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Back To School
Moontower Munchies #25
Summer travel is over. School starts in a week. I know in most of the country that seasonal boost of back-to-school zest comes after Labor Day but I’m stoked to start scraping off the brain decay now. [Come to think of it, those of us with shorter energy half-lives should have Labor Day resolutions and New Year’s resolutions!]
Moontowers resume their regular cadence Wednesday and Sunday. I say this every time but I'll try to keep them shorter. It also gives me space to make the educational posts thicker. I’ll be building and writing a lot. You’ll always find out about the stuff here not to mention the exhaust that comes along the way personally and for lack of a better word “professionally”. (It’s an ill-fitting word because I kinda know what I’m doing and I kinda also “feel” that it will all make sense looking backward and no part of that combo fits the connotation of “professional”.)
Ok, moving on to some Munchies links. I’ll start with 2 bits that piggyback off of the last Moontower Anxious You're Short A Self-Reliance Put?.
1) The first is a reprint of a Twitter thread by an educator I follow, Matt Bateman.
Agency is rate limited by competence.
Being trait agential usually flows from developing solid baseline competence in a handful of different domains. Like: one technical domain, one intellectual domain, one interpersonal domain, one creative domain.
Build a shed, develop informed opinions about history, resolve your social anxiety, learn an instrument. These and like victories are the countless premises from which the conclusion “I can author my life” follows.
Being high agency doesn’t mean being a lone wolf, it means creating your pack.
Conversely, belonging is downstream of agency, especially in adolescence and beyond.
There's a common and wrong idea of agency in which it is exercised in selecting something from the menu but not in eating it. Agency is self-direction more broadly, not choice or selection.
Choice is big muscles, an initial lift; competence is small muscles, granular control; persistence is endurance, sustained interest. Agency is the sum of these (and more).
Choice can offered and competence can be scaffolded. The hardest thing to solve for, the most developmentally fragile, is persistence.
Having your own standards doesn’t necessarily mean having different standards. Living differently is a dramatic illustration of agency, not a definition of it. Being high agency can look quite normie.
Relatedly, getting too deeply sucked into the aesthetic of being non-standard is low agency. To be reflexively non-standard is to be beholden to the standard.
Critical thinking is not higher agency than thinking. Critique is not the only way to be thoughtful, to be intentional, to form knowledge. It is one way, and a way that is often suboptimal way.
Agency is not a natural state. Removing blockers to agency is important but it’s more important to build the scaffolding of agency, which is not there by default.
It’s most important to think about the big things agentially—the arc of your life, relationships, work, beliefs and values—but the small things also matter. Fix small problems with low-hanging solutions. Cold? Buy a space heater. Too much TV? Make a date night.
History, done right and with a progress bent, helps bring agency into focus. > We can’t— We went to the moon.
The endurance part of agency is built first by getting joyfully lost in a task. The capacity to occasionally do things you don’t like comes in large part from developing the capacity to do things you do like. Most people never develop the latter and so struggle with the former.
Content itself can be higher or lower agency. Teaching things historically, as having been discovered, created, established by human effort, is a high agency curricular frame. Teaching history intellectually, as driven first by ideas, beliefs, values, is high agency.
Playing sports, learning an instrument, putting on a play, getting a job, making an app—if the education you’re offering isn’t actively helping with these and cognate modes of developing agency, then it had better not be blocking them.
Many of the components of education thought to be low agency are actually perfectly suited for high agency education. Practice. Repetition. Memorization. These are good methods by which to intentionally shape your own soul.
Agency is for everyone. It’s like honesty. It’s a virtue to be cultivated, not a lucky personality trait.
2) In my last post, I pointed out how plenty of smart people don’t understand investing:
I feel for the average American who I’d bet is even less informed than my mom [about money].
[I shared this thought with the local social club I’m in and there was plenty of interest in basic personal finance talks, so I’m collaborating with a few members to do some firesides at the club.]
Look, I understand the arguments for moving from defined benefit (ie pensions) to defined contribution (ie 401k) plans but “democratizing investment choice” without the proper scaffolding feels like an invitation to have the wolves educate the sheep.
I’m capable and enjoy helping people think better about this stuff so I’ll keep on. But just a reminder, that if you feel comfortable with investing basics (and most of this readership does!) don’t take it for granted that your neighbors do too. A nice way to give back locally or just in your family might be to organize a session where no question is too basic. Create a no-judgement zone. You, right now, are sitting there with the skills to alleviate some of your friends and family’s anxiety.
An allocator I have deep respect for responded with a high agency thing you can do to help:
A way your readers can use their investment literacy to help their community is to volunteer to be on the investment committee for local non-profits with small endowments. I find that they often have non-expert board members and service providers that are screwing them. I once helped a non-profit that provides affordable child care here in [redacted] fix their tiny retirement plan - they were getting hosed by the insurance company that ran it. It's also a good way to interact with people us "symbol manipulators" might not otherwise spend time with.
I asked for specific ways to find such opportunities, and voila:
I just did it the old-fashioned way and cold-emailed non-profit leaders I found by googling (I was focused on organizations helping address the huge racial inequities here). Once you find one or two good ones, they'll put you in touch with others they know. Finding board members knowledgeable about investments is really hard and non-profit leaders will be happy to hear from people looking to volunteer.
In terms of hacks, most metro areas probably have a local business journal that publishes a "top local non-profits" list every year that might include asset information. I also use the ProPublica 990 search engine to find non-profits. It's a bit clunky but for instance, you can find the 295 orgs in [Kris’ town redacted] and then how much they have in assets by clicking on them (e.g. the library has $X). "Form 990" is an IRS form that nonprofits have to fill out every year. There is lots of interesting information in it.
Hooking up with a local endowment sounds like a great way to not only be helpful but get a taste of how investment committees work from the inside.
3) This is one of the best accounts on the internet. The production value on these defy logic.
Stay groovy ☮️
I was invited to be a part of the Substack Meetings beta. You can book a time to chat. I’m more expensive than a 900 number from 1988 and have a less sexy voice.
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