The Power of Nightmares 2: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (BBC-2004)

Lambert provided an excellent overview to this Adam Curtis series in his post introducing the first episode of The Power of Nightmares, and readers added a good deal of insightful commentary.

Many readers are familiar with Adam Curtis’ work (my personal fave is the four-part Century of the Self, which I featured over Christmas when the blog was one year old), but for those of you who’ve not seen Curtis before, JustAnObserver gave a sense yesterday of why his documentaries are important:

Caught the first part by chance the evening it was broadcast. Was so riveted, I’d never heard of Adam Curtis before, that I cleared my extensive social calendar for the next 2 weeks. I think I could credit it with the beginnings of some – lets say – skepticism towards the official neocon/neolib “narratives”.

Even if you don’t agree with everything Curtis says, the odds are high that you will find this series to be compelling.

The Power of Nightmares 2: The Phantom Victory… by GalaVentura

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  1. Keith

    Watching “The Trap” was my first insight into how bad today’s ideas are.

    It was made in 2006, the bad ideas are still with us.

    Can be found on the thoughtmaybe website.

    1. Keith

      Global trade in real products is going downhill fast as can be seen from the Baltic Dry Index (the cost of shipping containers around the world).

      “As Of Today, The Baltic Dry Freight Index Has Never Been Lower”

      Our leaders are fiddling while Rome burns.

      This time “Rome” is the global economy and all the nations within it.

      It became obvious in 2008, that current thinking was totally wrong and the financiers, economists and main stream commentators have no idea what they are doing.

      We were re-assured by their complex mathematical models that ensured the global economy was being run successfully.

      2008 was of such magnitude (nearly bringing down the Western financial system) it showed the lack of understanding lay in the very assumptions that we have built these layers of complexity on top of.

      Drilling down, I and many others, have found we don’t actually understand the very nature of money and how it can be created and destroyed on bank balance sheets.

      This was known in the 1930s and has been forgotten.

      The most basic and important fact in any financial system, the nature of the money used, is no longer understood.

      Modern economists treat banks as intermediaries where money flows from one party to another, in doing this they have left themselves blind to events like 2008, where wholesale money destruction takes place on bank balance sheets.

      Once you have come to this conclusion you can drill down else where to find the same complexity built on bad assumptions.

      Today’s trickledown, supply side economics – Michael Hudson in “Killing the Host” calls it “junk” economics and I agree.

      We are fiddling while Rome burns, thinking in ways that are based on very bad assumptions and taking no notice when the warning signs flash red.

      1998 – Long Term Capital Management collapses, a very small firm specialising in certain types of derivatives nearly takes down the US financial system. It was ignored and the decision to not regulate derivatives was made in 1999.

      1999/2000 – The bubble bust showing modern financial markets are no more sophisticated than
      the Tulip Markets of 1600s Holland. It was ignored and we carried on placing our faith in markets.

      2008 – Financial Armageddon – Never mind no need to change too much, just carry on as before.

      Soon reality is going to catch up with us.

      1. susan the other

        Capitalism does not provide for humanity. Let alone the survival of the planet. But this neoon system has gone global and based money on the fantasy that capitalism does provide for humanity. Only government based on the collective good does provide for humanity – and this would be fine except for one thing: socialism precludes the expansion of capitalism and without endless expansion capitalism cannot survive. This explains why the neocons were determined to kill socialism and used any asinine propaganda they could – the transparent idiocy of their policies didn’t matter in the slightest. The only thing that mattered was promoting profit at all cost – a true oxymoron. And the very reason why money as we know it is absurd.

      2. flora

        The Neos (both the cons and the libs) talk in terms of elevating US strength and personal virtue. (Using odd definitions of strength and virtue.) Austerity for the 99% is pitched as improvement to our moral fiber, our ethics and the strength of the nation. Clearly the Baltic Dry Index doesn’t agree with the Neos. Therefore, The Baltic Dry Index is evil. Time to declare war on the Baltic Dry Index. /s

        1. flora

          wait… this just in from Neo headquarters: the Baltic Dry Freight Index rate is too low because it has been miscalculated by the shipping companies. Shippers have been carrying far more tonnage than their records show. They’ve overlooked all the extra containers they’ve been freighting. The fact they can’t see the containers or find the containers is no proof that the containers do not exist. The BDFI should be calculated assuming the containers do exist, because they might exist somewhere, maybe. If the BDFI is recalculated using the Neos more sensible standard then the numbers will show there’s no economic problem. So the BDFI isn’t evil. It’s just mistaken, and a recalculation will solve everything. /s

      3. RBHoughton

        I think the nature of money is absolutely understood Keith. The problem for citizens of the world is that the coterie of people who understand it use their knowledge to preserve their dictatorship over the rest of us.

        Look at the way they have required national Treasury officials and central bankers to remove nearly all competition – thrifts, savings and loans, post office banks, municipal banks. Why even chit funds between neighbours would be illegal if it ever became mainstream.

        The bankers need a monopoly of money creation to create booms and busts as required by the chaps who were first on the debt-based financial scene – Barings, Goldsmits, Rothschilds, East India Company Directors, opium traders, silver smugglers in South America – these are the people whose descendant today own the planet and dictate the course of events.

        Adam Curtis has done us all a great service.

      4. swendr

        The Baltic Dry Index is not “the cost of shipping containers around the world.” It’s an assessment of the cost of shipping dry bulk goods like grain, iron ore, coal, etc. Since bulk commodities are generally raw inputs to industrial production, it’s usually considered a leading indicator of future economic activity. So maybe the zerohedge panic still applies. The cost of shipping containers is more of an indicator of current economic activity since containerized cargo is far more likely to be finished materials ready for consumption, and BTW, that’s pretty low too.

      5. Praedor

        Makes me almost yearn for the scifi world(s) of Neal Asher and his Polity series. The human galactic empire is run by AIs, not humans. Humans willfully, even eagerly, seek to hand governance (politics and economics) to AIs because they rule without corruption or corruptability, do not seek power or prestige for themselves. All the human worlds that break away from the Polity ultimately come screaming back because every single one of them, after a hundred years or so, falls into corruption and misrule such that the people call on the Polity to come back in and save them.

        The Polity series isn’t a Terminator-style anti-AI set, quite the contrary. In this series humans and AIs work harmoniously together, the humans have no real wants (there is a guaranteed basic income so no one need be impovershed) and don’t hold positions wherein they are capable of forgetting the past and royally screwing up the present, then feeling all bewildered when it falls to shit. “How did this happen?” no more. An AI doesn’t forget the past, doesn’t unlearn what is hard learned. Only humans and human society does that.

  2. Steve H.

    This was from 2004, pre-finance-as-war coup, so I looked up what he’s been doing.

    It Felt Like A Kiss looks brilliant, perhaps overwhelming artistically. Bitter Lake is going in another tab now, as it dates from this year. His artistry has advanced and I thank you for setting me on the trail.

  3. oho

    if you like “Power of Nightmares”, check out “Bitter Lake”—Adam Curtis’ take on the US-Saudi/Afghan relationship. Available via your fav. search engine.

    Bitter Lake = site of Feb. 1945 summit between FDR and King Abulaziz (founder of the modern Saudi Arabia) on board the USS Quincy.

  4. I.D.G.

    Bitter Like gives a good, even if partial, account of the current world.

    After the inflation shocks of the 70s politicians gave up on the possibility of shaping society and delegated on the monetarists ideologues to dictate policy. At the same time to secure supply to the West they entered the unholly Alliance with the wahabbists, and destroyed the secular movements of the muslim nations to contain the USSR.

    This part is only explored tangientally, but even now we van see the same power play with the events in Turkey and Syria. The insane agenda to destroy and dismember Rússia and leave the ME enemies of Israel, S.A. and Turket in a permanent State of chaos still ia going on.

  5. JTMcPhee

    All that steaming sh_t that “seemed like a good idea at the time,” right?

    Words from a few deceased observers of humanity:

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear it’self – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
    —- FDR – First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

    “One of the things which danger does to you after a time is -, well, to kill emotion. I don’t think I shall ever feel anything again except fear. None of us can hate anymore – or love.”
    —- Graham Greene – The Confidential Agent (1939)

    “What are fears but voices airy?
    Whispering harm where harm is not.
    And deluding the unwary
    Till the fatal bolt is shot!”
    —- Wordsworth


    I guess “we the species” are getting the outcomes from our collective political economy that we collectively want… Too bad for most of us, and the progeny we tell ourselves we “love… The Power Majority rules, and don’t give a shit_tt what comes after…

  6. Skippy

    I would like to add this past NC post as an addition to the OP Curtis makes…. Bricoleur…

    “The point is that much of cultural organization is arbitrary. It often serves no real purpose. Evolutionary psychologists might tell you otherwise, but they are just modern day myth-makers telling stories that try to give us meaning and, ultimately, justify certain cultural patterns that we hold dear by appealing to the narrative structure of evolutionary biology and imposing it on cultural development metaphorically much in the same way as marginalist economics transferred metaphors from physics to the social sciences. Levi-Strauss introduced the idea of the ‘bricoleur’ as the person who engages in such constructions.”

    Skippy…. from my defective stance it seems – only a few – have the “power” to authoritatively craft the social narrative…. all other considerations are off the table…. especially when the table is little more than a illusion cast upon shifting goal posts and sand…

  7. participant-observer-observed

    Imagine how Russians must view this piece: American neos + radical political Islamists = double trouble!

    1. flora

      The Russians have been through their own ‘ideology trumps reality’ episode. Marxism, aka Scientific Socialism, (Scientific!) was used by Soviet govt. as the arbiter of correct scientific research as well as economics. If scientists produced theories or research that was believed to conflict with or disprove Marxist dialectics or inevitability that science was suppressed. No surprise then that the USSR became a house of cards. Now the US has the neocons and the religious right insisting that what is real should be ignored if it contradicts their ideologies/fantasies. Ideologues shoehorning science into their ideological fantasies is never a good idea.

  8. Norb

    Viewing this series makes me wonder if Curtis has not captured the roots of our eventual evolutionary failure as a species. Namely, that because we are not born with an innate connection to the world we inhabit, we must create one. It seems our weakness as a species is that we are not hard coded to nature with instincts at birth like other creatures of this world. While this evolutionary trait opens up many positive potentialities, it leaves us open to manipulation and deceit. If we are unable to establish a true connection to this world, we will be removed from it by nature thru the mechanism of evolution.

    1. JTFaraday

      Maybe it’s a bigger problem that all the sectarians think they’ve discovered that true connection to the real world and they all vehemently disagree.

      1. Norb

        Religion seems the least of our problems. The role of money in society has far greater consequence for citizens around the world, but yet again the elite deployment of divide and conquer techniques prevail.

        The underlying capitalist momentum to all these world events is always lurking in the background, like cosmic radiation from the big bang. It is a major point that politicians have changed gears form offering a vision of the future to one of only providing security. Just as stale religious leaders can only offer more dogmatic interpretations of their particular brand of religious experience. The social function of each institution, government and religion, has been corrupted by money to the point that they can no longer provide a leadership role in moving society forward into the future.

        Capitalism has progressed to the point that the system selects for dysfunction. All forms of violence and destruction are rewarded with more resources and opportunity. What vision of the future do the champions of unregulated capitalism present? A world of plenty for all? A peaceful and just world? They have delivered only chaos and disruption. Technology and efficiency in production once offered the vision of freedom from toil for humankind. What is becoming more evident every day is that this promise was an illusion and the delivered reality is one of destruction and obsolescence.

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