THE BLACK ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

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Almost everyone knows what you mean now when you talk about black swans.

That unexpected event, which upends all the plans you had and turns your life - or everyone's - upside down. An apparent surprise, but which, once the event has happened, is rationalized, making it seem predictable and giving the impression that it was expected to happen. Weirdness, extreme impact and the ability to understand in retrospect are the three defining traits.. There are many examples, such as World War I or the 1918 flu.

The concept refers to the fact that it was thought impossible to see a black swan, until one day, the first one was found. It was popularized by the Lebanese economist and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007, who with his book The Black Swan -which has already been translated into more than 30 languages- got the timing right, since in a way, he predicted the Lehman Brothers crisis and how it was going to plunge the world economy into chaos in the following years. Then came the film by Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman playing a dancer.

There is debate about the pandemic we are living through: Taleb himself acknowledges that it could be seen as a black swan by some people, although he thinks it is not, as it was quite predictable before it happened. As for example Rob Wallace had done in his magnificent essay "Big Farms Make Big Flu" or Bill Gates himself in a TED talk. If it is predictable , the event is considered more like a grey rhinoceros, because of its obviousness. The grey rhino is something that is in front of you and is heading towards youAccording to Michele Wucker, the author of the book that popularized the idea, she warns: "We should look at the three grey rhinos I always talk about: inequality, climate change and financial products."

Probably, if we were to think about it, we'd come up with a few more examples of grey rhinoceros.. Like the more than inevitable and approaching energy shortages in a world of finite resources, or the consequences of the accelerating rate of species extinction and its effects on health.

For all of them together, for the intersection of the crises that our economic model has generated, there is an even more clarifying concept: the elephant in the room.. This concept is so popular that there are many books and authors who have used it to talk about different topics.

Simplifying, it speaks of a problem (or the conjunction of several) that we all (or at least most of us) see, but we hardly talk about it, or how to face it, especially because of its enormity, which is beyond us. Ignoring it causes it to grow, to grow even fatter, fed by inertia, indifference and the lies we tell ourselves in order to keep going, until inevitably, it ends up crushing those who were in the room.

No doubt Many of the looming problems are visible as an elephant or a grey rhinoceros, but they can also be accompanied by events - black swans - that we will only interpret as logical after the event.If we look at the pieces that have triggered them, they will not be so predictable. Among them we could count unexpected and concrete revolts, which are ignited by small sparks (and above all by what has been accumulating), military conflicts or very extreme climatic events, such as the unparalleled heat waves that are being registered in Canada, in a large part of the northern hemisphere and also in other countries more accustomed to this type of phenomena.

The black elephant in the room is, therefore, the sum of the two possibilities, of the two concepts . The problem with the black elephant in the room is that the room is already the planet.. The system based on globalization has built a palace for many, with respect to the lives that were usually lived, but this palace, for having wanted to be so big and ostentatious, is terribly fragile, because it is enormous and complex. We are not talking as much as we should about the enormous problem that our civilization has with the intersection of the climate and energy crises, not at all, nor about the evident incapacity of the capitalist system to solve it.

The free market and the invisible hand serve only to further pave the road to climate chaos and energy waste, and anyone who still does not see this is blind beyond justice in times of the greatest economic inequality known to man.

And although there are alternative options , the powers that be, control the vast majority of the mass media, and with them, adulterate the message that should reach the population, hiding many of the alternatives. Because, obviously, if they were to be put into practice one day, they would not benefit them at all.

The black elephant in the room is that nothing grows forever. Unlike what our system - the elephant - is designed to do, which it is designed to do and doesn't know how to slow down. Its trajectory literally directs us to a series of events that can never be considered black swans, even if they look like them. And there is not a single political party in the world that speaks openly about it, about the inevitability of stopping growing as soon as possible, out of short-termism, fear and lack of courage. Who would vote for it? Perhaps more people than we might think. Nobody really knows, until it happens, like a black swan.

It is very clear to me: the pandemic is not a Black Swan, nor will the next one be, nor will the next deadly drought and its effect on crops, nor the first Mediterranean hurricane or a financial collapse caused by shortages of crucial materials.

These are phenomena that will recur if we continue this inertia that we do not know how to stop. And we will never know how, if we don't even talk about it, about how we have a black elephant in the room, centimetres away from crushing us.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

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