Forever Under Construction

The Trap

Posted in History, Politics, Society by homeyra on June 1, 2009


The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom is a 2007 BBC documentary series by English filmmaker Adam Curtis. (See his blog here)
Part 1: F*k You Buddy
Part 2: The Lonely Robot
Part 3: “We Will Force You To Be Free”

An excerpt from Part 1:

[…] “In 1979 Mrs. Thatcher has come to power in Britain. What she promised to create is a society based on the dream of individual freedom. People would be liberated from the arrogant elites and the State bureaucrats (…)*. But Mrs. Thatcher new she would have to find a new way of managing and controlling (…) in a complex society in order to avoid chaos. And to do this, just like the psychiatrists in America, she would turn to systems based on the objective power of numbers. But underlying the new mathematical models would yet again be the very dark and suspicious vision of human beings that the cold war strategists had assumed. This vision will now penetrate to the very heart of the British state.

Thatcher government began in the early ages by selling off many of the state owned interests. But it soon became clear that in the modern world there were large areas of the State which would have to remain under government control. Mrs. Thatcher was determined to free them too from the old forms of management.
To do this she would bring in a system no longer run by ideas of public duty, instead public servants would be encouraged by incentives to follow their self-interests.

buchC6It was all in keeping with the idea of the inventors of Public Choice: James Buchanan.
He believed that those politicians and bureaucrats who preached the idea of public duty that were the most dangerous, what he called the zealots. They have to be got rid of them.
Buchanan: […] If our success depends on the goodness of politicians and bureaucrats, then we are in real problem.
It was a dark and pessimistic vision of human motivation, but it was about to become the bases for a new system for managing the British state.
In 1988 Mrs. Thatcher announced the complete reform of the way the national health service was run. The fundamental (…) was to overthrow the power of the medical establishment and replace it with a new efficient system of management. To do this Mrs. Thacher turned to a man who had been one of the nuclear strategist of Rand Corporation at the height of the Cold War. (Alain Enthoven)

enthoven[…] Enthoven developed a technique he called system analysis. It was a technique of management that he believed could be applied to any type of human organization. Its aim was to get rid of all the emotional and subjective values that confused and corrupted the system, and replace them by rational, objective methods, mathematically defined targets and incentives.
Enthoven had first tried to apply this system back in the 1960’s when he was still in the military. The secretary of defense Robert McNamara asked him to help transform the way Pentagon was run. Enthoven began to get rid of the idea that Patriotism should be the guiding force of America’s defense and replacing it with a rational system based on numbers.
What replaced patriotism and notions of duty, were mathematically measurable outcomes.
But McNamara’s experiments had ended in disaster when he had tried to run the Vietnam war with rational mathematical way through performance targets and incentive. The most infamous example has been the body count. It has been designed as a rational measure of whether America was winning the war, but in fact troupes simply made it up, even shot civilians to perform (…)* targets. […]

(…)*= inaudible


11 Responses

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  1. 99 said, on June 2, 2009 at 3:02 am

    In an effort to stay more closely attuned to you from this remove, I am downloading all three segments so that I can watch them on my video player from a comfortable chair tonight.

    I’m going to try my hardest not to let all the raging maniacs saying obscene things about the murder of Dr. Tiller get to me.

    I may even sip a little brandy or put my head in a bucket of ice.


  2. homeyra said, on June 2, 2009 at 7:09 am

    🙂 I really appreciate the gesture.
    Part 1 and 2 show a side of the rationals behind policies which was unknown to me.
    I was much less impressed by the third part.

  3. 99 said, on June 2, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Pack of lies from start to finish. Erase it from your beautiful mind. It has NEVER been about the maximization of liberty! It’s ALWAYS been about looting everyone’s resources and treasuries. Ledeen and his cronies don’t have an altruistic bone in even one of their bodies. IT’S ABOUT LOOTING. “Democracy” is just the word they use, the excuse that keeps people from preventing their atrocities.

    Yikes! And then he ends his shit documentary with the face of Putin as the evil reactionary! Putin has been resurrecting Russia from the death blow dealt to it by those “economic advisors” and protect the people from succumbing to it again.

    Oh! I’m going to have a fit! I’m going to go bury my head under my pillow before I pop!


  4. homeyra said, on June 2, 2009 at 8:11 am

    99 That was fast 🙂
    – The Democracy and Freedom argument, specially in the third episode was really odd. I saw the “Power of nightmares” longtime ago where, in my opinion, the author has a more realistic approach to contemporary events. Maybe in The Trap the author wanted to stick to the “Freedom” threat of the series to square the circle;)
    – The 2 first parts which explained the elaboration of scientific models, the psychiatric experiments (I think Naomi Klein), game theories, the rational behind the Cold War etc. – were very interesting.
    Fair to think that at least some did all that thinking they would help society.
    I have seen “the beautiful mind” but I didn’t know about Nash’s input in all that, nor about Buchanan views.

    I watch these at a “second degree”.

  5. 99 said, on June 2, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Yes. All these theories form the basis for how to go in and loot, and a bunch of the people involved pretend to themselves that these theories are what they are following, but they are implemented for the benefit of capitalism. Period.

    Nash added a brilliant bit of math to game theory that so impressed people they started using it on every sort of thing… to his shock. There is a terrifying reliance on math in the world. Without the crucial understanding that it really only proves out what we can think it gets used for a lot of stuff and ends up, after the damage is done, having to be thrown over for something less insufficient or less lethal. The people using the Nash’s game theory work to apply elsewhere, and Curtis did not stress this, failed to take into account that it was based on people rationally assessing their best moves within certain situations, within certain agreed upon parameters. This leaves out that many don’t understand situations the same as the others involved. This leaves out that once you have this grand theory of freedom worked out, and then plutocrats move in to apply it as their excuse for their intended looting, that they have CHANGED the parameters and so the game theory they say they are applying has been changed in such a way that it swaps out “freedom” for “massive suffering and death”.

    That is the problem I have with Naomi Klein’s thing, too. She see’s theory that either underlies the action or has arisen from the profit motive’s view of disaster. She sees the truism that makes these people act the way they do, but in a way, to a much lesser extent, she too gives the perps the out of being able to say they were trying to view tragedy as a way to make things better for society.

    Self interest will forever do anything, especially if it seems scientific, to get what it wants by what it can call righteous or virtuous means.

    This is not Nash’s fault. I actually wish so hard that he hadn’t lost all those years to schizophrenia. He really may have been able to crack some huge problems.

    I also am bugged that A Beautiful Mind made it look as though he’d beaten it using the meds. He did it without medication. He realized that it was his own mind doing it, so his own mind could fix it, and he set about it, and he succeeded. They say they had to throw in the stuff about the medications in the movie lest other schizophrenics believe it was okay to go off their meds and do a John Nash. I can see that, but it still fries me, because the TRUTH is he was 100% right in his assessment of the problem and outright heroic in carrying out his own cure. The other thing that was wrong with the movie was that his wife did NOT stick by him through it all. She booted him out, and left him on the streets for a long time, before she finally relented and let him live under the same roof again… not as husband and wife. So she really did both go above and beyond the call and fall short of it at the same time. The movie would have been quite a bit different if they’d stuck to the facts.

    The other thing I’d like to say about Nash’s game theory is that it doesn’t need to hold only for pure self interest. It shows, clunkily, that altruism is a higher form of self-interest, that if you set the rules everyone is playing by to altruistic ones, you come out with a formula that proves that it is the only form of selfishness that does not take away, doesn’t subtract from the whole to give to the individual.

    I think Curtis was trying to make up for the embarrassment to the establishment of The Power of Nightmares, put out some propaganda for the plutocrats, the oligarchs to get off the hot seat and be able to keep plying his trade. I agree that there was some interesting information in this one, but it was ruined by his treatment of it.

  6. 99 said, on June 2, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Ooops, didn’t proofread very well.

    …only proves out what we can think. It gets used for a lot of stuff… 😛

  7. homeyra said, on June 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I regret so much that they didn’t make a realistic movie on Nash! It would have been so much more interesting.
    “Altruism is a higher form of self-interest”, true 99, we’ll have to wait a while before pundits base policies on that notion.
    My impression after this movie was that with the pretext of lofty ideas and wonderful research facilities, ordinary people are treated like laboratory animals, and these pundits have no scruple to test whatever they fancy and all these impressive researches, theories and experiments end up in something inhuman and barbaric.

  8. 99 said, on June 3, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Well, I think that is about precisely correct, Homie, but just don’t forget to add in the part about greed so ingrained most people don’t even realize their own inhumanity and barbarity. They’re hypnotized by it. Stuff that on its face ought rightly to be identified immediately as completely wrong is not seen that way by people seeing everything through the lens of their own greed, and so used to seeing things that way that they don’t even understand that they aren’t seeing clearly… not CONSCIOUSLY. Consciously, they believe their own lies. Unconsciously, which they ARE responsible for, they know they are lying and doing horrible things for money.

  9. 99 said, on June 3, 2009 at 12:09 am

    I guess I ought to add that what is called the “unconscious” is as conscious as anything else we think. It just gets immediate passed over and forgotten or ignored in favor of the more pleasing explanation for our actions and feelings. It’s all right there all the time, and only takes the determination to stop and assess for what it is and resist choosing the more pleasing excuses dreamed up to account for the less virtuous motivations.

  10. homeyra said, on June 3, 2009 at 4:05 am

    You remind me of Arundhati when she says:
    “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
    Same thing within ourselves: the deliberately dismissed or the preferably ignored.

  11. 99 said, on June 4, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Wow! I’m getting in bed, pleased as punch I made someone think of Arundhati! OMG 😛

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