December 24, 2015

Nassim Taleb slowly converting to the Trump movement

Back in the beginning of Trump's campaign, Nassim Taleb (judging from his Twitter presence) was conflicted about the only presidential candidate who was not a total all-tawk phony, who had enough fuck-you money to not be controlled by donors, who had skin in the game by funding his own campaign, and who embodied the ideas of anti-fragility (the more his enemies attacked him, the stronger he got). On the other hand, he felt that the only non-fake candidate was also a maniac, for reasons he didn't say -- maybe about protectionism, maybe about sending back the Syrian migrants, maybe feeling instinctively defensive as an immigrant, I don't know.

Now he's starting to defend the Trump phenomenon, not by outright endorsing him or anything like that, but by going on the attack against his moronic and dishonest detractors. He's also started pointing out how there are lots of folks in polite society who may not be open about their support for Trump, but will confess it after a few Christmas party drinks. A recent poll among Taleb's Twitter followers shows 59% support for Trump, with 46% willing to admit it without having to imbibe any Christmas party drinks.

To the untrained eye, Taleb the probability theorist is making a point about how messy it can be to estimate probabilities in a real world fraught by biases, like the social desirability bias. In this case, educated people are more likely to find it embarrassing to support Trump, so they'll lie more when called up by pollsters, and his true support level is higher than the polls say.

But to those familiar with Taleb's nature, he's clearly doing something beyond making an academic point -- he's cutting through mainstream bullshit to let people know it's OK to admit their support for Trump. After all, lots of like-minded people are either outright supporters, or are thinly closeted supporters. You're not crazy, so don't hide and be afraid as though you were crazy.

His recent efforts to really go to bat for The Donald seem to be related to Putin's favorable words about Trump, and Trump's reciprocation, hinting at a future where America and Russia are closer to being allies than enemies, particularly over foreign policy in the Middle East. Taleb is even more open about his man-crush on Putin, whom he says many Christians of the Levant, like himself, see as a protector of Orthodox Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean.

Taleb wants more of a regional role for Russia-Syria-Iran over the reigning Islamic fundamentalist axis of Turkey-Israel-Saudi Arabia. Israel supported Hamas in its early days in order to crowd out the secular nationalist PLO under Yasser Arafat, in the same way that we supported the various jihadist groups against secular strongmen. Israel is also friendly with the source of Islamic extremist ideology, Saudi Arabia. If Trump feels more friendly toward Putin and Assad than the Islamic whackjobs in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, then Taleb would welcome his role in the region.

Probably the only big reservation Taleb would have is about Trump going off on the Iran nuclear deal, thinking that Trump might attack one of the key members of the neo-Byzantine coalition. But he shouldn't worry: Trump only goes off on how our incompetent negotiators gave away everything and got nothing from "the Persians, who are great negotiators".

Trump may already know that Iran is far less aggressive than other Islamic states, and that Shia Muslims are far more tolerant and less fundamentalist than the Sunnis. He just has to put that to the side for the moment, while he whips up popular anger over how naive our stupid politicians are, and that we need more cunning negotiators on the American side in order to defend our interests against the equally cunning Persians.

So far Trump hasn't even hinted at attacking Iran, pushing for regime change, or anything interventionist like that. With Russia being their ally, Trump isn't reckless enough to start World War III over Iran, a death wish that he in fact accuses some of his GOP rivals of having (the ones who want no-fly zones in Syria).

If he gets along well enough with Trump, Nassim Taleb just might become our next Secretary of the Treasury -- imagine how much healing the financial world could undergo with Mr. Black Swan himself at the helm. Normally we'd have to add, "Well, at least we can dream," but in this election anything is possible. It would certainly fit with Trump's crusade to flush out the flunky sell-outs and put in outsiders who are smart, sharp, tough, and honorable stewards.


  1. Could you link to some things Taleb has written on the subject?

  2. It's from reading his Twitter account (@nntaleb). I searched for the older tweets, but apparently searching Twitter is restricted to the last two months.

  3. Here may be the exact moment of conversion. On Dec 21, he asks about Trump's position on Syria, and learns that Trump wants to keep Assad in power, is skeptical that the rebels we're backing would be any better than him (they could be ISIS, Al-Qaeda, etc.), and that removing a secular strongman like Assad would create another power vacuum that would be filled by fundamentalist whackos like it did in Iraq and Libya.

    The next day he starts stumping for Trump.



    @johndurant What's @realDonaldTrump position on Syria and the Syrian rebels?
    7:38 AM - 21 Dec 2015
    0 retweets 0 likes

    @johndurant Dec 21

    @nntaleb @realDonaldTrump similar to what happened in Libya. We'll create a vacuum of power that will be filled by chaos and ISIS
    0 retweets 1 like

    NassimNicholasTaleb Dec 21

    @johndurant @realDonaldTrump Did he say that?
    0 retweets 2 likes

    ‏@johndurant Dec 21

    @nntaleb @realDonaldTrump

  4. Hello TGGP. As always, it is good to see you. This doesn't quite answer your question, but it does provide some feedback for the author of this post. This is what NNT said about it:

  5. Taleb tweeted this post:

  6. Any reservations he has about Trump are related to an inherent ethnic elitism common in eastern Mediterranean people. He knows real when he sees it, and Trump personifies his concepts. He just hates that antifragile made flesh is an irreverent North/West European

  7. There's also lingering skepticism due to the Crusades, where the Northwest Europeans attacked the Christian Byzantines rather than the Muslims.

    Arabic still refers to Northwest Europeans as "Franks" ("Faranj"), from their experience with them back when NW Europe was the Holy Roman Empire.

    So perhaps Trump/Putin will be a kind of dual reign of the West/East being held together.

    Putin being a protector of Orthodox Christianity in the East would make him a latter-day Constantine.

  8. "Taleb tweeted this post"


    Note: to reach an incredibly busy important person, do not bother them with an email, just write a "brilliant analysis" of them instead.

  9. more points:

    Trump words are many times misinterpreted. Thus the politifact website takes Trump statements by the letter, then accuses him of lying. Where a little common sense reading would show truth in his words (e.g. "Sanders is gonna tax you guys, you know, like 90%". Did anyone read those words literally? only this stupid site :) )

    Meaning vs. overt text. When Trump said "block Mulsims" "block the internet for terorrists" alll morons went on his words to attack them.

    But Trump's message had a much deeper and simple meaning: "do whatever it takes" to block terror. be it discriminatory, aggressive, censorious etc. whatever. torture as well.

    Deep inside a large portion of the world see it the same. Do whatever it takes to finish off this terror thing, and do not come up with excuses and principles that block you (Like the belgian police letting the biggest terrorist free because of some obscure law not allowing them to enter houses after midnight. I am not inventing it!!

    Putin & the world. Part of the problem is the West acting ideological instead of transactional. (Example: the stupid West saying that Yanukovitch fall is "not our action", or looking to bring to court the cops helping yanukovitch, whicdh efrfectively caused the Donbas war, by making them all run away for their freedom)

    Transactional (and cynical) businessman *might* have a better talk with Putin, as are Israel's various PMs over time. This might actually bring peace!

  10. Another policy unique to Trump, which Taleb would appreciate, is going after the families of the Islamic terrorists -- particularly those in Saudi Arabia who are related to the 9/11 terrorists.

    Trump has said that the terrorists may blow themselves up, but they don't want anything to happen to their family. So, get them where it hurts.

    Taleb has discussed (and tacitly endorsed) the case of the Russians in Lebanon during the early 1980s. Russians were kidnapped by terrorists, but the Russians refused to negotiate. Instead, they used their intelligence to quickly discover who was responsible, tracked down the *family members* of the offenders, dismembered their bodies, and mailed the parts to the offenders.

    Meaning: keep it up, and your whole clan will eventually be wiped out.

    And until very recently, no terrorists fucked with Russia.

    Westerners don't appreciate how important the honor of the clan is in the Middle East. Put the pressure on the entire clan, and the individual members will think twice about behaving badly.

  11. Israel destroys homes of terrorists. In recent arguments in court, it was said that it works. (Provided it is done swiftly after the act)

  12. Other GOP candidates have said they'd tear the Iran agreement up, etc etc. Trump has never said anything similar. To the contrary, he says he'll honor it, but he'll find some leverage in the fine print to make the most out of what he sees as an embarrassing giveaway.

    I make it a point to watch his rallies while I work out, and as of 12/19 in Cedar Rapids he's begun explicitly saying he doesn't want to start WWIII, thinks it would be great if the US and Russia could work together against the common enemies of both, etc.

  13. Interesting comments about Taleb.

    Of course, your analysis of the Middle-East is simplistic to say the least:

    1) Israeli never supported Hamas -- what they did do is support some Islamic radicals who later formed Hamas and led the organization:

    It is equivalent to people who say the "U.S. created (or supported) the Taliban." No, we did not. We did indeed support crazy Islamic radicals who fought the commies back in the 80s and some of those same radicals went on to eventually become Taliban -- but that's not the same thing as creating or supporting the Taliban.

    Israel makes mistakes from time to time, but they don't make really, really stupid mistakes.

    2) "Israel is also friendly with the source of Islamic extremist ideology, Saudi Arabia." That is even sillier -- the U.S. is friendly with the Saudis and cooperates on all sorts of issues related to Middle-Eastern security (especially selling them lots of weapons.) As for the Israelis? I guess the best you could say is that while the Saudis and Israelis still don't have diplomatic relations after all these years, their common enemy Iran is finally getting them to talk to one another:

    They have a long way to go before they can be considered 'friends.'

    3) "Trump may already know that Iran is far less aggressive than other Islamic states, and that Shia Muslims are far more tolerant and less fundamentalist than the Sunnis."

    HAAAAHAAAAAAAAAA! I need to try and stop laughing at this one. Where does one begin? Iran's support for Hamas and Hezbollah? Their virulent anti-Americanism (at the leadership level) going on 35+ years? Their not so covert support for insurgents in Iraq who killed plenty of American soldiers? They are just as nuts as all the other crazy Muslims -- we can't be friends with any of them.

    Having said all that, I agree with you and Trump that it would be a good thing to strengthen ties to Russia and help stabilize Syria under Assad. I have no illusions about what a madman and killer he is, but at least he'll keep the Christian communities safe. I should also note, that while I'd love better relations in general with Russia and the Orthodox world, it won't and shouldn't happen while Putin is in power. He is a thug and a killer and cynically uses conservative principles to stay on the good side of the Orthodox clergy/conservative Russian people -- while he amasses a fortune and kills or imprisons anyone who gets in his way. I'd shoot him dead if I had the chance on behalf of all the brave Russian journalists and patriots who have tried to expose his crimes (e.g. there is a good chance that some of those 'Chechen' operations were false flag.) I hate him with a passion -- but sometimes you need to do business with nasty people and Russia could and should be an important ally to the U.S.

  14. No nitpicking -- you just admitted that Israel supported Hamas in its early days when it needed such support because the PLO was the well-established stronger, secular alternative, exactly as I said.

    By Middle Eastern standards, not having been at war recently with another country makes them "friends". And both Israel and Saudi Arabia have always been keen to squash secular Arab nationalist movements, albeit for different reasons, but then politics makes strange bedfellows.

    Iran hasn't directly aggressed against anyone in the region for centuries -- they were invaded by Iraq and responded. They could have invaded Afghanistan when the Taliban killed Iranian diplomats and journalists, but the mullahs called the Iranian army back from the border.

    Anti-American sentiment isn't violence -- more or less the whole world feels that way about us, but only the Sunni Muslims and their derivatives, the Salafis / Wahhabis, are attacking us.

    Everyone knows that's where the Islamic terrorists come from -- the greater Arabian Desert, whether that's Saudi Arabia, eastern Yemen, Gulf states, or ISIS' territory in southern/western Iraq and eastern Syria. And beyond the Middle East, from Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

    Hezbollah's main achievement was to drive Israel out of its illegal occupation of southern Lebanon, which was Hezbollah's home turf. It doesn't engage in the kind of wide-ranging evangelical terrorism that the Sunni and Salafi groups do.

    If the PLO had been internally stronger, and had not faced such opposition from Israel, the US, etc., then perhaps the liberation of southern Lebanon would have been achieved by secular forces.

    And unlike other ethno-states in the region like Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran assigns a certain number of seats in the parliament to ethnic and religious minorities, in proportion to their size of the overall population. It's no democracy, but it does allow a level of harmony across ethnic groups that is not observed in our allies like Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

    The civil war in Yemen -- who is attacking who? Once again, Sunni / Salafi attacking the Shia.

    Not to mention the radical mosques that preach extremism and hatred, including hatred of other sects of Islam.

    You don't hear Iranian preachers brainwashing their followers to view all Sunnis as infidels who need to be invaded, converted, or killed if they resist. And you don't see Shia terrorists destroying Sunni sacred sites like Saudi Arabia and ISIS engage in iconoclasm, including ancient pre-Islamic sites like Palmyra.

    Eradicating terrorism will focus almost entirely on the Sunni and Salafi world -- hardly a drop in the bucket comes from Shia Muslims.

  15. That was just background information for general readers here -- obviously you're just some neo-con shill, and everyone here hates the neo-cons, so you'll be wasting your breath.

  16. I will vote for Trump, if he is not the nominee I won't vote.
    Hillary evil warmonger, no thanks.
    Bernie Sanders the shapeshifting zionist warmonger, same deal.

  17. I agree with most of the article, but Its asinine to lump Israel in with Turkey and KSA when they are coordinating militarily with the Russians in Syria, something that cannot be said about even Israel/Turkey.

    Also I don't think it is fair to say that shias are less extreme than sunnis. The jihadis among the shias are just as murderous and anti-west as sunni radicals.

  18. "obviously you're just some neo-con shill, and everyone here hates the neo-cons, so you'll be wasting your breath"

    The funny thing about that statement, besides the fact that you don't know the first thing about me and besides the fact that the more you talk about the Middle-East the more you display your ignorance, is that I do like to describe myself as a neo-con -- someone who used to be a liberal and was mugged by reality (as the best of the neo-cons were in the 60s.)

    Now on to your "responses" such as they were:

    1) "you just admitted that Israel supported Hamas in its early days" -- add reading comprehension to your skills that need work. I never said Israel supported Hamas -- I said the opposite, that Israel supported certain Islamic radicals that were at the time not a formal group or organized resistance to Israel but an interesting alternative to the PLO that Israel thought the Palestinians might look to as something to do instead of killing Jews (i.e. praying, helping the poor, etc.) Once it became clear just how radical the Islamists were, Israel pulled back and then later some of those Islamists went on to become Hamas -- note again what I'm saying -- they were not Hamas when Israel provided support.

    2) "Iran hasn't directly aggressed against anyone in the region for centuries -- they were invaded by Iraq and responded."

    Again, what are you smoking? Forget all the Jews in Lebanon and Israel and around the world (i.e. Argentina) killed thanks to Iranian support (of Hezbollah and Hamas - or is that somehow not aggression in your book?!?!) -- how about all the Americans killed by Iranians over the years!!! Dude, do some f'ing research -- have you heard of the Khobar Towers bombing? Did you not read what I said about Americans in Iraq (post Saddam)? The Iranians are killers and are just as sick as their Sunni radical friends.

    If you want to play the who is crazier game, how come all the Sunnis in Indonesia (or Malaysia) aren't really nuts? Or relatively peaceful places like Oman, Morocco, or Tunisia? Obviously other factors are in play besides 'Shia good, Sunni bad.' In my book, I'm wary of all Muslims, but that is a story for another day.

    3) As for fanatical Shias, you need to do some more reading about what exactly goes on in Iran and how the Shia clerics there think. For example, here is an excellent piece on Khamenei's efforts to censor works of art (classical Persian poetry and modern film):

    4) As for Iran's "respect" for minority rights, well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day (although it is worth noting that once again you display your ignorance of the region as you lump in Israel, a true representative republican democracy that respects individual political Arabic rights better than most of their Arabic neighbors.) Although, don't you dare be a Kurd or Christian or Jew or Azeri and criticize the ruling regime -- for all the good your political representation will do for you, most topics are off the table when it comes to real political debate.

    5) "You don't hear Iranian preachers brainwashing their followers to view all Sunnis as infidels who need to be invaded, converted, or killed if they resist."

    Except for the ones in Iraq, I guess not:

    Don't forget, Hadi al-Ameri, prefers to use power drills on his Sunni victims!

    So basically you don't know what you are talking about and need to do some more reading before spouting off more nonsense. Stick to your expertise -- figuring out just who in Hollywood is gay or not gay!!!

  19. Rick Johnsmeyer12/28/15, 8:26 AM

    "have you heard of the Khobar Towers bombing?"

    The one by the mythical "Saudi Hezbollah" that no one had heard of before nor has heard from since?

    Sounds legit...

  20. "Also I don't think it is fair to say that shias are less extreme than sunnis. The jihadis among the shias are just as murderous and anti-west as sunni radicals."

    Radicals are a larger fraction of Sunnis and Salafis dipshit.

    Swedes are no taller than Pygmies -- dwarves of all races are short. Moron.

  21. "The funny thing about that that I do like to describe myself as a neo-con"

    Bingo. Stopped reading there. Don't comment anymore, it'll be deleted.

  22. Jazi Zilber's comment here is very good. Media exaggerates some of Trump's statements, while ignoring things like Trump's well-articulated and sensible immigration policy.

    I gave up on trying to make broad generalizations about Shia versus Sunni. I don't think there are any characteristics (e.g. more or less violent) that can be consistently attributed to either. Salafis seem to be associated with KSA and jihadi extremism in western Europe, but that might be more of a news media generalization, shrug...

  23. classic post and congrats on getting Taleb to retweete it

  24. Interesting post.

    As much as we're supposed to hate the Iranians you really have to ask if they have ever even tried to be much of a threat to the US.

    Russia and Iran and Assad, or his dad, were never much of a threat to the US.

    We were supposed to believe that for the benefit of the US military industrial complex and Israel.

    Merkel and her types in Europe are a more long term threat to the US and Europe than Putin and Russia and obviously the Gulf Arabs and Saudi scum are more of a threat than the Iranian Shia.


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