The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom?

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom?Individual freedom is the dream of our age. It's what our leaders promise to give us, it defines how we think of ourselves and, repeatedly, we have gone to war to impose freedom around the world. But if you step back and look at what freedom actually means for us today, it's a strange and limited kind of freedom.

Politicians promised to liberate us from the old dead hand of bureaucracy, but they have created an evermore controlling system of social management, driven by targets and numbers. Governments committed to freedom of choice have presided over a rise in inequality and a dramatic collapse in social mobility. And abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to enforce freedom has led to bloody mayhem and the rise of an authoritarian anti-democratic Islamism. This, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain. In response, the Government has dismantled long-standing laws designed to protect our freedom.

The Trap is a series of three films by Bafta-winning producer Adam Curtis that explains the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom. It shows how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War to control the behavior of the Soviet enemy.

Episodes included: 1. Fuck You Buddy, 2. The Lonely Robot, and 3. We Will Force You To Be Free.

Watch the full documentary now (playlist - 3 hours)

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Ratings: 8.14/10 from 28 users.
  • http://www.vitaloverdose.com vitaloverdose

    Re : the 'f**k you buddy dilemma' if your so worried that this guy will kill you then what do you think hes gonna do when you steal his money? O_o

  • http://hiddenshelf.com eric

    great watch, so much of what is really happening and we can all see that in our lives and throughout the world;

  • Anthony

    I love how he actually got Nash to undermine his own theory, brilliant Adam Curtis you are a freedom warrior keep fighting!!!!!!!

  • illicitel

    An under-rated and seemingly unknown documentary that deserves multiple awards for the amazingly bleak and realistic view of the modern world. This documentary answers one of the must profoundly perplexing questions I have ever pondered.
    Why is it that everyone these days seems like such utterly self-centered, self-serving, self-involved, egomaniacs? Game theory, plain and simple. That and the slow subtle brainwashing of the masses that this new paradigm is the reality of the world.
    As Colbert recently pointed out, the more something is repeated and proclaimed to be truth, eventually the repetition will make it so.

    A shout out to Vlatko for this website and this video in particular!
    This site has yet to fall behind my thirst for knowledge, and for that, Vlatko, you must be commended.

    I recommend that any free and critical thinking individual that considers themselves educated watch this documentary.

    Open your eyes, the world you know is a creation of another mans fallacy...
    The revolution begins now...

  • Riley

    it does seem that the crazy sci-fi movies about computers taking over the world weren't so far off.

    we are now being machined to fit them.

    the first thing they had to do was knock of the rough-edges of humane concern for the larger community, a bit of pride in one's self and others, a pause for consideration of the other fellow, all that sort of sanctimonious, phony nonsense.

    robots don't have those sorts of feelings - its inconvenient, reeks of bourgeoise sensibilities, it's
    old-fashioned, and most of all, renders the calculations too complex.

    also, thinking, integrated individuals, institutions & communities are much harder to control. sticky units don't stack well.

    there are deep insights herein. he connects the dots a bit too conveniently at times, but it's hard to argue with the fundamental forces of what passes for modernity in the first world, at least in the u.s. and u.k.

    interestingly, the writer doesn't belabor the right's obvious use of these 'innovations', but rather the left's adoption of them, the only possible restraining force.

    which takes it beyond polemics to an important philosophical, ethical, socio-historical analysis.

  • Petch

    Transhumanism is worth looking in to and will become more relevant as times goes by

  • Anthony

    This is one most valuable documentary's on the entire internet. Builds on the arguments laid down in the century of the self. For me it leads me to the conclusion that independent and free thinking is the only way anyone can "free" themselves. I wish I had access to Curtis's work many years ago.

  • Charles Peden

    WTF?

    Isaiah Berlin was wrong? He associates positive liberty with several examples of failure then concludes that Isaiah Berlin was wrong about negative liberty.

    I was coming to the conclusion during the film that functioning negative freedom countries need to avoid imposing and trying to retrofit their ideals onto other countries. In other words, we need to avoid falling into the positive freedom trap. Instead, Curtis comes to the conclusion that we need to continue to try and change the other countries.

    The absurdity is shocking!

  • fernando

    amazing doc.
    thank you

  • markw

    EXCELLENT DOC - THANKS FOR UPLOADING!!

  • beyond

    charles you misnuderstood the main message of the documentary. the conclusion is that negative freedom leads to no higher purpose but positive freedom leads to a more meaningful and purposful society. Positive liberty is for something greater like he said but negative liberty is meaningless and i totally fell and understand what he means by that. the meaning of freedom and many associated concepts have become to simplistic in today's soceity. I dont however advocate the view that armed struggle is the only way to change the world for the better. non-violent struggle is in alot of cases a much more effective force but it depends on the case.

  • steamknife

    Game Theory, Prisoner's Dilemma and the concepts in "F*** You Buddy" has been described by Han-Fei Zhi (280 BC – 233 BC) in his books although his concepts are not focused on it but rather encouraging leaders to use for a better control of his people... Which is very much the same as what is happening according to this documentary...

    Brilliant documentary! It has come to a shock after knowing John Nash's theory because I totally grasp the concept. Subconsciously, I know about all this but beats it right out of me. I can understand why he gets paranoid schizophrenia...

  • http://www.thefullertonian.com Mark Stouffer

    These programs say several times that rational self-interest is a deep, dark secret. Rational people are thought to be emotionless, spock-like robots. The idea is that rational thinking and emotions are opposites. But this would mean that rational people have no values.

  • http://www.thefullertonian.com Mark Stouffer

    Adam Curtis message is 'Liberty is a bad idea'. He puts a lot of effort into demonstrating that we need government to give meaning to our lives.

    He views individual lives as meaningless.

  • Hodd

    By showing how individualism has been taken to the extreme is not to say individual lives are meaningless.

    Perhaps he demonstrates how government has taken on the role of giving meaning and direction to our lives, but to suggest he is against liberty is a misunderstanding. He is giving insight into the different ideologies and understandings that have brought us to where we are today.

    You should check out his other docs as well.

  • Hodd

    Rational self interest or rational egoism would lead one to have little use of values by it's very nature wouldn't it? Well, other than values of individual self interest. All experience and intentions are gauged from the perspective of how it serves the self. This would be different from what you would typically call a rational person in my mind.

  • http://www.thefullertonian.com Mark Stouffer

    Rational self-interest means you pursue objective values. Values are the things that make life worth living, for you. Values are intensely personal. It is your responsibility to identify your values. You benefit from having an honest discussion with yourself on this.

    It amazes me how much time people spend telling other people what values they should have. Or how much time people spend learning and conforming to values dictated by a faceless state or church. The state inflated home values to buoy the economy after 9/11/01. Churches teach us to sacrifice our selves for the "greater good", and green activists tell us our greatest value is the delicate balance of C02 in the planet's atmosphere.

    But they believe in subjective values or intrinsic values: either that values are in the mind, and conform to wishes, or they believe values are in the thing, but that only one with special insight can see it and then tell everyone else.

    It is important to discover how you get your values. It is important for you to understand.

    Values are why we do what we do.

  • http://www.thefullertonian.com Mark Stouffer

    If he says that the government gives meaning to our lives that would mean
    that our lives have no meaning (are meaningless) in and of themselves.

    He, and the BBC, have obviously missed the American Revolution section of
    their public school classes. That is when people realized that it is
    individuals that validate and give meaning to the government, not the other
    way around.

    The fact that Curtis, an educated man and pretty good documentary maker,
    still can not attain this understanding 235 later helps me understand what a
    monumental intellectual achievement it was.

  • Hodd

    It's more like he saying 'liberty is an illusion'. He demonstrates well how most of our individual ideas and understandings are not our own and are largely shaped by powerful interests and seemingly rational ideas of human nature and behavior. Understanding these influences and how they affect your life will give more liberty than any political or economic ideology ever will.

  • http://www.thefullertonian.com Mark Stouffer

    "It's more like he saying 'liberty is an illusion."

    "Understanding these influences and how they affect your life will give more liberty than..."

    It will give you more of an illusion?

    It sounds like liberty is an illusion for everyone but you and Adam Curtis. This is just another British academic intellectual arguing for the return of the king, the beneficent ruler, planning our lives for, instead of the "divine right of kings", the "divine right of the people".

    This program attacks the very roots of the information revolution that is bringing openness to the Mid-East.

    No amount of wealth generation, lives saved and made better, and liberty for all ages, sexes, and races made possible by the internet will assuage those who pine for the glorious past of the dark ages.

  • http://www.thefullertonian.com Mark Stouffer

    Curtis says Nash demonstrated that you could have a society based on mutual trust that wouldn't degenerate into chaos. Isn't that what John Locke showed in the 1600's?

    It had always been thought that you needed a king to rule a country. The idea was, and this went from the philosophers and intellectuals on down, was that if you did not have a divinely ordained king to administer laws everyone would wage war against everyone else and break the divine law of the Ten Commandments and murder their neighbors.

    Philosophers had supposed that it was laws which kept us from killing each other, that the reason I don't murder people as I walk down the street is the law only. If this were true, and you were to go to a place where there was no law you would do what each of us secretly wish to do all day long and that is slit each others throats. When Locke saw that pirate colonies were flourishing he realized (and wrote some very influential books one of which is quoted in the Declaration of Independence) that they must have some other reason not to kill each other.

    Perhaps Mr. Curtis and the BBC should Google Wikipedia and find out a little more about their American cousins and the aforementioned declaration.

  • Hodd

    "It will give you more of an illusion?"

    Sorry, I meant liberty in a real sense.

    It seems to me you're making some outlandish assumptions on the intent of Adam Curtis. Now I could be wrong but I really don't see anything resembling an argument for the 'return of the king' as you claim. Could you give some examples or point me to a part in the film? I've watched this documentary a few times now and all I take from it is that there are a lot of influences and ideologies at play in shaping our lives and attitudes that we are not aware of, and therefore, controlled by them in a sense.

    "This program attacks the very roots of the information revolution that is bringing openness to the Mid-East. "

    How so? I see this program as part of that very revolution.

    "those who pine for the glorious past of the dark ages."

    Curtis did a documentary on that very sort of idea where politicians tried to create the spirit of past glories... The Living Dead I think it was called. Good doc.

  • djc200

    Great doc. Can't recommend this one enough. Adam Curtis has come through with some other great docs like The Power of Nightmares and The Century of Self. Get on them and wise up to reality.

  • AnalogousGumdropDecoder

    I think some of the opposition to the narrative expressed in this documentary comes from the following problem:

    Curtis expresses how the "new guard" (my term), in an attempt to create a better "free" society, hanged itself on a whole new set of oppressive institutions that would not have existed if not for their aspirations to "freedom." I think some people are interpreting this to imply that Curtis is presenting/romanticizing the past ways of structuring society as somehow better and more beneficial to people, both individually and collectively. What I'm getting from the doc so far (only watched the first part), is that Curtis more or less refrains from either celebrating or criticizing the "old ways" (my term) in favor of staying on topic and pointing out the harm done by the "new ways" (my term). Pointing out the flaws of the new is not the same as favoring the old. Dichotomy - silly notion.

  • AnalogousGumdropDecoder

    P.S. - We're monkeys. What do we really expect to happen?

  • tariqxl

    Agreeable apart from refering people to wikipedia hardly a stalwart pillar of truth and sound information lol

  • dufas_duck

    In other words, "In the name of freedom, we will tell you how to live, what to think, what your values should be, and what to do..."

    It really doesn't matter who is doing the controlling, right, left, dictator, king......., the results are always the same, freedom becomes just a sometimes granted privilege subject to change by the next 'powers that be' stepping into power....

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5EADOGT43FZWVEYU3WPBRAFQQ MKK

    Good grief. What this documentary shows is that despite all the mathematical/game theories etc. based on Hayek et al, unfettered self-interest DOESN'T work. Scholars of history ALREADY KNOW THIS as we know what the policies that preceded the last Great Depression were and that they resulted in the same mess. THE STUPIDITY OF ASSUMING THAT GREEDY HAS BOUNDS IS THE FALLACY. In my experience, those that have the most are generally the greediest and they will KEEP ON TAKING until there is nothing left for anybody else which, naturally destabilizes the system. They aren't governed by the same rules BECAUSE they aren't as exposed to REALITY as the rest of us are.

    HAYEK was full of crap and he knew it. He was pushing a theory that was to his benefit and, much like Wall Street, he did not give a rat's ass about what it did to the system. Nazism pretended to be socialism, but it wasn't. IT was a society for the benefit of a few people just like the USA is becoming. Self-interest is not a particularly good mechanism for regulating society. Ethics, morals and laws based upon those were created because mankind is not good at self-control absent such controls.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5EADOGT43FZWVEYU3WPBRAFQQ MKK

    Ever heard of RH negative blood types? Maybe we're not all monkeys.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5EADOGT43FZWVEYU3WPBRAFQQ MKK

    Curtis is pointing out that the beliefs of the Randians and Hayek are baloney. So are the philosophies of free market economics (based upon the writings of a 17th Century economist in BRAZIL), deregulation, free trade and all of the other essentially nihilist clap-trap pushed by the wealthiest segments of society for their own benefit. It also underscores the foolishness of building an entire society based upon a rather bleak view of human behavior that doesn't really exist (remember that the guys from the Rand Corporation (not Ayn Randians) tried to make Nash's game theory work in real tests and found out that there were people who would not act in a predictably rational and selfish manner.

    The notion that because something can be quantified, it is somehow better managed is so preposterous that I can barely restrain my anger. Freeing the medical establishment from doctors...what rubbish. This is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Not only are human beings extremely different in their physiology and response to medication, but there is not adequate science behind many medicines. ARRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5EADOGT43FZWVEYU3WPBRAFQQ MKK

    Curtis is wrong that nobody had pushed for "free market" reforms of this type before. This is the third time that this crap has been pushed onto the public. Before it was called "trade liberalization" and laissez faire economics. They are identical to the idiotic free market/free trade policies of this era and had the SAME results.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZJRXQ6RHS5QPRP3QX5HZDKRZLE Jeremy

    I'm pretty sure that is why he made these films, to show how these systems are cooked up by the super wealthy and they are not helpful to us, at least that's what I took away from it. I'm just confused because you seem to think that he condones these market types, but all I got from the film was a despaired sense of failure from these setups, pretty much reinforcing what my logical mind had already told me, unrestricted power means people will be greedy and mess things up, and restricted power just means that people with money will lobby to be in control of said restrictions and mess things up as well. The only solution? **** if I know lol.

  • vvindred

    power and success corrupts !it's human nature

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Coleman/100001217693049 Thomas Coleman

    You might consider watching Parts 2 and 3 before making a judgment. If you rhetorically asked either Nash or Smith whether their theories applied to "every" interaction, of course they would say no. Smith, in particular, reserved a lot space for the public good. It wasn't "every man for himself" although that's the way hired gun "economists" like to "sell" Smith and reductionist Hollywood movie executives like Ron "Opie" Howard -- or the paranoid Nash himself -- wishfully marketed it in "A Beautiful Mind."

    But their ideas have been extremely influential, albeit simplified, by those who've "applied" them, to the point where their acolyte and enforcer Maggie Thatcher could confidently claim a generation ago "that there is no such thing as society." Nash himself noted that his economic thinking was in line with that of Frederick Hyeck, who is seen here admitting that there is no room at all for the basic human characteristic of altruism in the economic system he advocated (communism sought to banish selfishness, with similarly predictable and disastrous results). That seems to be the view of most of the brainiac systems analysts shown here, that we will all have to "get with the program" of systems they have cooked up & palmed off on us and that "efficiency" is fast becoming mandatory in virtually every area of human activity, banishing various "dysfunctional" human values like generosity.

    Like the Foxconn factories that Apple so gleefully surrounded with suicide nets to increase efficiency, it's no longer a human society but a closed loop cybernetic "system" from which there is No Exit but death -- as long as it's not too messy and doesn't unduly alarm the would-be cybernauts and cyborgs using all the cool gadgets. If you seek their monument, look around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/felix.ling Felix Ling

    Well, Curtis needs to learn Game Theory from at least a principles level before making a judgment. Smith's Invisible Hand model is a general one for all markets, with a few adjustments for market frictions and failures. The Prisoner's Dilemma is a highly specialized model that applies to specific situations such as arms races, advertisement spending, and oligopoly pricing. How many other examples does it fit?

    Furthermore, there are other games in game theory. Click on the "Here are a few variations" link in my previous comment to see some. Recall Axelrod's work showing that the iterated prisoner's dilemma and tit-for-tat can lead to the evolution of altruism. Do parts 2 and 3 cover these cases?

    And while Nash may be closer to Hayek than Keynes, Thatcher and Reagan were much more influenced by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek than by Nash. Which is not surprising if you realize that Game Theory is a lot less politicized compared to schools of macroeconomics such as Monetarism and the Austrian School (or Keynesian, which influences Democrats).

    Indeed, Reagan obviously did not learn the lesson that the prisoner's dilemma teaches about arms races.

  • http://www.facebook.com/felix.ling Felix Ling

    Just watched part 2. The biggest problem here is similar as with the section on Enthoven in part 1: Curtis maligns performance targets without doing a fair comparison of its performance with what it replaced. *Any* incentive scheme can be gamed, whether it use numbers or not. The typical way to game a system without targets is by kissing the ass of your boss.

    Of course, the real reason he doesn't perform a fair comparison is that to do so would require some kind of performance rating system. This is why science works with numbers. You create a testable theory, run an experiment, and measure the results -- measuring involves numbers. Indeed, the film above is stored digitally, so it can obviously be reduced to a set of numbers (RGB values for each pixel, etc.).

    In addition to misrepresenting game theory, he is unfair to public choice. This school, unlike game theory, is quite libertarian conservative, being an offshoot of the Austrian school (Hayek). However, in part 1, Curtis twists Buchanan's point on zealots. He's not talking about idealists, but those who think they know best what people should be doing. This applies to liberals who want to legislate civil rights, but also to the Santorums of the world who want to legislate family values. Also, in part 2, he conveniently leaves out the fact that the campaign contributions and lobbying in the wake of the accounting scandals was something public choice shined a light upon with its study of rent-seeking.

    The assumption of rationality *is* something that needs to be criticized within economics (I am a big fan of behavioral), but this assumption does not derive from game theory, but from the mathematical neo-classical framework, which includes liberal Keynesianism. Speaking of which, the film doesn't seem to understand Rubin's point of view, which is not about letting markets go, but instead all about probabilistic analysis of uncertainty (thus his book, _In an Uncertain World_). Indeed, economics is not about making people more manageable, but about making predictions and analyses about the economy. This requires models, and models requires simplifying assumptions in order to be manageable. An unmanageable model can't be run or understood.

    Have only started part 3, but you can see why this isn't encouraging. Still nothing on tit-for-tat or altruism. sigh.

  • Chris Rieth

    I think you are missing the point. Curtis isn't talking about the academic understanding of Game Theory, he's talking about the way it's been and continues to be applied in society at large. You may see Game Theory differently, as some kind of rational-decision making system, but the way it has been used in society has been destructive. The example Curtis uses, the one which originates the theory, the Cold War is the epitome of the foolishness of Game Theory. The never ending posturing between the USA and the USSR almost ended in nuclear war a number of times.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    Curtis misses the point of game theory (as well as economics and science in general). It's not to mold people into machines, but to create tools that can help us better understand society and the economy.

    The prisoner's dilemma is a model that sheds light on why and how two countries will spend so much on military defense when they would both be better off spending none. Defect/defect is not a prescription of what people should do, but a prediction of what they probably will do. Since it predicts a problematic outcome, analyzing what can lead players to choose to cooperate instead (e.g. repeated games against the same players, better communication, etc.) can help solve huge social problems.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    " I see you are ignorant of Curtis' other documentaries where he takes Keynesian economics head-on"

    Good for him (as you see in my other comments, I am also critical of the rational actor assumption). Of course, his other work is irrelevant to the question at hand of whether *this* film is any good.

  • Chris Rieth

    Game Theory is applying a superimposed model over what is actually going on in any given situation. It is not useful in understanding what is going on in an underlying sense, it can only treat things as a game where the players (be they nations, people, genes, etc.) are constantly trying to get the better over the other players in the ''game''.

  • Chris Rieth

    Curtis' documentaries as a whole cover a wide field, but in each one he concentrates on certain aspects. Nitpicking one documentary without even realizing that he has taken on your critiques in another is a waste of time.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    "Game Theory is applying a superimposed model over what is actually going on in any given situation."

    This is true of all social sciences, whether you are talking about sociology or political science. Performing scientific experiments on societies is neither moral nor logistically feasible, so social sciences must resort to either looking for natural experiments or to run models.

    Natural experiments occur when everything just happened to stay the same except for one variable, and as you can guess, these are very rare. In order for models to be able to produce results in a timely fashion and also be understandable enough to provide insights, they *must* make simplifying assumptions. Because of this, models apply to narrow situations, and you need a whole toolkit of models in order to understand complex situations. For example, Keynesian models for short term and Classical models for the long term.

    I don't think Curtis nor you have made any proposals of a better way for social sciences to test theories.

    "It is not useful in understanding what is going on in an underlying sense, it can only treat things as a game where the players (be they nations, people, genes, etc.) are constantly trying to get the better over the other players in the 'game''."

    Also true. But remember that I had said that the Prisoner's Dilemma was a very specific game that only applied to situations such as arms races, oligopoly prices, and advertising spending. Note that the assumption that the players are trying to get the better holds true in all three.

    Curtis is the one who mistakenly tries to apply a model more broadly than it was intended to be.

    "Nitpicking one documentary without even realizing that he has taken on your critiques in another is a waste of time."

    My charges are far more serious than nitpicking. I am accusing him of misrepresenting the positions of his ideological enemies and presenting a work that is misleading and filled with misconceptions. Short of a full retraction, this is not something that is appropriate to address in a separate work. Furthermore, in this digital age where films are easily stored as a bunch of numbers on a hard drive instead of on reels, it is quite easy to go back and edit a work to fix the errors.

    It is intellectually lazy for you to claim that there is a counterargument to what I am saying in a work I haven't seen or read. I could very easily have said that it is a waste of time for me to debate you until you have read _Origins of Virtue_ by Matt Ridley. Instead, I pointed out that he cites Robert Axelrod's work using the repeated version of the Prisoner's Dilemma to show the evolution of altruism.

    Defect/defect is only the best strategy for the single-run version. When it's run repeatedly, the best strategy becomes tit-for-tat, where you default to cooperate but will defect if that's what your opponent did last time you saw them.

  • Chris Rieth

    ''This is true of all social sciences, whether you are talking about sociology or political science. Performing scientific experiments on societies is neither moral nor logistically feasible, so social sciences must resort to either looking for natural experiments or to run models.''

    I agree.

    ''I don't think Curtis nor you have made any proposals of a better way for social sciences to test theories."

    Yes, Curtis is not theorizing a new approach for the social sciences. If anything, his documentaries oppose the manipulation of much of the what the social scientists attempt. His point of view is that from a moral vantage point.

    I would personally argue that the social sciences is the wrong approach to understanding and therefore guiding society. In its place I would argue for a long-term missions for the nations and the species as a whole, based on win-win rather than control. Treating humans as cogs in a system lead to some of the worst kinds of societies (ie. Communism, National Socialism (Nazism), etc.)

    ''My charges are far more serious than nitpicking. I am accusing him of misrepresenting the positions of his ideological enemies and presenting a work that is misleading and filled with misconceptions.''

    That's fine if you want to attack what you believe are his misconceptions, but you are doing so in a tangential manner. Curtis' documentaries are all parts of a larger whole. The single thread throughout all of them is that he is pointing out is the psychological relationships between seemingly separate mass movements and the elites who guide them.

    ''It is intellectually lazy for you to claim that there is a counterargument to what I am saying in a work I haven't seen or read.''

    I may not be going at this with as much academic rigor as you are but what I am attempting to do is allow Curtis to speak, mainly, for himself.

    Check out Curtis' The Century of the Self. It's considered his best.

  • Chris Rieth

    ...

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    "Yes, Curtis is not theorizing a new approach for the social sciences. If anything, his documentaries oppose the manipulation of much of the what the social scientists attempt. His point of view is that from a moral vantage point."

    Likewise spreading misinformation is morally wrong. As I have pointed out, game theory is far broader than the prisoner's dilemma, and it is even broader than zero-sum games. There are games with a Nash equilibrium of cooperate/cooperate (i.e. win/win). Furthermore, the prisoner's dilemma is not applicable in the situations that Curtis uses it.

    This is not a tangential critique. Part I is entitled "**** You Buddy" and completely revolves around Curtis's misapplication of this model. This is either due to malicious intent to mislead, or it's due to ignorance. Almost all introductory economics textbooks, from Paul Krugman's to N. Gregory Mankiw's, talk about the prisoner's dilemma *only* in the oligopoly chapter. So this is a misconception that could have very easily been rectified by simply consulting with an econ major undergrad.

    "I would personally argue that the social sciences is the wrong approach to understanding and therefore guiding society. In its place I would argue for a long-term missions for the nations and the species as a whole, based on win-win rather than control. Treating humans as cogs in a system lead to some of the worst kinds of societies (ie. Communism, National Socialism (Nazism), etc.)"

    Have you ever taken an economics, political science, or sociology course? Social sciences are not based on control, but uncovering knowledge. *Governments* are based on control, and thus will sometimes misuse this knowledge, but as social scientists are employed privately as well as publicly and publish their knowledge in papers and books available to private citizens, so this does not argue against uncovering knowledge. If anything, it argues towards reining in government power and control.

    The public choice economists that Curtis so maligns noticed that governments following liberal Keynesian policies that recommend tax cuts and spending increases during recessions rarely followed the accompanying Keynesian policy to increase taxes and cut spending during booms, and thus ended up with huge deficits (unsustainable in the case of Greece).

    Why? Because they were acting in their own self-interest. It is very tough to campaign on a platform of tax increases or spending cuts, and most politicians aim to gain power (and thus control), not to govern effectively. Note that spending increases also amounts to increased government involvement in the economy -- control.

    For the sake of balance (a goal Curtis seems to have eschewed altogether), this argument can also be applied to conservative politicians who fixated upon a fringe school of economics, supply-side, not because they thought it was sound science that would be good for the economy, but because they saw its policy prescription of tax cuts to be one that would resonate with their base and win them elections (and thus control). The Austrian school occupies a similar fringe position within the field but is also seized upon by conservative politicians for similar reasons.

    There is nothing wrong with the goals Marx outlined for Communism. The big problem as I see it is that one of the steps along the way was for the state to take over the factors of production from the capitalists (thus centralizing economic power and control). They were supposed to let go of it as the economy moved away from private property altogether and achieved Communism, but no government was ever willing to relinquish power and control and take this step.

    So I think your complaint about people being treated like cogs is aimed at the wrong target.

  • Chris Rieth

    Major points:

    ''Likewise spreading misinformation is morally wrong.''

    What you are doing is disagreeing with Curtis' assessment of the situation, that's different from misinforming. Misinforming would be him making up facts, not assessing them.

    ''Part I is entitled "**** You Buddy" and completely revolves around Curtis's misapplication of this model. This is either due to malicious intent to mislead, or it's due to ignorance. Almost all introductory economics textbooks, from Paul Krugman's to N. Gregory Mankiw's, talk about the prisoner's dilemma *only* in the oligopoly chapter. So this is a misconception that could have very easily been rectified by simply consulting with an econ major undergrad.''

    I see where he takes the leap. I think he also discusses ''Nash's equalibrium'' as well. Whether he is overreaching or not really depends upon how it was treated by the social scientists, which leads straight into the R.D. Laing segment. Are you familiar with R.D. Laing's theories?

    ''Social sciences are not based on control, but uncovering knowledge.''

    Why would you have to teach, as we agreed upon*, superficial models to uncover ''knowledge'', if you weren't planning on employing it in some manner, whether it be for gov't, a corporation, a philanthropist, etc.? Furthermore, what axioms do these models rely upon? How do these axioms influence the institutions?

    ''The public choice economists that Curtis so maligns noticed that governments following liberal Keynesian policies that recommend tax cuts and spending increases during recessions rarely followed the accompanying Keynesian policy to increase taxes and cut spending during booms, and thus ended up with huge deficits (unsustainable in the case of Greece).''

    You blame Greece for the banking crisis? It's not an isolated incident. Greece is just a bellweather of a larger problem in the Western financial system.

    ''*Governments* are based on control, and thus will sometimes misuse this knowledge, but as social scientists are employed privately as well as publicly and publish their knowledge in papers and books available to private citizens, so this does not argue against uncovering knowledge. If anything, it argues towards reining in government power and control.''

    This is Curtis' whole thesis in this documentary: the irony that to ''free'' people from government bureaucrats they have to enslave them to a paradigm of a numbers game.

    Minor points (Tangential):

    ''The Austrian school occupies a similar fringe position within the field but is also seized upon by conservative politicians for similar reasons.''

    I hope that I'm not coming off as an Austrian School lunatic.

    ''There is nothing wrong with the goals Marx outlined for Communism. The big problem as I see it is that one of the steps along the way was for the state to take over the factors of production from the capitalists (thus centralizing economic power and control). They were supposed to let go of it as the economy moved away from private property altogether and achieved Communism, but no government was ever willing to relinquish power and control and take this step.''

    I think I hear Thomas More rolling in his grave...

    *Footnote*
    Me: "Game Theory is applying a superimposed model over what is actually going on in any given situation."
    You: This is true of all social sciences, whether you are talking about sociology or political science.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    me: "Likewise spreading misinformation is morally wrong."

    Chris: "What you are doing is disagreeing with Curtis' assessment of the situation, that's different from misinforming. Misinforming would be him making up facts, not assessing them."

    He misrepresents the prisoner's dilemma model as being 1) representative of what game theory says about people 2) a model that applies broadly to how people act in most, if not all situations. His characterization of game theory as having a dark view of people having to screw each other over -- upon which his entire premise from part I rests upon -- derives from this misapplication of the prisoner's dilemma.

    Someone who had taken an introductory economics course would know that both of these are patently false. Someone who has taken graduate coursework (or did a little research and read Axelrod or Ridley) would realize that game theory has done a lot of work on altruism.

    To misrepresent a field this badly is bad journalism, and it is morally wrong. Just as a doctor should do no harm in regards to a patient's health, a journalist should do no harm in regards to the understanding and knowledge of their readers or viewers. Spreading misconceptions does great harm.

    "You blame Greece for the banking crisis? It's not an isolated incident. Greece is just a bellweather of a larger problem in the Western financial system."

    No, I blame Greece's problems largely on running deficits that were too large. The banking crisis is a whole other can of worms that rests on 1) the Fed 2) the GSEs 3) mortgage derivatives increasing asymmetrical information.

    Incidentally, the Austrians are not crazy. The Austrian Business Cycle Theory focusses on the Fed, so what they have to say about the crisis tends to make a lot of sense compared to the Neoclassical types, however they usually completely ignore derivatives markets. The Post-Keynesians likewise occupy a fringe position within the field, and they are like the flipside of the Austrians in that they focus only on the derivatives and ignore the Fed.

    My fringe statement was more about how mainstream they were rather than a statement about how crazy they are. As I've noted before, it's the mainstream that runs models that assume rational actors. And my comment was about politicians picking and choosing the pieces of economics that best fit their campaigns.

    "Are you familiar with R.D. Laing's theories?"

    This was one of the few parts of the film I found educational, but anyone who implies that there is some sort of collusion between psychiatrists and economists has not met very many economists. Economists generally look down upon all other social sciences as not being mathematically rigorous enough. One of my main critiques of economics is that it doesn't collaborate enough with other fields. There is work being done with psychology (behavioral economics), political science (political economy), and sociology (economic sociology), but I am not aware of any collaboration with psychiatrists.

    This seemed an awful lot like Dubya always mentioning Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in sentences very near each other. Which was also immoral.

    "This is Curtis' whole thesis in this documentary: the irony that to ''free'' people from government bureaucrats they have to enslave them to a paradigm of a numbers game."

    As I pointed out earlier, the Enthoven critique of numbers based performance targets talked about how folks gamed the numbers system while ignoring how people gamed the previous system (which, obviously, there was considerable unhappiness about, or else Enthoven wouldn't have been called in in the first place). *All* systems can be gamed (e.g. kissing your boss's ass). People were already enslaved to the existing paradigm before numbers came along.

    The existence of cheating within a bad incentive scheme is much like having cheating within a bad grading scheme. It doesn't argue for throwing out grades altogether.

    "Why would you have to teach, as we agreed upon*, superficial models to uncover ''knowledge'', if you weren't planning on employing it in some manner, whether it be for gov't, a corporation, a philanthropist, etc.? Furthermore, what axioms do these models rely upon? How do these axioms influence the institutions?"

    So that people make better informed decisions. It is up to every individual to choose to learn enough to make better decisions. When somebody chooses to cherry pick tiny pieces that match their existing world view and then misuse those bits of knowledge, they bear the responsibility for that choice -- whether they be a politician or a filmmaker.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    Also, I disagree that economic models are superficial. They make assumptions that mean they apply *narrowly*. There is a difference. You shouldn't use microeconomic models of individual choice upon aggregates. You shouldn't use Keynesian models to describe the long-term. You shouldn't use growth models to describe business cycles. This is why economics teaches so many models, so that you have a toolkit with many options to choose from. But these models can and do shed a lot of insight on the situations for which they apply.

    Similarly, one shouldn't use a Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) unless 1) you have two players trying to maximize their payoff and 2) they are presented with a situation where their payoff is always higher if they defect, no matter what their opponent does.

    To analyze other situations, game theorists can 1) change the payoffs (e.g., where players are better off cooperating no matter what the other player does) 2) change the form of the game from the 2x2 normal form to something else. PD became so famous because it's a counterargument to Adam Smith's argument, and so it's the one always taught to intro students. However, it's only the tip of the iceberg, and even PD in repeated form becomes a very different beast.

    But claiming that PD argues that people *should* screw each other over is like claiming that physics models that assume no friction are arguing that friction *should* be removed from the universe. Simplifying assumptions are not a prescription.

  • Chris Rieth

    At the risk of seeming nitpcicky, misrepresent and misinform have two different meanings.

    ''anyone who implies that there is some sort of collusion between psychiatrists and economists has not met very many economists.''

    It's not implied there was any collusion. What was stated was the Laing read up on Game Theory and applied it to psychology.

    I'm not going to point out any more particulars, since it seems like quite a web, but I'll say this, you are generally missing the point. Curtis is focusing on mass psychology, not some academic critique. This documentary is about how these ideas stemming from Game Theory have affected society once individuals in society apply, or (as you may believe) even misapply, them.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    Misrepresenting is a subset of misinforming. To be sure, my example below about friction was a better analogy in regards to Curtis misrepresenting economic models that assume rational actors rather than game theory. My apologies. A better example for Curtis misrepresenting game theory would be, say, physics modeling used for a moon mission.

    In the course of planning, one of the physics models might predict that the rocket would crash into the moon, indicating a problem. This outcome of the model, however, does not mean that physics as a field believes that all rockets *ought* to crash into the moon. It's focusing attention on a potential problem that should be fixed. But clearly, any journalist who reported physics as trying to crash rockets would be both misrepresenting physics *and* misinforming their audience.

    Similarly, the defect/defect outcome in the single-run prisoner's dilemma is typically considered a market failure (well, less so in the oligopoly pricing case, as it counteracts deadweight losses created by oligopolies). That one game theory model predicts this outcome for a specific situation does *not* indicate that game theory believes people *ought* to screw each other over. Prediction is not prescription either.

    A significant part of the basis behind Curtis's main point involves this misrepresentation of game theory. This is misinforming his audience.

  • Tom Bayley

    Felix, I have to say it's pretty hard to follow your argument when you are imputing something to this documentary which I really don't think is true i.e. a 'straw man'.

    Your straw man is that Curtis himself is using social ideas and models (Hayek, game theory, the doctrine of self-interest, negative liberty, etc) to characterise the world. Of course he is not!

    What Curtis is suggesting is, firstly, that these ideas are all related in an essential way. The essence extends into numerous academic disciples, as part of our intellectual gestalt. Then he is suggesting that those who have political and economic power have taken up these ideas and models, and are using them to direct policy in inappropriate ways. This is dangerous (as you seem to understand perfectly well), as the actual outcomes are highly unlikely to match the intended goals. And indeed he spends some time looking at the undesirable and unintended consequences of these policies.

    That's pretty much all I take away from these documentaries. It's a sanguine and cautionary look at recent social history, and the clumsiness of our leaders efforts at directing it. Reading your comments I'm not sure we've been watching the same material?

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    I am not arguing that Curtis is using social ideas at all. I am arguing that he is badly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting some of these ideas.

    10:36, direct quote from the film: "Underlying game theory was a dark vision of human beings, who were driven only by self-interest, constantly distrustful of those around them. And there was a mathematician at the Rand Corporation who would take this dark vision much further. He set out to show that one could create stability through suspicion and self-interest, not just in the Cold War, but in the whole of human society."

    This was John Nash, of course. Self-interest, yes. Rational self-interest underlines all of mainstream economics, including liberal Keynesianism. Distrustful? This is false, as I've been arguing. "Dark vision"!?!? Propagandistic language designed to prejudice the viewer against the field. It is this and the subsequent portrayal of the Prisoner's Dilemma that I find to be misrepresentative of game theory to the point of spreading misinformation (refer again to Robert Axelrod's work with the iterated version of this same game showing evolution of altruism).

    Also, if showing how political leaders misuse ideas was Curtis's true goal, he would have better achieved this with more balance, for example by using less loaded language, fewer misconceptions, no misrepresentation, and a mix of liberal and conservative ideas. For example, liberal Keynesian ideas which claimed to be able to fight recessions were similarly used by politicians with the result of large deficits -- and the same amount of recessions as we had before. And of course, there's Marx with Stalin and Mao.

  • Chris Rieth

    You don't seem to want to question Game Theory on an axiomatic level, ie. assuming to be able to define all possible actions through Game Theory.

  • http://twitter.com/perfctlyGoodInk Felix Ling

    "ie. assuming to be able to define all possible actions through Game Theory."

    Oh, I didn't see this edit until after I wrote my response. But again, you seem to have a misconception (possibly due to Curtis's misinformation). Game theory isn't used to analyze actions. It uses the set of possible actions within a situation to analyze that situation (recall what the prisoner's dilemma analyzes: advertising spending, oligopoly pricing, and arms races). When the set of possible actions is very large or infinite, a game theory model is probably not the appropriate model to use for that situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1646595881 Oliver Charles Gurr

    I agree with you that Curtist at times does not develop his points, however, game theory has been excepted, by those in power as a model for prediction of peoples behaviour.

    Sadly that model is a simplistic one- but those in power seem to care little, its reductionist and possibly on purpose, there are greater points to be made about the consiquences of a negative liberty society, Curtist does not make those points, he vagely touches upon them; however just to add something- it really doesnt matter to a degree, that Curtist ignores things, this documentary discusses how people of influence have used certain ideas, and theories- and they are far more guilty of ingnoring things.

    Power and it´s abuse!

  • http://www.facebook.com/felix.ling Felix Ling

    I'm not saying that Curtis fails to develop his point. I'm saying that Curtis's argument rests on three pretty big mistakes.

    One, he confuses a model's prediction as a prescription. The prisoner's dilemma (PD) says people will screw each other over in certain specific situations. It does not say that people should screw each other over.

    Two, he applies a model to situations it doesn't fit. Both economics and game theories are disciplines with a variety of different models for different situations. The PD is a model of a very rare situation where two players have a payoff or benefit for screwing over the other player that is higher no matter what the other player does.

    Thirdly, he confuses an entire field for one of its models. Game Theory is no more the PD than economics is the supply/demand model. As I said, both fields have a whole toolkit of models to analyze specific situations.

    As I said before, this is akin to seeing a physics simulation which shows a rocket crashing into Mars if the thruster is aimed a certain way and then reporting that the field of physics believes rockets ought to crash. The problem isn't failure to develop his argument. It's that his argument rests on the above faulty assumptions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/felix.ling Felix Ling

    Also, the field of economics that most studies power and its abuse is Buchanan and the Public Choice school that Curtis so maligns.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.blabberstank Chris Morgan

    I think Curtis is hot

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.zylstra.1 Christopher Zylstra

    On what basis you are referring I'm really not sure, nor do I suppose I know how thermal gradients fit in to the picture....(nor wish to have it explained). And yet, hot, hot, hot. Yes, definitely hot. Basically, each of his films or series' are solid enough as to offer foundational support to build an entire world-view, world order, religion, guiding phil., and detailed, rich enough to fill it out in as high a style as capitalism or imperialism themselves! (Dont worry, I'm actually just messing with my prof who frequents this locale.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.zylstra.1 Christopher Zylstra

    Mr. Lings comments are all correct I believe, and very useful. I had not , however, understood that Curtis was trying to validate or vilify predictive modeling's outcome's so much as he was saying that some outcomes should never be sought, nor could be achieved, with predictive tools. The criticism, and the dangers Curtis described are those which, he alleges, lie in rejecting any outcome that cannot be gamed out as too unpredictable to be useful. This is boffin-slide rule logic and applied, often, to problems which require at least one failed attempt after which outcomes of immeasurable benefit and previously unrealized connectivity may emerge. It is the 'measurement problem' of political science. Quantum Sociology ,>) Do we really want reality to contain only that which we could have predicted it would contain? Is this the path to innovation, or the path from it? The criticism of game theory I understood was being argued, was that predictive modeling may game out well, and as such appeal to boffins, brokerage houses, and puritanical authoritarian tyrants, but to embrace it requires self limiting thought of a kind posing mortal danger to freedom. So, while it did seem to help us avoid social, political and literal thermo-nuclear holocaust, it just as effectively made impossible higher ideals and outcomes that we already understand may germinate, can only germinate, and take root in an organic, chaotic, ironic matrix. Unless we're prepared to say that such risk is not worth taking, then, unbeknownst, we've already predicted the ultimate end of evolution itself, as that which took place 30 seconds ago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jerry.michaud1 Jerry Michaud

    Maybe better then this docu, your comment .....Analyzing crashes as a constant or a mathematical oddity or theory is as trying to calculate the reason why a bullet as entered someones brain without factoring that someone has aimed and pulled the trigger. all crash as been manufactured and all dream unless authorized and is conformist will be crushed . simple as that , if anyone has issues with these concept, well they are to indoctrinated or incapable of waking up from the induced dream they are experiencing and that they call life . BTW Nash was right , sometime madness is a great way to escape conformity or one could say that like Sheldon Cooper's, his Egotistic way led him to create the game theory after loosing at a card game, and out of trying to get and edge he came up with his theory , just as when to try to rationalize his descent he came up with the attempt to theorize the god calculation to prove his existence, which religious freaks has used to endorse their believe . Something he might have done after an argument with his wife during one of her attempt to get him committed to a mental institution and who was an avid catholic . And today we use these same idea to rationalize what we cannot without the knowledge of the real puppet master rationalize our self. Button line , we are a creature that as a whole demand to be controlled and nurtured by leaders, gods and fairy tells , as aware as we claim to be we cannot grasp the concept of freedom , we are made to believe so easily in the crap we are fed cause it makes us feel ok , reality is very simple, go back and see the lord of the flies and you will realize that even given a clean start we would right away go back to our true nature .we are all a self-preserving entity that relies on other for our own survival .and that we all feel the needs to belong so that we can feel safe . otherwise , living on a deserted island by yourself with all the natural resource as water and food would be enough for anyone to have a happy life . Why would Crusoe have feel the need to be rescued? yes butt naked on a beautiful island lol hey you don't believe in my theory...go back to the safety of religion and explain why even after the flood they still felt the need for a leader in the name of Noah , and all the subsequent leader till today.

    Respecfully....

  • http://www.facebook.com/jerry.michaud1 Jerry Michaud

    wow 3 hours later i finally finished watching this docu , Amazingly before seeing it i had commented on MKK's post , I must say that i am truly happy to see that my idea of this world is right on point, This docu should be part of the curriculum of every high school college and university as a whole. It fully wrap the entire aspect of what society we live in and what led us here ,but as usual give us no solution. but it opens a real debate about who we are and how we can in the near future transform our society . Again , we are an endless evolving creature and due to this non of their math trick can truly fix the problem of even begin to predict it on the long run since would would evolve from what ever would come out of it. we strive for change and evolution and we are constantly effected by outside events .Revolution have been fought , theorist will make their theory and corporation will make profit from their conclusion. button line we dream romantically of a world to which we are not made for as we are not robot . in the end the Si-fi version of our dream will always includes the Morlocks ready to harvest us , the only solace is to live on the ride side of the conflict in these ages at it will be called by our childrens childrens who will have to deal with the same series of complexity ,tribulation and dream for a new society .

  • http://www.hopedance.org bob banner

    and now the BBC has taken it down....

  • https://www.facebook.com/quoctoan1009 TQT

    it was down too.