Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable

I’m looking quizzical, rubbing my chin. Adam Curtis appears to have lost control of his mind, or at the very least, is showing signs of unhealthy self contradiction. Where are the checks and balances ?

At the start of Part 2 of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, he unpicks, and, I would suggest, stamps on, the idea that ecosystems are networks of feedback loops, tending to re-balance. And then at the end of the same presentation, he asserts that human revolutions fail, and society folds in on itself and returns to the state of power and control it was in before. Now which is it to be, Adam Curtis ? Self-correcting stability or non-correcting ebbs, flows and shifting sands ?

The majority of modern day greens and ecologists accept that the world is changing, and that we are experiencing huge shifts, due to the actions of just one species – humans. The Earth can never return to the state it was in before the Industrial Revolution. “Welcome to the Anthropocene“, grandstands The Economist magazine.

The appliance of human power of the kind seen over the last couple of hundred years is the destructive element in all this. Permanent negative changes have occurred – the ecosystem is failing, not adapting. We need the Montreal Protocol, the acid rain regulations, the fish quotas. People, their governments and their corporations are just too rapacious and violent towards Mother Earth.

Adam Curtis spurns an analysis of non-destructive human power. He sees the idea of a collective of self-motivated individuals, without a leader, as weak, and unable to resist the negative aspects of natural human power, exerting itself even in the midst of the idealistic commune. He says that the Children of the Revolution in many countries have been too weak to withstand the old orders creeping back.

Yet he doesn’t analyse why many people think they should act without using traditional human power. He doesn’t seem to think it worth commenting on that revolutionaries often act without weapons. We have some human organisations, some even as large as entire countries, where some people exert too much damaging power. In order to have a better world, we need people to lead without exerting too much power – we need people who lead by becoming the servants of all, prophets of peace with a living testimony, walking the walk, incorporated into larger movements of public-serving individuals. We need people to self-censor their destructive personal human power, and work collectively, unselfishly, in order to break, forever, the tendency for the accumulation of human power in the hands of those who abuse it.

Sudden change may cause self-correction – a revolution is easily undone and the crevices can be papered over all too quickly with crackdowns and stringent reforms. Personally, I think that revolutions where people take to the streets in mass protest are not the right way to effect the kind of permanent change that will bring about the end of damaging hard power. But a lot of other people believe in street revolutions and believe in the effectiveness of mass protest; and because I am resisting taking a position of too much power, I assert I’m not in charge, so I won’t tell them what not to do.

Despite not having anybody telling them what to do, peaceful people movements are growing everywhere, not just in places with revolutions, not just in places where mass protests camp in public squares. It’s because people see the sense of changing the way they work together, when they hear and see the actions of other people groups, and when they hear the narrative of the history of what’s been done, what’s been tried, what got left behind.

Most forces within unmanipulated natural ecosystems work to hold other forces in check, and lead, on the whole, to situations of optimal benefits and minimal disadvantages for the maximum number of organisms. The situation is fluid, as the forces in the system don’t cancel each other out, don’t entirely self-regulate. Over time, landscapes, forests and reefs change, sometimes quite slowly, but significantly. Yet the life-enhancing, life-supporting configuration of species and resources at the start is not compromised by these natural changes.

By contrast, major disruption in any of the key processes causes chaotic, discontinuous, damaging alterations. The timescale can be short – a tornado whips through and destroys a town. One season’s drought can threaten world grain supplies. Global warming over only a few decades is leading to Climate Change, and causing rolling disasters of drought, flood, storms and wild fire. Make no mistake – although it’s been decades in the brewing, Climate Change is already a significant destructive force, and there is more in the pipeline.

There is no one “stable state”. Even within a safe, lively ecosystem, there is evolution, just like there is evolution in relationships, in work places, in democracy. Individuals evolve, just like species, and so do social organisations. More integrated democratic involvement is essential for long-lasting positive change in nations. Groups of free-thinking, free-acting individuals will continue to overcome the urge to shut themselves away from what they see as the madness around them, and cooperate, often using computer networks, to form a mutually beneficial social management. You can’t be a social revolutionary by yourself. For example, my self-interest includes the self-interest of others – altruism leads to systems of health and social care and welfare.

To approach real and beneficial change in repressive regimes, there needs to be a recognition that changes in political behaviour must also develop. Non-violent interaction, non-violent decision-making, non-violent policing, leadership and representation must all emerge, both in personal relationships and in the collective management of regions and nations.

These webs of peaceful cooperation may seem as pliable and weak as cobwebs, but spiders, remember, have survived and proliferated, for about 300 million years, so they must be doing something right.

One thought on “Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable”

  1. Can you explain what you mean by “unmanipulated…ecosystem”? I have been studying ecological relationships involving humans throughout history for many years, and I have never seen any evidence of an ecosystem in which humans played no part. I leave your word “natural” out of the quote because it means too many different things which tend to cancel each other out. The myth of nature is probably the single most ecologically destructive phenomenon yet, as it disables us from seeing what our part in ecology should be. Nature is an imaginary nymph we chase through a forest, and we need to wake up to the fact that she was never there in the first place and deal with the reality that our over active imagination has gotten us lost in a forest from which there is absolutely no way out, and in which we will have to survive as best we can.

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