The best book I read last year was Skin in the Game, by investor and master of probability Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It was an exhilarating read and enlightening. The latter is the supposed aim of non-fiction, yet a target so few books reach. Even if you disagree, his books in the Incerto collection, including Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan and Antifragile, are worth reading for the pure thrill.
Taleb is a bit rough around the edges. He takes his own ideas to heart – part of having “skin in the game,” he says, is being prepared to call a philanderer when you see one. In reality, this manifests in his life by telling people on Twitter to f*** off.
Taleb’s block list might be the biggest in history – he’ll banish you there if you mildly skirt his sin categories. This can be amusing or frustrating depending on your sensibilities. I usually find it funny. However, he’s always sharpening the knife, and the target of his ire will inevitably become someone you like.
I don’t have a problem with going after Sam Harris, whose dronings have been longing for pushback, and who Taleb calls “a charlatan.” The mostly brilliant Jordan Peterson is in Taleb’s idiot bin too, with the Canadian professor’s focus on IQ as a reliable measure of success (Taleb’s tackling of IQ’s predictability is definitely worth considering).
The other day, Taleb seemingly turned the libertysphere against him for going after respected gent Gene Epstein, the director and moderator of the Soho Forum. Well, not directly. Taleb was tagged in a tweet by Stefan Molyneux (already blocked), who as usual mentioned something about IQ differences between countries. Taleb called him an idiot and that would have been that, until Epstein chimed in suggesting a debate between the two at Soho.
This went down, as my father would say, like a fart in a lift. Right on cue, Taleb replies, “F*** off.” Tom Woods wasn’t happy, who quote-tweeted with the comment, “FYI, this is how the great Nassim Taleb speaks to Gene Epstein,” sending Tom’s followers to a flurry.
To be fair to Taleb, the issue really was with the once interesting Molyneux, who has become, in response to dwindling YouTube views, a one trick pony. A browse through the “philosopher”’s tweets will shatter any illusion of honest intellectual inquiry – it’s pure racialist or misogynist clickbait (okay, maybe he’s a two trick pony). And I say misogynist carefully – his dysfunctional mother stirred a severe problem with women that has plagued his career.
Decent people (like Tom Woods) have been getting flack for associating with Molyneux. Yet people forget, or are simply not aware, that once upon a time he was merely a bald guy on YouTube who had some cool things to say about anarchism and peaceful parenting. Recording podcasts on his commute to work, his enthusiastic rants on psychology, politics and personal growth were inspirational to many a budding thinker, including yours truly. He almost never talked about race.
He’s since jumped the shark by pandering to bolshy racialist types. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t been completely rejected by respectable people. His credit seems to be dwindling, though, as his most recent e-begging video seems to suggest.
It’s no surprise that Taleb doesn’t want to debate this man. First, it’s not obvious why every disagreement on the internet is not to be considered valid until there has been a formal debate. The implication is that making a counter point to someone via Twitter is like talking smack about your boxing opponent without a set date for getting in the ring. It’s absurd – formal debates are one form of discourse, and not necessarily the best. Few are any more knowledgeable thanks to a debate.
Second, what does Taleb gain? It’s not as if the world is unaware of the points he makes. He has written his articles and his books. If people want to find out what he thinks about IQ, they can find it in a form that allows for detail and nuance. You can also find the rebuttals, of which there are plenty.
At best, it’ll be a laugh, both sides will claim victory despite the Oxford rules, and everyone will go about their lives. Molyneux, meanwhile, will feel vindicated and his profile raised. You couldn’t pay me to go through the hard work of debating someone I don’t respect, and unlike Taleb, I’m not a millionaire. Ridiculous. Just read Taleb’s books and make your own mind up.
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