Monthly Archives: August 2011

Nothing New

I find politics depressing these days. (My political reading is limited to Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald, along with occasionally reading Daniel Larison.) Despite the election of Obama, Guantanamo is still open and Dick Cheney is on a book tour bragging about his war crimes. The National Security State grows, sucking up money and distributing it to corporations, while civil liberties continue to be stomped on. There’s a huge gap between the wealthy and everyone else. The rich get bonuses while everyone else gets laid off. It all seems so overwhelming.

But I guess I had one useful thought. It’s easier to be depressed when these are seen as symptoms of decline. Things are getting worse, we think. Yet I wonder, where is the Golden Age that we declined from? When have the rich not used their privilege to get more money at the expense of others? When have politicians not abused power?

It seems as if some of these issues have root causes that are really old problems. Stuff that can never be solved. Sometimes, these problems can be ameliorated, but never permanently. So, I should toss aside the idea of being able to “fix” this. But it’s not impossible to make some improvements.

Plus, haven’t things gotten better in some areas? Tolerance of gays is improving. Gay marriage will be legal in every state within my lifetime. So, I can’t view things in a manner of strict decline or progress. I don’t think it’s cyclical either. Things are just mixed.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from this. These are just some thoughts.

Antifragility and Forgetting my Keys

I forgot my keys the other day and it made me realize how unintuitive antifragility really is. These may not seem connected, but let me tell my story.

During Outside Lands, I stayed in Berkeley because it was easier for Stevie and me to travel to SF together. Naturally, I wanted less things to carry, so everyday I went out to Outside Lands, I went without my keys. So, when I finally went home to my apartment, I managed to leave once last time without my keys. Because I broke my routine, I forgot my keys.

When I first went to college, I lived in the dorms. The door to my room automatically locked when I left the room. It thus became very important to remember my keys before I left my room. I developed a threshold routine. I checked my pockets for my wallet, my phone, my keys, and a pen.

This threshold routine is rather robust. It’s rare that you’ll leave your place without crossing through a door. I don’t usually leave my place through the window. So, no matter what you have to do in the morning, it’s more difficult to forget your keys.

Compare this to dealing with an essay you just composed. If you print it out and leave it in the printer, it’s rather easy to forget it in the morning. This is fragile. If you put it in your backpack the night before, that’s more robust because it’s less likely that you’ll leave without your backpack. Of course, some emergency may make you forget your backpack, but everything’s about odds with me.

As I thought about all this when I was locked out of my apartment, I pondered, “What would it mean to have an antifragile strategy for remembering my keys?” I think it would mean that the more my routine got fucked up, the more likely it would be for me to remember my keys. And that is a very, very strange thing. I don’t think there exists an antifragile strategy for remembering one’s keys. I think that are ones with different levels of robustness. My dad told me he used to keep a spare key in his wallet. That adds more robustness, but it still isn’t antifragile.

I can think, “How can I make it less likely to forget my keys?” Yet it’s very, very strange to think, “How can changing my routine cause me to be more likely to remember my keys?” Ugh, it’s even hard to form that question in a non-awkward way.

When I first read Taleb’s explanation of antifragility, he noted that a word for the opposite of fragility didn’t exist in English and many other languages. I think that one part of the reason is because of the concept’s strangeness. If i think of antifragility in terms of the hydra, it makes sense to me. However, in many other situations, such as remember my keys, it has no application.