Agency is the ability to make a decision, and to be responsible for the decision you make.
Since there have been armies, society has made an exception for soldiers. A soldier following orders is not a murderer, as he doesn’t have agency–society doesn’t generally want its soldiers questioning orders from our generals.
But the industrial age has taken this absolution to ever-higher heights. Every worker in every job is given a pass, because he’s just doing his job. The cigarette marketer or the foreman in the low-wage sweatshop… they’re just doing their jobs.
This free pass is something that makes the industrial economy so attractive to many people. They’ve been raised to want someone else to be responsible for the what and the how, and they’d just like a job, thanks very much.
As the industrial company sputters and fades, there’s a fork in the road. In one direction lies the opportunity to regain agency, to take responsibility for ever more of our actions and their effects. In the other direction is the race to the bottom, and the dehumanizing process of more compliance, a cog in an uncaring system.