Tuesday 31 May 2011

Adam Curtis: This is really all I'm saying in all these films:

Have you been watching Adam Curtis' latest documentary series? 'All watched over by machines of loving grace' seems to be his most controversial work yet.

I found a recent interview from the excellent Resonance FM show 'little atoms' on YouTube. At around 17 minutes in Curtis says this:

This is really all I'm saying in all these films: I'm very sympathetic to a lot of the protest movements and to challenging power in society, but you are not going to do it through self organizing networks where you all sit round and there are no leaders and there is no guiding vision, except self-organisation. It's a retreat I think and I think in many respects it is a cowardly retreat on the part of the left from confronting the fact that power is getting more and more concentrated in our society, but they don't have an alternative. They retreat like bureaucrats, like librarians into process; processes of organisation, without actually inspiring me with a vision of another kind of way of organising the world.

The Green Party in the UK recognised this, when in 2007, members voted to do away with it's non-hierarchical policy of having no defined leader. New party leader, Dr. Caroline Lucas MP has gone on to become the first ever Green Party MP in the UK. Despite a limited platform the Greens have been able to promote 'an alternative vision of another way of organising the world' and voters are beginning to take notice of it. Caroline Lucas is an inspiring person and a good leader, she has assumed a position of some power and I agree with Adam Curtis, she should not feel scared of using it. Curtis' series (like all his other work) explores power, who has it, where it comes from, how it can be challenged and what people do with it. One thing is omnipresent: power itself.

To follow Curtis' advice we shouldn't just argue against the existence of Power, seeking to remove it entirely in the unrealistic hope that we can all live in a non-hierarchical self-organizing societal system. We should not do this because power never really goes away, it just changes hands. Since the late 1970s neo-liberalism has seen an unprecedented hollowing out of successive Government's in the UK, power has shifted away from elected politicians to the boards of unelected faceless corporations whose decisions are shaping the way we live. A decline in the power of Governments should not be confused with a decline in the existence of power itself. This is a convenient confusion, that does exist, and which serves the needs of an elite few. Hierarchy and power will always exist; the myth that we are becoming a non-hierarchical society is one propagated by an ever narrowing power base. The result is a society where there are many powerless and a concentrated, tiny, powerful elite. The challenge is to spread power more equitably through society, placing it more widely in the hands of more visible, accountable and trustworthy leaders; that is true democracy. We should do this while recognizing and accepting the inevitability that leaders do emerge and that we need honorable ones. Leaders like Caroline Lucas MP

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Why don't we call it pollution?

Just asking...

When we are talking about climate change we call the gasses that come out of the exhaust pipes and chimneys carbon ‘emissions’. Why do we do that? Why don’t we call it ‘pollution’?

The word emissions is so tame, the word pollution is cutting and devastating. I don’t suppose anyone set out to deliberately re-brand this sort of pollution as carbon emissions, but once it started to be used, it stuck. Now this is probably because ‘carbon emissions’ is much less offensive than ‘pollution’. There is a precedent here. The Grandfather of Madison Avenue, Edward Bernays, consciously dropped the word ‘propaganda’ in favour of the more palatable ‘public relations’. He did this because of the negative mind control connotations associated with the word propaganda but later admitted that public relations was essentially the same thing.

When you frame marketing and advertising as ‘propaganda’ - a psychological technique that plays on your deep subconscious anxieties and emotions to manipulate you into buying a good or service - it sounds sinister and deeply unethical. If, however, marketing and advertising is framed as a profession practised by creative, cool and sexy ‘agents’ who show you how their product or service can fulfil your wildest dreams it seems clever, interesting and harmless. You know you’ve been tricked, but you don’t mind because you were tricked by Don Draper and you want to be him/sleep with him /drink bourbon over ice in a seedy New York jazz club with him.

When you frame the climate altering gasses that we each create in huge proportions every day as Carbon emissions, they sound a lot less devastating than when you call them what they are: pollution.