Structural Fragility becomes Asymmetric Advantage

The infrastructure that provides for the basic needs of all humans can be categorized into a set of discrete categories. There are many ways to do this. Earthship Biotecture at Taos offers five categories which work to illustrate the point.

  1. Water
  2. Shelter/Comfort
  3. Food
  4. Septic
  5. Power
  6. Waste management/ recycling

Personally, I would combine water and septic, and include internet as a category but the following argument works either way…

Understanding Structural Fragility vs Anti-Fragility

On each of these categories, there is a spectrum of structural fragility. It’s very easy to think about where your situation lies on this spectrum. What would be the impact of increased chaos and volatility?

Consider the example of the Texas power grid during the recent period of chaos and volatility. Are people who rely on this infrastructure better off or worse off with the introduction of chaos and volatility? In this example the answer seems clear. People are worse off; freezing to death in their homes. This means the system in question is extremely fragile.

Consider an alternative. I was in Texas during the chaos, and I had 100% solar power on my RV. I was able to continue working and surviving and thriving, and I was able to offer help to those in need because my infrastructure was not affected. Therefore I was better off, being able to continue thriving as well as to help those in need around me.

In the second example, we see anti-fragility. Because my power infrastructure is anti-fragile, I am better off as a result of chaos and volatility while others are worse off.

The Relationship To Asymmetric Advantage

An asymmetric advantage is the primary goal and target of any strategic planning. Asymmetric advantages are different from normal advantages because it means your strength in a given field is also someone else’s weakness, or vice versa.

An asymmetric advantage exists along the spectrum of structural fragility.

Structural Fragility vs Asymmetric Advantage

Risk is defined as the cost of an outcome multiplied by its probability. The downside risk of structural fragility is extremely high, while the upside risk of structural anti-fragility is also extremely high.

This rule holds true for all categories of infrastructure regardless of how you define them. This is a very good metric by which to measure the condition of our essential infrastructure, however we choose to define the categories.