About a month ago, I mentioned Black Swan author Nassim Taleb’s designation of what amount to two types of randomness, Mediocristan and Extremistan. Here is a chart Taleb provided comparing the two:
|Mild randomness||Wild randomness|
|Typical member is mediocre||There is no typical|
|Winners get small piece of total pie||Winner-take-all|
|General Utopian-type Equality||Extreme inequality|
|Impervious to Black Swan||Vulnerable to Black Swan|
|Corresponds to physical qualities and restrained by them||Corresponds to numbers, like wealth; no restraints|
|Total not affected by a single instance||Total determined by small number of extreme events|
|Tyranny of the collective||Tyranny of the accidental|
|History crawls||History makes jumps|
Mediocristan is where we must endure the tyranny of the collective, the routine, the obvious and the predicted; Extremistan is where we are subjected to the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted. “
In some strange way I keep seeing Mediocristan as representative of man’s viewpoint, man’s ways, man’s attempt to control his world, and Extremistan as God’s ways, at least as they are perceived by man. At one point Taleb says that our problems in general are that we believe we live in Mediocristan but we really live in Extremistan. That statement in particular resonated for me.
We think we can know, we think we can plan and predict and circumvent disaster. We think everything will continue as it has been. We think we have control of things. When we don’t. And it won’t. And we can’t.
It’s an illusion. A deception.
Mediocristan is that which puts forth the idea that we are all the same, all equal, should all be treated alike. That all will be routine, ordered, safe, controlled. It’s a place where there can’t be fear because there’s nothing to fear. It’s the world without God. The world wrestled under control of men, to be good and fair and equal. If you just do x and y, z will happen. Simple. It all depends on you. Safe.
Extremistan is what challenges us with our inadequacy. The fact that we don’t have omniscience, nor omnipotence. That we don’t know everything. That, in fact, we don’t even know half as much as we think we do because most of the knowledge we do have is flawed. (Did you see that it’s okay to drink coffee, now? It prevents diabetes and isn’t so hard on the heart after all. Apparently) It reminds us that even though we’ve spent 1000 days walking without incident along a certain path, the next day an airplane can fall out of the sky on you.
We don’t like to contemplate Extremistan because it’s scary and unpredictable so we pretend it’s not so.