Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Following up on the big five, let’s talk Agency.

As a basic want, the concept of agency was not on my radar until recently.

But I’ve come to consider it an important and, natch, often overlooked want.

Agency can be defined simply as having the capacity to have a say* in the way and direction of your life, that is, to be able to have and make choices and to take actions that guide your life towards a certain end.

It is to have the wherewithal to be the driver of your own bus.

Compared to some of the others it may seem a bit odd to include in the list as a want.

But consider that without agency, you are effectively blocked from the possibility of ever realizing or fully realizing those other wants/needs.

Being cut off from or denied progress and realization of any of the basic wants/needs is painful (or potentially fatal). We will fight to get them. We may and will fight in different ways for different things, but we will fight, and fight equally hard.

This is why I think that agency is a basic want. Even if you are not yet where you want with any of the other wants, with agency there is the ability to work towards and get what you want. There is a path towards existence, finding fulfilment, being related, and making a difference. And that path is a very strong stabilizing and motivating force.

If you lack agency, or perhaps even more precisely and importantly, if you feel that you lack agency, then you basically have no feeling that you can affect things in your life, whether in general or in the realms of those basic wants.

You can’t drive the bus.

When you are cut off from a basic want and there is no feeling of agency, there is despair.

And people will do whatever they can to regain that feeling of agency. They may take actions that are unproductive, detrimental, even sabotaging themselves, but at least they will have some power to make an outcome come true – even if it is an outcome they don’t actually want. It is still power, still agency.

Perhaps the worst thing to do to another person is to crush their spirit – or more accurately to crush their feeling of agency.

Because then they’ll have nothing to lose and they’ll go for it. They have no other recourse.

In our world today where we find various shocking and acute and intense and extreme and far out behaviours and actions played out on all stages, from states to groups to individuals, I think we would be well served to see if a lack of agency is playing a role there.

We can also look if our actions, policies, economics, words, attention, or lack thereof and neglect, have created a field of no agency with no recourse.

Because people will invent a recourse. Or will be susceptible to others who have invented a recourse.

And it rarely ends well for either or any of us.


* Note, not necessarily THE say, but A say…

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