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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

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Has anyone seen this before? The interviews don’t look new, particularly Nathaniel Branden looks a good bit younger than he did on the Penn & Teller show a few months back. The show is pretty weird, the Rand stuff doesn’t tie in very well with the rest of the material, and the voiceover commentary isn’t quite accurate.

Thesis: It seems the computers are taking over, and Ayn Rand’s sex life is to blame. Of course it doesn’t say that, but if you just skim the program I think that’s the impression you’ll come away with. Strange brew.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX5jImWRREc&feature=player_embeddedhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnSthwB6oMo&feature=player_embedded

There are 3 more parts, the forum software won't let me link them, but they're on YouTube, seek and ye shall find.

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That looks completely insane.

It is certainly bizarre, I’m trying to watch it now more attentively, and it’s only getting stranger. There’s no denying the production values, so this isn’t some crank production, plus it went out over the BBC. I think the break out, by timing, of the material presented is about 1/3 Ayn Rand, 1/3 Bill Clinton (including too much Monica Lewinsky) and 1/3 dark hints that computers are to blame for something bad. John McCaskey appears in it, BTW.

Here are two more of the parts. It seems the forum software will only allow two links per post, so you’ll have to go hunting for part 5. Obama and Pelosi appear in part 5, so this program must be new. I'm thinking the BBC tried to put together a piece on Ayn Rand, and weren't happy with it as a standalone program, so they had interviews in the can and decided to work them in here, regardless of sense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhsTYjXhgcg&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfYR-x_tUYs&feature=player_embedded

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“A few silicon valley entrepreneurs admired Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and they like made computers, and banks like used computers, yeah?, and the banks messed up while they were using computers, yeah?, so therefore the financial crisis was caused by silicon valley disciples of Ayn Rand, oh and also by Alan Greenspan who was like best friends with Rand, and was in control of the Federal Reserve, so he presumably tried to implement Randian concepts while in power, yeah?, and that like allowed the financial sector to coast towards disaster, irrevocable catastrophic disaster that is worse than anything else in history and any possible alternative, yeah?, it even happened ten years prior in south-east Asia, who suffered terrible consequences for Westernizing their economy, yeah? and presumably haven't recovered since and are still much worse off than ever before, in fact China helped mastermind the current financial crisis as revenge on the US, yeah? and even right now as we type our thoughts are being commodified by the silicon valley Randian oligarchs, yeah?”

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“A few silicon valley entrepreneurs admired Ayn Rand’s philosophy

Good summary, but you left out the sex. What’s Monica Lewinsky doing in this documentary? Juxtaposed with so much discussion of Rand's sex life?

Here’s the fifth segment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZqOVzbCpWU

I bet this program makes much better sense if you take a hallucinogen before watching it. It has that ooh-wee-ooh-wee soundtrack, I bet there’s a theremin playing somewhere.

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I bet this program makes much better sense if you take a hallucinogen before watching it.

Pack a bowl, spark it, and inhale deeply, episode 2 is out! It’s all about the environmental movement, emerging out of hippie communes here on spaceship earth. One of the interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes is the source for some of the music. I’m not through it, but there hasn’t been any Ayn Rand yet, though it is tagged so it comes up if you do a YouTube search for her. I’m starting to like the program.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjEsk2lBj8chttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTx7ahO5jLw

I loved the polyphony of ideas. As long as you don’t believe in them, the collision of two ideas-both false-can create a pleasing interval, a kind of diabolus in musica. I had no respect for some ideas people were willing to stake their lives on, but two or three ideas that I did not respect might still make a nice melody. Or have a good beat, and if it was jazz, all the better.

Umberto Eco,
Foucault’s Pendulum
, Chapter 7, pp 49-50

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Episode 2 was certainly more ideologically palatable, but it was still epistemologically dubious, and once again narratively ridiculous.

The jist of it was that someone conceived of 'the ecosystem', whereby nature has a constant process that finds an equilibrium and stays steady. Some bright sparks applied this idea to human civilization. Some people made theoretical models or computer models to simulate how the global political ecoystem (as they saw/imagined it) would fare in the long run, and concluded we were all headed for economical-political disaster, even though their models were grossly over-simplified (in some cases outright disregarding data that had been collected).

Allegedly it all came crashing down when further research showed the basic ideas of ecology were very flawed and that nature in fact was in constant turmoil from a historical perspective, not equilibrium. And of course their models never amounted to anything. Other points of note is that hippies who set up communes to try and realize these equilibrium ideas, but they all failed within a few years. Also the authorities that promoted these equilibrium ideas were far from neutral parties (eg. the racist british colonial rules of South Africa). In general the massive flaw in the theory seemed to be that the global system envisaged did not take into account feedback loops - if a pattern of behaviour is moving people towards disaster/suffering, they will likely adapt and change rather than charge headlong into it. The problem morphs, changes into something else, in a new context.

The problem is, I've got no idea how much of this guy's summation of ecology and systems theory is legitemate commentry. For all I know there's ecologists and hippies turning blue in the face watching this thing. He probably didn't misrepresent any of the core ideas, but like the Objectivism episode he probably neglected to mention essential counter-points/rebuttals.

And the other problem is I've got no idea how much weight these ideas really carried. He's probably drastically overstating things.

Oh and there was some stuff about the internet as a self-regulating ecosystem tacked on- he was saying it was illusory freedom or something. He had examples or Iran and Ukraine and Kazaighstan revolutions which were driven by the internet, but said they all failed in very short order so the internet was not really a benefit. Thing is, he would have made this show before the whole Arab uprising last summer. Bit like how he made his last show Power of Nightmares, about the illusion of terrorism, a few months before the London underground bombings.

Having said that, I met some of these hippie ecology nuts recently. They gave a talk and showed a video about hippie squatters being evicted from London housing (they were trying to live as an agrarian commune), had some valid points about anti-freedom laws, and then handed out this technical diagram from Shannon's communication theory without a word of explanation. I was like, wtf.

If there's a theme for the series so far it seems to be that ideas of a systematic or mechanistic nature, especially when backed up by computer modelling, lead people astray and leave them in deep trouble... AND are exploited by sinister elites.

If he was really genuine there HAS to be an episode about global warming.

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I think some in the computer revolution have a libertarian philosophy, and the idea that computers could have egalitarian effects. Ayn Rand doesn't really fit it in to that, he was selecting facts to fit his thesis. And he incorrectly states Objectivism is about selfishness in the traditional sense. The whole thing seems a bit mental for something made by the BBC.

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I loved the polyphony of ideas. As long as you don’t believe in them, the collision of two ideas-both false-can create a pleasing interval, a kind of diabolus in musica. I had no respect for some ideas people were willing to stake their lives on, but two or three ideas that I did not respect might still make a nice melody. Or have a good beat, and if it was jazz, all the better.

Umberto Eco,
Foucault’s Pendulum
, Chapter 7, pp 49-50

And here’s episode 3, the last one. Genocide in the Congo and Rwanda, Dian Fossey, AIDS, Richard Dawkins…what happened to the computers? The only connection I saw was that some raw materials are mined in Africa. Belgians are the bad guys this time. The “Chewbacca Defense” comes to mind.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IpxjE53bn4

P.S. There’s some really disturbing images of dead bodies. Like in a holocaust documentary.

P.P.S. No Ayn Rand, she was only in episode one.

Edited by Ninth Doctor
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I was just thinking how this program reminds me of James Burke’s Connections series, how it jumps around and elevates tenuous links between very different subjects. Burke’s programs are certainly worth watching and a lot of fun, they’re fast paced and he has a good personality. These Adam Curtis shows were just weird. Here’s the fifth part of episode 3, just start up the beginning of it and note what bubbly music he puts over such horrible imagery. It’s like, what if reality were a David Lynch movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haZ1SxruiqEhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcSvjw5R9yw&playnext=1&list=PL265D3468D14F0FDE

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Only one word comes to mind after watching the third and final episode:

Wat.

That’s not a word. I checked.

In the 1930’s the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus wrote “Hitler brings nothing to my mind”, perhaps better translated as “Hitler leaves me speechless”. I get the feeling that that’s your reaction to episode 3. Unfortunately, while episode 2 would probably go down well with some marijuana, episode 3 would definitely cause a bad trip. There was some interesting material, though. The suicide note of the guy who tried to consistently practice altruism was really something, especially coming after the buildup suggesting he was such a happy guy.

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If you forget all other context, the documentaries were at least entertaining on the merit of throwing a few 'colourful' careers into view. Rand actually sounds less eccentric that most of the other intellectuals he dwelt on. Of course, I've got no idea how accurately or fairly he was portraying anybody. The scientist who wrote out a mathematical theory of altruism, converted to Christianity, literarily lived like Jesus, decided altruism didn't really work, then snipped his carotid artery with a pair of scissors... yeah, that was something.

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