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Nassim Taleb Takes Break From Stone Lifting To Explain How Bitcoin Frees Humanity From ‘An Orwellian Future’

Speaking of "stable geniuses"... 

Speaking of “stable geniuses”…


That’s Nassim Taleb and in case you’re somehow unaware, he’s a risk-managin‘, mathematizin‘, philosophizin‘, stone-liftin‘, best-seller-writin‘, Spanish-gypsy-huntin‘, Third-World-country-polluted-water-drinkin‘, madman.

To be fair, Taleb actually is a genius of some stripe so it’s not entirely accurate to paint him with the Trump brush, but there is exactly no sense in which he is “stable”.


In fact, what seems to have happened over the years is that, increasingly aware of his own genius, Taleb did what lots of geniuses do: he became an eccentric and in the process, a caricature of himself.

Early last year, we were cut off from the wellspring of wisdom that is Taleb’s official Twitter account when he blocked us, apparently in response to our satirical posts, an archive of which you can find here.

It would be impossible to go into the entire Taleb backstory, but suffice to say he fancies himself a Renaissance man to the nth power and in a testament to that, here’s a quick list of things he does when he’s not writing bestsellers, mathematizing, or making money:

  • lifts stones
  • goes spelunking in search of Spanish Gypsies
  • drinks water in Third World countries to strengthen his immune system
  • Twitter shames Scandinavians for talking too loud on their cell phones while riding the Metro North
  • does lots of deadlifts with Coach Rippetoe
  • makes fun of economists for not doing enough deadlifting
  • asks you to guess how much he can shoulder press and then tells you he doesn’t trust your estimates
  • thinks about whether he should head-load water to strengthen his bones

Important note: all of that is real. Every one of those bullet points is derived from something he’s either said or posted an actual picture of on Twitter, so we’re hardly being unfair in our assessment.

Well apparently, Taleb wrote the forward for a book on Bitcoin by Saifedean Ammous and predictably, its inherent usefulness as a framework is almost completely undermined by his pretentiousness.

Let us follow the logic of things from the beginning. Or, rather, from the end: modern times”, Taleb muses in what is a sure sign that what comes next isn’t likely to disappoint in terms of pretensions to profundity.

He goes on to remind you that everyone who isn’t a dentist is a pseudo-expert and that of course includes economists (Greenspan and Bernanke get swan-slapped).

Eventually, he gets around to a Hayek reference (ok fine, but you only get one of those) on the way “explaining” why Bitcoin is “an excellent idea”. To wit:

It fulfills the needs of the complex system, not because it is a cryptocurrency, but precisely because it has no owner, no authority that can decide on its fate. It is owned by the crowd, its users. And it has now a track record of several years, enough for it to be an animal in its own right.

Ok, look. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it another thousand times if we have to. This notion that “no authority” can doom Bitcoin isn’t true. Almost everyone needs an exchange. No, you cannot stop two determined parties from swapping Bitcoin for dollars, but the vast majority of people participating in this market are not “determined parties”. They are speculators and their interest in participating will ebb and flow with how easy it is for them to participate. If governments shutter the exchanges or if central banks make convertibility into traditional currencies a crime, well then the vast majority of people are just going to say “fuck it”, because it’s not worth the effort. That’s not an attempt to say anything bad about Bitcoin or about Taleb’s assessment, it’s just an attempt to communicate the reality that people are ignorant and lazy.

Taleb goes on to take a jab at “virtue-signaling coffee chains” (because that’s definitely relevant to this discussion) before concluding that while Bitcoin itself “may fail”, the fact that it came into existence serves as a reminder to governments that if they fuck up too badly, their monopoly on currencies can be challenged. That, Taleb says, “is an insurance policy against an Orwellian future.”

Do you know what the tragedy here is? The tragedy is that the piece (linked above) is actually pretty good. But unfortunately, Taleb has put everyone in a position where the knee-jerk reaction to anything he writes is laughter.

Of course he doesn’t see it that way which, again, is a damn shame because Taleb has a lot to offer. The quickest way to make people not take you seriously is to make it clear that you take yourself far too seriously.


6 comments on “Nassim Taleb Takes Break From Stone Lifting To Explain How Bitcoin Frees Humanity From ‘An Orwellian Future’

  1. H! I loved that column so much and laughed all the way through it – valid comments!!

    When I got down to almost the end and read this “the reality that people are ignorant and lazy” and I thought that is exactly how trump got into the WH. And it just got even more connected to trump when I read “has put everyone in a position where the knee-jerk reaction to anything he *says* is laughter”. Then the perfect ending to my trump analogy “The quickest way to make people not take you seriously is to make it clear that you take yourself far too seriously”.

    btw, the top two photos…does he actually lift that any further up or is that about as far as he goes?

  2. I enjoy Taleb’s writings and appreciate his genius. But you put your finger on the thing that most jars—his self importance. And lack of that overweening sense of self importance is one of the most endearing features of your articles.

    • ,,, haha … (oh, you were serious) …

      Although I follow H and get a good bit of entertainment, information and enjoyment, I frequently find him a hard pill to swallow …

      … I’ve seen enough of H’s ‘counter punches’ to comments here and on Seeking Alpha to be quite disabused of your quaint notion H lacks a sense of self importance …

      … okay … so *maybe* debatable whether it is “overweening” … he definitely likes to come across as plain-spoken with liberal use of expletives and a sometimes self-deprecating style … maybe borderline overweening …

  3. Why are you giving this publicity wh..e and financial failure a forum? He loves to be mentioned, regardless of whether you call his bull…t and arrogance (plus his wanton ignorance of decades of work on foundations of probability, robust statistics, … Ask him whether he’s ever read or heard of de Finetti, Kyburg, Savage, Dempster, Choquet, Dubins, ….)

    He’s made a name for himself out of Statistics 101 (rare events can happen. Oh really? Thanks). They should put him and Trump in the same room so that they can decide whose hands are bigger. They can keep the results to themselves.

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