The MSNBC Morning Joe show began today (6.17) with the issue “American’s moral responsibility in the Middle East?” It is sad to listen to this “so so shallow” uninformed dialogue which could have been an episode in Adam Curtis’s documentary The rise and fall of the tv journalist. Adam Curtis, here interviewed on the theme of his work, is a British BBC producer that I am now re-watching – his documentaries are accessible at the ThoughtMaybe site.
In many ways, Curtis’s work is all interrelated in examining British and American politicians’ efforts to save-the-world, bring its so-called “democratic freedom” to the rest of the world. However, the result continues to give us today’s nightmare unfolding in the Middle East and now most recently in Orlando Florida. This nightmare is self-inflicted from America’s and Britain’s long history of murder in the name of their manifest destinies, their false pursuit of miss-perceived exceptionalism. It is now coming full-circle, they have to accept their collective karma created with the “game-theory-strategy” of “Fuck your buddy”.
I started re-watching Curtis’s work which begins with the documentary The power of nightmares (2004) and presents the origins of what we now wake to every morning – reports on the nightmare of killing around the World. The Power of Nightmares documents the rise of the “politics-of-fear” we are now experiencing. Curtis asks this key question, “Is the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organized force of destruction – specifically in the form of al-Qaeda [now ISIS] – a myth perpetrated by politicians across the globe, but particularly by American neo-conservatives, in order to unite and justify empire?” The answer is YES and Curtis charts the rise of these groups giving one an enlightened view of what is going on inside the War on Terror – we have been and are still being terrorized by our own politicians and the media. Eisenhower’s caution at the end of his presidency was to beware of the industrial-military complex – now we add media as Trump points out and is so apt at using for his own ends. The media, after all, are a corporation with a very limited view of their role in the World. Enjoy if one can such news.
The Power Of Nightmares: Part 1 Baby Its Cold Outside (2004)The first part of the series explains the origin of Islamism and Neo-Conservatism and draws the parallels between the two of their optimistic visions to change the world by force. It shows Egyptian civil servant Sayyid Qutb, depicted as the founder of modern Islamist thought, visiting the United States to learn about the education system, but becoming disgusted with what he saw as a corruption of morals and virtues in western society through consumerism. When he returns to Egypt, he is disturbed by the rampant westernisation and becomes convinced that in order to save the culture, it must be completely restructured along the lines of Islamic law. He also becomes convinced that this can only be accomplished through the use of an elite vanguard to lead a revolution against the established order. Qutb becomes a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and, after being tortured in one of Nasser’s jails, is moved to state that western-influenced leaders can justly be killed for the sake of removing their corruption. Qutb is executed in 1966, but he influences the future mentor of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to start his own Islamist group. Inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution, Zawahiri and his allies assassinate Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat in 1981, in the hopes of starting their own revolution. The revolution does not materialise and Zawahiri comes to believe that the majority of Muslims have been corrupted not only by their western-inspired leaders, but Muslims themselves have been affected by jahiliyyah and thus both may be legitimate targets of violence if they do not join him. They continued to have the belief that a vanguard was necessary to rise up and overthrow the corrupt regime and replace with a pure Islamist state. At the same time in the United States, a group of disillusioned liberals, including Irving Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, look to the political thinking of Leo Strauss after the perceived failure of President Johnson’s so-called “Great Society.” They come to the conclusion that the emphasis on individual liberty was the undoing of the plan. They envisioned restructuring America by uniting the American people against a common evil, and set about creating a mythical enemy. These factions, the Neo-Conservatives, came to power under the Reagan administration, with their allies Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and work to unite the United States in fear of the Soviet Union. The Neo-Conservatives allege the Soviet Union is not following the terms of disarmament between the two countries, and, with the investigation of “Team B”, they accumulate a case to prove this with dubious evidence and methods.
The Power of Nightmares Part 2 – The Phantom Victory: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on 25 December 1979 gives a common cause to an extraordinary alliance of radical Islamists in Afghanistan and around the world and to the neo-conservatives in the United States, as a key battleground of the Cold War. As the United States provides funding and arms–including even Stinger missiles capable of shooting down Soviet helicopters–to Islamic Mujahideen fighters who would fire them, a young wealthy Saudi called Osama Bin Laden is among the many foreigners drawn to Afghanistan. When the Soviets eventually pull out and when the Eastern Bloc begins to collapse in the late 1980s, both groups falsely believe they are the primary architects of the defeat of the Soviet Union. Back in America, the Neo-Conservatives’ aspirations to continue to use the United States military power for further destruction of evils are thrown off track by the ascent of George H. W. Bush to the presidency, followed by the 1992 election of Bill Clinton leaving them out of power. The Neo-Conservatives, with their conservative Christian allies, organize to demonize Clinton throughout his presidency with various real and fabricated stories of corruption and immorality, but to their disappointment, the American people do not turn against Clinton. The Islamist attempts at revolution end in massive bloodshed, leaving the Islamists without popular support. Zawahiri and bin Laden flee to the sufficiently safe Afghanistan and declare a new strategy: to fight Western-inspired moral decay they must deal a blow to its source—the United States.
The Power Of Nightmares: Part 3 The Shadows In The Cave: The neoconservatives use the September 11 attacks, with al-Fadl’s description of al-Qaeda, to launch the War on Terror. The final part addresses the actual rise of al-Qaeda. Curtis argues that, after their failed revolutions, bin Laden and Zawahiri had little or no popular support, let alone a serious complex organization of terrorists, and were dependent on independent operatives to carry out their new call for jihad. However, the film argues that in order to prosecute bin Laden in absentia for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings, U.S. prosecutors had to prove that he is the head of a criminal organization responsible for the bombings. They find a former associate of bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl, and pay him to testify that bin Laden is the head of a massive terrorist organization called “al-Qaeda”. With the September 11 attacks, neoconservatives in the new Republican administration of George W. Bush use this invented concept of an organization to justify another crusade against a new enemy, culminating in the launch of the War on Terror. After the American invasion of Afghanistan fails to uproot the alleged terrorist organization, the Bush administration focuses inwards, searching unsuccessfully for terrorist sleeper cells in America. In 2003, they extend the War on Terror to a war on generally perceived evils with the invasion of Iraq. The ideas and tactics also spread to the United Kingdom, where Tony Blair uses the threat of terrorism to give him a new moral authority. The repercussions of the neoconservative strategy are also explored, with an investigation of indefinitely-detained terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay, many allegedly taken on the word of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance without actual investigation on the part of the United States military, and other forms of “preemption” against non-existent and unlikely threats made simply on the grounds that the parties involved had the potential to become a threat. Curtis specifically attempts to allay fears of a dirty bomb attack and concludes by reassuring viewers that politicians will eventually have to concede that some threats are exaggerated and others have no foundation in reality. He says, “In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power.”
This nightmare is real as it now mutates, manifesting itself in the political reality show of Donald Trump. What is most frightening is that I now see a rationale justifying voting for Trump. Understanding Curtis’s thesis on power, this politician-created-nightmare, encourages one to vote for Trump who is increasingly opposed by politicians of all stripes. Is this a vote to awaken us? – a very big maybe. However, only by establishing term limits, eliminating career-politicians, and installing public-financing will we awaken from this nightmare. Sweet dreams – indeed!
The next documentary continuing this line of thinking in The Trap (2007) also presented in three segments and addresses the question of “what is happening to our dream of freedom?” Curtis asks the viewer to step “back and look at what freedom actually means in the West today.” We quickly realize that it is a strange and limited kind of freedom with “the United States and its empire self-describe fighting the Cold War for “individual freedom, yet it is still something that the leaders of our so-called democracies continually promise to give us. Abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to force freedom on to other people has led to more than just bloody mayhem, and this, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain and most recently in Orlando Florida. Our government’s response has “dismantled long-standing laws that were designed to protect our individual freedom and civil liberties” (Curtis).
The Trap 1 – Fuck your Buddy! This first episode examines the rise of a mathematical model about human behavior called Game Theory developed during the Cold War, and the way in which its premises filtered into economic thought. The program traces the development of the theory with particular reference to the work of the mathematician John Nash, who constructed such models for which he won the Nobel Prize in economics. He invented games reflecting his beliefs about human behavior, including one he called “Fuck You Buddy,” in which the only way to win was to ruthlessly betray your playing partner. While these games were mathematically coherent, they only worked correctly when the players obeyed the ground rules that they should behave selfishly and try to outwit and betray their opponents. As the 1960s became the 70s, the theories of a Scottish psychiatrist R.D Laing and the models of Nash began to converge, producing a widespread popular belief that the state was purely and simply a mechanism of social control which calculatedly kept power out of the hands of the public. This episode shows how this belief allowed economic models that left no room for altruism to unrealistically look credible, and then how this went on to serve the free-market beliefs of Margaret Thatcher who believed that by dismantling as much of the British state as possible, a new form of ‘social equilibrium’ would be reached. This was a return to Nash’s work, in which the paradoxical claim was that if everyone was pursuing their own selfish interests, a “stable society” would result. But as the mathematically modeled society is run on cold scientific data—performance targets, quotas, and statistics—it is precisely this data in the information age, combined with the false belief that ruthless selfishness can provide stability and fair society, that has created “The Trap.”
The Trap 2 – The Lonely Robot The second episode follows on from the ideas introduced in the first to develop the themes further. What is revealed, as in the context of the current age, is that drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression are being used to normalise behaviour and make humans behave more predictably, like machines. This is not presented as a conspiracy but as a logical outcome of the market-driven culture of self-diagnosis governed by check-lists based on every-day symptoms of human emotion.
The Trap 3 – We Will Force You to Be Free: The final part in this series focuses on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by political theorist Isaiah Berlin. The episode briefly explains how negative liberty could be defined as freedom from coercion and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential. It is this outcome that summarises the entire series, contextualized both by the emergence and convergence of the ‘New Left’ (epitomized by the current age of individualism), with the right’s pursuit of “personal liberty” on a global scale with disastrous consequences.
Isaiah Berlin’s ideas on positive and negative liberty are fascinating and drive the logic in Curtis work on the World’s nightmare. At the end of Part 3, Curtis reports that British PM John Majors wrote Berlin asking if there were not some way that positive and negative freedom could be combined without resulting in ideological superiority behavior. Berlin was on this death bed and was not able to respond. However, in spite of the evidence to the contrary that Curtis presents, he holds out hope that there might be a way in which positive liberty can be achieved without its past history of failures like America’s Iraqi killing-fields.
Bitter Lake (2015) is the latest of Curtis’s work and takes a close look at the West’s fuck-up in Afghanistan. The U.S. still has 10,000 “freedom fighters” there!
Enjoy your summer at the lakes!
Bitter Lake (https://thoughtmaybe.com/bitter-lake/) (2015) Bitter Lake explores how the realpolitik of the West has converged on a mirror image of itself throughout the Middle-East over the past decades, and how the story of this has become so obfuscating and simplified that we, the public, have been left in a bewildered and confused state. The narrative traverses the United States, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia—but the country at the centre of reflection is Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is the place that has confronted political figureheads across the West with the truth of their delusions—that they cannot understand what is going on any longer inside the systems they have built which do not account for the real world. Bitter Lake sets out to reveal the forces that over the past thirty years, rose up and commandeered those political systems into subservience, to which, as we see now, the highly destructive stories told by those in power, are inexorably bound to. The stories are not only half-truths, but they have monumental consequences in the real world.
Note: We are about to elect a President and the choice is stark – will Clinton continue to keep the US playing Obama’s low-key strategy, which would be quite different than Trump’s suggested approach of carpet bombing and possibly nuking the Middle East. Trump, is a trickster, and will next be put on our psychoanalytical couch and examined as we continue searching for a way out of Plato’s Cave.