Skin in the game

I finally finished the book. At the beginning I didn’t like it and abandoned it for a while. Then I saw Naval saying it is the best book he read in 2018. I decided to pick it up again.

I got the idea of skin in the game. The idea of bearing the consequences of both the upside and downside of one’s decisions.

I got how beareaucrats and economists have no skin in the game, since they don’t get the downside of their decisions.

The minority rule was a revelation. I think it is a must understand for anyone to know how the world works.

I didn’t fully understand ergodicity. And I think Lindy effect is similar to Bayes forecasts in the case of initial priors where one predicts something is going to continue for at least the same duration it has survived so far. I don’t know why he decided to call it Lindy effect.

Dynamic and static equality was a spot on. I don’t know how accurate is the data he presented but it confirms my bias on why the so called “economic equality” in Europe does more harm than good.

The idea of complex systems was also a spot on. I was talking to a friend the other day and he was saying I don’t know why when I talk to each of them they are smart, but when they are in a team the output is really bad. I was also talking to a different friend about marriage, and she highlighted how two sane persons become crazy once they are together. This all falls into the idea that the outcome of the parts together doesn’t equal the sum of the parts. Because with every node you add, the complexity grows exponentially and you have a totally new thing. At the end the structure of the system matters more than the inputs/parts.

Then there is the idea of ruin. While I totally got it I didn’t understand how you avoid making it stop you from taking risks. At the end of the day we need some belief to take the big risks that result in big outcomes. Taking small risks with high outcomes at extremistan only works for a small subset of people. Or maybe one can argue that the whole product/market validation methods in software startups are only to take small risks and avoid ruin. I don’t know.

The biggest challenge for me was connecting the dots in the book. While the book talks about the same topic all across, the flow seemed broken and the different parts seemed disconnected. I understood the different subparts with different degrees but overall failed to connect the overall flow. Maybe there isn’t one.

There is also the style of the author. It is aggressive and he almost attacks every one he disagrees with. Most specially Saudi Arabia. It got to a point where it became comical every time I read one of those sentences where he attacks one of his opponents. I laughed out loud reading some of them.

And I wasn’t fully convinced by some of the arguments related to lack of skin in the game. There were multiple points where Nassim abstracted a fairly complex topic in a simple manner similar to those he was attacking throughout the book (e.g. the Arab-Israeli conflict).

In general I enjoyed it and it was worth reading. I recommend you doing so as well.

The most tolerant loses

I am still reading “Skin in the game” by Nassim Talib. I was bored in the middle and switched to “12 rules for life” by Peterson. I am now taking a break from it and went back to Talib.

One of the chapters I really like is “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority” [1]. I read it before buying the book as Nassim published it on Medium. It explains what leads something dictated by a small minority in a society to become the norm of the majority. For example why most food in US is kosher, and why most food in Europe is becoming Halal. Even though both Jews and Muslims are minorities in both societies.

The tl;dr is that there are certain conditions need to be met for something dictated by a minority to become the norm of the majority.

  1. They need to be really intolerant: they won’t go to a party unless it has Halal/Kosher food. They won’t go to a restaurant if it has no wheelchair accessible bathroom. They won’t go to a meeting unless everyone speaks English.
  2. They need to be spread out: If it is a minority concentrated in some area, the rule won’t spread. The minority needs to be spread out across society so that in every sub group, there is at least one person representing the intolerant minority.
  3. There has to be an asymmetric relationship: Halal eaters can’t eat non-Halal, but non-Halal eaters can eat Halal. German speakers can speak English, but non-German speakers can’t speak German.
  4. The switching cost must be small: The cost of making food Halal doesn’t increase its price. Switching to English in a meeting isn’t a big effort for most people.

I am now thinking about myself. As a minority in a society (wheelchair users), my intolerance isn’t as high as sometimes people expect from me.

It is both good and bad. It is good because it gives me a piece of mind since I have low expectations. It is bad because I sometimes give up my own rights for my peace of mind, and sometimes I feel it is bad because as someone who can influence and change things making them better for others many times I don’t do that for the same reason of having peace of mind. It is what Essam[2] keeps nagging me about as my “moral responsibility”.

The reason I am writing all this is because the neighbors in my apartment complex are signing a petition asking the owners to install a gate at the entrance to prevent the repeated thefts that are happening from time to time.

I voiced my objection to the gate since my building’s door is directly on the street, and if I need to throw the trash away I have to get into the complex to what the Germans call “Müllraum” (waste room). The room already have a heavy door to the level that I just open it a little and throw the trash inside without putting it in the right bin. If I get inside and the door closes I will be locked inside or will have to fracture my shoulder to be able to open the door. Adding a gate will just force me into opening two heavy doors instead of one, and it won’t prevent thefts because all doors of the buildings on the street can lead to the inside of the complex and the garage. There are still more entry points that a gate will just make my life harder and won’t stop those motivated thieves.

I voiced my concerns and they decided to go with the petition anyway due to the rule of the majority. I am now thinking of whether I should do a counter-petition and side with the owning company that gates won’t prevent thefts and will strip me from my right to throw my own garbage (which they will love as they won’t want to pay for the installation of gates). I can also send them an official letter in German showing them how easily my bones get fractured and making them accountable for any problems that may arise as a result of installing this gate. Such a letter will make them so confused that they will think a 100 times before installing it.

There is also the hypocritical option of claiming that the building is pretty safe and those thefts are resulting from people’s complacence in protecting their belongings (which the owning company will also like). This is the beauty and curse of the post facts era we live in.

As you can see it is a typical situation of how intolerant one should be. Unfortunately the minority rule doesn’t apply to most situations related to wheelchair accessibility because conditions #2 and #4 don’t apply to most societies. There aren’t many wheelchair users spread out in every group of people (maybe it will be the case in Europe in 50 years when the median age keeps going up and as a result the % of wheelchair bound people), and the cost of making something wheelchair accessible is sometimes too high to justify the value (see my tweets above).

I am still making up my mind and didn’t decide what to do.



Scalability of ethics

I was watching Peter Thiel interview with Dave Rubin. Part of the interview was Thiel talking about seasteading, a libertarian Utopia he wants to build in the middle of the sea.

The first thing that came to mind upon hearing this was Talib’s “ethics don’t scale” argument from Skin in the Game.

There is also

A libertarian Utopia can not scale, or it will turn into a dictatorship or something else.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t understand humanists that keep saying we are all one. No we are not. We are different. There are infinite factors that determine our position in society and our life path. We can’t control for most of those factors. We live with other human beings. They have different desires and incentives. They have different genes. Their ethics are different. They act differently.

The only way we can all be one is in a dystopian world. A world in which we are all trapped together having to abide by rules dictating we all should behave in a certain way. In such a world I will probably be unconscious. This makes life meaningless. And I don’t want to live a meaningless life. Sorry, we are not one.

Human Uniqueness

Someone asked me what’s unique about myself. I started my answer by saying “unique” is a strong word. There are 7 billion people on the planet so probably there are many people that can do the same things I do, or think the same way I think.

I gave it more thinking, the first thing that came to mind as unique is my fingerprints, then came the fact that actually my genetic combination is unique.

But the one thing that makes a human being really unique is their life journey. No two humans ever will have the exact same life journey. And the respective perception of each journey an individual lives is what gives life its meaning. That’s what make each individual “unique”.

The Theseus Disclaimer: the only constant is change.

The paradox goes as follows, captain Theseus’s ship has a defect plank. The ship team changes the defect plank with a new one. After a while, another plank goes defect, another replacement. The changes keep coming until all the ship planks have been replaced by newer planks. Is it still the same ship?

Considering the ship planks are your thoughts and beliefs. Are you the same person since birth? Before you answer this question, go check your Facebook posts from two years ago. Do you still think you are the same person?

The internet is becoming a snapshot of your opinions at every single moment, giving you or others the chance to see what was your opinion about something, say 2 years ago and now.

As time move forward, there will always be someone who disagrees with you at the current moment, who can bring an opinion you had in the past and posted on social media ignoring the fact that people change.

I think if one wants to avoid this from happening, one shouldn’t post his opinion on any controversial matter. Or maybe, everyone should adopt the Theseus disclaimer:

The person who wrote this post is a human being, and might change their opinions or beliefs in the future. This doesn’t mean they are not liable for what they said now, but it means you have to understand and respect the fact of change.

Disclaimer: Theseus didn’t have a disclaimer. I made this up.