All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
The Bafta-winning film-maker Adam Curtis have made a documentary series called “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, describing the philosophy of materialism. He says about the background:
“about how we have been colonised by the machines we have built. Although we don’t realise it, the way we see everything in the world today is through the eyes of computers. My underlying argument is that we have given up a dynamic political model of the world – the dream of changing things for the better – for a static machine ideology that says we are all components in systems.”
This is the best description of the materialistic problem of today, the film is pure art, making the viewers stop and think.
Adam Curtis shows how this “machine ideology” have entered the thoughts of man up through time, starting with ideas of the economic policies of Alan Greenspan and his fascination with the philosopher Ayn Rand; the “selfish gene” popularised by Richard Dawkins; the “self-organising” dreams of hippies in the 1960s; and utopian visions of the internet preached by cyber-nerds in Silicon Valley.
His point is not that computers are worryingly ubiquitous, or that machines are enslaving us, but that we have fooled ourselves into believing that every sphere of human experience – from the democratic nation state to the global economy and even the natural world – can be thought of like a computer, as an ordered network of millions of individually insignificant nodes (i.e. us) whose only achievable goal is to maintain order and stability within the system. Andrew Pettie
And, Curtis says:
“One downside of this machine organising principle,” he says, “is that it undermines something really important: the old Enlightenment idea that human beings have the power and the imagination to change the world, to make it what they want and bend it to their will. [This] can be dangerous, but it can also be wonderful.”
Wikipedia have a good article here.
The three documentaries are comprised of:
1. Love and Power.
This is the story of the dream that rose up in the 1990s that computers could create a new kind of stable world. They would bring about a new kind global capitalism free of all risk and without the boom and bust of the past. They would also abolish political power and create a new kind of democracy through the Internet where millions of individuals would be connected as nodes in cybernetic systems – without hierarchy.
The film tells the story of two perfect worlds. One is the small group of disciples around the novelist Ayn Rand in the 1950s. They saw themselves as a prototype for a future society where everyone could follow their own selfish desires.
The other is the global utopia that digital entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley set out to create in the 1990s. Many of them were also disciples of Ayn Rand. They believed that the new computer networks would allow the creation of a society where everyone could follow their own desires, yet there would not be anarchy.
They were joined by Alan Greenspan who had also been a disciple of Ayn Rand. He became convinced that the computers were creating a new kind of stable capitalism. But the dream of stability in both worlds would be torn apart by the two dynamic human forces – love and power.
2. The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts. This is the story of how our modern scientific idea of nature, the self-regulating ecosystem, is actually a machine fantasy. It has little to do with the real complexity of nature. It is based on cybernetic ideas that were projected on to nature in the 1950s by ambitious scientists. A static machine theory of order that sees humans, and everything else on the planet, as components – cogs – in a system.
But in an age disillusioned with politics, the self-regulating ecosystem has again become the model for utopian ideas of human “self-organising networks”, with dreams of new ways of organising societies without leaders and in global visions of connectivity like the Gaia theory.
This powerful idea emerged out of the hippie communes in America in the 1960s, and from counter-culture computer scientists who believed that global webs of computers could liberate the world.
But, at the very moment this was happening, the science of ecology discovered that the theory of the self-regulating ecosystem wasn’t true. Instead they found that nature was really dynamic and constantly changing in unpredictable ways.
But it was too late, the dream of the self-organising network had by now captured imaginations…
3. The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. This episode looks at why we humans find this machine vision so beguiling. The film argues it is because all political dreams of changing the world for the better seem to have failed – so we have retreated into machine-fantasies that say we have no control over our actions because they excuse our failure.
At the heart of the film is Bill Hamilton, a scientist. He argued that human behaviour is really guided by codes buried deep within us – a theory later popularised by Richard Dawkins as the “selfish gene”. It said that individual human beings are really just machines whose only job is to make sure the codes are passed on for eternity.
This final part begins in 2000 in the jungles of the Congo and Rwanda, where Hamilton is to help prove his dark theories. But all around him the Congo is being torn apart. The film then interweaves the two stories–the strange roots of Hamilton’s theories, and the history of the West’s tortured relationship with the Congo and technology…
The title is borrowed from a poem handed out on the streets of San Francisco in 1967 by the writer Richard Brautigan:
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.Richard Brautigan