The Knock-Down, Part 3: Certainty and Uncertainty
James Fallows, after Aurora, The Certainty of More Shootings:
“[T]he additional sad, horrifying, and appalling point is the shared American knowledge that, beyond any doubt, this will happen again, and that it will happen in America many, many times before it occurs anywhere else.”
Fellow Leaguester Jason Kuznicki, in his post Great Fact, Little Fact:
“Suppose I were to find a $100 bill on the street in Washington, DC. That’s an exceptionally rare event, but not an unwelcome one.
“Afterward I would not — I mean, not ever — think to have an Important Family Conversation about whether I should quit my job and devote more time to searching the gutters of our nation’s capital. I’d probably buy a bottle of champagne, or give the cash to malaria prevention, or maybe just put it in Alice’s college fund. I might consider finding the money’s owner, but I don’t seriously think I’d be able to. So there things would stand, just as they should.
“I would take what happened, not lose my composure, and recall the words of Chrysippus: “We must live according to the experience of what usually happens in nature.” And not by whatever grabs our monkey brains in a given moment.”
Yours truly, in my post The Knock-Down, Part 1:
“We are hit by a blast of wind, 40 or 50 knots I’d guess, and an instant INTEMPERANCE goes from sailing upright to horizontal, spreaders in the water, a 16,000lbs bluewater cruiser (with a 6,500lbs deep keel) laid on her side like a children’s toy caught by a summer zephyr.”
“[For a USCG Inspected Passenger Vessel] there’s a mathematically determined maximum sailplan, and that sailplan is not calculated against the sort of 5kts light-air days that had us putting up those big bright sails on INTEMPERANCE; the sailplan calculation is made to make sure the boat stays on her feet when she’s hit by the unexpected gust, or when (mis)handled by a skipper unfamiliar with her sailing characteristics.
“Or put another way, the Coast Guard is saying: Six pack is kind of a wild-west, seat of the pants designation. It puts most of the burden on the skipper to maintain his vessel and operate it properly, and on his paying customers to exercise their judgement about whether or not they should even step aboard in the first place. And whatever happens, people are only going to get killed six at a time.”
And me one more time in my post at The Atlantic, Making a Living in the Wake of the Pelican Disaster:
“By the time the PELICAN was towed back to Montauk later that night she was capsized and half-sunk. 45 of the 64 souls who departed on her that morning were dead, including her skipper.
“The Pelican Disaster* made national headlines. Life magazine covered the story, complete with photos of the half-sunk boat, the make-shift morgue needed to house so many dead, and grieving relatives.”
And of course, let’s not forget, my first boat, the sloop INTEMPERANCE was struck by lighting and burned. Just in case my point isn’t clear, outliers of luck are distressingly common. We tend not to notice, because when they occur, we shrug our shoulders and say things like “It’s like getting struck by lightning.”
Nassim Nicolas Talib’s Antifragile is divided into five books. I know this because I read about it here or there when the book came out.
Under the heading “Crimes Against Children” in Book One, Chapter 3, there is a section entitled “Touristification”. I know this because I got a copy of Antifragile for Christmas.
I have not read beyond the table of contents in Antifragile, but my thoughts on touristification are neatly captured by Bruce Brown at the conclusion of his master-work The Endless Summer. No YouTube clip is available, so I’ll synopsize.
The premise of The Endless Summer is that we follow two young surfers as they follow summer around the globe in the quest for surf. The actuality is that while they had a lot of adventures, they didn’t get that many days of great surf. Too many variables, too many unknowns. A lot of flat, windblown, mushy, or otherwise forgettable conditions.
And one unforgettable two hour session at a previously unknown break that altered the course of our entire culture.
Different people will have different interpretations, of course. Here’s mine:
Yes, it would be stupid to quit one’s job to go looking for hundred dollar bills lying in the street.
It is not stupid to have an Important Family Conversation about organizing one’s life and set-of-mind so as to be best able to avoid, deflect, absorb, or otherwise survive instances of extremely bad luck. And of course the converse too, and more. “Good” vs “Bad” is but one axis upon which we can chart statistical variance. Equally rare does not mean equally consequential. Danger, opportunity, and other novelties of fortune are all around us.