Wednesday 7 December 2022

Why lack-of-agency is so commonly claimed in this modern world

It strikes me that - whether explicitly or implicitly - people are very keen to project and claim for themselves a lack of agency. 

In other words, people are very keen to explain human behaviour in terms that assume it is a consequence of environment: that human evaluations and choices have an insignificant role in determining behaviour.

That environment determines behaviour; or, in other words, Nurture is primary; Nature is malleable - and Men are (in effect) 'blank slates' upon-which society inscribes.  

On the face of it; it is a remarkable thing that so many people use their agency to deny agency - whether in themselves or in others! But there are many possible reasons for this, although perhaps (as I shall explain, below) these all reduce to a single reason...

For example; people often claim lack of agency for themselves when they wish to avoid responsibility and blame. 

And they do much the same when they wish to absolve some favoured group (a 'victim' group) from blame. 

This is why people so often claim to be powerless, discriminated-against, excluded - they are claiming that they have no choice but to do whatever they are caused to do, and therefore cannot be blamed for it. Thus they claim that the effective answer to this particular problem is that I (or my favoured group) ought to be better treated!

Such people (or groups) are, in effect, asking to be 'rescued' from a situation that they did not choose, and cannot escape from. They are like sentient cattle who are starving and miserable, crying-out for a kind farmer to drive them to another, and better, pasture. 

Elites, however, tend to claim agency for themselves (at least, up to a point); while denying it in the masses whom they seek to control. 

This, indeed, is the implicit basis for elite legitimacy, and the reason why They claim the right to control Others/ Us. 

The idea is that We cannot understand or make wise choices, because We are passive creatures who behave 'automatically' as a consequence of incentive and sanctions. Whereas the elites stand above this, outside of the determining causes; elites therefore make up their own minds, achieve understanding and make choices - and therefore have the authority to shape society for its own good (because mass-society cannot do this for themselves, lacking agency). 

Society is thus divided into the controllers and the responders; those who stand outside the societal causes and those who are trapped-within them.

In other words, since the masses cannot decide for themselves (because they lack agency); then those who do have agency must necessarily do the deciding for them. 

The only question then is who - among those agent elites - ought to do this deciding? And this is where 'elections' come-in. 

Elections assume that there must be controllers; and (since they are devised, administered and interpreted by the elites) elections comprise the various arrangements by which the elites determine who, among themselves, gets to do the controlling

The mass/ electors regard themselves as have just enough agency to be sufficient to pick their favourite controller among the elites. 

Election voting is done to choose who gets to shape my behaviour.  

Behind these various claims of lack-of-agency is the desire for a better world, in a Godless and de-spiritualized universe. 

In a strange and paradoxical way; the claimed lack of agency of many or most people, is the only way that hope for betterment can be found; in a world where all meaning is understood to be manufactured by Men. 

If everyone was happy and hopeful; then they would take responsibility for their choices; but the pervasive dissatisfaction and alienation of modern societies means that people seek life satisfaction in social arrangements

For there to be a Good Society actually requires that Men are passive products of society. 

That is, for there to be a better world entails that Men must be shaped-by society, and thus Men must lack agency

I think we can see that the - apparently absurdly irrational! - structuring but implicit ideology of the world in 2022 - is a consequence of a deep yearning for a better world. 

(That is, a world 'better' in a material sense: a world where everybody might be happy and nobody suffers).

For this to happen, absolutely requires that Men are passive responders. 

And, for such a world to be the object of hope; it requires that there be some Men who are active controllers, who have agency and take responsibility (including blame), and who stand-outside of the environmental networks of incentives and sanctions that cause the behaviour of 'everyone-else': the passive masses. 

The passive masses therefore create and sustain the elites as repositories of existential hope - and typically regard the elites as a contested zone, an arena of conflict between the Good agents, who are trying to make a better world for Us Masses; and the bad elites who are trying to use the masses for their own satisfaction. 

This explains the partisan nature of politics; and the experience-proof fashion in which the masses recurrently invest hope in elite-led 'salvation'. 

If the claim of lacking agency is indeed central to most people's hopes for a better world; then we can see why the (more cynical) idea that the elites are not really partisan but all-one, that elites are essentially and overall a collusion not a competition, is a thing that people can adjust-to - albeit it is resisted strongly, and partisanship is still normal. 

The masses can cope with the idea that elites are short-termist and selfish so long as the elites are also regarded as lacking agency! 

This seems to be the case in our advanced (in degeneracy!) democracy. 

The elites increasingly demand victim status and deny their own agency. And this is broadly accepted! - Because, in principle, it might be possible to set-up a System of incentives and sanctions that include the elite. 

Such a System would then impose long-termist and altruistic goals on the elites (as well as the masses), who - lacking agency - would be bound to follow them. 

And, once set-up, a totally-embracing-system that rewarded long-termism and altruism might be expected to be self-sustaining... 

Some such notion is at the heart of most of the ideologies of the past century-plus. The idea that a better world is a consequence of a better System. 

And for a better System to do its job, Men must lack agency. 

The only problem - albeit it is a huge one! - is how to get from here to there; from our current condition, to one in which The System Makes Men Good*

When there is no faith in Men, all faith is in The System. 

Only if The System is good, can Men be made good - therefore, if there is to be a better world; everything-else than The System (including Men) can and must be sacrificed to the making and sustaining of The (Good) System.   

Totalitarianism is the envisaged method

How to get from here to there; from where we are to the Good System - is a problem. 

But water path, the method must surely be via totalitarianism; which is why totalitarianism is so widely embraced and supported in the world today - as being 'a step in the right direction'. 

Since hope is invested in a single Good System; then whatever the answer it must be totalitarianism. That there will be one, global, an all-powerful System is a given requirement. The only legitimate debate concerns the specific content of that System.

Such is the nature and scope of debate among todays globalist elites.   

The one thing that cannot be tolerated by the masses is if the elites are regarded as 

1. essentially collusive rather than competitive, 

2. possessing agency, and 

3. also (by choice, from that agency) fundamentally evil in motivation.

In a God-denying and anti-spiritual secular society; such an insight would destroy human hope, and lead to despair. 

Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly what is true. There is a broadly-cohesive elite, with agency, and they have (overwhelmingly) chosen to serve the goals of evil. 

But that situation is exactly the one that cannot be acknowledged without inescapable despair - unless, that is, Men first recognize God and the primarily spiritual nature of this reality. 

*Note: In 1934 TS Eliot wrote:

They constantly try to escape 

From the darkness outside and within 

By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.


Phil said...

So the system must be one which makes men good. If only we had such a system, designed by one who was truly wise!
We do.
He gave it to us on Sinai.
And Paul tells us that it failed to produce righteousness because it was, "weak through the flesh". It depended on men keeping it by their own strength & holiness.
So all we have to do is come up w/ something even better.
The only way, as you point out, is to eliminate agency altogether; the elites are working on brain implants for just such a purpose.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Phil - I fear you have completely misunderstood me to mean the *opposite* of what I intended!

Either that, or you are joking...

Not sure which.

radiobeloved said...

The Grand Inquisitor...

Bruce Charlton said...

@rb - Is that a "complete the sentence" challenge?!