Psychiatric drugs and fragility

For those of you who haven't read Antifragile, Taleb's final book in his Incerto quartet, it is very much worth your time. It's central idea is simple: uncertainty and ups and downs are an essential part of life, not accidents to be corrected. But what's more, the attempt to eliminate them and make life all pleasant smoothness (like an automobile ride in a luxury car commercial) produces fragility. For my Austrian friends, you will like the fact that Taleb takes the business cycle as a paradigmatic case: by trying to smooth out all ups and downs in business activity, central banks produce huge crashes like 1929-1932 and 2007-2008. But this principle applies in many, many other domains of life as well. In fact, once you see it as a general principle, you start finding it everywhere.

This morning I was thinking about it in terms of psychiatric drugs. The idea behind these drugs is that no one should ever feel bad. Just look at the TV ads: once you get hooked on these drugs, every day will be mild, sunny, and filled with laughing children at a playground.

But of course coming to expect every day to be like that renders one extremely fragile. And when something does go wrong, and a thunderstorm rolls in and drives the kids from the swings... well, we get the countless suicides committed by people being treated with drugs that are supposed to make them permanently content. (My uncle was one of those people.)


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