Simon Sarris has an excellent new essay
on personal agency - and especially the idea that modernity has killed many of the most important “onramps of opportunity” that allow children to develop agency. Modern education is a particular target of Sarris’s ire:
“Who could blame young adults for thinking that work is fake and meaningless if we prescribe fake and meaningless work for the first two decades of their existence?”
I sympathise with this (and recommend reading the whole thing
) but I’m not fully convinced by the argument.
First, the argument is most compelling for the median person, but Sarris seems most concerned in practice with exceptional individuals. His examples of individuals who benefited from less structured childhoods are some of the great talents of history: Da Vinci, Disney, Steve Jobs, etc. But I wonder if he has confused cause and effect: great talents go “off-script early” because
they are great talents (see, e.g., the stories of Vitalik Buterin or Patrick Collison for contemporary examples). We are doubtless missing out on many such people (see TiB 125
), but not primarily because of modern schooling.
Second, Sarris underrates the internet. As he acknowledges, “programming is permissionless”, but the internet also enables new institutions that welcome people of any age, purely on the basis of talent (or, one might say, “proof of work”). Sarris asks, “Where are the studios, anyway?
”, referring to the workshops where the young Da Vinci got his start. They are manifold: from open source software and expertise-based communities (e.g. Stack Overflow
) to Y Combinator and the Thiel Fellowship (and, I hope, Entrepreneur First
). I suspect, in fact, that we will look back and say that the internet ushered in a golden age of individual agency.