It has been a long while since I encountered anything as intriguing — and simultaneously disturbing — as what I am about to share with you. This documentary raises such fundamental questions & issues that simply coming up with a title for this post was a challenge. I must give props to my friend Greg Bridges, from the Bay Area for cluing me into this.
This documentary, by Adam Curtis, of Britain, and initially broadcast on BBC, entitled The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom. While the link goes into some depth describing some of what the film deals with, there are a few areas which I found uniquely troubling:
- First and foremost was the underlying and ongoing reference to the definition of the human behavioral paradigm, as something wherein the overriding drive is individual self-interest & gain, most often at the expense of those around you. This ‘paradigm of paranoia’ as the human norm — which he often references as being a source of the unfurling problem — is something which immediately registered for me as traceable to what I have found to be some quite reliable research, initially captured(to my knowledge) in the book Iceman’s Inheritance, by Michael Bradley. [NOTE: The new edition includes an introduction by Prof. John Henrik Clarke] As others far more knowledgeable than I have asserted, the crucible of an ice age environment, and its inherent context of lack, scarce resources, and the attendant hoarding response(s) have significantly ingrained the subsequent social development of western culture in clearly identifiable ways. As Cheikh Anta Diop, in The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, and in his final work, Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology, introduced his premise of the Two Cradle Theory, he engaged the aforementioned differential in cultural development between those of the tropics, and those outside the tropics. This disparity — and, in the case of the premises and discussion of this film — lies at the RNA/DNA basis(pardon the pun) of the socio-psychological discussion, which Curtis continues to elaborate on, to his credit.
- The second factor which struck me, given my own interests, research & profession, was the role of mathematics — particularly game theory, and the ascribing of numerical values as a means of winnowing out the *emotional/subjective component*. Curtis’ examination of the evolution of game theory, within the pressurized social crucible of Cold War dynamics, and, later, its expansionist blooming within the financial and government sectors is highly illuminating. His exposition on John Forbes Nash(including film clips with Nash), the centerpiece of successful bio-pic A Beautiful Mind, puts Nash, and his developments in a context sorely lacking in the film. The ongoing and underlying role of applied mathematics, including the genesis of the field of systems analysis, and its parallel in technological development is one of the major threads of the series.
- The third factor I found intriguing/disturbing, was his examination of changes/revolutions in the field of psychiatry and psychology, in particular the work of R. D. Laing(especially regarding the *normal modern family* dynamic), and the work of David Rosenhan. Laing’s revelations about the family dynamic, the oppression/control/power games he found to be endemic to the *normal modern family* is enough to make you want to sit down with parents, spouses and loved ones to watch this together…with a deep heart-to-heart afterwards. Some of it many of us always felt we *knew*, in the back of our minds, but never had enough info to back up our intuitive graspings. Well, this film certainly points the way. The well known Rosenhan Experiment is also significant, in what it did to expose flaws in psychiatric hospital diagnoses and evaluations. The changes Curtis chronicles in this field of science were mind-boggling by themselves. I do feel compelled to comment here that Curtis’ characterization of Frantz Fanon, his writings & principles is troubling in its linearity, its single-mindedness, in an effort to link Fanon with Satre, and the resulting revolutionary ideologies applied on many fronts across the non-western world. Fanon is also well known for writings on the challenge of being of African descent in the western world, as in The Wretched of the Earth, and Black Skin, White Masks.
Once the influences of the above factors began to be interwoven, and their developmental interdependencies were revealed, the entire sordid morass became increasingly clear. Now, in the last few years, many have trumpeted the films Zeitgeist[& here](including me), and The Secret, among others. I must say, imho, this documentary series was far more chilling — and enlightening — than both of those put together. Some may claim thisis because I was already aware of much of the info in the other two films. Perhaps. But I encourage you to check this film series out. I have inserted a window below for each part — 1-3. It’s available on Google video: The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, and is apparently also available on DVD. This is definitely one of those “What do you think you REALLY know” films, prodding us to re-examine our perceptions, and the entire matrix around us, for glitches in our understanding, which we may find have been prodding us to actions we long thought were our own.
Lastly, how he links this all to the contamination & undermining of our concept of freedom, as well as the global social dynamic around “freedom”, are cognitive munitions of the highest order. I feel compelled to add that there are some incidents of — though apparently unintentional — outright hilarity, albeit on a sort of Monty Python kind of riff. The end of Part II – The Lonely Robot is a great example of this.