Well, right on cue, Gasland director Josh Fox released a new video which serves as an excellent companion to my previous post. The Sky is Pink is a condensed version of Gasland, but updated to target New York governor Andrew Coumo’s efforts to allow fracking in his state. The thing I like about this video is its effort to debunk industry criticisms of Gasland by offering a mini-lesson in media literacy (“the sky is pink” refers to the PR strategy of making false claims that are then covered by news media for the sake of being “balanced”). I think that you will agree that after watching this Tom Ridge and his industry cronies are villains in the truest sense and that independent media makers are heroes!
For more background info about this short film, click here.
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 1): “Love and Power”
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 2): “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 3): “The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey”
I just finished watching Adam Curtis‘ epic polemic against the danger and abuse of machine metaphors in our society, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” (all three episodes are posted above). I’ve been a fan of his quirky documentaries: “Century of the Self” and “The Power of Nightmares” are a grave attacks against the cult of marketing and mass manipulation. This current effort is more complex and nuanced. He documents the folly of different groups extrapolating computer metaphors in order to explain nature and human society. He shows the tremendous irresponsibility of Western powers who have used ecological “holism” to justify imperial ambitions, and fears that environmental movements and social media advocates run the risk of similar metaphor abuse.
Curtis attacks the idea of holism as anti-individual. I don’t think it’s fair, but because it has often been misplaced, to him any invocation of a holistic view of humans is anathema. I find the critique a little too harsh and generalized, although I appreciate some of his attacks. In particular I like his polemic against biology based on theories of the selfish gene. Curtis correctly points out it is a machine metaphor applied to cell biology. There also is a blistering attack against using computer networks to drive the global economy, which again is justified. Finally, he does a good job of showing that these ideas are often subservient to neocolonial ambitions. Fair enough.
It’s hard to tell what exactly what Curtis wants to do with this project. It seems like he is defending Enlightenment principles of the individual against emerging cultural views of interconnectivity. Curtis offers a choice of one against the other, as opposed to trying to find a balance between the two. Moreover, he critiques quite heavily the liberal project of democracy in Africa without acknowledging its roots in Enlightenment concepts of the individual.
Curtis criticizes ecological models based on systems theory as a false solution for global ecology. In response he seems to argue for political and social change–conscious human interventions to solve problems–but then criticizes the revolutions that arose in Eastern Europe because they self-organized with the aid of computers. He argues that those revolutions failed, and in fact have created situations far worse than before. There is some nostalgia, I believe, for good old fashion ideology.
Curtis’ contrarian perspective comes at an interesting time. The Arab awakening, global climate chaos and crashing economies seem to be outgrowths and responses to the Enlightenment project. Are computer networks the engine of change? Or is it that networks have been abused by old thinking and misapplied metaphors? The past colonizes the present. And designs the future.
Curtis casts a wide net, associating Ayn Rand with computer network technology, neoliberal economics, ecology, biology and colonialism. Are these interconnections real? By his own logic, is such a grand conspiracy the result of the kind systems thinking he rails against? I believe much of what Curtis offers is necessary and good for discussion. It certainly slaughters a lot of sacred cows, even though the approach is one of scorched earth. It would be interesting to see Curtis debate Yochai Benkler, who takes an opposite view of networks.
Aesthetically I like the style of his films: the odd mix of kooky ephemeral films juxtaposed to eclectic and often unusual choices in music make his rants a fun romp. One thing is for sure, these documentaries are far from boring.
A few years ago I was interviewed by Lori Ersolmaz for a documentary project about media literacy. Here is a new video,”Media is…,” that she made featuring some sound bites from our original interview. I’m honored that she considers me an “expert”! The video is a nice meditation and I hope you will take a few minutes to watch it and support Lori’s work.
“How to Sell a Banksy” looks like a fun documentary that pokes fun at the art world. From the film’s Website:
Banksy’s work now reportedly changes hands for millions.
But he puts up his street art for free. Have you ever wondered
what would happen if you got your hands on one of these?
Does it mean you’ve found a winning lottery ticket or just
scraped some worthless crap off a wall?
Going up against the Art Establishment, Critics, Auction Houses,
Gallery Owners and Authentication Boards in a quest for the
elusive meal ticket, two filmmakers unwittingly gatecrash the
murky and protective world of Banksy.
“HOW TO SELL A BANKSY” raises questions of ownership,
authentication and the true value of art itself. Through all the
chaos and incompetence comes a modern-day, true-story,
Avatar’s global meme about an irresponsible/greedy/childish culture slashing and burning a planetary intelligence has its analog on Earth. So if James Cameron kicked open the pop culture door for this idea to spread through the mediasphere, now it’s time for our world’s indigenous to speak for themselves. Enter the Kogi from Colombia, who ask us to listen with our hearts and minds to their urgent call for human sanity. By using film as their bridging tool, our “elder brothers” are co-authoring Aluna, There is No Life Without Thought, a documentary manifesto designed to wake us up, asking us to think differently about our idiotic and suicidal treatment of the world/selves/others.
“Footage of the Kogi conducting rituals beneath a spectacular tree is straight out of Avatar. ‘Avatar has done great work for this,’ (filmmaker Alan) Ereira says. ‘Twenty years ago, the Kogi were pushing on a wheel that had just started to turn. Now that wheel is really rolling and they are part of the zeitgeist.’”
Indeed, but the scene is not out of Avatar; the film scene is from Earth (let’s not mistake the map for the territory!). However, the point is well taken: the wheel is turning. But the Kogi and Avatar can only do so much. You have to help push the wheel, too, internally and in the world at large. The task is vast, but there is one small tidbit from the Guardian story that you might find useful. When asked why it is that the current world system has such strong destructive momentum, Kogi spokesperson Jacinto Zabareta replied,
“Habit… That ambition to have more doesn’t have a framework. It’s just a drive to accumulate. The habit is a competitive one. ‘What everyone else has I must have too, otherwise everyone else has power over me.’ The consequences are evident, but it doesn’t seem obvious to you… You can go and live in space, that’s fine, but you don’t seem to be able to go back to the understanding of how to live harmoniously with the earth. That’s something you’ve forgotten.’”
This insight concurs with the essence of Buddhist teachings about habits of mind that lead to unskilled and confused action in the world. Jacinto, I believe, is asking for a kind of mindfulness that relates to cognitive scientist Francesco J. Varela‘s call for Ethical Know-How: “the progressive, firsthand acquaintance with the virtuality of self.” What he means by this is the age-old problem of duality in which we fail to be mindful of how our thoughts are not embedded within a fictional self, but are the result of an interaction of the world which brings us into existence. Our minds are not isolated, but co-evolve with the world around us. The few statements of the Kogi I’ve read and heard in the trailer seem to imply the same: our thoughts are what bring forth the world. For evidence, look no further than the ecological nightmare our civilization has produced. All is made possible by our ideas, and is a projection of a destructive thought process that simply needs to be reigned in.
Want to change the world? Change your mind. Or at least how you conceive it.
Too bad Pi‘s Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) didn’t see “Nature By Numbers” (the first embedded video). Maybe he wouldn’t have gone insane! But then again, seeing the beauty and perfection of the cosmos’ sacred geometry has blow many a mind before. Including this one.