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Equity, it’s for your own good?

By Robert T. Smith
web posted March 20, 2023

There seems to be a central theme of social conflict in our country and others. We appear to be equally predisposed to be in one of two general groups, those who favor more of a default to the group exercise of power over the individual, versus those who favor more of a default trust in their own and fellow citizen’s decisions to determine their life trajectories.

As examples, this dichotomy is clearly on display in commentaries or letters to the editor in local newspapers, on the television news, and on the internet. We see it in many issues of the day, from mandating the Corona virus lockdown and other related mask and vaccine considerations, determining how and what students are taught in the public schools, recognizing the means of personal self-defense, ad infinitum.

Agency refers to the thoughts and actions taken by people that express their individual power. Agency is the power people have to think for themselves and act in ways that shape their life experiences.

To rob a person of their agency is the epitome of dehumanization. Taken to extremes are slavery, or the past and present tyrants who controlled their countries’ populations through fear of imprisonment or death, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, the Cuban or Chinese Communists of today.

An individual’s agency might take the form of applying themselves and doing well in school, or in its antithesis cutting classes, and dropping out; becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, or in the antithesis choosing to moderate or not partake; having children and becoming a single parent, or in the anthesis starting a nuclear family; conducting your life responsibly and morally, or antithetically acting foolishly and immorally. The results of exercising individual agency obviously have a clear effect on the individual.

At times, aspects of an individual’s agency are removed. The military exercises some controls on the individual soldier’s agency. Homeowner’s associations remove some agency for member’s landscaping or outside decorations. Laws are passed and enforced to prevent harm to others, the agency of the lawless is inhibited to benefit society. These controls provide individual and organizational benefits that are entered into typically voluntarily, some agency is surrendered to maintain continuity or effectiveness of the group.

The order laid out in the Christian sacred text provides a social order that relies on conforming individual agency in some fashion and situations, not as a lower class or less worthy person but in a cooperative fashion: children submit to their parents, wives submit to their husbands, believers submit to the church and to the governing authorities. Agency is not required to be submitted to an abusive parent or spouse, an apostate church, or a government acting in violation of the tenets of the sacred text. Conforming to the social order in these instances is the outline of the foundation of social harmony described in the divinely inspired text.

According to some in our country, the results of individuals exercising their individual agency may not lead to an equal outcome, so it is up to them to exercise their control over all individuals in society in an attempt to realize their expected equity. This is arguably an impossible task considering individual abilities and life decisions. The constant refrain is for the government to do more, the government to step in, the government to invest, the government to control, ad infinitum. Surrender your individual agency to the collective, after all, equity is for everyone’s(?) your own(?) good.

The root of our social conflict is where the correct line between group control and individual agency should be drawn, in essence, what is the proper role of government? The essence of our own country was and for now still is limitation on the governing authority and an emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities, a collection of citizens each individually exercising their own agency over their lives.

Arguably, the genius of America was the right to be left alone. Perhaps C.S. Lewis provided the best explanation for personal agency over the power of the collective when he wrote...

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.” ESR

Robert T. Smith is an environmental scientist who spends his  days  enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness with his family. He  confesses  to cling to his liberty, guns and religion, with antipathy  toward the  arrogant ruling elites throughout the country.

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