Monday, January 4, 2010

Agency and Coercion: Either Extreme is Not God's Will

The battle between agency (which, in my mind, is the truest form of individuality) and coerced conformity (ultimately tied to power) is the oldest we have recorded. Unfortunately, all of us are mortal, natural (wo)men, so this battle still plays out even in the Church - with many members leaning to both extremes (agency void of consequence and blind obedience). Ironically, each extreme is just a different way to express Lucifer’s plan. (”I’ll save you regardless of what you do,” and “I’ll guarantee everyone does exactly what they are told to do.”)

I prefer the muddle in the middle. "Work out your own salvation/exaltation." That sums it up really well to me.


SilverRain said...

Agency is both choice and accountability. Therefore, I don't think there is any such thing as agency without consequence, only choice without consequence.

Last Lemming said...

I know that there is a reason why this this blog is called "Things of My Soul" instead of "Things I Have Spent Years Contemplating and Tightening Up With the Help of an Editor," but I think the idea you are expressing is important enough to clarify by tightening up the language a bit. First, I agree with Silver Rain's definition of agency. But I don't find that his conclusion ("there is...only choice without consequence") is particularly helpful in the context of your post. You are laying out two extremes, and neither of those involves choice without consequences. To clarify the libertarian extreme, I think it is helpful to consider two concepts in addition to the "choice and accountability" definition of agency: free will and free agency.

"Free will" is the "choice" part of agency. It does not imply either the presence or absence of consequences. The term "free agency" has been banished from Churchspeak in the last couple of decades, presumably because people think it is synonymous with "free will." It isn't, but that is not the only valid reason for banishing it. Those of us who have been baptized are not, in fact, free agents. We have signed on with a team and cannot legitimately play for another. So saying that we have our free agency is simply inaccurate. With those definitions in mind, what is the best way to express the libertarian extreme? My preferred formulation would be "the illusion of free agency," although "the illusion of free will (or choice) without consequences" works too.

Changing the subject, let me tackle "Work out your own salvation/exaltation." Working out your own salvation is fine, but working out your own exaltation is impossible. As Elder Nelson has stated in two recent conferences (both in 2008), "...salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter." I think that working out one's exaltation with the rest of one's family (which I define as broadly as possible) necessarily puts one further towards the authoritarian end of the spectrum than simply working out one's own salvation would.

I'll leave it at that for now, but if my reasoning isn't obvious, I'll try to elaborate.

Last Lemming said...

Actually, rather than elaborate, I would simply refer you to the third and fourth paragraphs of the following:

Ryan said...

The natural man wishes to escape the unpleasant consequences of his choices while still enjoying the pleasant ones. Call it choice with impunity, perhaps. It's a close second best to the popular notion of omnipotence (= imposing consequences on self and others with no triggering actions necessary)

This is tickling a pretty deep thought in my mind, but it's not well-formed enough to express yet... maybe tomorrow.

Meanwhile, saying "illusion of free will" sounds wrong to me for three reasons.

First, psychologists/biologists/etc use that kind of language to describe the theory that we *think* we have free will when in fact both the choice and thought itself are the result of some predictable (if complex) biological process. The implication is that by deciphering that process we could manipulate the "subject" in arbitrary ways without them ever realizing it. Illusion of agency.

Second, Satan's classic trap is to trick people into thinking they want to do (bad) things, that they are being individualistic and bold, when in fact they're simply becoming mindless sheep following the whims of the in-crowd (who all think the exact same thing). As my seminary teacher pointed out, Lehonti *thought* he was in control of the situation, right up until Amalakiah's poison stopped his heart. Illusion.

Finally, "signed onto the team" or not, God always leaves us free to choose our path (even if it be to our own destruction)... He just won't necessarily protect us from the consequences that come as a result. Contrast that with the mafia-like tactics that come from the other side, with retributions and such that are artificially imposed just to discourage breaking away: "If you (don't) do X, then I'll have to drown this little kitten, and it will be YOUR fault."

Papa D said...

SilverRain, it's impossible to speak of choice without agency, or to speak of agency without choice, imo. I chose to use "agency"; you chose to use "choice". Tomaytoes - tomahtoes.

LL, please don't be offensive on this blog. This is dedicated to civil discourse, and starting any comment here with such an insult isn't kosher - no matter to whom it's addressed.

You missed the point of this attempt in very few words to express something that would be more fully addressed only in MANY words. I didn't get into depth, because I wasn't trying to get into depth and fine nuance - not because I haven't spent years contemplating this basic topic.
Therefore, please forgive me for ignoring the rest of your comment. (with which I generally agree)

Ryan, "choice with impunity" fits pretty well the outlook of one of the sides I'm describing.

Remember, in the post, I used the word "extremes" - and it might have been more precise to say "false extremes" or "preseumed extremes". My point is that each extreme seeks for something that is not possible in the plan that was chosen, since the plan that was chosen puts the responsibility for our choices on ourselves - not someone who will save us in our sins and not someone who will pardon us for following blindly.

SilverRain said...

I suppose the brevity of my comment didn't really convey my meaning. I was brief because I was trying to agree with clarification by saying that many people try to believe in agency without consequence because they don't understand what agency is. Agency does not equal choice, choice is a part of agency. You can imagine choice without consequences, but you can not have agency without consequences. When a person is an agent, they are working either for a person or for a cause (even if the person is one's own self). Thus, the word "agency" automatically excludes the possibility of being "free" in terms that most people think of freedom: ie. without potentially unpleasant outcomes.

I would guess that this is why the phrase "free agency" is no longer used. It is oxymoronic in popular concept.

The post on FMH displays the problem beautifully. When IdahoSpud mentions the impossibility of agency in a vacuum, she is underscoring a redundant concept, to me. Agency by its very definition includes consequence, good/bad, for oneself and others. You can't remove consequence from agency without making it no longer agency.

Papa D said...

I agree, SilverRain - which is why I emphasized (false) extremes. I should have used that clarification in the orginal post.

Last Lemming said...

I didn't get into depth, because I wasn't trying to get into depth and fine nuance - not because I haven't spent years contemplating this basic topic.

My lead was an attempt to acknowledge that I understood that, but I obviously failed to convey my meaning. For that, I apologize.

Papa D said...

It's cool - and thank you! I apologize, as well, for mis-reading your meaning. Heaven knows I've been the cause of lots of mis-reading around the Bloggernacle over the last few years. lol