Thursday, April 14, 2022

Structure vs Agency - The Unwoke View

The Woke Salaryman has once again hit the ball out of the park with this comic strip which you can read here. It's a very classy piece that really puts these folks a cut above the other comic strips that talk about personal finance. 

I really like the sociological concept of Structure vs Agency. In our push for greater status in society, part of our results come from our personal drive and motivation, but a significant amount comes from structure, which is the environment we are born in - it can be wealthy parents, our gender or race.

What I find interesting is that Woke Salaryman has subtly lived up to it's Woke name by putting slightly more emphasis on structure, this is something I deeply disagree with. (although woke is woke lah) 

Structure does play a role in a person's success, but how much it plays is a question of how much let it play a role. Right now, I'm just happy that our next PM comes from a neighbourhood secondary school, if we keep having this chip on our shoulder about the weaknesses of the institutions we grew up in, it would horribly impair our ability to rise in this world. One of reasons I'm especially motivated when facing elite competitors in JC was because my secondary school was run so badly, the top Pure Science class did not even have a classroom - our principal housed us in the physics lab and kicked us out whenever class needed access to do experiments. My personal narrative is that there is really no choice but to climb in this world given how shitty my secondary school education was in the late 1980s. If I elevate myself further and get to speak to my juniors, this is definitely a story I will tell.  

 If you really examine younger Millenials and Gen Z, everyone has two daemons whispering in their ear. One daemon looks suspiciously like Karl Marx and he likes to remind the person that society plays a big role in their success and structure matters a lot. The other daemon looks suspiciously like Ayn Rand, and she wants to remind the person that agency matters more. 

  • If someone wants to believe that he's screwed because society did not give him a leg up. He's probably right.
  • If someone else wants to believe that he can use his willpower to improve his lot in life, he's right as well. 
Like what the folks of SGAG would say : Can is Can. Cannot is Cannot.

This week, I met up with an old gamer pal lately and we were updating each other about how other gamer pals are doing, and we came to the conclusion that my pal has elevated himself over the other gamers as he reached his 40s. I suspect he never saw himself as a candidate for top dog, given that he had credentials in design from a private university, and flitted like a butterfly across several service level jobs in his youth.

But as he mellowed down and grew older, he managed to land an administrative role in an office and he basically showed up every day for a decade within that same organization. Today, he was even able to make hiring decisions for his organization. 

I felt that he followed something Jordan Peterson has been telling a lot of young guys. No matter how low you are at the starting point of the totem pole, just make it a point to show up and be engaged in your work. This puts you above maybe 75% of your peers. 

The gamer circles I was in, on the other hand, had not aged well, with some local grads getting managed out and driving Grab today, others have been structurally unemployed for years, and one became a morbidly obese hikkikomori and retreated from public life. I know because his dad bitches about him to my aunt everyday.

My friend is now well established in a multinational, owns a HDB under his own name and even has a Japanese girlfriend. 

Sometimes like is a Euro Game, when you reach your 40s, you have to make a number of rerolls and some who were on top may find themselves at the bottom. I'm still in my 40s, and I'm worried that my next reroll would not be too far around the corner.

I hope that my pal's story will encourage you to listen to Karl Marx a little less and tune into Ayn Rand a little bit more.

Structure may be truth, but it's a losers game to put too much emphasis on it.

You have the agency to make a difference in your life. 


1 comment:

  1. Ehh his neighbourhood sec school was considered within top 10 during his time there. His neighbourhood pri school also quite good.

    Marx's solution to structure is to adopt violent agency to replace said structure. Unfortunately this usually results in yet another autocratic structure.