From Taleb’s Antifragility (emphasis mine):
Consider the role of heuristic (rule-of-thumb) knowledge embedded in traditions. Simply, just as evolution operates on individuals, so does it act on these tacit, unexplainable rules of thumb transmitted through generations — what Karl Popper has called evolutionary epistemology. But let me change Popper’s idea…: my take is that this evolution is not a competition between ideas, but between humans and systems based on such ideas. An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived! Accordingly, wisdom you learn from your grandmother should be vastly superior (empirically, hence scientifically) to what you get from a class in business school (and, of course, considerably cheaper). My sadness is that we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers.
This is Hayekian-thinking. Social norms, traditions, rules-of-thumb — unwritten standards of interacting with each other — are filtered through an evolutionary crucible.
Those sets of norms that carry-on are the ones that are held by those who survive.
I’d add that some social norms (e.g. ‘family values) may even be conducive to propagating themselves by encouraging population growth.
Further, it’s a mistake to discount the traditions and norms too readily as rebellious college students and intellectuals are wont to do (e.g. deriding ‘family values’).
This passage reminded me of some of the bits of grandmotherly wisdom that had been passed down to me — and so far — have served me well. A couple of examples include trying to make yourself useful to others and saving a little of each paycheck, no matter how little.
It also reminded me of couple of newspaper columnists who, now that I think about, were also important educators of practical wisdom.
One was a business columnist in the local newspaper. He passed on more than business wisdom. He did a better job than my b-school teachers in educating me on the wonders of mutually beneficial exchange (another social norm that has survived). He was also very responsive to emails and very appreciative of his readership. He often took the time to respond thoughtfully. I’d also credit him for greatly influencing my writing style.
The other columnist wrote about personal financial management. When I graduated college and started facing everyday life decisions like renting an apartment, buying a car and home, I was shocked at how unprepared I was to even to face those decisions. I didn’t even know what information was important. How much car or apartment could I afford? Why didn’t these subjects ever seem to come up in 16 years of school? That was also one of my first realizations that education wasn’t all it was cracked up to be (I am sometimes a slow learner).
Now, there were many folks who influenced my personal financial habits.. But, I recall this columnist because he offered sound advice and his column provided a regular checkpoint for me to test my actions against.
Both of these columnists were great at relaying ‘grandmother wisdom’. But, I’ve noticed that such columnists are not as accessible. Newspapers seem to have cut back on carrying such content (which is one reason I discontinued my full-week subscription of the local rag). As Taleb said, “we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers” — which seems counter-intuitive in this Internet-connected era, but I think there was something to having those voices in my life consistently, twice a week, that made a difference.
It’s not content that you would necessarily go searching for on your own, regularly. But, having it there was good.