Captain Fantastic vs. Bear Grylls

Recently, I watched the movie Captain Fantastic on the advice of a friend, who highly recommended it.  In it, there’s a scene where a teenage girl is reading the book Lolita. Her father asks her to describe it. After a bit of prodding, she says,
“There’s this old man who loves this girl, and she’s only 12 years old… that’s the plot.
Because it’s written from his perspective, you sort of understand and sympathize with him, which is kind of amazing because he’s essentially a child molester.
But his love for her is beautiful.
But it’s also sort of a trick because it’s so wrong.
You know, he’s old, and he basically rapes her.
 So it makes me feel… I hate him.
And somehow I feel sorry for him at the same time. “
This is the way I felt about the movie itself.  There are many layers to this film and it forces you to think about many things such as: how do we raise strong and healthy children, what are appropriate ideas for kids to be exposed to and at what age, what role do social skills play in the overall mental health of our children, and is the American culture really that disgusting?  I found that I had a strong reaction after watching it the first time, but also found that in the succeeding days I kept thinking about it.  The sign of powerful piece of art, to be sure.
The basic premise of the movie is that the dad Ben (and his late wife) had moved their kids to a place deep in the forest to raise them and escape the trappings of modern culture — and as it turns out, their own emotional distress.
Overall, I admired the skills, education and training the kids were getting but I hated the way the Ben was going about it.  There was much to admire at first.  He and his wife were somehow able to teach their (seven!) kids how to speak multiple languages, give them an mastery of American history better than most college grads, and an understanding of quantum physics.  Not to mention excellent survival skills such as  building fires, rock climbing, forging for berries, and killing wild game.
On paper, this sounds like a great idea.  Who wouldn’t want their kids to be educated and skilled like this?  For me, part of the problem is evident when the oldest son is brought into town ( a rare occurrence for them).  He encounters other teenage girls outside of a gas station and is so socially awkward and ill prepared to interact  that he can’t answer them when they ask him if he’s gong to come in the door.  He stands mute and frozen in his tracks.  As strong as he is in some areas of his development, he is utterly lacking in others.  This leaves him fragile to enter the world outside of his family’s forest home.
Ironically, the father has taught the children all of these survival skills, but they have no idea how to survive in the world they ultimately must participate in.  His depression and fears are not allowing him to see what is happening and they are forced to grow up here because of their dad’s emotional pain.  We learn that he and his wife wanted to escape to a place away from all of the trappings, artificiality and general unhealthiness of the western world.  Familiar thoughts for many of us, but running away usually isn’t the best strategy, as I’ve written about before.
Ultimately, the movie ends on a happy note, the father and his children are slowly integrating more and more into the “real world”, finding some healthy balance and we are led to believe the things might turn out well for them.
So, as I was analyzing the film and the father character, I thought of a popular TV show that my 11 year old son and I like to watch together called Man vs. Wild.  It stars survivalist and British Army veteran Bear Grylls as he is demonstrates how to survive in different environments.  It can be quite entertaining to watch Bear survive a variety of extreme parts of the world and invariably, the episode will feature a segment where he is “forced” to eat insects, raw meat, or drink his own urine.  Great stuff. Especially for a tween.
So, what’s the difference between the two men?  Why do I find one magnetic and the other scary?  Why is one fragile and the other antifragile?  Let’s have some fun and compare the two!
Captain Fantastic
Bear Grylls
 Time in modern society
Spends 90% of time away from modern society.
Spends 90% of time in modern society
 Time spent on learning survival skills 40% (estimate)
20% (estimate)
 Is prepared in case of apocalypse?  YES  YES
 Is prepared in case of financial crisis?  YES  YES
 Is prepared for emotional crisis?  NO  Seems like it, but not enough info
 Can navigate modern culture?  Yes, but kids no way.  YES
 Personality  Depressed loner  Fun loving.  Attracts others.
After a hiking all day, killing and cooking your own food, a fun night out might be… Patronizing discussion about why the family doesn’t celebrate holidays, and why (insert item) is bad for you  Hitting the bars, swapping stories with people, laughing and have one or two too many drinks.
 Of course, I’m just guessing at all of this.  One of them I don’t know personally at all and the other is, well, a fictional character.
The point is though, I’d rather be acclimated to society and pick up the survival skills just in case it all goes to hell, rather than acting like the apocalypse is already here.
You are giving up all of the good benefits of modern culture, when you don’t need to.  The anti-fragile person embraces modern society and can pick and choose where and when to interact with it for his or her  benefit.
The antifragile also realize the benefits of interacting with nature and spend as much time as necessary for revitalization and spiritual reconnection with the universe.
By the end of the movie Ben seems to have figured this out and life looks much more balanced.  He and the kids are living in a regular house in what looks to be some kind of country home.  The still are very self sufficient, but integrating with society, going to school, participating in the economy, etc.
Good for them.  But I’d still rather hang out with Bear.

Drink Mexican Water and Walk on Rocks

I was listening to James Altucher’s podcast with Nassim Taleb from 2014 again recently… trying to pick up anything he had to say about applying antifragility to one’s personal life. I founds a few good nuggets in there about what he does in his own life and added some of my own thoughts.


  • Walk as much as you can, preferably on uneven surfaces.  Nassim loves to take walks. He mentions this in his books and other interviews.  Usually he talks about strolling as opposed to hiking or walking for exercise, but in this interview he says he likes to walk on rocky surfaces because the variability forces his body and brain to adjust.  The first time, he says, “… I broke my nose, but after that I adjusted…”   Personally, I like walking on the beach whenever possible.  It has a similar effect, and is less dangerous to my face.
  • Drink the local water when traveling.  When he goes to a foreign country he always like to at least drink a little bit of the water.  This he says, is both for “ethical reasons” and antifragile ones.  The theory is if you are only drinking bottled water your whole life, that one time you do take in other water, by necessity or accident, you might get violently ill.   I suppose this is a bit like getting a vaccine.
  • Get a tan.  I’ve argued for this for years now, even as sun phobia has gotten greater and greater.  Sunshine has lots of benefits, from Vitamin D creation, which is super important to our health and immune system to lower heart disease risk, to increased mood.  Of course, you can overdo it.  But you can over do anything.  As Nassim says, if you’re of Irish decent and living in Ireland, you’re probably okay.  If you move to Palm Springs, California, then you may want to dial it back a bit.
  • Eat a variety of foods.  Similar to drinking the local water, eating a variety of foods exposes us to more nutritional benefits, tastes that we never new existed, and keeps us from getting too fragile from eating the same type of food — even if the food is good for you.  My mother was in a health food store a while back, and struck up a conversation with another customer.  “My goal in life”, she said, ” is to one day be able to survive on nothing but wheat grass”.  Can you imagine, not only how boring this would be, but what would happen the one time, years later,  when she gets exposed to a piece of  bacon or something?   When my kids were very small I made sure I allowed them to have a little peanut butter, honey, shellfish, etc.  All the things you’re not supposed to have before age 1.