Many people mistakenly set themselves up to fail when it comes to preparedness. They have the best intentions, but they are focused on what they know and expect. The problem is that the worst survival scenarios can result from the unexpected — events we would never anticipate happening.
Enter the Turkey Problem, a scenario from Nassim Taleb's 2007 book The Black Swan.
"Consider a turkey that is fed every day," Taleb writes. "Every single feeding will firm up the bird's belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race 'looking out for its best interests,' as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief."
The turkey spends his days getting fatter and happier. Why? He trusts this will continue to happen based on past experience. He predicts that the same thing will happen day after day. So, imagine his surprise when he realizes his fattening up was for another purpose altogether.
The Turkey Problem is that we often mistake the continued absence of harm as evidence that there will be no harm.
Taleb’s turkey scenario emphasizes our failure to accurately forecast the future. But more than that, Taleb explains that rather than attempting to predict the unpredictable, we should use our time preparing for the impact of Black Swan Events.
Black Swan Events are by their very nature impossible to predict and require a different type of preparedness. It is more than hoarding batteries and canned food. It requires mental fortitude and embracing a philosophy of self-sufficiency.
Because the entire point of a Black Swan Event is that it is unpredictable, we shouldn’t waste time trying to predict what is going to happen. Instead, we should live our lives prepared for all types of crises. And that starts with a preparedness mindset and a commitment to be self-sufficient.
What Is a Black Swan Event?
A Black Swan Event is a term coined in the 2007 book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is an unpredictable event that has massive consequences.
A Black Swan is an event that…
1) Is so rare that even the possibility that it might occur is unknown.
2) Has a catastrophic impact when it does occur.
3) Is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable.
Here’s how the turkey scenario fits in according to Taleb, “It strikes at the nature of empirical knowledge itself. Something has worked in the past, until — well, it unexpectedly no longer does, and what we have learned from the past turns out to be at best irrelevant or false, at worst viciously misleading.”
Examples of Black Swan Events in Recent History
Part of the problem with Black Swan Events is that they never look the same. For example, the 2008 financial crisis is often cited as a Black Swan Event or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taleb also considers the September 11 terrorist attack a Black Swan Event. Taleb explains, “A vicious Black Swan has an additional elusive property: it's very unexpectedness helps create the conditions for it to occur. Had a terrorist attack been a conceivable risk on Sept. 10, 2001, it would likely not have happened. Jet fighters would have been on alert to intercept hijacked planes, airplanes would have had locks on their cockpit doors, airports would have carefully checked all passenger luggage. None of that happened, of course, until after 9/11.”
Terrorism happens often all over the world. However, what happened in America on September 11 was unprecedented and inconceivable. If it had been conceivable, it wouldn’t have happened. That’s the difference.
Let’s consider some other recent examples.
On April 29, 2021, hackers gained access to the networks of Colonial Pipeline Co. and managed to take down the largest pipeline in the U.S. leading to a gas shortage on the East Coast. The hackers demanded a ransom in cryptocurrency. Service to the pipeline did not resume until May 12, 2021.
According to Bloomberg, “Colonial paid the hackers, who were an affiliate of a Russia-linked cybercrime group known as DarkSide, a $4.4 million ransom shortly after the hack. The hackers also stole nearly 100 gigabytes of data from Colonial Pipeline and threatened to leak it if the ransom wasn’t paid.”
Sometimes it is not just one event – it can be a series of events that compound and lead to a Black Swan Event.
In 2021, Texas had already suffered two major disastrous events that resulted in a Black Swan Event: a winter storm and a failing power grid. The February 2021 winter storm resulted in the Texas power grid failing and forcing the power companies to implement rolling blackouts. What seemed like a one-time event happened again this summer.
According to Texas Monthly, “The prospect of running low on electricity comes just four months after the grid failed during February’s winter storm, cutting off power to more than 4.8 million homes and leading to the deaths of at least two hundred people (and by some counts as many as seven hundred). […] So here we are, just a few months later, struggling once again to keep the lights and the A/C on, with the hottest part of the summer still two months away.”
Sometimes Black Swan Events are the result of months or years of political unrest and escalating tensions, such as the multiple factors at hand that led to a riot on the floor of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6. While protests were expected, the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building was inconceivable and unexpected.
Remember, a Black Swan Event is unpredictable. So, how do we avoid becoming the turkey in Taleb’s story?
The best thing we can do is practice true preparedness so that we will be prepared no matter what survival situation we face – cyber, nature, economic, medical, or terrorist.
How Not to Be the Turkey: 10 Steps to Self-Sufficiency No Matter What
Taleb’s main point is that Black Swan Events are impossible to predict, but because they are so catastrophic, people should live their lives as if they’re always possible.
Ideally, this means practicing self-sufficiency so that, if the grid goes down, the banks fail, or the country is attacked, you know how to live independently...and can weather the storm better than the rest.
This kind of self-sufficiency prevents you from becoming the “turkey.” Instead of being lulled into a false sense of security, you are ready at all times by taking these steps:
- Grow and cook your own food. Growing and cooking your food is a skill that will take you a long way. Now is the time to create a seed vault and start hobby farming (such as owning chickens). It is also wise to learn different ways to cook, store, and preserve food. Or, keep a large supply of long-term storable food onhand.
- Embrace hobbies that lend themselves to survival. Hobbies, such as hunting and fishing, will be especially helpful in a Black Swan Event because you will be able to find sustenance (and not have to pay for it).
- Save more money. Black Swan Events tend to have huge economic repercussions. That’s why it is critical to be smart with your money. Pay off debt and start saving money. And make sure to keep some emergency cash on you. If the grid goes down, ATMs won’t work, and neither will credit card machines. For example, Myanmar has been experiencing a cash shortage because of the military coup a few months ago. As a result, most ATMs are empty and people stand in line for hours to get cash (which is capped at $120). If you think it can only happen halfway around the world, think again.
- Know how to find and purify water. Water is essential for survival, but natural disasters make it unsafe to drink. Moreover, cyber hackers have already tried to harm drinking water. Knowing how to find and purify water helps protect you and your family from water-borne illnesses.
- Invest in solar power. Solar power will save the day if you are left without power for an extended period of time. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of solar power tools available.
- Practice building shelter. Having a basic understanding of how to build a shelter to protect yourself against the elements is a survival skill everyone should know. Do you know how to build a shelter that blends in with the surroundings or how to black out windows? Do you know how to insulate a shelter so you stay warm in winter?
- Take a first aid course. What if a Black Swan Event affects your local hospital? What if the grid goes down or a disaster, such as an explosion, makes it impossible to get to your hospital? If you don’t know basic first aid or CPR, enroll in a class. And don’t forget to stock up on first aid materials and medications.
- Train yourself in self-defense. Unfortunately, dangerous situations tend to bring out the worst in some people. Practice self-defense and learn how to use your weapons properly. It is also important to know how to dress and act as a gray man, so you can blend in and escape from dangerous situations easily.
- Have a mend and make do attitude. During the world wars, citizens had a mend and make do attitude. They weren’t able to spend money frivolously. Instead, they had to find ways to fix things on their own.
- Be a Scout. Understanding basic survival skills, like those they teach in Scouts, is critical to preparedness. Survival skills such as knowing how to build a fire, tie different knots, identify plants, and communicate with Morse Code will help you navigate many different survival situations.
Understand the essence of true preparedness, friends. And stand by because the next Black Swan Event is right around the corner.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply