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


Anonymous said...

Caroline Lucas is not challenging power or the establishment. She IS the establishment.

The radicals today are those who argue for freedom and prosperity for the poor - not for austerity.

SC said...

"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."

You might need to offer a more convincing reason as to why hierarchy and power will always exist. I can believe that they will not necessarily always exist, whilst at the same time agreeing that the idea we are currently non-hierarchical is a myth! Just as I can think that Caroline Lucas is a good politician, whilst at the same time consider this article to be an embarrassing piece of propaganda.

Morgan Phillips said...

Thanks for getting back to me.
To 'Anonymous': the point of this post was to celebrate the fact that Caroline Lucas IS the establishment. She is a TINY part of it and unfortunately only a TINY antidote to the powers above her.

To SC: My point about Hierarchy and Power always existing is that history has shown clearly that it has always existed in the past, so why shouldn't it continue to exist? Show me any large social system from any point in history that has sustained itself for more than one generation without hierarchy and power. In fact, show me a successful small one. What I'm arguing for here is that power needs to be spread more widely, at the moment it is highly concentrated at the top. A top that spreads an illusion that we are all free and empowered.

Things could change, but until we get to the point when all human beings are equal (in brain size, physical strength, emotional capability, resource ownership) some people will always have power over others and thus hierarchies and power will continue to exist.

You can label this as propaganda if you like, but I am not showing my support for Lucas in a covert, underhand way, I am doing what I consistently do on this blog. I am openly and transparently saying I think she is admirable politician and leader.

Thanks again for the feedback.

SC said...

Perhaps Anonymous is suggesting that by celebrating a part of the establishment, you are endorsing the establishment as a whole, or the possibility that it could ever create the conditions for a fair and equal society. (Apologies if that's not the case)

Show me any large social system from any point in history that has been built on hierarchy and power and HAS been sustainable. How far do we take the logic "X has always existed, so why shouldn't it continue to exist?" It seems that taking Hierarchy and Power as a given in any foreseeable society is the greatest danger, and we should instead be debating ways of avoiding it. I suspect that even if I were to suggest a period in history to you, such as a primitive one, it wouldn't be enough to convince. The question, however, is far too complex for either you or Adam Curtis to attempt to construct a simple narrative to explain. But you might need to clarify why the need for power and hierarchy is inherent to the human condition, as you seem to be suggesting.

Morgan Phillips said...

I just see power as inevitable, my argument really is that it should be more widely distributed and in the hands of those who will use it wisely and are accountable. Primitive societies are a possible example of less hierarchy, but even they had/have power structures and hierarchy. A powerless, self-organising society would get pretty close to be anarchistic too wouldn't it?

Xhris said...

Interesting interpretation.

I don't think most people who opposed a single leader in the Green Party held equivalent views to the people in the communes in the show. Curtis was arguing against structurelessness. The Green Party pre-2008 was not structureless, the lines of "who decides what" haven't really become much more defined since, just the figurehead has become unique and is now assumed to be more than just a speaker.

While everyone who holds the "hippy" viewpoint Curtis was arguing against would no doubt have opposed the single leader model, it really doesn't follow that in order to have voted "no" you need to believe in structurelessness!