Personal Agency: Good Work

Finding and exercising your ability to create good things from within yourself, practicing individual agency, is an essential accomplishment. You can’t depend on the world for much of anything. Nature will be what it will be, and so will the human surroundings. As individuals we have some influence on the immediate surroundings, but sometimes not very much. The best thing about a good job is that it presents opportunities to create good things. However, it is often not outwardly personal even though the challenges of doing a job must be made intimately personal in order to be overcome. No matter how common or menial a work-product may be, it has taken up its portion of a worker’s life, personal intelligence, creativity, courage, and commitment to the effort. Most jobs don’t provide much experience of personal agency and reduce any fulfillment by alienating the product from the worker. The product is alienated when it is attributed to the organizational machine, and credit for the product’s creation displaced upward to the directors and the C.E.O.. In this way, leaders are often looters. Workers as individuals disappear into the machinery. Since jobs are so unreliable in that way, it is of absolute importance that individuals be able to cultivate for themselves the experience of competence, intelligence, or personal agency through a creative process.

Strategic Elemental Orientation

It isn’t news that in our age of pervasive advertising media, corporate ideological advocacy, and strident adventurism from the military-financial-industrial complex (adding ‘financial’ since war and imperialism require vast sums of money borrowed at vast sums of interest to pay dealers in weapons, transport, and support services of violence), in such an age as this, then, it isn’t news that the normal individual is on the receiving end of a blast of messages intended to persuade him or her to feel good about various causes and brands. It isn’t news, but it highlights the question of how an individual is to avoid being manipulated psychologically and politically into supporting causes and campaigns which, in the light of the whole truth, are diabolical. The whole truth is elusive when both advanced science and great wealth are devoted to a selective presentation of reality. However, there might be a groundedness, a strategic self-possession, focused on personal agency, within the power of everybody.

Pulling out of Corporate and Official Propaganda

To think is to re-orient yourself. We are always re-orienting ourselves in facing new situations with new information. (I am thinking, therefore I am.) However, some features of experience are more foundational or elemental than others. The identification of elemental features in experience grounds thinking in a system of intrinsic value. Perhaps no single one of these experiences is, by itself, a portal to freedom, moral certainty, or ultimate value, but a reasonably complex collection will be an extraordinary grounding. Personal agency is central in elemental experiences, and responsible personal agency follows from the kind of orientation being proposed here. The connection of a grid of elemental experiences within a particular subjectivity is a foundation for personal autonomy.

In every age people have been immersed in superstitions, family expectations, religious stipulations, and demands from a social stratum of dominance and wealth determined to prevent competition and opposition. In that context, philosophy has always been a feeling around experience for an elemental grounding. Being there on that elemental grounding has intrinsic value. If there is no reality-distorting propaganda stealthily engulfing us, then adding some philosophical points of orientation will merely add a bit of breadth to our outlook, doing no harm. However, if reality is being distorted by the stream of messaging through which we move, then there opens the possibility of removing ourselves mentally to a protected viewpoint.

An Elemental Grid

Some reference points:

1) personal agency, as sketched just above.
2) embodiment within nature: from posting 11, November 10, 2011, Nature: Ground and Sky.
3) Socratic innocence: “I know only that I know nothing.” see posting 16, January 12, 2012, The Two Traditions.
4) the transcendence of intelligence: from posting 8, October 19, 2011, The Transcendence of Intelligence.
5) disinterestedness: from posting 5, October 5, 2011, Contemplative Disinterestedness: the Vita Contemplativa, overcoming self-absorption
6) the three graces: nature, culture, subjectivity (more anon)
7) the eternal moment (anon)
8) political consciousness: understanding left-wing and right-wing worldviews (The first law of strategic thinking is: recognize your enemy.) (more anon)
9) this moment in the history of ideas (culture). The history of ideas has been a struggle between ideas of equality and radical inequality, between autonomy and control of adult mentality.

Changing the orientation grid in this way changes the overall project of building a life by striking a stronger presence of thinking subjectivity in relation to nature and culture. Innocent subjective creativity is progressive re-orientation by questioning, mental opening of experiences through various principles of relevance, discovering the consequences of different assumptions and possibilities. The internal flood of questions and impulses is generally more interesting and productive than travel, professional conferences, luxurious consumer goods, winning trophies, or height on an organization chart. The internal creative fountain does more than keep a person engaged, it keeps a person grounded against the mythical spooks, feuds, and fashions glorified in culture. (How about that as a vision of freedom and equality?) It has no use for competitions, ambition, or standing, for personal comparisons of any kind, and as such is a threat to commercial values. The personal use of thinking could alter cultural values by radically raising the value of thinking itself, because thinking gives each person his or her individual genius and with it experiences of value which are prior to market value. Practicing a creative process is not best used as a gateway into the money economy but as an alternative to it.

Creative Process as Grounding Against Fads, Fashions, and Supervisory Systems

In modern market societies there is an important myth of institutional hierarchies as the primary organizing principle of life. Meritocracy is the most common modern form of oligarchy, and the cultural assumption is that there is no alternative, and so true individual autonomy is worthless and even self-destructive. Mental autonomy, autonomy of values or self-possession, is inspired unofficially by humanities studies (now under threat), but is thought to be dangerous by people within the cultural nexus of professional oligarchies. However, the much celebrated financial autonomy of commercial entrepreneurship is an illusion because money can do nothing but focus attention on the market’s incentives and rewards. Innocent subjectivity, non-trivial, dynamic individual personality is a ground to stand on that is truly independent of oligarchies. Identifying the elemental orientation grid is intended to blunt the dominance of the grid of official modernity which especially sanctions three reference points: the state, science, and money.

1) In modernity each military/ industrial state is a territorial religion manifesting an iron fist of law, tax, and lethal military force, demanding reverent devotion, worship, sacrifice, and obedient behaviour as a framework for production of transferrable wealth (interest, dividends, speculative gains, for example), armed forces recruitment, and decisions of justice. The state is a protection device for accumulated capital (property and person) and also an internally motivating culture of social control, accepting worship as a transcendent arbiter of life and death. The state is focused on armed protection of a hoard of national resources, treasure, and weapons. The state is the framework in which politics is acted out, and politics is part of the mediation of class conflict.

2) Within science ideology the world is beautiful but entirely impersonal forces and structures, dead and falling, revealed by measurement, plotting, and calculation. This is a worldview of totalitarian objectivity. There is no transcendent questioning here, but since it builds from questions, science lurks in its own blind spot. The experience of questioning intelligence has been exiled from this current myth of reality, since there is no place for living creativity. However, as a system of denying the legitimacy of spooky disembodied personalities, science has considerable value.

3) An overriding emphasis on consumption and production for exchange, as structured into money-based competitive markets, is the mechanism by which the scribal class mediates and occults an underlying class conflict. Making a living in the modern state depends on accumulated capital, entrepreneurship, and the coordination of specialist functions, with vast consumption of the ‘found’ energies of nature. In the market or economic view of the person, human motivation and activity resolve into predictable and controllable natural drives without creative power, easily made obedient by incentive and reward. The controllability of ‘economic man’ is the basis of the scribal class’s confidence in its system of mediation. People have little acquaintance with transcendence, but there is some indistinct experience of this cultural system as a place of exile where subjective intelligence wanders unrecognized.

Copyright © 2012 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.