Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Machines of Loving Grace

Adam Curtis - All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

This series of films investigates how people have been colonised by the machines they have built.
Although they may not realise it, the way many people see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. Not just politics and the economy -- but also in the way bodies, minds, and even the whole of the natural world are perceived.

Listen to this Interview before you watch "Machines of Loving Grace"
Discussing Curtis' latest series of films, "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace"

Adam Curtis Interview (May 20, 2011)

Mr. Roberts talks about the conflicting, ever-changing and in many ways dubious accounts of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Military Industrial Complex’ need for the next ‘black hat,’ the question of China, and more!

Episode One - Love and Power

In this episode Curtis tracks the effects of Ayn Rand's ideas on American financial markets, particularly via the influence on Alan Greenspan.
Greenspan joined The Collective in New York which discusses Rand's books, such as Atlas shrugged.

Rand's ideas came to heavily infiltrated California, particularly Silicon Valley, and the computer utopian belief (Californian Ideology) that computer networks could measure, control and self-stabilise societies, without hierarchical political control, became widespread.

Rand entered into a disastrous affair with a married person in the collective, with the approval of their spouses.

Greenspan persuaded the newly elected Bill Clinton in 1992 to let the markets grow, and cut taxes, and to let the markets stabilise themselves with computer technology.

Although the Asian miracle had lead to long-term growth in South Korea and other countries Joseph Stiglitz began warning that the withdraw of money from the Eastern economies could cause devastation.

Curtis shows that the economic crisis that befell the Eastern countries such as Indonesia and South Korea was a direct result of Rand's ideas leading to the transfer of control foreign financial investment from politics to banking institutions leading the housing bubbles to burst, causing large financial losses in the East. However, after each country agreed to IMF bailout loans, foreign investors immediately withdrew their money, triggering massive economic disasters.

To avoid a repeat, China decided to control America's economy via similar techniques. The belief in America was that computers could stabilise the lending of money and that this would permit lending beyond what was actually sustainable, leading ultimately to the 2008 collapse due to a similar housing bubble.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode 1 Part 1 )

The underlying argument is that people 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 everyone is a component in a system, and that the aim is to manage these systems and keep them stable.

From the utopian visions of the worldwide web to the idea of an interconnected global economic system, to the dream of balanced ecosystems, all these ideas share an underlying machine vision of organisation and order.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode 1 Part 2 )

The films tell an extraordinary range of stories: from novelist Ayn Rand and her tragic love affairs to the dreams and the frightening reality of the hippie communes; from the brutal politics of the Belgian Congo to the doomsday computer model behind the rise of modern environmentalism; from the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory to Alan Greenspan and his faith in a new kind of global economic system. And there's also the computer model of the eating habits of the Pronghorn antelope.

The series argues that by embracing this new machine ideology something very precious has been given up: the idea of progress and political struggle to change the world for the better.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode 1 Part 3 )

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode 1 Part 4 )

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode 1 Part 5 )

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
(Episode. 2) - Full 59.25 min

Episode Two - 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 become the model for utopian ideas of human 'self-organizing networks' - dreams of new ways of organising societies without leaders, as in the Facebook and Twitter revolutions, 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 counterculture 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 the dream of the self-organizing network had by now captured our imaginations - because it offered an alternative to the dangerous and discredited ideas of politics.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode. 2 ) - Full

Episode Three -
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 one of the most famous scientists in the world - Bill Hamilton. He argued that human behaviour is really guided by codes buried deep within us. It was 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.

The film begins in 2000 in the jungles of the Congo and Rwanda. Hamilton is there to help prove his dark theories. But all around him the Congo is being torn apart by 'Africa's First World War'. 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 over the past 100 years.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode. 3) - Full

Written and Directed by Adam Curtis

This feature is the property of the BBC.

I thought that finale was both horrifying and stimulating. In my opinion, it may well have been the best episode of the three - although possibly the most obscurantist in a sense, as the direct connection to the computing angle seemed a little...ahem...approximate - still, telling real stories about the actual condition of parts of Africa is a Curtis trademark, and has been ever since Pandora's Box - and it was a story well, and bravely, told.

By comparison with the other episodes, I tended to find the overall tale here much more coherently constructed, although there were the usual 'sidetracking' moments, of course - the sequence with Edward Teller talking about John von Neumann had a terrifying resonance all its own - but was out of place - or, at least, its only narrative function was to remind us of how von Neumann founded the science of cybernetics, Hamilton and Price were enthusiasts for cybernetic principles in the broad sense, and a wider story about altruism and selfishness vying within the 'systemic' behaviour of the human being was (approximately) at the heart of the narrative. There was also some nice use of Dian Fossey's story - although, to be honest, I might have liked a little more insight into that - in point of fact, I actually felt, Adam, that you dealt with the same 60's era material better here on the blog, when you isolated it from the wider context and looked at it in terms of its formative era.

But the overall tale was very well told - there were many curious resonances and reversals - intentional, mainly, I assume - such as Price's desperation to prove altruism valid, and the irony of early 21st century aid agencies being seen to have deepened a humanitarian crisis through altruism, or the curious suggestion that the 19th century social Darwinism and anthropometrics that came to 'justify' the Hutu/Tutsi divide were reflected in Hamilton's own predilection for genetic determinism of the 'fittest'. Many astonishing subsidiary stories were only hinted at - such as the railroading of Lumumba to death, the birth of the cyberneticist movement and so on - although many of these issues have already been well dealt with in other Curtis documentaries.

I didn't find the ending lacking in optimisim, wholly - in the sense that it serves as a 'cri de coeur' for the whole ethos of the series - that individuals should stop divesting themselves of responbility for their actions by relying on the notion that their individual values cannot influence society.

Of course, the main critique of this attitude is that stating it is one thing - coming up with a valuable way in which to enshrine it within society without consistently coming up against issues such as interventionism effecting more harm than good is quite another! I suppose the non-comittal diagnosis of the issue is a start, though.

As to PlanC's comments - I'd advise you to try and catch up with some of the earlier material in Adam's output - 'Century of the Self', in particular, comes close to critiquing the whole apparatus that sustains modern advertising and PR values.

You should also search around on the blog if you haven't already - as Adam has provided all sorts of trenchant and interesting commentary on media manipulation of variant sorts from the 1950's to the present on this very site.


Adam Curtis discusses his new documentary "All Watched Over By Machines With Loving Grace" on Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service.

Adam Curtis on Jarvis Cocker BBC 6 22/05/11 (Part 1)

Adam Curtis on Jarvis Cocker BBC 6 22/05/11 (Part 2)

Adam Curtis on Jarvis Cocker BBC 6 22/05/11 (Part 3)


Dr Helen Caldicott - Fukushima Nuclear Disaster-
You won't hear this on the Main Stream News.

Nuclear Facts you'd be more comfortable not knowing from a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr Helen Caldicott, true to style, tells it as it is/as she sees it/like you wont usually hear it.

She comes across as genuine and like she knows what she is talking about. If so, is humanity doomed? Why isn't anyone reacting to this? She rates Fukashima orders of magnitude worse than Chernobyl, for which she claims there is a cover-up of 1 million deaths. Likewise, she has shocking things to say about the use of nuclear material in Iraq which is creating a grotesque hell for the people of Falluja. If what she is saying is exaggerated, she at least merits being contradicted by other knowledgible people. But instead, it just gets buried and forgotten. To think I was just surmising that we don't hear about Fukashima recently because it has come to lack interest for our short attention spans, which flit from topic to topic. But this appears to really spell the end of humanity, and not some fanciful Malthusian Deutshebank gendanken experiment.



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