In the film “The Matrix”, the agents were the guardians of the status quo: The avatar embodiment of defending their hive. When aware of a crime, the ordinary humans nearby would violently morph into agents and jump into action.
Just like us.
Every one of us can be triggered into becoming Agent Smith, and probably has been multiple times. Embodying Agent Smith means sufficient pressure on your “that aint right” nerve to pop out of our usual peace preserving, deferential, social style into “Stop that immediately!” intervening authority. Unlike the agents, we don’t have a flat, universal scale of good and bad. We have one spectrum of “How much do I disapprove of this?” and a related “How much am I going to express that disapproval?” Imagine a naked person wandering through your neighborhood holding a beer. You notice and immediately go alert like a watchdog because this person has wandered out of social bounds and become unpredictable. Automatically you are scanning for story and probabilities. Are they drunk? Hurt? Crazy? Just don’t give a fuck? The spectrum of response is something like this:
Meh. | Passively watching | Yelling a joke at them: “Did you forget something?” | The scowl | The yell from the sidelines | The run up and ask if they are OK | The run up and angrily confront them | The call 911 | The Whup-ass
There are human communities where wandering naked with a beer evokes nothing more than “Hey, Hugh.” and others where you might very well be killed. A parent beating a child in public will immediately attract an angry, protective crowd…here. An immodestly dressed woman (by local standards) may get a glare here, or a beating there. Social norms are set where the response gradient settles toward a dense single color. It is the point where most people would dare to respond without fear of violating another norm, and a flash mob of strangers would likely mirror their mood. Where the gradient becomes a solid, that is the center of gravity for cultural opposing force. It is the social dew point or flash point.
It’s one of those emergent effects of scaling up a personal reaction to a community level. While some cultural powers reinforce these standards from above, like all emergence it is a bottom up phenomena.