Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Male violence, 'glass ceilings' and 'diversity' - let's talk about what really lurks within institutions of power

The shocking scenes of violence against protesting women at Clapham Common has generated welcome questions about the issue of male violence.    

There are, of course, multidimensional factors contributing to social violence, and the particular prevalence of male violence. 

Education is one vital way of speaking about it, in schools, within families, and in other public places.

We're asked to think about the many ways in which male-related violence has become 'normalised'. 

But where in this proposed dialogue is the encouragement to talk more particularly about the key institutions of state power and the cultures of violence they project?

State-harbouring violence

The state, as 'Leviathan', holds the supposed monopoly right to exercise violence. That constitutes, most notably, the military and the police. 

And it's within these institutions that male violence and abuse is not only deeply entrenched, but systematically concealed.  

The savage brutality against demonstrators in Bristol peacefully protesting the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is the latest disturbing illustration of the police's capacity for open violence and public deception.

As with the police, the military is riddled with every type of abusive and violent conduct. 

The many cases of military barrack bullying and suicides offer an immediate example of that festering culture.

But consider also the wider culture of militarism. Consider the record of invasion, killing and suffering inflicted on the world by British militarism alone. Then consider how such militarist violence, again most notably male, has been socialised and accepted as 'normal' practice through the generations. 

This suggests rather more challenging questions about how such institutions oversee violence, and those, including senior women, who help authorise it.   

The alleged killer of Sarah Everard was a serving officer of the Metropolitan Police. 

Why hasn't this prompted a more focused public conversation about the deeper culture of misogyny and violence within that organisation? 

And why hasn't it included closer scrutiny of the woman at the head of that force? 

Cressida Dick sits at the very apex of the Met, an institution harbouring, as we've seen, a propensity to violence in many disturbing forms. 

Despite a deeply-questionable report exonerating the Met, that culture of violence was on open display at Clapham Common. 

And it was directed by a woman at women there to oppose violence against women.  

Dick also oversaw Operation Kratos, the unlawful policing that led to the killing of John Charles de Menezes.

She is also on record as saying this about the type of 'anti-terror' models we need to emulate:  

"we can and we must continue to learn to avoid complacency, to fight terrorism with all our skills and power, and do so with the same virtues which have over the years been shown in Israel."

Those "virtues" which Dick supports presumably include Israeli forces gunning down defenceless Palestinian women and arresting terrified and traumatised children.

Is this the kind of leadership likely to foster greater understanding of how societies talk about and deal with violence?  

Home Secretary Priti Patel - another serial apologist for Israel's state violence - sits at the top of a government responsible for the institutional violence of that Met police force and much more besides. 

Supported by Cressida Dick, she is in the process of helping to push through a Police and Crime Bill that will render it even more difficult, if not impossible, for women, or almost anyone else, to demonstrate against the kind of brutality her government has imposed on society.

Her leading part in the Tories' latest legislative purge on asylum seekers and refugees is another key illustration of Patel's disturbing inhumanity

Again, is this any kind of 'role model' for women to follow?

Evolutionary shifts

Much debate has been engaged over the years now about the 'nature or/and nurture sides of how violent and abusive impulses arise. All of which puts into context the sheer scale of the question and problem of how to deal with it.

How can something as seemingly' innate' within people and 'endemic' across society ever be 'diagnosed', never mind 'stamped out'? 

Science can tell us much about the human capacity for violence. A vast literature now exists, across biology and genetics to socio-psychological studies of masculinity and gender, probing the complexities of male violence. It can offer varying indicators of what might give rise to a propensity for male violence, such as how testosterone can drive aggression.  

Neurobiology can show how violence is linked to brain dysfunction and the development of the prefrontal cortex. But this also depends on social experiences in building up the emotional structure within the brain, allowing for checks and self-control of aggression. Crucially, the witnessing of violence from childhood increases the likelihood of repeated violence.

Genetic factors, too, notably the absence of certain genetic components in men, can make them more predisposed to violence. 

But science still remains speculative as to how DNA in itself may determine any particular type of 'male behaviour'.

Men with the so-called ‘warrior gene’ are more likely to commit acts of violence. But that gene is most often only triggered into violent responses through socialisation processes. Again, happy, nurturing childhood experiences and development are likely to offset any such genetic abnormalities. 

Combined understanding of neuroscience, genetics and psychology can be applied as early intervention strategies, better socialising young, damaged people and averting violent type behaviours.

This all suggests the need for more 'nurture'-type questions about the kind of societal conditions giving rise to changes in human behaviour. 

In a landmark book, Professor of Genetics Steve Jones showed that not only is the outlook for the evolutionary relevance of the male 'Y' chromosome looking increasingly fragile, so is there a gathering decline in the economic and social 'status' of men. 

In charting how 'descending' changes in the male gene may be associated with evolutionary shifts in wider societal arrangements, he concludes: "We are in the midst of an ascent of women matched with an equivalent descent of men." (S. Jones, Y: The Descent of Men, Great Britain: Little, Brown, 2002, p 260.)

If still a minefield for debate, this suggests, following Jones, something of an evolving social context for thinking about violence, how it impacts across the sexes, and how we might more deeply address it.

Also, what we're seeing in the reaction to such violence is, in itself, an all too human, even evolutionary, effort to be released from it. And so, as a species thankfully still concerned with 'progressing' itself, we endeavour to talk about it. 

Protest is one such form of talking. But protest as a means to any bigger conversation requires much deeper dialogue about the kind of institutions - from corporate boardrooms to political offices, military organisations to police forces - that help incubate abuse and violence. 

That, in turn, requires closer inspection of the particular economic circumstances within which those institutions of violence are situated. If harsh neoliberal competition and self-survival is the order (or disorder) of the day, isn't that another key pointer to how institutions will come to shape human behaviours?

And isn't it also reasonable to expect that those same institutions will not only foster cultures of power and violence, but cultures of impunity in protecting the abusive and violent?

Continuing this line of thought, we can say that ultra-neoliberalism and corporate forces are shaping those very evolutionary changes in people, changes in which ideas of zero-sum individualism rather than human collectivism have become the 'norm'. 

If this is the crucible within which psychologies of power and violence evolve, humans, male and female, will come to negotiate their behaviours within that survival-of-the-fittest system. 

And as once exclusive male control over that realm of power diminishes, with all it's crises manifestations for 'male status', female 'access' increases, with all the new notions of 'entitlement' and 'power reversal' that shift entails. 

Women, of course, have long been subject to the greatest levels of oppression, brutality and violence. That's not only an historical constant, but one felt harshest by the poorest and most deprived sections of women. 

Yet we may still be seeing a much longer evolutionary change in how women are more effectively resisting and 'redressing' that subjugation. 

But is any such 'levelling-up' an advancement for one part of the species rather than a race to the bottom for the species at large?

If women are changing, adapting and 'asserting' themselves to 'fit' more 'equally' into that system of power, to what extent can that be deemed any kind of 'progression' for women or wider humanity? 

And, in turn, is increased and 'elevated' participation within that system of power providing a kind of greater 'evolutionary immunity' now for that once excluded part of the species?

Just as the 'right to deploy violence' seems to increase when a man puts on a uniform, are we to assume that similar inclinations to power and violence will not be so evident in the conduct of women inside the same uniforms?

It's notable, for example, how readily female conscripts to the Israeli army may just as easily kill or inflict violence on a Palestinian. The fixed remote-control guns running the length of the Gaza 'fence' - or "automated kill zone" (the violence of such language in itself) - imprisoning 2 million people, are 'manned' mainly by women soldiers in rooms using console screens to kill unarmed civilians. 

Diversity and attainment

There's an important point here linking not just the issue of how women in prominent positions of power, authority and influence act and speak, but about the very notion of 'glass ceilings' and 'diversity' as routes to power and acceptance of institutional violence.

Dame Cressida Dick's seeming 'answer' to correcting the crisis reputation of the Met is to enlist more black, ethnic and women police officers. All seemingly laudable. But does this deal with the actual problem of violence within or even beyond that force?   

NATO is the latest big power institution to announce its commitment to such ‘diversity and inclusion’. 

People from all walks of life are now apparently welcome to 'climb the ladder' to the highest ranks of this most 'venerable' killing machine. There's 'equality of opportunity' now not only to deliver bombs, but to deliver nice new 'diversity-approved' bombs on the world. All 'inclusive' "woke imperialism".  

Why are we encouraged to celebrate women or black people, or any 'person of diversity', in managing to 'break through' into male/white-powered worlds only to see them defend, repeat and project that very same power and violence?

The Royal Family, headed-up by that most 'celebrated' woman of all, is another key institution whose whole identity is synonymous with the business of militarist-imperialist violence. 

It's an effective agent for the arms industry: from Prince Charles dressing up in Arab sword-wielding garb to win Saudi approval for the British military hardware currently being used to bomb children in Yemen; to the now alleged 'sex-trafficker' Prince Andrew acting as a 'roving ambassador' for arms companies across the Middle East. 

And let's not forget that Prince Harry was not so long ago revelling in the use of such hardware, shooting brown people down from his gun-toting helicopter in Afghanistan.

Even as a now 'untitled' couple, one wonders whether Harry and Meghan, with their ongoing patronage of 'military causes' and 'diversity rights', would ever think to sit and converse with Oprah on those problems of violence and racism within the Royal Family. 

Indeed, would Oprah herself, in hosting them, ever have thought to use her own wealthy media platform to reflect on such racist military violence against so many 'people of colour' in 'distant' lands?

These kind of questions seem just as 'far-off' and 'other' to the conversations we're having just now over male violence. 

We view with rightful horror and sadness the tragedies happening on our own streets. But the kind of systematic violence being visited on lands elsewhere is, well, 'a different kind of thing'. 

Meanwhile, as the insanity of gun law feeds free-range killing on US streets, relentless alpha-militarism around the globe is reflected right back in the rampant gun-toting violence across American cities and towns. 

And, as the trial of the alleged killer of George Floyd proceeds, where do we even start in thinking about the pathology of violence deep within US police forces? 

Much is made of 'learned behaviour' in fostering childhood and longer human development. But what of the behaviour learned from the daily exposure to exhibitions of state and institutional violence?  

Breaking 'glass ceilings' 

One of the proposed 'correctives' or 'mitigations' to such violent social disorder and breakdown has been the promotion of 'strong' and 'more caring' political women. 

In running for president, Hillary Clinton was, thus, championed in particular by liberal women as 'strong' and 'caring', a 'model women leader' for others to follow.   

Yet, between running a murderous coup in Honduras and serving the macho-financiers of Wall Street, Clinton was launching mass murder on Libya and gloating over the brutal murder of Gaddafi. 

Again, is this the kind of 'strength' that in any way benefits women or humanity at large?

In a searing interview, #MeToo founder Rose McGowan has called the police violence at Clapham Common “unconscionable”, denouncing Cressida Dick for overseeing it, and condemning “victim shaming”. 

But she also goes on to make this much deeper allegation about many women in power:

"What I’ve noticed about women in power, and specifically…woman of a certain age that get to a certain power position, they play by the rule books for the men, and they double down on it, and they really don’t want to be seen as being soft on anything, or having anyone accuse them of being less hard…or less playing by the rules, the invisible rule book…women in power double down, and I often find them more dangerous." 

Concerning issues of diversity, she further asserts that it’s "not just about representation", and if you’re choosing people in jobs "just for the optics", whether in the media or any other key institutions, that's just the "status quo", not any real change.

But doesn't the 'elevation' of more apparently 'progressive-minded' women give impetus to greater diversity, the breaking of male hierarchies and better checks on power? 

In Scotland we have our very own 'model' case of the 'strong' woman and 'ceiling breaker' in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. 

She has just presided (a useful verb in this case) over a Hate Bill that can threaten women with prosecution over protesting against violations of their right to exclusively call themselves women. 

The legislation will also potentially criminalise their, and anyone else's, right to talk about such things even in their own homes. 

Whatever one's thoughts on women's or anyone else's rights, that's a disturbingly authoritarian assault on free speech.  

This is the same 'strong Nicola' who has long lauded 'strong Hillary'. 

Sturgeon has acknowledged arch-criminal Henry Kissinger and approved the equally 'strong' Madeleine Albright, who thought the deaths of half a million sanction-starved Iraqi children was "a price worth paying".

So it's unsurprising that, in the same 'spirit of internationalism' as her mentors, Sturgeon has declared that Scotland - if we ever actually see independence under her watch - will be a dutiful part of the same NATO/US-ordered military 'community'.

Again, it's quite remarkable how readily potential 'elevation' to 'the club', and so often the 'men's club', results in 'double down' deferral to its 'rules based order'. 

Of course, Sturgeon is no stranger to fraternising with people who have unleashed staggering levels of death, violence and destruction on the world.

In similar vein, behind all the caring presentation, Sturgeon's weakness in readily following 'superman' Boris Johnson's disastrous Westminster line on Covid-19 shows that she is no Jacinda Ardern.

The current political crisis within Sturgeon's government also shows how she and a 'club' of powerful women played with identity politics and weaponised #MeToo in protection of their own political and career interests.

And alongside Sturgeon, head civil servant Leslie Evans and powerful other women, powerful men within related party, government and state institutions have played an equally mendacious part in this sordid affair, illustrating the deep capacity of persons of all sexes to engage in corrupt conduct. 

With dark irony, Sturgeon sought to deflect her own cabal-like conduct by railing against Alex Salmond's supposed part in an "old boy's club." 

That hubris has been amplified by Sturgeon loyalists, male and female, deploying the 'don't attack women' line, a craven gaslighting countered most ably by astute female voices for justice and transparency. 

Uncomfortably for Sturgeon's avowed feminism, many SNP women are now finding better political voice and protection within the newly-formed Alba independence party, led by Salmond, including the SNP's elected women's convener.  

Any powerful woman, like any powerful man, should be held to account. So should the cynical use of any process supposedly constructed to protect women. 

Likewise, there should be no objection to fair and just representation of people from all walks of life. But nor should there be silence over how that case for diversity is being used as a political agenda, serving only to replicate institutional forms of power and abuse.

Protecting and advancing women in the name of humanity 

Again, there is no shortage of radically-minded and inspiring women able to see behind such posturing politics and power-play. 

Figures like Rania Khalek, Caitlin Johnstone, Sarah Abdallah and Clare Daly speak most eloquently about misogynistic violence and patriarchal discrimination, while showing how it connects to systemic issues of capitalism, class and militarism as institutionalised forms of control. 

Unsurprisingly, these kind of strong women and worthy female role models, serving the higher cause of humanity, receive no such 'celebrated' media platform.

Ultimately, all major social manifestations of violence come down to questions of power. The violent treatment of women. The violent treatment of black people. The violent treatment of Palestinians. The violent treatment of any section of society. From individual acts of violence on women to police acts of violence on women, from 'domestic' violence to state violence - all signify deep, problematic, even pathological, relationships of power. 

We should, indeed, speak out in protective concern about the particular issue of male violence against women. We can also converse, therein, about appropriate punitive or/and remedial responses. 

But the much more challenging task lies in our ability to address those questions against the social, economic and political institutions of power which serve to harbour and promote such violence. 

That kind of discussion takes us beyond any well-meaning but ultimately limiting discourse on violence, to look much more existentially at how as a species we learn to protect human beings, particularly our most exploited and abused sections of society.

That discussion has to be centred around an understanding of the actual violence of capitalism, and the pathology of violence lying deep within all institutions of authority.

It also requires much more assertive thought about the collective, compassionate and nurturing society, which sees ideas of parity and achievement not in terms of economic attainment, social 'elevation' or 'levelling' of the system, but as a fundamental exposure, rejection and replacement of the system. 

We are at a critical impasse. As with violence against the planet, the costs of violence and suffering inflicted by power on so much of humanity, whether through militarism or neoliberalism, cannot any longer just be accepted as 'collateral damage' or 'economic externalities'.     

The task of how we understand violence, how we deal with it, must be viewed within that much more systematic, probing and evolutionary frame.  


Monday, 15 March 2021

Adam Curtis's film is a BBC-branded 'showpiece' of posturing ideas and key evasions

Adam Curtis claims at the outset of his film Can't Get You Out Of My Head that:

"We are living through strange days. Across Britain, Europe and America, societies have become split and polarised, not just in politics but across the whole culture. There is anger at the inequality and at the ever growing corruption and a widespread distrust of the elites. But at the same time there is a paralysis, a sense that no one knows how to escape from this."

Curtis goes on to assert that there are no essential meanings to be found in conventional ideas, and if you try to look for them you will never find them.

Instead, we must look for "patterns" arising from seemingly coincidental events, thus allowing us some better notion of what may really be going on. 

In a BBC discussion of his film, Curtis repeats the claim that while there are 'many possible dystopian possibilities', there are 'no alternative progressive futures' to be seen.

A seemingly searching and bleak prognosis, capturing the apparent dark mood and widespread public disillusion. 

Yet beyond such hype, foreboding and 'sage' alerts, Curtis's film is really a patchwork of fanciful conjecture, selective evasion and patently false claims. 

He enunciates banal generalities as if they were the oracle of profundity: "These strange days did not just happen. We - and those in power - created them together."

While we should be attentive to the very real dynamics of social, political and economic change, there's nothing particularly strange about these days, or unusual about the way power treats the rest of humanity. There has always, in turn, been anger and resistance to such injustice, greed and inequality. And there most certainly are many realistic and viable alternatives to the systems of destruction, fear and anxiety we all live under. 

Jeremy Corbyn presented one such possibility. And even if not a revolutionary one, momentous and radical enough to scare an entire set of elite forces into emergency response. 

Even if we were to take all Curtis's tenuous assertions here at face value, why didn't he notice this potential future? 

And why didn't he see any similarity in how the forces of power moved to take down both Corbyn and Bernie Sanders?

Isn't there a vital 'pattern' to be identified and investigated here?

It's quite revealing that, in a proclaimed series about politics and what's been 'going on inside people's heads', when it comes to Britain, Blair gets discussed, Brexit gets discussed, Dominic Cummings even gets discussed, all reflecting major political moments and public feelings.  Yet there's not a single mention of Corbyn, most notably how in 2017 his agenda for change came so close to realisation. 

If Curtis is so curious about the 'politics of power and feelings', where's the exploration of what was happening at this crucial time? Why wasn't that alternative project considered worthy of inclusion? 

And where's the probing of how an entire public was bombarded by a vociferous establishment and media campaign, including by his own Labour party plotters, to smear and break Corbyn? 

Likewise in the US with Sanders, who faced the wrath of a whole corporate media, big business and the dark manoeuvrings of his own Democratic party. 

Why is Curtis missing this kind of 'pattern'?

Made man at the BBC

The answer, one suspects, lies in the type of establishment-approved films and 'investigations' the BBC is comfortable in commissioning. 

Isn't that another interesting 'pattern' to be picked apart here?

In the BBC interview, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo seem more ready to engage Curtis on the film's techniques and music rather than its sweeping claims and evasions. 

In a much more incisive review of the film, Christopher James Stone has this to say of such inversions:

"You could say that he uses this technique in order to smuggle radical ideas into the viewers’ heads, but I suspect it’s the other way around. He uses radical film techniques in order to smuggle entirely conventional ideas into the viewers’ head, while feigning a radical agenda."

And behind all this intriguing technique lies very little of actual substance. In effect, for Stone, it's:

"nonsensical argument displaying an essential nihilism. He has no explanation for why the world is as it is. He’s simply juxtaposing multiple storylines in a series of overlapping narratives that have no connection beyond the fact that Curtis has researched them."

This includes seriously evasive gaps in what really needs discussing.  Why, most notably, is there no contextual placing of neoliberalism in this film, from its Thatcherite/Reaganite seeds and omniscient rise to its now looming crisis of legitimacy?

In the BBC interview, Curtis also asserts that in this "age of the self", "what we feel inside us" is the "most important [and] truthful" thing, "rather than being told by old patrician people like the BBC what to think".

A seeming declaration here of Curtis's own 'modernity' and 'independent' thinking. 

Yet nowhere in his actual film do we find any serious examination of the BBC, past or present. And this includes key omissions on Britain as a leading imperialist player.

For example, in episode 5, Curtis lists a number of coups and destabilisations run by the CIA, notably in the Middle East, but makes no reference to Britain’s co-involvement. 

Yet, as historian Mark Curtis shows, citing declassified documents, the 1953 coup in Iran was actually instigated by MI6 and resourced by Britain, with the BBC itself giving the signal for it to commence. None of this is mentioned in the film.

One can but imagine such BBC space given over to Mark Curtis, a real, rigorous historian of Britain’s coup activities and dark global crimes, rather than the specious claims, selective omissions and disjointed history stories of his namesake. 

In a supposed series about power and thought control, nowhere - aside from a snippet comment on its defensive coverage of Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China - is the BBC probed as a leading purveyor of establishment and imperialist propaganda.  

Likewise, given how vital a part the BBC played in the distorting, smearing and removal of Corbyn, it's remarkable that Curtis has not a single word to say about its role in this dark chapter.

As these glaring omissions show, Curtis doesn't need to be told what to think or what to produce. He needs no such top-down instruction in how to avoid awkward thoughts or content likely to discomfort this key part of the establishment, patrician or otherwise. 

That’s all understood. You might even call it a pattern of conformity. And that's because Adam Curtis already is, longstanding, "a creature of the Beeb".

Indeed, Curtis's films can be seen as a kind of BBC 'brand', which they, and he, affect to sell as a precisely non-patrician product, painting Curtis and the BBC itself as 'modern, edgy, idea-provoking risk-takers'.

Such pretentious promotion and safe avoidance tells us more about real 'patterns' of power, containment of ideas and thought control than anything in Curtis's own contrived film. 

And Curtis's diligent deferral to these boundaries is why the BBC's patronage of him and his films is most likely to continue.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Can't get him out of our heads - the strange liberal adulation of Adam Curtis

(Spoilers, petty parody and some outer-head afterthoughts)


We are living through strange times.

And like all previous strange times, no one is quite sure if these strange times are any more strange than any other strange times.

Because most people have now become pretty used to this strange reality. 

Strange as it seems.  

But then in 2021 something very strange happened.

A man called Adam Curtis came up with a strange six-part series on the BBC. 

And it caused a sensation. 

For Curtis claimed that it was possible to show through trippy dance sequences and catchy narration how big issues of power could be understood.

And this was met with much curiosity, and not a little scepticism. 

But Curtis was not unduly concerned by this.

Because he had already put out similarly strange films.

Which had been received with the same strange mix of critical bewilderment and liberal adulation.  

And everyone thought that the cool hip-hop tracks and other quirky music over such footage was just the same strange work of this odd maverick.

But then other such hallucinogenic-styled images began to appear, posing deeper and more unsettling questions. 

And in the suburbs of middle-class America, a strange conspiracy theory started to take root. 

And spread across the globe.

And people really did begin to believe that this strange filmmaker was out to control their very perceptions.

But Curtis had not just relied on old home movie sequences to fascinate his viewers.       

He had come to believe that the stories of some strong-willed individuals could be added to these mesmerising visuals as a way of showing how power really worked.  

And he decided to prove it in a mass historical sweep of what was going on inside people's heads. 

And so Curtis began looking through old archive films on China. 

Where he discovered Jiang Qing, a struggling actress.

Captured in old 1930s black and white reels.

But Qing was soon turning from b-rated movie roles to Mao's wife and leading lady in the Cultural Revolution.

Meanwhile in England, around 1958, some bowler-hatted bankers were being exposed for financial corruption.

This was the face of old power.

And a declining British Empire had not yet faced up to racism.

Even as reports were surfacing of British atrocities in Kenya and other colonial outposts.

And racist hatred of the immigrant ‘other' was still deeply embedded at home.

Which was a melancholy hangover from the old days of lost Empire

And Curtis was convinced that he’d stumbled upon an original, disturbing and astonishing truth here. 

Which indicated much wider feelings of repression and guilt in all human thought.             

And scientists began to notice that, indeed, a disturbing set of changes in the collective human brain was taking place.

And they wondered whether individual consciousness was really a thing. 

And in that febrile moment between Cold War psychosis and Blackpool holiday camp reverie, a new counter-culture was being born.

And it terrified those who believed that order and conformity could only ever be maintained through showing repeated slow-motion camera shots of 1960s mass-banked computer rooms.                

And then, from seemingly nowhere, a strange old montage of tuxedo-dancing men moving in perfect ballroom formation came to light.   

And fears grew that popular viewing of this spectacle would lead to similar uncontrollable expressions of hedonistic pleasure.  

And behind the doors of off-limit CIA corridors, bow-tied, pipe-smoking boffins were captured in grainy images attaching electric wires to dazzle-eyed volunteers, trying to find explicable answers to all of this.

Meanwhile, the diverse stories of two strong women were playing out, Jiang Qing and Afeni Shakur, both troubled individuals attempting to make revolutions in different lands.

As was Michael de Freitas, aka Michael X, a wannabe Black Panther who tried revolutionary agitation in Notting Hill but gave it up for a life of crime.

And there were other such figures now around the world, all part of a new individualism coming up against the varying forces of authority. 

Including an English 1960s model, held back by her disturbed, aristocratic husband. 

And a rising Russian ballerina of the same era, resenting her Soviet masters.

All of whose individual stories were deeply fascinating.

But which only intensified viewers’ interest in how Curtis was going to connect all these fascinating and strong-willed individuals into an actual theoretical argument about feelings and power.

And psychologists were also perplexed.

They could not explain the deep and enduring suspicions that this was all really a kind of perverse trick. 

And they wondered why many people had reported vivid recollections of the same disjointed, dreamlike Curtis films.

But they quickly came to realise that it was futile to pursue such questions.   

Because what Adam Curtis was really saying here contained a potentially earth-shattering truth. 

That it was useless for individuals to try and work out in their already irrational heads whether it was rational for BBC funds to be used in such a repetitive and irrational way.

But, as Curtis had refrained from delving into the mind-controlling medium of the BBC itself, its elite took comfort in the belief that any such disjointed efforts to uncover real issues of power could never truly threaten the actual power establishment that the state broadcaster was an integral part of.

But this was an illusion.

Because in the very act of trying to hide this illusion, it only threatened to deepen mass suspicion, paranoia and disillusion.

And they worried that this would undermine the very illusion of the democratic order upon which they so relied.

But this was an unnecessary confusion.

Because, beyond that illusionary illusion, they soon came to realise that, actually, all such publicity over these programmes provided the perfect pretext for a never-ending cycle of Adam Curtis films seeking to comprehend all this fear, anguish and disillusion.

And they came to believe that awe-struck, liberal highbrow Guardian approval of his films would be sufficient to subdue any real awkward questioning of them and their commissioning.

But there was a problem.

And it revolved around latent perceptions of Curtis’s previous films on perception.

Might a now more perceptive public suspect that the film's vital dance scenes were again being deliberately intercut for perceptive effect with petty stories, like the rise of Saudi power, the Nixon oil shocks, the impact of petrodollar markets and China's one-state-two systems policy?

And would viewers really make the distinction between real Russian dissidents and Soviet-hating mafia exiles slumming it in New York?

And it was here that a new and confusing confluence of conspiracy ideas began to spread.

And as his latest series played out in relentless i-player loops, dark rumours again began to circulate that Curtis and the BBC were really part of some secret Bavarian-based illuminati.

But this was no collusion.

Instead, an alternative belief was spreading that it was all just a dark experiment by Curtis to prove just how gullible the BBC-viewing public really were.

And this gave rise to a whole new set of mutating questions. 

For if, in Curtis's worldview, nothing was really what it seemed, how real were Curtis’s own films? 

And as doubts and paranoia grew, consumption of Valium and other mind-dumbing palliatives increased.

But not everyone had been dulled and subdued.      

Because online watchers began to notice the proliferation of Adam Curtis memes and parody blogs of his films.

And psychologists one again struggled to unlock their meaning. 

But people now began to lose faith in the white coats too, suspecting that science itself had now shown itself inadequate in answering such momentous questions.

But this was also a delusion.

Because in coming close to so many issues that really were about how power works and the forces behind it, yet never close enough to making remotely useful connections, observers of Curtis's work were pursuing the now more certain thought that they could never be totally certain whether he was just analytically inept or playing with their minds in order to provoke even further uncertainty.

And in the end people just reverted back to the safe, mundane assumption that, like the origins of the universe, the truth behind Curtis's films might just always remain beyond the human mind.

And, by the halfway point of his series, this appeared to prove the case for nihilistic abandonment of any ideology. 

And that the search for any form of social progress was ultimately doomed.

But this was a fantasy. 

Because that very loss of human hope had created, in the second half of the series, a whole new line of enquiry on the renewed forces of Western liberal interventionism.

And with it a new era for globalists and technocrats.

And, with the mining communities in the US and other such collective forces beaten, this showed the futility of individualism in trying to fight big authority.

So in the 1990s, Bill Clinton, when elected, handed over power to the bankers for the very first time in history.

And, amazingly, it was also the very first time that politicians had ever, ever given up representing the collective masses and challenging elites.

And Blair, too, handed control to the banker class in the City of London.

And, like Clinton, found himself unable to handle the late-90s economic crisis which spread across the world.

And the new ascendant technocrat class also now feared the new mandated forces of Islamists and nationalists around the world. 

And Richard Holbrook began asking what the West must do in response.

And then there was the big post-Soviet fallout and economic chaos in Russia. 

And Yeltsin just couldn’t control the oligarchs.

Which only strengthened the liberal case for more militarist interventions and Nato expansion.

And conflict, crises and destabilisation was raging elsewhere. 

Ongoing oppression of black people in America.

And establishment corruption in the UK.

And many miscarriages of justice as well.

And the interventionism of Live Aid.

Meanwhile, the radical convictions of German terrorist groups had all dissolved in disillusion.

Alienation, anxiety, anomie and depression was spreading.

As had Nixon’s paranoia.

And his abandoning of the Gold Standard had handed massive new powers to currency speculators and big finance.

And the EU had allowed a new technocracy of Majoritarian institutions to run politics.

And there were growing scientific worries about climate instability.

And a whole mass sweep of other big world historical events, in no particular chronological order. 

But still the suspense of seeing how Curtis was going to link it all. 

And, wondering, curiously, when the word ‘neoliberalism’ might be used.

Rather than repeated assertions that politicians had just suddenly lost their power to bigger financial forces. 

Because, of course, that had never, ever happened before.

And this being art-house political economics, there was no seeming need for actually setting out the core causal elements of such a grand narrative.    

So, cut to curious footage of old rural English folk culture, suggesting some deep, revisited source of nationalism. 

And that famous silent film of Ku Klux Klan horsemen rescuing a white damsel, harking back to an imagined pure nationalism.

Which, apparently, is the respective roots of American and British exceptionalism.

The latter leading to an apparent, but misguided, imposition of an old order type of British romanticised national culture on Iraq and other Arab countries. 

But then in 1932, facing economic crisis at home, they just left.  

A penetrating reading, indeed, of British involvement in the Middle East.

Though, oddly, no mention of its key role in the creation of nuclear-loaded Israel.  

Which itself gets but two passing mentions: on the Entebbe terror attack; and Saudi threats to the West over oil. 

But no space, apparently, for the Nakba and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. 

Or even the US/UK 1953 coup in Iran - which the BBC had given the covert radio signal to begin.

But, hey, even a big-rush historian like Curtis can't cover everything. 

So, instead, a fast trip back to discussion of drug production in the US.

And briskly on to Russian infiltration of MI5/MI6.

And a list of CIA covert coups around the world, with some comment from ex-CIA officer, Miles Copeland.

Then right onto the East Asia financial crisis, IMF bailouts and resistance from Malaysia’s Mahathir. 

And right back again to Jiang Qing's political demise, a sage lesson, apparently, on her failed individualism.

And more on China's deepening suspicions of the West’s intent, just as they had feared during the historic British importing of opium.   

So, in protective mode, China bought up mass US debt.

Which lead to massive US property and global consumer booms.

And then came the invasion of Iraq, which Blair saw as moral intervention. 

Failing to take some old Sir Percy-type historians’ colonial advice on the folly of such action. 

But, strangely, no mention of oil.

Or the neocon agenda to take down all such countries, from Iraq to Afghanistan, Libya to Syria, and on to Iran. 

Instead, cue straight back to the war in Vietnam.

And the US peace movement’s political disruption at home. 

Which, in contrast, to the later war on Iraq, apparently saw almost no anti-war protests. 

And then how the Iraq disaster had seen the emergence of ISIS. 

It’s jihadi creed taken as akin to the atavistic KKK/folk mythical ideals of purest western nationalism.

A folk culture also likened to Trump’s ideological base. 

And Farage’s old English nationalist desire for Brexit. 

And still the anticipation of working out how Curtis would join all these mounting assertions and world events into some seemingly plausible thesis.

But then something very strange really did happen.

By the final episode, viewing hopes grew that Curtis was actually nearing some kind of incoherent conclusion.

But first, another whirlwind tour of a declining planet and the confused self.    

And an increasingly dislocated US. 

Then, amid more oppression of the black population, came a rap culture response.

An exciting delve into the mindset of Tupac Shakur, exploring yet another tortured individual’s fears and struggles.   

But, with no time to dwell on this promising story, a quick leap on to Saudi Arabia and its ruling elite. 

And excluded Arabs within this corrupt society, with its now brazenly open money values. 

And the consequent rise of jihadism. 

And the spectre of Islamic revolution as an attempt to change the world.

Then, right back to the US for a new line on Chaos Theory.

The world, it seems, is just too complex to fathom.

But 'complexity theory' run by computers could identify 'patterns'.

So maybe they could make sense of a seeming pattern in Curtis's own film.

With its tendency to strange juxtaposition and thematic leaps.

As in another sudden return to rapper Shakur.

Who was now trying to channel gang culture outwards, but was still caught up in it.  

And with mass incarceration of black people, Tupac was now in jail, isolated and accused of betraying his gang community.

Another example of failed individual will.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, radicalised Islamist leader Abu Zubaydah had met with Osama bin Laden.

But didn't trust him.

The Islamic revolution was falling apart, as was Zubaydah’s mental faculties.

And back in the West, more questions were emerging about the meaning of the 'self'. 

Behavioural scientists believed there were multiple selves.

And that ‘all humans live in a dream world of made up stories'.

And the 1990s was the high point of such misguided individualism.


And this was because the bit in the brain that applied meaning to the world was thought to be disappearing.

Meanwhile, a similar deteriorating mood was evident in black communities.

But Silicon Valley idealists were now intent on using social information to build their own new self-freedom.

And back in Russia, oligarchs were subverting the new democracy.

And they selected Putin, who apparently 'believed in nothing'. 

But then something unusual happened. 

The Kursk submarine tragedy was followed by popular anger and backlash.

And Putin responded by turning public anger onto the oligarchs. 

And found a new source of power in the dispossessed.

Meanwhile, a Silicon Valley boom, and artificial market bubbles, which then burst.

But venture capitalists were now engaged with Google.

Who started gathering more data on individual behaviour.

But there was a problem over the questionable use of such data, and looming government action against big tech.

But then 9/11 and the coming Patriot Act allowed Google to continue collecting data.

In order to better predict individual behaviour. 

And back in Afghanistan, Zubaydah was captured by the US. 

And CIA interrogation was used to unlock his inner thoughts.

The same Positive Psychology and water-boarding used at Abu Ghraib.

But it only produced incoherent utterances from Zubaydah, all believed by his CIA captors.

Which fed more paranoia.

And, meanwhile, in the UK, there was social disillusion.

Which Dominic Cummings had seen in the North East. 

And had used 'complexity theory' to understand and control these high forces, trying to see patterns in order to take back control from unelected elites.

And back in China, politics was losing its power to hold society together.

A rapid expansion of the middle class, money culture and ultra-corruption. 

And an experimental effort was launched to invoke past idealism as an impetus to social renewal. 

And the leader of this new reform, Bo Xilai, had a fascination for old English stately homes.

Which kind of proved the power of old nationalism. 

And how it came to China.

But Bo’s idealism was really a front for personal advancement.

And back in Russia, corruption was growing too. 

With dissenting youth arrested. 

And Putin had just shifted power from the oligarchs to his own bureaucratic elite.

And Anna Politkovskaya was shot. 

And returning exile Edward Limonov tried to bring about a 'communist fascism.'

Meanwhile, Google were now making billions through data.

And the Carly doll and Pokemon Go were all found to be surveillance-loaded.

But old Boolean ideas were now leading to new neural computer patterning. 

This was Vector-World and the rise of AI. 

And computers were now directing new mortgage systems. 

Risk analysts and Wall Street financiers had given complexity over to computing patterns. 

Then the big mortgage crisis hit. 

And now humans were again searching for conspiracy patterns. 

Illuminati fantasies about elite control abounded. 

And as financial collapse, bailouts, and austerity continued, major corruption was exposed.

But no one was held accountable.

And Steve Bannon et al were exploiting the moment. 

Dominic Cummings too, playing the populist card.

And Cummings’s efforts at this new technical fix had reawakened that same old dormant British nationalism.

And after British businessman Neil Hayward was found dead, Chinese reformist Bo Xilai and his wife were exposed.

And back In Moscow, Pussyriot demos were taking place on altars.

And Alexei Navalny began condemning Putin.

But, oddly, no time here to probe Navalny’s own far-right past.

And Putin ran with more dark past nationalism as a distraction.

And in the City of London, with its hidden kleptocrat wealth, shadowy cabals and suspicions grew.

And back in China, as Jiang Qing and her Gang of Four were tried and sentenced to hang, public anger intensified, matched by new surveillance systems.

Which saw the emergence of algorithmic governance, and good behaviour rewarded with social credits.

And Chinese reprogramming of the Uighur population.

And in the West, memes and high arousal emotions were encouraging even more clicks and shares.

With Facebook now manipulating behaviour by introducing messages into news feeds.

Which only increased suspicion across the internet.

And into this mix came two seismic shocks: Brexit and Trump. 

Major upheavals, particularly for the liberal classes.

Which was very hard for them to process.

And so liberals latched on to claims of Russian online manipulation as their default defence.

But there was a problem.

Because the scientific evidence for such priming wasn't there.

And suspicions grew that Cambridge Analytica might just be exploiting the hysteria and suspicion.

They could bombard people with memes, but they couldn't undermine what humans really thought and believed. 

But it was too late. 

Because while the liberal classes kept searching for evidence that Putin was responsible, and that he had orchestrated Trump and Brexit, machines just kept feeding off the paranoia, making big tech even more wealthy. 

And with this, big media and the intelligence agencies became highly regarded by the liberal classes in helping to expose these conspiracy theories.

But still QAnon flourished.

Showing that the liberal classes had failed to face up to the grievances that they had helped create. 

And they had no idea how to deal with this malaise.

And there was Brexit discord.

And MAGA uproar. 

And just as viewers…strugg…led……to ca…..tch…..th……eir…brea…th and make...sen…se of all this…inform…ation…

Then came Covid.

From outside these systems of power.

And this has helped expose just how deep the inequalities are.

The elite are getting richer as the markets keep rising in the pandemic.

One possible future is that individualism will disappear, and that science will find the way to manage everything.

And now the Biden moment, and hopes for a return to old stability.

But Trump and Brexit have shown that the enormous pressures from below will not go away.

Likewise, China, Russia and other societies are decaying, relying on surveillance to hold up their power.

But there’s another possibility to imagine, with completely new kinds of futures.

Where more people start to realise that they are being used by the tech companies, and that we are really stronger than we think.

And, in the words of the late David Graeber: 'the ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make, and could just as easily make differently'.

And Abu Zubaydah remains imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.


Adam Curtis has said this of his series:

"What I wanted to answer is, why did we go from this idea of confident empowered individuals who would move through the world as autonomous confident creatures, to millions and millions of us being anxious and uncertain and I'm frightened of the future? At the same time, almost frozen without any idea of what an alternative future could be. And if you're going to do that, you've got to tell a history of what went on in inside people's heads, as much as what went on outside. And what's the relationship between the two: what happens when all sorts of ideas, from power and politics, get into our heads in an age driven by feelings."

A seemingly laudable and ambitious exercise. 

Yet, after this mind-rushing, multi-packed ‘telling of history’, many viewers may be left not only exhausted and perplexed about the actual meaning of that task, but wondering whether Curtis ever really aspired to it.

Where, one may ask, does this idea of the “confident empowered individual” actually sit in any meaningful social, political, economic, psychological or even philosophical sense? 

How credible is this actual ‘premise’ of “autonomous confident creatures” all suddenly being subjected to anxiety and fear? 

Wasn’t every notional age, with its attendant ideas, politics and power, driven, ostensibly, by the given fears and ‘feelings’ of its times?

And how do you strive to tell, in such sweeping historical terms, just what really went on inside people’s heads, as well as what could be observed outside of them?  

Has Curtis used social psychology, political sociology, political economy, moral philosophy or any other analytical tools to probe real relations of power and individual feelings?

Or is he using the very expanse of the issues up for ‘study’ here as a ready disguise, knowing that he can never provide any convincing means of drawing them all together? 

Most notably, amid this expansive enquiry, Curtis never once specifies that most momentous historical force: neoliberalism; failing to explain how this crucial matrix of corporate-led economic, political and cultural forces has come to control and determine almost every aspect of our daily lives, from physical to social, to psychological and, of course, planetary survival.

Nor is there any serious investigation of the corporate media as the driving force of all that dislocation and mind-distortion.  

Or would all that just be too prosaic and 'mundane' a film to make for 'smart' liberal audiences? 

Curtis has no particular obligation, of course, to follow any given form of enquiry. Yet, as with his previous output, this is a film which takes convenient cover, sitting in a kind of anomalous space between investigative documentary and artistic infotainment. Curtis adopts the role of playful puppeteer, but claims the mantle of masterful theorist. Alas, as the narration goes, this indeed is an illusion.     

Behind all the mystique and mirrors, Curtis’s film is a deeply contrived exercise, with its stylised aesthetics and catchy narration serving to shroud the actual vacancy of coherent analysis and credible conclusions.  

Not that this lengthy series is without entertaining and informative merit. It does reveal some deeply interesting figures and historical surprises. It is touching on some highly relevant questions about power and influence, such as the rising role of big tech and the climate calamity. The hallmark visuals and score are also, indeed, moodily mesmerising.

Yet where's the connecting framework, the overarching theory? Even in more basic terms, where, for example, is the effort to show how the current spectre of racial subjugation is tied up with class power?  

In a final small sequence, Curtis does edge close to saying something of real significance about the delusions and evasions of the liberal class in helping to foster major economic upheavals and in allowing political grievances to fester, as in their failure to comprehend their own complicit part in the Brexit and Trump moments. 

Yet, as with minimal liberal 'admissions' of such, even this seems like a late, token observation, a kind of jigsaw supposition tagged on in feeble conclusion. 

Nor, for his apparent intention to look critically at all forces of authority and abuse, East and West, does Curtis ever really avoid the standard liberal ‘bad Russia/China’ tropes. Even beside the sins of the West, these states are still deemed the much darker, unpredictable menace.    

And after a whole tortuous argument to the apparent contrary, Curtis does seems to end up saying that humans are, indeed, capable of meaningful individual agency and collective responses. 

Yet, even with his final citing of the admirable David Graeber, this also looks like a kind of ‘hedging of bets’, hiding not only the film’s lack of connection, but its absence of any putative blueprint for action. 

Curtis's film is a pretentious pastiche of grandiose ideas and tenuous assertions, a safely-cloaked version of the much more system-exposing and damning things so many more astute writers could have said, but will never be allowed the privileged platform Curtis is given to assert them.

Would the BBC ever give such space and scope to deep-searching, power-challenging journalists like Chris Hedges or John Pilger?

Like his previous output, it’s not hard to see the appeal of Curtis’s film for beguiled Guardian liberals. 

It’s an indulgence which, ironically, like his final comments on liberal dissonance, allows those very same myopic liberals another such trip into cognitive denial. 

This film is yet another such comfort blanket, keeping them safely wrapped inside the real systems of power they play a crucial part in serving. 

And it seems, in turn, that Curtis is playing on their superficiality of understanding as a similar comfort blanket for his own self-evasions. 

Maybe there’s a deep and penetrating film to be made here about what goes on inside those heads.  

But it won’t be coming from Curtis, or be lavished by those lost liberals. 

And it certainly won’t be commissioned by the BBC.