Nassim Taleb on Living in the City vs. Country/Nature

On Facebook, he writes:

I have a question about true vs constructed preferences, wondering if some of my personal observations are general. Feel free to share your own.
Places held to be touristically either uninteresting or unattractive (or not particularly special) are associated in my personal memory with a lot better souvenirs than places held to be attractive. These “attractive” places evoke boredom (after the first contact and “wow! how beautiful” the scenery), rich farts, gold-diggers, Saudi “princes” in convertible Italian handmade sports cars, tourists being fleeced by locals, etc. This is easily conceivable based on habituation: inside a café, trapped in conversation, you forget that you are in West Philadelphia. Kahneman had a paper indicating that people who live in California are not really happier than those in the rest of the country, but don’t know it, and live under self-sustained myths. After a brief period, you treadmill to baseline. But as with people who are in California telling themselves that they have to be happier, because that’s the prevalent belief, we end up living in a postcard-like system of constructed preferences.
I agree that being exposed to natural beauty, once in a while, brings some aesthetic contentment, or episodic visits to the country bring some relief. And I accept that it is better to have some fractal dimension (trees, nature) in one’s permanent landscape. But I wonder if, for day-to-day life, one needs much more than ample sunlight and view of trees outside the window: beyond that, no postcard life can be a tradoff for absence of trusted and warm neighbors, plenty of relaxed friends, stimulating conversation, ability to walk places, and a consuming activity.
When I look into my personal raw preferences, I feel I prefer Brooklyn to the South of France, ugly West Philadelphia to the scenic Amherst (Mass), Milan to Florence, and Clerkenwell to Kensington. Question: Do we tend to follow the current culture as punishment?

(Hat tip: Ted Gonder)

6 comments on “Nassim Taleb on Living in the City vs. Country/Nature
  • “no postcard life can be a tradoff for…” They are not necessarily mutually exclusive (said the kid from coastal California).

    How much of the is just tourist avoidance?

    I don’t like ‘happiness’’s too broad and carries behavioral implications such that one should be able to determine someone’s degree of ‘happiness’ by quick observation. I prefer ‘contentment’ or perhaps a word that means ‘feels like you belong there’. A small city with a walkable downtown is nice..especially one with killer scenery (okay, and few tourists). Does such a place exist? Like I’m gonna tell.

  • You need to live in the beautiful parts of England , that would change your veiw. Nothing more for me to add.

  • Well first I need to say that history matters. And a great way to learn what it is like in foreign country is to dive in and observe. There is a time when you will feel like you have learned everything and you will feel bored. If you endure you will be recognized in their culture that you are one of them not just a tourist or visitor. Then viewpoint of the other person and you can be exchanged, without a (mental) barrier. When view points are exchanged you understand that the more you understand the more unanswered questions you have, some of which get answered. It is like a balloon. It takes some thing to start the curiosity, a spark. And the balloon of understanding gets bigger and even more remains unknown.
    I can remember sitting in geography with a textbook filled with a very specific and narrow view point on other countries and cultures. It was boring and felt like a waste of time often. The book was not bad it just did no offer a relationship and it made cultures look like they were “made out of cardboard”,easy to understand, and give students a stereotype to associate different parts of the world with.
    That is why going to places with people and history matters. The people in those areas have a way of life and this helps us not be judgmental of a specific group of people.
    And secondly education should not be all papers and not experience. Cal Poly’s motto “learn by doing” is important and not recognized. It is a whole ‘nother thing to look over the ruins of ancient Greece and see how powerful and expansive they were, instead of reading for example “The ancient Greek civilization was strong and larger than most other countries during the Hellenistic period.” Too see something in real size is amazing!!!! For example the Colosseum in Rome can be in a book in a small picture, but students will not remember that as easily as they experienced themselves in person.

    Ben Overton
    Just finnished reading “My startup life”

  • Imagine If people did not live in the city at all people would produce their own crops and ideas would take a long lime to spread. And publishing a book would take a very long time. Plus technology is connected to the city. Spread people out evenly and technology fades. citys have a center. But if everybody is spread out evenly there is no center. Because people would be like this.
    . . . .
    . . .
    . . . .
    . . .
    ect. (people are dots)
    even physiologically we need a “center” a man feels useless unless he identifies himself with something (ex: explorer-exploring, dreamer-dreaming, speaker-speaking, and yes, robber-robbing) or religion/goal in life.
    Cities and Countryside with their ways of life are equally important and depend on each other. Much like Ant- fungus mutualism in the Amazon forest. see here
    That is my argument.

  • I respect Nassim Taleb for his iconoclasm and the fact that he allows “no finance (or similarly depraved topics), and no journalists—only fun people” on his Facebook. Also, that his interests are Lebanese wine and writing desks.

    I would say that these obeservations of his quoted above are wack, and certainly not general, and I don’t think even he believes this nonsense—it’s just something he tossed out there, probably drunk or stoned or both.

  • To Be or not To Be ?

    Shakespeare would say , ” That is the question ”

    For Federal Reserve Board of Revenue ( Pakistan ) , that question was ,

    ” What to publish ? And what not to publish ? ”

    It seems , in Pakistan , only 1 million people [ out of a population of 140 million ] , pay income tax

    Finally , the Board published the names of those 1 million ( running into a 17,000 page directory ) , with the amount of tax paid by each

    To give to Pakistan , a loan of $ 6.7 billion ( approx Rs 41* Thousand * Crores ) , the International Monetary Fund ( IMF ) , insisted on such a publication

    Now , in India , we have 40 million people who pay personal income tax ( out of a population of approx 1220 million )

    Obviously , for India’s Income Tax Department , it would be an impossible task to publish their names in a directory – which could possibly run into 17,000*40 pages !

    Then again , India has no need for an IMF loan , what with its Personal Income Tax revenue amounting to , Rs 2.47*Lakh*Crores

    And if the incoming government at the Centre , dares to implement my suggestion of INVERSE TAXATION regime , that revenue could go up 100 times !

    Simply , ” Inverse ” the tax slabs as follows :

    > Up to Rs 2 lakhs………………… NIL
    > 2.1 – 5.0 lakhs…………………. 10 %
    > 5.1 – 10 lakhs………………….. 8 %
    > 10.1 – 20 lakhs…………………. 6 %
    > 20.1 – 50 lakhs………………… 5 %
    > 50.1 – 100 lakhs………………… 3 %
    > Above 100 lakhs…………………. 1 %

    What is likely to happen with such ” INVERSE TAXATION ” regime ?

    Following few things :

    > Total personal tax payer base will go up dramatically from current 4
    crores tax-payers

    > Total personal tax collection too , will rise dramatically

    > with this ” INVERSE TAX REGIME ” , there will be no incentive to evade
    taxes and to generate ” BLACK MONEY ”

    > There will be no resistance to accept ALL payments by cheque / electronic
    clearance !

    > The more you disclose as your income , the less you pay by way of taxes
    ( Of course , incrementally )

    > For a change , we will learn to reward honesty / efficiency / productivity !
    No need to bribe those Income Tax officers !

    > Lakhs of crores of BLACK MONEY , stashed away in bank
    lockers / gold / land – and , of course those Swiss bank accounts – will ,
    become ” WHITE MONEY ” , overnight !

    > There will be a huge surge in bank deposits ( – even with , the inevitable
    lower interest rates )

    > Banks will be awash with funds to finance businesses / infrastructure
    projects etc , encouraging entrepreneurs / self-employed to set up new
    businesses ( at 2 % interest rates of loans ) and generate millions of jobs

    > There will be a phenomenal rise in Capital Markets

    Only questions worth debating are :

    > To innovate or not ?

    > To think out-of-the-box or not ?

    > To feed poor or to teach them how to fish ?

    > To enable people to earn more or to subsidize their expenditure ?

    > To let people stand on their own legs or continue “Dependency Culture” ?

    > What is possible ? To reverse the human greed or try and harness it ?

    * hemen parekh ( 18 April 2014 / Mumbai )

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