Wednesday 22 October 2014, 16:53
In the battle for Kobane on the Syrian border everyone talks about the enemy - IS - and the frightening ideas that drive them. No-one talks about the Kurdish defenders and what inspires them.
But the moment you look into what the Kurds are fighting for - what you discover is absolutely fascinating. They have a vision of creating a completely new kind of society that is based on the ideas of a forgotten American revolutionary thinker.
He wanted to create a future world in which there would be no hierarchies, no systems that exercise power and control individuals. And the Kurds in Kobane are trying to build a model of that world.
It means that the battle we are watching night after night is not just between good and evil. It is also a struggle of an optimistic vision of the future against a dark conservative idea drawn from the past.
It is a struggle that may also have great relevance to us in the west. Because the revolutionary ideas that have inspired the Kurds also shine a powerful light on the system of power in Britain today. They argue that we in the west are controlled by a new kind of hierarchical power that we don’t fully see or understand.
There are two men at the...
Friday 10 October 2014, 16:00
This is really just an excuse to show a wonderful film about vegetables.
But it is also about how modern science has radically changed in a way that hasn’t been fully understood.
How it has gone from promising extraordinary new worlds of the future - to become a powerfully conservative force that holds progress back and tends to keep people in their place.
And the odd role vegetables have played in showing how this has happened.
There are two - parallel - universes of science. One is the actual day-to-day work of scientists, patiently researching into all parts of the world and sometimes making amazing discoveries.
The other is the role science plays in the public imagination - the powerful effect it has in shaping how millions of ordinary people see the world.
Often the two worlds run together - with scientists from the first world giving us glimpses of their extraordinary discoveries. But what sometimes happens is that those discoveries - and what they promise - get mixed up with other social and political ideas. And then the science begins to change into something else.
This happened in a dramatic way in the second half of the twentieth century. Science did very well in the...
Friday 25 July 2014, 16:00
If you are an American politician today, as well as an entourage you also have a new, modern addition. You have what's called a "digital tracker". They follow you everywhere with a high-definition video camera, and they are employed by the people who want to destroy your political career.
It's called "opposition research" and the aim is to constantly record everything you say and do. The files are sent back every night to large anonymous offices in Washington where dozens of researchers systematically compare everything you said today with what you said in the past.
They are looking for contradictions. And if they find one - they feed it, and the video evidence, to the media.
On one hand it's old politics - digging up the dirt on your opponent. But it is also part of something new - and much bigger than just politics. Throughout the western world new systems have risen up whose job is to constantly record and monitor the present - and then compare that to the recorded past. The aim is to discover patterns, coincidences and correlations, and from that find ways of stopping change. Keeping things the same.
We can't properly see what is happening because these systems are operating in...
Wednesday 2 April 2014, 15:06
Nobody trusts anyone in authority today.
It is one of the main features of our age. Wherever you look there are lying politicians, crooked bankers, corrupt police officers, cheating journalists and double-dealing media barons, sinister children's entertainers, rotten and greedy energy companies and out-of-control security services.
And what makes the suspicion worse is that practically no-one ever gets prosecuted for the scandals. Certainly nobody at the top.
There has always been Us vs Them in modern Britain - but this pervasive mood of suspicion and distrust is different.
In the past it divided...
Sunday 19 January 2014, 15:33
Lots of people are gripped by the Francois Hollande affair - and they are gripped on two levels.
One is a fascination not just with the details - but with the fact that such a plain man can have such a glamorous love life.
The other is how strange it is that the French don't seemed to be gripped in the way we are. They seem to be weird and old-fashioned in their belief that there is a distinction between what goes on in a person's private life - and the details of their public life.
Underneath this is also a sense of nostalgia - a yearning for a time not so long ago when we in Britain were like...
Thursday 5 December 2013, 15:37
Every month or so there is a new scandal - mass snooping by the NSA, allegations of price-fixing by giant energy companies, major banks corruptly rigging interest rates, giant modern bureaucracies like Serco and G4S ripping off the taxpayer, children's entertainers from the past charged with sexual abuse.
But these stories never seem to add up to a bigger picture. They are isolated events . And our reaction is always the same - shock and horror, and then it all subsides and we are ready to be shocked and horrified when the next scandal comes along.
It's like a ritualised dance - or the surprised...
Monday 2 September 2013, 13:55
Much of the debate about whether to intervene in Syria or not is taking place in a strange ahistorical vacuum. As with so much debate about humanitarian intervention the underlying world view is of a simplified story of bad dictators and good, well intentioned westerners who must somehow intervene to stop him.
But the truth is that America has a very complicated relationship with Syria which stretches back over sixty years.
Back in the 1950s America set out to intervene in Syria, liberate the people from a corrupt elite, and bring about a new democracy. They did this with the best of intentions...
Thursday 8 August 2013, 17:31
The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they - and all the reactions to them - had one enormous assumption at their heart.
That the spies know what they are doing.
It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.
It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In...
Wednesday 19 June 2013, 16:00
A LIVE SHOW STARTING IN TWO WEEKS TIME IN MANCHESTER
The show is a collaboration between myself and the brilliant Robert del Naja of Massive Attack.
What links us is not just cutting stuff up - but an interest in trying to change the way people see power and politics in the modern world. To say to them - have you thought of looking at it like this?
We've used film, music, stories and ideas to try and do this - to build a new kind of experience. The best way we can describe it is "a Gilm" - a new way of integrating a gig with a film that has a powerful overall narrative and emotional individual...
Friday 26 April 2013, 15:03
I'm afraid I haven't been posting any stories recently. The reason is that I am in the midst of putting together a live show with Massive Attack. It's a joint production between the BBC and the Manchester Festival.
I've had quite a few requests to put up a film I made a while ago about Mrs Thatcher - called The Attic. It's about how she constructed a fake ghostly version of Britain's past, and then used it to maintain her power. But also how she became possessed and haunted by this vision.
I'm putting it up as a bit of a corrective to the terrifying wonk-fest that took over after Mrs Thatcher...