Just imagine how little your understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next. (Don't cheat by using the explanations drilled into your cranium by your dull high school teacher). How about the rise of Hitler and the subsequent war? How about the precipitous demise of the Soviet bloc? How about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism? How about the spread of the Internet?
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
In case you missed it, that's Taleb basically saying that nobody predicted the 1933 burning of the Reichstag in 1914. It's hardly novel to suggest that predicting specific future events twenty years out is foolish - but Taleb leverages that basic idea to state that it's stupid to even try because the future is unpredictable. Here, even further:
The story of the Maginot Line shows how we are conditioned to be specific. The French, after the Great War, built a wall along the previous German invasion route to prevent reinvasion-Hitler just (almost) effortlessly went around it. The French had been excellent students of history; they just learned with too much precision. They were too practical and exceedingly focused for their own safety.
We'll set aside the make-work project of the Maginot Line. We'll set aside the fact that France was way too busy with trying to extract reparations out of the Germans (which they never succeeded in doing). We'll ignore the idea that perhaps a giant wall against the Huns was the sort of thing that the French needed to make the countryside livable again. We'll bypass the notion that the Treaty of Versailles was supposed to keep the Germans from developing advanced weaponry that could fly the fuck over the Maginot Line. OBVIOUSLY it's because nobody can predict anything.
Taleb's whole schtick is that you shouldn't try too hard to figure out future events because whoopsie daisy nobody in 1914 predicted September 11. My whole point is that fuckin' Tom Clancy wrote a NYT bestseller in which terrorists fly planes into buildings so the whole "nobody could have predicted" thing is useless at best.
Joe Francis has made a fortune as well. He's still an asshole.