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ALL WATCHED OVER BY MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE

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Adam Curtis | 17:42 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Here's a slightly longer trail.

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Comments

Page 1 of 4

  • Comment number 1.

    Excellent Adam, unfortunately I now live in Berlin, so I will revert to some other illegal method to watch this new series that obviously raises a loaded gun to the head of consumer capitalism.

    Another thing, you did a blog entry called "Weird in Waziristan", which you ended "to be continued". I would love to see the next segment.

    Cant wait.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good stuff Adam. I've set my 'vision box' to store it on my 'raid server'.

    Have you looked at archive.org at all Adam? There is some brilliant footage on their that screams Adam Curtis.

  • Comment number 3.

    Really look forward to this one, seems to address a lot of my recent thinking about.

    I can fully understand the dash to the countryside by many seeking a 'simpler' life, from my own experience I know I love when I can turn off the phone, power down the pc and all other similar gadgets - it's such a relief to be away from the constant barrage of information, requests (emails) and issues (more emails). I'm not entirely sure how people can digest the streams and streams of data coming through on sites like Facebook and Twitter - it pains my head just to think about, it's almost like your brain has to distinguish within seconds whether to disregard or consume the new snippet (of usually irrelevant) info. This only leads to the increasingly lost 'step back and ponder' way of thinking and the growing impatience of people, at least in my experience.

    Previously working in a big office, I enjoyed watching fellow employees when their computers were starting up or loading, a condition that seemed to grow through the years. Rather than sitting back and enjoying the enforced free time (3-5 minutes sometimes), they'd tap and fidget irrepressibly, desperate for their machines to be in a state ready for use, something I found very interesting. They would then quite happily waste this time at other points during the day but I guess they then felt they were in control of the 'free time' rather than the machine deciding some 'free time' onto them.

    I'm confident it won't but would love if any mention is made to the noise levels of computers and their ilk, I find it such a drain on the mental thought process. It drives me bonkers, acting like a constant cloud over your thinking, I have no past experiece but I imagine much like mind numbing anti-depressent drugs have in dulling the production of ideas (tongue-in-cheek..). Easily the most important thing to me when buying a piece of electrical equipment these days is how much noise it makes!

    Finally, does anyone know whether this DVD on Amazon is legit http://bit.ly/mqXC0K ? I contacted the BBC shop about buying any of Adam's great documentaries but was told none were for sale (maybe due to the sample clearance of video clips?). I know of a few places to watch online but, and in relation to some of the points above, I don't want to turn on a computer every time I want to watch them.

  • Comment number 4.

    That was my first post, sorry for the poort spelling and structure! Pretty tough without an edit function and a tiny little box to write in..

  • Comment number 5.

    Can't help noticing the Brautigan reference in the post title.
    And can't wait for a new documentary series. I've exhausted your backlist.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm also really looking forward to this, there is something so compelling about Adam Curtis's ideas and stories, set to such an amazing soundtrack and with some truly strange old footage.

    Does anyone know the name of the songs playing in this clip?

  • Comment number 7.

    The guitar led song at the end is: Stereo Total - AUA

    Youtube clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35MeZ1wP6vU

    I'm really interested in the one that comes in at the end of the Ayn Rand clip, it fits so well.

  • Comment number 8.

    Here's the list of songs used in this trail.

    00.00-00.11: Best Friends - Angelo Badalamenti
    00.12-01.03: In Dreams - Roy Orbison
    01.18-02.11: Right Where It Belongs - Nine Inch Nails
    02.11-02.39: Corona Radiata - Nine Inch Nails
    02.32-03.09: Forgive - Burial
    03.10-03.38: Aua - Stereo Total
    03.39-03.49: Le Fiacre - Jean Sablon

    Grooveshark playlist: http://grooveshark.com/#/playlist/All+Watched+Over+By+Machines+Of+Loving+Grace/53450482?src=5

    Adam, if it's you who picks out the music, you have consistently excellent taste!

    //autosuggested

  • Comment number 9.

    Very nice,tnx @autosuggested.
    Unfortunately i will also have to use some illegal methods to watch this piece of art,
    cause i live in "almost" third world country and of course "with a little help from my machine"

  • Comment number 10.

    I would very much like to watch this, but fully expect the world to end on May 22nd, is there any chance you could release it a week early?

  • Comment number 11.

    mynamesdan,

    Wouldn't it be easier to set back the end of the world by a week, than get the BBC to change its mind?

  • Comment number 12.

    @onwhosplanet - I can sympathise as I currently work in a big office myself, in particular the growing impatience. People just don't seem to want to stop and have a think for a minute. Most people are nice to be fair, although some 'only trust the numbers' shall we say ;)

    @autosuggested - Thanks for the track listing - get your dubstep out. That NIN song was on an earlier blog video, fantastic. I was actually trying to build a playlist of tracks used in AC's docs on Grooveshark, but I've lost access for some reason. If I can I'll try and get back on and post a link.

  • Comment number 13.

    Looking forward for the new series, it's been a while since the last one... Greetings from Belgium (luckily we do get BBC 2 in Belgium on cable.)


  • Comment number 14.

    We have all been talking about this documentary at the factory, Ernst Bloch would definitely enjoy the anticipation, if only things had worked out differently such documentaries would not have been necessary...

  • Comment number 15.

    Global Première for Adam Curtis!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    Hello Adam Curtis, I was wondering if this would be made available online. I live in the United States and your documentaries are among my favorite and it would be great if you could talk the BBC into letting you upload with no global-restrictions. I'm sure that's something you would personally believe in yourself. If I do remember correctly, you asked them before.

    Best of luck
    -Plato

  • Comment number 17.

    @ 8. autosuggested - Thanks!

    (It would be brilliant if an official playlist was released alongside the series - hint hint...)

  • Comment number 18.

    Cannot wait, as I expected it will deal with much of the content of 'Cyburbia' and the follow up 'Lost In Cyburbia'.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks for that tracklist autosuggested! Who'd have thought I'd like a bit of Nine Inch Nails, thought he / they were too dark for my tastes..

    No joy on the authenticity of the Adam Curtis DVD's on Amazon, Mr Curtis / anyone at the Beeb?

  • Comment number 20.

    I am hoping I have got my facts right here but I will stand to apologise and be corrected if otherwise....

    @ Joe Mckay - That's a good shout and actually James Harkin has got previous with Mr Curtis as associate producer on 'The Trap'. He also has an Oxford connection as a lecturer in social and political theory - strangely enough.

    But since one of Mr Curtis' core themes is in the itinerant nature of power AWOBMOLG is most likely to be an erudite synthesis of threads from many sources to present his own take on things. The VR excerpt, for instance, puts me in mind of Jaron Lanier.

    The Ayn Rand excerpt in the trail I'm pretty sure is from a 1959 CBS interview with Mike Wallace. It can be seen in its entirety via the usual channel for those who haven't seen it before.

    I can see an interesting thread here between Rand's notion of objectivism and the maturing notion of 'altruism' in evolutionary biology at the time.

    There is a reference in the Guardian article to 'the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory'.

    I was pondering if this might be a reference to George Price who arrived in London from America circa 1967, at the same time as Richard Brautigan was living in San Francisco as Poet-in-Residence at the California Institute of Technology where he was publishing All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.

    Price's story is really interesting and is connected to the evolutionary theorist William D Hamilton by virtue of his having read and been influenced by an equation Hamilton constructed to explain kin selection a few years prior to his arrival in London.

    Price is noted for his mathematical work in evolutionary biology but specifically to the representation of altruism as an evolutionary advantage and for fermenting the relationship of game theory in a biological context. It was to have a major effect on his life.

    Dawkins' book 'The Selfish Gene' , published in 1976 captured and popularised the idea of a gene centric biological continuum against the organism biological continuum as a truer understanding of our evolutionary route.

    This idea has been misleadingly understood despite Dawkins making a BBC Horizon programme in 1985 called 'Nice Guys Finish First' which showed that co-operation rather than self interest was and is the guiding principle for human success - at least proved in game theory terms - because it turns out to be a win win situation for all concerned.

    This has to be differentiated against something like%

  • Comment number 21.

    Cont...

    This has to be differentiated against something like sporting competition whereby the context of success is entirely different as Dawkins' programe makes clear...
    I thought it worth mentioning this as I wasn't convinced that this was made clear in 'The Trap'.

    The programme was based on a famous piece of work by Robert Axelrod published in 1984 called 'The Evolution Of Cooperation' within which Axelrod effectively blew up the concept of self interest in game theory - but not totally to the exclusion of self interest....as the book reveals if you can get hold of a copy.....

    I'm hedging my bets on how much of this stuff is actually in AWOBMOLG and I've tried to be succinct but I am sure Adam's latest venture will be delivered as compellingly as ever....

    It's a shame that the BEEB couldn't find a decent time slot on BBC1 where it would have been exposed to a larger more mainstream audience...

  • Comment number 22.

    @Chris D, some of what you discuss was recently the subject of an episode of RadioLab ( a great science radio show) - http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/

    Yes, he was almost definitely talking about Price - http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/equation-good/

  • Comment number 23.

    @19. onwhosplanet

    "No joy on the authenticity of the Adam Curtis DVD's on Amazon, Mr Curtis / anyone at the Beeb?"

    If you read the reviews on Amazon etc people complain about the quality - I would imagine these are DVDs made from exactly the same rips as you can find online. The BBC wouldn't go through the "prohibitive" expense of clearing all the clips then release crap quality DVDs through a single independent seller on Amazon without the BBC logo on the cover.

    Surely just burn your own DVDs (at least until the beeb gets around to selling us some proper copies :) )

  • Comment number 24.

    I think you're right lordbeard, it's a shame as all the videos I've found also have dodgy sound and (especially the version of Pandora's Box I have) skip at various points seemingly missing chunks of the documentary.

    Wouldn't it be great if the BBC uploaded Adam's old documentaries in a much higher quality somewhere on the BBC website - we can only hope!

    @20. Chris D - The 'Nice guys finish first' episode of Horizon with Dawkins can be watched here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA4dZ6NVNbk Thanks for posting that, I was 4 at the time so missed it first time round :)

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks @onwhosplanet for the link to Stereo Total AUA I am enjoying their stuff

  • Comment number 26.

    Not related to this post at all, but did you see david brooks on newsnight tonight? seems like a good target for adam curtis!

  • Comment number 27.

    What is this Ludditeian nonsense? This isn't the Matrix, we control the machines and the content! The trailer was somewhat salvaged by your sampling of Burial though...

    But seriously, the machines and our interaction with them is just another addition to our culture. The only thing that the future is sure to bring, is increased entropy. Looking fondly back at the past is simply a cop-out, a longing for simpler times. Our ability to thrive in the modern world and into the future is a testament to our resilience, creativity and mental agility. It makes me proud to be human, no matter how silly we might look staring into our computer screens, out of context, with Burial playing in the background. :)

  • Comment number 28.

    Problem.

  • Comment number 29.

    @Rich O, I think what Adam is trying to get at is that computers are dominating and setting the agenda now rather than being our helpful servants. I myself would never want to go back to a world without computers, but I made a decision a long time ago to delete myself from Facebook, it was just too easy for people to contact me.

  • Comment number 30.

    @Rich O: But we really are staring into computer screens all day at work. We really are being controlled by machines of one kind or another. We can't spontaneously go off and follow human emotional, moral or intellectual motives because we have to punch in at a certain time and do something repetitive for eight hours. If I fall in love halfway through a shift I can't decide that this is my priority for now and wander off. Even if my parents die I need to report this, get permission to go, and not collapse to the floor wailing in grief in front of everyone - not because of restrictive cultural mores but because everything is systematised and 'efficient'. And every working person knows that a lot of the 'efficiency' is absurd Soviet-style rhetorical pretense; that our 'dynamic' companies are really kind of lumbering and blind, and lacking any organic life and flexibility - and are stultifying for most of the people who work for them.

    And it's not just an issue of individual liberty; we also have no power to change politics any more. There is management-style politics in which no one ever has a clear conversation with the public about ideology and philosophy - we only get little nods and hints targetted at particular voter-blocs. When was the last time a Prime Minister had to have a conversation with Paxo about moral basics like the justice/injustice of inequality? The questions aren't even asked because we tacitly assume that there is an economic machine that drives politics rather than politics engineering the machine. Yet Adam has demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly that the machine is not something that just evolved: it was designed by people with political convictions and often aggresive self-interest. We should reclaim the sense of being the shapers and masters of the machines, because we are; it's only a matter of whether we are asleep or awake at the wheel.

  • Comment number 31.

    Is it the Pied-Piper, or is it the Pied-Piper's tune; and if the latter, who is paying?

    The tax payer pays of course, and we the voters called in the government to run our lives for us and dictate to us our choices. We are now helpless, as the smiling nurse injects us with the ld-50 morphine; it's only fair of course, since we were so crippled by the botched surgery of Zanu-Labour spin doctors, that they should make our last days in their nightmare, comfortable.

    Britain, the mother of parliamentary democracy, was sold out to Marxist-Feminism. In their 13 year raid, they stole all the money, stunned us with 4000 new laws of guilt, and transferred the power of parliament to their client state of the public sector, and its multitude of bastard spawn, the quangos.

    Nothing can be done in Britain now, unless the public sector agrees to comply. We have lost executive influence. There is nothing left for us to do but stop paying taxes, and take back our nation.

  • Comment number 32.

    There is quite a buzz about this, looking forward to seeing the result. Oh and as for "Imagine, a country whose government actually funds documentaries like this." Yes, wonderful isn't it. Just a shame the current government is doing all it can to limit the BBC's ability to continue to do so. [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 33.

    I would agree with those posters who were discussing Price - it seems likely that references were, indeed, intended towards him, and his story will be featured in AWOBMOLG. It is a particularly evocative tale *symbolically* in the sense that Price was, in part, a Game Theorist, who spent the latter days of his life attempting to do altruistic good for the disenfranchised, and may have committed suicide on the basis that he felt he could not help *enough*. Equally, his tale, bound up as it is with a sense of the paucity of systems to satisfactorily encompass the intricacy of life itself, seems like perfect Curtis fodder - at least polemically.

    I remember first encountering Price's story in Kenan Malik's interesting sociological survey 'Man, Beast and Zombie', which also puts me in mind of the researches of Jane Goodall, who is similarly mentioned in that work, and e.g. the study of Gombe chimps conducted at a similar time to Price's sucide that concluded that primates go to war over territory just as human beings do. One of the most intriguing suggested elements of AWOBMOLG (at least, as far as I'm concerned) is the concern with the Congo/Zaire etc. that Adam appears continuously keen to flag up, with a concomitant notion that the purity of African 'primitivism' appeared to embody a mirror against which the West measured itself over the last forty years or so. I find this an interesting point of emphasis, given the otherwise predominant focus that the current series would appear to have on Western cultures, and, in particular, the period since the mid 90's. Certainly, there are hints of the fascination held for Adam by African stories in the blog post incorporated on this site now some time ago - considering the rise of Mobuto, the influence of Che in Africa, mercenaries and the study of gorillas by Dian Fossey (was it called 'Kinshasa: City Number Two?'). But as most of that material was concerned with the period of the late 1960's, I am intrigued to see how he will enfold it within a narrative that appears to be focused primarily on developments since the end of the Cold War. Admitedly, the generalised story of AWOBMOLG *must* be liable to be taken back much further overall - we have recognised the influence of Ayn Rand upon it, and it would appear that there is a likely concern also with the influence of R. Buckminster Fuller, who has equally been referenced by Adam on a variety of occasions. It seems clear that, however baldly this is stated, Adam is attempting to tell a story that will counterpose the notion of%

  • Comment number 34.

    Whilst I do agree (seemingly) with the sentiment, the dream world isn't created by machines, it's created by us and perpetuated by the machines. Obviously I've no seen the documentary yet, but it seems a little Daily Mail to be raging against technology and also a little naive to think that humanity wouldn't be striving to dumb itself down in others ways for a lack of technology.

  • Comment number 35.

    Thank you Adam for these documentaries. Just registered to say this.
    Since I live in Bangladesh I'll have to use other means to obtain the program. That is how so far i've watched all of your programs. Your programs should be shared by everyone everywhere.
    And that's one hell of a teaser, must wait patiently.

  • Comment number 36.

    Just heard you interviewed on Jarvis Cocker's. Not sure that your thesis is strong when it comes to power not going away.

    One of the defining characteristics of the digital peer-to-peer age is that accretions of information and hence power tend to become subverted - it is the nature of what Jeff Vail calls rhizome (a fully peer-to-peer capable system) for hierarchy to be flattened and for connections to spread around any control that power might assert.

    Even those who have physical weapons are now discovering that cyber warfare can quickly nullify their advantage - this is fundamental to activists like Assange who believe that free flows of information force a costly burden of secrecy and ineffectiveness on centralised hierarchical social systems. Also, expect soon social networking systems to go fully decentralised, Net 3.0 if you like. There are several open source models emerging that will be controlled by users as digital citizens not by commerce. I feel we are only at the very earliest stages of what is possible digitally, will your ideas still be valid in ten years?

  • Comment number 37.

    The Jarvis Cocker interview can be found here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00slrly

  • Comment number 38.

    Looking forward to this new documentary Adam. But how come we never get to have repeats of your previous excellent material on the BBC? With the advent of Four and Three, there must be room, or are they deemed too "intelligent, mature and intellectual" for repetition by the programmers of mediocrity?

  • Comment number 39.

    @GrahameMW,

    I've been wondering this also. Thought came to me that the BBC keeps folk like Jeremy Clarkson on board, so as to act like a stalking horse from which to fool us regarding their true political bias.

    Could Adam Curtis also be a star stalking horse? Too loose a cannon to be mainstreamed, but enough presence to pacify doubts, that the BBC has become a scurrilous tool of propaganda.

  • Comment number 40.

    Anyone wishing to catch up on previous Curtis films can do so here:

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/watch-online/

    or here:

    http://thoughtmaybe.com/

  • Comment number 41.

    StenkaRazin #31

    How do we stop paying taxes to corporations and other such non-governmental, non-democratic institutions? Do you think they'll treat us more fairly than an elected government when it comes to extracting wealth (of all kinds) from us? Consider: profit is their legally mandated purpose.

  • Comment number 42.

    @ ook,

    If profit is their mandate, then our patronage is ours, and the customer is always right.

    My point at #31 is that we have effectively lost executive control over our parliamentary democracy, because the civil service is too big to be controlled by parliament, regardless who we vote in 'power'. The parliament proposes, and the civil service disposes, as the saying goes.

    And why does it take 40% of the nation's workforce, to make a country more 'fair'? I would rather they were mostly sacked, and the country more free.

  • Comment number 43.

    excellent program-cannot wait for the next one!

  • Comment number 44.

    just watched it, brilliant is all i can say. cant wait till next week.

  • Comment number 45.

    What a totally excellent programme. Not seen anything as thought provoking or with such creative use of footage for years (esp the lingering shots of Hilary Clinton who I now believe to be a robot).

  • Comment number 46.

    Just watched and it was a breathtaking rolloer-coaster. I really annoyed my wife by saying "I knew it! I knew it!" more than once or twice. But I did, I knew it.

  • Comment number 47.

    Loved it. Hope it was well watched.

  • Comment number 48.

    Where can I find a complete track listing? Great soundtrack but the one I'm after isn't one of the tracks autosuggested gives!!

  • Comment number 49.

    Great documentary but I would really like to hear your predictions for the next 10 years.

  • Comment number 50.

    Whoever your music supervisor is Adam, they deserve a medal.

    Some other music that i don't think has been mentioned yet-

    The Kills - Monkey On Your Back
    Clint Mansell - Welcome To Lunar Industries (Theme from 'Moon')

    kudos on the inclusion of Burial and NIN! loved that.

  • Comment number 51.

    Quite simply, that was awe-inspiring. Brilliant. It's not that any of the material is new but the narrative you weave is stunning in its simplicity and -- I believe -- its proximity to the truth.

  • Comment number 52.

    Can someone with subscription please post The Times interview published today with Adam Curtis - think it will throw more light on his latest brilliant work.

  • Comment number 53.

    Hey Adam was just amazed at your documentary. Particularly the part about cyberspace being a blackhole that sucks in personalities. I think you would appreciate my ironic postmodern blog guide to Facebook. Infact I know you will! millwold.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 54.

    Great first episode. Amazed that Adam manages to sneak his films under the wire in these dumbed-down days.

    As others have said it would be great to have a full list of the music used. Thanks Worrier1 for the info about 'Monkey On My Back'. Does anyone know who did that haunting solo piano piece...?

  • Comment number 55.

    the solo piano piece is the Clint Mansell track 'Welcome To Lunar Industries' - beautiful piece too!

  • Comment number 56.

    thanks!

  • Comment number 57.

    I just watched the program and found it very interesting, thought provoking and provided some great information on major topics I was not aware of.
    I did however feel there were a lot of strands, a conclusion, but I did not feel the conclusions always tied up the strands. I'm still not sure how Greenspan was influenced by Rand particularly, it seemed more to do with dependence on models. I don't see how the game of pong related to Rand in that it seemed to remove the individuals voice. I don't see how the Chinese politburo's strategy fitted into either the computer or Rand world, maybe that was the point. Maybe some of these will become clearer in later programmes.
    I enjoyed the pace and presentation of the programme, it held my attention for the full hour (I was also playing games on my phone and surfing the net, not sure what that says;) ) and look forward to the rest of the series.

  • Comment number 58.

    I enjoyed the programme, and it surprised me, as I was expecting something else entirely.

    The remarkable thing about Rand is not her ideas, but how popular she became. America has two contradictory ideologies: Christianity and Liberalism. Clearly Christianity fails on an intellectual level, but not an emotional level; while Liberalism fails on an emotional level, but not on an intellectual level.

    Hence why it's difficult to engage emotionally with people like Rand and why people like Rand can't engage emotionally with others.

    Liberalism does not provide us with a meaningful narrative about our lives. That is why it fails to motivate people who require a simplified view of the world to give their lives meaning.

    Rand gave a temporary purpose and inspiration to many naive intellectuals, because she created a simplified view of the world with purpose and meaning.

    Once we wake up from the simplified liberal narrative, we realise that we are in fact emotionally empty individuals. The natural step then, is to seek other emotionally empty individuals so as to find purpose and meaning in our lives.

    That is why I reject the narrative that we're all enslaved by computers and our thoughts and feelings are commodities. Rather, I think we're entering a reformation and reconstruction of societies and politics that transcend borders and cultures. That might be frightening and moving into the unknown, but it is no reason for chaos and pessimism.

  • Comment number 59.

    I think enslaved by computers is a slightly misleading way of putting it - we give over our thinking to them and potentially that leads us to become enslaved by the people who control the input-output.

    Part 1 was excellent - thought provoking and interesting. Although I though the story lacked some of the unintentionally humorous ridiculousness of previous Curtis documentaries (or to put it another way: no boingy-boingy music).

    Still, great stuff. Looking forward to the next one!

  • Comment number 60.

    59 - ha ha lordbeard, totally agree, really loved that soundtrack he used on 'The Power of Nightmares' - very effective over the US politicians/Osama Bin Laden

  • Comment number 61.

    57 - The game of pong illustrated that Rands idea of the individual acting for their own interest, by having the choice of holding up the baton with either the green or red side showing, but the machine co-ordinated people into group action, making the baton go up and down in order to hit the ball. It's a clever link in the film structure.

  • Comment number 62.

    I want my brain back!

    Good stuff as ever, even the bits I disagree with :)

    And I still haven't found Atlas Shrugged on the Isle of Wight; maybe its the few times the BBC got something right, when it said we're still stuck in 1952.

    My take on Rand, until I've read the book and changed my mind, is that she is not wrong, but slightly incomplete, or possibly misrepresented. I see her objectivism as a fair description of the board layout, and the rules of how the pieces should move; but she stops there. The gameplay between selfish people would spontaneously lead to altruism when you consider the many moves of the game and the allegiances required to optimise your outcomes via your allies positions (think of a game of RISK, or even evolution itself).

    As for blaming the machines, I think their crime is their efficiency. They allow our errors greater scope and alacrity in fruition. The culprit is giving resources to those who have less vested interest in its loss. If you lose your money, you suffer; if the 'investment experts' lose your money, they get another customer.

  • Comment number 63.

    Re: Chris D comments/quotes on evolutionary biology - some pedantic niggles from a student of theoretical biology

    - George Price didn't invent 'selfish gene theory' (it had a long development from Fisher forwards, but the first people to stop and explain it clearly were Hamilton and Williams, who were then popularised by Dawkins). Price came up with the Price Equation - which while perfectly compatible with a gene's-eye-view *is* what people use when they don't want to use the gene's-eye-view
    - 'organism biological continuum as a truer understanding of our evolutionary route.' Never heard of this, unless it's an obscure reference to the 1930's term 'Organic Evolution' for what is now called the Balwdin Effect?

    It's probably worth stressing that the 'gene-centric' and 'non-gene-centric' (group selection) models used in evolutionary biology are literally mathematically identical i.e. y = x vs y = x^2/x. The fact that the two approaches are literally mathematically identical (a pencil, a GCSE in maths and five minutes is all it takes to change to turn a group selection model into a gene selection model with identical dynamics/predictions or vice versa) makes the 30 years of screaming invective and academic punch ups are the more interesting. Anyone can argue about something - it takes real skill to argue about the moral difference between saying 2/4 rather than 1/2.

    Re: Axelrod - I think it's a bit of stretch of interpretation to describe his research as 'blowing up' the concept of self-interest. Heritable traits are 'selfish' by definition (like the way 'stable particles' are 'stable'), the question is what that means for the scale and structure of cooperation.

    Again, probably worth noting that Tit-For-Tat (start by cooperating then copy your partners last action) was ousted by Meta Pavlov (basically 'win stick, lose shift' - functions very similarly to Tit-For-Tat except when it finds an Always-Cooperate (which invade Tit-For-Tat) it mercillessly pummels it). Hopefully if people knew that they'd be a little less inclined to decide that the results of economic games justifies their view of Natural Society!

    Marios

  • Comment number 64.

    This documentary really reminded me about a whole swathe of ideas that were kicking around about 10 years ago. Chaos theory, complexity, cybernetic etc. We were all being told it was the end of the nation state and living a 'new medievalism' in city states. Multimedia and computers were the equivalents of illuminated manuscripts. The old idea of 'equilibrium' as a proxy for order was giving way to 'complex dynamical systems' that produced spontaneous emergent 'order out of chaos'. I remember reading a book on complexity theory and a term 'lock-in' became a Gordon Brown favourite in speeches, which shows politicians were really interested in this stuff.





  • Comment number 65.

    Around 35 minutes into tonight's episode Adam quoted Carmen Hermosillo's 1994 essay, Pandora's Vox, which discusses the commodification of human interaction online.

    "[Cyberspace] is a black hole; it absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as spectacle."

    Here's a link to the full essay: http://alphavilleherald.com/2004/05/introducing_hum.html

  • Comment number 66.

    "The gameplay between selfish people would spontaneously lead to altruism when you consider the many moves of the game and the allegiances required to optimise your outcomes via your allies positions (think of a game of RISK, or even evolution itself)."

    I think you're confusing altruism (behaviour that imposes an absolute cost to the altruist) with mutually beneficial cooperation (behaviour that gives the cooperator an absolute benefit). Seeking out coalition partners and accepting short term costs for long term payoffs doesn't is self-interested ('optimise your outcomes'), not altruistic behaviour.

    Marios

  • Comment number 67.

    i am not sure i could take it all in - but i was greatly fascinated by the information - the presentation style reminded me of a sequence in a movie called the parallax view - i now have ideas on some things i want to learn more about and understand the connections that may exist - the layers of complexity that appear to exist in life may obscure all sorts of human behaviour that drives civilisation in a backward direction - a light has been shone...... i felt I saw more because of it and i want to understand more.......thank you

  • Comment number 68.

    In that case Marios, can you give me a natural example of altruism?

  • Comment number 69.

    Wonderful stuff - Mr Curtis should be made DG of the BBC forthwith!

  • Comment number 70.

    Brilliant work as ever, Adam! I find it intriguing that some many of the posters proved critical of the concepts that were assumed to inform the documentary before it aired, and now that it's been seen in its entirety, the reception is extremely positive, and everyone seems agreed that you isolated some very lucid details!

    For some reason, I got it into my head that the majority of material would be interspersed throughout the series, rather than that you would be quite specific with the material being dealt with in each of the three broadcasts (I don't know why I thought that, as past form tends to indicate that you invariably tell separate stories that hold linked themes week on week). But, anyway, I trust that next week will provide us with more on hippies, the commune movement, Africa, Price and models of cybernetic feedback - I'm very much looking forward to it!

    And I also think it *is* strangely salutary for those of us who have grown to maturity in recent decades to watch this series - not simply because it is designed to give us an informed view of how we got into the current imbroglio, but also because so many of the 90's era ideas being discussed were (at least for me, but I am sure also for many others) the elements that, however imperceptibly, coalesced to inform our political views as they cohered. In that sense, though the thinking of some of your readers and viewers must certainly have been refracted through the prisms of e.g. the 70's or the 80's, I am undeniably an 80's child who grew to political maturity in the 90's.

    I remember clearly how it was not so very long ago that we confidently predicted 'the end of history', and how the concept of the 'postmodern' was held to embody the final end point of societal mores, in the USA and, ultimately, throughout the world that the US would shape. That where China stands now as a bogeyman figure to the West, twenty years ago stood Japan and the 'tiger economies' of the Pacific Rim. It was honestly assumed that a form of new Atlantic civilization, linking the Silicon Valley genius of California to the sophistication of the Japanese, was poised to replace the more westerly orientations of the Atlantic seaboard. In a sense, there was some truth in these visions, but from the perspective of twenty years later, they all appear curiously antiquated and mistaken, in the same way that an automatic assumption held in 1981 that the USA and USSR would have engaged in nuclear war by the end of the decade looked oddly archaic by the time we ac

  • Comment number 71.

    we actually reached 1989. This is strangely sobering stuff.

  • Comment number 72.

    Sad what happened to Alan Greenspan:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 73.

    The first part is amazing. Watching how all the persons that i read on wikipedia about connect to each other, and influence the world using (or being used by) ideas is a bit mindblowing for me.

    Thank you, for making this.

  • Comment number 74.

    Adam Curtis has managed to undermine his own credibility - a total mis-representation of a philosophy for ideological reasons! What a shame - go read some philosophy books Adam Curtis and get a grasp of political reality!

  • Comment number 75.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. The editing and use of archive footage was excellent as always. Thank you.

  • Comment number 76.

    I need to watch this again but was it just me who thought they had accidentally changed the channel half way through the programme? There was a big disjoint when suddenly there was a B/W footage about love before the introduction of Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand? It deemed as if the makers had spliced the wrong footage together for a good 3-4 minutes before it returned to the tone before...

  • Comment number 77.

    Superb work. I enjoyed it a lot, again, and will be tuning in again next week from the other side of the North Sea.

  • Comment number 78.

    Great to see the BBC can still commission to produce such films, it's among the few shining examples in great television...

    Thanks Adam for not disappointing us, always through-provoking... I have to re-watch it to make sure I didn't miss anything.

  • Comment number 79.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 80.

    "I remember clearly how it was not so very long ago that we confidently predicted 'the end of history', and how the concept of the 'postmodern' was held to embody the final end point of societal mores, in the USA and, ultimately, throughout the world that the US would shape."

    Eh? Fukuyama's 80/90's "End of History and the Last Man" is about as oppositional as you can get to 60-80's postmodernism ('a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problem of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards global cultural narrative or meta-narrative'). Are you using 'postmodern' to mean the opposite of 'postmodernism' ('humanism'?)?

    Re: AWOBMOLG - I'm waiting for a shout-out to ecology and Gaia theory (just been rewatching Edge of Darkness). I remember the received wisdom used to be that big, interconnected ecologies were just inherently more robust to perturbation. Now I'm hearing the exact opposite (ecologies get complex because organisms individually benefit from hopping on the bandwagon, but the cost is a net reduction of the robustness of the system as a whole). Would be interesting to trace the political influences of the semi-scientific speculation.

    Marios

  • Comment number 81.

    Truly outstanding documentary last night Adam, can't stop talking about it today. I found your thesis quite convincing. I liked the way you alluded to the brutality of Ayn Rand's 'objectivism' through her disastruous personal life, although on a related note part of me was uncomfortable with the use of pre-interview shots of, for example, Bill Clinton checking his teeth were clean. I appreciate this is part of the grand project of exposing the emperor as often having had no clothes, but this is what '60s radicals wanted and all that came in the place of the deconstruction of grand meta-narratives is the radical indiviidualism your film analysed so well.

    A very very timely piece of analysis. As you said, the same radical individualist trends are still undergirding public discourse. What to do about it besides merely being aware is another matter!

  • Comment number 82.

    Great episode. Enjoying the development of Adam's style with each series.

    On the music front, Clint Mansell's "I am Sam Bell" from the Moon OST got a fair bit of use. Would love to know what the last piece of music used (before the credits) was.

  • Comment number 83.

    Curtis's AWOBMOLG is the most impressive documentary I have seen this year. It is a superb example of the joined-up analysis of a wide-sweep of underlying socio-political developments that have been exercising influence in the background for longer than the general public realises. But few have bothered to highlight them and bring them before the viewing public until now. The sequences on Rand and more worringly, her impact on those running Silicon Valley are a case in point. I look forward to the remaining parts of this unique and radical series. A tour de force.

  • Comment number 84.

    @65 autosuggested.

    I too was intrigued by the reference to Carmen Hermosillo, in particular her reference to the "spectacle".

    I think that Adam has referred to the Situationists in a previous series - although I can't remember the detail. I wonder how much he's been influenced by their theories.

  • Comment number 85.

    Well, I thought that was superb. Whilst the narrative may have been more complex than in previous works it was possible to decipher one. For me the nub of Curtis’ argument was that the radical individualism of the Objectivists and the Computer Utopianism of the California idealists combined and dove tailed with the values of the contemporary computerised global neo-liberal order. But rather than creating order and stability and transcending the old hierachies of power, this led to chaos and instability and shifted power to a transnational financial capitalist class whilst simultaneously disempowering the great mass of general public.

    I don’t think it was Curtis’ argument that Objectivism and Computer Utopianism are the cause of contemporary neo-liberalism. A common theme in Curtis’ work that can be seen in Century of the Self, The Trap and It Felt Like a Kiss, is the construction of the rational self, i.e. the creation of citizen subjects that are calculating, self-interested and acquisitive (ideal neo-liberal subjects). In past documentaries he has explored how such ideas have pervaded various areas of society – mathematical theory, psychoanalysis, public choice economics, radical psychiatry, the self improvement movement and so on. His documentaries should not be viewed as positing simplistic mono-casual explanations but rather as exploring constitutive elements of the discursive (hegemonic) matrix of neo-liberal governmentality.

    The massage of Curtis’ latest works? For me, it is that power is everywhere, it circulates in the most low level ways in all forms of human interaction. Furthermore, power not only controls its subjects, but also creates its subjects (I wonder how much of an influence Foucault has been?). We cannot escape power, every sphere of human society will be colonised by power. We can only create counter power, we have to work collectively together through politics to build a better world in which power is increasingly exercised in a just, equitable and accountable fashion. As the end of the documentary alluded, we know the system has cracked, but as long as we remain isolated as neo-liberal subjects, it will continue to stagger on from one crisis to another.

  • Comment number 86.

    @85 leftnotliberal

    It's notable that modern politics has no discussion of power, nor now of economics. We are all subjects of the neo-liberal consensus.

  • Comment number 87.

    Is there any possible way that someone can give me info on how to watch the series if you live in the US?

  • Comment number 88.

  • Comment number 89.

    Very good film. Brilliant choice of footage in places, especially the bit where the camera lingers on the clip of Monica Lewinski in the crowd and with Clintons back to the camera. Just a couple of points: in the film you referred to Clintons apparent lethargy in the White House at that time with Ruben taking over economic policy visavis the economic policy in the Far East; but isnt this a bit simplistic? Were Clintons hands not tied anyway when the Democrats lost their majority in the Senate? The second point is at the end of your film about China, and the politburos scheming to keep a weak currency being the reason why there was no inflation in the US and Western Europe at that time: is this too simplistic? Looking forward to the next film.

  • Comment number 90.

    @85 leftnotliberal That's quite similar to my feelings on the first episode, I'm waiting to watch all parts before I try and analyse it completely but thanks for posting that.

    Looking at the response on Twitter of 'All watch...' and from the subsequent 'trending' of Ayn Rand, it's ironic given the subject matter (and obviously we don't know all of it yet but the nod to Hermosillo in particular), how many extra watchers and fans / followers / whatever(!) Mr Curtis' latest piece will get as a result of the extended network of interconnected voices on Twitter. Wonder what Adam's views are on that?!

    Finally, back to @85 leftnotliberal - of course your last paragraph should have started with 'The message...' but I quite like how it starts with 'The massage..' with Adam's skill at massaging the inquisitive brain into deeper sociopolitical thought!

  • Comment number 91.

    So left wing its ridiculous.

    Trying to the blame the free market/capitalism/wall street/greed etc for the tech and housing bubbles.... pleeeaasseee.

    Low interest rates from the federal reserve fuelled both bubbles.

    People... listen to the people who predicted these crashes and got it right.. not the bbc
    PETER SCHIFF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj8rMwdQf6k

  • Comment number 92.

    @82 Ah, I thought it was "Welcome to Lunar Industries"

  • Comment number 93.

    I have to congratulate you on this (so far) excellent series. An in-depth and new perception on the world in which we live, governed and at the mercy of the monied elite plutocrats I can gladly admit your programme has raised thought and question within me.
    I feel I must compliment the soundtrack to the 1'st episode as well, outstanding music.
    How possible would it be to obtain a list of the bands and tracks played ?

  • Comment number 94.

    I think it is welcome to lunar industries, either way it's a kick ass sountrack

  • Comment number 95.

    Thanks Adam, for another blindingly good documentary. After It Felt Like A Kiss last year, the only problem is I can't interact with the telly...

  • Comment number 96.

    87 nigel in the US yeah look out the winder with yer eyes open

  • Comment number 97.

    Thanks very much for this series.

    To be pedantic for a moment, I noticed a mistake at the start of the first programme. Ayn Rand died in 1982, not 1981.

  • Comment number 98.

    @91 Left wing? Not really....I watched the clip you linked to, good stuff, but does it actually contradict anything in the film? I'm wondering if you actually watched it...

  • Comment number 99.

    There seems a grain of truth in this. Many financiers were 'rationally egotistical', but this may have been for other reasons. It seemed to me that many of the players knew what the risks were but were caught up in a game of 'chicken'. E.g. if a fund manager had pulled his client's money out of the risky markets he would most likely have been fired. The implication of the program would seem to be that the players' own wealth would have been burnt along with their clients. Is this true? I surmise that many were busy looking for safe havens. A bit of investigation needed?

    The role of Gordon Brown also needs clarifying. He seemed to see the risk but be unable to do anything about it, being caught in his own variant of chicken. I blog on this at http://djmarsay.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/gordon-brown-beyond-the-crash/ .

    So, rational egoism yes, but there is more.

  • Comment number 100.

    good programme, felt like a relief to see that bbc employs a thinker, the first time in ages i've felt that the license fee not wasted
    "church of the computer" make music that asks some of the same questions. check it out if you have time

 

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