• Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    I can and have engaged in the usual sorts of recognizable political activities in both the mainstream liberal political party and in a far left political party. I contributed time, talent, and money. I've also demonstrated for various causes. In these activities I wanted to experience personal political efficacy -- I wanted to see that our political agency had some actual, tangible social/economic/political consequence.

    I can not see that we have recently had much political agency. (I can cite my examples; you can cite yours.) Maybe we never had much.

    Granted, conditions vary from state to state and country to country. For myself, I can't tell -- even after decades of typical political activity -- that We The People have any significant political agency. Politics seems to work like boxing a punching bag: One is exhausted by pounding the bag, but it doesn't have any effect on the bag.

    "The political bag" is designed to absorb any number of populist punches without caving in. There is virtually no personal political executive agency inside the contemporary State.
  • Moliere
    2.3k
    Heh. I think your poll might be a bit too reflective of your answers, Bitter ;).

    As it is I can't answer the second question. But it's probably better to type out a response anyways.

    I do believe I have real political efficacy. I don't think that changes with the state one is in. I think that it can be harder or easier to be politically effective in certain circumstances, but I don't think one is ever actually politically ineffective.

    Now, feeling politically ineffective is one thing, and quite a common phenomena. Understandably so, even. But I wouldn't argue that this feeling, even based on experience as it is, is the truth.

    Political agency can be exercised in any situation. I don't think it is quite personal, but it can always be exercised even if you are an army of one. In order to be effective, though, you have to come together with others in some fashion -- which is why I'd hesitate to call political agency "personal".

    However, I would say I am also construing "political" in a broad sense. Naturally if you follow all the rules lain out then our agency will be more or less effective depending on those rules. But politics doesn't actually have any rules attached. And in order for the under-class to gain a foothold it is more often the case that the under-class must break the rules [there is a reason, given the system they live in, they are the under-class, after all].

    What counts as "the rules" varies considerably. In some countries you can't protest. But in some countries you can -- and as long as you do so in the "polite" manner [in accord with the rules], you won't have much effect. You'll be allowed your free speech so that you can express yourself, and then you'll go back home.

    But political movement sees these rights not in moral terms, but as tools. We utilize the rights to position ourselves to act politically, not as the political actions themselves. So you might organize a street demonstration in order to amass enough people together that you can shut down a business, or set up a picket large enough that scabs can't get through. The political act is had at the vagaries where rights are no longer protected, not when they are protected. The protected action is just a means to reach that line of scrimmage where you are an inconvenience to your negotiating partner or enemy.

    It is in this sense, I'd say, that one always has political agency.
  • _db
    3.6k
    I agree with you BC. Although we are most definitely separated by age and experience in politics and life in general, I think the current political situation regarding personal agency is that it is a delusion.

    Originally agency would have been salvation, back when the Colonies were vying for independence.

    But with two hundred plus years in between then and now, political agency has become something of a delusion. And it can't be a delusion without it being a hoax perpetuated by politicians and corporate entities. The greatest threat to our political agency is that of apathy towards our agency, and it seems like that is exactly what has happened.
  • schopenhauer1
    7.5k
    Political participation and political agency are different ideas in my opinion and very complex. In a democratic society, anyone can participate. In ancient Athens, a citizen can participate in the Popular Assembly. However, even in this microcosm of a democracy, did one citizen amongst 6,000 really have much agency? I don't think so. Perhaps one felt good for being involved in the process, but the actual vote was 1/6000.

    However, as most of us know, in a democracy, the real agency comes in making deals and persuasive rhetoric. The more one makes alliances, gains marginal victories in trade-offs, makes rhetorical appeals to the people to vote this way or that way, one is getting political agency.

    In the modern American process you have several factors that might give agency in making deals and persuasion:
    1) Money given to lobbyists
    2) Money given to advertising and campaigns
    3) Media access
    4) Caucus processes, town hall meetings, communications with politicians in all levels of government
    5) participation in think tanks, academia, and policy proposal groups

    At the same time, there has been a democratization of media in social media. Due to this, traditional media has less of a hold. Ironically, this might mean that since agency is distributed more evenly, no one has much influence since everyone is a talking head.

    So to sum it up, I am not sure how much political participation translates to political agency. In the legislative branch, it simply takes one vote. Is this political agency? Perhaps, if you divided the amount of effort an individual took to persuade enough people to persuade the politicians to vote a certain way. Something tells me that is a small percentage. In the Senate, you can have the ever looming threat of a filibuster. Is this political agency? Perhaps for the minority party, but then this seems more of an internal process relating to the peculiarities of that chamber and less to do with the constituents. Perhaps one can say that filibustering is simply doing the legislative duty of obstruction that the people elected them to do. However, was their opinion actually consented on this? When they voted for the filibustering politician, was this what they wanted from them, or did they vote for more general reasons like party? In the executive branch, officers, agents, and managers run things according to internal regulations. Certainly if one works for government one can affect change in some way within one of these niches. In the judicial branch one can perhaps ensure that there are checks on judges and one can become a lawyer. However, there seems less room in this branch to direct agency and agency might work differently anyways in this branch. Common law and judicial discretion seems almost at odds with the agency we are discussing. That could be a good thing though.

    If I were to give percentages to the political agency in each aspect, I would say:

    1) Money given to lobbyists- 0% (no participation) to 20% (a lot of money donated)
    2) Money given to advertising and campaigns- 0% - 20%
    3) Media access 0% no participation to 15% if you are an editor, reporter, talking head, pundit, spin doctor, editorial writer, influential blogger, influential social media player etc.
    4) Caucus processes, town hall meetings, communications with politicians in all levels of government 0%-10% depending on what level of government
    5) participation in think tanks, academia, and policy proposal groups 0%-10%
    6) Legislative branch- 0% - 5%
    7) Executive branch- 0%-3%
    8) Judicial branch 0%-3%
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    To use a technical term, it's a Stirnerian 'spook.' To believe that one has 'political agency' is implicitly to buy into the political framework in which one is trying to participate, and under the delusion that one can operate within.
  • photographer
    67
    If the people can vote in real change, and the change they vote for is the change they get, then there is political agency. I would argue that populism - currently Trump-shaped - is a symptom of a lack of political agency. Oddly enough we to your north have just exercised political agency in exorcising the neo-con Harper. And the results are far from window dressing: taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees, legalizing marijuana, very significant deficit spending on infrastructure, allowing government scientists to speak out on climate change, etc.. Whether Americans will have this opportunity in the near future is I think unlikely. Certainly Obama was to a large extent a fraud, although I do think one could argue that he was undermined by circumstances and your unwieldy system of governance.
  • Soylent
    188
    There is virtually no personal political executive agency inside the contemporary State.Bitter Crank

    Are you saying there's no procedure for the individual to express the individual's will, or that there's no procedure for the expression of the individual's will to have an effect on the State as a whole? In terms of the former, that seems prima facie false by virtue of voting and political demonstrations. For the latter, contemporary liberal democratic states have safeguards against the ability for an individual to have an effect on the State as a whole.
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