“Skin In The Game” Quotes

I recently read “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like the quotes, buy the book here.

“Hammurabi’s best known injunction is as follows: “If a builder builds a house and the house collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house – the builder shall be put to death.”” (17)

“The Golden Rule wants you to Treat others the way you would like them to treat you. The more robust Silver Rule says Do not treat others the way you would not like them to treat you. More robust? How? Why is the Silver Rule more robust?
First, it tells you to mind your own business and not decide what is “good” for others. We know with much more clarity what is bad than what is good.” (19)

“Rabbi Hillel the Elder drawing on Leviticus 19:18. “Do nothing to others which if done to you would cause you pain. This is the essence of morality.”” (19)

“Isocrates wrote, “Deal with weaker states as you think it appropriate for stronger states to deal with you.”” (20)

“Isocrates managed a rare dynamic version of the Golden Rule: “Conduct yourself toward your parents as you would have your children conduct themselves toward you.” … More effective, of course, is the reverse direction, to treat one’s children the way one wished to be treated by one’s parents.” (20)

“Yogi Berra said, “I go to other people’s funerals so they come to mine.”” (20)

“The general and the abstract tend to attract self righteous psychopaths.”) (21)

“The deep message of this book is the danger of universalism taken two or three steps too far – conflating the micro and the macro.” (21)

“Avoid taking advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice.” (23)

“You do not want to win an argument. You want to win.” (24)

“What matters in life isn’t how frequently one is “right” about outcomes, but how much one makes when one is right. Being wrong, when it is not costly, doesn’t count – in a way that’s similar to trial-and-error mechanisms of research.” (25)

“Every single person I know who has chronically failed in business shares that mental block, the failure to realize that if something stupid works (and makes money), it cannot be stupid.” (26)

“Things designed by people without skin in the game tend to grow in complication (before their final collapse).” (29)

“As a Spartan mother tells her departing son: “With it or on it,” meaning either return with your shield or don’t come back alive (the custom was to carry the dead body flat on it); only cowards throw away their shields to run faster.” (33)

“There is actually an argument in favor of duels: they prevent conflicts from engaging broader sets of people, that is, wars, by confining the problem to those with direct skin in the game.” (33)

“This form of entrepreneurship (selling the company or going public) is the equivalent of bringing great-looking and marketable children into the world with the sole aim of selling them at age four.” (36)

“People fail to realize that the principal thing you can learn from a professor is how to be a professor.” (38)

“It may be cruel to cheat people of their profession. People want ot have their soul in the game.” (39)

“If you can’t put your soul into something, give it up and leave that stuff to someone else.” (42)

“Whenever the “we” becomes too large a club, things degrade, and each one starts fighting for his own interest.” (59)

“A saying by the brothers Geoff and Vince Graham summarizes the ludicrousness of scale-free political universalism.
I am, at the Fed level, libertarian;
At the state level, Republican;
At the local level, Democrat;
And at the family and friends level, a socialist.” (61)

“No amount of advertising will match the credibility of a genuine user.” (63)

“Legend has it that three high-ranking delegations (bishops, rabbis, and sheikhs) cae to make the sales pitch. The Khazar lords asked the Christians: if you were forced to choose between Judaism and Islam, which one would you pick? Judaism, they replied. Then the lords asked the Muslims: which of the two, Christianity or Judaism? Judaism, the Muslims said. Judaism it was; and the tribe converted.” (77)

“Roman pagans were initially tolerant of Christians, as the tradition was to share gods with other members of the empire. But they wondered why these Nazarenes didn’t want to give and take gods and offer that Jesus fellow to the Roman pantheon in exchange for some other gods. What, our gods aren’t good enough for them? But Christians were intolerant of Roman paganism. The “persecution” of the Christians had vastly more to do with the intolerance of the Christians for the pantheon of local gods than the reverse. What we read is history written by the Christian side, not the Greco-Roman one.” (81)

“The more brilliant one’s mind, and the higher one’s ability to handle nuances and ambiguity. Purely monotheistic religions such as Protestant Christianity, Salafi Islam, or fundamentalist atheism accommodate literalist and mediocre minds that cannot handle ambiguity.”” (82)

“An intolerant minority can control and destroy democracy. Actually, it will eventually destroy our world. So, we need to be more than intolerant with some intolerant minorities. Simply, they violate the Silver Rule. TI is not permissible to use “American values” or “Western principles” in treating intolerant Salafism (which denies other peoples’ right to have their own religion). The west is currently in the process of committing suicide.” (84)

“Alexander said that it was preferable to have an army of sheep led by a lion than an army of lions led by a sheep.” (87)

“So far we have no fucking idea how the brain of the worm C. elegans works, which has around three hundred neurons. C. elegans was the first living unit to have its genes sequenced. Now consider that the human brain has about one hundred billion neurons, and that going from 300 to 301 neurons, because of the curse of dimensionality, may double the complexity. So the use of never here is appropriate.” (90)

“The dog boasts to the wolf all the contraptions of comfort and luxury he has, almost prompting the wolf to enlist. Until the wolf asks the dog about his collar and is terrified when he understands its use. “Of all your meals, I want nothing.” He ran away and is still running.
The question is: what would you like to be, a dog or a wolf?
The original Aramaic version had a wild ass, instead of a wolf, showing off his freedom. But the wild ass ends up eaten by the lion. Freedom entails risks – real skin the game. Freedom is never free.” (102)

“Whatever you do, just don’t be a dog claiming to be a wolf.” (103)

“What matters isn’t what the person has or doesn’t have; it is what he or she is afraid of losing.” (105)

“Cursing today is a status symbol, just as oligarchs in Moscow wear blue jeans at special events to signal their power.” (105)

“It is much easier to do business with the owner of the business than some employee who is likely to lose his job next year; likewise it is easier to trust the word of an autocrat than a fragile elected official.” (106)

“Jean de La Bruyere wrote that jealousy is to be found within the same art, talent, and condition.” (136)

“A good rule for society is to oblige those who start in public office to pledge never subsequently to earn from the private sector more than a set amount; the rest should go to the taxpayer. This will ensure sincerity in, literally, “service” – where employees are supposedly underpaid because of their emotional reward from serving society. It would prove that they are not in the public sector as an investment strategy.” (139)

“You can define a free person precisely as someone whose fate is not centrally or directly dependent on peer assessment.” (144)

“As an essayist, I am not judged by other writers, book editors, and book reviews, but by readers. Readers? Maybe, but wait a minute… not today’s readers. Only those of tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. So, my only real judge being time, it is the stability and robustness of the readership (that is, future readers) that counts.” (145)

“Being reviewed or assessed by others matters if and only if one is subjected to the judgement of future – not just present – others.” (145)

“Contemporary peers are valuable collaborators, not final judges.” (145)

“I learned to avoid honors and prizes partly because, given that they are awarded by the wrong judges, they are likely to hit you at the peak (you’d rather be ignore, or, better, disliked by the general media.)” (145)

“Showing off is reasonable; it is human. As long as the substance exceeds the showoff, you are fine.” (147)

“Consider the chief executive officers of corporations: they don’t just look the part, they even look the same. And, worse, when you listen to them talk, they sound the same, down to the same vocabulary and metaphors. But that’s their job: as I will keep reminding the reader, counter to the common belief, executives are different from entrepreneurs and are supposed to look like actors.” (156)

“What can be phrased and expressed in a clear narrative that convinces suckers will be a sucker trap.” (158)

“You can tell if a discipline is BS if the degree depends severly on the prestige of the school granting it.” (165)

“Journalists worry considerably more about the opinion of other journalists than the judgment of their readers. Compare this to a healthy system, say, that of restaurants. Restaurant owners worry about the opinion of their customers, not those of other restaurant owners, which keeps them in check and prevents the business from straying collectively away from its interests. Further, skin in the game creates diversity, not monoculture.” (181)

“If your private life conflicts with your intellectual opinion, it cancels your intellectual ideas, not your private life.” (185)

“Matthew 6:1-4, where the highest mitzvah is the one done secretly:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (186)

“Sticking up for truth when it is unpopular is far more of a virtue, because it costs you something – your reputation. If you are a journalist and act in a way that risks ostracism, you are virtuous. Some people only express their opinions as part of mob shaming, when it is safe to do so, and, in the bargain, think that they are displaying virtue. This is not virtue but vice, a mixture of bullying and cowardice.” (189)

“Reading a history book, without putting its events in perspective, offers a similar bias to reading an account of life in New York seen from an emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.” (195)

“Different people rarely mean the same thing when they say “religion,” nor do they realize it. For early Jews and Muslims, religion was law.” (199)

“For early Jews, religion was also tribal; for early Muslims, it was universal. For the Romans, religion was social events, rituals, and festivals.” (199)

“Religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and, to some extent Shiite Islam, evolved (or, rather, let their members evolve in developing a sophisticated society) precisely by moving away from the literal. The literal doesn’t leave any room for adaptation.” (202)

“Christians and Jews in practice were not too differentiated from other Semitic cult followers, and shared places of worship with one another.” (205)

“Priesthood was quite a lucrative position since in the pre-Christian, Greek-speaking Eastern Mediterranean, the offices of high priests were often auctioned off.” (206)

“Nobody in the Vatican seems to ever take chances by going first to the Lord, subsequently to the doctor, and, what is even more surprising, nobody seems to see a conflict with such inversion of the logical sequence.” (208)

“Most Christians, when it comes to central medical, ethical, and decision-making situations do not act any differently than atheists.” (210)

“Rationality resides in what you do, not in what you think or in what you “believe” (skin in the game), and rationality is about survival.” (210)

“It is therefore my opinion that religion exists to enforce tail risk management across generations, as its binary and unconditional rules are easy to teach and enforce. We have survived in spite of tail risks; our survival cannot be that random.” (217)

“If medicine is progressively improving your life expectancy, you need to be even more paranoid. Think dynamically. If you incur a tiny probability of ruin as a “one-off” risk, survive it, then do it again (another “one-off deal), you will eventually go bust with a probability of one hundred percent. Confusion arises because it may seem that if the “one-off” risk is reasonable, then an additional one is also reasonable. This can be quantified by recognizing that the probability of ruin approaches 1 as the number of exposures to individually small risks, say one in ten thousand, increases.” (227)

“One of the defects modern education and thinking introduces is the illusion that each one of us is a single unit. In fact, I’ve sampled niney people in seminars and asked them: “What’s the worst thing that can happen to you?” Eighty-eight people answered “my death.”
This can only be the worst-case situation for a psychopath. For after that, I asked those who deemed that their worst-case outcome was their own death: “Is your death plu sthat of your children, nephews, cousins, cats, dogs, parakeet, and hamster worse than just your death?” Invariably, yes. “Is your death plus your children, nephews, cousins (…) plus all of humanity worse than just your death?” Yes, of course. Then how can your death be the worst possible outcome/” (228)

“I have a finite shelf life, humanity should have an infinite duration.” (229)

“I am renewable, not humanity or the ecosystem.” (229)

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