Re[2]: Pluck and Culture Change

Fri, 26 Apr 1996 11:23:29 CST

T. Brunton writes:

>'Agency' doesn't necessarily mean 'free will'. What appears to be free
>will could be the result of small environmental or genetic changes, i.e.
>siblings who have very similar environment and genotype but have very
>different 'personalities'. But these actors make choices, behave
>differently, interact
>with other people differently, raise their children differently, i.e.
>reproduce the 'structure' or 'culture' differently.
>I have trouble imagining how cultures could change, except in very
>predictable ways in response to changes in the environment (which they
>don't), without taking into account 'agency' or individuals.

This helps me see a distinction between belief in agency and belief in
free will: the former can be deterministic, but it implies that "micro"
determinants can be important, not just "macro" ones such as social
forces or pan-specific biopsychological propensities. Yet it appears,
from the above, that this can be nearly as pernicious, for social
science, as free willism: note that Brunton seems to have satisfied
himself that *agency* explains the unpredictability of culture change.
But by my lights, unpredictability entails inexplicability; so his
conclusion seems to be that agency means we can pack our scientific
bags, so far as explanation is concerned, and go home. I assert that he
is "quitting too soon," as Marvin Harris often puts it. Believing that
culture change depends substantially on minute idiosyncracies of
individual behavior is perhaps as scientifically self-defeating as belie
ving in free will. --Bob Graber