Posts Tagged Adam Curtis
Centralization is the problem of our current economic and political systems, evident in political decision-making, public institutions, companies and capital. The mantra ‘Big is Beautiful’ is wrong: The productivity per employee drops with the increasing size of the organisation, and that is because the single employee has less possibility to influence his own work and is too bound by rules. Also the large organizations are difficult to manage.
Centralized decision-making, for instance in the distance between government and population, increases the damage by wrong decision. The same goes for large corporations: the bigger the organization, the greater the danger for wrong decisions and for catastrophic results. However, this is only a small part of the danger of centralisation. In the following paragraphs I will look at its implications, which will be seen in greater aggressiveness, fewer social skills and decreasing possibilities to control our future. In other words, there are less possibilities to make decisions on a large scale as well as in our own lives, at home and work.
The danger of centralization works through various mechanisms, as
- Materialism, a purely physical view of the universe,
- Pervasive Politics, proliferation of the political system in daily life,
- Groupings, emphasis on group, race, and ethnicity, us and them,
- Orthodoxy, literal and “simple” interpretation of the Gospels,
- Superstition, spiritual beliefs without foundation in thinking skills,
- Abstract Thinking, cultivating abstract theorization,
- Quantitative Thinking, purely quantitative (statistical) observation.
Combined with a dualistic worldview where everything is black and white, these will increase the strife between people all over the world.
Dualistic thinking sees everything in opposites, and this is one of the greatest dangers today: “If you are not with me, you are against me”. This is a widespread sickness, especially on the internet where you can hide under anonymity. However, orthodoxy of any kind – religious, atheistic, or political – moves our future in a dangerous direction. What makes it so dangerous are that both sides believe that they fight on the side of good, but the reality is that they both fight for extremism, whereas truth is always somewhere in-between.
The deception is not to see the full picture, to understand both sides in any relation!
The challenge is to find the golden mean between the extremes.
The following paragraphs will look into different areas where dualism endangers our society.
The deception is not to see the full picture, to understand both sides in any relation!
The challenge is to find the Golden Mean between the extremes.
The following paragraphs will look into different areas where Dualism endangers our society.
Science is seen as the absolute truth against black superstition represented by religion. The latter is not seen as having different and complementary views on the same reality. It has become a kind of atheistic religion in itself, attacking spirituality and moral values. Darwin is their prime god, and their Messiahs are the sentient robots they hope will come and save the world. The problem are that most of the atheists don’t really understand what they are preaching, and they don’t accept scientific evidence if it’s against their own beliefs. See Is it possible to make Intelligent Machines?
Science can’t make decisions or take responsibility, as Science in itself has no morality per se. Science is always used by others: more dynamic groups in society, by players on the market or in politics, whose morals aren’t better than that of the courts or the voters.
You see dualism in politics, especially in two-party systems, where there is no space for other views. Politics dominates today everybody’s life, in contrast to forty years ago, where politics was talked about at the elections every fourth year. Back then, the laws gave rules for the relation between citizens, whereas today the laws regulate the relation between state and citizens.
The political invasion of the private sphere destroys the natural equilibrium of society. The economic system today is an example of this: the equilibrium of that system ends regularly in chaos, as the system is made for speculators, not for companies, nor for the country and its citizens. Today the decisions are taken via regulations or laws on behalf of groups, whereas in earlier times, the decisions were taken on behalf of individuals by those who were familiar with specific cases. Wrong decisions had only small consequences then, whereas wrong decisions today have far heavier consequences as more people are dependent on these decisions.
This is a problem all over the world, and it gets worse the more laws and rules people have to follow.
One of the biggest lies of today: We need more regulations as a result of society’s complexity. Wrong, it is more complex as a result of all those regulations. Computers take the complexity out of complex tasks, and prefabricated goods take the complexity out of manual work, so what is complex today, except the laws?
There is a tendency to split up in groups, instead of seeing mankind as one: people split up according to race, religion, language, land, locality, sex, or whatever. There is a lots of hate in this, not least on the Internet.
There is a tendency to read religious texts too narrowly. For instance, the Jehovah Witnesses and other religious groups who take their holy books too literally. Durban Two, where the Islamic countries tries to prohibit any criticism of religion, is a typical example showing that discussions of religious content is unwanted. New religious movements like Scientology, Atheism, the Moonies, and so on, are also too rigid.
Another trap is to accept words of religious, esoteric, and scientific origin without thought. The spiritually-inclined are in danger of reading spiritual literature without conscious understanding, but that includes also atheists reading scientific texts without understanding.
In contrast to real understanding, abstract thinking is seen everywhere, including the previous subjects discussed. Man is seen as a thing, not as a being. But reality is not abstract, and every decision based on abstract thinking is wrong, especially if living beings are involved.
This involves statistics, but without understanding. Let us say a politician want to make a law, and it will make 0.123% of all families go bankrupt, but as the percent is so low, nobody sees it as a problem. Nobody understands that there are real people behind those figures. Quantitative thinking always works through abstractions.
The development moves in a direction where we can expect that our personal ‘I’ is assimilated by the masses, the collective. In the western world we talk about freedom: that nobody should tell us what to do, and we fight (duality problem) against conspiracies, against CO2 pollution, against many other things, but we don’t define and work consistently for a world worth living in. At the same time, our capabilities to decide our own destiny are diminishing, regulated by law, organizations, computers, and infrastructure. The result may be that everybody just follows the paths with least resistance, which are built through directives, regulations, computer capabilities, ending in a situation where nobody thinks or makes decisions any more. And it’s all made for the good of the citizens by Big Mother.
Political Correctness is sneaking in everywhere, without any conscious effort by any conspiratorial agency, but because of the path of least resistance.
Many of the restrictions and laws are made because of poor parenting: children no longer learn to live in a community; they are each and all small kings and princesses, who don’t understand that others don’t see them as such. Their understanding of scientific, historic or creative endeavors is as small as it has ever been. Children of olden times learned more at the campfire than the children of today. As they don’t know how to behave, more and more laws are created to remedy this deficient parenting.
The central problem are that children aren’t allowed to be children any longer, or as Michael Jackson says:
You can’t make tax-systems as complicated as they are today without computers, and you can’t control the many citizens or employees, as we can today, without computers; the amount of data is enormous. They make it possible to create structures which are difficult to manage without using computers, and computers don’t know HR.
GM and the American Automobile Industry are good examples of these gigantic companies, who would be impossible to manage without stiff administrative structures and computers, and it’s extremely difficult to change these structures if it were needed. But modern software organizations have the same problems, with their software bases: Microsoft with its operating system, and Office system, Yahoo with it’s big software base. There are also problems with reduction of labour, and new organizations such as Google with its extreme growth, will quickly get into the same problems. The only way out is to regularly rebuild old systems from the ground without any application reuse, to keep different applications separated on application level and to use methods which make the programming as simple and cost effective as possible.
These big organizations are extremely susceptible to the Peters Principle:
I believe computers can be a boon to mankind, but we have to control how and what they are used for, not letting their possibilities decide our future, as their strength can be used both for good and evil purposes.
Management and Computers
You can use computers for many things: they can plan routes for transport, or decrease energy consumption, and many other useful things. This sounds good, but if we don’t take care, it could mean that it makes the knowledge and experience of man superfluous or even dangerous: man’s role can become degraded to that of a machine.
The need for knowledge is diminishing everywhere in society, except within the computer world. Many jobs which needed educated craftsmen can now be done by unskilled labor, as building materials don’t need special skills any more, and the computer has taken over a lot of paperwork and decision-making. This turns everyone into secretaries except the secretaries: Even executives write their own letters and calculating sheets on their computers, instead of using secretaries, so they don’t do what they were hired and paid for – manage.
The term “human resources” is in itself a degradation. People are no longer individuals: They are a kind of commodity. See “Human Resources” by Scott Noble.
The physicist Geoffrey B. West studies large structures like cities and corporate organisations, and has found that cities increase their productivity and also their problems, while corporate organisations decrease their productivity as they grow.
Public organisations have of course the same problems as the corporate companies, they don’t trust their employees.
Cities are good examples on how the unstructured principles works, how the size of the city increases the production per citizen.
No Competent Leaders
What makes it so frustratingly absurd is that we are giving away our independence to a system, a network of directives and conventions, without any persons being in charge. There is nowhere you can go to say that it’s wrong and it should be otherwise. Everybody will tell you, “That’s how it is and it has always been that way, and it can’t be in any other way, as it’s too costly to change the computers programming just because of you!” Of course we have leaders at the top of the state or the corporate companies, but as the decision-making is moved up through the hierarchy (following automatic rules,) it therefore becomes more and more difficult to manage big organizations, as everything becomes dependent on one decision- maker alone, and few can, or know how to, change the course. It’s more difficult to change the direction of a state, organization, or company than a supertanker. Consequently, organizations becomes automatons, and companies go under in the event of unanticipated events, when structural change is what is actually needed.
GM and the American automobile industry are good examples of this inability to change: They had known for decades that they should change their models to compete with Japanese and European manufacturers, but they couldn’t.
The incompetence of these organizations gives rise to conspiracy theories as Hanlon’s Law warns about:
Buying and selling on the stock market are for a great part based on automated decisions made by computers, but as we have seen, it can go terrible wrong when some unanticipated events shows up. What’s worse, the stock market was made to foster strong and sound companies: not for computer-controlled gaming, but for intelligent investment.
As fewer and fewer managers can make decisions, these decisions will be automated as rules in computers, and it will be impossible to make decisions based on individual concerns.
Decreasing Social Intercourse
Computers are very effective for entertainment: you can live your whole life on the internet, without any direct social contact. You can play games and do your work through the net if necessary. You can also discuss, shop for sex/ books/ programs/ random data on the net (It can be like a drug in itself). You can book your food from a local pizzeria, book escort girls, men, and boys, eventually finding mates on the net if you really want to live together with another living being. The film Matrix is a plausible destiny, not by force, but semi-freely. It’s not Big Brother, it’s Big Mama.
Less Social Skills
In the old days, children, teenagers, and adults learned by living in a community, and there was room for everybody, even the village idiot. These and other unusual persons were educated by their social environment which were mostly normal. We are today living more and more on the internet, learning our social skills through social applications and computer games. The old community’s influence is replaced by the internet friends, and as like seeks like, they can only increase their phobias or other disorders. Examples are numerous: pedophilia, school killings, terrorists, all kind of surrealistic interests, and so forth. The Law of Sayre’s is relevant in many of these cases:
Children and teenagers can be reached by mobile and GPS always and everywhere, followed on the internet through Twitter or Facebook by their parents: no privacy. The same goes for the adults: no privacy and always available for state officials, economic institutions and employers. Password protection, pseudonyms, and like precautions are no hindrance, Cyber-Investigators will find everything, relevant or not. You cannot even go to the North Pole or to the Himalayas in peace: they can always reach you, and you them.
In our hyper-connected world, getting away from it all is easier said than done. New Scientist.
The frustration has to go somewhere, and while there are no one responsible for our situation, and no one with enough insight, determination, and power to change the situation, we invent some god-like powerful conspirators who in all secrecy, with hundreds of employees, stands behind all the bad in this world. The truth is that most leaders are so incompetent that it hurts. Just look at Iraq: The military invasion was well thought out, but the rest was incompetence par excellence. And that is not an exception, it’s the rule. Of course, there are conspiracies and secret operations, but if more than one participant knowing about the conspiracy is alive a year later, it’s just a question of time before the world know. Another reason to use few people is that really competent people are difficult to find, and the more people involve, the bigger the risks for failure. Moreover, the bigger the consequences of a possilble failure, the less interesting the project becomes. The best way to check if a conspiracy theory is viable or not, isn’t to examine the technical evidence but rather the psychology and the necessary resources that would be needed behind the scenes, also how big is the risk, who gains, what’s their gain, how many participate, and what expertise is necessary.
A sober view on conspiracy theories from the left:
Noam Chomsky on Conspiracy Theories
In case the video is not functioning look here
The Independent: The French economist forcing America to wake up to the end of The Dream.
Out of America: Thomas Piketty’s tome which skewers the idea that anyone who works hard can make it in the US seems to have hit a nerve
“Capital In The Twenty-First Century”, all 685 pages of it, is the No 1 best-seller on Amazon – apparently the first time that anything published by the venerable Harvard University Press has attained such dizzying celebrity. No self-regarding dinner party in Washington or New York is worth its salt without a discussion of it. Last Friday, came the ultimate accolade of a multiple coronation on the op-ed page of The New York Times.
The Huffington Post: Economist Thomas Piketty Explains Why Income Inequality Is Just Getting Started
Flash Boys explores the world of high-frequency trading, a scheme in which traders use ultra-fast network connections to sniff out the intentions of other, slower traders, thereby acting before others can respond. Critics of the practice–Lewis chief among them–argue that high-frequency trading creates something akin to insider trading: a predatory environment for less advantaged investors. WIRED spoke with Lewis at an event organized by Live Talks in downtown Los Angeles.
An unlikely political star tells the inspiring story of the two-decade journey that taught her how Washington really works—and really doesn’t.
In this passionate, funny, rabble-rousing book, Warren shows why she has chosen to fight tooth and nail for the middle class—and why she has become a hero to all those who believe that America’s government can and must do better for working families.
New York Times: Book review of A Fighting Chance
A good review, also giving a good idea about who she is.
The the Bafta-winning film-maker Adam Curtis:
The Closing of the American Mind, Simon & Schuster Inc.
Haven in a Heartless World, 1977, Basic Books, Inc.
In the American political vocabulary, “family” and “family values” no longer simply evoke pictures of harmonious scenes; they also push our buttons (left and right) about what is wrong with society. One of the earliest and sharpest cultural commentators to investigate the twentieth-century American family, Christopher Lasch argues in this book that as social science “experts” intrude more and more into our lives, the family’s vital role as the moral and social cornerstone of society disintegrates – and, left unchecked, so does our political and personal freedom. Haven in a Heartless World is a trenchant analysis of the plight of the family. Lasch takes a clear-eyed look at the institution in which America’s future generations are being raised and finds it faltering.
Geoffrey B. West
A New York Times article on his work.
Describes the mathematical background for his work.
Huffington Post – The Psychology Of Materialism, And Why It’s Making You Unhappy
That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover — just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back — just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have… Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
have written a little book called “Night Flight” which describes man’s fight against the Materialistic docility to keep man competent and responsible.
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
Other places with videos: topdocumentaryfilms.com