Black Swan Tribal Gathering

“We love imperfection, the right kind of imperfection; we pay up for original art and typo-laden first editions.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010)

Fullscreen capture 2015-08-22 74816 AM“What do all these people have in common?”—that’s the question Jean-Louis Rheault asked on the first day of this year’s tribal gathering. It’s an excellent question. But no one seemed to have an answer. Not even a theory. We were all thoroughly perplexed. Perhaps this is why Jean-Louis’s question hung over The Tribe—all weekend long—like that magical moving cloud described in The Book of Exodus: it was there, above us, at the Bitcoin Embassy, on the Mountain, in the Greek Restaurant, at the Tam-Tams, in The Wiggle Room, and everywhere else. It hung above that amazing Lebanese food we ate on Friday night, just as it hung, the morning after, above that phenomenal coffee Corey Law brought to Montreal from his organic farm in Hawaii.

The most obvious answer to Jean-Louis’s question is the one that’s most obviously wrong: Nassim Nicholas Taleb isn’t what we have in common. Although his writings and social media presence brought us together, they’re clearly not what’s kept us together. As many remarked throughout the weekend, Nassim wasn’t treated with any kind of special deference—and, so far as I can tell, that’s exactly how he likes things to be. Unlike Nassim-the-Bad-Ass-Public-Intellectual and Nassim-the-Fire-Breathing-Slayer-of-Dragons, Nassim the man is, in person, remarkably unassuming, sweet, self-effacing, thoughtful, kind, generous, forgiving, and, at times, somewhat shy, quiet, introverted, preoccupied, and dreamy. Regardless, I’m sure everyone would agree that Nassim was really just “one of the guys” this past weekend—as much at the center of the festivities as anyone else.

Which is why we’re left with Jean-Louis’s question: What do the members of this remarkably diverse group of people—from all walks of life, who subscribe to wildly divergent ideas about politics, religion, and the good life—have in common? It took a few days, but I think Aaron Elliott and I have, albeit inadvertently, come up with an answer, and it’s this: vulnerability. If there’s one thing that seems to unite us, it’s that we all seem to be, as Aaron put it, “at ease with the idea that each of us has both great strengths and great weaknesses . . . that we don’t need to be omni-capable.” I believe that there are two reasons for this comfort with vulnerability: the first is a function of philosophical practice in general, whilst the second is more particularly a function of Taleb’s lived example.

Real philosophy—understood, as Pierre Hadot understood it, as a way of life, as opposed to an academic discipline—teaches you how to get comfortable with your own incompleteness, your own vulnerability, your mortality, your ignorance; it makes you viscerally aware of how much you need other people for help and wisdom. And, whether we realize it or not, what we’re doing each and every day in this community—this tribe—is, at bottom, philosophy.

The second and more particular reason for this comfort with vulnerability is a function of Taleb himself: because he doesn’t for a second pretend to be perfect, all-knowing, or, as Aaron put it, omni-capable. Nassim is obviously (and often endearingly) flawed, moody, incomplete, and human, all-too-human (to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase); and yet, at one and the same time, he’s brilliant, insightful, and wise. This humane mixture of unmistakable greatness and glaring imperfection is, I believe, key to the salutary nature of his lived example—viz., the fact that he’s so open about his own strengths and weaknesses makes it easier for everyone else in his orbit to be unapologetically flawed and incomplete too.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2nd edition)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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