All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

13 posts / 0 new
Last post
Rosa Noir's picture
Rosa Noir
Offline
Joined: 11-05-11
May 28 2011 13:16
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Did anyone watch the first episode of the documentary series by Adam Curtis about how computing has influenced society (and capitalism).

I thought it was very interesting (setting out the links between Ayn Rand, Silicon Valley, New computing technology, Alan Greenspan, the IMF, Bill Clinton, Indonesia, China, and economic crisis), but had the basic flaw of mistaking computers for what they run - computers make things possible, but the results are due to the models designed by, and data put in by - humans.

I thought the footage of the mass game of pong was interesting (hinting at some of the more positive potential uses of cybernetics (ATR) being discussed in this thread. I also thought the quote about the commodification of interior thoughts online were prescient (which means i'm participating in my own commodification right now! eek )

Anyway, what does anyone else think?

Aflwydd
Offline
Joined: 22-05-11
May 28 2011 14:41

I don't think there's a 'mainstream' British journalist who exposes the structures of power in Western society with more clarity than Curtis. What he has been saying about the flaws of the 'internet' revolutions as seen in Ukraine and Georgia need to be taken on board by all revolutionary movements.

As Libertarian Communists do have a vision of a structured society after capitalism, the criticism doesn't apply to us as much, but it certainly is a criticism that can be levelled at the Arab spring. It's great to get on the streets and demand freedom, but without a plan to implement that freedom, nothing can change. As the Ukranian and Georgian revolutions show, the most authoritarian elements will always rise to the top if there isn't a prevailing vision.

Croy's picture
Croy
Offline
Joined: 26-05-11
May 28 2011 16:45

I did catch a little bit of this. I remember the bit about pong and disagreeing with the guy that was saying it was some like telepathic thing that was going on implying that it was all individuals making their own decisions and it working just by co incidence. I found this suggestion ridiculous, it was clearly the product of a collective, a team effort

Sidney Huffman
Offline
Joined: 13-06-07
May 28 2011 17:18

Yeah I thought that too, croydonian. you could hear people shouting to/with each other "green, green" "red, red" to move.

Great documentary, I have everything he's done and I never tire of watching it. Power of Nightmares was outstanding.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
May 29 2011 11:29

What I thought was interesting was its exposure of the new, technological revolution, the recomposition of capitalism based on internet technology. This was clearly shown to be another capitalist fraud.
There's a new internet bubble been building up for some time with today's prices being based on continuous and expected profits over the next two decades!

Aladinane's picture
Aladinane
Offline
Joined: 24-05-11
Jun 1 2011 00:36

just watched the second installment. Towards the end it seemed to be quite critical of the anarchist principle of self-organisation working without some kind of hierarchical structure eventually developing, and with it a culture of fear. I would be very interested to hear what you guys have to say to counter. Why did the communes all fail?

Sean68
Offline
Joined: 27-09-06
Jun 1 2011 10:59

unbelievable that not one person on this thread mentions the elephant in the room - the Tiger economies collapse, that Curtis describes, was only made possible because of the meaninglessness now of labour time as a measure of value -- hence the gigantic speculative bubbles that have been blowing up and collapsing ever since. This zombie dymanism illustrates just how far the economic system has moved since Marx's revolutionary insights of his epoch -- the expenditure of labour time as a measure of value has been superceded, and instead we have in place a fraudulent state capitalism -- whose pivot is the totalitarian Chinese economy, where the classical marxian notion of labour time as a measure of value production no longer operates. This delicate house of cards -where indentured Chinese slave labour keeps the system moving -- helps keep the rest of our 'civilisation' from collapse.

Sidney Huffman
Offline
Joined: 13-06-07
Jun 1 2011 13:21

just watched episode two and I am sorry to say it was a poor show from AC. hopefully he'll get his shit together for ep 3.

Aflwydd
Offline
Joined: 22-05-11
Jun 1 2011 15:02
Aladinane wrote:
just watched the second installment. Towards the end it seemed to be quite critical of the anarchist principle of self-organisation working without some kind of hierarchical structure eventually developing, and with it a culture of fear. I would be very interested to hear what you guys have to say to counter. Why did the communes all fail?

There were no checks and balances. The stronger personalities were able to bully others into submission and the others weren't allowed to form alliances to counter the power.

I would like to think that Curtis understands the difference between the self-organisation proposed by Libertarian Communists and the Communes of the early 1970s. Considering he taught politics at Britain's most prestigious university, you would assume that Anarchist ideas had come to his attention, and, to be fair, in the article he wrote for the Guardian a few days ago, he did seem to acknowledge that he wasn't dealing with the Anarchist idea of self-organisation.

Rosa Noir's picture
Rosa Noir
Offline
Joined: 11-05-11
Jun 5 2011 11:03

Aladinane wrote

Quote:
Why did the communes all fail?

Because you can't just drop out from capitalism or the system of (patriarchal, white supremacist/racist, ableist, etc) domination which intertwines it. Everyone is affected both in concrete terms and psychologically, so dysfunctional power dynamics will still play out in any commune (or any other organisation or network we create). Ways of dealing with this inevitability can be put in place - through formal methods of organisation or a more informal awareness of power dynamics, but this didn't seem to be present in the communes.

I found the tv programme and the article frustrating, because while Adam Curtis mentions that

Quote:
Of course some of the ideas come out of anarchist thought.

, he doesn't mention any actual examples of anarchist self-organisation, so it is hard to see exactly where he is coming from on this.
However, i do think he has hit on something.

The examples he gave from the 60s communes showed that problems were dealt with in house meetings where individuals spoke about their relationship with other individuals in the commune. No-one intervened if this got out of hand and more dominant personalities bullied other people (for fear of being seen as an alliance and therefore political). There was no collective problem solving or analysis of interpersonal matters, and no formal checks and balances. The commune residents saw themselves as rather atomised individuals and the commune as a system that with enough feedback (the house meetings) would self-regulate into something harmonious (and the system (ie the commune) itself was therefore beyond criticism). Their self-organisation was individualistic and rather passive. A more positive version of self-organisation would involve working collectively and actively to overcome interpersonal problems, and seeing the commune as an organisation that is both a reflection of the individuals involved but which also can be structurally changed if nessecary.

I get his point about the UK Uncut interview too - the interviewee was neither a true

Quote:
spokesperson for myself

- ie someone happy to express opinions making clear that they are speaking only for themselves, or a true

Quote:
spokesperson for UK Uncut

ie someone who had some sort of mandate to speak on certain matters, even if the mandate is very limited and comes from a mass meeting or temporary assembly rather than an formal organisation. By neither being able to speak as an individual or as part of a collective entity which has some sort of

Quote:
position on things.

you end up with a curious sort of lowest-common-denominator politics/anti-politics, where no-one ever publically expresses anything controversial for fear of alienating some other part of the network. And this relates to the "revolutions" he mentioned in the programme, in that even if this lowest-common-denominator action achieves its goals (ie overthrows a government) there ends up being no ideas articulated within the movement about what to put in its place, the movement is easily recuperated, and you end up with a system which pretty much resembles the one you have just overthrown. Not that there is necessarily something deeply wrong with UK Uncut or organising in networks, but we need to understand the limitations of this organisational form.

Aflwydd
Offline
Joined: 22-05-11
Jun 5 2011 11:59

You've put it better than I could. Great post.

There seems to be a mish mash of political views in the UK Uncut group. The problem is that certain members believe the group to be above ideology and because of that, they don't have much of an idea for a better society. Yes, there's socialist elements in the group, and green elements, and social democratic elements, and centrist elements. Even the Daily Mail is sympathetic to their cause. But how can real change come about if you don't tackle the structural problems in the capitalist system?

Asking the government to curb the cuts is a band aid on the real problem. I've talked to a few people involved in the demonstrations -- I even attended one myself -- and they understand this, but I don't think people truly believe they can topple the system we live under, or simply think that social democracy, based on the Scandinavian Model, is the best we can hope for.

Aflwydd
Offline
Joined: 22-05-11
Jun 6 2011 21:33

Seeing Dawkins worshipping tools like Monbot made to realise how stupid they are makes that episode the best work Curtis has produced. Really impressive.

Here's the fun tweets from Monbot:

Quote:
Watching Adam Curtis discussing my old lecturer #BillHamilton. Here I am, torn between Bill's mechanistic genetic determinism ....

... and my horror at the mechanistic economic determinism of those putting a price on nature. Confused or what?

Hamilton and Dawkins had more influence on my thinking than any others.

If Richard Dawkins influences your thinking that much, it's time to take yourself behind the bike shed, load that shotgun and say your prayers (or pray to your genes. Whatever Dawkinites do before death.)