One typical impulse I find myself possessing, is the urge to take photos of characters. The characters are people like us, but in one way or another they seem to have some unusual or exaggerated tract. Even in areas like the south of France, where you find a broad diversity of human types, the overwhelming code of conduct, typical of continental Europe, is quite homogenous, unlike in truly unregulated multi ethnic metropolis like London or New York.
The first reaction to a character is usually a dose of disbelief mixed with a feeling of ridicule or contempt. It should be instead noted, that the characters are a very interesting part of society. They are what the statisticians call ” the wings of a distribution”, i.e. they represent a small percentage of cases that bear some extreme features. From the study of these special cases, one can learn a lot about how wide is the range of strategies available to us to go through life.
From a tribal point of view, we instinctively like to cling to people who are similar to us. While this can generate strong collective bonds, and was usually a prime condition for coexistence in a small hunter-gatherer group of individuals, as society and its problems become bigger, the diversity becomes an important resource. I’ve even seen lately an article how the Good Judgment Project makes part of the CIA toolbox for predicting future threats. The use of a collective wisdom of a well diversified and heterogeneous group of individuals, seems to perform better than conventional intelligence procedures. This counterintuitive fact finds it’s roots in an old model, which has become the basis for what we call today the prediction markets. Eventually, society needs not only the sheep, but also the peacocks.
I’m not sure, if curiosity and tolerance versus people different from us is something that intensifies with age – it certainly is happening in my case. Perhaps the reason being, that as you accumulate experiences and find yourself at hard edges of choices in life, like in a maze of a lattice tree, you start appreciating how little can separate outcomes, that eventually become extremely distant. I vividly remember a story told by a friend who was a chief FX dealer of Chase Manhattan Bank in Milan. He went once to Paris for an international Forex congress, and while he was strolling along the river Seine, he spotted a clochard sitting along the bank with a bottle of wine in hand. On a second impression, the face seemed familiar, so he stopped a moment, and exclaimed – are you Serge? (Serge used to be the chief dealer of Chase Manhattan Bank Paris). The clochard giggled and said: yes ! My friend said: but Serge, what happened, how come you are in this condition? The clochard bowed his head philosophically and said: do you remember that moment, when the Berlin wall fell, and initially it seemed like the Deutsche Mark was going to go down the drain because of the cost of unification?
– Yes !
– So I shorted heavily the DM, and then the Bundesbank came out and said they will never allow inflation to happen, and opposed changing the east DM into western ones at par, and my position started getting sour, even if the government has eventually bowed to the 1:1 exchange rate.
– So, when I was several million under water, it was already a loss I was not supposed to take, and at this point I told myself: “Serge, this is the moment of truth, you have to double – either you’ll make it, or you’ll break it”.
– And I broke it… And here I am with a bottle along the Seine…