A commentary on Bruce Charlton’s essays.
Targeted Readership: Men
Theme: Female Agency and Accountability
Length: 1,800 words
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Since we began our study of female moral agency in particular and agency more broadly, Bruce Charlton has written a few essays on this topic.
- Bruce Charlton’s Notions: Why is it so difficult to find a creative path – day by day, year by year…? (2022/11/17)
- Bruce Charlton’s Notions: Causation versus Free Agency (2022/11/24)
- Bruce Charlton’s Notions: What is the basis of Christian morality? Or: Nothing Good is ever wasted. (2022/12/3)
- Bruce Charlton’s Notions: Why lack-of-agency is so commonly claimed in this modern world (2022/12/7)
I’d like to thank Bruce for his contributions, as these essays are quite relevant to the topic here at Σ Frame. In this post, I’ll quote a few passages and add some comments. Readers are urged to click on over to Bruce’s site to get the full flavor.
First, from Charlton’s essay, Causation versus Free Agency (2022/11/24).
“But what of free agency, free will – or what-you-call-it? I mean the thinking of Beings (especially Men); at those times when they are thinking with their real and divine ‘selves’?”
“Free agency cannot be either caused/determined, or random/statistical. Free agency must be something other, which is expressive of a Being itself, arises wholly from that Being — and not, therefore, a product of causes acting-upon that Being.
To cut the argument short: I believe that genuine Free Agency is either an incomprehensible Mystery and gift from God (which is the mainstream/ classical Christian view); or else (as I believe) Free Agency is a property of Beingness, to be found to a greater or lesser extent in all Beings.
Which means that all Beings have a divine aspect.”
Charlton’s view agrees with my own concept of moral agency – that it is an individualized expression of one’s inner being, as opposed to autopilot / “going along to get along” / herd mentality / Nice Guy syndrome / NPC / zombie / etc. – something akin to Free Will, but quite distinct from the Aristotelian philosophies on the topic of Christian religion that are usually associated with that term.
Charlton’s more recent essay, Why lack-of-agency is so commonly claimed in this modern world (2022/12/7), reflects Kagenuma’s observation that women are eager to explicitly claim a lack of agency, and adds that men do the same. He extends this to the larger culture and spells out some of the ideals and motivations of the elites and the masses.
“People often claim lack of agency for themselves when they wish to avoid responsibility and blame.”
As I mentioned in the pilot post, this is ubiquitous in the West, but this only works in a Guilt-based ethical system, which most of the West and all English speaking countries are. In this ethical system, it is necessary to determine one’s agency and responsibility in order to assign innocence or guilt. This is why establishing criminal intent is deemed to be a central requirement for being judged guilty in U.S. law. It is also why people want to deny agency (e.g. claiming ignorance, pleading temporary insanity, etc.) — because (in a guilt-based ethical system) it is an easy out. Other countries’ legal systems are more Mosaic in nature – One is either guilty or not, and it is assumed that everyone of age and mental capacity has agency unless physically incapacitated, under threat of death, etc. One’s character usually figures large into the judgment.
“Behind these various claims of lack-of-agency is the desire for a better world, in a Godless and de-spiritualized universe.”
To put a finer point on this that is somewhat at variance, I would say that behind these various claims of lack-of-agency is the gnostic assumption that people (including one’s self) are inherently good and the world is already perfect – therefore no agency is necessary — and that the problem is with a few bad / crazy / “deplorable” / feminist / fluffy / loose screw / oddball / “privileged” / “toxic” / [fill-in-the-blank] individuals who can’t or won’t get with the program. Thus, the “victim” narrative follows naturally — and easily — by scapegoating a baddie / etc. People of all political stripes are subscribing to this tactic whenever they blame and demonize the opposing group or party. Such division on a large scale is what leads (and is now leading) to the death of the culture.
However, I do think Charlton’s statement holds true for the “elite” that he speaks of. There is the idea that “others” or “the masses” do not have agency, and so those who do (the “elite” in Charlton’s essay, but it could be a leader of some sort, or anyone having a robust agentic capacity) must assume control of a situation or society. In a practical sense, this is true, just as parents with agency exercise authority over children with none. Individuals who exercise agency will always have more control and influence over things than those who do not. Personally, I have the idea that true Christians are (or should be) in a habit of exercising agency as an act of faith, and therefore, they have a greater degree of control and latitude than less agentic individuals do. I will go further into this view in an upcoming essay.
The error is when such people who demonstrate agency hold the gnostic notion that the world could possibly be better or “perfect” or utopian (according to a gnostic view), if only those who have little to no agency would comply or “give up” their agency, as Charlton points out. This is the stuff crack pipes are made of — dreaming out loud and in color. In practice, in a fallen world, this is a recipe for usurping control and could only lead to disaster. (Charlton describes this dynamic in depth in his latter essay.)
The fallacy in these beliefs is in refusing to recognize that ALL men are fallen, no one is perfect, and thus, NO “Good” system can be made (following Charlton’s use of the term), since all bureaucracies, governments, and institutions are comprised of human beings. Charlton points out that within this godless paradigm sans faith, it is essential that the agentic leaders are seen to be benevolent and morally good individuals, otherwise anarchy runs afoot. Yes, whether the leaders are good or evil is a primary concern in the minds of the hypoagentic herd… But in reality, it is somewhat of a non sequitur, as nations tend to have the governments that God deems they deserve. Also, all leaders are morally corrupt to some degree and all leaders make mistakes and poor decisions from time to time. Interestingly, history shows us that corrupt men often make very capable leaders (e.g. Napoleon, Trump) while many morally righteous leaders have been utter failures (e.g. Jimmy Carter). If the leadership is collective, as Charlton suggests, then their methods and purposes become the primary means of assessing whether the government is effectively good or not, and not so much the leaders themselves.
“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.
I do not see how denying agency and avoiding responsibility can lead to any betterment of either the individual or the culture. A society of fussy 3-year-olds is not a society at all. It is a day care / preschool society. OTOH, that’s exactly what most people are like when it comes to social issues. It’s human nature to autopilot, deny agency, and evade responsibility — just like children do. True Moral Agency is when a person chooses not to behave this way. Therefore, society is much better when there are more people who are agentic and take responsibility for themselves, and society is eternally better when those who possess agency act in accordance with God’s order.
“If everyone was happy and hopeful; then they would take responsibility for their choices…”
This is only true as long as outcomes are positive, in which case, people gladly take responsibility for the outcome. But when something goes wrong, then we are back to the previously mentioned denial and hypoagency.
“…but the pervasive dissatisfaction and alienation of modern societies means that people seek life satisfaction in social arrangements.”
This is less true than it was in the past. These days, everywhere you look, people are quite content to keep their noses in their smartphones and ignore everything around them unless it happens to be photogenic.
“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.”
Again, I do not understand this line of reasoning at all. If everyone lacked agency, then there would be very little love and grace. Everyone would be automatons running on autopilot, acting out their sinful fleshly nature on impulse. I don’t see how that could lead to a “Good Society”. It would be more like the law of the jungle.
“…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.)”
Taking this a step further, the common denominator in all these hypoagentic perspectives is that people want to deny having a sinful nature — in themselves, in others, and in mankind in general – and yet, they can still sense in their souls that something is missing and that the world is broken. Sensing that the world is broken should inspire agentic action, not lead to its denial. We do see this occurring in various forms of “activism” (which is always a collective action, not individual, and much activism is little more than herd mentality), but these efforts are in vain if they are spearheaded by leaders having gnostic fantasies of reality and their purposes are without respect to God’s Law.
One commenter, Phil, wrote,
“So the system must be one which makes men good. If only we had such a system, designed by one who was truly wise!
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.”
God already came up with something better in Christ Jesus. Christ did not come to abolish the Mosaic Law, but to fulfill it. Denying agentic capacity isn’t going to bring one any closer to Christ, but rather the opposite.
- Σ Frame (Jack): Do women possess moral agency? (2022/11/2)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Donal Graeme on Female Agency (2022/11/3)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Rollo Tomassi on Female Agency (2022/11/4)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Dalrock on Female Agency (2022/11/7)
- Σ Frame (Thedeti): Deti on Female Agency (2022/11/8)
- Σ Frame (Deep Strength, Jack): Deep Strength on Women’s Agency (2022/11/9)
- Σ Frame (Sharkly, Jack): Sharkly on Women’s Agency (2021/11/10)
- Σ Frame (Catacomb Resident, Jack): Catacomb Resident on Moral Agency (2022/11/11)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Artisanal Toad on Women’s Agency (2022/11/14)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Jack on Female Agency (2022/11/23)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Kyojiro Kagenuma on Women’s Agency (2022/12/5)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Zippy Catholic’s View of Female Hypoagency (2022/12/12)
- Σ Frame (Red Pill Apostle): Red Pill Apostle on Women’s Moral Agency (2022/12/15)
- Σ Frame (Jack): D. Bradley on Women’s Moral Agency (2022/12/16)
This post describes what the founding fathers of our American government knew to be true. A republic (government of law) can only be maintained by a people who acted with agency. It was acting in agency that they fought and escaped the British. Instead, it has become a society of mob rule . . . predominant lack of individual agency.
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I asked my students to write a brief description of their understanding of “self-government”. Not one of them included the starting point of self-government at the level of the individual as the foundation for a populace of people being equipped to join together and exercise the level of self-government that will enable them to choose representatives to govern them.
I really appreciate this link to Charlton, Jack. Thank you. The idea of agency at the individual level is largely absent across the board in America, regardless of sex, background, and ethnicity. The only distinction that is routinely offered is that white men are held accountable for their actions (afforded full agency) and the actions of others (allotted responsibility for others’ supposed lack of agency). So they are forced to accept agency.
But even among many sons of MC/UMC Gen X moms, there is a tendency to deny them agency. I’ve experienced this in the classroom more than once or twice. Then they get out into the world and recognize that what mom did was not as loving as it seemed when they were teenagers.
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Hence the term Service guarantees citizenship in Starship Troopers.
If Citizenship is conditional in this and similar fashion then only those with individual agency would be Citizens.
Citizenship should be a form of Petty Nobility that isn’t dependent on birth but capability in this fashion.
Like in the Early Roman Empire before “Universal Citizenship” watered down the concept entirely. And destroyed a chief incentive to serve in the Roman Army.
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Yes. At the very least, in a nation which has had 100+ years of compulsory schooling, there is nothing wrong with demanding a passing score on a basic citizenship test as a prerequisite to voting booth access.
Universal suffrage (especially conferred at age 18), and birthright citizenship were the beginning of the end of functional republican government in the US.
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Yes, but more specifically, birthright voting rights and allowing nonproperty owners to vote. And direct popular election of US Senators.
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The kinds of people you want to vote have the following characteristics:
2) Skin in the game
3) Reasonable intelligence and education
4) Long term thinking
There are lots of ways to demonstrate those characteristics. It doesn’t have to be military service, although that is one way a person could prove some of those characteristics.
Furthermore, anyone who works for the government should not vote, including servicemen. If I remember correctly, in the Roman Republic after Marius’ reforms, service did earn a man full citizenship, but he could not vote until after he completed his 20-year term.
Allowing government employees to vote creates too many perverse incentives.
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I agree, and I think the full list of requirements, and requirements for requirements, could be developed into something reminiscent of a bureaucracy. In Taiwan, there is a point system for gaining permanent residency (not citizenship). The amount of taxes paid each year, being married to a citizen, educational degrees, current employment, type of employment, length of employment, having a valuable skill, having publications, owning a business, owning property, owning investment capital… are all qualifications that figure into the point system. I am considered well-qualified, and it still took me 8 years to get permanent residency.
Looking at it through the lens of agency, it is evident that all of these qualifications “prove” that one has a well-developed agentic capacity.
The U.S. needs to be more like this. However, I can see how setting up requirements like this could be hijacked into “only the elite” can be citizens, vote, etc. As such, it would never go over in a presumably democratic nation — unless there were catastrophic circumstances at hand. (Maybe the U.S. is almost there.)
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Well, yeah, but in any system that is even partially meritocratic, a person with those characteristics will end up at least middle class. As C.S. Lewis put it:
That’s the way it worked with my family.
And not just long-term thinking as some people are good at that but only personally speaking. But good at the big picture.
People unable to conceptualize the big picture cannot rule. Or must rely on those who do.
A point of legal order:
I would change the above second sentence to state: “This is why establishing criminal intent is deemed….” I think that’s what you meant, but I would use the words “criminal intent”.
In general, you need only two elements for criminal liability: The guilty mind (mens rea) and the guilty act (actus reus). The guilty mind is the intent part. Motive is not necessary to establish criminal liability. Intent is.
Intent is the specific state of mind behind a criminal act — a decision to engage in the act. It is internal. Motive is the reason one commits the act. Motive may be internal or external. It may be evidence of intent; but it is not required to establish intent. You don’t need a reason to commit a crime — you need only the intent to do so.
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Impulse buying works on the same principle.
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Thank you. I’ve edited the text in regard to your comment.
This is a misreading of the Mosaic Law. Western Civilization received the concept of criminal intent directly from the Mosaic Law, just as it received the concept of the presumption of innocence from the Mosaic Law. We see that in Numbers 35:9-34, where God commands the Israelites to set up cities of refuge.
If one Israelite killed another, he could run to a city of refuge to escape the dead man’s relatives (the avenger of blood). There, the Levites would try the manslayer, and establish criminal intent.
If no criminal intent could be established, then the manslayer had to live in the city of refuge until either he, or the High Priest died. If he left the city of refuge, the avenger of blood could kill him.
It wasn’t a “get out jail free card” (not that the ancient Israelites had jails).
The presumption of innocence and the establishment of criminal intent are not cultural constructs. They are God’s universal commandments for how justice must be established.
Yes. The Righteousness vs. Guilt (RvG) ethical structure is uniquely a Christian one. Cultures / nations that operate in this ethical system have had a strong Christian influence on the culture.
Right. This is probably why it’s called a Righteousness vs. Guilt ethical structure.
My point here is that the establishment of moral agency as a central quality of character poses both strengths and weaknesses. People who claim a lack of agency are exploiting its weakness. In other cultures / ethical systems, people cannot jump to the tactic of denying agency without looking like a childish, weak, incompetent fool. In the Honor vs. Shame (HvS) ethical system, the shame this would bring would be even worse than being judged guilty. In the Power vs. Fear (PvF) system, the implied dependency and helplessness would signal weakness and set one up to become a victim of stronger powers. In a PvF system, revealing a lack of agency is strongly avoided so as not to become a victim, but this draws empathy within a purely RvG system because of Christian morality (e.g. compassion, love, etc.) being the norm in the larger culture. This is why some women will try to jump to Power vs. Fear ethics (by claiming victimhood status) when they deny agentic capacity — they can escape censure and receive more “love”. IOW, the problem of hypoagency is the result of a unique combination of PvF ethics being employed in a RvG culture in which a lack of moral agency is not being explicitly punished somehow (e.g. adverse consequences, fear, guilt, losing competitive advantage, losing face, shame, social ostracization, rejection, vengeance, etc.).
As to your objection, I would describe Western jurisprudence to be more Greek / Roman in nature with a hat tip to OT Law. I described other countries’ laws as being more Mosaic in nature because the OT was not as ignorant of other ethical systems as the West is today. Western minds who are steeped in RvG since childhood and have never encountered the HvS or PvF systems fail to grasp how the OT law accounts for all three ethical structures. Using the example you gave from Numbers 35:16-25, the city of refuge allowed the manslayer to escape both shame (HvS) and vengeance (PvF) until justice could be ascertained (RvG). Most westerners (including Christian judges and lawyers) will read this passage and dismiss it as archaic or irrelevant and will never consider how it mitigates the impact on the individuals involved and brings justice to the community.
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That’s a very good point.
Going one step further, if God established moral agency as a central quality of character in the OT (as we have surmised here), then moral agency is a central pillar of faith. Extending this to the Christ : Church :: Husband : Wife analogy, wives who demonstrate trust and obedience (as an act of moral agency) are “good wives”. Please click “like” if you (any readers) can follow this reasoning.
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I’ve seen this change during my lifetime. In my younger years, there seemed to be more people who were agentic and took responsibility for themselves. I served in the military during the Cold War period and it seemed like, for the most part, we had a lot of these type people; not all, but the majority of them were responsible ADULTS.
During Desert Storm, I was stunned to be surrounded by what I referred to as the military’s “A Team,” for a few months at least, and it was an amazing experience! The level of professionalism and dedication to the mission was off the charts. Yes, we had a bad apple here and there, but they were dealt with expeditiously, sent home or whatever was needed to get them the he!! out of the way.
Today, even though I’m long retired, I wouldn’t serve. I don’t think there are enough of those type people serving anymore. From everything I’ve read, society’s current trends and the cancer of progressiveness or wokeism, has so infiltrated to the point there is a real question whether the military can even perform it’s mission if called upon to do so. IOW, are there enough leaders and troops who are agentic and take responsibility for themselves? I wonder about it, I really do.
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