Skin in the Game: main ideas and review

Silver rule over the golden rule

Taleb established that the silver rule is more ethical than the golden rule, i.e.

“do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you” rather than

“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

I think it is rather obvious that avoiding injustice is more robust than trying to pursue justice because not even the most well-intentioned and intelligent know what harm they could do as an n-th order consequence of their pursuits.

In opinion, it’s for the same reason why doctors try to do no harm rather than to make people healthy.

“Pseudoleftist caviar eaters”

Taleb has been on Twitter a lot, and by god, he didn’t just take the red pill, he took the whole box. He used the terms “social justice warrior”, “white knight”, etc to talk about people who signal their generosity of spirit without being exposed to the consequences of that which they advocate. Next, he will be on Alex Jones. 

He implied that the very prominence of Bernie Sanders is a testament to how unequal the Unites States became under the preceding presidency. He also brought up some jaw-dropping statistics about the dynamics of (in)equality: a large portion of the US population will be among the richest at some point in their lives, unlike in Europe where, if you are rich, you’ve been rich since the middle ages.


Taleb exposed a very interesting feature of atheism while calling it a “monotheistic religion”. I think what he was getting at is that pagan religions are inherently pluralist. There is a kind of competition between the gods, whereas monotheistic religions involve an absolute as, one could argue, does atheism (but not agnosticism).


Taleb spoke about not being comfortable to get naturalised in France, as he was entitled, as he wasn’t part of the culture (but would have been on with a Greek or Cypriot passport). He admitted to wanting to accept the honorary degree from a Lebanese university as an exception.

He backed the United States’ policy of making its citizens pay tax on all their income obtained elsewhere, to the United States. He endorsed a certain amount of protectionism.

This is a stark change from his stance in the now 11 year old The Black Swan.


He spoke once again about the benefits of decentralisation, the damage caused by regulation, etc. He mentioned the paradox of tolerating intolerance under a democratic system, but, in my view, didn’t address it properly.

He compared entrepreneurs to wolves and employees to dogs and argued that freedom always involves risk.

In a strange, conflicted way, he portrayed autocrats as entrepreneurs: it is easier to deal with a business owner (autocrat) than an employee (elected representative held accountable by committees and the media) when trying to make a deal.

Genetics vs language

Taleb argues that when it comes to language, the one that suits the most intransigent group and doesn’t inconvenience the majority becomes the lingua franca. Another example of this process is that a lot of schools don’t allow peanuts, or why commonly available juice is being labeled as kosher. He calls this the minority rule.

His argument about genetics is the opposite, the majority rule, as in the genetics of certain populations remain the same despite invasions.

I am not so sure he is right because what you find studying non-autosomal genetics (Y chromosomes and mitochondria) is that a version of the minority rule applies. It’s the same mechanism as why surnames die out and in theory, as time goes to infinity, we will all end up with the same surname.

Does Taleb have skin in the game?

Taleb denounces as charlatans the people who give advice without being held accountable for it. He feels that a life coach can only teach you to be a life coach and a professor can only teach you to be a professor. Does it follow that Taleb can only impart the knowledge on how to be a contrarian writer?

What skin does he have in the game? Reputation? Family? So do politicians, who he argues aren’t exposed to the consequences of their actions. He has long left his area of risk management and moved on to cultural, political and economic issues. I guess he is a successful practitioner of risk, a man who lived an interesting life and an erudite. He doesn’t impose his policies and regulations onto people. He does seem to have soul in the game as there appears to be consistency and integrity in his writing. It seems that he is doing it for posterity. Through his f*** you money, as he calls it, I think he has to an extent isolated his skin from the game. He seems to think this is freedom.

Should you read it?

If you are going to read just one book by Taleb, I recommend Fooled by Randomness. Otherwise, yes. You can get it on Amazon.

14 thoughts on “Skin in the Game: main ideas and review”

      1. Martina, think etymology: a-theism. Look at the linguistic distortion needed to make non belief into another kind of belief while ignoring the theistic portion, the belief in a divine being or beings portion, altogether that is required to justify this anti-rational idea to miscast atheism as another kind of theism.

        This is the worst kind of Post Modern thinking, abusing the language to suit an ideology.

        That’s why I say quite truthfully that to claim atheism as a kind of religion requires broken thinking, requires we leave the common language based on mutually understood meaning, and enter a Twilight Zone of groupthink in order to frame something to be similar in language (and therefore equivalent in meaning) to something completely antithetical to the actual meaning of that something contained in that language. It’s like saying a non fish – say, a bicycle – is actually another kind of fish.

        No, it’s not! It’s not equivalent in meaning if the term ‘fish’ is to maintain it’s original and commonly understood meaning!

        This Post Modern abuse of the language in the ‘atheism-is-actually-another-kind-of-religion’ is so absurd in meaning that it astounds me that otherwise reasonable and rational people go along with the obvious perversion game, the obvious distortion, the obvious miscasting, the obvious dishonesty, the obvious deceit, and become a kind of apologist for those who continue to promote all of this Post Modern drivel as a means to justify an obviously inaccurate ideology of that does nothing but promote and obvious false equivalency.

        In other words, the claim from which any author of any stature must use to present the obvious false equivalency needed for atheism to be seen as another kind of religion is so wrong that it isn’t even wrong. It’s an intentional lie for a purpose other than knowledge, other than respecting what’s true, other than communicating clearly and honestly.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t think that it is meant as literally as you are taking it. I believe that the crux of what he is saying is that for all their rationality and denial of the supernatural, some atheists behave in a way that is frighteningly, ironically similar to some religious people in the very ways it is meant to be different. It’s not post modernist double speak, it’s satire.


      3. That’s more than a stretch-and-a-half of the truth.

        I don’t know a single atheist who fits that description (online, in person, or author), although I know of hundreds of theists and “I’m-an-atheist, but…” (people popularly know as ‘Buttters’) who go along with this made-up notion that atheism contains content. It doesn’t. It has no basic principles, no fundamental tenets, no shared ideology, simply an admission that one does not believe in gods or a god. That’s it. That’s the sum total of the ‘admission requirements’ into atheism. An empty set. Anyone who tries to tell you differently does so for reasons other than speaking honestly and truthfully and demonstrates thinking that pays no attention to what’s true or is the case. It is meant solely to smear non believers.

        So what is commonly done as an apologetic smear tactic against atheists (to maintain the fiction of a false equivalency between ‘adherents’ of atheism and theism) is to claim (as you do here) that some atheists are as passionate about criticizing in public the perniciousness of acting on faith-based beliefs as those who evangelize for others to act on religious ideas, that the similarity in motivation is equivalent in fanaticism and zeal…. all patently false assertions… unless you want to describe respecting what’s true and knowable supported by good reasons – as well as arriving at beliefs from adduced evidence and likelihood rather than assuming certainty of a starting belief founded only on faith – as equivalently ‘extreme’ and ‘fringe’. That’s PoMo thinking, making the language similar but with dishonest meaning built on deceit, distortions, and lies.

        Sure, you can excuse it as ‘satire’ rather than what it is – a gross distortion to serve an ideology in order to smear its adversaries – but it is still a false equivalency built by abusing the language, assaulting our common meaning, and done with the goal to pretend the equivalency is actually true on a deeper level. That’s the southern product of the north facing bull because it pays no attention to what is true because, after all, what is true is purely subjective. And that’s the toxic rot at the heart of this kind of PoMo thinking.


      4. …”respecting what’s true and knowable supported by good reasons”. The Red terror wasn’t for good reason. It was done by atheists. (And it was like the religiously motivated Spanish Inquisition, on steroids.) The point isn’t who is better or right or whatever, atheists or the God-squad (a term I learn this week), but rather that both are tribal and fall into an ideology whether they have the insight to admit it or not (because they are human). DWF explains it better than I could


      5. There are many reasons why crusades, Spanish Inquisition, etc happen – among them religion. Bolsheviks were all atheist. The red terror was for the express purpose of wiping out people of a different ideology. The red terror specifically targeted the clergy (among other groups). It is possible that you don’t consider the Spanish Inquisition an expression of Catholicism. If so, it would be consistent to say that the red terror isn’t related to atheism.


      6. Atheism was not the motivation. The motivation was to eliminate the competition – any competition – to gaining absolute political power. This is true of any totalitarian leader’s quest for absolute power. The model to follow is the religious one, the imposition of absolute submission to the will of the Dear Leader. Sure, of course the priestly caste was targeted but you buy the lie that atheism ’caused’ it. No, non belief in gods or a god did not motivate communists to cause the Red terror any more than non belief caused Hitler to make an Accordant with the Vatican. The targets wer those who had some level of competitive power including atheists.

        You know that Stalin was trained as a priest, right? That Hitler was a good Catholic. Their religious training did not cause their totalitarian rise to absolute power but neither did any supposed lack of belief in gods or a god motivate them anymore than not believing in Krishna or Quetzalcoatl motivates you to go forth and pillage or covet your neighbour’s slaves`. The idea that non belief is a motivator is so absurd that it’s laughable. But, unfortunately the widespread belief that is does just this is really a testament to the power of piety in spite of and contrary to what is actually the case. And that’s why I bother to write these comments; if I don’t, who will stand up for what is true?


      7. David Wallace Foster is doing exactly what I accuse those of doing who utilize typical Post Modern abuse of the language… in this case the term ‘worship’ – in order to maintain a false equivalency that atheism contains content. I keep telling you it doesn’t other than a term to describe a state of having no belief in gods or a god. To get around this fact, this inconvenient truth, look at how other terms have to be introduced – terms like ‘worship’ – to build the false equivalency.

        Worship (OED): mass noun
        1. The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.
        1.1 Religious rites or ceremonies, constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity.
        1.2 Great admiration or devotion shown towards a person or principle.
        1.3 archaic Honour given to someone in recognition of their merit.

        The false equivalency is to take a later meaning, such as an admiration for a principle, and equating it with another meaning used in its religious context and calling the two the same but slightly different ‘kinds’. This is the Post Modern ploy. And it’s intentional to distort what is true to serve what is wanted, to sell a false equivalency, to sell this idea that even opposites are just slightly different kinds of the same thing. This is the dishonesty.

        We are not talking about the same kind of worship, are we? But this is EXACTLY what such drivel entails, calling the later definition just another ‘kind’ of the former. This is utter bullshit because it is intentionally deceptive, an intentional means to try to make ‘up’ seem to be another kind of ‘down’, ‘black’ to be another kind of ‘white’, non belief to be another kind of belief.

        No. This is torturing the language to suit an ideology that rationalizes anything because everything is magically equivalent… including opposing truths, opposing facts, opposing principles, opposing methods.

        Look, you can prove this lack of content regarding atheism to yourself. Please name the fundamental principles of atheism that are ‘worshiped’ like the religious worship a deity, show us this common idea without which atheism collapses for lack of some essential content. Tell me of its common rituals, its common ceremonies. How is reverence to these shown? Go ahead… think long and hard if you really need to but I’m telling you right now there is nothing there other than a common dismissal of belief in gods or a god. That, and that alone, is what defines atheism. It’s a negative term only in context to theism and nothing else, the state of belief in a god or gods. It’s a denial, a negation. It’s not something that has any similar but different kind of content, and you know this by the etymology alone… an etymology you have to avoid to start making the kinds of claims about equivalencies with ideas that DO have positive content, that do make claims about cause and effect in this world, that do claim matter-affecting agencies. There can be no equivalency unless… and here’ my point… unless you – not some band of roving atheists – import to the term whatever you need to import to try to reshape it into something it’s not: a different kind of religious belief, a non belief belief, if you follow the PoMo guide. And, really, how can that make any stand alone sense?

        It’s very difficult to motivate people to kill others for a common cause that has no common content, no common ideals, no common principles, no common tenets, no common ideology. But it’s OH-SO-EASY to smear non believers with this equivalency brush and pass on the lie that atheism also ’causes’ certain highly prejudicial behaviours even though with a modicum of research one will find exactly zero evidence in this assumption’s favour but all kinds of references as if it were true. Where’s that coming from? Zero evidence. And this should tell you something important about why anyone might believe it anyway. Can you hear the echo of ‘faith’ lurking about?


      8. On a theoretical level, I completely understand where you are coming from and I don’t reject it. But then there is real life. Some people who feel the need to identify as atheist (but not agnostic) belong to the tribe who love everything Richard Dawkins, Steven Fry, etc have say. They follow certain political beliefs, etc. There is an identifiable tribe out there with certain beliefs, so in common usage the term atheist is associated with certain beliefs. That has nothing to do with the theoretical concept you speak of, just a subculture of garden variety “atheists”.

        I don’t buy into PoMo, as you call it. My reason to engage in satire about atheism is that I’ve seen that tribe who believe Dawkins like the Catholics believe the Pope. Maybe they aren’t “true atheists”, I don’t know. I don’t judge either, by the way.

        Plus, from what I have seen, all people I know well, especially under strain, have a tendency to believe something that is so similar to a god that it may as well be a god. Perhaps you feel that this is PoMo, but to me, it’s just cutting through terminology to understand the nature of things.


  1. I am sure the Synod of Constantine got Jesus’ message wrong: “Do onto others as you would have them to onto you” implies that my wife should cook me fish, which she loves and I hate. She follows the true message, which is to keep fish off the table unless I am eating elsewhere.
    Though I was a bit young at the time, I remember Jesus saying, “Do onto others as you know they want having done onto them.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How we define with a ‘rule’ the biologically inherited notion of reciprocity isn’t really the point; that we come fully equipped to understand reciprocity in terms of context is. And we know this particular version of the reciprocity ‘rule’ far, far predates its scriptural reference.


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