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Machines of Loving Grace - 2014, July 30 / IDEAS

BBC film-maker Adam Curtis is best known for his documentaries 'Century of the Self' and 'The Power of Nightmares', which deal with the rise of the PR industry and the creation of the 'terrorist threat'. Other major themes that Curtis deals with is the human habit of confusing models of reality with reality itself...the failure to recognise that reality is irrational and chaotic, and prone to laughing at hubristic human assumptions about absolute Truth.

His recent 'All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace' is a must-watch:
A series of films about how humans have been colonized by the machines they have built. Although we don't realize it, the way we see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. It claims that computers have failed to liberate us and instead have distorted and simplified our view of the world around us.
These three episodes cover a lot of ground - and will contain material that will surprise most people. The origins of the 'Selfish Gene' theory in part 3, the debunking of the belief of 'nature in balance', and the description of the failures of the commune movement in part 2, for example.

Curtis's ideas overlap greatly with John Ralston Saul's 1993 book 'Voltaire's Bastards'.
(Saul) argues that the rationalist political and social experiments of the Enlightenment have degenerated into societies dominated by technology and a crude code of managerial efficiency. These are societies enslaved by manufactured fashions and artificial heroes, divorced from natural human instinct.

...a passionate jeremiad on the follies of our age. Reason, he argues, has run amok; instead of the enlightened utopia envisaged by Voltaire, the modern West is a soulless machine run by technocratic elites that promise efficiency but create disasters. The author targets the insane waste of our "permanent war economy," the perils of nuclear power, the co-optation of democracy by vested interests, the news media's focus on false events and manufactured celebrities, the "personality politics" of presidential campaigns.

Saul locates the source of many of the contemporary world's problems in a perversion of reason. He argues that while Voltaire had hoped to use reason as a tool to overthrow outmoded and harsh customs, his successors instead employed reason as an instrument of social control. The will of the people was unimportant to such acolytes of reason as Napoleon, who argued that uninformed popular opinion must be regimented through the supposed dictates of reason. The result of these misguided efforts at rational planning have been the horrors of modern warfare and the depredations of industrialism.
I'm not the first to notice the overlap between the two men. That said, here are the three episodes of "All Watched Over..." via vimeo.

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.

(Wiki): In the first episode, Curtis tracks the effects of Ayn Rand's ideas on American financial markets, particularly via the influence on Alan Greenspan.

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.

(Wiki): This episode investigates how machine ideas such as cybernetics and systems theory were applied to natural ecosystems, and how this relates to the false idea that there is a balance of nature. Cybernetics has been applied to human beings to attempt to build societies without central control, self organising networks built of people, based on a fantasy view of nature.

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.

(wikipedia): This programme looked into the selfish gene theory which holds that humans are machines controlled by genes which was invented by William Hamilton. Adam Curtis also covered the source of ethnic conflict that was created by Belgian colonialism's artificial creation of a racial divide and the ensuing slaughter that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a source of raw material for computers and cell phones.

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