Agency: Haves and have nots

Oxford University Scholarship Online defines human agency:

Our self‐understanding as human agents includes commitment to three crucial claims about human agency: That agents must be active, that actions are part of the natural order, and that intentional actions can be explained by the agent’s reasons for acting.

I’ve written about agency in a couple of recent posts, related to the Ma’Khia Bryant tragedy, because it seems to me her most ardent defenders want to strip her of it for political gain. Oh, they grant her agency when it suits them; with implausable claims that she called 911, but they insist that all her other, documented actions are to be excused because of her age and “the system.” Many went so far as to contend teenage knife ‘fights’ are a rite of passage so common that police should ignore them. Ma’Khia lacked agency. Teenagers in general lack agency.

I came across an essay on this conveniently ambiguous attitude at the Manhattan Institute. A short time later I came across a post at Askblog. I strongly urge you to read both, and I’ll try to give you a little incentive below. They shed some light on SJW motivations and reasoning in playing the agency card.

First, a slice from Askblog reader Roger Sweeny in: The mind and moral categories

I recently read Daniel M. Wegner’ and Kurt Gray’s The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters (Viking, 2016), a book that has nothing explicitly to do with politics or wokeness. They ask the question, “Who (and what) do people believe has a mind?” A fetus? A dog? A robot? Google? God? They crunch some numbers and find that people seem to have two groups of characteristics of mindness. One is the ability to experience sensations and emotions. The other is the ability to act, to decide and do.

They tell us that entities that can feel but can’t act turn on our moral senses. Outrage at a man beating a dog. Pity for those in the hospital dying. Moreover, something in us wants to believe that those who are suffering are blameless. But we also want to find moral causes. We want to find something to blame. Best if it is something with a large capacity to act and a small capacity to suffer. Almost always, they say, there is a moral dyad. In fact, whenever there is something with a large capacity to act and a small capacity to suffer, we want to find the other half of the dyad, something relatively powerless and suffering.

Many opponents of wokeness have argued that it “denies agency” to the designated victims, that it treats them as powerless children. So far at least, that charge has not weakened the support for wokeness…

The less there is overt racial discrimination, the more there is a need to believe in a malevolent system. That may seem counter-intuitive, but so is the reality that revolutions do not occur when things are getting worse but when things are (generally) getting better.

Now we’ll turn to a long article at The Manhattan Institute: The Social Construction of Racism in the United States

This paper uses survey data to make the case that racism in America lies, in significant measure, in the eyes of the beholder. This not only concerns people’s perceptions of the prevalence of racism in society but even of their personal experience.

The quality of racism is inversely proportional to the SJW declaimed quantity. Think Jussie Smollett, he was just trying to fulfill the demand.

Tocqueville identified the reasons early on:

The hatred that men bear to privilege increases in proportion as privileges become fewer and less considerable, so that
democratic passions would seem to burn most fiercely just when
they have least fuel. . . . When all conditions are unequal,
no inequality is so great as to offend the eye, whereas the
slightest dissimilarity is odious in the midst of general
uniformity; the more complete this uniformity is, the more
insupportable the sight of such a difference becomes. Hence
it is natural that the love of equality should constantly
increase together with equality itself, and that it should
grow by what it feeds on.
– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

In a similar vein, Coleman Hughes, in a pathbreaking 2018 essay,
remarks on Tocqueville’s paradox as it concerns racial liberalism
in America: “It seems as if every reduction in racist behavior is
met with a commensurate expansion in our definition of the concept.
Thus, racism has become a conserved quantity akin to mass or energy:
transformable but irreducible.”

This is part of an explanation for Critical Race Theory: Systemic racism is necessary, because it can be winnowed out of every object or human interaction, no matter how benign. Just move the goalposts.

There’s a reason that everything is now viewed through a racial lens. Every day in every way you are bombarded with “evidence” of racism in everything. Over time, this sways minds. Much to our detriment.

Reading a passage from critical race theory author Ta-Nehisi Coates results in a significant 15-point drop in black respondents’ belief that they have control over their lives…

Surveys showed that liberal whites are more supportive of punitive CRT postulates than blacks, who are more likely to aspire to agency and resilience. Moreover, CRT appeared to have a detrimental effect on African- Americans’ feeling of being in control of their lives. This makes CRT a poor choice for policymakers seeking to improve outcomes in the black community.

Finally, my survey results indicate that as much as half of reported racism may be ideologically or psychologically conditioned, and the rise in the proportion of Americans claiming racism to be an important problem is largely socially constructed.

Whites are more affected by social justice/social media conditioning. Blacks are more sensible. I’ll bet there is a correlation with who has read Ta-Nehisi Coates or attended a D’Angelo brainmash session.