"Resilience" was a huge buzzword a decade ago or so. I remember having been a regular reader at a blog that obsessed about it. Eventually, I stopped reading there because there seemed to be no insights, just chewing through the same idea over and over again. The "resilience" apostles also saw "resilience" everywhere, or at least being important everywhere. They had a hammer in the inventory and nails everywhere problem.

Nothing of what little I remember of all those "resilience" recipes looks relevant to the current crisis. "resilience" zealots were (IIRC) practising the subsidiarity principle: They thought that low level common sense (re)action was the key to "resilience". The current crisis appears to emphasise very, very different qualities*:
  1. having specialist expertise institutions
  2. paying attention to them, not to the usual universal dilettante talking heads
  3. not having idiots in big lever situations (this ranges from the one South Korean sect member to "let's pray" nonsense talkers to irresponsible media talking heads to heads of government)
  4. having emergency rules (distancing people from each other mostly) enacted
  5. in time
  6. and enforced by an effective police force
  7. having relevant industrial production capacities for very specific products

Very little points at neighbourhood self-organisation and self-help being a key factor. It's more like a nice-to-have feature.
Instead, resilience in this crisis seems to be about having a large-enough, sophisticated-enough economy and a both competent and decisively-acting government. It's a case study in favour of technocracy and a bit of temporary limited authoritarianism.

Thinking about it, all "resilience" preachers whom I remember seem to have been Americans. Maybe their "resilience" preaching was nothing but the typical American/anglophone selective anarchism combined with a buzzword?**


P.S.: On the other hand, I gotta be honest and admit that I did not do a full spectrum surveillance on "resilience" talk then or now. I may have looked at a niche.

*: Closing borders only delays unless you can close for real, and very early. Iceland stood a chance to escape completely, but its government failed. Other countries merely could have bought only a week or two by strict international travel restrictions. Closing borders for travel after the virus is already in the country with many cases is quite pointless. The outlawing or flights and train travels because of the too high density of crowds makes sense, but it makes then little sense to set different rules for travellers who mean to cross a border.
**: That's merely the nice interpretation, for I know of a more ugly possible explanation for why all that talk around 2010 came to be and that one is particularly American.

honourable mention; this came to my attention after I wrote the blog post and planned it for release on 28th: https://twitter.com/AndrewCesare/status/1242174265547468803 Brazil has a problem with #3.


  1. >implying specialist institutions aren't infested with talking heads
    Isn't that a premise of this blog ;)?

    American techies and fringe bloggers comprehensively predicted all, while the WHO denied human transmission in January, China maintained travel in February, and the American CDC denied masks' utility in March.

    Successful institutions were marked by prior exposure to SARS.

  2. Not sure what blog you were reading but resilience as a concept is pretty simple - it is the ability of a system to continue to function (at nominal or reduced capacity) despite external shocks or stressors.

    For example, an engineer will design a building with safety factors to compensate for poor workmanship or unexpected loading, and ensure that failure due to the design parameters being grossly exceeded (terrorist attack, very rare seismic events etc.) causes localised rather than generalised collapse. Due to this the building is resilient.

    The same approach can be applied to more complex systems such as politics/civil society (or indeed military operations). In this case the systems which have more resources to mobilise and are better able to manage change will be more resilient to external shocks such as the coronavirus crisis.

    To be honest the principle of resiliency is mostly common sense so there is some truth in the idea of the concept as a buzzword. On the other hand it is easy to overlook it in the quest for efficiency and hard experience usually introduces more resiliency down the line. Another good reason to discuss resiliency is when systems start to ossify into "business as usual" without considering how the surrounding environment has changed. You talk about it a lot in this blog, even if you dont call it resilience!

    tldr - resilience might sound like a buzzword but it is important to have the language to describe it so that is can be explicitly considered when analysing a system.

    1. Well, I remember it as very different from mere engineering safety margins or corporation equity capital minimum requirements.

      Tbh, the publications I paid attention to were emphasizing a cultural angle, which may have been driven by "small town" ideology and IIRC the negative example was black communities waiting for help in New Orleans rather than doing something themselves.

    2. Fair enough I reached for the engineering example because it is most familiar to me but F below has also touched on what I was talking about.

      Resilience as a concept is very abstract and a formalised study of it is masters degree level stuff. I do not want to imply it is only for very well educated people though - everything from a hunter taking his knife with him "just in case" to upgrading flood defence systems to account for climate change is actively pursuing resiliance. Most of the time it is just emergent though, such as when you lose your home wifi and switch to mobile data instead - you probably didnt consider resilience when you bought your phone but you are glad you had the option.

  3. Related, there has some re-examination of the cult of efficiency. Carrying excess medical capacity, for example, has been eliminated in the name of cutting waste. Just-in-time-delivery supply chains have proven vulnerable to small changes in consumption habits.

    To be self-sufficient, or resilient, one (whether an individual or system) needs some redundancy. There's an irony that some of the more right-wing elements fetishize concepts from the military such as the PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, emergency) planning principle, while at the same time espousing cost cutting to eliminate the "wasteful" expenses for buying, storing, and maintaining alternate, contingency and emergency supplies and systems.

    Nothing can be considered resilient if it collapses when its primary plan is stressed, or if it cannot hold out long enough for external relief.

  4. Just in time logistics.
    6% annual reduction in 'controllable' structural costs as standard.
    Complete derogation of even oversight over the supply chain your business relies upon.

    Global capitalism caused this lack of preparedness.

    Febrile rats like blankfein calling for the peasantry to keep slaving and infect their families in order to maintain equity values (while they self-isolate in mansions) isn't going to stop. Its only a sign of things to come.

    Just gave blood this morning, line was out the door (carefully spaced). Might not be where you all are. Worth considering if you're able.

  5. Was this resilience-obsessed blog by the prepper or survival community?

    Libertarian ideology is common among these folks. They believe the government is either malevolent and/or incompetent and therefore shouldn't be trusted with solving any crisis. Instead everyone should look out after themselves and not be bothered by the others. Some even hoped for the government to fail and collapse under a crisis.

    When I was young and naive, I used to believe that nonsense, but luckily I wised up.
    A competent and functioning government is what is needed for events like this, not some lone individuals stockpiling supplies.

    1. Libertarian ideology is nonsense and incapable of explaining the world or guiding to best course of action - just as are all ideologies. Ideologies are a simplification for people who don't want or cannot take in much information or process it.

      Still, I suppose that some supply reserves don't hurt. I don't mean a nuclear bunker with years worth of food, but simply a couple weeks worth of food and tea. To have such reserves is laughably cheap and would avert the kind of runs on some supermarket wares that we experienced in the past days.

  6. Can you please keep the posts/articles coming Sven. I come here for my fix of common sense :)

    1. I have the next four posts written and scheduled (though I may still decide against using the 4th).

      There's a "The military theory of skirmishing" piece among them, I'm a bit proud of it.