Yesterday, I wrote about kinetic energy and potential energy and how both can be seen in the image of an archer pulling back on a bowstring. By pulling on the bowstring while pressing against the rigid curve of the bow, the archer amplifies the potential energy of the weapon, all thanks to the magic of math and angles and physics and stuff.
Every element of the machine has an effect on the outcome. Is the bow made from stiff oak or rubbery yew? Is the string linen or rawhide or polyethylene fiber? Are the archer’s muscles tired or fresh? Does her breath make her wobble or do her hips make a steady base? Is her elbow at the correct angle to amplify the power of pulling back, or does some force dissipate? Are the fletching feathers on the arrow in good shape and positioned for maximum aerodynamics? Does the wind blow?
Which part of this machine is truly powerful? Is it the arrow with its piercing metal tip? Is it the curved bow–just a piece of wood with a string tied to it? Taken separately, the bow and the string and the arrow are harmless. It’s when they work together that they can feed a family or end one. They are tools for converting potential energy into kinetic energy and converting deer into dinner.
And that brings me to the idea of AGENCY. Agency is the ability of a person to act for herself. A child has less agency than the parent. A person who refuses to vote surrenders agency. Financial independence supports agency. Systems of control, like racism and sexism, try to strip agency from others. Energy is one thing–agency is quite another. We can expend all the kinetic energy in the world, but does it lead to or stem from agency?
Think again about the example of the bow, the arrow, and the archer. We spend so much time paying attention to ENERGY. The bow thrums with potential energy; the arrow slices the air with kinetic energy. These tools have energy, but only the archer has agency. Until the archer decides to nock the arrow, and takes aim, and pulls back, and releases…the bow and arrow are useless.
Forget about the energy and the noise and the angles. Forget that your muscles may be tired or the wind might be high.
Go vote. It’s your agency and a lot of people fought long and hard for you to have it.
On another note: Have you ever wondered why British people make a rude gesture by holding up a reverse peace sign? Two fingers up with palm facing in and fingers slightly curved? In England, it’s called “flicking the v’s” and it’s similar to Americans shooting a bird. Those are the two fingers you use to pull a bowstring. English archers destroyed the French at Agincourt, so legend has it that the defiant sign for “piss off” hearkens back to English soldiers waggling those two fingers to remind the French who won. It’s an expression of agency AND archery!