Author Topic: The Trap  (Read 2087 times)


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The Trap
« on: March 22, 2007, 10:03:51 PM »

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything - Friedrich Nietzsche

In his new documentary “The Trap”, award winning film maker Adam Curtis explores the issues and contradictions that surrounds the idea of “freedom” in Britain and the West in general. While “The Trap” is not as good as his seminal documentary “The Century of the Self”, it is still thought provoking enough to be of interest. The interesting thing about the issues he explores in the documentary is that most of the ideas Obasanjo and his predecessors have been implementing in Nigeria is borrowed on “faith” directly from economic spin-offs of the “game theory”. In fact, most of us were driven out of Nigeria by the fallouts of those “structural adjustment” game theories of privatization and deregulation. The naïve devaluation of Naira, the incremental withdrawal of oil subsidy and the curtailing of public funding of healthcare, education and infrastructure played a crucial part in the way things panned out in Nigeria today. If you think about it, the devaluation of Naira did not only create the mania for foreign exchange, outward migration and the brain drain associated it, it also produced inflation, deflation, 419 and a different kind of armed robbery and government corruption.

The small details of privatization and deregulation diverted government funds to foreign debt servicing and this led to the collapse of everything from education, security to employment prospects. People started moving abroad in search of “greener pastures” and “better life” that their parent’s and grand parent’s generation sought only at home. Is it then any wonder that the “wetin you carry” mentality of today has its roots in these “structural assistance programmes” that began earlier on?  Joseph Stiglitz, the Economist and Nobel Laureates described this IMF and World Bank sponsored programmes as “Briberization”. Even though Obasanjo and later on Shagari began the “Austerity Measure” linked to briberization, Babangida’s government got everything into gear. This is why the outward migration of Nigerians for the specific purpose of earning foreign or “hard” currency began as early as 1985. The funny thing, as it is always the case, is that those who produced the economic doctrine the Nigerian Mr follow follow is following are now describing it as a “Trap”. Some BS talking rappers tell us not to blame the “player” that we should instead blame the “game”. However, the so called “player” is nothing but a docile body that serves as a “floppy disk” for the programme of the game or perhaps, as Adam Curtis will have it – The Trap.

Adam Curtis\' The Trap - A Synopsis - Part 1
Posted March 10th, 2007

by Davide Simonetti

This is a follow-up of Quarsan\'s post about Adam Curtis\' new documentary, \"The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom?\", the first part of which screens on BBC 2 this Sunday (March 11) at 21:00. I strongly urge readers of Blairwatch not to miss this series if possible as it is relevant to the topics we discuss. Adam Curtis has generously agreed to do an interview with us next week. In order to prepare for it, I managed to get the first two installments of this three part series and I was blown away by what I saw. I\'m posting a synopsis of the first two episodes here for those who will be unable to catch the program. This is the first part.

So, what is it about? Well, I\'d say it is about freedom and how the concept of freedom seems to have changed since the Cold War and how that change came about. As Britain and America go around the world \'liberating\' oppressed people, and as they try to \'liberate\' us from the old bureaucracies of the past, they replace what was there before with a strange kind of freedom which bears little resemblance to the freedom we knew before. This series examines how this came to happen and looks at the mechanisms behind this paradox which is, in effect, the losing of our freedom in the name of freedom, replacing it with a new form of social control which entraps us all.

The first part of the series goes back to the origins of this phenomenon and that is the paranoid environment of the Cold War. After World War II, the bureaucracies that existed to regulate unrestrained capitalism started to be challenged. The free-market economist Friedrich von Hayek (an inspiration for Thatcher) argued that the use of politics to plan society was more dangerous than capitalism and led to tyranny, using the Soviet Union as an example. He advocated a system where individuals followed their own self interest and government played little part. The Market was everything, what he called a \"self-directing automatic system\" where everyone persued their own gain and there was no room for altruism.

Hayek was largely ignored until scientists looking for ways to win the Cold War developed strategies based on \"Game Theory\", which was pioneered by the schizophrenic mathematician John Nash at the Rand corporation. Game Theory applied as military strategy kept a balance of power as the Soviet Union would not attack the USA out of fear and self-interest knowing that if they did, they too would be devastated. Game Theory, however, produced a dark vision of humanity where everyone was mistrustful of one another. John Nash demonstrated that it was possible to create stability through suspicion and self-interest in the whole of society rather than just Cold War strategy. Nash developed a game called \"Fuck You Buddy\" in which the only way to win was to betray your partners. By applying Game Theory to all forms of human interaction, he proved that a society based on mutual suspicion didn\'t necessarily lead to chaos, but he made the assumption that humans were naturally calculating and always seeking an advantage over their fellows and this led to an equilibrium. This system could only work if everyone behaved selfishly. As soon as people started co-operating together, instability ensued and this proved to be the case when the system was tested - participants co-operated with each other.

Nash\'s ideas were spread into the wider society when the psychiatrist R D Laing challenged conventional ideas of love and trust in his dealings with people suffering from schizophrenia. He observed that the medical staff in mental hospitals rarely spoke to the patients. As an experiment he selected twelve patients and spoke to them about their problems and encouraged them to speak also. They were soon well enough to leave the hospital but soon had to be re-admitted. This led Laing to think that their problems were caused by their environment, particularly in family life where power and control were exercised. He used Game Theory to examine this idea so the problems could be quantified using questionnaires, the answers to which were fed into a computer. He concluded that acts of love and kindness were actually weapons used to exert power and control - domination games as found in the outside world of international relations. he spread the idea that none of the state institutions of the post war world could be trusted and that public duty was an illusion which was, in fact, a means of mind control. The lack of trust spread as Britain\'s institutions were torn down in the name of freedom.

At this point some American right-wing economists inspired by Friedrich von Hayek, many of whom had also worked for the Rand Corporation, came onto scene. They set out to prove, using the science of Game Theory, that public duty which had under-pinned British public life for generations, was a sham and a corrupt hypocrisy, and their ideas were to start the process of the demolition of the old ideas of the British state. They also introduced to Britain the paranoid outlook of the Cold War strategies. The collapse of British government bureaucracies in the 1970s was blamed on the economy, but there was more to it than this. They seemed to have turned against the people they were supposed to serve. The group of American right-wing economists explained this by stating the philosophies based on the techniques of Game Theory - that everyone was strategising against each other in an effort to win some advantage. The idea of politicians working for the public good, they said, was a complete fantasy because it assumed that there were shared goals based on self-sacrifice and altruism when actually everyone was self-seeking. From this came the theory of \"Public Choice\" which was meant to destroy the idea of working for the public interest. They were led by Professor James Buchanan. Buchanan had a strong influence on Margaret Thatcher when she became leader of the Conservative party in 1975. When he came to London, he explained that the British institutions were full of self-serving bureaucrats rather than people working for the public good. Thatcher set out to attack these bureaucracies and at the same time the writer Sir Anthony Jay created a successful propaganda TV program to push the idea of public choice. It was called \"Yes Minister\".

Meanwhile, R D Laing went on to challenge the authority of the American psychiatric establishment with the aim of liberating people but instead what happened was a new form of control was developed using numbers. Laing said psychiatry was a fake science used to shore up a collapsing society and that madness was a label used to lock up those who wanted to break free. One of the psychologist who attended Laing\'s talks, David Rosenhan, devised an experiment that discredited the psychiatric establishment by showing that they locked up sane people and couldn\'t tell the difference between sane and insane. As a result of this a system was developed which just measured the surface behavior of people to remove human judgment. New categories were invented and new disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The diagnosis was done by computer. Studies were done on people and it was found with this system that more than 50 percent of Americans had some sort of mental disorder. An unforeseen consequence was that people started to self-diagnose themselves and ask their doctors for medication to make them \'normal\'. This led to a new form of control done by people themselves in order to conform.

When Thatcher came to Power in 1979, she espoused this philosophy of \'freedom\' but in order to exert some control she used similar systems based on numbers. She wanted to privatise as much of the state as possible, but realising that some institutions would have to remain in state control, she tried to change them by scrapping the idea of public duty and introducing a system of incentives based on self-interest - public choice. In 1986 she attacked the NHS. To do this she enlisted the help of Alain Enthoven, a nuclear strategist from the Rand Corporation who had devised mathematical models for nuclear war to incentivise the other side. He developed a technique called \"Systems Analysis\" which could be applied to any human organisation. Its aim was to remove any emotional and subjective baggage that could confuse the system and replace them with mathematically defined targets and incentives. He first used this idea in the 1960s to change the way the Pentagon was run under Robert McNamara. Patriotism was replaced by rational incentives and targets against the wishes of the military. However, when McNamara tried to run the Vietnam War this way, it was a disaster. Performance targets were met by killing civilians.

In the British NHS, Alain Enthoven employed the same system. He called it the \"Internal Market\". It mimicked the free market by introducing competition and incentives, opening the door for corruption. This created the self-interested kind of people John Nash envisaged in his Game Theory, only now in the NHS. As the Cold War ended, the paranoia that was prevalent in fighting it was now firmly rooted in our society.

Adam Curtis\' The Trap - A Synopsis - Part 2
Posted March 12th, 2007

by Davide Simonetti

This is a synopsis of the second part of Adam Curtis\' \"The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom?\" the synopsis of the first part is here. This episode shows how in the 1990s politicians from both the right and the left tried to extend an idea of freedom based on the freedom of the market to all other areas of society. This had never happened before and the basis of this new \'freedom\' was Game Theory, a system which reduced people to calculating, self-interested robots led by incentives rather than any idea of public duty. The result was the opposite of freedom; new forms of control, greater inequalities and the return of a rigid class structure based on wealth.

John Major, when he took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990, started looking for what his advisers called \"the vision thing\", new policies for his government. He announced that he was going to create a more equal and fairer society and to that end was going to reform the public services. He would do this by bashing the bureaucracies, providing \"choice\", setting performance targets and introducing competition and incentives. These were the ideas of James Buchanan who had been such an influence on Margaret Thatcher. Buchanan argued that politicians and bureaucrats were self-serving and that public duty was a myth - it was impossible for them to interpret and express the general will of the people. This was pure Game Theory which suggested that the collective peoples\' will was mathematically impossible as everyone was serving their own interests and strategising against their fellows. This was called the \"Impossibility Theorem\". Only the free market, not politics could decide what people really wanted. This was seen as the future - a market democracy where the unrestricted market took over much of the role of the politician and expressed the true will of the people.

When Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992, he promised to rescue the nation by reforming healthcare, extending welfare, investing in jobs and reducing the inequalities that occurred under President Reagan. However, just before his inauguration, Clinton was visited by Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve and Robert Rubin, the new economic adviser. They told Clinton that he would not be able to keep his promises by borrowing money which would lead to an economic disaster. Instead Clinton would have to cut spending and reduce programs. Clinton was also advised to leave it to the unrestricted markets to create wealth and see to peoples\' needs. Clinton agreed and in his first term he dismantled much of the welfare structure that had been in place since the 1930s as well as all his healthcare plans. He also cut regulations on businesses as he was requested to do.

The economy did indeed boom and at the start of his second term, Clinton announced the end of the vision of liberal politics - that the power of big government could change the world. The new vision was that anything that gave the public what it wanted was democratic and thus good. Big business took over from big government and greed was no longer seen as a bad thing. This was not, as big business claimed, a return to the 18th and 19th century \'Golden Age\' when Laissez-faire capitalism, not politics had ordered society. The political philosophers of that time had made a distinction between the self-interest of the market and other areas of social and political life - what Adam Smith called \"moral sentiments.\"

Freedom was now being redefined to mean nothing more than the ability of individuals to get whatever they wanted. This new simplified concept of the individual as a rational, calculating, self-interested machine that can be analyzed by numbers as assumed by Game Theorists to make their models work, was now seen as proven. Everything humans did and felt had been programmed into us by our genes and all our actions were the result of rational calculations by that genetic programme. This idea was developed by geneticists in the 1970s studying animals, shifted their perception to look at behaviour from the gene\'s point of view. They saw the animals as machines being used by the genes to survive and replicate themselves. This was another application of Game Theory applied to genes. The anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon set out to prove this gene theory by studying the warfare of the Yanomamo people who he filmed and questioned. He found that among these people there were closer genetic links between the people fighting together than those who were attacked. So humans were now seen as machines, politically, economically and biologically.

This machine model of humans led to a new idea on how to change society. Now psychiatrists and drug companies had a role to play in adjusting these machines. This became new form of control as people took the new drug, Prozac (SSRIs) to relieve their anxieties and conform to an idea of \'normality\'. Some psychiatrists began to wonder if people were being conditioned to fit into parameters of a static model of what they \'should\' be, defined by checklists - checklists that only accounted for observable symptoms, not any understanding of the patient\'s life. Dr Robert Spitzer wondered if many people were being misdiagnosed, with normal feelings of happiness, sadness, loneliness being treated as a mental disorder. A new system of management was emerging with drugs taking away difficult feelings making individuals happier but also simpler beings, easier to manage and more like the machines they were assumed to be under Game Theory - more efficient but less human.

When politicians started using this machine model, the result was a more rigid society rather than a more free one. When New Labour came to power in 1997 Tony Blair promised a society free of the arrogance and prejudices of the old elites who dominated the class system. New Labour was modelled on the Clinton Democrats and when they came to power they did exactly as Clinton did, giving power away to the banks and the markets - Gordon Brown\'s first act was to let the Bank of England dictate interest rates. New Labour also used the mathematical systems brought in by John Major and expanded them on an unprecedented scale believing that humans actually behaved in this simplified way suggested by the models. Performance targets and incentives were set for everything and everyone, including cabinet ministers. The Treasury under Gordon Brown started creating a vast mathematical system and started putting numerical values to things people had thought impossible to measure previously - hunger in sub Saharan Africa to be reduced to below 48 percent, world conflict to be reduced by six percent. All towns and villages in Britain were to be measured for a \"community vibrancy index\". Even the amount of birdsong there should be in the countryside was quantified.

The idea behind the mathematical system was to liberate public servants from old forms of bureaucratic control and workers were free to meet their targets anyway they wanted. However, New Labour soon discovered that people were more complicated and devious than their simple models allowed. Public servants began to find ingenious ways of meeting their targets. In the NHS, hospital managers used a variety of tricks. When ordered to cut waiting lists, they got consultants to do the easiest operations first meaning that complicated conditions like cancers were no longer prioritised. In one hospital patients were phoned up and asked when they were taking their holidays and the operations were then scheduled for the time they\'d be away. In casualty departments a new role was invented - a \"hello nurse\" who did nothing except greet the patient so it could be recorded that the patient had been \'seen\'. In order to meet the targets for a reduction of patients waiting on trolleys, managers simply removed the wheels and reclassified them as beds. Similarly corridors were reclassified as wards. In the police force, a trick to reduce the rate of recorded crime, was to reclassify numerous serious crimes as \"suspicious occurrences\" which wouldn\'t be recorded in the figures. Despite government attempts to dismiss these stories as anomalies, there were so many of them that it became apparent that this sort of behaviour was endemic in the public services.

The government responded by introducing even more mathematical levels of management. Complex auditing systems were used to monitor public servants meeting their targets in the correct way which meant even more control was exerted over them. A more rigid and stratified society was being created. In education, the government wanted to introduce league tables for schools so parents could see which schools were the best and which the worst. The idea was to provide an incentive for less successful schools to compete and improve thus raising standards across the country. The opposite happened. Rich parents moved into the areas which had the best schools. This forced up house prices and squeezed poorer families out. Schools taught pupils only the narrow facts needed to pass exams instead of giving them a fuller education in order to rise up the league tables. Because of this, children had a less of a chance of rising up in society. A series of reports in 2006 showed that there was a clear link between New Labour\'s education policy and the rise of social segregation. Social Mobility in Britain has now ground to a halt and the country is more rigid and stratified than at any time since the Second World War. At the same time the inequalities in society have become more extreme. Britain under New Labour is now even more unequal than it was under Margaret Thatcher with more and more wealth going to the tiny one percent at the top. Since 1997 differences in life expectancy and also in child mortality in different regions have increased too.

In America throughout the 1990s the economic model of democracy was leading not just to a rise in inequality, but also to financial and political corruption on a huge scale. The numbers behind the economic boom of the Clinton Presidency were not telling the truth - the giant accounting firms had become corrupted as they found new methods to make their figures look good, some of them were questionable and others fraudulent. This corruption was widespread. By faking profits on a huge scale, personal bonuses would be increased. Attempts to stop this corruption failed because of the huge donations of millions of dollars in campaign contributions given by the fraudulent corporations and accounting firms.

The Clinton administration portrayed the boom as a revolutionary success despite the growing evidence of corruption. This \"democracy of the marketplace\" was spun to make it look like all levels of society were benefiting, but this was completely false. Those at the bottom of society saw their income actually fall between the 1970s and 1990s. People in the middle saw a slight increase, while those at the top received massive increases.

Because politicians had given so much power away, they were unable to put thing right once they had become weakened and corrupted. Millions of people had no representation and even less control over their lives. There was less job security in this market system so people lost out both through politics and the market.

Now questions were being asked in scientific circles as to whether too simple a picture of human beings was being portrayed by the mathematical models used in this new system. In genetics the idea that DNA is the all-controlling set of instructions for life has been replaced by a more complex model. Science has shown that the cell actually chooses and edits which parts of the DNA to use depending on the environmental forces acting on it. And the research done by Napoleon Chagnon into the Yanomamo people has also been questioned. It seems that the presence of an anthropologist and film crew may have affected the behaviour of the tribes and they were fighting for the gifts of machetes that were offered. Even John Nash has now expressed some doubts about his model of simplistic selfish individuals now that he has recovered from his schizophrenia. The idea of the free market as an efficient system is coming under attack and new research is showing that markets do not create stability or order. Politics has been shown to have a powerful role to play in control of the markets. The New discipline of behavioral economics has been studying to see if people really do behave as the simplified model suggests. Their studies show that only two groups in society actually behave in a rational self-interested way in all experimental situations. One is economists themselves, and the other is psychopaths.