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The Trap 2 The Lonely Robot [BBC]

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The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom is a BBC documentary series by English filmmaker Adam Curtis, well known for other documentaries including The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares. It began airing in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on 11 March 2007. The series consists of three one-hour programmes which explore the concept and definition of freedom, specifically, "how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom." The second episode reiterated many of the ideas of the first, but developed the theme that 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. People with standard mood fluctuations diagnosed themselves as abnormal. They then presented themselves at psychiatrist's offices, fulfilled the diagnostic criteria without offering personal histories, and were medicated. The alleged result was that vast numbers of Western people have had their behaviour and mentation modified by SSRI drugs without any strict medical necessity. 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. Other researchers were called upon to verify Chagnon's conclusions and arrived at totally opposed opinions. The suggestion was raised that the presence of a film crew and the handing out of machetes to some, but not all, tribesmen might have caused them to 'perform' as they did. While being questioned by Curtis, Chagnon was so annoyed by this suggestion that he terminated the interview and walked out of shot, protesting under his breath. A 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 the cold war. Curtis explains how, with the "robotic" description of mankind apparently validated by geneticists, the game theory systems gained even more hold over society's engineers. The programme describes how the Clinton administration gave in to market theorists in the US and how New Labour in the UK decided to measure everything it could, the better to improve it, introducing such artificial and unmeasurable targets. In a section called "The Death of Social Mobility", Curtis also describes how the theory of the free market was applied to education. In the UK, the introduction of school performance league tables was intended to give individual schools more power and autonomy, to enable them to compete for pupils, the theory being that this would motivate poorer performing schools to improve; it was an attempt to move away from the rigid state control that had offered little choice to parents while failing to improve education standards, and towards a culture of free choice and incentivisation, without going so far as to privatise the schools. Following publication of the school league tables, richer parents moved into the catchment areas of the best schools, causing house prices in those areas to rise dramatically—ensuring that poorer parents' children were left with the worst-performing schools. 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 one percent of earners (upper class) have quadrupled. Similarly, babies in poorer areas in the UK are twice as likely to die in their first year as children from prosperous areas. 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.



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