5 min read | 1074 words
Despite the world, let’s assume agency is a basic human right.
Once we’ve achieved such radical optimism, a most riveting concern must be: How do we maximize human agency?
Certainly you and I are agents in this world. To be better agents, our actions must reflect our desires as accurately as possible. (Assume our desires are correct.) Unfortunately, such accuracy, and therefore quality of agency, depend on many difficult-to-measure factors:
- Mental energy
- Available information
- Accumulated skill
- Physical and social context
…along with a whole slew of other contingencies. It’s very tricky to approximate, let alone quantify, these elements, which makes attempts to optimize human agency daunting. However, let’s try anyways.
It seems that Gumption is the currency of agency.
As the capacity for initiative and resourcefulness. many ingredients are required for gumption, but it primarily relies on physical and mental energy, plus a mixture of correct circumstance and incentive, realized through fluid and crystallized intelligence. It’s the prerequisite for true Doing, whether such Doing is menial or sisyphean. Certain activities expend gumption, while others restore it. Run out, and you might as well be a vegetable. Have surplus gumption, and you’ll have a good time.
Let’s dig into that more. Gumption is human metachemistry, whereas normal existence as an instance of homo sapiens sapiens is just long-term bio-chemistry. In either case there are precursors, products, catalysts, limiting reagents, and activation-energies. With insufficient gumption precursor, agency cannot occur, which means paralysis or death - figuratively, but also quite possibly literally. For instance, gumption death may manifest as burnout, depression, or increase of consumptive behavior as demonstrated by the plague of avid television consumption somehow still prevalent in the 21st century.
Ensure you do not run out of gumption precursor.
Gumption is constantly spent and accumulated during one’s career as a human being with agency, and exists as a feedback loop between ones actions, and the results of those actions in generating gumption precursor to enable further gumption-driven actions. These factors range from the accumulation of knowledge, experience, wealth, status, perspective, physical and metaphysical tools, which enable the maintenance and improvement primarily of health, energy, and skill. Each action, requiring time, generates differing levels of gumption-positive dividends according to how effectively it was strategized and executed. Therein lay opportunities for optimization.
This is a vast simplification of one particular model of gumption. It omits plenty of other circumstantial contexts, unintuitive processes such as the tension-relaxation dynamic, forcing functions, and especially finer-grain specifics to particular fields of activity which can be drilled into and analyzed, expanding into additional layers of additional nodes and edges, revealing a hypercomplex fractal blossomming into a possibility space colored by gumption-gradients. Unfortunately I currently lack the gumption to expand this serially into further detail in the form of more concise and helpful words or render such a diagram visually, and apologize.
But for at least some amount of gumptional-analysis, let’s dig into coding as an example. Most obviously, gumption, along with caffeine for many perpetrators of code typing, is the juice which allows one to read, write, improve, and purge code at various levels of effectiveness. Here is a subset of some gumption processes:
- Unfamiliar code requires more gumption to decipher the first time around.
- Realizing a clever optimization boosts gumption for those who seek out and enjoy such victories.
- Interacting with bad code and technical debt is almost universally gumption-expensive.
- Successful debugging offers a return in improved gumption depending on the severity and depravity of the bug.
- Head-desking fruitlessly while tests fail, or fail to fail due to tooling, is unlikely to be effective, and also drains gumption and brain cells rapidly.
- For most human specimens, sleep appears to be a reliable method of gumption restoration, but this is not specific to coding at all.
There are plenty of positive feedback loops between gumption and code. And, past a certain threshold of gumption and time, one’s coding competence grows sufficient to entertain a career with excellent return in livelihood and privilege escalation, which brings physical, mental, and environmental resources to further enhance gumption.
These feedback loops did not materialize in the modern world, but have a prehistoric origin in the earliest pieces of technology which brought greater advantage to whichever clever cro-magnan managed to bootstrap to a higher gumption cycle.
It seems the bandwidth of gumption flow approximates agency. However, gumption is often shared within groups and communities. Just as our physical resources, sociosphere, and world lines are interconnected, so do our gumption precursors and products feed into one another’s agency cycles. Furthermore, gumption is never zero-sum. It is more akin to wildfire, epidemics, and avalanches across populations of potentially agentic human beings.
How do we scale agency to as many people as possible?
Extrapolating from the ramblings above, we can scale gumption by enabling and enhancing each other’s feedback loops. Physical infrastructure provides physical precursors, while socio-cultural and educational environments provide mental precursors. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these paradigms in their current state is insufficient – from our broken factory model of education permanently damaging young minds, to crumbling infrastructure engorged with catastrophic traffic, wasting billions in human hours and dollars yet incentive structures causing demand for yet more automobiles / death-machines, to displacing gumption with useless frustration en masse.
Gumption-positive environments are few and far between these days, especially given the prevalence of meta-prisons which keep gumption in the red and human agency behind bars, ranging from authoritarian nonsense to late capitalism. Furthermore, even in an idealistic gumption-positive environment, there is no guarantee that agency metabolizes correctly. It takes approximately two decades and some luck and privilege to generate a semi-functional human being, more decades to really get it right, but this is highly non-deterministic. It’s an even slower and far more fragile endeavor to foster the minimum mental context for personally healthy gumption economics.
Although beyond these brief abstractions and anecdotes I can offer no real solution.
From those I’ve spoken with, it’s clear that many of us have the desire to Save The Universe to a degree, or at the very least Make Things Suck Less. Such tasks require significant amounts of human agency, and agency at such a level requires much gumption-enhancing cognitive lubrication. We should examine our internal and external gumption economics if we haven’t already, and improve efficiency anywhere possible until we are incredibly and sustainably gumption-rich, and therefore agency-rich.
We need the agency to install agency as an axiom in this world.