Wednesday 24 May 2017

Noise about our welfare culture must not be silenced

Any mention of the need to toughen up our benefits system is immediately seen as a scary lurch to 'The Right', writes Eilis O'Hanlon

The Lebanese-American philosopher, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, posed a simple question on BBC's Newsnight last week. Why is Italy, a country which has had 60 governments in 40 years and is characterised by perpetual political volatility, manifestly more stable than, say, Syria, which has had the same government for 40 years and rarely hitherto seen internal dissent?

The answer, Taleb claims, is "noise". Italy is a noisy and lively culture, in which information constantly rises to the surface and is absorbed naturally into the political atmosphere; in which everything which wants to be said, can be and is said. Conflict in this model finds its own level, and society grows robust enough to cope with the inevitable shocks which come along.

Syria is a country which, in trying too hard to control its own internal noise, ends up losing control. It is by suppressing noise that tension builds to the point of explosion, resulting in what the philosopher calls "black swan events", world-altering moments which come out of the blue but which people afterwards rationalise to make it seem as if they saw them coming all along.

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