A Prepper’s Perspective on Antifragility

Kevin ReeveArticle written by Kevin Reeve, based on the book AntiFragile Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile is not a new book. It was written in 2012. However it is Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile 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 prepper restoring a jeepa 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 Blackhawk Down - Hoochthe 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, Weightlifter freak looking deformedshow 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 Picking A lockevery 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 Opium Poppy Seedsgunpowder. 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.

do not think about maintaining the status quo. Think about how to move beyond it.


onPoint Tactical - Kevin Reeve

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.

onPointTactical Urban Escape EvasionI asked Kevin what classes he has coming up. He has Urban Escape & Evasion

  • Nov 12 – 14 (Phoenix)
  • Dec 17 – 19 (Los Angeles)

For more information on this training < click here >

Other Articles by Kevin Reeve –

 

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8 thoughts on “A Prepper’s Perspective on Antifragility

  1. Pingback: Counter-Intuitive Strategies for Facing an Active Shooter | A.H. Trimble - Emergency preparedness information for disasters and grid-down

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  4. No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.
    John Donne

    Truly, no man is an island, we are all part of some community. Most have something to contribute, but is that contribution more than they take?
    It is not the PC thing to say, but as I look at society today I am certain we would all be better if some of the clods were washed away.

    Like

  5. I’m sorry but I have to tell you that this article was a real downer for me. I thought as a prepper, I would need to know a little bit about a lot of things. I’d need to know how to grow a garden, or open a door without a key, or break into a vehicle that won’t start because of an EMP (break a window), and even how to reload my own ammo. I’ve spent a lifetime learning these things. I’ve been voted as the person in my ward that people want to live next to if the SHTF.

    Now I find out that I also need to know how to make pain killing drugs, how to pick most locks, or how to manufacture my own gunpowder and make my own brass. I don’t have another lifetime to learn all the next steps. And then someone will want me to be able to mine my own lead and copper and sulfur and potassium nitrate. There goes another lifetime.

    I guess I’m going to have to skip all the next steps and just continue learning a little bit about a lot of things, and storing the things I need, to out live all my neighbors. I don’t know if it is possible to make my own eyeglasses, but I am storing adjustable eyeglasses against a time when no one has time to make them because they are trying to grow enough food to keep their family alive. I’m storing enough Ibuprofen to get past having a headache caused by all the people wanting to trade me some hand manufactured brass, for a bunch of carrots I raised from the seed I stored.

    I guess I’m going to have to continue being fragile. I will probably never know how to repair a hydroelectric dam or repair all the infrastructure that goes with it. I’m just going to store some solar panels that I can use to make some light when it gets dark. I’m not thinking about how to move past the status quo. I’d just like to get back to it.

    rimfire

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey RIm,

      Sorry about the downer…but let me give you a thought 🙂
      “Community”
      No one person will ever make it on their own…at least not for long.
      But if each person in a community, or at least the majority, is resilient in the face of chaos then the whole community stands a really good chance of making it through anything.
      So, surround yourself with good people, all of which have skills of one form or another. You be one of those people too.
      Then together, attitude and effort, the community has a chance…a very, very good chance.

      No one is perfect, but we can be resilient.

      AH

      Like

      • Nice try…… I am surrounding myself with “community”. I am the ward preparedness coordinator. Every body loves me and thinks because they are buying a water barrel or a short wave radio or a bucket of wheat, that they are prepared. They don’t have a clue of what is going to happen to them. The bad part is that they are going to come to me and say “why didn’t you tell us?” I’d love to tell them but I’d be the nursery leader in a week. They REALLY don’t want to know.

        I know I’m “singing to the choir” because you have the same problem with what you are doing here. You are providing a crash course in preparedness and only us few even read it. This information is the best on the web, but it only gets out to those of us that see what is coming. I tell everyone about your site but I only see 1 or 2 comments on your posts.

        We have a couple of doctors in our ward, so I asked one for a list of things we should have in our homes so if he ever has to come see someone here, we’ll have what he needs. Nothing, no list, avoided me in the halls. So I went to him with a list. “Cross off” what you think we shouldn’t bother and get. Two years and no list back. He’s always calling me and asking where to get this or that but nothing as far as medical supplies. Even bandages and Iodine. Nothing.

        I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t save everyone. If I have to have the “communities help” we are sunk. I just do the best I can and don’t worry about them anymore. I love being the preparedness person. I just don’t figure it will do any good in the long run, and I live in Utah County Utah. If we don’t get it who will???

        rimfire

        Liked by 1 person

  6. “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.”
    This is my (faint) hope for any collapse scenario we should suffer. That the surviving culture can pull itself together and become the stronger, wiser, more free, more resilient child of the mess we have today. Of course chaos can (and has) also produced the stronger tyrant. The outcome will depend on the will of the survivors.
    So far, after every crisis, whether it is a hurricane, market correction, or mass shooting, the majority cries out for more laws, more control, and more intervention, which is just more fragility. How did the “Arab Spring” work out for us? The Syrian non-intervention intervention? The non-recovery recovery?
    Moving beyond hard times is still guesswork, both for individuals and for society. I still hope for the best, and plan for the worst, but now I’ll do it with fragility in mind.

    One of the laws of the universe is unintended consequences, and it is the brother of entropy.

    Liked by 1 person

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