Like you, we are curious and hungry to learn. We are excited to elevate debates to a higher level by prodding, challenging and revisiting the ideas put forward. On that note, we were flattered to receive an articulate and enlightening letter from a reader in Barcelona who, in addition to spotting an error we caught post-print, contributed some great counter-arguments. We wanted to share it in the spirit of transparency and open discussion.
Dear Mr Darveau
I live in Barcelona and found your magazine through unusual channels for me. Indeed, I am much more inclined to read Alpinist than The Alpine Review. Nevertheless, I've read and enjoyed all of Taleb's books and was therefore excited for your interview and feature on Antifragility.
I'll leave aside my disappointment that your namesake cover story was little more than a two-page summary of an advance copy of the new book, for it was my mistake not to investigate this more closely at the newsstand before purchasing what is undeniably a beautiful magazine. But, sir, beautiful as your graphics may be, you've got to get your story straight. On page 108, under the heading "How Fragility Gets Traded Off In Society," you explain Taleb's three categories of people, those with "skin in the game" and so on. Then you confuse the categories, writing that "Corporate executives and bankers belong to the first category," which clearly doesn't make sense with the rest of the argument.
Moreover, in the ten pages of captioned photos that follow, your story is plagued by a lack of depth and especially a lack of distinction regarding exactly which aspects of each topic should be regarded as fragile, antifragile, and robust. For example, in the case of Switzerland, while its economy appears to (for the moment) "benefit from randomness and shocks" as you say, many economists and political leaders regard the mere existence of the Swiss economy to be a great source of fragility for the EU as a whole.
[…]In the cases of "Makers" and "Venture Capital," you either miss or misrepresent the idea of benefiting from randomness altogether. It seems you have replaced Taleb's argument, which is certainly statistical in nature, with a warm narrative that is emotional, that we want to believe in. Making, and indeed venture capitalism, can only be considered antifragile activities overall, and not at all individually. They contribute to an antifragile society for this reason: when a large number of individuals (i.e. the single makers themselves, or the various startups under a VC's umbrella) are willing to render themselves fragile for something they believe in, even though many (probably, most) of these individuals (people or firms) will fail, the loss to society (or the VC portfolio) will be offset by the minority of huge successes that occur (of new products, say, or of new companies). For the individual maker, and for the individual startup vying for VC capital, having skin or soul in the game is essential and valiant--exactly because these people are so fragile.
Since you've decided to start your own print magazine in 2012, I know there's nothing I can say to you about fragility, and about bravely forging ahead in spite of the odds. I hope your magazine succeeds, and I hope you continue to command my interest so I may count myself as a supporter. Think and write carefully, Mr Darveau.
First, thank you for purchasing The Alpine Review, we love hearing that discerning minds are giving us a read-through. Second, thank you for taking the time to reach out to us with detailed and constructive feedback. Surprisingly, few people have responded to start a debate and conversation about the ideas collected and presented in our publication. We didn’t start this publication to get compliments (of course, we enjoy those, too) –we did it to start meaningful dialogues.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s term, ‘Antifragility’, is a far more intricate and interesting concept than my brief introduction could do justice. We decided that Antifragility was going to be the theme (Patrick mentions it in his concluding observations on the last page) because it generally influenced our thinking at the time of production and gently connected the diverse topics we explored for the first issue. The Joel Salatin interview is one such example.
With respect to your criticism about the Antifragility piece per se, I tend to agree with most of your comments. Yes, I do know that there was an error in the 'skin in the game' part (despite proofreading 20 times, these things happen). For the rest of your arguments, I agree with you, but I don’t think it is productive to enter into a lengthy debate about Antifragility itself.
Taleb's thinking on Antifragility is extremely important and useful not only as a framework for decision-making, but as a path to resilience. I wanted to talk about it, but the difficulty was/is that (a) I am not Taleb and (b) his book was months away from release. So, I relied solely on interviews–mere fragments of the larger and deeper ideas he unpacks in his book–that I captured between 2010 and 2011, assembling them in the most coherent way possible. Taleb explains Antifragility in 470 concise pages; my novice exploration of the idea was far from perfect. There are bumps, rough edges and gaps in my eager attempt to flesh out the idea. I only hope that it leads people to seek out his book for the full (and more eloquent) story.
Still, weighing the pros and cons, I thought it was better to include an imperfect piece than to omit the concept altogether. In the words of Henry van Dyke, “the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” Taleb will always be the master when it comes to Antifragility, he and I are both comfortable with this truth. I was in contact with him prior to publication of the issue and sent him a copy of the magazine when it was finished. I was happy to receive, not a fiery reprimand, but rather a gift copy of his latest book.
The Alpine Review tries to be broadly horizontal in its exploration rather than intensely deep in one area. We don't have the space to dive all the way down into every topic we touch upon. We aim to introduce, explore and truthfully represent each topic. However, we know that for a person well versed in a specific topic, it may very well at times seem lacking in parts. Over the width and breadth of the magazine it can't always be helped. We hope that there will be something familiar and something new in each issue for everyone.
In closing, we are always looking for quality contributors that have the conviction and articulacy to lead discussions on the things that matter. Based on your detailed analysis and feedback I would encourage you to submit your ideas if you are interested in participating in Issue 2.
All the best,
If you have ideas to contribute and share with The Alpine Review, we encourage you to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org .