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The Thanksgiving Turkey: Victim of a Black Swan

Mac Slavo
November 26th, 2009
Comments (7) Read by 977 people

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The Black Swan Theory is used by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain the existence and occurrence of high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations. One example often put forth by Taleb is the life and times of the Thanksgiving Turkey.

The turkey spends the majority of its life enjoying daily feedings from a caring farmer. Weeks go by, and its the same thing, day in, day out, for the Turkey. The thinking turkey may even surmise that the farmer has a vested interest in keeping the turkey alive. For the turkey, it is a symbiotic relationship. “The farmer feeds me and keeps me happy, and I keep the farmer happy,” says the turkey. “The farmer needs me, otherwise, why would he be taking care of me.”

And this goes on for years.

Then, one day, out of the blue, the farmer shows up with a knife, grabs the turkey, and slices its throat.

This is a black swan event — for the turkey. By definition, it is a high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event for the turkey who not only never saw it coming, but never even contemplated the possibility that it could occur.

For the farmer, on the other hand, this was not a black swan event. The farmer knew all along why he was feeding the turkey, and what the end result would be.

The very nature of black swan events make them almost impossible to predict. The point of this parable is to put forth the idea that sometimes we are the Thanksgiving turkey and understanding this may make it easier to begin to, at the very least, contemplate the possibility of far-from-equilibrium events.

This year, when you enjoy that drumstick or Turkey breast, give thanks to the latest victim of the black swan for being non-contemplative, otherwise, he may have bugged-out long ago and you’d be eating a chicken instead.

Happy Thanksgiving All!

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Author: Mac Slavo
Views: Read by 977 people
Date: November 26th, 2009
Website: www.SHTFplan.com

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  1. Cheerful AND upbeat! LOL!

    In all seriousness though, do you ever wonder whether we’re the farmer or the turkey? I do…..

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    – TomOfTheNorth

  2. Tom, when I first read about the turkey and the farmer, I was ‘non-contemplative’ regarding the idea, as I only considered the turkey’s vantage point. A few months later, I watched Taleb in an interview where he was discussing this concept, and he pointed out the fact that the farmer was completely aware of what was happening and that from his vantage point, no black swan event took place.

    This blew me away, because in all that time, I had never even thought to consider the idea that an event was a black swan depending on your point of reference!

    I do try to think outside the (cardboard) box as much as possible, and I totally missed this one! I was quite disappointed with myself, though after Taleb’s interview, I felt as if I had had a eureka moment, so I am glad I came across it.

    Another similar incident occurred when I was reading Martin Armstrong’s article titled “The Collapse of Capitalism, or is it socialism?

    Once again, I had sat around for years complaining about how the socialists were damaging capitalism and capitalism itself was under threat and would collapse. Armstrong took this entire question/argument and flipped it on its head by suggesting that it was in fact socialism that was collapsing and he provided quite a compelling argument. My problem was, that I never changed my vantage point when contemplating/considering the argument as a whole. I simply went with the accepted, linear thinking.

    Anyway, I guess to answer your question, depending on where we are in the event, we can be the turkey or the farmer.

    But, hypothetically speaking, say we were a turkey, and we figured out what the farmer might be doing. Maybe we saw evidence, like for example, the year before a bunch of our turkey friends disappeared and were never heard from again. Or every so often, we saw a turkey disappear and we saw the farmer’s family eating a certain meal outside that day. And we pieced things together. We may not know exactly what was happening, but something just wasn’t right. So, we the turkey bug out. It seems to me that no matter what we know or do, we would always be a turkey, but at least we would not be the Thanksgiving turkey. What I am trying to work out, I guess, is that we may never be able to be a farmer in certain situations, but we may at least be a turkey armed with information if we can stop and observe/consider what is going on around us without bias.

    Just some random thoughts. Feel free to tell me I am nuts. 🙂

  3. mac,

    You ARE nuts! It’s one of your most endearing traits…LOL

    But back to the Farmer & the Turkey analogy, if I’m the turkey and I discover what the farmer is planning, I’m getting my fellow Turkeys over @ SHTFplan.com to join me and we’re having roast Farmer for Thanksgiving!


    – TomOfTheNorth

  4. “Tonight They Dine on Ham”

    I should have picked this up this year, but I will have them ready for 2010:


  5. LOL!

    I started looking at the shirts and cracked up when I got to:

    “Meat is Murder……..tasty, tasty murder”


    Some funny ones….

  6. So, who are the farmers? I think I’ve already got my hole cut in the fence.

  7. Hi NetRanger,

    At this point, the only certainty is it’s not me.

    For the Fed, I think initially we were just occupants of their petting zoo. Now that food’s getting scarce, they just might have to sacrafice us…

    I think the banking & broking slime are effectively running slaughterhouses – dragging us in for the kill

    Our legislators are like the woman who was quoted saying “We don’t need the farmers – we have grocery stores!” They’re just clueless….

    Did I forget any key personnel?