|The Trap –
What Happened To Our Dream 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 behaviour of the Soviet enemy.
Mathematicians such as John Nash developed paranoid game theories whose equations required people to be seen as selfish and isolated creatures, constantly monitoring each other suspiciously – always intent on their own advantage.
was then developed by genetic biologists, anthropologists, radical
psychiatrists and free market economists, and has come to dominate both
political thinking since the Seventies and the way people think about
themselves as human beings.
However, within this simplistic idea lay the seeds of new forms of control. And what people have forgotten is that there are other ideas of freedom. We are, says Curtis, in a trap of our own making that controls us, deprives us of meaning and causes death and chaos abroad.
examined in The
the need to advance from the basic Game-Theory of John Nash and the
Selfish-Gene theories of Dawkins and others. Nash is alive and
well and in a state of enlightenment, realising his theory is (a)
inadequate in relation to the complex human beings it aims to include
in its behavioural models and (b) subject to the universal law of all
theories of this kind: they contain the seeds of their own destruction
which will germinate if application is taken toward the extreme.
Dawkins, although he still fails to understand his selfish gene theory
has no effect whatsoever on arguments for or against atheism, has
learned a lot more than he knew when he first got so excited about it.
It's extraordinary how people burst into print and lecturing before
finding out what others have already discovered many times over the
few thousand years, but there you go..
The Trap is not without a few
misperceptions of its own. In its effort to show that the chasing of
numerical targets by hospital managers, targets set according to
game-theory rules to incentivise those responsible, it found fault with
classifying a trolley with wheels removed as a bed, or a corridor
converted into a ward as a ward. Why? A bed is a trolley without wheels
and a large corridor full of beds is a ward. If beds and wards were
needed, that was how to add them quickly and speed was what was
requested. In fact the NHS spent far too much as it is, which is why
it spent locally beyond its means and is now locally in trouble
Putting off complicated operations to get the quick ones off
the waiting list may or may not be cheating with harmful side effects
but more detail needs to be shown to establish that. Nevertheless on
the whole The Trap is
intelligent and thought provoking.
The third episode of The Trap
finished with an indicated
conclusion: that Isaiah Berlin was wrong when he said that liberty had
to be limited to what he defined as 'Negative Liberty' (because, if it
given a collective aim or vision, this would end as tyranny). If that
is indeed the conclusion of the author I can
confirm without doubt that this conclusion is correct, and that a
philosophy of liberty such as Berlin's, necessary and valid as it was
to enable us to defeat that of Marx, is nevertheless useless as a
formula for existence, just as was the mathematical basis for it
proposed by Nash.
So what, you may
ask, is the positive aim that we should encourage the world's citizens
to strive for in both their own and the collective interest, not
because they are forced to but willingly?.Very
simple: it is the one that Nature shows us - the management of this
planet. That means managing our immediate personal environment and
relationships, our local and our global environment and relationships.
By facing us with a crisis, Nature has supplied us with the answer. Now
that we know that the negative freedom of Isaiah Berlin or the
Positive Freedom of Marx will both lead to disaster, we can perhaps
begin to see that we can serve ourselves best by serving others.
Neither formulae from Nash or Philosophy from Berlin or Marx can
absolve us each and every one from our personal responsibility. That is
to inform ourselves and educate our children. We have millennia of
works to choose from, so I suggest a sensible way to proceed is to look
first at what informed some of those whose lives we most admire. A lot
of stuff is free on the web and we have an Open University and the
Bible (Authorized version) and Shakespeare, and all the works of
philosophy and science; but first of all we much
teach people to listen, speak, read and write in at least one or two
established modern languages. English is a good one.
jouralist Peter Hitchens has just completed a televised thesis
concerning David Cameron, who he describes as an opportunist 'toff'
with no belief in anything. It is probably true that any modern
politician has to be opportunist in the sense of being pragmatic in
policy and seizing the opportunties on offer. But it is also evident
that while political beliefs may be required to assemble and hold
together a political party, they are rarely worthy of what we might
call belief. All their dogmas
and doctrines are subject to a reality check with the prevailing
circumstances. Civilisation, it seems, depends far more on standards of
behaviour and the trust we have in our fellow humans than any political
or economic theory, and therefore far more in the perception of the
world that is absorbed by every individual in their formative years.
Unfortunately today's youth is surrounded by the ill digested content
of the media, including the Internet, that is likely to beneficial only
in a home and school and neigbourhood that can provide proper support.
Today, people are
expressing surprise that Bob Woolmer was murdered, yet a few days ago
it was reported that crowds of many thousands in Pakistan were
demonstrating in the streets shouting "Death to Inzimam, Death to
Woolmer". Is it not probable that one of their mentality, regardless of
nationality, would believe himself a hero if he performed the deed? Or
are we to conclude it is right to classify all these
demonstrators as primitive savages? We can't have it both ways.
Apparently many nations now consider it humiliating to lose an
international sporting fixture! Why? It would seem increasingly obvious
that there are masses of people on this planet who are not yet ready
for the interconnected world of information and social intercourse that
we have made available to all.