One sure way to identify a system “optimized for failure” is if all the insiders are absolutely confident the system is “optimized for my success”.
I often discuss optimization here because it offers an insightful window into how systems become fragile and break down. When we optimize something, we’re aiming to get the most bang for our buck: maximize our efficiency, profit, productivity, etc., while minimizing our costs.
To maximize our goal, whatever it is–profits, power, whatever– we strip away redundancy and buffers because these add costs and don’t boost our desired output. They create resilience, i.e. the ability to survive disruptions, but the logic of optimization is relentless: get rid of all extraneous costs, because resilience doesn’t boost the bottom line.
This trade-off–trading resilience for optimization–looks brilliant when everything goes according to plan. But when events veer outside the narrow parameters of the optimized system, the system breaks down: supply chains break, safety procedures fail, and so on.
Even more consequentially, optimization strips away anti-fragility, Nassim Taleb’s term for the ability to not just survive disruptions but emerge stronger and more adaptable.
What happens when inflexible, sclerotic systems optimized to benefit self-serving insiders encounter chaotic turbulence or conditions outside the expected parameters? They collapse because the system is optimized for failure. Put another way: when a system is optimized to benefit insiders at the expense of resilience and anti-fragility, it is effectively optimized to fail because life is not programmable to a steady-state, predictable stability.
2021 is already optimized for failure in key ways:
1. The mRNA vaccines have not been properly tested to answer essential questions such as: can a vaccinated individual retain enough of the virus to infect an unvaccinated individual?
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