Thank you, Aaron.

This is by far the most cogent and considered criticism I have received either here or on Twitter. It’s nice that you (I think?) liked the essay, even though you felt the need to object. And of course, it’s great you engaged so constructively. Hopefully you can tell by this opening that I am now firmly in Allen-speak and not obnoxious-little-turd-speak!

I think I disagree with everything you say, but, interestingly, never by much. I will go through in order:

his rude insistence on them has given them far more power than their original authors managed.

Absolutely. As per the very first line, I used to love Nassim Taleb. I don’t even mind his “rude insistence” on ideas, if he is correct, and especially if it is dangerous to be incorrect. As you say further down, it’s all about the ideas. Some of the people I referred to as “victims” I vehemently disagree with on the substance of their dispute with Taleb. I wrote a whole article about how Cass Sunstein is not only stupid but dangerously stupid.:

https://merionwest.com/2020/03/06/the-coronavirus-on-risk-and-idiots/

But there are two crucial questions I think you cleverly avoid: What about when he is clearly wrong? And not just “mistaken” but way out of his depth and spouting not-even-wrongness? And what about when his behaviour is clearly unacceptable?

I have proven the former beyond a shadow of a doubt across 7 or so fields in which I undoubtedly know more than him — fully aware, by the way, that they are probably the only ones. Notice I don’t mention statistics once. I know a lot about statistics, but clearly nowhere near as much as he does. I actually had a fawning reference to once of his statistical papers in an earlier draft but was advised to remove it because it ruined the parody by breaking character.

So can he rudely insist on pushing them when the ideas themselves are wrong, or worse, stupid? I really don’t see how you can defend this line consistently. As I see it, the opportunity cost is being taken seriously on issues he does understand and which are important. Such as … oh I dunno … the risk of a deadly pandemic.

On the latter, you then say,

You prefer different norms, but you don’t defend them, and you are Nassim-like when you claim they are the foundation of everything from libertarianism to Marxism.

For the irreligious, norms are not in the fabric of the Universe and need to be grounded in something. I feel like: be truthful, fair, and considerate in your dealings with others, is a pretty solid grounding; practically a religious grounding, I might add. I’m not going to pretend me (or my Mum, or West Point) invented this. It’s clearly Protestant. If you want to defend his behaviour wrt: Ammous, Tetlock, Falkenstein, etc. — n.b. not his ideas! his behaviourthen be my guest.

You might be tempted to say: Ammous, Tetlock, and Falkenstein’s ideas (heck, even their behaviour) is so bad as to warrant this as a response. I say that’s horse shit. You are not a force for good if there is no good you are willing to respect. You can’t excuse yourself from justice in the pursuit of justice. Even articulating how ridiculous this is sounds like writing a comic book villain. Does Taleb aspire to be the Joker or Batman? Because Batman has a strict moral code. Stricter than Taleb’s, probably stricter than Omar’s, and possibly even stricter than mine.

But more cynically, it devalues your legitimate attempts to do so (cough cough viral pandemic cough cough). Maybe our ethics are quite different — my family’s cultural background, and hence my primary influence in terms of moral norms, is a mix of Presbyterian and Mainline Protestant (as is West Point, btw). Taleb’s is Oriental and Orthodox with significant exposure to both Mediterranean Sunni and Shia Islam, and Israeli and Lebanese Judaism. I would be shocked if these differences don’t influence people’s outlooks profoundly. So, sure, our norms may differ. But do they really differ that much? I doubt it.

Putting norms aside — let’s agree to disagree — on the latter point I am genuinely surprised he doesn’t understand this better. He would be more effective in achieving his own goals if he followed my advice. Now there’s a definition of rationality if I ever saw one …

X’s comment proves he doesn’t understand Y, so we can ignore him.

Now this is tricky because in saying this (which I more or less did, although not a quote) I was in character — I had to be in character and I had to say this. As Allen, I will now say that I do not believe it, but I do believe that we can ignore him on Y. Everybody can and should ignore Taleb on Bitcoin, ergodicity, etc., but should not under any circumstances ignore him on how to rationally act under conditions of uncertainty.

the idea that if you can prove someone is stupid, you’ve won the argument.

No, of course this is ridiculous. That’s why I pushed back against my editors and kept in the multiple positive references to his virus activism. It deserves far more praise than any of my detractions. It saved lives. The rest merely irked me. But, you have certainly won the argument on that particular topic. Maybe there are hidden norms behind this too, but I’m willing to stand by it.I don’t see what else could possibly be required to win an argument about ideas besides proving your opponent is not only wrong in particular, but doesn’t understand the topic in general.

Settle down, resolve differences in word uses, and try to understand what people are saying rather than looking for misused (in your opinion) words and concepts. The goal isn’t to beat anyone down, but to first ensure both sides understand what the other actually believes, and only then see if either one can convince the other or find mutual ground.

Absolutely. I completely agree. But if you think this is an accurate assessment of his Twitter behaviour then you are the one writing satire, my friend.

You think Nassim is acting out of ignorance and ego.

As above, in character I obviously have to say that. As Allen, no, not at all. I think I can see what he is doing, and I’m telling him via brutal parody that it’s stupid. His own goals would be better achieved with a process that isn’t really that much different and for which the intellectual and moral foundation (The Incerto) already exists.

Some of his attempts are baffling, both in content and tone, but he is sincere in his attempts.

Sincerity doesn’t excuse either immorality or stupidity. It just makes them more pitiful. And note, once more, that I am only referring to the tiny proportion of cases I have identified — I even say this in character in the essay — I used to be a fan because I didn’t used to notice this kind of thing. The same goes for many others. He has lost many intelligent and important fans over this bullshit.

And note I am not claiming I am either intelligent or important. But I am claiming that many very intelligent and very important people reached out to me when they heard what I was up to. I have sworn not to reveal their identities. And doesn’t that tell you something in itself? There are brilliant people out there who are so afraid of him that they will gleefully reach up to a faceless upstart nobody to try to get in on his attempted destruction, but they absolutely will not countenance their name appearing anywhere. Was that really the goal all along? I sure hope not. That doesn’t seem to be “about ideas”.

I’ve known him for decades and never had reason to doubt it.

I don’t know him at all. Never met him. Never really want to as I think I need to keep up this act now. Plus he might decide to fight me. I could kick the shit out of him in a fair fight, but, again, I have a stronger ethical code, so I suspect I’ll lose on account of blatant cheating. Plus he weighs much more than me and might just sit on me to death.

I don’t think he ever even replied to a Tweet besides, “I block idiots”, which was pretty funny and made the essay even better. He may well ignore all this entirely, call me an imbecile a few times on Twitter, the usual routine — Tetlock me, if you will — but if by some miracle it gets to him, please tell him to read our lengthy exchange here. It’s the first time I’ve said anything about him in Allen-speak — and you can tell him that I have you to thank for that, whatever good it might do.

(and also remind him of my Pedersen commit before he does anything stupid)

Thank you once again for your time and thoughts. Feel free to respond here if you think there is more to say, but also happy to DM on Twitter if you want a chattier vibe.

Best,

Allen

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