Taking the full measure of this hateful concept called “agency.”

From Sidewalk Bubblegum.

I’ve already written quite a bit about free will and agency, and it may seem like a rather abstract subject to discuss. But to liberals, agency is increasingly becoming the be-all and end-all of ethics; they are eager to sacrifice the well-being and lives of millions of women and POC in its name. So it behooves us to be very careful indeed about this agency business and name it for what it is.

I’ve already made the case that “agency” really means blaming the victim. But I think looking at uses of free will gives us some more clues as to the nature of agency. Because free will, after all, is nothing more than the philosophical term for agency, which is a more recent sociological term.

No proponent is eager to point that out, and for good reason: free will is being increasingly discredited by our recently acquired knowledge of the brain and by modern scientific experiments, and more and more thinkers and scientists are rallying to the side of determinism. And if free will is discredited, then so is agency. If free will is a regressive concept which leads us to a conceptual dead end, then so is agency.

My new point on free will is this: we commonly associate active characters, people who take charge of their lives, people who get things done, with free will and passive characters, people who are subjected to events, with determinism. People argue that if determinism is true, then we must all become passive victims of fate, unable to change anything in our lives.

On the face of it, this is nonsense: determinism is a causal issue, and our active or passive nature is a personality issue, so there’s no direct relation between the two. There are still, and will always be, active and passive people regardless of what anyone thinks about the nature of reality. In that sense, it’s as ridiculous as a Christian doubting the kindness of a person because they just learned that they’re an atheist; how could one abstract concept make you doubt the evidence of your own eyes?

But the association of volition with activity is interesting from a political standpoint. Who is categorized or portrayed as active, agents of change, leaders? Men, white people, adults. Who is categorized or portrayed as passive? Women, POC, children.

Well, isn’t that interesting? Look at who’s blamed by the concept of “agency,” who the liberals are pointing fingers at: it’s used against women in pornography and prostitution (“they decided to be abused!”), and it’s used against POC in capitalism (“they chose those jobs!”) and police abuse (“they want to live the thug life!”).

But who actually has the power to act otherwise? Well, rich people, for one. People who have a higher social standing, people who have more power in general, have a lot of options, while poor people, people who have less power in general, have fewer options.

In a sense, this is somewhat tautological: power entails having more options. But I state this because it tells us who is really being served by the “agency” strategy. Just to take the example of prostitution, a majority of prostitutes are destitute, have been sexually abused in childhood, and have few other choices available to them. Women who have more money have the option of not entering the sex industry.

Obviously we still cannot say that this minority of women who enter the sex industry even though they have other viable options “decided to be abused.” Few people outright want to be abused, and they are usually victim of the many misrepresentations and frauds surrounding the sex industry. But this minority is the only demographic being portrayed anywhere remotely accurately by “agency” rhetoric, in that they did have other options. Most women involved in prostitution don’t.

So “agency” rhetoric seems to be made to portray the people who are at the top of the ladder as the default. This is not overly surprising: we already know that males and white people are the default humans and everyone else is in a sub-category. But the “agency” rhetoric sends a deeper message: it says “women who are victimized by pornography or prostitution, POC who are victimized by capitalism or the legal system, deserve to be victimized because they, unlike the default humans, don’t have the option to get out of it.”

Here’s another thing. Is it a coincidence that, as the word “agency” is becoming omnipresent in feminist discussions, the word “victim” is being erased out of existence? Or are both symptoms of a greater ideological disease?

“Victim” identifies a party that was harmed and, by corollary, a party that harms. “Agency,” on the other hand, normalizes exploitation and puts the spotlight solely on the person that was harmed, scrutinizing their “choices.” But this already is the standard tactic used against rape victims. The way people analyze “welfare queens” and police shootings of black people also reflect this tactic: the agent (the victim) must always be scrutinized until some fault is found. No one else can ever be blamed.

They are desperately trying to evade the most important step in analyzing exploitation: to name the oppressor. They will say anything, use any form of misdirection, exploit any psychological vulnerability, to prevent you from doing this. And they are, by and large, successful. Even people who are sympathetic to the victims will rarely have the courage to name the oppressors; instead, they will quickly become apologists for the oppressors so that we know they are not “extremists” or “bigots.”

It’s also used in the reverse way: people who are said to not have “agency” (which is an arbitrary and socially constructed conclusion, since there’s no such thing as “agency” anyway) are thereby deemed to be worthy of being victimized (“children can’t make decisions for themselves, so parents must do it!”). We will harm you anyway, but at least it’s not your fault!

“Agency” is really such a hateful, depraved concept, isn’t it?

10 thoughts on “Taking the full measure of this hateful concept called “agency.”

  1. stchauvinism June 7, 2015 at 13:14 Reply

    Reblogged this on Stop Trans Chauvinism.

  2. elfkat June 7, 2015 at 15:16 Reply
  3. sbt42 June 8, 2015 at 11:17 Reply

    Capitalism crushes those victimized, and when the victimized reach out for help, the programs and initiatives that assist them are derided as “socialism” and a “waste of resources.” Agency makes people feel even worse for themselves and their current circumstances, because it conceals the culpable variables that put them in that situation in the first place (very often, since birth).

  4. purplesagefem June 8, 2015 at 12:17 Reply

    Great post!

  5. unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 16:58 Reply

    Yes…why I hate sex-pozzy “feminism,” part of why I dislike identity politics, and why I am a critic of the idea of “choice” or “consent” without taking into account cultural, social, situational and even genetic contexts.

  6. […] paralysis as “finding ways to live rich lives” (i.e. pretend that they’ve become “active” instead of “passive”, thus erasing their status of victim), he seeks to distract us from the fact that paralysis is a […]

  7. […] I know I often come back to the concept of “agency” to the point of obsession, but it’s such a fundamental issue that we have to come back to it. It’s the chewy center of all anti-radical rhetoric, the code-word used to hammer against egalitarianism and for hatred, the number one thought-stopper used in “social justice.” It is difficult for people to even consider “agency” as a false concept because of the widespread belief in free will. […]

  8. visservrouw May 15, 2018 at 10:29 Reply

    You do realize that according to your own logic the people on top of hierarchy aren’t responsible for victimization at all? If it’s all deterministic then where is their moral culpability? I am honestly curious.

    • Francois Tremblay May 15, 2018 at 16:01 Reply

      You are confusing two different concepts here: blame and responsibility. I agree that no one deserves to be blamed for what they do. That, however, does not change the fact of what they are doing. Whether someone victimizes someone is a matter of fact, not of moral evaluation.

      Apply this equation to any other form of cause and effect and you’ll see how absurd you are right now. A machine in a factory starts producing defective products. Should we start blaming it? No, that’s silly. But does that mean you’re not going to fix it because it’s not responsible for what it’s doing? It’s causing the defects to happen, so it has to be fixed. But this should not cause us to start blabbering about worth, blame, innate inferiority, or any other nonsense we blame humans with.

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