a gym rat in front of a gangster hit man.”
This speaks to being a hack of all trade and master of a couple. I am not a master lock picker capable of opening every lock on the market. But I can pick most locks. And I can get into a car using fifteen methods. I keep finding new ones. If I only know how to jiggle a lock, and the lock doesn’t jiggle, I am fragile. I teach antifragility by teaching a wide range of skills so that when things go sideways, they have many potential responses. And to use the training as a springboard for future study of differing subjects.
The antifragile prepper is not prepared for just one scenario. Or for many. The very nature of the black swan is that we never see it coming. So the black swan that causes a huge systemic disruption is probably not something we have seen written about in prepper fiction. It is probably going to be something completely unexpected.
So the wise prepper has gotten training in as many areas as is possible, from running a still to manufacturing gunpowder. Once manufacturing breaks down, it will be only a matter of time before survivors run out of drugs. Chronic pain in particular will be difficult to treat without opiates. So the resilient prepper stores hundreds of Norals and maybe some Percocets. But the antifragile prepper stores poppy seeds so that when the grid does down, he can grow opium flowers and produce Laudanum and actually prosper when the manufactured narcotics are no longer available.
I have an antifragile friend who has been developing the ability to press his own brass, cast his own bullets, and mix his own powders. So when some run out of ammo, others will reload. When they run out of brass, bullets or powder, he will be able to prosper. Antifragile.
In summary, antifragility is an acceptance of uncertainty. It is recognizing the opportunity in the fragile systems, and profit when they break down. It is not just being resilient, which is where most preppers are in their thinking. It is being able to figure out how to move beyond resilience to prospering in hard times. So as you plan for the future, do not think about maintaining the status quo. Think about how to move beyond it.
AH’s Note: Kevin Reeve is the owner of onPoint Tactical. onPoint provides very high quality training in a variety of areas. I have taken training at onPoint, it is amazing! It is some of the best training you will ever experience.
- Nov 12 – 14 (Phoenix)
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Other Articles by Kevin Reeve –
- BOOK REVIEW : Behavioral Programming by Kelly Alwood
- Urban Survival Priorities & Skills
- STRATEGY: The Art of Creating Power
- Dog Soldier vs. Apache Scout
- Alpha Threat Assessment
- Dodo Survival Strategies: How not to get clubbed by reality
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