42 comments

  1. gonzomarx

    He’s latest series is now on BBC2 Mondays

    All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace –
    1. Love and Power

    2. The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts

    and for fun!!

    Bilderberg 2011: All aboard the Bilderbus
    As the Bilderberg conference heads towards Switzerland there’s still time to book your seat on a minibus to St Moritz

    1. Publius Fortunatus

      With infinite loving kindness the machine said it’s not available in my area.

  2. Philip Pilkington

    Links to the rest of Curtis’ work — not counting ‘All Watched Over…”

  3. brazza

    Absolutely brilliant – can’t thank you enough for this link. So much until now vaguely perceived, finally clearly understandable.

    1. nonclassical

      It’s basic Krishnamurti-beginning with understanding self-
      which no system of education is concerned with-telling ourselves TRUTH, as a Socrates proposed..

      Krishnamurti reminds at each of his “talks” that HE is NOT
      your LEADER-one must NOT “follow” “leaders”…

  4. hello

    FYI, this documentary got 6% of the entire UK viewing audience when it aired on BBC.

    Can you imagine this getting NBC/ABC/FOX/CNN airing a (non-dumbed-down) documentary to such a reception in America?

    And yes, I’d recommend “Power of Nightmares” as well. And there are a plethora of other very good BBC/BBC4 documentaries on everything from economics to science to to history design that are on DVD/torrent/youtube/google video.

    Sadly, BBCAmerica is watered-down to American tastes and is a pale shadow of BBC/BBC2/BBC4. But hey, market-supported TV is always best!

    1. ScottW

      Maybe a tad off point, but the BBC series, “MI-5” does a brilliant job of portraying the morality play concerning the use of domestic force in the face of evil (terrorism). It tackles issues American television would never touch (e.g., target assassinations v. due process). I highly recommend it, but you need to go to netflix to get the previous episodes. In the U.S., the current episodes show up at the highly watched time slot of 11:00 p.m. on Saturdays (at least in North Carolina). Most Americans have no interest in thinking about the death and destruction we inflict all over the world, and at home.

  5. Thank You!

    Re: A search for synthesis between concepts of positive and negative liberty… and specifically on the role of ‘self-interest’ (both as an abstract concept with biological roots and in its practical implications)…

    No easy answers but I’d suggest part of that synthesis involves recognition of the role of biological altruism in scaled societies.

    Altruism is NOT at root about ‘being nice’… (Certainly a great thing and I’m all for it but not the problem being addressed here)…

    Biological altruism is about how we make mental distinctions between in-group and out-group and how that affects our decisions and behavior. And for very fundamental reasons having to do with cognitive limitations that demarcation is also tied to Dunbar’s Number (a hypothetical ‘natural human community size’).

    For humans… meaning cannot be derived without community. And we are ‘small community’ creatures in our very bones.

    Sustainable scaled civilization cannot be achieved without accommodating a very broad variety of very locally sustainable and meaningful communities.

    Some centralized structures are needed to protect universal individual rights… while at the same time protecting the viability of local communities which may have very different (even radically different) values from other communities.

    I’m not so sure it’s possible.
    But its necessary.

    I believe a neutral, universally-owned transaction network could form part of a root structure.

  6. Philip Pilkington

    Hey just noticed — this is only the last episode.

    People! Watch the full documentary. I gave a link above.

  7. Paul Handover

    What a fantastic find – thanks to Yves and everyone else for the links and comments. I recognise that as a Brit now living (incredibly happily) in Arizona, I’m still very biased towards the excellence of the BBC.

    Best wishes to all, Paul H

  8. jopac

    Thanks Ives, this goes along with what MH was writing about yesterday. Thanks other here for the links

  9. F. Beard

    The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Psalm 11:5

    1. sgt_doom

      Let’s get it right finally.

      This whole god thing is about domination-submission and anti-knowledge.

      Lucifer, on the other hand, was all about knowledge, beauty and pleasure.

      So this entire judeo-christian-islamic sociopathic construct has been sought after ever since by the sociopathic greedheads and pervs.

      Time to set things aright.

  10. kevinearick

    Skyscraper Economics

    So, the scarcity economy is like a skyscraper. The Fed is pumping wealth up, with an elevator, Congress is dropping just enough down, in a rigged lottery economy (the accounting fountain) to induce participation and all the incentive is to occupy the top floor. Pretty stupid from the perspective of the abundance economy, but wait, there’s more…

    As the top floors fill out, the skyscraper becomes an inverted pyramid, infrastructure and all, supported on both sides by the abundance economy, through a looking glass (a bridge, which is a tiny dot in the landscape that is the universe, but it is the entire universe to those inhabiting the skyscraper, with all its entertaining features). As the inverted pyramid grows, the abundance economy moves out, growing the gap, while the corporations spend accelerating effort, make-work, regulating the slave sub-economies below, balancing and reinforcing the structure.

    The abundance economy employs leverage to get farther away, effectively creating a quantum switch, and the planet is not stupid, like they teach in school. It’s patient, until it’s not, in quantum leaps, wiping the DNA it doesn’t want off the stack efficiently. The abundant economy is a mechanism that increases that efficiency, by effectively employing leverage, and materialism is the bait in the self-actualizing trap. You cannot fool an honest man, although he appears to be the fool.

    The universe is a clock, and the planet is a sub-gear of sub-gears, a sub-fulcrum of sub-fulcrums, a sub-pendulum. When that pendulum bottoms out, it measures the gap, which is expected diversity relative to resources deployed. As the gap grows, in quantum distances between swings, due to leverage employed by the abundant economy, the s pit, which is why this generation of critters is “seeing” tornados, floods, and droughts where they never saw them before. The only question is when the NC switch is going to snap open, and release full backlash.

    Employing DC in your applications is not a problem; failing to provide a pathway for backlash is a problem, unless your objective is creative destruction at the bridge. As you know from experience, if you tell the competitive, do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do, tell-them-one-thing-and-do-another critters what they need to do to solve a problem, that is exactly what they will not do, until it’s too late, which shuts all their exits, and you can set up the reaction with timing, directed resonant frequency momentum, pushing the pendulum further and further, bumping the load at the pivot.

    As discussed, in pieces, the clocks in these dc computers are embedded with an AI traveling salesman algorithm, managed by the electron of electrons, mimicking nature so nature recognizes it, leveraging the pivot yet again (when they attack you with that computer…). Each time the proprietors have failed to follow instruction, they didn’t see an immediate negative result, because the sub-gears are designed to balance algebraically, until it’s time to “leap” forward. If you were around when the micro-computers were introduced, you have some idea of what is about to happen.

    As the elevator man, I am climbing the stairs, making adjustments to the perception back gearing mechanism. All the adults have to do is follow along, watch, and learn, but the vast majority cannot alter their bred addictions in real time. They are waiting in the lobbies for the elevator to open. When that inverted pyramid cracks and falls away, leaving only the elevator and the parts of the skyscraper that are useful, the elevator will drop to the bottom floor and pick up the kids, who will be the only ones able to see it, and the process will re-initiate, constructing the next bridge.

    There is still time to catch up, but don’t expect those elevator doors to open. Congress has until August to stop the entitlement checks, so the herd can see the problem, before they pass the final spur and go over the cliff. If you are behind, you might want to get you’re a** up those stairs. The proprietors “think” that knowing the location of the architect is going to help. Critters crack me up, until they become a trip hazard and get flushed. Architects don’t carry anyone, including my their own children, because the tools themselves are too damn heavy.

    Don’t ask me to give you a date; that’s up to the traveling salesman algorithm, but the RE pump in DC is only going down one floor, to Seattle (Microsoft/Boeing).

  11. joel3000

    Watching that made me reconsider the depths of my cynicism.

    I’m moving my position from extremely cynical to highly cynical in that I’ve come to see that the world is not entirely managed by sociopaths but that there is also a layer of sincere, misguided, good intentions at work that the sociopaths exploit.

    Kissinger was a sociopath, but based on the documentary I do not get the impression that Berlin was. Berlin was a non-sociopath reacting justifiably to a traumatic event.

  12. mmckinl

    Nothing new here … all just an extension of Edward Bernays theory of “Happiness Machines” for consumption, corporate profit and hegemony. Negative liberty was just another ruse for plutocratic consolidation of markets and resources.

    The tactic was used to pacify the middle and working classes in the West until the Soviet Union was brought to heel. Now that this has occurred there is no reason to support the working and middle classes of the West.

    Globalization through free trade and the complete takeover of the political processes has once again set free the plutocrats to begin their race to the bottom tactics for labor, the environment and resource extraction. With unlimited funds they seek to control the countries they need by buying the political process.

    Unfortunately for the plutocracy the third world has caught on to their neoliberalism. The US, Uk and the EU and their institutions including the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF have been completely discredited.

    To fulfill their mandate of world domination the plutocrats have two options left … financial chaos and war. They are now pursuing the chaos option which will most probably lead to war. With the emergence of peak oil and peak food the end game is upon us …

  13. Paul Tioxon

    As usual, British intellectual quality is superb. A telling point from the Iraqi post military invasion. Paul Bremmer comes to town, dismisses the entire centralized state bureaucracy of Baathists, erases every law under the Sadamm regime, but one, the ban on Unions. It is not the labor component inherent in their ban in a Pan-Arab dictatorship that evokes eerie comparisons to the republicans assault on public worker unions and the NLRB in general. But the fact that an organized effort on the part of the people anywhere to contend for power is threat to the privileged, Neo Liberal, Islamic, CCP or garden variety Moonie Cults. It is a separate source of political power.

    Similarly, Pol Pot, in Cambodia was the last man standing when the puppet governments of SE Asia lost their patrons and the US Army was chased out in defeat. The brutal suppression of any but the most loyal American allies meant only the toughest organized opposition would remain when the military support from Washington DC lifted. And the most organized formal organization, able to withstand wartime political suppression was the Khymer Rouge. It is also why criminal organizations can gain political footholds in the absence of strong,vital civil associations during reform movements or power vacuums. And conversely, the wiping out of all institutions, whether via revolutionary violence or planned political initiatives from the DC Neo-Cons is the pre-requisite for transforming a state. Any formal organization, whether trade union, political party even churches, or secular mutual benefit societies all hold the potential for political power, and are thus targeted by the political theorists in their utopian quests. Or as the iron fisted lady Brit said, there is no alternative. That’s right, especially after you have systematically liquidated them all.

  14. Externality

    The BBC story omits Blair’s deliberate effort to undermine social cohesion in the UK. Blair and his neo-con supporters believed that a state that is hopelessly divided would be incapable of uniting to commit, for example, a Holocaust. It also helped his corporatist backers for the British to stop seeing the poor, disabled, and elderly as fellow citizens in need and to start seeing them as ‘cost centers,’ and non-performing assets who simply occupied adjacent real estate. Once dehumanized, the budget axe could be swung against them with impunity. ( Cf. )

    His approach was to dismiss as outdated and dangerous the idea of the nation-state and national citizenship, to denigrate indigenous cultures and institutions, to encourage mass immigration over popular objections, and to aggressively ensure that each immigrant group retained their cohesion and all cultural traits, no matter to incompatible with a modern, liberal country. British citizens who prioritized, for example, intra-UK social spending over pointless foreign wars were denounced as isolationists, xenophobes, and “Little Englanders” unwilling to accept globalization.

    As with Iraq, the results were different than he expected.

    * While most post- WW II immigrants assimilated into British society, many of their children and grandchildren began to identify with a traditionalist view of their relatives’ countries of origin. Identifying as British was seen as wrong, especially given Britain’s violent, imperialist history. It was not poverty, but finding a sense of belonging, that drove (a very small percentage of) young British Muslims to engage in terrorism.
    * The White working class, traditional supporters of New Labor, became increasingly frustrated, and finally voted in a Tory-Lib Dem government that promised to massively slash a government and governing structure that they no longer identified with. Drastically less government was seen as preferable to hostile government.
    *Scottish and Welsh nationalists began creating parallel institutions. Scotland recently gave its nationalist party an absolute majority in the regional parliament and is planning a referendum on independence.
    * The minority group that was supposed to be protected by all this soon began complaining of harassment by newcomers who retained their antisemitism and/or quest for justice in Palestine. Sikhs, LGBTs, and other groups began to have similar problems, as New Labor refused to engage in “cultural imperialism” and address discrimination by some minorities against other minority groups. The far-right English Defense League wound up with Jewish, LGBT, Sikh, disabled, and veteran divisions.

    The result of the Iraq War, the bank crash, and Labor’s deliberately divisive policies was an impoverished, divided society that its more, not less, susceptible to extremism.

  15. This becomes extremely tiresome very quickly. Do they finally come to the point? What’s the agenda?

  16. Jackrabbit

    Its worthwhile to note that Jeffrey Sacks is now critical of oligarchy. Maybe he learned something from the “shock therapy” debacle?

    1. Foppe

      Don’t think he’s learned enough to be capable of self-criticism yet. Or of really understanding how beholden the democratic party is to big money.

  17. Percy

    Is this so eye-opening? Does no one read, think? How is this popssible — that is, that no one reads or thinks? Since they don’t, or do it so poorly, what chance do we have? Not much, I fear.

    1. Anonymous Jones

      Reality is extremely disturbing to most humans. I, frankly, am surprised that this shocks you. Have you no friends? Have you not at least read fiction about humans if you do not interact with them on a daily basis? Have you never heard of religious beliefs and faith? Have you not examined cognitive bias, which impedes those who even have the stomach to examine their own mortality and powerlessness?

      There is very little in evidence that shows even a small fraction of people have the desire and the ability to process reality as it is.

      Do not expect this to change. It shall not.

      1. nonclassical

        Or as Joseph Campbell put it, “Not since man began to walk WITH the gods..”

        prior, his “gods” were the more powerful animals, then more
        powerful nature…

  18. Susan Truxes

    It was well done but I didn’t buy the conclusion that now we have to rethink negative freedom and be willing to give up some of our expected unrestrained freedoms for a more positive freedom. I felt a little like it was classic propaganda the way it manipulated the words negative and positive, regardless of their famous author, Isiah Berlin. Who also focused on the contradiction between freedom and equality probably as a rationale to come up with “negative” freedom. Just leave them alone and they can fight it out. I actually think there is no such thing as this theory of negative freedom. I believe what we need most are good social institutions but I’m not going to waste my time referring to them as “positive” freedom. The one thing that really caught my eye was that weasel Tony Blair pontificating shamelessly about how England and the US were going to spread western freedoms wherever they could… “even to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.” Gee Tony, why were you met with such fierce opposition by the Afghan highlanders?

  19. Roger Bigod

    I liked the visuals but the positive/negative freedom scheme seemed a little forced. The visuals were great. All the people I dislike, shown at their most sinister and hateful.

    Then I went back and watched the first installment. It gives a totally wrong formulation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. He recasts it as a conspiracy between criminals in which game theory says defection always maximizes the payoff. Neither are prisoners. In the standard, and more interesting formulation they’re both criminals offered plea bargains, and they do better in aggregate by cooperating. Curtis’ version is just egregiously wrong. Indeed, PD has been studied for decades and the theme is to understand conditions and strategies that maximize cooperation.

    It looks like he read an introductory article and decided to “simplify” it to strengthen his point, or because the audience was too dumb to get it.

    And he does a guilt-by-association with Nash’s schizophrenia. The argument seems to be that this somehow infects any social applications, so that we’re all tainted by his madness. This is silly. The ideas are valid or not regardless of whether Nash was hearing voices.

    In his pop intellectual history, the people at Rand Corp were monsters who drew charts and graphs of deaths in a nuclear exchange. They took over the Pentagon and replaced normal patriotism with their cold management theories. Would Gen Jack D Ripper have done a better job?

    It isn’t clear that any of the changes in management style and ideology wouldn’t have happened anyway and the Rand people just happened to be first.

    I hate to be a crank about this, but Nash didn’t get a Nobel Prize. He received a bogus award that economists conned a Swedish bank to set up with “Nobel” in the title. It’s for “Economic Science”. You’ll notice that the Nobel’s will specifies “Physics Science”, “Chemistry Science” and “Physiology or Medicine Science”. And the Prize to Nash came only after the book and movie, decades after the work. Curtis omits this, apparently in order to build Nash up as a major intellectual force

    There’s an interesting book about the modern trend to hyperrationality by a British psychiatrist, McGilcrist. He uses the role of the cerebral hemispheres as a metaphor for this. It makes some of the same points in a less heavy-handed way.

  20. Chris Rogers

    Yves,
    A little out of date on this post, but, you are correct to highlight Curtis’s work – all of which is available free of charge by utilising BitTorrent and the Internet.

    Everyone should see all of Adam’s work – its really that good, also checkout ‘The Corporation’ and a multiple other documentaries on a similar vein, even ‘Gasland.’
    There is a huge amount out there, much of it ignored by ‘mainstream’ corporate sponsored commercial television.

    Do keep up the good work – Adam’s newest documentary is a masterstroke and available from download from the Internet – use it, or lose it.

  21. Mark P.

    J.G. Ballard used to have this provocative crack to the effect that “all television is evil, but the BBC is the worst because it’s insidious — you actually think you’re getting something intellectually worthwhile with it.”

    Curtis’s THE TRAP is evidence in support of Ballard’s crack. I figured I’d begin at the beginning with Curtis’s first episode. And on the one hand, as Roger Bigod suggests above, it did have nice visuals. On the other hand, while many people don’t read much and have never encountered the original material — so now they can feel like intellectuals because they’ve watched Curtis’s television program – THE TRAP gets basic facts egregiously, shamefully wrong about just the main item, game theory, that Curtis uses as his argument’s cornerstone.

    Like Bigod, I don’t want to sound like too much of a crank here. But, honestly, what Curtis is selling is shameful bunk. Game theory is just a toolkit that’s been developed to attempt to mathematically model the payoffs available to an actor in any context where that actor’s success in making decisions depends on the choices of some other actor(s). That’s essentially it.

    As far as game theory having an inherent “selfish,” cryto-Randian ideology — as per Curtis’s claims — the mathematician John Von Neumann founded the field by devising the minimax theorem, a mathematical proof that shows there’s always a potential strategy to minimize a player’s maximum loss in any situation. As this is just another way of saying that a best course of action for a player always exists, in game theory a ‘strategy profile’ essentially resembles an algorithm. Implicitly, then, if an actor can figure out that algorithm, that actor can maximize their outcome/gain. But game theory says neither that actors will figure out their ideal strategy — that is, game theory makes no assumptions about perfect rationality in actors — nor even that actors necessarily should maximize their outcomes/gains in some sort. Again, game theory is just a mathematical toolkit.

    Now, people have taken game theory and developed that toolkit in different directions.

    Mathematician Robert Aumann applied the game theory toolkit to biology to explain the evolution of altruistic behavior.

    Conversely, economist Kenneth Arrow over-extended game theory’s notion of the self-maximizing individual to develop much of what we point to in neoclassical economics when we criticize that doctrine’s non-realism (e.g. the dogma of general equilibrium theory and the assumption that every individual always has perfect knowledge about the market and always behaves to maximize their material outcome, etc.)

    Then, too, Thomas Schelling used game theory to develop much of the theoretic doctrine that came to underlie nuclear deterrence during the Cold War. But as Robert Bigod commented above: “In (Curtis’s) pop intellectual history, the people at Rand Corp were monsters who drew charts and graphs of deaths in a nuclear exchange. They took over the Pentagon and replaced normal patriotism with their cold management theories. Would Gen Jack D Ripper have done a better job?” No, definitely not. Jack D. Ripper was based on General Curtis LeMay; the advice of LeMay and his ilk at SAC was always to bomb first.

    It was Thomas Schelling who in 1960 proposed that there should be a hotline between the White House and the Kremlin and, a little later, advocated arms control negotiations as an integral component to deterrence. These notions seem so basic in retrospect that it’s hard to grasp someone ever had to come up with them in the first place. But somebody did, and largely it was Schelling – who was, not incidentally, a consultant on DOCTOR STRANGELOVE — and some other game theorists, who with their cold rationality were able to see nuclear deterrence as a form of bargaining rather than warfighting.

    1. Foppe

      As I view this series, it has always struck me that its main point was to explain certain trends on contemporary “governance” theories of politics. And while it may be that Curtis’s characterization of the people working for RAND is somewhat off, I do not believe his suggestion that a “crude” form of game theory was taken up by pol scientists and their ilk (as well as by a certain tradition within economics) to propound (or reinforce) rational actor/homo economicus economic modeling of the behavior of “people” in the public sphere. As such, I find it a bit disappointing that you only briefly discuss Arrow’s/Schelling’s development of GT, as the point of this docu is exactly the question how PD games (which have sort of become synonymous with ‘game theorizing’) were used conceptually by those other sciences.

      The same applies to the critique above of the (admittedly forced) pos/neg freedom discussion. It may well be that it doesn’t work, but it seems to me that there certainly is something to it. And as such, it is not an invalid point to make; all it needs is refinement.

      1. Roger Bigod

        It feels like an ad, not a documentary. But I can’t figure out what it’s promoting. It has moments of feel-good pics and music like a corporate image ad, but they’re ironic counterpoint to the scary stuff, like an extreme closeup of Putin or Dick Cheney in full snarl mode.

        Most of the message isn’t new. The idea that economic satisfaction doesn’t satisfy spiritual is ancient. The dehumanization of work was covered back in the 1930’s classic flicks. President McKinley claimed to turn to prayer in order to come up with the idea of spreading the wonders of democracy to the Philippines. That selfish players in a market can achieve an optimal price equilibrium was worked out by IIRC Walras, working off of one of Adam Smith’s hand-outs.

        You can’t treat the applications of Prisoner’s Dilemma games if you give a totally false definition of the basic game. The optimal strategy for both players in some sense is cooperation, and all the expenditure of gray matter has been on how the players can arrive at this solution. As he presents it, the message is to always betray the other player.

        It’s easy to see a technical reason for the misstatement. An honest presentation of the problem would have to go over the setup, the three possible outcomes, and the players’ different considerations in a one-shot versus repeated play of the game. This would totally disrupt the rhythm. But I think a more important reason for Curtis was that it conflicted with the image of Rand Corp as a den of paranoid vipers.

        The positive/negative freedom shtick made a nice starting point, and Berlin is one of those iconic gray eminences that people love to quote. But the formulation has some issues. His theme seems to be that the PTB shower us with negative freedom so we won’t go join a violent, disruptive social movement. (Lets-pretend revolutionary movements like the Tea Party are acceptable.) But privacy of communications is a basic “negative freedom” and I don’t see an excess of that.

        Water-skiing as the opiate of the masses. Who would have suspected?

  22. Schofield

    In a nutshell the coming cultural and probably physical war between the Neo-Liberals and the Evonomics:-

  23. AllanW

    As Susan and Roger point out above, the documentary shows a decent standard of presentation but the content doesn’t bear much scrutiny. The laboured and false dichotomy of positive and negative democracy (butchered beyond comprehension from the original lecture) act as a straitjacket into which the sparse narrative of the post war years is desperately crammed. Unconvincingly in my opinion.

    His conclusion appears to be one long and extended emotional plea for a return to benevolent paternalism. You know, the kind that ran imperial bureaucracies against which people revolted. Why do people who want to present themselves as grand thinkers reveal the shallowness of their thoughts? The false dichotomy of positive and negative democracy is galling enough but to never consider what the political or communal/societal implications of the first few documentaries reveal (human beings are not particularly rational or sensible in many cases because our brains are wired by evolution with capabilities and instincts adapted for non-industrial environments) is the final nail in his coffin I’m afraid.

  24. peter de haan

    I find it rather flimsy with regards to the ‘benign’ desire of the west and especially the part of neo-conservatives in the Reagan area to seek ‘freedom’ across all nations, socialist/communist or otherwise. That doesn’t really pass close scrutiny. Many right wing oppressive regimes in Latin and central America were continuously supported. Freedom for the ‘people’ I don’t think ever made it into real argumentation of elite planners and strategists. What’s central to planners, and that continues to be true, is freedom for corporations to have least restricted access to resources and profit making.

  25. SH

    I have to say this is compelling, but despite all the convincing arguments, there is one big one, who pays for invasions or coups? The American taxpayer. There is an easy way to fix this problem, stop funding it. I don’t see how a recession is such a bad thing if it implies starving the beast.

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