We Live in Extremistan

About a month ago, I mentioned Black Swan author Nassim Taleb’s designation of what amount to two types of randomness, Mediocristan and Extremistan. Here is a chart Taleb provided comparing the two:

Mediocristan Extremistan
Mild randomness Wild randomness
Typical member is mediocre There is no typical
Winners get small piece of total pie Winner-take-all
General Utopian-type Equality Extreme inequality
Impervious to Black Swan Vulnerable to Black Swan
Corresponds to physical qualities and restrained by them Corresponds to numbers, like wealth; no restraints
Total not affected by a single instance Total determined by small number of extreme events
Tyranny of the collective Tyranny of the accidental
History crawls History makes jumps

Mediocristan is where we must endure the tyranny of the collective, the routine, the obvious and the predicted; Extremistan is where we are subjected to the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted. “

In some strange way I keep seeing Mediocristan as representative of man’s viewpoint, man’s ways, man’s attempt to control his world, and Extremistan as God’s ways, at least as they are perceived by man.  At one point Taleb says that our problems in general are that we believe we live in Mediocristan but we really live in Extremistan. That statement in particular resonated for me.

We think we can know, we think we can plan and predict and circumvent disaster. We think everything will continue as it has been. We think we have control of things. When we don’t. And it won’t. And we can’t.

 It’s an illusion. A deception.

Mediocristan is that which puts forth the idea that we are all the same, all equal, should all be treated alike.  That all will be routine, ordered, safe, controlled. It’s a place where there can’t be fear because there’s nothing to fear. It’s the world without God. The world wrestled under control of men, to be good and fair and equal. If you just do x and y, z will happen. Simple. It all depends on you. Safe.

Extremistan is what challenges us with our inadequacy. The fact that we don’t have omniscience, nor omnipotence. That we don’t know everything. That, in fact, we don’t even know half as much as we think we do because most of the knowledge we do have is flawed. (Did you see that it’s okay to drink coffee, now? It prevents diabetes and isn’t so hard on the heart after all. Apparently) It reminds us that even though we’ve spent 1000 days walking without incident along a certain path, the next day an airplane can fall out of the sky on you.

We don’t like to contemplate Extremistan because it’s scary and unpredictable so we pretend it’s not so.

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1 Response to “We Live in Extremistan”


  1. 1 NonaK December 17, 2009 at 9:04 am

    The following is an e-mail from my husband when I forwarded him this blog post:

    “I think this is interesting and if we consider worldliness vs godliness and use mediocristan vs extremistan you’ll find we are at extreme conflict. As I read through the requirements I couldn’t help, but sense that in a worldly fashion we are living in extremistan. I seriously feel living under the Obama flag that things are thrown at us with wild randomness, all things that were typical are no longer typical, since the Democrats won it has been winner take all, there is extreme inequality particularly since it is winner take all, The elite in power dominates all of us, small extreme events lead to wide, sweeping changes and our history is not just being changed by as we create history it is leaping in bounds as opposed to trudging along.

    I find the above very scary. I will be much more content living in Mediocristan than the above. However, if the above was dominated by God rather than man I would be much more content, because I can relax in the trust and faith I have in the Lord.

    Now, thinking about the ungodly, they seem quite happy living in the secular extremistan and would be terrified of living in a Christian extremistan. The only conclusion I come up with based on these parameters is that the ungodly are well pleased because their god, their person whom they worship is in control.”


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