Black Swan Events

There is a concept developed by risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb known as the Black Swan Theory. Quote Taleb:

What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme ‘impact’, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explains almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.

In my humble opinion, we are already in the third stage of this effect, and normalizing the impact of the ongoing 2020 SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Be it the throngs of people out at the beaches, or packed crowds at Disneyland (before they finally capitulated to reality and closed), it seems a lot of Americans are taking this as a minor thing that is happening to “other people”.

How many infections, and eventual deaths, with it take for this mindset to subside? Both of my parents are currently fighting what we assume is COVID-19, but they will never know for sure as they are not eligible for testing. I consider myself fortunate: my parents are both under 60, and both quite healthy, with few underlying conditions that we’ve seen in severe cases.

But I’ve already had an acquaintance lose a friend to this. And it will not be long before everyone does. If we consider the average person has around 250-300 friends, family, etc. that they know, in an unconstrained scenario in the U.S, 0.75 people out of every 300 will die. That means everyone will likely lose someone pretty close.

We’re going to see patients sitting in hallways of hospitals. Nurses and Doctors working frantically, having breakdowns and pulling the plug on people in order to give ventilators to someone else with a better chance. There will be lines of coffins stacked outside crematoriums.

It sickens me that anyone still cares about the economy, who who is to blame. This isn’t a hoax; the only fakery going on here is perhaps certain news outlets that try to cast this global human crisis as a financial problem. Anyone who is talking numbers right now is inherently putting dollars on human lives. I can’t do that. And it sickens me that our culture is giving a voice to platforms that, when accepted, directly result in millions dying. This is not a hypothetical. We’re seeing it happen in New York. We’re seeing it happen in Italy.

On the other hand… hoarders. Let’s be clear. This is going to be terrible. You might be eating a diet that is not entirely food that would be your first choice. But having to eat rice and beans a couple times a week does not mean you need to buy toilet paper and your preferred food by the pallet. We’re seeing a society that is used to overabundance briefly touch the previous status quo of humans of the last 15,000 years. Take a deep breath.

Prepare for loss. Be ready to shed tears. This will hurt. You may lose your job. I’m planning on where I’ll move if I can’t pay my rent in a few months… I get it, that’s bad.

Just… don’t forget the other. Its not China versus the U.S., its the World versus a Virus.

This is a Black Swan. We don’t have a perfect analog to this. And going forward, be brave enough to recognize this for what it is and will be remembered as. I seriously believe this could change our cultural identity if it gets bad enough; a national trauma.

The dark side of my mind is almost wishing for such a change. To hell with money, and to hell with the “I don’t care, I’ve got mine” attitude I’m seeing from the highest echelons of our leadership.

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