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Adam Curtis | 17:23 UK time, Sunday, 30 October 2011

 HOW THE LEFT GOT TRAPPED INSIDE THEIR OWN HEADS - AND HOW FAIRIES CAN OPEN THE DOOR TO THE FUTURE

The protest movement that began with Occupy Wall Street is very clear about what it is against - an international capitalism that is cruel, unfair and untenable. But the movement refuses to say what it is for. Much of this refusal comes from a belief that modern capitalist society is extremely skilful at co-opting dissent and that any discussion with the media is the first step in being reabsorbed into 'the system'.

It also has the added benefit of irritating mainstream journalists and commentators.

I want to tell an odd, romantic, but ultimately very sad story that shows where this fear of possession on the left comes from. It is set during last the time that British, European and American students tried to be a vanguard for revolution. It shows how that fear can easily lead to a pessimistic belief that all one's dreams for a better future are just illusions - and how that pessimism then came to paralyse the left in Britain throughout the eighties and nineties.

But the story is not all sad - because I think it shows that the same thing does not have to happen again.

That just as the ideology of modern capitalism is a choice, not a natural reality - so too is the pessimism of the left.

The story begins on the evening of June 11th 1968 in a first floor flat in London. There was a party given by a man called Clive Goodwin who was the editor of a radical newspaper called Black Dwarf. He is one of the central figures in this story.

 

Goodwin's flat was on the Cromwell Road in west London. The next day the BBC were going to record a radio programme called Students in Revolt and they had flown in the leading revolutionary students from all over Europe and America to take part - and Clive had invited them all to a party in this first floor room. It included famous names like Danny Cohn-Bendit the Autonomist revolutionary from the Paris uprising and Rudi Dutschke whose attempted assassination had led to violent riots across Germany.

The flat is now part of The Fraser Suites - "luxury serviced apartments for our corporate clients".

 

All the student revolutionaries at the party saw themselves as part of a new kind of left wing radicalism. They were against the the Soviet Union which they saw as just another kind of totalitarian dictatorship. But the big enemy was the United States and its terrifying power. It was killing thousands of Vietnamese civilians in the name of freedom, while its multinational conglomerates were ruthlessly exploiting and devastating the third world to feed Americans with a constant stream of luxury consumer goods.

This ferocious and destructive consumer-war machine must be overthrown.

Another guest was the left-wing theatre critic Ken Tynan. He wrote in his diary about a moment at the party:

"The barricades were up in Paris: everyone was talking about 'instant revolution': and when Cohn-Bendit held a question and answer session, I made myself immediately unpopular by asking: 'What's your strategy? What is the next step the students will take?' Cohn-Bendit said impatiently 'the whole point of our revolution is that we do not follow plans. It is a spontaneous permanent revolution. We improvise it. It is like jazz.' Everyone applauded and reproved my carping."

But there was a ghost that haunted the party in the room that night - Clive Goodwin's young and beautiful wife who had died tragically less than two years before. She was a revolutionary painter and collagist called Pauline Boty.

 

Pauline Boty and Clive Goodwin had been at the centre of the student movement as it grew in Britain. But the reason Pauline was like a ghost at the party was not just her death, but because she had come from a tradition of revolt that was beginning to disappear from the movement.

Because Pauline had loved America. She wasn't frightened of it, she loved the powerful images at the heart of American culture, and the deep emotions the music and films evoked in her.

Pauline Boty wasn't naive about American power, and she knew those alluring images and sounds could crawl into your brain and shape the way you saw the world, and disguise the underlying exploitation. But she believed that she could possess those images and use her imagination to rework them into something magical, inspiring and liberating.

Here is one of her paintings that expresses that confidence. It's called The Only Blonde in the World. She painted it in 1963.

 

Pauline had gone to study at the Royal College of Art in London in 1958 and had become one of the leaders of a new art movement. Here is the movement described by The Listener magazine in 1962

 

In 1964 the BBC made a film about this movement. It was called Pop Goes the Easel and was directed by Ken Russell.It focussed on four artists but he two stars of the film were Pauline Boty and her best friend Derek Boshier.

Here are two sections about them. First is Boshier - he brilliantly describes how popular images of American power seduce the mind - they start to "infiltrate you at the breakfast table". But one shouldn't be frightened because it is possible to possess those images in turn.

Then there is Pauline Boty - her bit begins with a wonderful piece of film-making - where she is the girl running away.

Ken Russell's production notes for the film say that "the authoritative woman in the wheelchair, should be someone representing authority, hideously formal". While the three girls around her "need to look as though they represent an institution."

And Pauline should play "herself - an art student resenting authority"

The first shots in the film are of all four artists together - they were all friends - the other two are Peter Blake and Peter Phillips. It is beautifully shot, and the song is Goodbye Cruel World by James Darren.

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Then the growing student movement found a political philosopher who would become their inspiration and guide. He was called Herbert Marcuse.

Marcuse was going to have a powerful and very complicated effect on the student revolutionaries. On the one hand his ideas explained the fascination that people like Pauline Boty had for the images of American power - but he also questioned whether it was ever possible to control or transcend them.

Marcuse said that you could never break the spell. That however much you took American culture and played rebelliously with it, you would always remain possessed by it. But this would set in motion a terrible logic within the New Left that would lead to a creeping distrust of all dreams of the future.

Here is Marcuse surrounded by lots of revolutionary students at the "Free University" in Berlin.

 

Marcuse first became famous with a book called Eros and Civilization. In it he reached back to utopian socialist ideas beyond the dead hand of Marxism and communism - to long-forgotten names like Charles Fourier.

Fourier had said that love and sex could be the motors for a truly free society. It was only the coercive mechanisms of "reason" and "duty" that repressed and distorted these desires in human beings.

Marcuse imagined a future in which individuals would be liberated both from the fetters of capitalism and from the repression of their true instincts. It was an optimistic vision - and people like Pauline Boty who truly expressed their desires in art and in love were like creatures in this new world.

But then in 1964 Marcuse became pessimistic. He wrote another book called One Dimensional Man. He had realised, he said, that capitalist society was far more manipulative than he had imagined. It had learnt how to take those desires and feed the masses spurious, addictive pleasures that enslaved them.

This wasn't liberation - it was a dark world of what looked on the surface like an entrancing modern culture in which sex was discussed and portrayed openly, but really it was all cheap gratifications and stupefying pleasures that blotted out true human needs.

Here is Marcuse on television explaining how human beings are enmeshed in this new psycho-technical power structure. Even the grand progressive dreams of the Enlightenment have been appropriated, he says, and used not for liberating human beings but for repression.

Marcuse was part of what was called the Frankfurt School of political philosophy.

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Marcuse gripped the student left because he describe the revolution in a completely new way. The struggle was in your heads as much as in the streets.

Capitalism had seized control of the inner desires and feelings of their workers and were manipulating it at will. It was summed up in a slogan - There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads. He must be Destroyed.

This meant, Marcuse said, that you couldn't look to the workers to start the revolution - instead it would be led by three groups on the margins.

Number one were the alienated black underclass. Because capitalists didn't bother to manipulate their desires

Number two were the exploited workers of the third world. Ditto.

And number three were the students in the west. Because they had the power to see through the false consciousness.

By the mid 1960s two of the leading members in London of this new rebirth of left wing politics were Pauline Boty and her husband Clive Goodwin.

Clive Goodwin was a working class boy from Kensal Rise in North London. In the 1950s he became an actor - and then he started a magazine about the theatre called Encore, working with people like Vanessa Redgrave and Kenneth Tynan. This took him into the early New Left that was growing up in the publishing world and he soon became an influential figure who helped fuse avant-garde theatre with revolutionary politics.

 

Then Clive became part of the modern media world. He presented a youth programme called That's For Me on ITV which mixed politics and culture. And he received the highest accolade when Ken Russell chose him to act in what was seen as an extraordinary breakthrough film for the BBC - called Dante's Inferno.

It's the story of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. But Russell self-consciously dramatised it to echo the student revolution that was happening all over the west in the mid-60s. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was played by Oliver Reed, but Ken Russell chose the elite political and cultural avant-garde of London to play the group of "student idealists" gathered around Rossetti. And he asked Clive Goodwin to play John Ruskin.

Here are some extracts - beginning with the start of the film that makes the revolutionary parallels clear, followed by Clive Goodwin appearing as Ruskin. And then Oliver Reed going demented, plus some totally brilliant melodramatic film making. The style is of its time but it is still wonderful. And it wasn't just style, they really did think that this was the way to break through the rigid way people saw the world.

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And then one morning when he was walking with Kenneth Tynan, Clive Goodwin met Pauline Boty. Ten days later they were married.

In a wonderful and brilliant biography of Boty - but as yet unpublished (someone should publish it) - the writer Adam Smith describes how Boty had been in a tragic love affair with a married television producer. Boty wanted to marry her lover but she began to realise that this was never going to happen. Adam Smith has unearthed fantastic material that shows how Boty by this time was emerging as one of the early feminists - writing and presenting sardonic monologues on "that cold, cardigan-clad, sexless ghost known to the world as The English Gentlewoman" for BBC Radio.

But she was also very honestly aware of the ambiguities that emerge when the deep emotions of love and desire get mixed up with trying to be an independent person. Smith has found an interview Boty gave to the writer Nell Dunn for a book called Talking To Women. Pauline describes bluntly why she got married.

"I got married under very extraordinary circumstances, very odd. I mean - I was very heavily involved with someone who was married and I never really quite believed anything he said, even though probably a lot of it might have been true but I never sort of have confidence that people love me. I know people love people at moments you know, and very genuinely - I can't believe that someone can love someone consistently.

One of the awful things about being in a situation with a married man is that you're kind of sitting in your little box of a room waiting for a phone call, and then every now and then they go up to this box and lift the lid and take you out and it's lovely, you know. And I hate that kind of inactive thing. I can't stand it, and it just got to a peak. And then I met Clive and I just got on terribly well with him, we got stoned all the time and I only knew him ten days before and he was the very first man I met who really liked women, for one thing - a terribly rare thing in a man.

I mean he was the first man I could talk to very freely to but I didn't like him at all at first. But he was the first man who made me laugh quite sort of sincerely over the telephone because I'm terrible about the telephone, I don't like the telephone at all"

 

Kenneth Tynan said that Boty was very sharp, very quick and very honest.

And Pauline too became part of the London revolutionary scene. Here is a great bit of her appearing in yet another Ken Russell film - this time the story of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. It illustrates Bartok's ballet The Miraculous Mandarin' which was banned throughout Europe in 1919.

Again the revolutionary parallels are made clear. The scene from the Miraculous Mandarin is set in the London of the 1960s intercut with the repression of revolution in Germany and Austria in the 1920s. Pauline plays a prostitute whose job is to lure a man to be beaten and killed by shadowy forces. Corrupted sex and state violence are all part of repression.

The painting you glimpse in the background is one of Boty's, called Colour Me Gone. Good title.

And I think Mr Russell had been watching too much Jean Luc Godard.

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In 1965 Pauline Boty became pregnant. But early in the pregnancy an ante natal check revealed that she had a form of lymphatic cancer.

She was determined not to have an abortion - and continued the pregnancy. One story says that Boty was determined to beat the illness through radiotherapy. Another says that she refused aggressive therapy in order to save her unborn child.

The baby was born in February 1966 and was named Boty Goodwin.

But Pauline's cancer continued to get worse and on July the 1st 1966 she died in the Royal Marsden hospital.

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Exactly a year later Herbert Marcuse gave a speech in Berlin which he entitled "The End of Utopia". He didn't mean, Marcuse said, that utopia was impossible - in fact it was the reverse, human beings now had the technical and scientific means to achieve what had only once been dreamed of. Today it was no longer a utopia - it was a real possibility.

But then he asked the depressing question. Why weren't the masses rising up and seizing the means of achieving this? Marcuse's answer was simple - literally everyone in society was conspiring against it. Or as he put it: 'the total mobilization of existing society against its own potential for liberation'. Which simply meant - everyone's minds had been possessed.

At the end of the lecture a student got up and asked the first question: " To what extent do you see in the English pop movement a positive point of departure for an aesthetic-erotic way of life?"

Marcuse answered: "As you may know, of the many things I am reproached with, I have supposedly asserted that today the movement of student opposition in itself can make the revolution. Far be it from me to assert such a thing. The groups you have mentioned are characteristic of a state of disintegration within the system, which as a mere phenomenon has no revolutionary force whatsoever but which perhaps at some time will be able to play it role in connection with other, much stronger objective forces."

In revolutionary terms this was a big put-down of the student movement. They thought that Marcuse had told them they would be the vanguard - but now he was denying he had ever said such a thing.

A very clever BBC journalist had also spotted the growing absurd direction the student movement was taking as is pursued the ideas it thought it had taken from Marcuse.

He was called James Mossman - and in 1968 he made a brilliant film which used a fly on the wall technique to watch the British student revolutionaries as they tried to liberate the workers from their false consciousness.

It is not nasty, but Mossman turns it into a subtle British comedy. The bit at the occupation of the Hornsey College of Art is just wonderful. While Paris students were rioting and confronting the might of the French state, the British students take over their art college. And without realising it they start to copy the enemy - the women make the tea and run the switchboard while all the men sit round talking to Mossman about 'kicking the police horses' bottoms'.

The film also has shots of the office a new radical newspaper that Clive Goodwin had founded called Black Dwarf.

And the quote from the student at the end about how people have been brainwashed is very funny. "I mean their whole mind is, you know, like a cabbage, they can't do exactly what they want". Marcuse couldn't have put it better

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There was a growing sense of despair among the British revolutionaries. And Marcuse's explanation - that everyone's minds had been possessed - now began to work a curious logic,  because it seemed to make capitalism even more powerful in the minds of the revolutionaries. Capitalism became for them a devilish force that could take any authentic part of human experience and turn it into a tool of psychological manipulation. Nothing was safe - not even what you dreamt of inside your own heads.

The most dramatic and brilliant expression of this growing pessimism came in 1968 with a made-for-TV play on the BBC called "The Year of the Sex Olympics"

It was written by Nigel Kneale who had also written the Quatermass science fiction films. The Year of the Sex Olympics is set in the future in a society where television had become the central means of pacifying the masses by showing them live sex - while the audience watched passively in a drugged state.

But one of the TV elite, Nat, realises that this is bad and decides that he is going to smash through this illusion with real emotions - that will then awaken the masses from their one-dimensional lives. But he hasn't reckoned on the ability of those who run the "media-complex" to take that revolutionary reality and twist it and use it to intensify their control.

Nat suggests a new programme called The Live Life Show. He and a woman who also has seen through the illusion will go to a remote island and live a "real" life. Cameras will watch them 24 hours a day. Nat believes that what the audience see will punch through the manufactured "apathy" and re-energise them.

But soon their child falls ill, then they find there is a psychopath on the island.  The audience watch in their millions - but not in the way Nat hopes.

The play is wonderfully kitsch. Leonard Rossiter plays the devilish "controller" - "no more tensions, just cool". And I particularly like the upmarket TV programme for the more discerning viewer - "Artsex". While the controller's nasty sidekick has some great lines - "They think the show's over, but now it gets super-king".

It is a perfect expression of the paranoia that was beginning to seep into the left at the end of the 1960s - and it also brilliantly prefigures Big Brother by thirty years.

It was originally transmitted in colour - but this is a black and white recording, it is all that remains.

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By the end of the 1960s the independent left wing revolutionaries like Clive Goodwin began to despair. The movement was being taken over by dull, lifeless theoreticians. But there was one hope left for the revolution - it was the marginalised and alienated blacks that Marcuse had said were the other vanguard.

Goodwin turned to writing about charismatic Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Bobby Seale in his Black Dwarf newspaper. And in Britain a charismatic leader of black radicalism emerged called Michael Malik. He consciously modelled himself on Malcolm X - and set out to challenge  the hypocrisies of white power and expose the inequalities its supremacy was built on.

Michael Malik renamed himself Michael X and became a media star in the late 1960s in Britain. Here he is challenging a very smug representative of  the white establishment on the BBC in 1970.

His organisation was called the Radical Adjustment Action Society - RAAS for short.

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But then suddenly that dream also fell apart - and in a catastrophic and horrific way.

In 1971 it was revealed that Michael X had ordered the murder of a young white student. It was only the beginning of an extraordinary set of revelations - that showed Michael X had used money given to him by white middle class leftists to build what was effectively a gangster empire that ran drugs and killed anyone that got in the way. That his claims of building a revolutionary organisation had been a complete fraud.

A BBC then made a very powerful film that exposed Michael X and how he had conned the revolutionary left in Britain. It is a fantastic piece of journalism and also shines a harsh light onto the strange and rather desperate relationship between the children of the rich middle classes in London and their idol - Michael X - the last hope of true revolution.

The film is a cruel but very accurate expose of their delusions - told in parts like a thriller. I have put up a long extract from it because of all the fantastic twists and turns in the story and the extraordinary range of characters - that even includes Diana Athill, a legendary London literary figure. And it ends with Michael X behaving like a Werner Herzog hero - fleeing into the remote jungle - and we follow his track. It's an amazing forgotten story.

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It was the final nail. The white left-wingers argued that this criminality was the result of capitalist oppression because it distorted and corrupted people like Michael X. But these excuses only served to make capitalism seem even more powerful and unchallengeable.

By now Clive Goodwin had become a successful literary agent - representing playwrights. And in 1973 one of his most famous clients, a playwright called Trevor Griffiths wrote a play called The Party that tore apart the revolutionary dreams of the previous ten years. It caused a sensation when it was put on at the National Theatre.

It is set one night in a flat in 1968 - the set directions are clear that it was modelled on the sort of flat that Clive Goodwin and Pauline Boty had back then - "SW7 somewhere. Big, white, sunny, rather cool. Hockney and Botys".

It takes you back to where this story started - in a flat one night in 1968 on the Cromwell Road and a room full of revolutionaries. But instead of sharing their hope and dreams they are now tearing each other apart. One of them is a publisher called Jeremy who is modelled on Clive Goodwin. Then an old Trotskyite called John Tagg brutally dissects the roots of their pessimism as the projection of their narcissism. The implication is that really their type of psycho-sexual liberation is just another form of oppression.

But then John Tagg turns out to be a brutal and heartless monster. Which means there's no hope at all.

It's clunky, and its very actor-heavy in its stagieness - but it tells you a lot about where the left had ended up. And Tagg's speech - which I have put in, is very powerful.

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In 1977 Clive Goodwin went to Los Angeles with Trevor Griffiths. They were going to see Warren Beatty who wanted to make a film called Reds - about the Russian revolution. The script had been written by Trevor Griffiths.

One evening Goodwin got a terrible headache. He walked into the lobby of the Beverley Wilshire Hotel and began to vomit. The hotel security took him to the men's room where Goodwin passed out. They were convinced he was drunk. He wasn't staying at the hotel so security called the police who came and handcuffed him, dragged him through the lobby and laid him face down on the pavement.

They put him in a police cell - and the next morning they found him dead. He hadn't been drunk, he had suffered a brain haemorrhage.

To many of his friends on the left it showed just how brutal and uncaring a society America really was - underneath the veneer of dreams that his wife Pauline Boty had once been so entranced by.

 

And what had begun as an idealistic reinvention of left wing politics in Britain also ended at the very same time with a distrust of all dreams.

It was the end result of Herbert Marcuse's theories. He had said the capitalist power works by possessing and manipulating the desires inside your own mind. But no-one ever explained how you distinguished between the two kinds of dreams inside your head - the ones that were planted there by evil capitalist fantasy-machines, and the genuine dreams of a new and better future. And if your dreams of a better future failed, and the world didn't change - then maybe they too were just part of the manipulation?

And as the revolutionary aims of that generation failed, a terrible suspicion began to grow. Maybe all dreams of other worlds were just illusions. And that in turn led them to accept the dreary functionalism of the material world and the utilitarianism of modern economics which simply said that dreams were located in material, physical objects that could then, conveniently for capitalism, be sold for vast amounts of money. And people became increasingly obsessed by their own material form - their bodies.

The right thing to do now was not to change society, but change yourself. And not what went on inside your head, but simply your Body Mass Index.

In the early 1990s Pauline Boty's daughter - Boty Goodwin - went to Los Angeles to study art. She was rich because of her mother's estate, but she also felt trapped by her mother's shadow. She started taking heroin, and her studies were disrupted. In 1994 she wrote a letter to her moral tutor:

"I remember the days when keeping thin was a matter of a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a line of coke. I lived off McDonalds and ice cream and kept a steady 120 pounds. Needless to say, not any more. Now I am obsessed. Everywhere I look I see ads from every newsstand. LOOK BETTER NAKED. A SEXY BUTT, SLIM THIGHS, FLAT ABS. WOMEN WHO LOVE SEX AND HOW MEN CAN TELL. Are the two connected? I want to beat up sixteen-year-old girls.

Why is that despite an adoring father, an almost nauseatingly 'politically-correct' upbringing, and a feminist historian godmother, the tyranny of beauty still obsesses me so?"

In November 1995 Boty Goodwin died of a heroin overdose.

The student left in the 1960s had believed that the revolution would start in their heads because that was where capitalist  power exerted its control. But it was a dead end because it led them into a terrible trap - where they became paralysed by the fear of possession.

As a result they became unable to articulate an inspiring vision of the future and came to distrust their own dreams because they were frightened that they would be immediately appropriated. And that is where much of the left still remain - paralysed by a dark pessimism and a fear of the cynicism of the media around them.

To really change the world the left needs to go back to the same utopian socialists that Marcuse rediscovered in the 1950s, and the grand romantic visions of other worlds they put forward.

The one I love most is Charles Fourier who in the 1830s outlined an extraordinary new kind of society based on communities he called Phalanxes.

Here is an image of a Phalanx.

 

Fourier had no truck with the idea of changing people. All the different things inside their heads was just what they were like - and you worked with that extraordinary range of human nature and channelled it to create societies in which everyone played a role suited to their nature. His vision is wonderfully optimistic. Even potential murderers are allowed to work off their psychotic impulses - as butchers.

And at the heart of Fourier's society is the idea of Love - a grand feeling of which sex is just a part. And there were special groups in the Phalanxes whose job was to manage the dynamics of Love. If you had been rejected by someone you loved, a special corps of "fairies" would come immediately and take you away, and cure you of your unhappiness.

Fourier's romantic innocence seems intensely shocking to us today - because it seems so naive and optimistic. But it is their power to shock us in this way that potentially makes these long-forgotten utopian ideas genuinely revolutionary.

You may not believe in fairies, but in today's world it's hard to believe in the infallibility of the laws of free-market economics. So which one would you choose?

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

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

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't know what to write, I just want to post something.

    That's just phenomenal. I can't think of anything else to say yet.

  • Comment number 3.

    One thing that strikes in the connections with Kiss. The footage of the girl running down the corridors, and those amazing shots above the Earth are recognisable.

    Then that last bit of film. What do you say about that? That girl, with that music playing…. it's hard to work out how to describe it, the only word I can think of is 'audacious'. That record is used brilliantly in Kiss, it cuts in a phenomenal way too.

    It reminds me of the use of River Deep Mountain High in Kiss too, just total intoxication. I could be way off, or stating the obvious, but it's a like a statement in anti-filtering? Thomas Frank in the book Ad mentions in the Madison Avenue post says something interesting. That looking back and separating the authentic revolutionary counterculture of the 60s from business and advertising and co-opting can't be done. They are intertwined, interrelated in a complex way that commentators over simplify, both right and left, by trying to separate them. I think it's related, I don't know how to articulate it. Maybe 'don't hate style just because it can be used for ugliness'.

    The films are killer, and as mentioned, they've got Nouvelle Vague all over 'em like moss. When that Boty is doing her hair in the mirror, it reminds me of this Chabrol film, Les Bonnes Femmes. The intro with the artists could've come straight out of French New Wave.

  • Comment number 4.

    So basically Adam, you've turned into a hippie?

    I can only shake my head and sigh and respond: no no no. That is not the answer.

    I want people to wake up and face reality, and live positive lives, not slip into another Platonic dream state.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm not sure many people will welcome this comparison, including AC, but has anyone seen the video to that song, Video Games?

  • Comment number 6.

    In one of your previous films you interviewed an American leader of the student movement of the 1960s and he said that one of the reasons that the revolutionaries decided to change the way people thought was that the original protesters came up against the power and violence of the state and they saw how powerful that was.

    Interesting then to look at today's protest and perhaps the difference is that violence is not being used against the Occupy protesters and also that if it were it would not be now accepted.

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent piece in the way you entwine the heady individualism of the so-called revolutionary culture of the 1960s with the work of Marcuse. It all falls down when you get to Fourier (sex is part of love? How Victorian), but i never dreamed the answers to the world's problems would be posted on a BBC blog.

    I grew up with parents concerned with nuclear energy, freedom of assembly and sexual expression etc. in the 1970s (when "the 60s" happened in Australia). I have thought a lot about my upbringing (drugs, openness with sexuality and the body, freedom to read and see what I wanted to from an early age) and I continue to identify with social justice and direct action. The 1960s generation were reacting against an order established around an extremely regimented social order, while being the first to deal with the 'image commodification' that you describe above. Writers, film makers, artists poets and musicians from the time are interesting today as the front line is understanding, deconstructing and resisting a cultural force that is now part of our everyday reality. However, many (not all) of the figures from this time place a tremendous emphasis on the individual, on freedom and the disconnect from what is generally an oppressive, cruel and exploitative system of economics, production, labour etc. This is a problem that Marcuse understood. I do not think he came up with a solution. 'Love' a la Fourier will take care of itself, if it is allowed to. Faeries bursting in and educating people sounds ominous. Beyond 'Love' there is a need to find meaning in life. If poor Boty was so moved by the need to have a perfect body she could not find meaning beyond that. As we package people and sell their images to others, we are depleting a wealth of human meaning that stretches back to the earliest times of our species on this planet. This is the property of everyone; knowledge, art, music, literature, sport. This is what Capitalism withholds from people, along with food, water, education, travel, shelter, plumbing, fee expression, and hope.

  • Comment number 8.

    John Gray has partially dealt with this topic in his *Straw Dogs* [2002, pp.166-170: Granta Books], a text worth reading in tandem with Mr Curtis' above post. In contrast to Curtis, Gray sees the possibility of a radical communitarian utopia as envisaged by the Situationists and their intellectual antecedents - Marx, Fourier and (even further back) the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit - as premised upon rather suspect gnostic notions of matter being the prison of man’s soul:

    “Marx scorned utopianism as unscientific. But if 'scientific socialism' resembles any science, it is alchemy. Along with other Enlightenment thinkers, Marx believed that technology could transmute the base metal of human nature into gold. In the communist society of the future, there was to be no limit on the growth of production or the expansion of human numbers. With the abolition of scarcity, private property, the family, the state and the division of labour would disappear. Marx imagined the end of scarcity would bring the end of history. He could not bring himself to see that a world without scarcity had already been achieved - in the prehistoric societies that he and Engels lumped together as 'primitive communism'.” (pp.167)

    "The Situationists' utopia is an updated version of Fourier's but, in a lapse of mind they seem never to have noticed, the administration of this workless society is handed over to workers' councils. These are not meant to be organs of government, for - we are assured - none will be needed. Going even further than Fourier, who had proposed that dirty work be done by children, the Situationists declared that automation would make physical labour unnecessary.” (pp.168)

    “The Situationists and the Brethren of the Free Spirit are separated by centuries, but their view of human possibilities is the same. Humans are gods stranded in a world of darkness. Their labours are not the natural consequence of their inordinate wants. They are the curse of a demiurge. All that needs to be done to free humanity from labour is to throw off this evil power. This mystical vision is the Situationists' true inspiration, and that of anyone who has ever dreamt of a world in which humans can live without restraint.” (pp.170)


    If Gray is to be believed, do we not have cause for a healthy suspicion toward the claims of radical communitarian utopians, the kind whose ideas Mr Curtis is here suggesting we revist?

  • Comment number 9.

    Of note to British readers.

    The Royal Shakespeare Company is doing a modern dress version of Marat/Sade. It is a play which speaks to the necessity of and futility of revolution.
    For a more candid take and one less steeped in the 60's with the usual old farts like Marcuse (today it would be Slavoj Zizek and the like) see Laurie Penny. Laurie Penny's column is in The New Statesman widely available in Britain.
    Here's the first question I ask at new meetings. It might be at sustainability gatherings or Occupy, though our Occupy in Wisconsin US in a small city has lost some momentum.
    The question is described this way:
    There's a question that is asked by trekkies over the long years that the Star Trek franchise has been active: Who cleans the toilets on the Enterprise?
    Marcuse and other philosophers never really ask this question. But the philosophers, pundits and professors know one thing for sure. It's not them.

    cheers

  • Comment number 10.

    This reminds me of the route that Houellebcq took. I remember one essay where he says he is against marxism and liberalism, claiming both systems proved to lead to destructive results. The first (marxism) because it is grounded in materialism and proved to be unable to change human behaviour, witness the regression to wild west capitalism after the fall of the USSR, and the second (liberalism) because it has a naive belief in the miraculous synthesis of individual preferences in the free market. But in the same essay he calls himself a "communist" in the tradition of the 19th century utopian socialist Auguste Comte. It takes a Houellebcq, of course, with his strong critique of the sixties liberation movement (which was not a sexual liberation at all, according to him) to reintroduce the word communism in a positive light. Not that he is too optimistic about the feasibility that his project, with a hard emphasis on science, has a lot of chance of catching on, though.

  • Comment number 11.

    @ Christian,

    For me, all -isms or utopias are the megalomania of tyrannical personalities. We've seen Adam Curtis deconstruct such delusions and fantasies time and time again, such as the likes of Ayn Rand, B.F. Skinner, Tony Blair, Edward Bernays and so on.

    John Gray seems to be a liberal who deconstructed liberalism rather successfully, and found the same tyrannical fantasies within the entire modern tradition. He also thinks turning backwards to the past is no solution to our modern problems.

    This human craving for power is not only restricted to the state, but exists within non-state organizations too, including anarchist organizations that set themselves up naively to only fall later once hierarchy forces itself upon the group, thus destroying its Utopian foundations from within.

    That should be the lessons of the left, and why they're in such pessimistic tatters. It's difficult to fight the monster of tyranny and inequality when it creeps into the very organizations set up to fight it.

    Artists can transform people and make lives better, I have no problem with that. But would artists with enormous power use that power for good or bad? I think whatever gains could be made by the good would be diminished by the bad. And we'd end up with a mundane world in the middle, like we have in reality.

    I think Adam Curtis is one of the good artists, and so Adam feel free to build us the dream society, I will happily live in it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Eve: Pauline Boty

    Adam: in love, I think.

    Who wouldn't be - only "the hourglass of time and space denies"

  • Comment number 13.

    I have great respect for your work and you tell a nice, insightful story, as always. But I think you're way off base in your criticism of the Occupy movement here. This alleged lack of a positive vision is really overblown. C’mon, what do you expect from a decentralized movement that claims to represent the vast majority of the population? An instant leader? A new political system? If the media expects the movement to come up with a telegenic flack to quip a single sound bite solution to all the problems, they are the ones trapped in their tired theories.

    My experience from attending events, watching the live video streams, and engaging in social media conversations is that vast majority of people probably just want reasonable reforms to the system. Everyone has many things they are for and the movement is slowly trying to figure out a transparent and open way forward. The 99% declaration (https://sites.google.com/site/the99percentdeclaration/), from the New York group reflects many common themes of the movement. We are trying to figure out and agree on significant political reforms. A quick trip to just about any Occupy website or general assembly will show this. Positive changes are being proposed. Please stop pretending otherwise.

    https://sites.google.com/site/the99percentdeclaration

  • Comment number 14.

    There's a difference between those seeking to change society in 1960, when it had produced (for all it's flaws) prosperity and material wealth more widely distributed than perhaps at any time except the century following the black death, and seeking change in 2010, when the story for 2 generations has been the capture of greater wealth and power by the wealthy and powerful. The former requires a project that will deliver greater happiness and prosperity, and is inherently utopian and radical but the latter can actually be profoundly conservative, seeking a return to the norms of a previous age. The liberal movements of the 60's failed as young people began to get invested in society, as their support had always been drawn from those who were disenfranchised. The potential for the OWS movement grows stronger as economic trends continue, and progressively more people fall out of the middle class. Articulating a view of a new society is an extremely silly thing for OWS to do, when a simple demand for a return to economic justice and political representation is at once more practical and more populist than any possible model they could come up with.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is a beautiful piece of history - but I don't fully see the connection to the Occupy movement.

    Occupy was started by Adbusters, which is definitely from the more optimistic 'pop art' side of the Left, believing you can use the language and symbolism of capitalism to wake people from their consumer trances.

    Anyway, fascinating as ever, thank you for it.

    Jules Evans

  • Comment number 16.

    The OWS is about integrity rather than left vs right... hence why it is starting to attract a rather disparate crowd of political followers. The idea that its not "for" anything and perhaps falls into the "trap" is a rather narrow view of what "for something" means.

    The simple fact is no political agenda can truly operate as envisaged in a kleptocracy. Which is what a growing number of observers hold we have got here. If you go to kurdistan and look at the issues elections are fought on the notion of left vs right or any other political polarity runs a distant second to the notion of anti-corruption.

    because

    The simple fact is that just about any political system run with integrity would be better than this. Even market capitalism run with a true buccaneering spirit that wasn't stacked in favour of a pre determined elite that had corrupted politics.

  • Comment number 17.

    Outstanding.

    @Matt,

    I don't think Adam's point is that OWS lacks vision, nor disputes that "[p]ositive changes are being proposed." That it is a decentralized movement guarantees diverse opinions, after all. Some of them are even the sort of thing the average prole might agree with. Who else but the extraordinarily privileged would argue that the current economic system isn't an outrageous scam? And so OWS gains supporters by the week.

    But it is doomed to failure. And not just for lack of a leader. For one thing, the focus (however fuzzy it is) on Wall Street is off the mark. Yes, it represents the apex of the sort of greed-deluded certainty in the "power of the market" that is such an outrage. But you might as well take over your art college for all the good that it'll do. Why not occupy the US Congress? It's been hijacked by a cabal of idiots (put there funny enough, by another "grassroots" movement, only this one funded by a couple of mercenary billionaires) determined to stymie any effort to not only help the average poor slob but to force Wall Street to change just a little.

    Occupy Wall Street? Why? For street theatre? Big deal. Wall Street will remain the problem it is for as long as it's allowed to. Camping in a park nearby will have net zero effect in changing that.

  • Comment number 18.

    Ah, Fourier's 'Phalanx' translates into Spanish as 'Falange', the Fascist movement of Primo de Rivera which inspired Franco. Thus are good ideas co-opted by unpleasant people. It is shocking to note that the emblem of the Police (Guardia Civil) in Spain shows the Roman ceremonial Fasces (adopted by Mussolini, which gave their name to Fascism), with a sword, the Royal crown above them. Spain has still not emerged from the shadow of Franco and the Falange.

  • Comment number 19.

    Was there trying to get a finish on ideas picked up in Paris. I did not get on well with with the well off Trots. They were constantly conspiring to not get things done. They were tight as ticks with the lolly as well: art, photography, and film making consumed money. The Stazi at the Arts Lab had glommed the work we did in Paris.
    Also there was a lot of thieving, for the cause, going on, lost a couple of Leicas and a bunch of lenses to the Dwarf's camera guy. Got to watch Grogan follow Trocci to a misty end, and Old Bill rough up Brothers Stokley, Ware and Joans (were the cops working with Michael X). And in the morning the Redgraves let the air out of The Dialectics of Liberation get together.Wearing guns and making sure that all was P/C
    All the time there was the coup forming on the right.The parties there always had the stiff young Tories along with the young retired Generals who were hoping the hard men would be turned loose in Ireland. I had been interested in the People Democracy movement there. I had attempted a film but was summoned by Special Branch who'd been reviewing my rushes of the take over of the Belfast protests by the American financed East Block armed thugs.
    I had made a singing Ian Paisley film over at Cinema Action. The left seemed blissfully unaware that the bankers were about to have them clubbed to death like baby seals (actually funds were cut off and London went dark.) The group that made a difference were the Tattooists, Cinema Action, Cuddens, and Colin Ward's folk at Anarchy.

  • Comment number 20.

    This neatly crystallizes about twelve nagging feelings I have had for the past decade. Brilliant. I am going to re-read it several times.

  • Comment number 21.

    Capitalism somehow manages to be utterly human, whilst often being inhumane - a bit like human beings themselves really. There must be a lesson in this. I think the faeries should be told.

  • Comment number 22.

    LOVE. THIS. Little quibbly qualm though: I think the Occupy protesters may be doing the right thing to some extent by getting involved instead of trying to agree first on a theory or vision. Yes, the intellectual framework may be a firewood shack but the spirit is there, which is healthy. The intellectual vision is more likely to emerge when the atmosphere seems hospitable and eager.

    I agree with the long-running argument in this body of work that there's an ideological malaise that saps the will for positive change, but it would be less hurtful if people were willing to get their hands dirty building the practical networks and services that bring people together as a community and disempower the coercive authorities that actively militate against idealistic change.

    Two wings are needed: ideas and practical organisation. And I think both depend on a human kindheartedness without which it all becomes meaningless anyway. And John Gray is dead wrong to presume that a bloody human history means that kindheartedness and barbarism will always exist in about the same proportions: it changes from person to person, family to family, society to society, era to era... it's a battle for sure but there's no reason to categorically rule out thousands of years of peace and happiness for the human race; I find him a fairly interesting thinker in some ways but his radical pessimism reeks of style over substance, which I don't need to go into because I think he's been accused of this many times. If I met one good person in my life I would wonder and hope whether all people might become good; I would not assume his genes made him a one-off freak. What's the alternative to such hope - need I even say it? So why vacillate?

  • Comment number 23.

    Great post. Might be useful to contrast Marcuse's pessimism with the tack taken by CLR James* in the mid 20th century:

    ‘The modern popular film, the modern newspaper (the Daily News, not the Times), the comic strip, the evolution of jazz, a popular periodical like Life, these mirror from year to year the deep social responses and evolution of the American people in relation to the fate which has overtaken the original concepts of freedom, free individuality, free association, etc,’

    His approach can be read in American Civilisation:
    http://www.enotes.com/american-civilization-salem/american-civilization
    http://democracyandhiphop.blogspot.com/2006/06/review-of-clr-james-american.html


    *Trinidadian Marxist, probably most famous for The Black Jacobins (about the Haitian slave revolt of 1791-1804) and Beyond a Boundary (Classic work on cricket & Colonialism in the West Indies). Here's an article about him: http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=253

  • Comment number 24.

    The paradox is the church itself seems to have been partially co-opted by the OWS movement rather than capitalism absorbing dissent. Because in reality no matter where one sits on the political spectrum one will have common purpose with others against a kleptocracy that in time makes everyone poorer while enriching itself.

    Which is why revolutions happen.

    The intelligentsia of the early 21st century found it easy to dismiss protests such as this as being naive and very often the ideological theories some movements have are naive, But this does that matter.

    Because in reality the intelligentsia of revolutionary movements such as the French or Russia revolutions meant nothing without the underlying conditions being perceived as bad enough by the masses to warrant insurrection. .

    The simple truth is an economy based on implicit exponential growth is unsustainable and its collapse is a mathematical certainty.

    Many intellectual movements may come forward to claim ownership of any change to the economic order but this will be a fantasy.

    In reality change will be driven by the harsh reality of the numbers and their feedback loops. The very thing the proponents of the limits of growth warned us all about all those years ago and paradoxically it will be the attempt to maintain the status quo that will drive this change. Because in reality the status quo is not a stable static system envisaged by the producers of AWOBMOLG but an ever expanding consumptive economy that can only service the interest on its own debt based economy by increasing the size of the total mountain of debt. There is simply no way to reform such a system because at the heart of the story the problem is insolvable. This is because the universe will not allow any process natural or man-made to access energy and resources at a exponential rate indefinitely.

  • Comment number 25.

    In this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmvAdG6c7MY&feature=related at the 6.45 mark John Lennon talks about when he and Yoko cut their hair off and donated to Michael Malik to auction off for fundraising.

  • Comment number 26.

    This one a bittersweet recounting by Adam Curtis of the 1960s "new left" movement's complete implosion. Unfortunately, his conclusion ends up where we left off 40 years ago. Like the left whose cognitive & spiritual castration he laments, Curtis fails to address the problem that REALLY stifled us 1960s radicals.

    Namely, the practical need of Fourier's utopia for new systems of production, distribution, enterprise creation, environmental management, and accounting - all matched up with new systems of local, regional, national, and international relations & trade. Beyond shattered dreams, the problem was & remains boggled minds.

    The only way to retain complex societies AND put Fourier's systems in place is if and only if a sufficient number of, say, GE employees who collectively know how the behemoth conducts day-to-day operations were to get on board, take over the company, exclude reactionary labor & management, beef-up security, and engage all the other newly emerging systems mentioned above. Never mind assembly line workers, the steepest challenge would be to persuade middle managers & technical staff (especially accountants!). There will be no way to fill-in all the boring details of how to actually implement a society based on attraction over coercion without people who know how things are already being done.

    That is, if you still want your morning coffee after the revolution, along with electricity, food, and water.

    New visionaries in the mold of Fourier will be necessary but insufficient. Desirable goals need to be feasible in the first place, or they WILL get sucked into the spectacle as just more pie-in-the-sky. We will have to hear from people in all the societal roles critical to pulling this off about how in the world to do it. And as in all truly revolutionary moments, that would have to include police, national guard, military, and intelligence personnel. Without insiders EVERYWHERE they are needed, there will be no social revolution to end all social revolutions - just another bloody mess.

    As always, the ultimate trick would be to line-up all those ducks and fill-in all those little details without raising suspicion - a problem even more intractable with the Internet and the modern, technically-evolving police state than it has historically been without them.

  • Comment number 27.

    Adam Curtis tells the story with a lot of colour. I appreciate that very much. It would not be him, if he would not point at specific failures, so to say, that were of a general nature. In the Frankfurt School, on sentence contains pretty much Marcuses observerd 1964 pessimistic turnaround: "Das Ganze ist das Falsche." The whole thing is the wrong thing. Notice, that I do with Marcuse, what Adam does with OWS, Clive, Pauline and the other persons in this assembly. I reduce actual actions onto a subjective generalization. The quoted sentence was uttered by Theodor Adorno, yet it is an echo of another one: "God is dead." by Friedrich Nietzsche about 70 years or so earlier. I do present Marcuse's turn an application of this sentence. I don't know Marcuse that accurately, to tell, it it is his reading, or if it is Your reading of him, that makes this turn a pessimistic one. The ethical implication of the sentence is not that decisive: Plainly stated all it says is: "If you think you are authentic, think twice." Especially if you are to act as a social being. It just pulls certain ways, in wich authenticity brings about a, natural, whatever, right: to behave in certain ways, to demand certain things. etc. (Hope I dont just confuse.)

  • Comment number 28.

    @fplogue: I'm sorry but I have to challenge your belief that violence is not being used against the various Occupy protest movements. In several parts of the US, police violence has already occurred, in particular in Oakland in California where police used tear gas and rubber bullets against a crowd enraged by the near-fatal injury of a military war veteran Scott Olsen who was hit in the head by a projectile. Here in Sydney the Occupy Sydney movement which is just a walk down from where I work, we had a dawn police raid on the protesters on 23 October 2011, within 48 hours of a similar eviction in Melbourne. Police attempted to prevent people from filming the Sydney attack, punched and attacked a number of people and hog-tied others. I think in some cities also the police have been instructed to goad individuals or groups within the protest into violent action so they can carry out raids or arrests.

    Also as the Occupy protest movements persist, governments will determine to move them away or dismiss them. People should be prepared for the worst. They'll need people who can give first aid and who can take the severely injured away for medical treatment. They'll need security to hold groups together and prevent police from separating people. They may need weapons but not weapons that kill: supersoakers and paintball guns might be appropriate.

    You might like to read this article "The Social Crisis in Appalachia (Part 5: The assault on Blair Mountain and its social legacy) at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/aug2010/app5-a03.shtml and see how an entire community supported a revolt of miners against the coal companies that exploited them. You'll see the kind of support that'd be required if police in your city or region come down hard on protesters. Medical and hospital staff in particular who don't see common cause with Occupy protesters would be forced to choose sides.

    @others on this page: Eventually the Occupy movements are going to need a manifesto that expresses their values, their aims and their vision. They don't need the same manifesto, they can each have their own though I think there'll be ideas and principles in common. The manifesto need not be the definitive statement of the Occupy movements' stand - they can be works in progress. The Occupy movements need to be clear that what they are against is the SYSTEM which most call "capitalism" though I prefer to call it "corporate fascism". By system I refer to a set of inter-related structures, institutions and networks that espouse a set of common beliefs, assumptions, ideologies and principles that more or less support one another%2

  • Comment number 29.

    Oh dear the rest of my post got cut off. I'll repeat the comments addressed to everyone else on the page and to G in particular:

    @others on this page: Eventually the Occupy movements are going to need a manifesto that expresses their values, their aims and their vision. They don't need the same manifesto, they can each have their own though I think there'll be ideas and principles in common. The manifesto need not be the definitive statement of the Occupy movements' stand - they can be works in progress. The Occupy movements need to be clear that what they are against is the SYSTEM which most call "capitalism" though I prefer to call it "corporate fascism". By system I refer to a set of inter-related structures, institutions and networks that espouse a set of common beliefs, assumptions, ideologies and principles that more or less support one another, though not necessarily in a logical way.

    Groups that have particular functions such as welfare, food supplies, medical help, security and getting support (including persuading others to help) are necessary. If you look at the history and development of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, you notice that over time they have developed humanitarian and welfare groups. In the event of emergency, Hamas and Hezbollah are often the first on the scene offering shelter, first aid and medical assistance, and organising food and clothing supplies. Hezbollah in particular runs news services, hospitals, educational facilities, agricultural centres that supply advice to farmers, social assistance programs and an environmental department. It also engages in economic and infrastructure developments through its real estate arm Jihad al Binna.

    So it's pretty likely that over time the Occupy movement will need to think about what it represents, what it's striving for, what limits perhaps must apply to what it can do and then develop a manifesto expressing its vision, however precise or vague, and maybe a charter with articles that establish particular groups or set of groups to engage in short-term and long-term projects.

    @G: One ideological inspiration for Occupy would be Environmental Sustainability. You're the journalist who writes on environmental issues among other things for a British newspaper - isn't that so, mon beau?

  • Comment number 30.

    "The manifesto need not be the definitive statement of the Occupy movements' stand - they can be works in progress."

    Whoops, that was an egregious typo on my part. Happens when I think on my feet and type at the same time. That should read "The manifestos need not be the definitive statement ... they can be works in progress." Sorry, folks!

  • Comment number 31.

    A few random thoughts.

    I don't know where I heard this, or if I dreamt it, but apparently in China there's been a ban on futuristic fiction, or rather fiction that depicts alternative futures. Interesting that.

  • Comment number 32.

    Marcuse and the Frankfurt School are a little bit bound in their pessimism. Consider that the two major intellectual traditions they come out of are Marx (the overwhelming power of the superstructure) and Freud (the overwhelming power of the unconscious) and you can see why. They are also highly elitist, so more likely to underestimate the potential for understanding in the 'lower classes' I think. Don't get me wrong, they did some amazing stuff. But they were trapped a little by maintaining their intellectual position.

  • Comment number 33.

    And on the tip of LOVE, some Frankfurt School ideas are wonderful

    "To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour. This hope is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities. Least of all it is passive as far as the growth and liberation of one's own person are concerned...."

  • Comment number 34.

    @theartteacher2: You are not dreaming, the Chinese government has banned TV shows that show time travel, fantasy and bizarre plots, or express fatalism, negative thinking or ambiguous moral thinking. Anything that apparently supports superstition and reincarnation is also banned.

    At the very least the Chinese government is sparing its people the agony of watching the wreckage that currently passes for "Doctor Who". That used to be quite a good show when I was a kid watching it. I'm referring to part of the Jon Pertwee period and much of the Tom Baker period before it got rather twee. There were some decent stories there that were later hijacked by Hollywood and made into quite successful movie franchises. (Movie franchises, not just movies! - I'm speaking of "Alien" which might have been partly based on "The Ark in Space" and "The Matrix" which might have been based on "The Deadly Assassin". There you go.)

    The Chinese government has also placed a ban on people being reincarnated which might be difficult to enforce if someone comes along and proves that reincarnation does in fact occur for everyone. The ban is aimed mainly at the Dalai Lama who recently declared that he will decide if reincarnation is appropriate for him and if it is, when and where it takes place. If he happens to reincarnate in a place outside Chinese territorial jurisdiction, what will the Chinese do?

  • Comment number 35.

    I think the 'occupiers' are pretty amazing. A lot of sacrifice and a lot of bravery being shown around the world. For the system to be seriously challenged it will take a great number of people to be moblised, not just to occupy, but to support genuine change more broadly. People are exposed to ideas through media. There will be distortions and lies, that's inevitable. But every possible opportunity needs to be taken to convince people. It's no good being righteous and blaming everyday people who hold up the system; many are trapped. And you need something coherent to offer people. In part the participatory approaches being employed at Occupy sites might be something to build on. I hear there's kind of a gift economy ethic, a deep sense of solidarity. Democracy, empathy, freedom.

    And people everywhere are gagging for that.

  • Comment number 36.

    Part of the failure of the left has been aesthetic. The fact some people are probably sucking their teeth at that is also part of the problem. I was born in 1979, and I don't think, for example, the Labour Party, captured people with style and audacity and a powerful vision. And once they did learn to do this they forgot what they were about.

    You can think what you like of the 'Randian Heroes' at the beginning of Ep1 of Machines, call 'em monsters, whatever. But they're not really. And what they do have is a certain confidence about them. That guy who just keeps repeating 'I was a Randian hero', I couldn't help but like him a bit.

    It's no good saying 'we'll fight [insert evil corporation/politician/politcal system here] with a 11 important dry facts about why they are wrong and bad'. It's easier to fight crime with a pretty face. Just ask Michael Knight.

  • Comment number 37.

    That line about recognising the power of popular style but understanding the how's and why's of it working you over is absolutely key. More people need opportunities to access public means of communication, where they can play with types of expression (and I don't care if that sounds hippie). But it has to be for everyone, not just art students. And that means the existing powerful structures of information in society will have to be taken on and used, even if their existence is in many ways limiting. I suppose it's creating a public sphere that is worthy of the name.

    I don't share the pessimism of the internet to this end. Sure it's controlled and owned by powerful people. But surely there hasn't been a time in human history where people so far apart can communicate so freely and easily? It has intrinsic limits (like all forms of communication), but the potential for it is immense, especially if its ownership were taken over by people. Like YouTube....okay a lot of it is junk. But I think it's also encouraged more and more people think they might be able to create something new and powerful, which requires some of the same skills as imagining different ways of doing things, different societies.

  • Comment number 38.

    @NausikaDalazBlindaz - thanks for confirming that. It's worse than I thought, that's just incredible.

  • Comment number 39.

    @theartteacher2: I've done another check of the news about the Chinese government apparently banning TV shows and films with speculative fiction plots and discovered that a lot of it is sourced from US and UK media that have overblown the original government directive. Apparently the Chinese government was unhappy about some historical soap opera plots featuring ghosts in Chinese-made dramas that were being shown in inappropriate time-slots; in other words, they were probably not shows parents would allow small fry to see. Perhaps this is where the "time travel" confusion arose.

    The restriction on reincarnation still applies: all Tibetan monks must be registered with the Chinese government to apply for reincarnation rights. A law went into effect sometime in September 2011 which stipulates the procedure by which one may reincarnate.

    It's all very well also to believe in democracy, empathy, inclusiveness and solidarity and trying to get accountants on your side ... but there is still the SYSTEM to fight. It's in our heads and in our souls. We need to subvert it in some way, deprogram ourselves. We still need to be outside the SYSTEM. You may like to read this article I found at WSWS.org: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/nov2011/olsx-n03.shtml

    A big part of subverting the system is to use its products in ways opposite of what's intended by them. I'm thinking of some stuff I've read about the Japanese fad of lady-boys or herbivorous men. People in Japan seem to find them very puzzling: they are deliberately (?) affecting effeminate ways and even buying and wearing products like men's bras and make-up, that sort of thing. That example is what I'm trying to explain though not very well: we need to try to reclaim a child-like innocent way of seeing the world, an original and playful attitude, that will lead us to rediscover our creativity. Something like that.

  • Comment number 40.

    At the risk of completely dominating the conversation here - or is it just that I happen to be active while everyone else is off in the Land of Nod? - I just remembered something and I had to go dig up an article by Dmitry Orlov I found in "Energy Bulletin", originally published on 4 December 2006.

    Orlov offers some very interesting advice about how to cope with an economic system that's eating its own children and which will leave them with chronic food, shelter and energy shortages. We can see this happening across the United States already with foreclosures of houses in many cities, the rise of tent cities across the country and the deterioriation of Detroit. Greece and Italy are being prepped to endure years, possibly decades, of decreasing standards of living and quality of life. Doubtless the same thing is happening in many parts of Europe and other areas of the developed world.

    What should people do? Should they try to co-opt the worker bees into the Occupy movements and hope to spread change through established institutions by inculcating ideas into the worker bees and then sending them back into their companies where they slave 8+ hours a day? I think that would be about as good as our trying to infiltrate such places ourselves and trying to change them; instead we would end up being changed into worker bees ourselves.

    No, if we want to change the society, let's forget about reforming the institutions. Let them do their own thing: we know they're on a self-destructive downward spiral so why waste time and energy slowing down the inevitable? Optimise your free time, independence, energy and creativity for the things you want to do. Minimise (if you can) your responsibility to the institutions. Don't work too hard or too many hours. Don't participate in the economy any more than you have to. This means buying only the stuff you need and reusing what you have. Pull your money out of the financial markets and put it towards things that last. Do you really need all the stuff you think you need? Start being useless to commercial society and the government since they're already useless to you.

    Get your pleasure from friends, reading, music, nature, self-sufficiency in food (eg kitchen gardening if you can) and assets (eg collecting and hoarding stuff), and trolling in these forums. If you still have to work in commercial society, make sure it's not too taxing mentally or physically. Orlov mentions in his article that many highly educated and cultured people in the Soviet Union in the 1980s got by doing jobs like nightwatchman or furnace stoker and were happy as these jobs were undemanding and gave them free time.

    Above all, don't pay attention to politicians: you only encourage them. Don't make fun of them: they notice that. Completely ignore them and they disappear faster. We know they're useless irrespectively of which side of the "political spectrum" they're coming from. What does the political spectrum mean these days anyway? Ignore them and you will find eventually you're much happier and well on the way to being deprogrammed, vital, creative and open to change.

    OK I'll shut up now!

  • Comment number 41.

    @ Nausika: I write whut fer a whut!? Haha, what made you think that? Nah sorry, wrong beau.

    About undemanding jobs leaving one with free time - that's been eroding since the Thatcher days; every second and joule of a worker's time and energy is accounted for these days and as real wages decline overtime becomes necessary. I would love an easy job but I've never found one that stayed easy or lasted. The good life is easier imagined than realised for most people. Yeah there are a lot of middle to upper class people who get caught on a treadmill out of greed and habit but that's not most folks' affliction. I agree with your sentiment along the lines of 'the best things in life are free/cheap'; can be hard to secure these things in proper balance with work though. My best friend moved out of the city to be with a partner, now can't afford to move back as she planned. We used to do everything together; it's a major hit to quality of life and entirely due to factors beyond our control (meanwhile millions of Chinese worker wish their loved-ones were only a bus-ride away). People at my work are often sick with stress; how can they find the energy and initiative to take up creative pursuits in their free time? I struggle myself; I tend to want to just decompress.

    I have wondered whether the main thought driving a lot of this material here is a vision in Adam Curtis's mind of how two guys, Marx and Engels, thought, discussed, wrote, and informed (if not exactly determined) a lot of how society was organised thereafter. The thinking and dreaming we do or don't do does matter and that's a battleground worth fighting on - it's worthwhile to encourage people to be critical and visualise a better world and not only play a passive or instrumental part in the very bounded and artificial mass-media conversation.

    @ Renfro: This sort of follows on from the above. I agree that the next revolution will need know-how, but my vision is not one of persuading professionals to join hands with the proles and reorganise institutions from within. I think that by far the more realistic and desirable alternative is for activism to get practical instead of focusing on symbolic 'resistance' and apocalyptic fantasies.

    I was talking with an American anarchist; a very moral and intelligent woman. She had helped to found a store which distributed basic food freely without any means-testing, on the premise that in a wealthy society essential foodstuffs should on principle be freely provided, like water and security. And it's easy for a few people on modest incomes to get together to bulk-buy flour and whatnot and demonstrate to the public how absurd it is that anyone should die for want of proper nourishment in the midst of technological civilisation.

    What happened is, the store was well received by the community, and benefited a lot of people while it lasted, until a rival anarchist group judged it as being against some principle or other and burned it down.

    And this is the problem. We need two wings working together: an intellectual engagement with the facts and with human values, and an energetic engagement with practical realities. People should be doing real, practically useful things for actual human beings, instead of thinking of themselves as ideological purists, holier-than-thou, class-warriors, freedom-fighters. There seems to be a glut of Che wannabes and a glut of beard-stroking academics, and not enough people willing to create co-ops, communal housing projects, actual proper think-tanks, lobbying groups, homelessness projects... you can make a better world by getting up and making a better world, but people are waiting for Neo to beat up Agent Smith and ring a big bell or something. People just need to get together and form networks that will change and even replace the nature of society and politics. We can humanise the world from the grassroots up.

  • Comment number 42.

    @G: Well I had the very odd thought that you were that French-surnamed consigliere who writes a column for The Guardian. We get the weekly print version that incorporates articles from The Washington Post and Le Monde here in Sydney. But really, I can read any English-language newspaper on the Internet: I can read Hindustan Times or the Times of India even, if I want to. I love reading their faintly hysterical old-fashioned English. Anyway this being a public forum, I didn't want to attact unwanted attention (I am fairly new to these parts) so I was being rather cryptic with those two French words that ended my piece. What persuaded me to think the way I did? I was only focussing on your writing style: it's very fluid, it has a definite character and the intelligence and insight that inform it are considerable. I haven't hacked into your server and I'm not in love with you or anything like that! Then again, if your looks and charms are of as high a standard as the writing is, I just might be persuaded otherwise.

    I am really sorry for the people at your workplace if it is as bad as you describe. It sounds as if there is an oppressive and intimidating atmosphere there. You all have my sympathy. Is there no way you can get outside help without attracting attention from senior management?

    The situation sounds like a part of Karl Marx's description of anomie, though he was writing in a general way about the interests of the managerial class vis-a-vis the proletariat. In his "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844" he refers to four types of alienation and one of these is the alienation of the worker from his ability to achieve self-actualisation or inner fulfillment from his output. This could take place in different ways: workers do something that contributes to the final product but never get to see what that looks like so they have no real connection to it. Or they produce something that they know is good but managers order them to change it to something inferior; the product though is still attributed to the worker. Or the worker is told to deliberately create something he knows to be false but which managers determine must be sold to the public as true.

    If you are allowed to personalise your work area, I think you should do so - it may be a way of destressing. Listening to music you like on headphones, taking short breaks to meditate and practise deep breathing, consuming healthy foods and beverages and staying away from snacks and soda drinks are a start.

    Today I took a lunchtime walk down to Martin Place and chatted to one of the Occupy Sydney reps who let me take away an Occupy Sydney statement. It's not very specific but Katy explained that at present the OS movement is about generating awareness with the aim of building up a critical mass, at which point a more definite manifesto with a clear vision, goals and a set of values and principles may be produced. In the meantime, some people within the OS movement have organised little tutorial groups and ongoing classes that teach all kinds of activities such as crafts and arts.

    I also have a copy of the #Occupy Wallstreet Facebook speech and yes, there is a definite environmental sustainability component, an awareness of corporate fascism and a link between the system we labour under and the deaths of people in those Middle Eastern and North African countries the US-led coalitions have invaded.

    I see you like science fiction, I can recommend some science fiction films for decompression purposes!

    Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" (France)
    Wanuri Kahiu "Pumzi" (Kenya)
    Rene Laloux "Fantastic Planet" (France)
    Andrei Tarkovsky "Stalker" (Russia)
    Konstantin Lopushansky "Dead Man's Letters" (Russia)
    Charlie Deaux "Zoetrope" (United States)
    Chris Marker "La Jetee" (France)
    Jindrich Polak "Ikarie XB-1" (Czechoslovakia)
    Anthony Lucas "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello" (Australia)
    Paul Campion "Eel Girl" (New Zealand / United Kingdom)

    Some of these are very short (5 mins) and the longest would be "Stalker" at nearly 3 hours in length.

    I am still searching for David Blair's "WAX: or the Discovery of Television among the Bees" which I have seen twice back in the 1990s and want to see again. I know the computer graphics will be very dated but it's just such a strange film!

  • Comment number 43.

    @ Nausika

    Can't remember whether this site allows links to be posted...

    Parent website:

    http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/wax/

    It's not got a very clear layout; the link to the film itself is here:

    http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/wax/english/1movie/1all/F/1/1a1a2a1.html

    (you use the arrow on the right at the end of each section to move on to the next)

  • Comment number 44.

    @ G: Why, thanks very much for that, that's wonderful! Yes I will try that link! And don't hyperventilate in the decompression chamber while watching the flix!

    @ theartteacher2: if you go to www.savetibet.org and search the term "reincarnation", you'll see an article dated 15 August 2007. Click on that and you'll get the whole article plus the State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No 5 which details the procedures to be followed by reincarnating Tibetan monks. Government decrees don't get any more surreal than this!

  • Comment number 45.

    Coming from an ex-Communist country that saw one revolution which was actually a coup d'etat, and nothing positive since, I couldn't help but admire (though smirk a bit at) the discourse of middle-class socialist students a la Paris '68. So this essay/collage was a bit of an eye-opener.

    The will to protest is very important. Where I'm from, you just can't rattle people, no matter how desperate they are they won't complain by taking it to the streets.

    Someone here mentioned Dmitry Orlov. Let's see. Nausika, was ithe article "Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century"? Lots of what he says there rings true.

    TV for 2 hours a day but nobody was watching anyway, only Soviet films in the cinema, but bootleg videos everywhere and a neighbourhood VCR did the trick, blackouts all the time, people growing their own vegetables and living together in crowded apartments, doing the least amount of work expected of you, mandatory employment unless you had extraordinary circumstances - but you know, and I was going to say in a strange way but perhaps it's not so strange, people had more free time, spent a lot of time outside, dare I say they were happier? People were forced to be creative back then because they had this whole system to subvert, it was exciting for the arts, especially in the 80's when censorship wasn't severe and you could get away with certain references. But you couldn't get away with free speech.

    So anyway, a revolution. Sorry, but I don't see it happening. Change will be thrust on us if peak oil arrives, everything collapses, etc etc, but meanwhile people want to be powerless (otherwise there'd be no governments). I see this all the time. We like to suffer, complain, and do nothing about it really. Another reason why I don't see this happening via revolution is because I've been translating some articles and call to arms type of thing from Occupy and that takes you really close to the effects of the text; these texts were positively shouting at me to wear some new uniform if you will, some new constraint of freedom... but maybe that was just my own feeling.

  • Comment number 46.

    @ postcronicita: I have a copy of that article you mention but the one I referred to is at this link if you want to look: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/23259. You might also like to read Esteban Morales's "Lessons from Argentina's Economic Collapse" to see how people in Argentina coped in the early years of the 21st century.

  • Comment number 47.

    Nausika, I always want to look, that's the problem! Thanks for the link, and the book is in my goodreads queue. Do you have a blog? I'd like to read it seeing as you always leave some good ideas and a trail of links like nice ripe fruit in your wake.

  • Comment number 48.

    I added Dream, Baby, Dream by Suicide into the media mix as I read this.

  • Comment number 49.

    Couple of links that people might like

    I like this. It tragically doesn't have fairies who look like Pauline Boty as part of the plan. But apart from that I think it's pretty good.

    http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/great-transition

    And also, for those who haven't seen this yet there's a little a bit by AC about the US season on BBC4. There's links to the programs, I checked out the MLK interview which is brill because it has MLK in it. And there's a program called California 2000 or something - it's full of gold. Check them out.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/collections/p00lk1tt/introduction

  • Comment number 50.

    @ postcronicita: Hi, thanks for the compliment! I only have a film review blog at http://undersoutherneyes.edpinsent.com/ which you're welcome to look at. Choose whatever category or tag you're interested in and go from there. You'll see my interests are, uh, not quite mainstream! I have no other blogs.

    @ theartteacher2: I liked the first link and downloaded it for free. Thanks very much for putting that up! And thanks also for the second link.

  • Comment number 51.

    Fascinating, but at the same time it makes you feel like going "oh whatever". We're all just tribal animals, nothing's going to be perfect, this is the way of the world. Unfair wealth distribution? 80/20 rule. Class systems? Tribal apes. The kids are rioting? Mob behaviour and bog standard youth culture. Time to get over the fact that we're animals and just live out the rest of our insignificant life on this speck of dust of a planet. We're just humans.

  • Comment number 52.

    While this is a rather good dissection of the failure of 60s leftists, I feel like to claim the Occupy movement has no specific dreams is a bit unfair.

    Early on at least, they did have a specific list of demands on Facebook (things like ending Corporate person-hood, free college etc.) and the influence of people like Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert (who do have specific visions for society) can't be ignored, they make up a large part of their libraries, especially the main People's Library in New York.

    The utopian visions of things like anarcho-syndicalism exemplified by anarchist Spain or the early Kibbutzim, I feel at least, are very present and very specific to Occupy, it's not just a bunch of people who think society will spontaneously re-organize itself without specifics in mind.

  • Comment number 53.

    @ theartteacher2: regarding the link with AC's blurb about the America season - I had to wrinkle my nose at the suggestion that over the last ten years the predominant attitude of the BBC towards America has been dark and skeptical. Maybe in comparison with some other period, yeah, but take a look at the BBC's portrayal of America in comparison with the kind of coverage The Evil Empire gets in non-allied countries where the effects of America's manipulations are felt more painfully. And the view that America is warring in the Middle East for cynical and self-serving reasons is still not offered by the BBC as a probable truth, only as a marginal conspiracy-theory. It looks into some of the details, like 'the dodgy dossier' but shrinks from any conclusions that might undermine confidence in the state itself - they'd rather pin it on some rogue, or on George Bush, or explain it as 'bad judgement'. While you sit eating your dinner in front of the telly you are never asked by the newsreader to consider whether we all might have thrown our lot in with hypocritical plunderers, war-criminals and mass-murderers. But isn't this the case? And what, we should just sigh phlegmatically and get on with it, knowing it's as good as it's ever going to get?

    I'm all for recognising America as a plurality of cultures, attitudes, good and bad, whatever - it's a Big Place, obviously - it's Complicated; it made some good music and HBO made some good telly programmes. But I think British news media have always pretended that the American political apparatus acts in good faith to spread democracy etc, when in fact they tirelessly oppose democracy even in their own country, and even more so in their many client states.

  • Comment number 54.

    @ theartteacher2: I read a good book several years ago: it's Morris Berman's "Dark Ages America: the Final Phases of Empire" which details those aspects of US culture and society that have put the United States on a trajectory of self-destruction. It's a gloomy read with a well-argued premise, bolstered by examples drawn from history, sociology, cultural studies and psychology. Berman's observations apply just as much to other countries of the Anglosphere: in Australia people sometimes joke that ours is the 51st state in the Union and after our Prime Minister's recent creepily gushy reception of President Obama and her agreement to have 2,500 US marines stationed near Darwin and for the US military to be able to conduct war games exercises without having to notify Canberra the nature of these exercises and what weapons or equipment might be used, we are edging just that little bit ahead of Stephen Harper's Canada and David Cameron's UK in the race to have the dubious honour bestowed on us. We are such good little children down here!

    There are also William Blum's "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" and "Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II". For another point of view and to see how far back in US history overseas adventures go, you should also read Saul Landau's "The guerrilla wars of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala". Pretty chilling to discover that the American political elites always had a soft sport in their hearts for Nicaragua since 1875 or thereabouts.

    There was a book by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryn Wyn Davies I read years ago that examines the role Hollywood plays in advancing the myth of a benevolent America. I can't remember if it was "Why do People hate America?" but it might very well be.

    And there's Daniel Lazare's excellent "The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy" which looks at how the US system of government with its precarious balance of checks among the three levels of government (Congress, the President and his Cabinet, the Supreme Court) and the US Constitution have stymied political and cultural development and progress in the country.

    And for examples of how Americans themselves are victimised by the government they're brought up to believe can do no wrong, James Bovard has written a number of books like "Attention Deficit Democracy" and "Freedom in Chains: the Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen". From memory, I think Bovard's books can be repetitive because they detail abuse upon abuse upon abuse. Bovard used to work for the Cato Institute%2

  • Comment number 55.

    Sorry the msg was cut off, here's the rest ...

    And for examples of how Americans themselves are victimised by the government they're brought up to believe can do no wrong, James Bovard has written a number of books like "Attention Deficit Democracy" and "Freedom in Chains: the Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen". From memory, I think Bovard's books can be repetitive because they detail abuse upon abuse upon abuse. Bovard used to work for the Cato Institute (may still do for all I know) and has a bad opinion of past US Presidents like Franklin D Roosevelt for various reasons too complicated to go into here.

    Yep I do leave some nice ripe fruit around the joint here. Can't tell you where my little tree of golden apples comes from, that's my secret.

  • Comment number 56.

    I have come across some very heart-warming news just now. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal has been hearing war crimes charges of Crimes Against Peace against former US President George W Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has delivered its verdict that both are guilty of Crimes Against Peace and in violating international law in invading Iraq.

    Lawyers and human rights activists have praised the decision and have said they will lobby the International Court of Crimes to charge B and B for war crimes.

    Not that this will make much difference to Bush and Blair themselves in the immediate short-term other than the fact that they will avoid visiting Malaysia and maybe a few other countries whose governments agree with the verdict.

    The KT tribunal will hold a separate hearing in 2012 on charges of torture linked to the Iraq war against former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former US Vice President (and reptile in human disguise) Dick Cheney.

    Give the tribunal time and hopefully we shall see Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy arraigned on war crimes charges in invading Libya and polluting that country with depleted uranium and toxic chemicals, much of which will eventually blow over Europe in wind currents.

  • Comment number 57.

    Sorry I should have said " ... Lawyers and human rights activists IN MALAYSIA have praised the decision and have said they will lobby the International Court of Crimes to charge B and B for war crimes ..." Nausika, you're thinking too much ahead as usual.

  • Comment number 58.

    Can I ask the other commenters here whether they themselves gave up on imagining better worlds like the Phalanx?

    The world will come to be run by rational morality, or it will be destroyed, or it will become absolutely horrible. Whatever the odds, I don't see the point in being resigned about it.

  • Comment number 59.

    @ G: Well we are hyper-individualised children of a society that has stamped out most forms of collective and co-operative activity that don't conform to a profit-making template or paradigm that suits the so-called 1% and which leaves the rest of us out in the cold. We have been trained since childhood to consider our societies the best in the world or at least the best of a bad lot of societies. We live in an eternal present in which history and the teaching of history are either considered irrelevant or at best secondary to subjects that are short-cuts to a life of high income, material luxury or instant fame (or notoriety as the case may be). We accept whatever the government or mandated media institutions tell us and know of no other alternatives. Alternative ways of living or doing things are treated as so much exotica to be sampled when we are playing tourists.

    No need to wonder why, for example, most people in the United States or in Australia consistently vote for political parties whose agendas run counter to their (that is, the people's) interests. You and I know, for example, that about 50 million people in the US have no medical health insurance and if any one of them fell under a bus tomorrow and ended up in hospital with serious injuries, that person would be in danger of going bankrupt and would spend the rest of her/his life in dire poverty. Yet that same person might go to a polling booth at the next Presidential election and vote for a party that proposes to wipe out Medicare or Medicaid altogether! We then ask that person, "Why did you vote for that party?" and the person might say, "I voted for that party because I believe we ought to be self-sufficient and not rely on government welfare! The party tells me so!"

    Duh! Never underestimate people's ability to hold two or more contradictory beliefs or delusions in their heads! And never underestimate the extent to which people turn into ostriches and stick their heads in the sand to the point of asphyxiation and beyond when you present something that conflicts with whatever narrative or paradigm runs in their heads.

    I cannot get over how many people believe Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was a tinpot despot in spite of information readily available on the Internet, often from sources you least expect to be sympathetic towards him, that his government over 42 years improved standards of education, made education free and compulsory for children up to the age of 15 years, provided basic health care and social benefits, eliminated malaria, provided workers' compensation, maximum work hours and minimum rest periods and subsidised utilities, petrol and food staples. I mention these achievements of the Gaddafi period to people I know and they get so ANGRY!

    I did see Elly's comment at 51 and asked myself if it was worth my while answering it and questioning each and every point made. Should we even strive for "perfection"? Are we merely tribal apes? Even apes have culture that varies from one group to another. Mob behaviour - what is that? Psychologists tell us that our behaviour is more influenced by situations and groups than we like to believe and our personalities are not as consistent as we think. Plus I think that the recent London riots had elements of flash mob behaviour and opportunism, and were not merely mindless. People raided stores that sold popular brands and ignored places selling other products. As for bog standard youth culture, if your perception of what passes for youth culture is limited to gangsta rap, X-Factor and the Kardashians, you're the one who watches too much TV, not the kids!

    And what is meant by "rational" morality? It was "rationality" or the idea that people and institutions can be assumed to be always cool, calm and collected when they play the stock market casino that contributed to the present precarious global financial situation. Yet we know that investors are prone to the herd mentality and the stock market tends over time to move further away from "equilibrium". What is meant by "destroyed"? It might not be a bad thing if Western society as we know it now is "destroyed". Death can be a transformative process that leads to a better society which venerates life, not the kind of twisted death-worshipping cult we are seeing in our serial-killer leaders. (I can just see Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy et al silently mouthing: "We can't help ourselves ... we have little voices in our heads telling us to kill, kill, kill ... PLEASE STOP US NOW BEFORE WE BOMB SYRIA AND IRAN!")

    I imagine the world can be a much better place but I think it will be through a process of death and transformation that this will come about. There are certain tendencies in our Western civilisation that must work themselves out into the open. We cannot suppress them or try to stop them else they will continue to threaten us and will come out eventually.

    And I've had a quick look at Fourier's phalanxes on Wikipedia just now and I'm not sure I like the look of them!

  • Comment number 60.

    @NausikaDalazBlindaz - But I'm a kid myself! I'm an 18 year old from upper edmonton in Enfield, one of the first places to see rioting, I am and always have been surrounded by the kind of people that rioted. I'm well acquainted with youth culture, and that's why I think it was the biggest factor, no politics or anything sophisticated involved in it at all.

    Well yes, spot on, flash mob behaviour, and we're influenced by groups and situations, we agree.

    I'm saying we don't need to strive for anything, let alone perfection. This is what we can come up with. You haven't said anything about the 80/20 rule, why?

    Yes, we are just tribal apes, with hierarchies and limbic systems. Essentially we're all just digestive tubes trying to reproduce, who think of themselves as higher beings because we've gotten a bit intelligent. We've got a long way to go before we evolve into anything but jumped up apes. But my point is we think we can get rid of tribal structures such as leaders, alpha males/females, the 80/20 rule of complex systems, that we're somehow better than that and have moved on, well we haven't. We need to get over ourselves, and all of this to me seems like romantic rubbish, from both the left and right.

  • Comment number 61.

    @ Elly: That was an excellent punchline about being a kid that you threw at me! Still laughing about it myself. I'll grant that you know about youth culture in your area and how it intersected with the rioting. In the news we got here in Sydney about the riots, the emphasis was all on the looters going for expensive brand-name stuff and the people who attacked and robbed the Malaysian student who got caught in the rioting.

    I am sure you are aware that the initial cause of the riots was the brutal police reaction against people protesting peacefully outside Tottenham police station over the gunshot death of Mark Duggan in police custody. The police conceded the protest was peaceful but they say the riots were started by kids attacking police cars. There have been reports though that the kids only started rioting when a young female protester was hit by a police baton.

    I've been watching a documentary on Youtube, "Once upon a Time in Norway", which investigates the history and agenda of the black metal music scene in Norway. Interesting to see that one player in the small BM scene centred in Oslo in the 1980s, the guitarist Euronymous, seemed obsessed with being the king-pin controlling the direction of the music and policing who could or could not join the scene. Initially he was friendly with another musician Varg Vikernes but once Vikernes started burning churches to get more attention and influence and other people followed suit in the hope of joining the scene and getting access to the "inner circle", Euronymous and Vikernes fell out and started fighting over small things like money. The scene was set for Vikernes's knife murder of Euronymous in 1993. The murder and the trial made headlines in Norway and overseas and Vikernes got the maximum 21 years in jail. He's been set free now and is keeping his head low.

    So yes, you have a particular youth culture scene where people police the cultural boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, where individuals engage in extreme behaviour like burning down churches or killing homosexual men to get attention or adulation from other people in the scene or because such behaviour is an expression of nihilist beliefs about humans and their place in the universe. The black metal agenda used to be very big on pseudo-Nietzschean ideas about being an elite set apart from the common herd and similar ideas either in watered-down form or blown into neo-Nazi ideology still circulate in the black metal subculture as it has spread across the world. I have recordings by black metal acts in China, South Korea and even Afghanistan / Pakista

  • Comment number 62.

    @ Elly (continued): So yes, you have a particular youth culture scene where people police the cultural boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, where individuals engage in extreme behaviour like burning down churches or killing homosexual men to get attention or adulation from other people in the scene or because such behaviour is an expression of nihilist beliefs about humans and their place in the universe. The black metal agenda used to be very big on pseudo-Nietzschean ideas about being an elite set apart from the common herd and similar ideas either in watered-down form or blown into neo-Nazi ideology still circulate in the black metal subculture as it has spread across the world. I have recordings by black metal acts in China, South Korea and even Afghanistan / Pakistan of all places as well as CDs from bands originating in the usual suspect places like Norway, France, Russia, Finland, the United States, Canada and Australia. The scene is weak in the UK but I have recordings by a couple of good UK acts (Caina and Fen).

    Black metal is usually strongly anti-Christian and against most organised monotheistic religions but there is a small Christian black metal scene in the United States and again I have a few Christian BM recordings (Flaskavsae / Light Shall Prevail, Njiqahdda).

    I like the music - I have always been drawn to heavy and violent music - but I don't subscribe to the elitism and pro-Nationalist Socialist views of some of the bands I listen to.

    The one thing about "Once upon a Time ..." that I spotted was that the film didn't really address the issue of why a group of teenagers should feel so alienated from mainstream Scandinavian society which puts a lot of emphasis on egalitarianism and social welfare that they would create their own world of extreme aggressive music that attracts extreme behaviour drawing on native Scandinavian heritage and hidden aspects of Scandinavian history. My feeling is that even in egalitarian societies there's a mind-set that pulls people into line: if you're behind everyone else in income and status, you get pulled up to the same level with subsidies and social welfare, but if you get ahead of everyone, you're pulled back with extra tax and people start gossiping about you and try to trip you up. This phenomenon is called the Jante Law in Scandinavia and it's recognised in the Anglosphere as the tall poppy syndrome. The general rule is you're nothing special, you're no better than anyone else and you don't know anything more than anyone else does. Perhaps this is where black metal derives its elitism from: it's a

  • Comment number 63.

    @ Elly: Sorry Elly but the msg is taking so long to upload. I'll start the last sentence again:

    ... Perhaps this is where black metal derives its elitism from: it's a reaction to the strong pressure Scandinavian societies force on people to conform.

    I overlooked the 80/20 rule you mention, I've come across it before in a marketing context - you know, 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers - and it's usually applied so generally as to be useless. It's related to the idea that 90% of any music, film, TV show or literature genre (and BM is no different!) is full of crap and the remaining 10% might be worthy of consideration.

    Perhaps you can see there's nothing wrong with having hierarchies after all because we use them all the time to order things and relationships in networks in our lives all the time and to judge the value of such items so we can make the right choices and decisions. The problem comes when we don't question why we accept certain hierarchies and not others. Should we accept a situation where the 20% who own 80% of the resources won't allow the other 80% of society access to what they own? And who gives that 20% the right to decide that because they own 80% of resources, they should automatically be our rulers? I have no problem with hierarchies, systems, networks etc in themselves but there is a problem if we don't have the imagination to go beyond what we do have and to create better entities. Which in time will be superseded by others because over time as conditions change and our needs change, the systems and networks that worked perfectly before become irrelevant and don't work any more. We may always have tribalism and alpha types and inequalities, but we can have better ways of dealing with problems that arise.

  • Comment number 64.

    @Elly - have you ever been called a pessimist? Better to be a romantic optimist I reckon. No one expects perfection. The reason you think 'whatever' is because you think we're no better than animals and believe in 80/20 and other 'rules'. Drop those dead and false ideas, that's my advice. Then go and watch Adam's last doc.

    Brings me to think of something my mates told me about. I haven't watched it all yet, but there was a Derren Brown special to do with mob behaviour, The Experiment, where an anonymous audience choose what happens to some poor sod. From the description it sounds terrible, a bit of pseudo-science and Hobbesian propaganda. I think it alludes to certain movements, the London riots......did anyone see it?

  • Comment number 65.

    Regarding the Phalanx....the whole point I think is that it's so outrageous, in that it's so different to the way we live now, that it's somehow cleansing, as an idea. I remember feeling that when I first read about the idea of Basic Income, it was liberating. But the idea of a Phalanx is a step beyond that, because Basic Income, and the NEF document I linked to, are still in some sense limited you could argue.

    Why the Phanlanx is interesting to me also, is that I felt it was a change with what Curtis said in The Trap, in the sense of whether it is right to pursue the goal of changing people.

    The other interesting thing for me, is what you learn by comparing the dream world of the Phalanx with the dreamworlds that others have tried to create and Curtis has covered in his work. I think the big difference is they were built on narrow rationality, pseudo-science, acquring/maintaining power, fundamental structures.....immoveable ideology. Phalanxas are racy, and challenging, because they are based on the idea of love. It won't sound promising to some, but it is more rational and more reconcilable with what people are actually like than the values we have built the Western world upon.

  • Comment number 66.

    I don't know if I've written this before, but when you talk to people and ask whether they would do the job they do if they had a choice, it's interesting. A lot of people say they'd miss the people they work with. But apart from that everyone says they wouldn't. They're not maniacs, so I'm assume lots of people feel the same. There are thing that will always need to be done, of course, but what are the restrictions that stop us living in a society where more people can do things that are fulfilling and creative, rather than numbing and dispiriting? Such restrictions exist not out of fundamental necessity. I'm not talking about creating a perfect world, but escaping one that's so obviously flawed in many ways.

    And that's to say nothing of the people who'd do anything to have the limited choices we have in the West. But our prospects for changing their conditions, on a large scale, are limited by the state of our democracy and values.

  • Comment number 67.

    @ theartteacher2: Yes the idea of the Phalanx looks wonderful compared to other dreamworlds. I've had a bit of a look into Fourier's philosophy and am very attracted to the idea of making work into creative play, something deeply satisfying and pleasurable to all one's senses and well-being. So let's look at Fourier's phalanx and see if it will work for us.

    How would it work? Fourier's phalanx is a self-contained community of 1,620 people. Why that number? Fourier worked out that there are 810 different psychological types and if you multiply the type by two people (one male, one female), you get 1,620. Where F got his 810 psychological types from, I don't know but we could substitute other psychological types just as relevant as his. We could use Raymond Cattell's 16 Personality Factors model which is often used by businesses and universities or the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator assessment questionnaire which is based on Jungian psychology. I imagine most of us cruising these forums are familiar with the MBTI questionnaire. We can get up to about 1600 people based on MBTI if you got ten people (5 males, 5 females) of each psychological type (there are 16 in all).

    OK let's throw 1600 people into a Phalanx. They're assigned work based on their type preferences. (I'll overlook the fact that some people's preferred psychological types are different from what they really are. So there'll still be anomie.) Everyone works in teams that compete against one another in friendly competition for the good of society. Do I sniff a possible problem? We might get a situation where team members lose sight of what they're supposed to be doing and start focussing on loyalties to their teams. The social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted a series of experiments known as Robbers Cave Experiments in the 1950s using 12 year old boys in a summer camp format: the results show that in-groups and hierarchies form very quickly and to avoid a complete breakdown in society, you need over-arching goals that require the co-operation of all groups. In the Phalanx situation, you'll need over-arching goals and the plans to go with them: 5-year plans to improve the community's well-being as it were. Disaster recovery might be another but how many disasters can you have? How about uniting the community against a common enemy?

    Now what about what Fourier called "la Composite" which more or less encourages sexual liberation and tolerance for all sexual preferences that don't cause pain or involve force? How do we determine which sexual activities don't involve pain or force? We'll need referees, a system of courts perhaps, to adj

  • Comment number 68.

    @ theartteacher2: (continued) ... We'll need referees, a system of courts perhaps, to adjudicate in situations where it's one person's word against another. Rape won't disappear, children and teenagers could still be exploited for sex and either men or women could force the other sex into situations of sexual degradation and trafficking.

    Fourier believed that conventional family structures with their emphasis on patriarchy were damaging to people. The phalanx could bring up children in such a way that all adults in the set-up would be their parents. This kind of child-rearing has been done in Israeli kibbutzim which are about as close to Fourier-style phalanxes as we have come. What happens to such children as they grow up? Research done on kibbutz-raised children in the 1960s suggests they have difficulties forming strong emotional bonds such as falling in love and forming deep life-long friendships though they are good at having lots of friends and an active social life. They have no sexual interest in their peers within the community and end up leaving to find sexual partners: not a good long-term outlook for our Phalanx. Teenage girls in particular are conservative about expressing their sexuality and they cover up their bodies as much as possible. Bringing children up in common dormitories separated from their parents can invite bullying and sexual abuse: children of parents who work in more productive work teams prey on children of parents in less successful teams. If you do Google searches with keywords "kibbutz" and "rape", you'll be astounded at the results: nearly 2 million hits. Thinking about bringing up children Fourier-style, I realise we already have phalanxes for kids in our societies: they're private boarding schools for children of one sex (usually male). The ideological base for these institutions is different (English-style boarding schools are based on ancient Spartan ideas of turning boys into disciplined adult hoplite soldiers) but the results seem to end up the same.

    And what about "fairies"? Where do they come from? Does the phalanx supply its own or should phalanx members contract them from outside? What wil be the fairies' status within the phalanx? What will they actually do? Will they be like those people, mainly women, who work in host and hostess clubs in Japan and other east Asian countries? If they are not contracted from outside the phalanx, what would be their status in the phalanx and how would they and any children they have fend off unwanted attention from men, individually and in gangs?

    Let's bring technology to the rescue ... the "fairies" could be robots or t

  • Comment number 69.

    @ theartteacher2: (pant, pant) ... Let's bring technology to the rescue ... the "fairies" could be robots or they could be clones of real people or synthesised humans ... you know, "Bladerunner"-style replicants. Easy, we'll have work units in the phalanx making them, growing them and raising them. Um, yeah, make the fairies grow super-fast and give them a short life-cycle of about five years maximum: they've been created for one purpose only so you don't need to make them all that complicated. Stepford-wife types will do nicely.

    Hmm .. at this point Fourier's phalanx is looking just like another nightmare like all the others Curtis has covered in his documentaries.

    THE END!

  • Comment number 70.

    @ theartteacher2: I was never good at quantitative stuff ... in paragraph 2 in Comment 67, it should be that we can get up to 1600 people with 100 people (50 male, 50 female) from each psychological preference in the MBTI assessment questionnaire. There are four polarised functions of extraversion / introversion (note "extraversion" as used by the MBTI questionnaire), sensing / intuitive information-gathering, thinking / feeling evaluation and judging / perceiving with respect to life-style and combinations of these four functions give you 16 psychological preference types.

    Although in real life, certain preferences are more common than others. I have done the questionnaire myself and my preference type is one of the more rare ones. Must say though it is very nice being an intuitive thinking type ... I'm a high-flyer with my head in the clouds!

  • Comment number 71.

    @NausikaDalazBlindaz - I used the 80/20 rule to show you how these systems are more influenced more by the maths of complex systems than ideology. If you look into it there's a load of more precise and thought out maths on all this which can be applied to anything, social structures and systems of money are not exempt, and will never be.

    I wasn't saying that there was something 'wrong' with hierarchies, but that the current ones will always be here. We accept certain ones because we're humans, and this is how humans organize themselves, more or less. Yes we should accept that because that's how it is and always will be when dealing with the current species of human, this is how we behave. They have that right because together we've given it to them.

    The new systems and social structures that have been imagined which try to 'go beyond what we do have and to create better entities' ignore the fact these ideas will be applied to humans and not some sort of higher being who can operate as individuals and as part of groups which will not be influenced by instinctive human behaviour. Capitalism and other aspects of current social orders reflect human nature, and that's a cliché because there's truth in it. Any study in biology, psychology and mathematics (applied to evolution/groups/etc) will show you that. We've evolved to be like this, we still have limbic systems which dominate our thinking, we're not as sophisticated and objective as we think.

    Dealing with problems as they arise? Well that's just practicality, and will never get rid of the source, just suppress it.

    The problem with all of this imagining new ways of going beyond what we have is that the solutions thought up are romantic drivel which would work if only we weren't humans. It's like trying to fit a square into a circular hole, can't be done without modifying the square itself. What are you proposing? That we genetically engineer humans so that all these idealistic (but not necessarily perfect as you earlier assumed I meant) new societies don't fall to pieces or degenerate into typical human society? There you go, I'm using my imagination.

    The only solution: evolution.

    @theartteacher2 – Why do you reckon that? What's wrong with being a pessimist? “We're colliding with the sun” “don't be a pessimist”.

    We're better than animals are we? We ARE animals. The species homo sapiens, who have happened to develop intelligence for survival, but still rely on the instincts of yesteryear. Emotions, culture, they're all heavily influenced by the need to reproduce, survive, and live in social groups.

    Prove to me they're false and dead, and then I'll drop them. No point just giving me a statement.

    If you're referring to all watched over by machines of loving grace, I've seen it, and if anything it confirms my ideas of the futility of trying to order humans in a system that is naïve at best.

  • Comment number 72.

    @ Elly: I know you've read Comment 59 and most likely you have read Comments 67 - 70 in which I go through a thought experiment on how a community based on Fourier's phalanx concept might actually turn out. I mentioned some real life examples in Comments 67 - 70 so you can see people really did put that concept into practice in the Israeli kibbutz movement and reaped (and are still reaping) the consequences of that "experiment". In particular the kibbutz mindset in which people feel only abstract loyalty and are divorced from their emotions might have influenced the culture of the Israeli Defense Force and helped turn it into a sick psychopathic killing machine. So I hope you can see that I'm not unsympathetic to your views and that having a Pollyanna attitude to dealing with, let alone solving, problems in society can be an obstacle and a set-back.

    The sentence in Comment 63 reads " ... I have no problem with hierarchies, systems, networks etc in themselves but there is a problem if we don't have the imagination to go beyond what we do have and to create better entities ...". The word "entities" refers to the hierarchies, systems and networks, not to humans themselves. I go on to say these entities, that is, the structures themselves, will be superseded by others - not "replaced" - as people's needs and their environments change. That can include evolution in a strict biological sense; it could also be evolution in a cultural sense.

    Everyone assumes all Australian Aborigines were just hunters and gatherers but one group of Aborigines, the Gunditjmara, developed a culture based on large-scale eel farming in the Murray River area in southwest Victoria state. The manmade network of channels and weirs produced enough food to feed several thousand people and the Gunditjmara were able to develop another industry based on making possum-skin cloaks which they exported to other Aboriginal groups. Their society fell with the coming of white people because theirs was a society based on chiefs and when the leaders got creamed off, the whole cultural system collapsed and the eel farms and stone houses that the Gunditjmara built were abandoned. You might ask, why and how did the Gunditjmara latch onto the idea of intensive eel farming in the first place and why were they the only ones to adopt that kind of life?

    True, capitalism and other ideologies that order society reflect and arise from human nature but then you have to ask, why don't they agree on the nature of human beings and why do they come to different conclusions about society? Some ideologies emphasise the individual and indi

  • Comment number 73.

    @ Elly: Sorry the PC keeps on zoning out. Continued ...

    True, capitalism and other ideologies that order society reflect and arise from human nature but then you have to ask, why don't they agree on the nature of human beings and why do they come to different conclusions about society? Some ideologies emphasise the individual and individual competition and others emphasise the group and co-operation. Yet these belief systems all come from the same human genome. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common cultural and historical background but they've developed into very different belief and value systems: why is that? Even within the one belief system there can be conflicting positions. You have the Hindu religion which slots everyone into a niche at birth and won't allow any individual social mobility. Yet there are some groups and communities that have actually improved their position in the caste system by adopting different ways of life: they might have started out low in the overall caste hierarchy but by various means such as adding more elaborate customs relating to food and body hygiene to their life-style, controlling their women more strictly or going for jobs that allowed them to improve their social conditions, they have moved up the caste hierarchy. The thing is, the group does it, not the individual. This kind of social shift might not be common but it does happen.

    I'm not knocking the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) but it's often used in ways not originally intended or which reflect laziness in the people using them. An example might be where companies concentrate on servicing that 20% of their customer base because that generates the bulk of their sales and profits and neglect or patronise the other 80%. Would you say those companies should continue that strategy long-term? Would it be worth their while cultivating the other 80% in case they may be a source of future high profits? I'm sure in the UK you know of businesses that went bust because they specialised too much in one particular customer segment and ignored the rest. IBM is a good example of a company that ignored the sales and profit potential of personal computers back in the 1970s and got left behind by Apple and Microsoft.

    Similarly when you see that 20% of the population controls 80% of a country's assets and resources, don't assume that the 20% got to that level through hard work or using their skills, intelligence and cunning to sell or supply something of benefit or none to the other 80%. They might have got there by sheer luck of the draw: being rewarded with land perhaps as a result%

  • Comment number 74.

    @ Elly (cont) ... Similarly when you see that 20% of the population controls 80% of a country's assets and resources, don't assume that the 20% got to that level through hard work or using their skills, intelligence and cunning to sell or supply something of benefit or none to the other 80%. They might have got there by sheer luck of the draw: being rewarded with land perhaps as a result of a good deed done by a distant ancestor. Incidentally the 80/20 rule itself is based on the observation made by the Italian economist / philosopher Vilfredo Pareto back in the early 20th century that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of its population. That 20% might have obtained some of the land illegally or unethically but no-one thought to challenge them or question their right to it.

    You might be aware that Pareto also proposed a theory of social cycles in which stages of societal and civilisation development repeat themselves in a general way and power passes from one elite to the next and back again. People familiar with Chinese history might well subscribe to this idea: empires have risen over time, matured and died away in that country yet every empire China has had has been different in some way - some empires have welcomed foreigners and foreign ideas and others have slammed the door shut on any outside influences. So the idea of social cycles, while it sounds deterministic, allows for social change which might include progress, decay or stasis. Also in about 3,000 years of Chinese civilisation, the country never developed anything like democracy on its own and you have to ask why not. Yet Singapore and Taiwan which have majority Chinese populations have some kind of democracy and are wealthy countries.

    Finally that metaphor you mention about trying to fit a square into a circular hole: if the square doesn't fit, would you necessarily modify it? How about modifying the circle instead? Does the circle even have to be circular in the first place? You can still view humans as inflexible organisms subject to deterministic rules but you can also question hidden biases and agendas in particular situations or in the tools used to judge those situations.

  • Comment number 75.

    @Elly -

    If you say 'this is a rule' then the onus is really on you to prove it, not me to disprove it. But I'll ask this - do you know where this 'rule' comes from? And ask yourself if it really is a rule in some fundamental sense, or if it's a feature of certain, solely technical, types of systems.

    "if anything it confirms my ideas of the futility of trying to order humans in a system that is naïve at best." - I totally agree. How about we get rid of systems?

    Pessimism limits the possibility of real change that would make the world better. People who think pessimism is realism over-estimate their ability to understand the totality of the world, in my opinion.

    In some sense of course we are animals. But a lion is different from a shrew, right? And of course we're influenced by biological urges, like reproduction and survival. But I've just looked out my window and as far as I can see people aren't having sex or fighting in the street. Despite the fact I live in Essex.

    We have morality and we have complex communication and we have creativity and we have cricket. This makes us different to animals.

    It doesn't matter what we've developed intelligence for, it's what we actually use it for that counts. It's no good saying man is base and brutal, or perfect and distracted - man is what you make him. We do need to live in social groups, as you
    say. Last time I checked we weren't doing this so well. What's stopping us?

  • Comment number 76.

    @Elly (again)

    "Capitalism and other aspects of current social orders reflect human nature, and that's a cliché because there's truth in it. Any study in biology, psychology and mathematics (applied to evolution/groups/etc) will show you that."

    This is false. I take it you didn't enjoy Machines of Loving Grace too much? Late Capitalism doesn't really reflect any 'nature', never mind any idea of a fixed human nature. I'd ask you to look again, because what you have their is a fixed ideology based on understanding the world in a technical way. There are other ways to understand people and the world.

  • Comment number 77.

    @ Nausika - I'm not sure about the Phalanx idea, but I'm also not sure about your critique. I'll come back and justify this more, but I think you make some big jumps. The point about Kibbutzim and rape......I typed in 'Bob Carolgees' and 'Nuclear Fission' into Google earlier. I got 6 entries back.

    That seems generous.

  • Comment number 78.

    @ theartteacher2: I've done another Google search on "kibbutz" and "rape" this morning and this time I got 710,000 results. That's still heckuva lot!

    Kibbutzim generally were founded on utopian socialist principles though the details of these principles varied for each kibbutz. Fourierism was one of several such sets of principles that the kibbutzim followed. The influence of Charles Fourier's ideas on child-rearing extends more or less to the way children were brought up in kibbutzim in the 1950s - 1960s: Fourier suggested bringing up young children in communal creche-type arrangements until about kindergarten age and then immersing them in the life of the phalanx in ways or stages appropriate for their physical, psychological and spiritual development. Many kibbutzim followed similar ideas, often to an extreme in which not just children but also teenagers lived in communal arrangements, not always separated for gender, and such arrangements would have encouraged bullying and sexual predation.

    For the effects of kibbutzim on individuals and the kind of sexual predatory behaviour that went on in these institutions, read this:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/56694756/The-Kibbutz-Movement

    Of course not everyone who grew up in a communal child-rearing environment on a kibbutz was a victim or a predator or suffered emotional stunting but it is significant that nearly all kibbutzim had a problem with some form of sexual predation.

    Another problem with the kibbutzim, and this applies also to some short-lived 19th-century Fourierist phalanxes founded in the United States, is that they are not often run very well. There is a report in The Independent about rape in kibbutzim that mentions that 30% of people living on kibbutzim live in poverty. This does jibe with Charles Fourier's distaste for work or industrial specialisation. Many kibbutzim in their early days anyway discouraged work specialisation and forced people, whether they wanted to or not, to be generalist in their work tasks. As a result, few things including kibbutz administration, got done very well!

    It has to be borne in mind though that social conditions in Israel these days are very difficult and the percentage quoted is about the same as for Israeli society generally in spite of the huge amounts of US foreign aid (about US$13 billion last time I looked) given to Israel each year which I suspect goes towards military purchases and lining the pockets of the 18 - 20 families who make up Israel's "one percent".

    The ever-bountiful Wikipedia mentions Brooks Farm and the North American Phalanx as Fourierist utopias.

  • Comment number 79.

    I love this!

    Tired of constant streams of kids trick-or-treating every Halloween in your part of the world where Halloween is NOT a tradition? Fed up with smelly uni students in PJs camped out in the streets chanting "we are the 99%" every time you get out of the limo and try to enter your plush office building? Annoyed at protesting neighbours because you now want to plonk a proposed 30-storey mansion right in the middle of their low-rise slummy district after you paid off the council government to approve the development with suitcases filled with fake US$100 bills? Cheesed off by the cheeky sod who torpedoed Fourier's phalanx idea on this forum?

    Fret not! A solution is at hand! If you're interested, click on the link below and if you're not totally convinced, read the customer testimonials!

    http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Technology-56895-Stream-Pepper/dp/B0058EOAUE/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

  • Comment number 80.

    Rational morality is difficult to work out, and there have been cases when ostensibly rational and moral transformative projects - with varying degrees of earnestness - have resulted in absurd and hypocritical barbarism. But because it is difficult to work out, should we abandon it altogether as a vain hope? Does dismissing all such attempts as the fancies of inherently barbarous apes in any way resolve our problems? I find counsels of despair uninteresting except as symptoms of malaise. Individuals can improve, societies can improve, global civilisation can improve. Unfortunately self-improvement has such a bad track-record we've become a bit soured on the idea. Well, we have no other road than the one in front of us, sorry.

    You don't smash some sexual rival in the face with a bottle because, among other factors, rational morality intervenes: there is no reason this can't apply to the large-scale things in life, and it in fact does apply to them every day. Let's not be silly now - what we are talking about it difficult, not impossible - there's a difference.

  • Comment number 81.

    Ah, we have a problem in defining "rational". I studied economics so I am familiar with the concept of "rational" as acting only in one's self-interest with the maximum amount of available information at hand to make a decision coupled with the least amount of labour or other exertion (including the lightening of one's wallet). This definition derives from work done by Adam Smith and David Ricardo in the 18th century. The definition has little or nothing to do with ethics, social context, motivations and psychology and ties in very neatly with the confusion of the interests of financial markets with the interests of what we might call "real" economies (ie those economies concerned with the production and supply of goods and their associated services).

    I studied some political philosophy in an adult education course and can see how a lot of what I learned in economics is itself derived from Thomas Hobbes's writings about human nature and why humans need government. So "rationality" as I have understood it is based on a set of assumptions that presume another set of assumptions made over 300 years ago and which has never been questioned.

    Actually I'm the one who wasn't impressed by "All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace" for reasons similar to the ones that impressed Elly. Just click on my username in green to get all the posts I've put up on all the forums on Adam Curtis's blog and scroll down to see the relevant comment I make. My impression is that in each episode Curtis put up a premise and cherry-picked the evidence to support it. If you like my blather and want more punishment from it, you can read the critiques I make about the episodes on my film review blog. Once you get there (the blog site URL is at Comment 50 here or just go through my posts), just scroll down the left-hand side to the tags, click on "Documentaries" and then just scroll through all the boring essays. You'll need to turn a page as well.

    I admit to being no less guilty in cherry-picking my evidence to deflate the Fourier phalanx idea in Comments 67 - 70 and I do make some spectacular jumps in my thinking. I've always been the kind of person who does 2 + 2 and ends up with 222 while everyone else gets 4. Everyone, feel free to read those comments; just because they are addressed to someone in particular doesn't mean you're not allowed to read them.

    From what I know, the kibbutz project is winding down in Israel but mainly for economic / financial and ideological reasons. The mostly right-wing government seems uninterested in supporting it and is also dismantling the s

  • Comment number 82.

    Aack, cut myself off! ... The mostly right-wing government seems uninterested in supporting it and is also dismantling the social welfare set. But the rationale behind the kibbutzim still is valid and now that we know of the problems they had, we can still go ahead with similar communal projects as long as these have some mechanism of dealing with or preventing the problems that plagued the kibbutzim.

    I was talking to someone I met today at a half-day seminar given by futurist commentator Keith Suter at WEA Sydney and the guy and I agreed there will be a major transformative event in the next couple of years that could reorient the global order. I anticipated an invasion of Iran: that may very well lead to the disintegration of the United States as we know it. Personally I'm not unhappy about that prospect but I appreciate that if the US collapse leads to further political collapses in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, this will trigger a major existential crisis for us here in Australia who have always on a bigger Anglo-Saxon entity as a crutch.

  • Comment number 83.

    @NausikaDalazBlindaz - Well, I'm no expert but I assume the intensive eel farming evolved over time as a system, like all the others you find around the world, out of resourcefulness, what worked, and human nature. They might have been the only ones because of either a critical event in their society which didn't happen/hadn't happened yet in the other societies in Australia, or simply location and circumstances.

    Well the differences are just societies reacting to different environments and events, human societies are complex and adapt/evolve well, but that doesn't mean they're all that different, they all have the same baseline. None of them are idealistic, and they're all driven by the same things, one of these things, human nature, doesn't change, environments do, which leads to variations. And just because they're complex it doesn't mean they're built on rational ideas. So that's what I believe leads to different conclusions and priorities.

    Sure, I agree, not everyone at the top got there through intelligence or usefulness, that's not what I'm arguing, corruption etc are part of your typical human society too, and luck can be factored into a complex group like a society. It's natural, and there's no way to eliminate it.

    Again, the lack of development of democracy can be traced to environmental reasons, the playout of events.

    Well in that extremely simple model you can't change the circle, because that's the aim (an idealistic society), changing the circle would change the aim, and so it would still be a failure.

    Yeah you can do that, but how would that change anything or lead to a permanent, idealistic society? You can make it more efficient, less oppressive, more tolerant, introduce technology/medicine to enhance lives and make them longer, but you've essentially still got the same system with the same main problems, just a different version of it, a more efficient version.

    I don't think we should mistake the rise of technology and cultural changes as proof of potential for a society free of the problems which are caused by the workings of any complex system such as a society (which I'd love to show but I don't have a supercomputer at hand) and the fact that we have certain biological urges and predispositions which makes an idealistic society unfeasible. You can't change maths, but humans can evolve, so there's your path to the dreamworld (well not quite, we might evolve for the worst, and perhaps in the future technology instead of evolution can play a more major role with genetic engineering/nano-bots and whatnot, oh, and we're running out of space, and we might commit planetary suicide with all these nuclear weapons).

  • Comment number 84.

    @theartteacher2 - Apparently this rule comes from observation, and people believe that they've observed it in different systems. And not the only one, there's plenty of mathematics concerning complex systems, some specific to societies. If it's universal, as it seems to be, then it should be observed (and has been) in all systems, not just certain types.

    …what do you mean get rid of systems? Have no systems? How on Earth would that work, what are you suggesting? We need to order ourselves in a certain way, a system will naturally arise if you put some humans and some resources like food in a room, whether you want it to or not.

    Hmm, well if events pan out with any degree of luck and we make it through this period without destroying ourselves, I believe future species of human may have the chance of conquering the stars, and eventually the galaxies, becoming a 'type III' civilization, and may even live to see the end of the universe and escape to another one, how's that for optimism?

    But right now we're just apes on a floating speck of dust, all potential, and we might not even amount to anything.

    There are no people fighting or having sex because they are part of a society, and societal pressure means their brains understand that acting that way will lead to them not surviving. Stick the same people on an island (another cliché) and they will act like savages, and resort to the baseline hierarchies/society from scratch. You're not as rational and civilized as you think, you're more like an 'animal' than the rational higher beings we like to think of ourselves as. Even our culture is predominantly influenced by biological urges, fashion, art, music, sport: sex and survival. Mostly. We're getting there, but we're not quite there.

    All this talk of fighting and sex reminds me of Salsbury, a school in my area I was luckily not sent to. A friend of mine who went there told me she saw people in her year (13 year olds) regularly have sex in the corridors in between lessons, and I've heard stories from both her and others about the extreme and commonplace violence towards teachers and students, stabbings, assaults etc, many horror stories involving permanent severe injuries and of course extreme bullying. I think the school's an academy now.

    We have a weird sense of morality that's very stretchy and sometimes sinister, and creativity is promising, but it's not enough, no amount of creativity can lead to an idealistic society for this species of human. Well Cricket and other sports/games can be compared to any other ritual, show of strength, a bit more complex than two mountain goats locking horns or a pack of wolves hunting, but the principle's the same. We're not totally free of our animalistic side at all.

    I don't quite agree with man being what you make him, we're flexible, but not that flexible. There's no way of making a piece of paper into an elephant, or lead into gold (well you can with a nuclear reactor, but it's not profitable). I think we're living in social groups very well, I don't think there's a 'bad' way of living in them, just bad social groups, and I've already said in my opinion we're stuck with the ones we have.

    Oh no I enjoyed it, fun to watch with all the interesting bits of forgotten moments in history and links between them, although the main reason I watched them was because I'm part of group working on a film using cybernetic ideas, namely the ones in 'cybertext: perspectives on ergodic literature' – Espen J. Aarseth. Really? But isn't that the point of capitalism, that everyone's free to do what we want, and people have done what they wanted. Surely the only true way of understanding people and the world would be a scientific, technical way free from subjectivity?

  • Comment number 85.

    A key reason why the 60s 'counterculture' failed to dramatically change the world order is that its members - even very intelligent ones - became infatuated with rhetoric and disdained the hard boring work of researching, analysing and understanding the world. Sometimes romance is a flight from epistemic humility.

    Saying that Man is just a smart animal and therefore cannot change the world is just another rhetorical flourish; an unexamined sentiment of the age. Like many religious axioms it falls apart at the least direct scrutiny - prima facie - but sits stubbornly within a blind-spot in those who believe in and go on repeating it.

    I wonder what human action it would take to persuade these believers that humans can change and improve their world. Miracles? It's a world of cause-effect, we are limited creatures, the fruit takes time to ripen, of course. The world has changed a lot already and will go on changing - for better or worse who knows, but human ideas may well have a decisive influence. Human ideas may make the difference between environmental catastrophe and a new Enlightenment.

    So easy to scoff at these dreams and say 'oh everything dies in the end anyway' when you're snuggled up with your laptop.

  • Comment number 86.

    @ G: Well I think also in our Anglo-Saxon societies we have absorbed so much hyper-individualist American pop culture that we have forgotten how to co-operate work together. Negotiation and community action are now seen as something insular NIMBY crack-pots do. If you look at most TV and Hollywood movie narratives, they are all about lone individuals taking on a mass enemy and the simple plots and sub-plots (if there are any) converge in conflict from which there is only one winner. There is never any co-operation or negotiation or other resolution scenario in which everyone wins and no-one loses - and if there was such a scenario, it would be derided as "PC"! Add to that most computer games structured on a narrative of a lone player who goes through several levels picking off representatives of an enemy: these seem to be what attracts most young adults, teenagers and younger age groups.

    So it is no surprise that Elly sees young people behaving atrociously in his/her community and thinks they are representative of base human nature when it could just be that youngsters have an intuitive understanding of what Western culture and in particular Anglo-Saxon culture really values beneath the layers of refinement. So young people tend to gravitate to those activities and behaviour they unconsciously know or believe adults practise - because they have seen them on TV, at the cinema or on their PCs and laptops.

    If our cultures valued co-existence, co-operation, community and respect for self and others, then children and young people will adopt these values wholeheartedly. We would have much less conflict in homes and schools and any bullying or other violent behaviour that does occur in schools would be dealt with immediately by school authorities when parents bring it to their attention.

    We have a situation in my state (New South Wales in Australia) where ethics teaching has been proposed for primary schools and is presently being carried out in many if not most government schools. But the program is not secure because the usual suspects like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and Christian religious parties in State Parliament have complained about it and have taken steps to try to force it out. How can we expect children to believe in institutions that act against in their own self-interest and ignore the children's interest?

    When our societies lose faith in government, religion, the armed forces, police, teachers and other major institutions because they act only in their own self-interest (or are portrayed as acting in their own self-interest by for-profit media), it's no wonder people retreat into themselves and become vulnerable easy pickings for dreamworlds peddled by Hollywood and others.

    When you talk about Rational Morality, are you referring to morality that says anything is OK as long as you don't hurt anyone or are you referring to morality that states I should take care what I do, not do anything to excess and be mindful of the impact my actions have on my environment? Sounds a bit like a Buddhist point of view. I will have to look at some stuff I may have on Immanuel Kant as well.

  • Comment number 87.

    @ Elly: "Surely the only true way of understanding people and the world would be a scientific, technical way free from subjectivity?"

    The key expression here is "free from subjectivity": most models of understanding the world, however scientific, technical or mathematical they are, have underlying assumptions about the world and people that you need to be aware of. Sometimes you need to know who developed the model originally and in what context it was developed. Look at my comment 81 and comments to G where I query his definition of "rational" and you will see we have different views of what is "rational". It can be very difficult to know how value-neutral a model is and you may need someone from a different study discipline to check a model you want to use and point out any biases in it.

    Also if you have seen Episode 2 of "All Watched Over ...", you will know that model which assumes systems have an in-built equilibrium was arrived at by a botanist and a military general with completely different ideas about organising human society and rationales for doing so.

  • Comment number 88.

    I have just come home via one of my city's infrequent and very rowdy night-buses. As I arrived at the bus-stop I witnessed a cruel, ugly brawl beginning among a group of men across the road. They were really going all-out. At one point one of them, knowing he could not defend himself, was standing with his arms open repeating "help me... help me" as a man each side of him threw great looping haymakers into his head. At this point I was thinking that I might get hospitalised or killed if I intervened but that I might have no choice (morally, I mean). I looked around to gauge the sentiments of the other male onlookers nearby and saw that they (like the women) were grinning and chuckling with wry enjoyment, reminding me of the audience watching The Sex Olympics and The Live Life Show. The man fell to the ground and was going to be kicked around like a football but at that moment police rushed in and aggressively broke up the brawl.

    I can't remember a time when I felt more on the side of the police - I went home feeling that they should all have submachine-guns and a license to kill as standard. How can any good come from such debased beings? After all the fear and hate the larger of the two bloodied groups stuck around the area, talking excitedly and boasting as though they'd accomplished something epic. I imagine fights lend a kind of narrative structure and dramatic tension sorely lacking in a night of inane conversation and self-destructive binge-drinking.

    But really, I still maintain good can come of human beings.

    Nausika, by rational morality I don't think I mean anything complicated or specialised. I just mean applying reason to achieve the best outcome in terms of the wellbeing of conscious beings, like humans and to some extent animals.

    What we have had in some past cultures is largely non-rational, received notions of good and bad conduct that do not necessarily involve a serious assessment of wellbeing. A literate, scientific culture can make informed efforts to design our way of life to maximise wellbeing. This could be done badly, yes, but I think it could be done well too. Doesn't have to be anything stark or clinical about it.

  • Comment number 89.

    @ G: So if the local Ordnungspolizei hadn't turned up, you'd have tried to break up the fight?

    It would be better to pick the fights you have more than 50% chance of walking away from in one piece. You don't say how many people were involved.

    The attitude is a surprise. I would think rather than feel anger or disgust, it would be better to feel compassion for these people that they are so debased. Once upon a time they did have potential as children but for reasons particular to each of them, they were denied opportunities to develop that potential to become decent human beings.

    I've just come across the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit at http://www.actiononviolence.com/ - you may like to browse the website and see how the Scottish government is tackling gang violence, domestic violence and alcohol abuse among other problems. What you may find heartening is that police and social services are reaching out to gangs and encouraging them to change their group dynamics to control the behaviour of individual gang members. So redemption is possible with a compassionate and firm approach.

    This is where rational morality comes in: if you tried to break up a fight out of anger or because you feel you have to, that may not be moral - you would lose your life or health and if you have family, consider that their lives are going to be impacted adversely as well. The more moral action would be to acknowledge that even very degraded people may be worth saving, to reach out to them and find out what torments them, and work with them as partners to create a better life.

  • Comment number 90.

    Nausika, my intention was to be honest, not to present an idealised version of myself.

    Also, I am not wholly convinced that a 'perfect' person (which is hypothetical and absolutely not a thing that exists) would feel only compassion on witnessing, oh, about ten murderously violent morons surrounded by enthusiastic onlookers. You can't eliminate antipathy from human sentiment otherwise you simultaneously destroy appreciation and love. I distrust those religious gurus who grin at everyone and everything all the time. Even sweet, sanguine natures are revolted by the things they dislike - this is not the same as clearheadedly dismissing and condemning an individual completely and forever, which is not what I was doing with said morons; it was just a moment of shock and horror is all; I wanted to convey that I had a rare moment of insight into the minds of authoritarian rightwingers who think there is a section of society that is just scum, and that heavy-handed policing is a good thing.

    Surviving in that situation, had I intervened, would have been more about tact and persuasion than trying to physically fight anyone else's battles.

  • Comment number 91.

    @ G: I was commenting out of concern for your safety. I am glad to see that you would have just separated the groups if you had intervened.

    Perhaps my choice of terms like "compassion", "redemption" and "saving" was unfortunate. When I mentioned these terms, I did not have religion in mind. I am against organised religion and cult-like religions myself. I was pressured to join a fundamentalist Christian cult and a Scientology cult on separate occasions when I was young but I got away from those. When I mentioned "compassion", I was thinking in terms of treating people as human in spite of and because you believe they are scum. Which is what I can now see you would have done in the situation.

    I admit I get murderous fantasies too about people and situations and have to try to walk them off or do something constructive to get rid of the energy.

    As for that Scottish website, I was simply doing a Google search on whether there was anything about how to deal with fights and gang culture and that was one of the results I saw and I thought it was the best one.

  • Comment number 92.

    @Elly - Re: the 80/20 rule - It's been observed I'm sure. I think you might be ignoring what sits outside this rule, which contradicts. Look, this kind of certainty, and claims to objectivity, they can be traps. The world is more complicated than we can understand, and faced by this we trick ourselves. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try, and that we can't learn and understand great things, but you must understand our limits in terms of knowledge. The empirical method is fantastic for many things, but it's important to know 1. its limits and 2. the extent to which it is not, in the real world, a completely neutral methodology, because by saying the only thing that exists and we can know is that which can be measured by this method, you exclude the possibility of the existence of anything outside of this. It's like saying ice cream doesn't exist because you can't pick it up on a Geiger Counter.

  • Comment number 93.

    Likewise assertions about humans built on evolutionary axioms. You need to see that these are powerful ideas and ways of understanding the world, but they have limits in that they become dogmatic principles, that people don't question. It's nice to feel secure with certain knowledge or ideas. But don't kid yourself that it's an objective or absolute of final truth. The claims you make are ones than Darwin or Einstein would never have made. Believing we are "just apes on a floating speck of dust" is up to you, but you can't for one second present that as truth, and it's clearly limiting. Science and empiricism and logic, these all require faith as much as religion.

  • Comment number 94.

    It's quite false to suggest that people on a island would unquestionably resort to savagery. I remember reading Lord of the Flies at school. There's a line in it, 'Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart'. Ralph was wrong to weep, for that at least. Of course people are capable of great barbarism. But what are the conditions? What society did these children come from? In real life, what society, and what influences do those thugs that G describes come out of? When I say 'man is what you make him', I don't mean 'man is what he makes himself' by the way, that's a Nietzsche-type thing. I think there are natural innate aspects to man, very basic things, and basic biological imperatives that can be powerful. But that's it, it's not all pervading in music, fashion, sport, art as you suggest - that's just (strangely) comforting and simplifying.

  • Comment number 95.

    "Becoming a 'type III' civilization" is not my idea of optimism. How about everyone in the world living fulfilled and peaceful lives free of arbitrary authority? I do like the idea of building spaceships though, I'm up for that.

    I respect what you say about that school, but I find it a little hard to believe. Clearly we're not living in social groups 'pretty well' and in capitalism everyone is not 'free to do what we want'. There's this strand that runs through scientism relating to conservativism and authoritarianism, precision, objectivity (like we're capable of that).....I'm not a philosopher or social theorist, but we need to release ourselves from dogma (of which 'science' is now the dominant example), try to see what is really true as much as we can. I think others have articulated it better. The comments on here have been superb, fascinating, including those I disagree with.

 

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