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The antidote to civilisational collapse – An interview with Adam Curtis (2018) (economist.com)
171 points by marton78 10 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 213 comments





From the article:

> in the 80s everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working, knew that it was corrupt, knew that the bosses were looting the system, knew that the politicians had no alternative vision. And they knew that the bosses knew they knew that. Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal.

This article's explanation of Hypernormalisation (defined in the excerpt above) was quite interesting to read.

Sadly I see this happening quite a lot in South Africa - a country that 25 years ago was filled with much hope and excitement for the future - but now is on the precipice of rapid economic decline due to similar reasons outlined above (primarily corrupt politicians but also an economy ravaged by Covid).

That being said there are still many South Africans that are nervously excited about the country's future - I guess we just need that alternative vision to drive us forward?

As an aside, I know Elon Musk's ambitious projects get mixed responses here on HN, but one thing he keeps referring to (and which resonates quite strongly with me) is his vision for an alternative future which excites us and inspires us.


I'm not so sure Musk's vision is so exciting. I think he just sees the writing on the wall and wants to become king on Mars while Earth goes down the drain. Look at all the stories surrounding Tesla employee treatment. Musk is not much different than Bezos.

> I think he just sees the writing on the wall and wants to become king on Mars while Earth goes down the drain.

That's a false dichotomy. We could explore and colonise space while also improving conditions on Earth. The same way we could shelter the homeless and feed the hungry; or build rockets/cars and treat employees respectfully.

> I'm not so sure Musk's vision is so exciting.

As an ineffectual prole, without PayPal/emerald money or political connections, I'm happy to watch someone kick the space industry back to life (after ULA & co. turned it into a pork barrel/cash-cow). I'm also happy to call out Musk's poor labour practices (and other crap, like pedogate), for whatever little good my tiny voice will have. If nothing else, I'm also happy to watch giant fuel tanks exploding and crash landing on YouTube.

> Musk is not much different than Bezos.

Of course. Probably worth pointing out Bezos has his own space company too (although I hear he's more focused on space habitats rather than other planets)


Mars can't be independent from Earth for generations until we have set up the necessary industry there to manufacture literally everything locally. I'm pretty sure Elon knows this.

Why does that need to take generations? Why can't it be done in one generation, or less?

Because building infrastructure on Earth takes forever and I don't think that it goes faster on Mars. Supply chains for even trivial things are terribly long. It's a lot of work to build replacements off-world. I mean, just having the life support to sustain a sufficient population to run and maintain the machines for simple steel production is a huge task in itself. And then you also need chemical manufacturing (without the benefit of having oil), semiconductors, electronics... modern civilization is hard.

Indeed. I look at the effort required to get a teeny tiny solar powered helicopter to Mars, and while the achievement itself is noteworthy the difficulty in doing so is illuminating. Dreams of human colonization of Mars are largely coping mechanisms to help with the fears that arise when considering the very real apocalypse humanity faces.

> building infrastructure on Earth takes forever

China has built cities basically from scratch in few years, and big infrastructure very quickly, as a counterpoint.


Yes, but only after they spent decades on building out their construction industry with lots of imported equipment from elsewhere. Mars will not be able to construct big roads and buildings until they bootstrap a concrete industry and they can't do that without a steel industry, and they can't do that without mining sites, which need vehicles and mining equipment, etc etc etc. All these things will need either large amounts of people (and thus food) or large amounts of automation (and thus microchips etc) and Mars will not be able to bootstrap either without billions and billions of investment from Earth.

What's the minimum amount of mass/volume of equipment needed to bootstrap, and what is the doubling rate of this infrastructure?

Yes yes, we all know that exponential growth is pretty cool. But take into account that you can't explode outwards in the Martian environment like some algae growing in a food rich environment, every new person and every piece of infrastructure will need (a lot of) maintenance and that slows down doubling rate by a lot. You also can't use a lot of Earth-based shortcuts either, since there is no oxygen for fossil fuels and you won't be able to grow food in open atmosphere.

Big industrial equipment is really heavy btw, so you could fit at most 1 or 2 pieces of big equipment in the 100 ton payload of a Starship rocket. It could easily be a few hundred launches just to get a proper scale foundry going on mars, if you take into account all the required auxiliary equipment like ore scrubbers, cranes and forklifts. Don't forget all the solar panels and/or nuclear plants for power generation too. It would probably be at least tens of billions of support from Earth.

All in all, I would think that 5-10% growth rate is already pretty ambitious, leading to a doubling rate of 7 to 14 years. If you start your colony with about 50 people, it would rise to a thousand people in a little over 50 years.


Mars is colder than Antarctica, drier than the Sahara desert, and has lower air pressure than the top of Mt Everest, and the air is notably lacking in both oxygen (for us) and nitrogen (for plants). Making an independent colony on Mars in one generation basically needs us to invent von Neumann machines — not impossible, but a larger economic change than the entire industrial revolution, and even then we might need to use that economic power to crash-land some comets on the red planet to give it useful quantities of nitrogen and water (that said, TIL Curiosity found 1100 ppm nitrates in the soil: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/mars-nitrogen/).

> the air is notably lacking in both oxygen (for us) and nitrogen (for plants)

Minor nitpick: There are only very few plants that are able to extract nitrogen from the air. That's because N2 is a very stable molecule and it takes a lot of energy to use it chemically. Almost all plants are dependent on other nitrogen compounds they extract using their roots.

[That's the reason why the invention of the Haber-Bosch process, which fixes the N2 from the air into NH3 (ammonia), was such a big deal. It is estimated that 50% of the nitrogen atoms in your body once passed through the Haber-Bosch process.]

There's probably plenty of nitrogen in various minerals on Mars. Just not in the atmosphere.


Good point. I was thinking about nitrogen-fixing bacteria etc., but even with that, your point is sufficient.

One thing that I only learned recently is that a lot of terraforming is very destructive.

So you would NOT want to colonize a planet first and then terraform it. Instead you would terraform it first. Terraforming Mars for example could involve sending a large number of comets to crash to the planet. If there were existing colonies on the planet, they might be destroyed by the impacts or be inundated by the torrential rains.

Isaac Arthur has some thought provoking videos about this.


Just this week I discovered Isaac A. on youtube. I can not recommend him enough if space is thing of interest. (to anybody else reading this)

Imagine what it will take to go from space rock to underground chip factories. If we started today, it will take a thousand years or more to have a fully independent Mars colony (one that could survive indefinitely if the Earth were hit by a gamma-ray burst, let's say).

The sheer population needed to run a complete supply chain for high-technology (on which Mars would be entirely dependent for basic life-support) is staggering. Having the entire thing built and operated underground would be an engineering and social feat of unprecedented scale in humanity's history.

Iamgining doing it in a generation is simply impossible. Its more likely to happen by quantum fluctuation in a second than by humanity's efforts in a generation with current technology.


A gamma-ray burst killing Earth could also kill Mars. I don't know but perhaps the death ray could be as wide as several sun systems.

Sure, my point was only the idea of a Mars colony surviving with 0 resources from Earth.

Of course I understand that, only the example with the gamma ray burst is not really useful here.

Well, one point I didn't make here but that made me pick that example is that, with the exception of a gamma ray burst, there is no tragedy that could realistically affect the Earth in such a way as to make it even CLOSE to how uninhabitable Mars is.

Global warming, nuclear winter, asteroid hit, massive solar flare, supervolcano, plate tectonics - anything we care to imagine will leave the Earth much closer to being habitable than Mars.


A near supernova would also be extremely disastrous and also kill Mars. Perhaps global warming on Venus scale?

Just playing along...


> If we started today, it will take a thousand years or more to have a fully independent Mars colony

But how do you know this? Are there any papers or reports that say that a thousand years is the lower bound on a self sustaining colony on another planet?

It seems to me that this idea is a common wisdom that people often say because in their mind colonization is an out of reach idea so they just pick a random big sounding number like "a thousand years" as a placeholder for 'it is impossible" when there isn't any actual research that says it will take a thousand years.


Sure, it's a made up number. But it's meant to give a sense of scale.

Think about how economically unviable and hard it is to just create 1 new chip fab on Earth. And think about the fact that on Mars you would need to re-create the entire supply chain that already exists on Earth. Remember that the minerals that you need are probably about as spread-out on Mars as they are on Earth, so you will need a global network of mining stations and processing plants to get the various necessary metals - all this without any access to fossil fuels of any kind, and with all of humanity spending little time outside for fear of radiation.

Perhaps establishing a colony that gets the vast majority of its supplies from Earth is doable in a generation or two (though of questionable value). But creating a self-sustaining colony is entirely out of reach for the forseeable future. You don't need actual research to tell you this any more than you need actual research to tell you that humans can't flap their wings to fly - a little bit of back-of-the-napkin calculations will quickly elucidate it.


Singularity, robots...

Not certain to happen but a fair bit more than your quantum fluctuation.


First ask yourself how quickly you could build a self-sustaining society deep in the Sahara, or at the south pole. Then realize that both of those places are waaay more habitable than the surface of Mars, since they both have a breathable atmosphere and a notable lack of perchlorates in the soil.

Most likely reason is that there is no clear return on investment for throwing resources at building a colony on Mars - so what politician is going to choose to spend money to make life possible on Mars when it could be spent (or the taxes not raised) down here?

NB I don't think private capital would ever be enough to get a self sufficient colony started.


why does mars need independence? Why can't mars trade for goods and services, the same way countries trade today?

After all, it used to be that ocean voyages took ages. So space travel is the new ocean voyages. And planets, the new country!


It's a matter of who controls the logistics. Until governments figure out how to enforce toll roads in space, mars can be completely privatized.

By the time the government is able to assert force on mars, it may already be owned completely by companies.

edit: To be clear, I am interpreting the word "independent" in parent post to mean non-government controlled, as opposed to the interpretation of "self sufficient".


> It's a matter of who controls the logistics. Until governments figure out how to enforce toll roads in space

Well, the government could just blockade / close the launch sites on Earth.


That makes me wonder how feasible ocean based launches are.

Ocean based launches that are resilient to angry governments sending a warship to your launching pad are probably quite expensive.

Musk is 50, he’ll be 60 before the first martian settlement and 70 before it starts to pull its own weight. Hell of a way to retire. U.K. his shoes id have taken his billions and bought a nice remote island off a fairly stable country to retire. I’d have bought a few to hedge my bets.

Full respect to him.


> Full respect to him.

I somehow feel like this last line isn't well suited for this audience. Anyway, noone is doubting the impressiveness of his particular suite of skills or his business achievements. Thing is that as a leader he's a mixed bag. He gets impressive things done, but he has an occassionaly repulsive world view. What I personally like about him is that he picks projects that have social potential and at the same time are low hanging enough to be doable within a matter of decades. Power to him for that, but let's not idolize him.


Elon Musk's vision. Sure. I'll just leave next phrase summarizing it here: "We'll coup wherever we want, deal with it"

Just another variation on:

"...the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must"

Thucydides


That was some kind of joke (he tweets on Ambien so the quality is pretty low.) People regularly accuse him of doing Bolivian coups for lithium or other things they just made up.

There is fire to that smoke though. Bolibian rare earths was the main reason for the coup.

There was probably some of that in the financing of the coup, but what little I saw of the actual people doing it sounded more like culture war - they wanted to suppress indigenous culture and bring back Christianity, things like that.

Note lithium isn't a rare earth element, it's actually pretty common but some sources are cheaper than others. As for Tesla, I believe they don't get lithium from Bolivia and have upcoming chemistries that don't use cobalt at all. Not sure about other EV or phone companies.


It's not, though Thiels vision might be worse.

https://www.salon.com/2019/04/13/why-some-in-silicon-valley-...


me gusta

However evil Elon Musk may be, he is a high priest of the religion of progress. Many people (especially highly educated liberals) are not very religious. Scientific and technical progress is the thing they dedicate their lives to like a religious person would dedicate themselves to god.

I can see the high priest of the religion of progress thing. He's not really evil though.

> people (especially highly educated liberals) are not very religious

There is a growing recognition in sociology and anthropology that whatever beliefs in how to lead a good life are left after you remove facts and knowledge about the world, are equivalent to religious doctrine, even if non-deist. Most people, including highly educated liberals, have such strong beliefs.


This is an interesting idea. Got any further reading on the topic?

I'm guessing you didn't explain "after you remove facts and knowledge about the world" very well because removing facts would indeed leave you with beliefs in non-factual stuff by definition.


Well, this makes perfect sense. Why on Earth does someone go to university? Because there's a strongly held belief that the sacrifices made are worth the rewards in a future state of being.

That is not too far from believing in the afterlife, if you come to think of it.


> That is not too far from believing in the afterlife, if you come to think of it.

It’s extremely far. One has a chain of reasoning and supporting data. The other does not.

They’re both assumptions, since everything about the future is an assumption. But some assumptions are “better” than others, for lack of a better word.


> One has a chain of reasoning and supporting data. The other does not.

I suspect most people who believe in an afterlife have a chain of reasoning and supporting data to back up their belief, too. Personally, I don’t believe that reasoning is sound or the supporting data is high-quality or convincing but I also don’t think the distinction you’ve drawn is really all that meaningful.


The fact that objective data exists and there is a logical chain of reasoning showing causation is the distinction.

Arguably, reasoning why to go to university feels more like rationalization rather than supporting evidence. It's definitely not physics.

On the other hand, believing that your actions have consequences, and that you will pay for your mistakes, is a very good assumption. But in the sense that you mention, it's "unsupported". This lack of evidence may lead me to conclude that societies are hung by a thread, and that collapse is imminent. It could be, but societal collapse simply hasn't happen after an unexpected, global, unprecedented turmoil.

Why some assumptions are "better" than others? THAT is a very good question. My take is that there aren't a priori: some societies believe some assumptions, and survive, and others don't. In a sense, to me, assumptions are only good in retrospect, and it's an idea that "feels" correct rather than something I can "prove".


Assuming your actions have consequences is supported.

Touching something too hot transfers excessive energy to your skin and registers as pain.

Walking without looking at where you’re going can cause you to not notice uneven surface and affect your balance causing you to fall.

Attending a higher education facility and obtaining credentialing and skills in a field with high demand in order to be able to trade it for money so that you can then use that money to pay for shelter and food and medicine.

The above are all assumptions until they actually occur, but they are different than assuming an afterlife simply because you feel like it (for example, it satisfies one’s ego to assume a piece of them is immortal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, do whatever makes you feel good).


> Arguably, reasoning why to go to university feels more like rationalization rather than supporting evidence. It's definitely not physics.

Ironically, basically all physicists of the last ~100 years went through university in order to study physics. What do you think was their "rationalization"?


The word is "idolatry"

I tried to test this hypothesis but quickly encountered the problem that what I believe to be a good life is based on facts and knowledge about the world.

I propose an alternative: any arrant nonsense that people insist on believing despite facts and knowledge is likely to be willful ignorance, which people may seek to protect by calling it religion.

The arrant nonsense no one believes anymore is called "mythology".


Every culture has certain principles that are taken as axiomatic. The prioritisation of those principles is also axiomatic.

For example, where I live, nearly all people wear clothes, and they generally think that wearing clothes is important - even if the weather is mild enough that you won't get cold or sunburn if you dispensed with them. Moreover, they will get upset if other people dispense with theirs.

What I find funny is that people will ridicule organised religions for prescribing certain clothing (such as Mormonism, Sikhism, Islam), blissfully unaware of their own quasi-religious attitudes towards clothing.

And sometimes these attitudes can be quite extreme. There is a man in the UK who has been in prison for years for indecent exposure. Every time he is released from prison, he strips off outside, and they call the police to re-arrest him.


> Every culture has certain principles that are taken as axiomatic. The prioritisation of those principles is also axiomatic.

I agree that this is true about human communities.

However, what each community chooses to affirm is important. Do they believe themselves to be the Master Race? Do they believe narcissistic creation fantasies? Do they assert an understanding of electricity, physics, evolution?

Only some of the above "principles" are true, regardless of what the community prioritises.


Yet now we have reusable rockets, electric cars, and a more credible path towards carbon neutral transit.

Maybe those are hard enough problems that you just can't tolerate employees not pulling their weight.


Believing that working on hard problems justifies abusing employees, and blaming the employees for "not pulling their weight" is really reprehensible thinking. That's something straight out of a comic book villain's "the ends always justify the means" monologue.

Okay, please cite the employee abuse you are claiming. I've yet to see claims that aren't hotly contested or that have ended up being traced back to various short seller campaigns.

It's a free country, employees can work where they want, and TSLA employees got stock. Guaranteed if they toughed it out it was more than worth it financially.

Martin Tripp being an egregious example, who was held up for years as some poster boy of David vs Goliath whistle-blowing only to ultimately have been ruled against in court.


Musk takes away with the other hand: by backing Bitcoin and the large-scale waste of not-yet-zero-carbon electricity. https://www.ft.com/content/a9bd5b42-272e-465c-9284-9fe2a7906...

Tesla isn't mining it. Bitcoin costs nothing to hold. It's a hedge against inflation given TSLA's massive cash reserves.

Governments try to keep inflation in a narrow range; they avoid high inflation for obvious reasons, they avoid low inflation precisely so people don’t sit on massive cash reserves, because it is bad for everyone when that happens.

It so ludicrously volatile that it’s not a rational hedge against anything.

Is that the new angle to attack bitcoin with?

Our milkman had an electric vehicle in the 70ies.

[flagged]


You are welcome nonetheless.

South african here.

> Sadly I see this happening quite a lot in South Africa - a country that 25 years ago was filled with much hope and excitement for the future - but now is on the precipice of rapid economic decline due to similar reasons

The politics here is a lot more complicated and these quotes are coming across as quite reductive. That being said I'm a vocal critic of the governments lack of forward thinking despite knowing decades ago that economic shocks and decline were inevitable. The unchecked capital flight since the late 80s is spoken about in hushed tones. The "billonaire" president with the shadiest of pasts. And education ministers hell bent on churning out really dumb black, coloured kids that have no hope of competing on the world stage.

Its micro-politics on the world stage but passionate pain points in the country. And since the global economy is so connected - those with old money certainly have a leg up. It's no excuse to not pull up our own sleeves but to do so you need a shirt with sleeves to begin with.


> but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal.

I don't believe that. Of course there were people with alternative visions. They just happened to be removed by the elite b/c they were threatening their source of luxury.


> As an aside, I know Elon Musk's ambitious projects get mixed responses here on HN, but one thing he keeps referring to (and which resonates quite strongly with me) is his vision for an alternative future which excites us and inspires us.

Mars is not an alternative. And even if we could pull that off it would be a very uncomfortable alternative for a very small portion of the population.

His Mars shenanigans are actually no more and no less than the expensive intellectually stimulating past time of a billionaire.


Heya, I hear what you're saying.

Personally I don't limit his alternative vision to just Mars.

For me his alternative vision for humanity is making life multi-planetary - and ultimately exploring the stars - and so in that context, Mars is just the beginning.

If we want to colonize space, we have to begin somewhere, right?

I know it's cliché, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - and Mars is just that first step.


The older I get the more that I think that our particular form of government or policies (left/right, socialist/capitalist, authoritarian/libertarian) are less important for overall wellbeing and happiness than stamping out corruption.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone and I think it's fairly easy to show this link, too. Whenever I'm asked what the best part of living in my country is, I unhesitatingly answer "low corruption". It is the source from which all other nice things flow.

But what is the cause of low or high corruption in a society? One method is a free press, which can highlight corruption, along with free elections where corrupt politicians can get kicked out. Is there an alternative?

There is plenty of free-press and free-elections in South Africa, yet the corruption persists. The entire governmental institution is rotten to the core at this point, and no amount of voting will get it out from the national government without numerous arrests + money recovering operations.

So what I would vote as the method would be rule of law and actual no-nonsense follow-through with applying it, no matter the consequence. There have been so many blatant high-profile legal issues all the way up to the president and yet there have been practically no big convictions. The ruling party can't even kick-out a prominent member from their own party after he's been arrested for corruption.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ace_Magashule#Arrest_and_crimi... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Zuma#Corruption_charges


I agree the rule of law is very important and voters need to care about corruption more that partisanship.

How free is the press in South Africa? In the US and to a lesser extent in the UK it is owned by billionaires who broadcast an agenda that funnily enough benefits billionaires.


> How free is the press in South Africa?

Freedom of the press has been built into our constitution since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

This freedom has proven to be pretty robust since then, but there have been some issues along the way.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_media_in_South_Africa#Pre...


I think the only solution for corruption is transparency. And that might mean making all financial information public. Similar to how dashcams are necessary in places with insurance fraud.

Flatter and heterogeneous hierarchies and more equal distribution of power. Corruption requires hierarchy, and may well be that hierarchy requires corruption.

> Corruption requires hierarchy, and may well be that hierarchy requires corruption.

I don't think this is true at all. For example, if a policeman A catches county clerk B speeding, B could bribe A to forget about that ticket. That would be corruption, but A and B are not in any hierarchy relation to each other. True, they're in a temporary power relation, but a day later this power relation could well be reversed when B decides whether or not to approve A's building permit for his new house.


If authority holder A's actions affect authority holder B's decisions on A's that's more or less corruption in my books. And probably something that happens everyday, even literally the in the case that you describe. If A forgets the ticket and B approves the building permit because of it, this is corruption. A and B may benefit, but society at large doesn't.

> If A forgets the ticket and B approves the building permit because of it, this is corruption.

That's not what I meant, there's no quid pro quo in my example. My point was that neither A nor B are above or below each other in a hierarchy, and there's no permanent power imbalance between them, and yet they could both be corrupt. Corruption doesn't require a hierarchy, and a flat hierarchy doesn't prevent corruption.


Both A and B have hierarchy given authorities. That A can fine and B can issue permits both stem from a hierarchical system. Perhaps more exact is to say that corruption requires authority.

Flatter hierarchy does not prevent corruption totally, probably nothing will. But it will make corruption harder and more expensive. Some hierarchies, at least context dependent, are probably inevitable. It's a matter of scale.


> Perhaps more exact is to say that corruption requires authority.

Yes, that would be more correct. Authority != hierarchy, but you can't have a society without authority. You could start out with anarchy, but then authoritative structures would naturally emerge anyway.


Anarchistic views accept hierarchies and some sorts of authority, but these should be based on voluntary association (as far as possible) and only temporary and to serve some concrete purpose.

> For example, if a policeman A catches county clerk B speeding, B could bribe A to forget about that ticket. That would be corruption, but A and B are not in any hierarchy relation to each other.

This example only works if there is a hierarchy:

- Policeman A wouldn't take the bribe, unless it's big enough relative to his wealth

- Clerk B wouldn't offer the bribe, unless it's small enough relative to his wealth

There is an economic hierarchy implicit in the example. The consequences of the ticket are also important, since there's no point spending more on a bribe than would have to be paid in fines.


> Corruption requires hierarchy, and may well be that hierarchy requires corruption.

this is total nonsense. hierarchys are in no way tied to corruption, except that EVERYTHING requires a hierarchy, unless youre a nihilist.

to value is to rank order and create a hierarchy. valuation doesnt generate corruption.


Interesting point. Is there any country that has system tending towards this?

E.g. the increase of parlamentarism at the expense of monarchies or other strong heads of state may be a long trend towards this. But I don't think it's a given that such trend necessarily continues. For example kings used to be voted in many parts of the world until 10th century or so, but there was a strong move towards hereditary or other non-elected monarchy afterwards. Similar ebb and flow were seen in e.g. ancient Greece.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elective_monarchy


> and may well be that hierarchy requires corruption.

Literally 20 seconds of reflection is enough to see how wrong that is...


not an alternative, but necessary addition to your list - tradition of noncorruptness. (i.e. parents teaching their kids that corruption is bad)

Culture seems a big part of it. Especially at the top.

Justice? Checks and balances? Maybe non-corrupt people to go to

- to remove the corrupt

- to not have to deal with the corrupt ones


well, you clearly have not enough knowledge on how the press and the politicians' vote works. Hint: both depend on money, so who has the money has them both.

The public have to care about corruption more than culture war.

I've noticed in the UK there's been a number of corruption stories, starting around Brexit but hugely accelerated by pandemic procurement, that have been raised in the press and then just forgotten about.

In the US you can see how much energy has been put into fake scandals while distracting from real ones, e.g. Pizzagate vs Matt Gaetz.


I don't know why you're being downvoted, you hit the nail on the head. There are so many minor scandals that get inflated to epic proportions by the players of the opposite team, that truly outrageous scandals stay without consequence because they'll be replaced by the next one three days later.

Indeed if you look at the happiest countries list that seems to be true. Finland and Switzerland are near the top and kind of lefty and conservative respectively but both very low corruption.

Yeah, the debate between the left and right in the US [1] is basically irrelevant to the well-being of the average person. Though, I think the distinction between authoritarian and libertarian definitely does matter. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Finland and Switzerland are both rigorously democratic: Nordic countries have strong labour unions and worker co-determination [2] to keep big businesses honest, while Switzerland has direct democracy [3].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_war

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-determination

[3] https://www.eda.admin.ch/aboutswitzerland/en/home/politik/ue...


I think you're on to something here.

There's this sliding scale ranging from "lower taxes, fewer public services" to "higher taxes, more public services". Really, anything on that spectrum is going to be workable.

Corruption is where sliding that scale towards "higher taxes" results in most of the additional money finding its way to the pockets of various bureaucrats and their friends, as opposed to being used to deliver services-as-promised.


"Lower taxes, fewer public services" means more scope for corruption from the private sector though, so I don't see there being any simple relationship between taxation and corruption. World corruption rankings seem to imply the opposite to what you're saying in fact.

https://www.transparency.org/en/news/cpi-2020-global-highlig...

None of the top six there are countries you would describe as having "lower taxes, fewer public services".


Lower taxes = less mandatory diversion of people's money to corrupt activities. With corrupt private companies you are more likely able to just "withdraw" or stay away from them. That is not at all the case with state-level corruption which requires you to actually flee the country, emigrate or vote in new non-corrupt politicians, some of which are next to impossible for a good chunk of people.

That's a lot of assumptions taken as an article of faith i.e. higher taxation = higher corruption and the ability to "avoid" private sector corruption as if you were perfectly aware of its existence and had non-corrupt alternatives to switch to. I'm not a libertarian and don't buy those premises, certainly not without any evidence.

I didn't say that higher taxation implies higher corruption. You said: ""Lower taxes, fewer public services" means more scope for corruption from the private sector though.

I.e. implying that lowering taxes and public services simply shifts the corruption to the "private sector" as if it's just shifting the problem around and is inescapable. Or that it leaves a gap to which "private sector corruption" can slide into.

To which I responded by saying that at least the [increase] in corruption can be avoided more easily if said corruption is in the private sector as opposed to in the government. So even if we're just shifting the corruption to the private sector, it's still better overall because we can more easily address/avoid it than we would be able to with a government. The point stands whether I am aware of the private-sector corruption or not, and also stands whether there are alternatives within the private sector to switch to because one can just choose to not participate (barring certain necessary industries, I guess)


Switzerland and Singapore are both on that list, and fit the bill for "lower taxes, fewer public services".

A country having good economics is definitely vital to its success as well. The introduction of a market economy did wonders for China's productivity, whereas I believe that corruption has been relatively constant.

China has two economic spheres in that respect, the market economy and the state economy. Woe betide any private company that tries to compete directly with a state enterprise. They can work with them but not against them.

This is probably why Jack Ma got in trouble over ANT. Banking, or at least a large swathe of the official finance sector, is largely a state monopoly. Private companies largely rely on informal or private financing.


Corruption is good for society, especially to keep the fire burning under the ass of the "great and the good".

Gandhi had to get kicked of a train to wake up. Otherwise he was perfectly satisfied wandering about being a mediocre lawyer.


That sounds like the broken window argument in economics: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window


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Are you really stating that the issues with modern society in a ultracapitalist environment such as the US is... The diversity and push to treat each human as a human and not splitting people into groups based on ethnicity or sexual orientation?

That's a very bold claim that I'd like to know more what supporting arguments you have instead of just statements.


Is the US really more "ultracapitalist" than classical Manchester Capitalism was? I have my doubts.

I'm not sure how you understand identity politics, but a diverse group of tiny sub-cultures on a "separate but equal"-platform don't create a cohesive society. There are a few points of exchange in music, food and pop culture but not much more, and any notion of assimilation gets rejected (hence the shift from "the melting pot" to "the salad bowl"). If you were to apply "divide and conquer", putting more emphasis on the differences between individuals instead of their similarities and creating lots of small groups instead of a single large one is probably a good way to create cracks.


Everything wrong with the US is exactly the opposite of what you are saying - much like every other empire before it, it is being torn down by the 'elites' which have captured and increasingly are stripping it for everything they can extract. This has nothing to do with melting pots and diversity and what not, and everything to do with a focus on short-term gains instead of long-term thinking, greatly encouraged by capitalism.

Isn't that really a particular type of capitalism (sometimes called "free market capitalism") that has been popular with politicians since the 1980s? Not capitalism in general.

"in the 80s everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working [...]. Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal."

That's not true. Communistic system existed only because it was maintained using brutal force and terror. Alternative vision was known very well, even in Soviet Union people knew how life can look, they knew that people in Germany, France or Denmark are living in much better conditions. Propaganda works only to some extent, if it is totally disconnected with reality, it stops working.

I have witnessed the fall of communism. As soon as people were no longer afraid of Soviet tanks, they knew what to do. Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, etc. switched to democracy and capitalism over the night as soon as they could. This was not an easy process, but there was no doubt what the the vision was and what was the goal.


Adam Curtis is entertaining but his generalised sweeping statements are silly and unnecessary.

Yes the world is complex, but it’s not impossible to understand. For example, Brexit: there were many contributing factors but we can identify major ones: globalisation and those left behind feeling resentful; lack of an outlet for those voices due to a rigged electoral system; anti immigration feeling amidst unprecedented high immigration from the EU; propaganda made possible by unethical social media platforms like Facebook; and ruling class power games.

Most of those problems have plausible corresponding solutions. Complicated, but not insurmountable.


It wasn't Facebook it was unelected media barons who hated the EU because they dint have the power they had locally.

The media planting the seeds ever since the attacks on major over Maastricht. Ironically probably didn’t have an enormous influence come 2016 given how few people were reading papers by then, but the brainwashing about bendy bananas and Iraqi refugees had been planted. All it took was a leaflet from the “man of the people” saying iraq and Syria were following Turkey into the EU and bobs your uncle

Maastricht only barely squeaked through to acceptance in France, in a referendum with an even narrower victory margin than the Brexit one. (The UK carefully avoided putting it to any kind of referendum because its government didn't have to.)

Citation needed here. Iirc, the media were quite anti-brexit.

Brexit was the result of thirtyish years of the media printing misleading clickbait about Europe, followed by uncritically publishing the "all upside no downside" claims of the Brexit side.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/15/brexit...

Besides, there's no boundary between "media" and "politicians"; early on while he was PM Johnson was paid more to be a Telegraph columnist than his official PM salary.


I think "culmination" rather than "result", because whilst I think the right wing gutter press (and I include the Mail and Times) were a factor, I don't think they were the most important factor.

"UK press coverage of the EU Referendum" https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/our-research/uk-p...

The report is based on analysis of two days of press coverage each week for London editions of nine national newspapers over 4 months of the campaign. Of the 2,378 articles analysed which were focused on the referendum, 41% were pro leave as against 27% pro-remain.


https://web.archive.org/web/20190531154332/https://blogs.ec....

The original site is no longer maintained and redirects to the new wayback machine, but that site is down, sadly. So here's a snapshot from the old wayback url.

Fake news about the EU was so prevalent that the EU started maintaining its own list. Note that one of the "journalists" that wrote these fake news stories was Boris Johnson himself.


"Citation needed": every article mention the EU in "The Sun", "Daily Express", "Daily Mail" multiple times and also "The Telegraph" for the posh version of most of the same crap.

"Media was quite anti-brexit" not really. Unless you really think the GDPR prevents kids from writing letters to Santa Claus


Some media was quite anti brexit - The Guardian, The Independent, the FT, the BBC a bit. People had a choice as to which to read.

> That's not true.

True enough to have become the standard periodization of Russian history from early-1970s to mid-1980s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Era_of_Stagnation The deepening paralysis and apathy of administrative and security apparatus eventually made tanks non-scary. It takes willpower and determination to use them, but that was nowhere to be seen, everyone just sat on their asses and preferred to wait things out instead of doing what the Chinese did on the Tiananmen Square.


The political violence by state did not stopped. The secret service was still looking for enemies, arresting people or threatening their families. Not just physically, but also by forcing you to relocate, preventing education of your children or moving you into worst job possible. Just because violence and threat was not as high as during monster processes, it does not mean it did not existed.

You really really don't need tanks for that. An ordinary police is just enough. You really don't need willpower and determination to arrest people nor to confiscate their properties. You just ... do it. Easily.

Yet also, it is not like people and society would recover from repression instantly and forgot what happened a year later. The people stay traumatized and scared.


Indeed. I saw an interview with the tank commander that was ordered to drive his column through the crowds in front of the Kremlin. He refused. In China they did it.

But the Chinese were smart. They used units recruited in the regions, far out in the countryside with no connections to Beijing or the big cities. Tiananmen Square wasn’t a spur of the moment response, it was meticulously planned.


I wonder why this is downvoted so much. My reaction was exactly the same - ignoring very real violence and threats of it the regime relied on. It did a lot to keep potential discontent under check. It was milder in the 80ties then before, yes. But it was definitely factor.

And I think that this is general mistake people from human rights mostly respecting places do when they talk about oppressive systems. They completely ignore how large the actual danger can be and how it shapes not just the culture, but also the possibilities people have.


> I wonder why this is downvoted so much.

I believe that it's a preference for "oh, that's interesting" explanations. "No, it wasn't a complex system of propaganda and psychology, it was mostly guns and labor camps" is a simple explanation that's less entertaining and evokes rejection.


I mean ... it was complex system and did not functioned in a simple way. Guns and labor camps played the role, but the propaganda did too. But also stuff like "you kids wont be able to go to college" or "you will get only really bad jobs" or "we will regularly harass you" or "people will be afraid to socialize with you".

And stuff like "still being traumatized from having relative taken away or from being arrested 10 years ago". It is complex, just darker and less facile, less directly comparable.


Definitely, but in the end it came down to guns and labor camps. Propaganda and other "softer" ways of forcing people to comply are added so you don't have to execute/exile quite as many people, but if you only have propaganda and no guns & gulags, you're not getting anywhere -- who'd relocate just because you say so if they know you can't make them and there is no "or else"?

You can build upon guns with multiple layers so that, eventually, a word is enough to control people, but they have to trust that the word is, in the end, backed by a gun. That is, if you don't comply when you hear that word, you'll get into even more trouble with the letter that follows, and if you ignore that as well, they will physically show up and take you away. If you're not cooperative in the talk that follows, you'll get to see the window-less rooms, and if you don't break there, you go to the camp. If you break that chain, the word means nothing.


This is an interesting comment, because arguably although those countries did know well what they didn't want (Soviet domination, socialism and the one party system), it's not at all clear, from the developments in these countries, what they did want, or how they intended to achieve it:

- Poland now has an extremely illiberal system of government, without the basic republican separation of powers, secularism, or civic freedoms. - Hungary also is run by an extremely rightwing government which dismisses most foundations of democratic republics using antisemitic conspiracies. If - Romania is run by kleptocrats and considered borderline too corrupt to be a full member of the EU. - Despite the GDR having been integrated very smoothly and quite generously into Western Germany, the exemplar of a stable Western European democracy, around half the voters in the former East support either pro-communist or xenophobic, pro-fascist parties. - Lithuania fails to guarantee basic rights to minority groups. - Bulgaria - both communism and fascism remain extremely popular. - and so on. You also loaded your examples - the countries which did join the EU are generally quite a lot better than the ones which didn't such as Moldova, Ukraine, etc.

To be clear - I think that Poland and Polish people have an absolute right to self-determination, and it was never ok for them to be dominated by the Soviet Union, whether by soft power or by violence. However, I think it's fairly clear that if being a modern Western democracy like Denmark was what they wanted, then they failed to achieve it. They have the absolute right to be what they currently are, but they should at least be honest about it.

There's also an irony that in the 1970s and 1980s, when progressives in Poland claimed that they wanted Western-Europe style liberal democracy, the communist apologists, both in Poland and in the Soviet Union said that they were actually fighting for domination by the Catholic Church, inequality, exploitation by rich capitalist countries such as Germany, antisemitism, and so on. Well, they got rid of communism, and what did they adopt? A right-wing, institutionally antisemitic, illiberal system, socially controlled by the Church, and trapped in an economic system run by richer countries.


> I think it's fairly clear that if being a modern Western democracy like Denmark was what they wanted, then they failed to achieve it.

In 20 years? How on earth would they have pulled that off? Denmark, Sweden, West Germany, The Netherlands etc stand on hundreds of years of relative wealth and industrialization. Sure, the world wars didn't leave them untouched either, but it's much, much easier to rebuild an industry than to build it in the first place. And then they had the Marshall Plan, 50 years of peace, 30-40 of which were a giant seemingly never-ending economic power boost.

Comparing that to a country that only emerged from Soviet occupation in 1990, joined the EU in 2004, and didn't have a long history of self-determination more of less in its current form is like comparing a 12yo to a professional athlete and saying "well, if he wanted to, he could run a 5-minute mile, the other guy can do it as well, clearly he just doesn't want to".


It seems ridiculous and frankly patronising to claim that the last 30 years of Polish history are an abortive attempt to become Denmark, rather than a sincere and partially successful attempt to become something which is neither Denmark nor socialist Poland.

My point is: even if they wanted to become Denmark, there's no way that's going to happen in 30 years, and you won't see much progress 30 years, which is an extremely short amount of time.

Firstly, were the pro-democracy activists in the Soviet times not aware of this constraint, or did they choose to ignore it? Secondly, the Communist period only lasted 50 years. Before the Second World war Poland was a (post-feudal/capitalist/republican) European country like many others. So why was that 50 years extremely significant, but the following 30 years just barely time to get started with change?

You are judging Soviet-era Poland on the society which actually existed, while judging post-Soviet Poland on what they claim they are trying to achieve. That isn't fair. If you judged them both on what they said the goal is, you would have to compare the democratic paradise with the equally utopian and unrealistic communist paradise which was supposed to be just around the corner. Or you could judge them both on the actuality, in which case the present day looks like just a newer iteration of a grim, hopeless and broken society.


> Firstly, were the pro-democracy activists in the Soviet times not aware of this constraint, or did they choose to ignore it?

I mean, they came out of a world war where they were shared between Hitler and Stalin and then watched what happened in Prague in '68 when somebody dared to explore non-Soviet-Union ideas.

> Before the Second World war Poland was a (post-feudal/capitalist/republican) European country like many others.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Poland

Money quote: From 1795 until 1918, no truly independent Polish state existed, although strong Polish resistance movements operated. The opportunity to regain sovereignty only materialized after World War I, when the three partitioning imperial powers were fatally weakened in the wake of war and revolution.

That's not anywhere close to Denmark, Germany or The Netherlands. Really.

I'm not judging Poland at all. I'm trying to tell you that you shouldn't judge them without considering the circumstances. Their history is completely different, and I'm sure most Poles would be super happy if their history was as wealthy and successful as the Danes'. Instead of running around as Vikings raiding stuff and taking slaves, they suffered enslavement.


I agree with that lack of vision is hard on these countries, but I think lack of vision is the status quo of the current political landscape experience.

What these countries needed was political and ideological stability, some time to deal with the experienced trauma, and to find the value of basic human rights on their own. However time doesn’t stand still and as a reactionary movement to social media (which increased fragmentation), migrant crisis and Islam hysteria + LBGTQ going mainstream went the “traditions and the past” route. I don’t care if these issues are “real” or “make sense”, but ask around here and these are the 3 main ones everyone will point to when asked why we are where we are. And for the ex soviet block “traditions and the past” route can mean both voting for ex-communist and for the pro-fascist options. On some deeper level they are not that far apart for us (I live in one of the countries you mentioned here).

We can see that old democracies are struggling hard due to the same challenges, and the post-soviet block does not have the goodwill of its people to go through it. In general distrust, insecurities, and fear due to Russia is very strong here, people are still in many ways rigid and not very open to new ideas. There is this feeling while being surrounded by western ideas and media that we need a lot of catching up to do, but no one is interested in how someone else is hurt while being hurt themselves. Due to the fact that West is struggling just as hard a lot of people here don’t see the point in following in its footsteps, it just does not seem appealing or logical. That is where the lack of vision of the west fucks ex-soviet block as well. And we try the old “traditions route” because we don’t know anything better.


Elon Musk is laundering military and counterinsurgency technologies as consumer products. SpaceX exists because the ruling class needs always-available global satellite internet to power the new autonomous and conscience-free soldiers they are building. Tesla exists to amp up the surveillance and grid dependence of automobiles, and also to hopefully prevent a nationwide truckers' strike from bringing the economy to a halt by replacing drivers on the long haul routes with autonomous tech.

The "vision" thing is just the shiny object Musk dangles to distract you from what he's really doing.


> SpaceX exists because the ruling class needs always-available global satellite internet to power the new autonomous and conscience-free soldiers they are building.

They already had that. Pre-SpaceX space access was expensive, yet there is no indication the powers that be ever really cared about the price tag for military space hardware, they’d spend whatever it took to get it.

Likewise, if “they” were afraid of strikes by long-distance haulers, rail is a better solution because it doesn’t require inventing new tech that, sadly for the annual death toll due to human drivers, still isn’t a solved problem.

It’s not like governments are even subtle with this sort is thing: in the long-term the UK broke the power of coal miners by switching to nuclear and gas, and in the USA Regan fired all the striking air traffic controllers, which was ~90% of the entire sector.


Yes, yes. And “they” want us to wear masks because of a globalist Communist plot to… something.

The Bircher and conspiratorialist influence on the American body politic is truly criminal.


Yes, thinking that we have a ruling class with a keen interest in technological methods of counterinsurgency and anti-labor control is the same thing as anti-communist Bircherism.

Wow! This is the first time I've learned about Adam Curtis, and he doesn't mince any words. This article is a crash course into the trajectory of politics over the last few decades. The interviewer must be commended here too!

As someone who's been fascinated by Richard Dawkins' motivations, it was revealing that as Obama pushed religion outside the White House, the whole Dawkins counter-culture against religion was made irrelevant.

It is, however, interesting that Adam Curtis says that people will find a purpose again with the resurgence of religion (Dawkins has a second chance then? Are we in a loop?). I wonder what HN thinks about that.


You're in for a treat then, he's made lots of documentaries about the subjects in the interview, easily found online. They're permanently available on BBC iPlayer if you're in the UK too.

I was intrigued that "religion will provide the vision of the future" and also "religion is way of dealing with our fear of death" (I paraphrase). I don't really see how both can be true.

I see religion becoming more marginalised and less relevant as time goes on. The evangelists are going further away from the rest of society, which is becoming less religious. Trump helped, I think, by exposing how irrational the religious right are becoming. Also, any religion is increasingly being associated with right-wing, traditionalist, conservative, reactionary politics. There's no religious voice welcoming fluid gender identity or supporting UBI.

I don't see religion making a comeback any time soon (thank god).

But we do need a replacement for it. Something that gives us meaning. Some use for all those redundant church spaces in our communities - if we're not going to use them for worshipping sky fairies, what are we going to use them for? Because it would be useful to find something that brought the whole community in one place once a week.


Recently I was asked here on HN if I believed in climate science. So there you go.

I think that is an interesting way to phrase that question haha. Of course it is hard to verify is climate science is real without becoming a climate scientist, I think most belief in science rests on the question "do you believe that if you would study the field you would agree with the scientific consensus of that field (the climate is changing due to human activity, which is probably bad for the earth's ability to support our current way of living)".

You are right in general, but the case of climate science is special, because in many places of the world you do not need to be a climate scientist, but it is enough to be old and have a good memory.

Where I live, in Europe, there is a huge difference between the climate from 50 years ago and the climate now.

During these 50 years, there has been a gradual transition from winters when there were 3 or 4 months of continuous snow coverage, like they have been during at least the preceding several hundreds of years, to winters when it might not snow even once, much less cover the ground.

So the problem with the belief in climate science probably affects only the people who live in places where the climate change is not obvious yet.


I live in Norway now and I can see a lot of the changes you mention

Correlation does not imply causation

One may observe change, but attributing that change one way, or another is a different matter.

500 years is insignificant when it comes to the planet, the sun, and other factors that cand cause variance over longer spans of time.

I do not think we know enough yet about those systems to say with 100% certainly what the cause is, esp. when explaining it with extremely short-term attributes.

When science has more than one theory for something you can elect to pick one of them, a couple other, or none ago with that based on your own research, the media you chose to consume and your background and friends.

Most science these days is so complicated that it is always based on a choice to believe. Unless you PhD in many fields there is no way ou can know for sure if something is correct. Even if someone gives you nice diagrams.

Can you really understand and repeat the diagrams?

I have never seen an electron. Nor have I never seen an atom. And I certainly haves never seen a quark or a boson, or a gravition (that last one nobody has seen yet).

I have seen diagrams and I have seen simplified forumulas that even I can understand.

Dark matter is one hypothesis I hope is replaced by something more elegant. I cant see, scientist cant see it. You elect if you believe in it or not.

(There has been some recent proof based on gravitational measurements and there have been a theory now that dark matter is just all the matter that never formed into planets)

Even in my own field of study of computer science, there are many things I do not understand now, and really grasping it would require another doctorate.

All that long stuff just to say that for a lot of science for the vast majority it is a matter of belief.

Now if I am not sure if all the changes in climate can be blamed on human impact.

I do not think that is relevant to whether we need to cut emissions and pollution.

We need to do that no matter what.

If 30 years in the future, if I am still alive, and scientist puzzle out that based on new theories, models and evidence the majority of changes had nothing to with human interference we will be much better off in a cleaner and less polluted world

Is burning coal casuing a lot of health issues now? Yes it is. Then we stop doing that.

Is breathing air filled with polluted smog or car emissions pleasant and good for you? No, we need to do something about it.

Almost all issues that people want to change that climate scientists may or may not be climate change, but you can break it down further to arrive at the exact same conclusions for nearly all of it.

It is a win / win no matter what.



Yeah, there is a trope that environmentalism is a(the) new religion, popular among climate skeptics/deniers.

> There's no religious voice welcoming fluid gender identity or supporting UBI.

There are among the nonconformists, although they won't be given media coverage.


How can you be a nonconformist religious person? Do you not conform to whatever book you are following?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonconformist_(Protestantism)

I was specifically thinking of Quakers, who've historically been very progressive. They're so non-hierarchical that it required special legislation for them to marry as Quaker weddings have no "celebrant" taking the priest role.


> although they won't be given media coverage

I'm curious, why do you think that is?


This is so much better than his films. I used to find his films exciting, but the more I thought about them the more I found them conceptually soupy and completely lacking in rigour - just finding narratives that felt satisying. When he's challenged by someone smart like this he's able to articulate his ideas in a much better way than in film. This interview has raised my opinion of him again. He's an interesting thinker, but I really think film is in fact the one medium he shouldn't use because it allows him to weave unchallenged grand narratives that don't really stack up.

You may appreciate this parody and deconstruction of his filmmaking style:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=x1bX3F7uTrg


Really interesting, there's a smart comment in there about capitalism appropriating its critics and their criticisms.

Now the question is: is Curtis the person first doing the appropriation of capitalist criticism and is this guy actually doing an appropriation of the appropriation of capitalist criticism? Again, I find it very interesting nonetheless.


I see his documentaries more as art than fact, that makes them easier to consume and be provoked by.

I kind of see all documentaries this way. All documentaries rely so much on manipulation to drive a narrative that it's difficult to classify it as anything other than art. They can still be informative for sure, but I will never watch a documentary and think I've done any kind of research.

Curtis just published a new doc: https://youtu.be/MHFrhIAj0ME


Which is really good. Recommend.

Depending on your point of view. I felt it was a self indulgent sprawling mess.

I felt that I watched a random collection of undergraduate essays, which were then stitched together with music that Curtis felt expressed the zeitigest (which he delusionally thought substituted for an actual point or connection between subjects).

I watched a bit of the documentary with a friend of mine who’s a pretty senior diplomat; when Curtis came to Iraq, she exclaimed with palatable frustration “this is the most incredible 15 minute oversimplification of what happened”.

Curtis documentaries loose much of their lustre when you know what he’s talking about. He becomes less of a BBC patrician who gives you a secret insight into the world of Oxford educated intellectuals; and more of an opinionated old windbag.

At the end of an episode, I told my friend “I feel like I’ve been man-splained to for the last hour [and I’m a man]!”.


Have you seen the time span it covers? I don't think calling it a simplification as a criticism is fair, do you want a 1:1 mapping?

Also the sprawling messiness isn't just the aesthetic, it's the thesis.


Yes. I watched the documentary. I don’t expect to agree 100%, but that doesn’t mean have I to keel over laughing at its chasms.

In regards to Iraq, his opinion that Gertrude Bell’s influence led NATO to give tribal sheiks disproportionate power in the new Iraq was a hilarious simplification. It’s just an absurd narrative chasm, that ignored so much about what happened then.

An in regards to the civil war in Iraq, that didn’t boil over because NATO stopped paying the militias off. There was so much at play.

The China stuff was interesting, but uncontroversial. That stuff is quite an accessible history. The archive footage was fun though.

It just felt like I was watching a number of different documentaries. One about race relations and trans rights; and one about China.

It all just would have been better as standalone works. He could have even edited things differently, each episode covering a certain subject. He maybe could have had a concluding thesis that was better than “China: it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be”.


I agree. I lapped up alot of his stuff, without a second thought. After watching a deconstruction video of hypernormalisation I was left thinking I had been suckered again "loose change style" I was recommeded to watch his lastest release (of which the full 8.something hours is available directly on Curtis' own you tube channel) I watched the first 20 / 30 minutes and turned off. It felt like how I imagine brain-washing works. Lots of weird (and jarring) footage un-related to the voice over, werid music (not required for what is supposed to be a documentary IMO) and jumped from topic to topic without any cohesive thread or reason. No longer a fan.

Edit: Grammar


On a side note, did anything change on youtube itself or am I being A/B guinea pigged?

I use to be able to watch youtube videos without any youtube app just using /embed/<video-id> on a browser or mpv.

Now it seems every link is broken unless you go through there data hoarding app? (On android not desktop)


Give NewPipe a try (https://newpipe.net/). I've been using it for several months and works really well. Only thing I haven't figured out yet is streaming/casting to the youtube app on my TV.

If I watch through the Brave browser on my phone I never see ads. Through the offical app I have to watch the same two ads for a month or two before the video starts and then again after 15 or 20 minutes. It's really bad.

Also, no ads on YT, or just about any other site, in FF with the uBlock origin plugin.

But that's ad blocking, that's not what I meant exactly, that always works.

My issue is 'embeddable' links are no longer playable for me? I can play the video in their app or on the browser after a million data consent forms.


> Everyone [..] knows that the system that they are living under isn’t working as it is supposed to; that there is a lot of corruption at the top. But whenever the journalists point it out, everyone goes “Wow that’s terrible!” and then nothing happens and the system remains the same.

Everyone agrees that the system isn't working as suposed, but we don't agree on how and why it isn't working.

The resulting system is an unappealing mix of all the different values and beliefs we have about the hows and whys. The more different the values, the more unappealing the mix.


I've found Nassim Taleb's Pricipia Politica to be an interesting suggestion of how to move from abstract universalism to fractal localism. This specifically has the intent of avoiding top-down power structures and the fragility associated with it.

https://acataleptico.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/principia_p...


But if we agree it isn't working, we shouldn't need to agree on how or why to decide to change it. Even if you are reasonably sure that something won't work, it makes more sense to spend a bit of time giving it a try than to stick with what you know for certain doesn't. Even if the proposal might make things worse, the potential downside is bounded by it being temporary. In the absolute worst case scenario where you have tried multiple options and all of them are worse than what you started with, you can always go back to the status quo but now with more knowledge.

Give the population bikesheds to paint, and plunder while they bicker.

>Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal. And this historian, Alexei Yurchak, coined the phrase “HyperNormalisation” to describe that feeling.

>I thought “that’s a brilliant title” because, although we are not in any way really like the Soviet Union, there is a similar feeling in our present day. Everyone in my country and in America and throughout Europe knows that the system that they are living under isn’t working as it is supposed to; that there is a lot of corruption at the top. But whenever the journalists point it out, everyone goes “Wow that’s terrible!” and then nothing happens and the system remains the same.

That's a brilliant description of our current system. I'm just worried that our hypernormalization won't last as long as the Soviet one.


The interview improved my understanding of our civilization's current situation. I was aware of Hypernormalization we have been feeling in Turkey, and thought that it is similar to Soviet Society, but I didn't understand that the reason for the static nature of the world in general was pattern analysis.

I should have suspected this. I used to spend my time painting and worked as a graphic designer. A couple months ago I changed my role in the company and have been working as a copywriter/editor. Even though for the past couple months, I have been spending all my time devouring books about writing, and understanding this new behemoth, the internet still suggest me things only about art. I have changed, but the algorithms didn't catch up yet. I wonder how long will it take until the algorithms catch up.

This was a major change in my life, and I can easily see the lag, but I wonder how does the algorithms that recommend stuff to me guides my thinking, especially on subjects smaller in scale. How does the spiral of recommendations change our perception of the world? Moreover, do the big tech companies create this systems consciously? Is there a plot dividing the individuals into manageable groups?

Definitely the machines don't look at us as a narrative, so I think as long as my searches and inventory of items related to art is bigger than the ones about writing, the world will continue treating me as an artist.


> I have changed, but the algorithms didn't catch up yet. I wonder how long will it take until the algorithms catch up.

That's a good point, and an interesting question. If you change, but the algorithms don't acknowledge that change and treat you the same, how much is you identity in your own hands, how fungible is it?

We could add lots of "I no longer think that" forms, but I suppose a lot of it isn't because you're sorted into the artist-folder, but recommendations because of your past actions that aren't easily changed.

> Is there a plot dividing the individuals into manageable groups?

I don't think so, but I'm not sure it matters. The end result is similar, only that there's not one large conspiracy that's trying to herd you into thinking a certain way. Instead, it's a multitude of interests that are pulling you into their direction and you kind of get pulled to where most of them are in your niche of the world. But in either way, you do get pulled. Can you opt out? I'm not sure, but you can probably limit your exposure by e.g. not watching television, not reading news sites, not spending time on Twitter.


> If you change, but the algorithms don't acknowledge that change and treat you the same, how much is you identity in your own hands, how fungible is it?

I don't think algorithms doesn't change my identity, but I am curious whether people I am loosely connected or the algorithms will acknowledge this change first.

> I don't think so, but I'm not sure it matters. The end result is similar, only that there's not one large conspiracy that's trying to herd you into thinking a certain way.

I think there might be though, since marketers always think about market segmentation and creating the systems that guide people into herds will be the first thing they would think. If you consider almost all the big tech companies are funded by advertising, shifting people into manageable segments might be intentional.


Oh, for sure. Fortunately, they're all trying to get you under their control, and they don't want you under the control of the other guy. As long as you don't get pulled apart, they can act to counter-balance each other.

As for identity: I'm not a believer of us having total free will, so what you hear and see is important to what you understand and think. I don't think we're at the point where we're totally controlled by whatever bubble we might have gotten ourselves into, but it certainly doesn't get easier to get out when the services that, to a large degree, shape your world view, have learned what you expect, and are trying to give it to you, even when you've changed.

Graphic design to writing might not be the largest change, but for things that affect you to the core, having the world presented to you that in a way that was learned based on the previous version of you might be like a recovering alcoholic walking through a town where every ad is personalized and shows him nothing but booze.


Does anybody else get this feeling of fear and hopelessness watching his documentaries.

It really feels like a mental hangover, not knowing what actions to take to make things better for us a society?


There are no quick solutions. But it sure does feel good to get rocked by the brunt of what he says, in my opinion. And I think some of Can't Get You Out Of My Head gets at what should come next. Then again, he's a journalist, not a leader.

I've never seen any of them. I've never heard of this guy before.

But I ended up skimming most of the article because the tone and direction of the piece in no way match what I expected from the title. I can well imagine his documentaries are probably pretty depressing.

He seems to have only complaints, not solutions. He seems to describe where we are and how we got here but he seems to have absolutely nothing to say about how to go from where we are to something better.

It's not my cup of tea at all. I was hoping for something meaty and meaningful to add to my existing set of ideas and tools and ended up being all "Yikes! I don't think it would be good for my mental health to drink too deeply of this stuff." So I skimmed, hoping I was wrong, hoping it would get better and grab me later. Hoping I would trip across something that would hook me and tell me to start over, that it will be worth the slow start. I never ran into that.


> He seems to have only complaints, not solutions.

That might be because giving a diagnosis can be made to be perceived as somewhat objective, while suggesting a solution would get into politics really quick and thus risk reflexive dismissal of even the diagnosis itself.


"Bring solutions, not complaints" was something a manager at my corporate job used to say.

He wasn't my manager and I didn't interact much with him and I no longer remember his name. But that rubric made an impression on me and it's something I took to heart as a useful rubric and it is surprisingly useful and solid as a guideline for both how to be effective and how to minimize social drama in the process of trying to interact with the world.

Of course it's fine that some people focus on simply trying to describe the problem as objectively as they know how. That's not a useless thing to do.

But given that I don't know this man's work and the word antidote is in the title, I don't think my hope for solutions instead of complaints was unreasonable either.

Because my impression was so negative and I don't know him or his work, I had decided I wasn't going to leave a top level comment because I didn't want to be here to just shoot him down. That seems like not great behavior.

My comment was a reply to someone asking a question about how his work makes other people feel. I felt it not unreasonable to chime in to say "It's not just you. Finding his stuff negative does not seem to me like you just being neurotic and negative baselessly."

Of course, different strokes for different folks and me agreeing that it seems negative isn't rebuttal to people who find something positive in it. Feelings aren't facts and how people react emotionally to a thing will have a lot to do with personal background, etc.

I'm guessing his work wouldn't be my cup of tea and: So what? Who cares?

No one is required to feel the same way I do about a body of artistic work. There's always some degree of interpretation involved when it comes to art.


> "Bring solutions, not complaints" was something a manager at my corporate job used to say.

I have heard this before, but IMO, this is terrible advice. Identifying problems is a valuable trait, and the advice above tends to squash people's willingness to highlight a problem that they know is there, but aren't equipped to solve.

People like solutions to be brought because it requires less cognition, not because it's a good strategy.


> He seems to have only complaints, not solutions.

I don't see his documentaries as 'his complaints', but more like a view from the current general situation we're in. I see the point of the 'no solutions', but even so, isn't it relevant to discuss and think about the problems?

> I was hoping for something meaty and meaningful to add to my existing set of ideas and tools

maybe someone else is able to come up with meaty part. Not always the problem must have the answer/alternative/solution together with it (math is like that as well, some mathematical problems stayed without solutions for decades, until someone else comes up with a clever/smarter solution to it).


They're not so much complaints in the documentaries but "think of it like this" observations through a specific world-view lense. I think Curtis views the world as interesting chaos and presents a certain filter on the chaos that is interesting.

That fear and hopelesness is more or less exactly what drives the hypernormalization. For me these documentaries present a small hope that we may actually get out of this mess. First step to taking action should be trying to understand the problems.

We don't know what actions will make things better for sure, and probably never will. That's no reason not to take action, but perhaps a reason to not to expect nice and simple solutions.


They actually leave me quite hopeful because they reinforce my view of the world and are popular.

What I'm reasonably convinced of is that when millennials and younger cohorts start to tip the electoral scales in 15 years time, there will be an outbreak of harmony and consensus on an awful lot of things, and people like Curtis will have shaped really quite a lot of that.


I don’t see grounds for optimism. People believed in a bright future that would come when the generation of May '68 got more involved in voting, and were able for stand for election themselves. Yet what happened was those idealistic young people became less radical in the interim, and many signed up to a vogue of mercenary privatization and bourgeois urban development that was virtually the opposite of their earlier views.

> Does anybody else get this feeling of fear and hopelessness watching his documentaries.

To an extent, yes. But on the other hand it's interesting to see how particular events have such dramatic long-term effects, because it implies that in the future very different outcomes are possible even without massive world-scale changes.


Yes somewhat this is also true for me. However I think this "HyperNormalisation" has to happen in some way, because if people would constantly worry about how bad and corrupt the world/systems are it wouldnt help anyone going forward because not everyone has the chance to make a change.

Nearly all his documentaries appear to be available to watch here https://thoughtmaybe.com/by/adam-curtis/

They are truly excellent. It's really worth going back to some of the early and mid career films. E.g. The Mayfair Set and the ever relevant The Century of the Self.


Gosh, really accurate. Reminds me of Eric Weinstein's "Kayfabe Politics" concept a bit as well [0].

From the article:

> Mr Curtis: No one is really sure what Trump represents. My working theory is that he’s part of the pantomime-isation of politics. Every morning Donald Trump wakes up in the White House, he tweets something absolutely outrageous which he knows the liberals will get upset by, the liberals read his tweets and go “This is terrible, this is outrageous,” and then tell each other via social media how terrible it all is. It becomes a feedback loop in which they are locked together. In my mind, it’s like they’re together in a theatre watching a pantomime villain. The pantomime villain comes forward into the light, looks at them and says something terrible, and they go “Boo!!”. Meanwhile, outside the theatre, real power is carrying on but no one is really analysing it.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRGVk4d6Gkk


This idea can be traced even further back to Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Society_of_the_Spectacle

It's not that surprising to find it here, the Situationist had a lasting impact on the intellectual theory of the left.


This is basically the same thing as the "deep state" narrative that's popular in right-aligned, just with different window dressing.

To say there's no "deep state" is a contradiction of very clear reality. Whatever you call them, the doyens of the DC establishment are permanent members of our government.

Chomsky and Peter Dale Scott were some of the first to use the "deep state" terminology, and I have no idea how you could call them or their philosophy "right-aligned." The deep state, as Eisenhower warned of it (though by the name of the military-industrial complex), is very real. Further to your point that pointing this out is to be "right-aligned," Weinstein is/was a Bernie supporter.

If you want to argue that opposing these sick and deeply entrenched power structures is "right-aligned," I'll gladly adopt the label.


It's odd to complain about this in the US, a country which has an unusually high amount of political appointees. The UK and China are the ones with giant permanent civil services. We probably need more of it so we can keep expertise longer than 4 years at a time.

I think you're getting at something very different, and I don't disagree. But the US is perhaps unique in that it has a massive lesion caused by the tumorous growth of the "military–industrial complex" — or whatever other name you want to give it — and this is entirely different from the civil service type of appointee you mention. Someone who heads the CDC or NIAID, though perhaps identified as a member of the "deep state" by some on the fringe right, is not the deep state. I'm talking more about the high-powered lobbyist who works for a private-equity-owned, $24 billion valuation, silent giant kind of company that manufactures surveillance and missile equipment.

Curtis has some amazing thought piece "documentary" series out. While you may not agree with the world view they take, they're food for thought and come with amazing music and wonderful editing. "All watched over by machines of loving grace" is a lovely look at the Randian SV mindset.

Mark Fisher's "Capitalist Realism" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalist_Realism) should be mentioned in this context, with his references to the "big Other", for instance Stalin's White Sea Canal project:

> [...] the workers and the engineers were never allowed the time, money or equipment necessary to build a canal that would be deep enough and safe enough to carry twentieth-century cargoes; consequently, the canal has never played any significant role in Soviet commerce or industry. All the canal could support, apparently, were tourist steamers, which in the 1930s were abundantly stocked with Soviet and foreign writers who obligingly proclaimed the glories of the work. The canal was a triumph of publicity; but if half the care that went into the public relations campaign had been devoted to the work itself, there would have been far fewer victims and far more real developments - and the project would have been a genuine tragedy, rather than a brutal farce in which real people were killed by pseudo-events.


I mistakenly read: "the antidote to civilization: collapse'. The mind play unfair tricks.

There's a monograph called "Industrial Society and Its Future" which you may find interesting.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/225468.Industrial_Societ...


Yes, I read it. A very well written text but I don't agree that we really know how the future will be.

> I think it’s going to come out of religion, I really do. I think there’s going to be a resurgence of religion.

Well, not religion but identity (which could be cultural or national). People no longer want to hang around with people of different persuasions just because they were forced in the same space at birth. There's an opening for radical new movements like charter cities and a new nomadism. It looks like the nation state may be a bad fit for the 21st century


Holy crap, this is a good interview.

"That we are far more similar to each other than we might think, that my desire for an iPhone as a way of expressing my identity is mirrored by millions of other people who feel exactly the same. We’re not actually that individualistic. We’re very similar to each other and computers know that dirty secret. But because we feel like we’re in control when we hold the magic screen, it allows us to feel like we’re still individuals. And that’s a wonderful way of managing the world."

The matrices and tensors may store that secret, but can anyone at FB extract that info? Or are the algos so complex that we humans cannot tease out the truth from the mass of math?

"They’re constantly playing back to you the ghosts of your own behaviour. We live in a modern ghost story. We are haunted by our past behaviour played back to us through the machines in its comparison to millions of other people’s behaviour. We are guided and nudged and shaped by that. "

Oh man, I'm barely 1/5th of the way through this and I already know this is a classic I'll be quoting from (and linking to) for years.


Love his documentaries. I highly recommend everyone watch them.

If EU, Canada, and USA will become a kind of political and economic union (like EU today), meaning no borders and a single market, then there's a good chance that union can compete with China. Separated and divided, everyone is weak today.

> investigative journalism ... “When you tell me that a lot of rich people aren't paying tax, I’m shocked but I’m not surprised because I know that. I don’t want to read another article that tells me that”. What I want is an article that tells me why, when I’m told that, nothing happens and nothing changes.

Well that's a big ask. Who do we hold responsible for nothing changing?

Hmm. May be it's me. Not sure I'm up for getting out and confronting the police today.


>...people are waiting for are some big stories. Nationalism is the easiest story to go for. And what I’m speculating about is that there might be stories that we haven’t even imagined yet...

I like the idea we could be a bit more imaginative in how we do things. Left / right etc is all a bit tedious. Maybe happiness and beauty or some such.


Yesterday I didn't know who Adam Curtis was. Today I've seen him referenced twice. Here, and a fresh off the press Talking Politics interview with him.

Baader-Meinhof effect in action.




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