Real People as Agents

I was reading in the first volume of Taruskin's history of music -- all right, procrastinating from overdue PhD chapters -- and came across this useful and timely reminder:

"Statements and actions in response to real or perceived conditions: these are the essential facts of human history. The discourse, so often slighted in the past, is in fact the story. It creates new social and intellectual conditions to which more statements and actions will respond, in an endless chain of agency. The historian needs to be on guard against the tendency, or the temptation, to simplify the story by neglecting this most basic fact of all. No historical event or change can be meaningfully asserted unless its agents can be specified; and agents can only be people. Attributions of agency unmediated by human action are, in effect, lies -- or at the very least, evasions. They occur inadvertently in careless historiography (or historiography that has submitted unawares to a master narrative), and are invoked deliberately in propaganda (i.e., historiography that consciously colludes with a master narrative)." (Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, vol 1, p.xviii)

It's good to be reminded of this when thinking about most things, but especially when discussing ideology and influence with regard to the war in Afghanistan and the identity of the various groups fighting. People have thoughts; ideas do more than just 'emerge'. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else, but I think writing on the nature of the Taliban, for example, could become a lot clearer if we stuck to the agency of real people rather than abstractions.