...sparkliness, i.e. how you'd describe people who are some combination of smart, curious, interested in making the world better, interested in making themselves better, and in some sense agentic, i.e. actively trying to shape the world around them for the better.

Speaking genuinely about sparkliness is hard. Think of it like how the Supreme Court talks about obscenity: it's impossible to create systematic, objective, empirical definitions of it, but I know it when I see it. It's qualitative.

But it's meaningful — being in places that are optimized for sparkliness (I'll talk more about that later) is awesome. The concept isn't a cop-out for "people I like," either: agency, desire to build and improve the world, desire to learn, etc. are all objectively observable traits — they're just difficult to observe.

Sparkliness is in some sense an ideal. Most people aren't as sparkly as they could be. Especially when we have an education system that incentivizes following rules, not changing them; memorizing formulas, not inventing new ones; formulaic accomplishment, not creativity. When learning is a task, not a joy, you lose something fundamental. Schools — at least, most of them — kill sparkliness. So do lots of other, deeper-seated things: dead-end jobs, poverty, lack of opportunity, discrimination. But some of it can even just come down to bad luck: you haven't found the friends that you can sparkle with in your local environment.

The implication is that there are lots of people who could be sparkly but aren't yet, for any number of reasons. People who feel trapped in school despite wanting to learn, or who are interested in lots of subjects but don't know what to do with themselves. People who are really smart, but have been beaten down and don't have the sense of self-efficacy to advocate for themselves. People who don't have the space in their lives to build their own projects because they go to school in the day and work to support their family at night. People who feel like they don't have friends to share their interests with.

I think surrounding those people (proto-sparkly people?) with the resources they need to thrive and self-actualize would have an outsized impact on the world. Partly because agency rubs off — once you realize you can just do things, the whole world opens up. By putting people like this in a situation where they're exposed do all the cool stuff they can be doing, and people who can help them do it, you could change their whole life path.

And while it's really hard to try and fix those systemic issues — education, poverty, discrimination — that kill sparkliness, there are a lot of low-hanging options to help enable it flower in spite of those factors. We can build social infrastructure that targets these people, supports their growth, and reinvests the returns.

from What is Social Infrastructure?

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