The Cove

Full Metal Jacket- Joker discusses Networking…

Louis CK: Everything is amazing yet no one is happy…

Interesting comedy commentary of our times. He discusses how we have everything yet no one is happy, everthing is taken for granted. Our dependence on technology has made us impatient and we forget how much we have evolved in the last generation…

Ayn Rand – Perspective 1959

The Trap: Part 1: What happened to our dream of Freedom?

In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought.
The programme traces the development of game theory with particular reference to the work of John Nash, who believed that all humans were inherently suspicious and selfish creatures that strategised constantly Curtis examines how game theory was used to create the USA’s nuclear strategy during the Cold War. Because no nuclear war occurred, it was believed that game theory had been correct in dictating the creation and maintenance of a massive American nuclear arsenal—because the USSR had not attacked America with its nuclear weapons, the supposed deterrent must have worked.

A separate strand in the documentary is the work of R.D. Laing, whose work in psychiatry led him to model familial interactions using game theory. His conclusion was that humans are inherently selfish, shrewd, and spontaneously generate strategems during everyday interactions.

The Trap: Part 2: The Lonely Robot

The second episode reiterated many of the ideas of the first, but developed the theme that the drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression were being used to normalise behaviour and make humans behave more predictably, like machines.

The Ax Fight—a famous anthropological study of the Yanomamo people of Venezuela by Tim Asch and Napoleon Chagnon—was re-examined and its strictly genetic-determinist interpretation called into question. This was not presented as a conspiracy theory, but as a logical (although unpredicted) outcome of market-driven self-diagnosis by checklist based on symptoms, but not actual causes, discussed in the previous programme.
Film of Richard Dawkins propounding his ultra-strict “selfish gene” analogy of life was shown, with the archive clips spanning two decades to emphasise how the severely reductionist ideas of programmed behaviour have been absorbed by mainstream culture. This brought Curtis back to the economic models of Hayek and the game theories of Cold War. Curtis explains how, with the “robotic” description of humankind apparently validated by geneticists, the game theory systems gained even more hold over society’s engineers.

In a section called “The Death of Social Mobility”, Curtis also describes how the theory of the free market was applied to education. This is just one aspect of a more rigidly stratified society, which Curtis identifies in the way in which the incomes of the poorest (working class) Americans have actually fallen in real terms since the 1970s, while the incomes of the average (middle class) have increased slightly and those of the highest earners (upper class) have quadrupled.

Curtis’s narration concludes with the observation that the game theory/free market model is now undergoing interrogation by economists who suspect a more irrational model of behaviour is appropriate and useful. In fact, in formal experiments the only people who behaved exactly according to the mathematical models created by game theory are economists themselves, and psychopaths.

The Trap: Part 3: We will force you to be free

The final programme focussed on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis briefly explained how negative liberty could be defined as freedom from coercion and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential. Tony Blair had read Berlin’s essays on the topic and wrote to him in the late 1990s, arguing that positive and negative liberty could be mutually compatible.

The programme began with a description of the Two Concepts of Liberty, reviewing Berlin’s opinion that, since it lacked coercion, negative liberty was the ‘safer’ of the two. Curtis then explained how many political groups who sought their vision of freedom ended up using violence to achieve it. Using violence, not simply as a means to achieve one’s goals, but also as an expression of freedom from Western bourgeois norms, was an idea developed by African revolutionary Frantz Fanon. He developed it from the Existentialist ideology of Jean-Paul Sartre, who argued that terrorism was a “terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others.”

Curtis also looked at the neo-conservative agenda of the 1980s. Like Sartre, they argued that violence would sometimes be necessary to achieve their goals, except they wished to spread what they described as democracy. Curtis quoted General Alexander Haig then US Secretary of State, as saying that “some things were worth fighting for”. However, Curtis argued, although the version of society espoused by the neo-conservatives made some concessions towards freedom, it did not offer true freedom.

In essence, the programme suggested that following the path of negative liberty to its logical conclusions, as governments have done in the West for the past 50 years, resulted in a society without meaning populated only by selfish automatons, and that there was some value in positive liberty in that it allowed people to strive to better themselves.

The closing minutes directly state that if western humans were ever to find their way out of the “trap” described in the series, they would have to realise that Isaiah Berlin was wrong and that not all attempts at creating positive liberty necessarily ended in coercion and tyranny.

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