Majority of the flexible group don’t care while the intransigent group has ‘skin in the game’

A minority voice setting the agenda for the entire country.

Thu 12 Jan 23


By Terry Beath and Gary Bacon

The minority core cave dwellers are indeed so aptly described here.

But this small activist core has a voice that is compounded by a factor squared and takes prisoners of the silent majority.

How is this possible?

A robust interpretation is provided by Nassim Nicholas Taleb* in his 2018 book Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life.

Among his insights:

  • For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses.
  • Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations.
  • Ethical rules aren’t universal. You’re part of a group larger than you, but it’s still smaller than humanity in general.
  • Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities imposing their tastes and ethics on others.
  • You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. So-called ‘educated philistines’ have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low-carb diets.
  • Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines.
  • True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you’re willing to risk for it.

In a key chapter entitled ‘The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority’, Taleb writes:

“It suffices for an intransigent minority – a certain type of intransigent minorities – to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences”.

He gives a number of examples about how this works ranging from Halal food certification through to disabled bathrooms and peanut allergies.

In these circumstances, Taleb refers to the minority as the intransigent ones and the majority as being flexible.

This explains why a substantial percentage of meat products in Australia, the UK and the like are halal-certified despite a much smaller percentage of the population actually being Muslim.

The majority of the flexible group don’t care while all of the intransigent group have skin in the game.

In political terms think about it like this.

It appears the Greens Party is basically running the country. Labor is scared of them, and the Liberals think aping their policies will prevent the drift of their supporters.

But the Greens have an intransigent base of somewhere around 8-10%. This is a quarter of the sticky vote of both the Labor and Liberal parties. How is it that the Greens carry more weight?

They do so because the seemingly rational people in the major parties refuse to cooperate and oppose en masse.

Taleb provides further examples including a meeting of international executives at a German firm. If just one of the groups didn’t speak German, then the entire meeting was to be conducted in English.

This is exactly the genesis of cancel culture

Cancel culture doesn’t exist because the majority of people are up in arms over a tasteless joke or fringe behaviour. Most don’t care or if they do, don’t care enough to kick up a fuss.

That leaves the focussed minds of the hysterical activist to dominate the public square, calling for cancellation.

Thus, as Taleb writes:

“It is the most intolerant person who imposes virtue on others precisely because of that intolerance.”

He then surmises:

“So, we need to be more than intolerant with some intolerant minorities. It is not permissible to use ‘American values’ or ‘Western principles’ in treating intolerant Salafism (which denies other peoples’ right to have their own religion). The West is currently in the process of committing suicide.

Which brings us back to the Greens.

Their voters are hard core. Sure, most would also be ignorant talking heads but they simply aren’t for moving.

Thus, if one major party needs the support of these intransigents to form government then they, the minority, end up dictating the terms.

That is the minority voice setting the agenda for the entire country.

And what do most of the rest of the silent majority (us) do? We shrug our shoulders and say they are a tiny weird fringe and their kooky ideas will never catch on.

As Nigel Farage is wont to say:

“It’s not enough to simply maintain the status quo, we actually need to move the needle back to where it belongs”.

So how can we do that? Again, a quote from Skin in the Game.

“The entire growth of society, whether economic or moral, comes from a small number of people. … Society doesn’t evolve by consensus, voting, majority, committees, verbose meeting, academic conferences, and polling; only a few people suffice to disproportionately move the needle. All one needs is an asymmetric rule somewhere. And asymmetry is present in about everything”.

That is our silent majority opportunity. We need to find that lever, put our shoulders to it and move the needle, just like the minority activists have been doing for years.

* Nassim Nicholas Taleb (b 1960) is a Lebanese-American essayist, mathematical statistician, former option trader, risk analyst, and aphorist whose work concerns problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty. The Sunday Times called his 2007 book The Black Swan one of the 12 most influential books since World War 2. He advocates what he calls a “black swan robust” society, meaning a society that can withstand difficult-to-predict events. He proposes what he has termed “antifragility” in systems; that is, an ability to benefit and grow from a certain class of random events, errors, and volatility as well as “convex tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery, by which he means that decentralised experimentation out-performs directed research.


  • Dr Gary Bacon

    Dr Gary Bacon, AM, BSc (For) Hon, PhD, FIFA, respected professional forester. Adjunct Professor at Griffith University and former CEO Queensland Forestry.


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