Distributed infrastructure for localism—Massively parallel experimentation—the Future of Abundantly Clear—SPIGOT, an Autotelic experiment

What's the big idea?—Abundantly Clear will continue as my personal newsletter, with some regular elements, and some irregular—Some notes on the SPIGOT experiment

What makes a democracy?

"Don't these people know!?"

It was early morning the last time I took a taxi, and as we rode past lines of Starbucks addicts winding down the sidewalk, the driver exclaimed, "Don't these people know!? It is no good to start your day with coffee!"

A moment later, he described to me his preferred morning ritual.

It included a slice of cake, and it excluded everything else.

This guy votes.

I once stopped in a gas station convenience store, and a tall man with an enormous belly asked me—after pointing out how slender I was—if I could help him decide on an energy drink to help him lose weight.

He told me he didn't know what he was doing wrong. He didn't eat all day. He just drank coke to keep going, you know? and when he went home, he might sometimes have a bit of cake—or—he told me in hushed tones that it sometimes was a whole cake. He didn't bother with other foods, because he didn't want to pack on the pounds.

This guy votes.

We're on our own folks, together. We make democracy what it is.

Democracy is only as good as the people who invigorate it (or don't).

Let us invigorate it and not leave it to others.

In the coming years I want to offer up some tools to supercharge that invigoration, but first…

Abundantly Clear — Some draft rules

Rule #1: Let me be even lesser known than Sybil Ludington.

Please don't revere Abundantly Clear (or me).

Did you know there was a young American woman who rode on horseback through the night to warn her countrymen of the coming British? Paul Revere is better known. She is lesser known.

I am perfectly content to remain even lesser known still. Truly, let everyone else have the credit. I prefer it. I don't want fame or its trappings, just the minimum viable attention.

I just want to share my thinking here.

I reckon the request may sometimes fall on deaf ears—stalkers gonna stalk—but please don't reach out with your personal problems or impose your mental waywardness upon me. There are so many people with big online audiences now who are constantly troubled by members of those audiences making unreasonable demands on their attention, presenting them with ultimatums to prevent a suicide for example.

I am rolling out services designed to help practically anyone, but I can’t do that very well if I’m distracted from it. (Presumptuous as this may read, it seems important for me to post this up front, because I may need to refer people to this message in the future as a "from the start" statement that I don’t want to keep reiterating.)

Rule #2: … well, that's it for now

I’m happy to get to know people who reach out in good faith and perhaps even become friends, but if the first time we ever interact is so beyond the pale of norms, it just can’t work.

Now I know that is a super weird aside, so let’s get on with it.

The way forward is many ways at once.

Complex parallel experimentation is the name of the game. It's what our republic has going for it. It seems to be the only thing that we see us out of this mess.

Imagine staking your life and the life of your countrymen on some narrow-minded pursuits, only to find out that you put all your eggs in the wrong basket when the time was already too late.

There is still time for us. I'm not here to stoke some sense of urgency in you. I'm sure you can't help but stumble across such things on the way to your mailbox, let alone on your media devices. The need for urgency has apparently been with us since before I was born. It's not evenly distributed though. I think this is in part due to the fact that it is pretty difficult to stomach just how much of a mess we are in.

I'll reiterate, part of the genius of America is its capacity for parallel complex experimentation. The governmental apparatuses that catalyze this are only one factor in a much broader ecosystem at play. Of course the people and their variety at the heart of it, along with their common ground understanding that—although they may vary—there are better and worse ways to absorb that variety into the greater fabric.

Where would we be if each state acted exactly like California? Like Illinois? Like New York?

Where would we be if the states were indistinguishable? If the United States was one big “United State”?

The heterogeneity (*fancy talk for ‘mixed-up-edness’) of our social systems is at once a pain in the ass and a great insulator from ruin.

Whoever one might think has been attempting to steal what election, the fact of the matter is, it helps us in the Big Picture that we have so many differences among our election systems. It makes it more difficult to exploit them. If we all used the same system, then we would all be subject to the same vulnerabilities, which would make attacking us through that system much simpler, no?

There is more at play than our elections though, obviously.

It can be tempting to think that, well, if we just solved for ideal electoral reform, then we would be in the clear because our democracy would operate much more as it should. We would have cleared the cobwebs and filled the pitfalls and so on.

Again, the governmental apparatuses are only one part of the picture though.

The line of evil runs right through each of our hearts—and so does that of liberty.

At once it is up to all of us and up to each of us to have a hand in making this society what it is for the coming generations. We are supposed to be stewards, but it seems as though we are too overwhelmed by the apparently ever growing to-do list to bother thinking very carefully about it. After all, day-to-day life for many Americans is far from footloose and fancy free.

It doesn't make sense to expect all of us to become civic professionals, engaged in government as energetically as honey badgers on the hunt.

So we must beware of those who like to go to meetings, for they have an asymmetric advantage on our governance structures over time, because most of us would prefer to just go about our lives, care for our families, and so forth.

While we do this, however, our institutions are under attack, and we generally do not have a plan B.

No more do we find ourselves looking around the bend and seeing some awful thing coming. It's here. It's now.

Frankly, it hasn't just been for the past four years either. If you think that, I'm sorry, but you need to do some reflecting on US history and the histories of civilizations in general.

The US remains as a catalytic environment. We ought to use it to the best of our ability.

The risk of disengagement and slacktivism are rather the same, though slacktivism may appear as even more of an accelerant toward ruin than disengagement: the road to ruin takes no effort, for it is downhill, and we have been dismantling our brakes for generations, with all the more vigor in more recent times.

The risk of traditional vigorous engagement is similar. There are perils in being a public figure today that put the perils of yesteryear to shame. Privacy, what's that? Sticking one’s neck out in the workplace can put livelihood on the line. Sticking one’s neck out in public risks harassment and worse.

Yes, I am calling you to vigorous engagement, but in a rather non-traditional, or at least unfamiliar sort. Think of it as judo. Think of it as a subtle anti-subversion in everyday life. You may have heard that all politics are local. You may have heard to put your own house in order before criticizing the world. I'm not going to pontificate on these things for now. All I am going to suggest is that we develop infrastructures for people to more effectively become what they would like to become, and to provide general tools to reflect on just what that means. (Ostensibly this is what education is for, but we clearly need more than that.)

This is what I am doing—designing and building and experimenting with personal everyday infrastructure that can scale out to many millions of people and catalyze their own agency and personal development—and it is abundantly clear that this may be one of the best uses of my time that I could think of.

The usual levers as they are presented to us… they seem to have been decoupled from the powers we would like them to have.

I don't think I can call for a return to localism for most of us, because most of us have not lived in an environment of true localism; rather, I am asking each of you to consider what it means to begin cultivating a strain of localism in your own everyday life. It may start with learning the names of your neighbors. (Looking at you, fellow Millennials.) It may develop into being able to weather the even more grave storms rolling in on the horizon, not as atomized individuals and households, but as true communities.

Do you think things will get so much better in the next few years simply because of a changing of the furniture in the White House? They weren't competent to help the people in New Orleans, nor everyday people in 2008, nor could our legislators be bothered to help first responders from 9/11. What makes us think they’re up to the task now? While we should strive for more competent federal government, we should also strive to preclude the apparent need for its expansion by invigorating our lives locally.

I'll reiterate: I am building infrastructures for everyday life designed to catalyze people to develop greater agency and reflective intelligence in their life, not by some magical doctrine or political theory, but by bridging the cold hard facts of systems and information theory to their fingertips, to bring the power of scientific understanding of general systems to the everyday in service of whatever purpose a person might have.

If this purpose is to write a book, so be it. If this is to cultivate personal relationships, so be it. What I am developing now is purpose-agnostic: it doesn't care. You provide the purpose, I provide general purpose systems to make it more accessible.

The underlying idea is to catalyze the vigor of the parallel experimentation that has made our society great.

The alternative seems to be unending lunacy, as we are now steeped in disinformation and it won't be getting better anytime soon.

As with the virus and our biological immune systems, we need to strengthen our social immune systems.

The mind viruses are here.

Infrastructure in the works — SPIGOT

One of my experiments is coming together nicely. It’s called SPIGOT.

SPIGOT is a system for augmented discipline.

Right now I am focused on developing tools for three prototype routines that can be adapted and used throughout the day:

1. Morning Vigor

2. Everyday Equanimity

3. Nighttime Restoration

Together, these essential routines comprise the pilot project known as SPIGOT Everyday.

To be clear, each routine can be adapted to your own liking, or you can build your own from the ground up.

With annual resolutions around the bend, I thought I would offer something much more durable than the usual. Stay tuned.

Why use SPIGOT?

Great everyday routines shouldn’t be a drag.

They should invigorate us. They should serve us well as reliable times of rejuvenation that we can depend on and look forward to each day.

But for many of us, they are a drag,and when we start a new routine meant to improve our life, it often isn’t long before we’ve stopped it. Worse, we seem to eventually accept this dull state of affairs as reality—and so it is our reality.

We were up and running each morning, maybe going to the gym or just taking a nice walk, maybe going straight to our notebook and writing at least a half-page. It was going great, that is, it was going great until that fateful day—maybe a few weeks into the new year—a morning when we just didn’t feel like it, when our gym clothes weren’t ready, and we woke up late, and the kids are fussy, and we need to get to work anyways.

“I’ll do it tomorrow” becomes “Wait, what was I doing again?”

And just like that, our new routine has bit the dust.

Even though we might like it to be the opposite, we find that the things we do to take care of ourselves are often the first things to go when we’re under pressure.

Maybe we pick it up again the next day, but will we draw on our willpower to pick it up again and again, or will we just drop it altogether and continue to “get by” without the routine that we thought we wanted?

It doesn’t have to be this way! Often, the truth is that we just don’t have the right tools. Recognizing this, we might seek outside help.

“I know: maybe I would do much better with a personal trainer?” Yes, but why does a personal trainer work? Can’t we make much of the same benefit a lot more affordable? (Yes.) And how does a personal trainer help with making sure that I meditate, read a few pages, and write at least a little bit each morning? (They don’t.) There has to be a better way.

So we are all too familiar with how difficult it can be to start a new habit. We figure it doesn’t have to be this way, but we don’t want to depend on some life coach or a group of similarly challenged friends to be consistent.

What’s the solution?

People have long studied human behavior, habit, psychology—it’s time to translate what we’ve been learning into effective tools that can be used again and again.

It’s time to get better at getting better.

It’s time to open SPIGOT.

Our willpower is limited and unpredictable—why waste it on everyday matters?

Unlike your last new year’s resolution, SPIGOT creates consistency without withdrawing from your willpower accounts.

In fact, SPIGOT is designed to make deposits and help build willpower for the days ahead!

You can start each day invigorated, and you can end each day ready to rest well.

SPIGOT can help.

Want early access? Sign up for the Augmented newsletter from SPIGOT

The status of SPIGOT

SPIGOT is currently not available to the public. (To gain early access, sign up for the Augmented Newsletter from SPIGOT.) However…

I announced earlier this month that SPIGOT Everyday Routine Design Services will be available to the first cohort for the new year. The service helps clients evolve their everyday routines to be of greatest service to their immediate and long-term goals.

The long game with SPIGOT

SPIGOT is taking on a difficult problem with a simple solution. It has potential for massive growth, but I want to keep it small for now and evolve it so that it is that much more useful when it reaches mass audiences.

While it’s not made explicit elsewhere, the goal for SPIGOT is to create an everyday infrastructure that can catalyze everyday people to everyday greatness.

A common lament from my generation: we know we should keep a budget, but we’ve never really learned how. What if the on-ramp was made super accessible, stacked on top of already well-developed everyday routines? It just might be possible with the future of SPIGOT.

More than that, I want to develop the greater SPIGOT ecosystem into a place for evolutionary thinking and evolutionary knowledge, by which I mean, I want it to be an environment that effectively catalyzes the evolution of culture.

More on that some other time.

Let me link the newsletter one more time, the Augmented Newsletter from SPIGOT, and suggest that you follow @SPIGOTsystems on Twitter.

What I’m watching

Yuri Bezmenov videos

A Yuri Bezmenov clip regarding spirituality and subversion

“Why would they be more susceptible to manipulation?”

“… a person who is too much involved in introspective meditation—you see, if you carefully look at what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is teaching to Americans is that, all of, most of the problems, most of the burning issues of today can be solved simply by meditating. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t get involved. Just sit down, look at your navel, and meditate; and the things, due to some strange logic, due to cosmic vibration, will settle down by themselves. This is exactly what the KGB and Marxist/Leninist propaganda wants from Americans: to distract their opinion, attention, and mental energy from real issues of United States into non-issues, into a non-world, non-existent harmony. Obviously it’s more beneficial for the Soviet aggressors to have a bunch of duped Americans than Americans who are self-conscious, healthy, physically fit, and alert to the reality. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi obviously is not on the payroll of the KGB, but whether he knows it or not, he contributes greatly to demoralization of American society; and he’s not the only one. There are hundreds of those gurus who come to your country to capitalize on naivete and stupidity of Americans. it’s a fashion. it’s a fashion to meditate. it’s a fashion not to be involved. So obviously you can see that, if KGB were that curious, if they paid my trip, if they assigned me to that strange job, obviously they were very much fascinated. They were convinced that that type of brainwashing is very efficient and instrumental in demoralization of United States.”

A talk by Yuri Bezmenov

Gad Saad videos

The Consuming Instinct | Dr. Gad Saad | Talks at Google

What I’m reading

Growth Hacker Marketing, by Ryan Holiday

After being introduced to Ryan Holiday’s work by a friend—who passed me his copy of Holiday’s indispensable Trust Me, I’m Lying while he was studying media in Chicago—the number of books on my shelf bearing the Holiday name has grown. This short and eminently readable book, a revised and expanded edition from 2014, contains the essential kernels of growth hacking wisdom and points seekers of network effects in the right direction. From the back: “Growth hackers have thrown out the old playbook and replaced it with tools that are testable, trackable, and scalable.” Understanding this area seems to be key for today’s business world.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen

This book has been a true life-changer, and continues to demonstrate its worth. The Getting Things Done (GTD) systems that Allen promotes are useful for practically anyone. Its subtitle is “the art of stress-free productivity,” which may raise an eyebrow as too-good-to-be-true for many people, but I can assure you, it has helped me to achieve a sort of everyday peace and clarity that I did not know was possible. From the back: “… our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective results and unleash our creative potential.” Watch his talk to learn more, or if you are ready for action now, you can skip ahead to the clear and concise Getting Things Done Workbook.

Podcast appearances

The A&E Cast

Aaron and I recorded this one on December 2, the first episode of our experimental podcast together.


A photo to share

See you next time!

Truly, thanks for subscribing. This is the first of many to come, and it will evolve over time.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Augmented newsletter from SPIGOT.

— Evan Driscoll, 2020-12-08