#135 – Skin In The Game, Nassim Nicolas Taleb BOOK REVIEW

December 31, 2018
krauserpua

Skin In The Game

Back in 1997, when I was completing my Master’s degree, I was assigned a supervisor for my thesis. The department considered me quite a shining talent so they assigned me their best Professor, a rising academic star who wrote a lot on science in society – Sokal’s hoax, scientody vs scientism, the End Of Science, that kind of thing. He was on odd bird. He was some kind of Yank – an American or Canadian, I forget which – who was really into jogging. We students would see him out in his soyboy training gear pounding the streets and displaying the typical jogging-enthusiast’s body, which looks like a cross between an AIDs victim and Jordan Peterson. My professor would then lock himself in his office and refuse to answer the door without an appointment. There was a note on his door that if we wanted his attention we had to email.

It was all very odd, but I remember being extremely impressed with his intellect. He was very smart indeed and quite an inspiration in our weekly thesis chats. One moment in particular stood out. He was inquiring into my intellectual basis for the thesis and I made a comment about “following Popper.”

“God no! You don’t want to be known as a follower. That’s death in academia. Be your own man.”

That was very good advice and it stuck with me. I am highly reluctant to consider myself a follower of anyone – much less describe myself as such publicly – and any time I notice myself agreeing with one man too much I take stock and try to objectively ask myself: am I becoming a fanboy? This advice stuck with me in my Game journey in which I try to give credit to those I learned from (e.g. Mystery, 60 Years Of Challenge) while not riding their nutsacks. Sometimes I overdo it in the opposite direction, failing to give credit where it’s due. The attitude imbued by this professor was also handy in resisting attempts by gurus to make me their acolyte, and of acolytes trying to make me their guru. I was recently asked about this, to which I quipped:

‘I despise both gurus and acolytes. To me they are just pitchers and catchers in bum sex.’

This is why I despise PUA coaches positioning themselves as gurus, as I do similar charlatans in self-help, business advice, and fitness training. It’s quite possible to transmit your expertise to learners without forcing them into a twisted servile role. It’s why I call my blog regulars and book customers Krausermaniacs ‘readers’ not ‘fans’. It’s why I resisted the Jordan Peterson bandwagon before I really knew what was crooked about him. Don’t be a follower.

Julien-Blanc-Tyler-Durden

Smart guys, but they want you to be a follower

I bring this up because Nassim Nicolas Taleb is a writer I find it very hard to disagree with, which makes me constantly wonder if I’m slipping into a follower position with him. Surely there’s something he says I don’t like? Well, I thought Black Swan was badly written and showed all the signs of a full-of-himself intellectual unwilling to accept a strong-minded editor [1]. It was like Guns’n’Roses second album. But clearly Taleb overcame this bad habit because Skin In The Game is exceptionally clear and very lean in structure. There’s barely a whiff of intellectual bloat in it. And I like that.

One reason I like Skin In The Game so much is that it directly ports over into daygame. Almost every page has some point where I either thought, “that could apply to picking up girls” or, “yeah, I’d already figured that out from picking up girls.” The line between the two is blurred. On the one hand, I found nothing in Skin In The Game that I didn’t already know (much of it is in Daygame Infinite and Daygame Mastery) and on the other Taleb was able to streamline and parse those ideas so much more elegantly than I had, and provide a more convincing justification. Which brought me back to the whole follower thing: was I flattering myself that I’d already figured out all of Taleb’s ideas before reading Skin In The Game because I feared the alternative of agreeing with everything he said and turning myself into a fanboy. I don’t know. Perhaps I should outline some of those ideas.

Taleb

Taleb dead-lifting

Taleb is kind enough to structure the book where he explains everything in the beginning and then dedicates the rest of the text to proving each point. At the very beginning he explains his topic thus:

Skin In The Game is about four topics in one: a) uncertainty and the reliability of knowledge (both practical and scientific, assuming there is a difference), or in less polite words bullshit detection, b) symmetry in human affairs, that is, fairness, justice, responsibility, and reciprocity, c) information sharing in transactions, and d) rationality in complex systems and in the real world. That these four cannot be disentangled is something that is obvious when one has… skin in the game.

The very alert among you will already be drawing daygame parallels. Daygame is a fundamentally uncertain activity where much of the data is obscure yet you must discern patterns upon which to base behaviour, and spot when you are being bullshitted both by gurus and by girls in set. There is symmetry in your seductive interaction and ‘getting to know each other’ involves principles of information sharing as personalities, as goal-oriented actors, and of the process of seduction itself. We are of course intimately aware that we are employing our strategies in a complex system in the real world. Believe me, as you read Taleb explicate each principle, the connections to our fair sport only get stronger and clearer.

For example, Taleb makes much hay in investigating the difference between ivory tower theory and practical knowledge, principally by comparing his hero Fat Tony the market trader with intellectuals like Paul Krugman. We daygamers get a similar thing with the ivory tower “science” of seduction carried out in university post-graduate departments and our own direct knowledge of the street, the cafe, the bar, and the bedroom. It takes a certain number of lays before you feel confident hand-waving away all those idiot researchers. Taleb provides the intellectual justification for prioritising the Fat Jimmy Eddie Krauser Tony’s of the pick-up world over the armchair philosophers of the internet and daytime talk shows.

‘in academia there is no difference between academia and the real world; in the real world, there is’

‘Don’t tell me what you “think”, just tell me what’s in your portfolio’

Back in my early boxing days my coach once said to me, “the only way to get good at slipping right hands is to keep getting hit with them.” All of the alive martial arts [2] are built on a foundation of skin in the game: sparring, and eventually fighting. The dead martial arts [3] insulate the students from the consequences of their unrealistic training, to create paper dragons. We daygamers have the same ‘liveness’ in our learning: the constant contact with success and failure on the streets and the skin in the game of trying to get laid.

PROD-David-Jason-as-Derek-Del-Boy-Trotter

More qualified than any economist

Taleb goes into the moral dimension frequently, such as his discussion of information sharing. We daygamers have a vast amount of information about the seduction process, far more than a girl can reasonably expect us to have. We are also trained in how much information we parcel out to her while she’s making her decision – e.g. do we tell r-select stories or K-select stories on the date – so there is an inescapable moral dimension to our skirt-chasing. Are we deliberately withholding or slanting information to mislead? Are we trying a bait-and-switch? Are we wilfully allowing her to persist in a misunderstanding about our intentions based on her being a normie and expecting us to have normie ideas about what the dating means?

‘someone with a high public presence who is controversial and takes risks for his opinion is less likely to be a bullshit vendor’

I especially liked Taleb’s conception of soul in the game and how other people can spot it. It’s approaching Pressman’s War Of Art distinction between a real writer and a hack writer from a different angle to the same result: the real writer feels the muse flowing through him and cares to authentically craft his work, whereas the hack looks to the market for what will sell and then panders to that. Readers can usually spot a hack [4]. You know when someone’s heart isn’t in it. Taleb has little time for ‘professional researchers’, those who make a career of researching an idea rather than first making a career of the thing, and coming to research it later based upon an intimate lived daily-experience of the thing.

It’s why politicians used to be selected by their constituency, usually eminent men who’d already made a local reputation in business. It was only after succeeding at life and demonstrating a track record to their fellows that these men were raised – elected – to a position of political leadership. The Party system destroyed all that. Now, a politician takes the route of being a student activist and council-member, then interns for a politician, and then rises in the ranks within a Party by demonstrating slavish adherence to their creed. They then get selected by the Party to be a candidate and helicopter dropped onto a local constituency.

So, modern politicians have no real-world competence, are adversely-selected for the most craven greasy-pole-climbers, and are completely beholden to the Party for a job. What a surprise they are all traitors. Donald Trump has been so successful because he was like the old model – he had soul in the game and everyone recognised it [5]

I wish I’d reviewed Skin In The Game back in August when I read it and all Taleb’s ideas were fresh, so I could really dive deep into the relationship between it and daygame. It’s an excellent book and provides a solid intellectual background to what we daygamers do. You can think of it as the meta-level upon which the principles of Daygame Infinite rest. It’s very pleasing to know that the world’s #1 public intellectual’s latest book is telling us we are doing it the right way. I absolutely intend to re-read this and pull as much value out as I can, once my pace of reading slows down next year.

But Taleb’s book doesn’t actually tell you how to bang hotties. You’ll need Daygame Mastery, Daygame Infinite and Daygame Overkill for that. Check them out here.

Final Cover

Daygame Infinite interior hardback 1

[1] Unlike his book immediately before it, Fooled By Randomness, which was tightly and cleanly written.
[2] Boxing, wrestling, BJJ, kickboxing, judo
[3] Karate, TKD, ninjutsu, akido, dim mak, kung fu
[4] I’m not so sure about customers of PUA products, mind.
[5] And in the case of globalists and NPCs, feared it.

3 Comments

  1. Seems daygame illustrates the difference between “theoria” and “praxis” quite well (the latter of which leads to “phronesis”, or practical wisdom)

    You could also cross-reference this to other domains, like German military doctrine. Of the 4 four elements of Blitzkrieg, “Fingerspitzengefuhl” (or expert intuition as it’s called today) might be the most important to actually making plans work.

    Being an businessman, I can tell you the same. Business theory is either 1) completely obvious and not something I need to read (ie “sales is the key to profits”) or 2) complete keyboard jockeying with no connection to reality.

    There is a rare category of theory that actually makes sense and adds something to the mix. That would be akin to Lyoto Machida’s karate or Yair Rodriguez’ TKD kicking I suppose. And that’s what I’m always searching after, that rare gem of abstract insight that I can actually put to use to give me an edge.

    “It’s why politicians used to be selected by their constituency, usually eminent men who’d already made a local reputation in business. It was only after succeeding at life and demonstrating a track record to their fellows that these men were raised – elected – to a position of political leadership.”

    Yes. Either we should select people based on their ethos (character, pro-social track record, skin in the game, etc) – ie full embrace of human tribal nature – or we should go full technocracy and use some AI algorithm (or hand-picked Mentats) to make decisions based on logic alone. This compromise with mid-wit career politicians pretending to care strikes me as fundamentally inadequate to produce good policy – there is neither heart nor intellect at work. [You’ve been posting some interesting thoughts lately. Keep it up! K.]

  2. >>One reason I like Skin In The Game so much is that it directly ports over into daygame. Almost every page has some point where I either thought, “that could apply to picking up girls” or, “yeah, I’d already figured that out from picking up girls.” The line between the two is blurred.

    You are not the only one: https://theredquest.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/skin-in-the-game-marriage-the-red-pill

  3. An excellent book….I particularly liked the section on how intransigent minorities impose their ideas on a complacent majority.
    You might like his Commencement speech to the American University of Beirut in 2017 here at :
    http://fooledbyrandomness.com/AUBCommencement.pdf

    Cheers !

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