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Jesse Ventura vs. The Black Swan


[Jesse Ventura, former professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota, speaking at Ron Paul’s Liberty Rally in Minneapolis last week. For the rest of this Jesse Ventura’s speech, check out]

You certainly didn’t see this in the mainstream media.

I don’t agree with Ventura’s points completely – but he makes a very compelling case for libertarianism. He does it by avoiding subtlety and going for the jugular – which is what you’d expect of gladiators in either politics or professional wrestling.

He speaks to the tremendous anger at our current political and economic system – the anger tapped by Ron Paul in his presidential run.

Barack Obama stands for the hope that our current political and economic system does not need to be overthrown in a revolution, but instead can be ameliorated through gradual and focused change. For example, if the middle class is being squeezed – then give them tax cuts, and ensure that they can get health insurance, and attempt to create new green collar jobs in America.

Ron Paul (and Jesse Ventura) both stand for the anger and revolutionary impulse to overthrow the existing order. Revolution is a word both Ron Paul and Jesse Ventura use in their respective books prescribing what we need to do. Ron Paul for example preaches the reinstitution of the gold standard, the abolishment of the Federal Reserve, and other revolutionary measures. These men have little time for such tinkering as Barack Obama proposes within our current system. As such, they see him and John McCain as equally part of the problem.

That’s where I have to part ways with these two men. I admire them and their passion. But I mistrust any ideology to give me all the answers. As for tinkering – I think, in many ways, that is the best we can do.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a scholar who predicted the latest financial crisis, speaks of “tinkering” as the ideal form of change because we shouldn’t “disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time [as w]e don’t understand their logic.” As Brian Appleyard described Taleb’s views in the Sunday Times:

Taleb believes in tinkering – it was to be the title of his next book. Trial and error will save us from ourselves because they capture benign black swans. Look at the three big inventions of our time: lasers, computers and the internet. They were all produced by tinkering and none of them ended up doing what their inventors intended them to do. All were black swans. The big hope for the world is that, as we tinker, we have a capacity for choosing the best outcomes.

“We have the ability to identify our mistakes eventually better than average; that’s what saves us.” We choose the iPod over the Walkman. Medicine improved exponentially when the tinkering barber surgeons took over from the high theorists. They just went with what worked, irrespective of why it worked. Our sense of the good tinker is not infallible, but it might be just enough to turn away from the apocalypse that now threatens Extremistan.

By this logic – revolution is dangerous because it fully commits us to a change, a change which can result in enormous negative consequences. The American Revolution was a kind of beneficial black swan – that ended up producing a unique, stable, and free form of government. The French Revolution on the other hand unleashed a Reign of Terror and totalitarianism – all justified with the same values as the American Revolution. Tinkering allows us to experiment and see what works best and to adopt those measures that work best. It is precisely this determination to tinker that imbues Obama’s plans – from health care to energy policy to education. It’s why Obama’s health care plan works with the current system, creating incentives to fill gaps, rather than mandating an overhaul as the Clintons attempted in 1992 or attempting to push everyone out of the current system as McCain proposes now.

I admire Jesse Ventura for his inspiring rhetoric – and we always need scourges who point out how our society fails to live up to it’s ideals. But if there is anything redeemable in America, if there is any hope that through some determined tinkering we might make things better, then revolution is not yet the answer. Barack Obama and John McCain are not equally part of the problem. Obama seeks to tinker with our economy and government to protect the middle class and to soften the jarring forces of globalization; John McCain seeks to double down on Bush’s policies based on an ideological faith that markets will, on their own, produce goodness and light.  Although Jesse Ventura doesn’t know it, he’s fighting the Black Swan – that knowledge that we do not understand the world as well as we think we do, and revolutions fail far more often than they succeed. That’s why we need a tinkerer in the White House come January 2009 – and not yet another ideologue.

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10 replies on “Jesse Ventura vs. The Black Swan”

Our country, our culture, our actions are like that of an addict. We are addicted to oil, power, credit, moral authority, consumer products, government regulation and intervention etc. Like any sick addict the course for redemption is not based on adopting new ways or tweaking the current modes of behavior, but should focus on an immediate halt to the destructive behavior causing the suffering. If you were unhappy with your life would you start making it better by trying to adopt a whole bunch of new ‘good’ behaviors, or would you first try cutting out all the things in your life that are negative and feeding the self-destructive behavior. This is precisely what was different about Paul’s message. It wasn’t what Ron Paul was going to do as president or what he was going to ‘change’ to nurse this society back. Ron Paul’s message was popular because of the things he promised to not do. Namely that he was not going to stop the American people from doing what they need to do to take back their republic. He made it clear from the beginning he did not wan to run our lives, the economy, the states, that he didn’t know how to run those things, and that a central decision maker running those things for the past 100 years is precisely the reason we are in this situation. He never postures as if he was personally going to save this republic. That is OUR job. We need a president who is strong. But, one who is strong enough to know what a president should not do. That is the key to his broad appeal. Ron Paul is a true statesman and not a lot of American’s have ever met a real statesman.

I’m not sure you responded to the point of this post:

That radical change creates radical risk – whether that change be removing something or adding something. Using your idea of an addict, if an alcoholic decides to immediately remove himself from all alcohol, he may die from the effects.

They key point you did not respond to is that the world is much more complicated than we can understand – and by disturbing systems we risk great harm. Rarely is anything all good or all evil.

This black swan theory accounts for why, despite the best intentions, most revolutions create more harm than good.

[…] Reform. (Not revolution.) Liberalism has embraced a policy of reform – presuming that the status quo is not perfect yet acknowledging that rapid change could lead to worse. Reform is the balance liberalism strikes between stability and progress. This distinguishes them from conservatives who embrace the status quo over any change (standing athwart history yelling stop!) and leftists and right-wingers who embrace revolutions of various types to overthrow the current order as fundamentally wrong. The focus on reform is informed by the balance between doubt and action. Perhaps the best understanding of what reform means for a liberal can be found in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s advocation of the word “tinkering.” […]

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