Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Agency and Interdependence

I recently read Junger's book, "Tribe." It hit a lot of my buttons-- not well thought out or researched, explanations just asserted even when there were far simpler possible explanations. He had a theme  and a bias and stuck to them... but it got me thinking.

We live in an amazingly interdependent society. How many of you butcher your own food? Make your own clothes? Do both? Raise the cotton or wool to make the clothes? You're reading this on a machine you didn't make. Maybe, if you are really good, you assembled your own PC, but you damn sure didn't make it. Amazingly interdependent... but not really.
Societies have always been interdependent. You can think of the best survivalist societies you know-- the Kalahari Bushmen or the Lippan Apache or whatever and in all of those societies of super-survivalists, the greatest punishment was to be ostracized. Because as good as they are, no one survives for very long alone.

What's missing now is not the interdependence, it's the awareness.  One side is easy to see-- the iconoclast rebel who declares himself free while typing on a keyboard (that some corporation produced) and sucking down corn chips and Mt. Dew (ditto) in his mom's basement (do I need to say ditto again?)

It's physically impossible to tweet "I'm off the grid."

Junger wrote about the other side. All of us, on some level, want to feel the interdependence. We want to feel the connection. Corny as it sounds, we want to serve.

A few of us have been trying to figure out why it seems that individual power--agency-- is so systematically denigrated in modern society.

I think there is an assumption that agency is a contrary force or contrary attitude to interdependence. It’s not. In what I consider a natural society— tribal hunter gatherers— increasing one's own agency was important for the good of the tribe. You wanted to be the bravest warrior or the most cunning hunter or the wisest healer. Change that, not ‘or’.  Ideally ‘and’. So it was all about increasing agency or personal power, but for the good of the tribe. 

You can look at the collectivist movements (socialism, communism, fascism) as attempts to force a tribal level of interdependence from the top down.  It takes massive control because the tribes are artificial and we have enough radical ideas and different points of view that people can find their own tribes and can easily switch tribes. In order for it to work, people would need a monolithic set of values. Hence force. And failure. But those movements appeal mightily to the people looking for that sense of connection.

As wisdom (one type of power) increases, so does a recognition of interdependence as a fact. Individualists recognize that agency is not a contradiction to cooperative society. It is required if we want society to continue to improve.

At the same time, we aren't insects. We will never all have the same values or the same priorities. Nor should we. Wisdom is to let people disagree.  Even more than focussing on increasing our own agency for the good of the tribe, we focus on increasing the agency of others. Accepting other people’s differences _and_ their power.  

Our society tries to draw a distinction between the passive and the active-- and to include passivity in the definition of "good" (but that's a post for another day). That has resulted in the infantilaztion of adults. Screw that. Be strong. Let others be strong. Cherish their strength and your own.


Unknown said...

Thank you.

Unknown said...

Asian cultures display a healthy version of interdependence. They understand that their actions affect not only them as individuals, but their loved ones as well.

Mr Ecks said...



Anonymous said...

It's Lipan, not Lippan. Your Tom Brown Jr. influence is strong.

From the German Ideology by Karl Marx:

"And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now."

Anonymous said...

"You can look at the collectivist movements (socialism, communism, fascism) as attempts to force a tribal level of interdependence from the top down."

I think non-state communists, socialists, and others would argue that what you're describing is state run capitalism. It's possible to have non-state horizontally structured means of production. There aren't very many examples historically, in part because state (capitalist) entities (including USSR) have crushed them. Some that come to mind would be the anarchist collectives during the Spanish Revolution, maybe the Paris Commune, Free Territory. Some more recent examples include Rojava and Chiapas. Regarding socialism, to many socialists socialism essentially means worker owned means of production, and doesn't really have anything to do with the state. For examples of this taking place within capitalist societies you could look at Worker Self-Directed Enterprises. One of the largest and most successful corporations in Spain is the Mondragon Corporation, which is worker owned and run.

None of these examples provided have anything to do with interdependence from the top down, they're entirely about from the bottom up.

Anyways I enjoy your thoughtful blog posts, if you feel like responding I'm interested in what you think.

Anonymous said...

With well thought out counter examples like the above, it's all the more unfortunate that Rory has settled in to his "mask standard LEO political arguments with vague language" pattern of blog posts.

Everything after the return "maybe my thinking is impaired by my many, many concussions" post is like a case study in how a lack of precise language makes claims unfalsifiable (i.e., meaningless).

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Says the person responding anonymously... ;)

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Great theory... where is it or has it been put in to practice in the form in a lasting form?

Rory said...

Anon 1- totally want to get into a discussion of spelling in languages that don't have a written language. We'll skip that, As to your quote, in the last month I've played at geology, botany, ecology, used the skills of veterinarian technician, been a critic (of many things), medic, counselor, carpenter, farmer, teacher and writer. And did so without losing my means of livelihood. Marx said a lot of stuff that is palpably false. I'm far more disturbed that someone (anonymously, of course) would present something that personal experience contradicts every day as some kind of evidence. _Unless_ I'm completely misinterpreting (I do assume anonymity as a sign of confrontation + fear i comments) and you were deliberately presenting this quote as something obviously wrong and backing u my statements? That's a sincere possibility, BTW.

Anon 2- That would be a long, interesting talk. We'd have to establish definitions-- of the political systems versus the political philosophy, versus the economic system implied or usually accrued, and distinguish between individuals living from a philosophy and states. Way more than I have time to type. The one I can't let slide, though: "state run capitalism" is an oxymoron. If the state is running it, it's corporatism, not capitalism.
I have high hopes for Rojava.

Josh Kruschke said...

Voluntary Association. Should ve be adle to choose who we are interdependent with.

Duty and obligations? And how do we incure them. This all "Natural Rights" are.

Negative and Positive Rights.

What do we mean when we use the words and labkes we do?

I'm finding I'm arguing definitions and principles with people, or trying to when people just want to argue lables.

It's hard because the lavels mean different things to different people. But most people just assume that the other guy means and is ussing the label as they would. A true conversation must start with building a common defimitional library of understang if not all you will ve doing is talking past each other.