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Adam Curtis and the death of autocracy The filmmaker on Russia, China and being labelled a conspiracy theorist

Putin's empire is collapsing (DIMA KOROTAYEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Putin's empire is collapsing (DIMA KOROTAYEV/AFP via Getty Images)


December 7, 2022   8 mins

As a portrait of how Russia came to be the cynical and aggressive autocracy of today, Adam Curtis’s seven-part BBC documentary series TraumaZone: What It Felt Like to Live Through The Collapse of Communism and Democracy is impeccable. It is a claustrophobic, sprawling Russian novel of a film, depicting what happens to a society when it loses any faith in its guiding ideology, and yet can find nothing workable with which to replace it.

A constant rebuke to the increasingly dumbed-down stylistic tropes of 2020s TV programming, the Curtis series begins with long, Tarkovskian, establishing scenes of a continent-spanning nation in disarray. Then, as the collapse accelerates, the scenes are cut shorter, harder and become increasingly hard to watch: images of communities ravaged by war, corruption and economic catastrophe, in which mere survival is paramount and cynicism is universal. After the decade of anarchy and degradation we have witnessed, Putin’s arrival on the scene in 1999 seems to come almost as a relief: the horrors of the present still lie offstage, waiting to be born.

While it is a brilliant work of recent history, can we draw parallels with our own society, which faces a comparable loss of faith in its guiding structures, and confusion and cynicism about any possible political futures?

I ask him, when we meet at UnHerd’s new Westminster club, whether, like the marginal aestheticising rebels on which his films so often centre, such as Tupac Shakur and Edward Limonov, he considers himself a dissident.

“No, no, I’m just a hack,” he says. “But what I’m interested in is finding individuals who embody the dilemmas of our time. I think Tupac’s absolutely fascinating because he was trying to do that thing of talking about power, talking about politics, but as an individual, and expressing it individualistically through his music. Most talked the radical talk, but they gave up on radical action. Tupac didn’t, he really tried to fuse those two together. He knew individualism and self expression was sort of the thing of our age — you couldn’t go back to collective organisation, no one wanted that any longer. But he tried to fuse that with radical action. And ultimately, it didn’t work, it’s a sort of tragedy.”

And Limonov?

“Limonov founded the National Bolshevik Party in the mid-Nineties. And many people just saw him as a fascist. And he was interested in fascist ideas. But actually, what he became was a focus for all those people who had been completely pulled away from what was happening in the rest of Russian society — all kinds of punks, all kinds of radicals, all kinds of ecologists.”

Yet Curtis’s interest in marginal political figures, holding up a distorted mirror to their crumbling political orders, is hard to separate from his own position within the state broadcaster, deconstructing the ideological pieties of our time from a standpoint, as E.M. Forster said of the poet Cavafy, “at a slight angle to the universe”. Similarly, in his sympathetic portrayal of the efforts of reformist Communists to preserve their crumbling system, it’s possible to discern a certain conservatism of the Left in his work, in which the rampant consumerism and individualism of capitalist society, when it hits the Soviet Union like a nuclear strike, is revealed to us afresh as something absurd and horrifying. What, then, are Curtis’s own politics?

“I’m very much of my time. I don’t have a fixed politics,” he says, adding that his 2002 series The Century of the Self, which traced the roots of the Nineties Third-Way consensus back through the midcentury advertising industry to the birth of psychoanalysis, could be interpreted as “a crystal perfect piece of neoconservative ideology, domestic neoconservatism, because what it’s actually arguing is the rise of individualism acted like an acid eating away at the fabric of social organisations, leaving a society of people bereft, individuals alone, supported by a wave of debt on their own, and just waiting for the crash, which is a sort of moralistic neocon attitude. That’s not actually what I think. But you could argue that about most films, I think. I don’t know really what my politics are.”

“I mean,” he adds, “I don’t share a thing that a lot of the liberals have, which is I’m always quite interested in Right-wing ideas, because I think for a long time, they were quite confident that they made the running. And even now I hear people like Peter Thiel talking about RenĂ© Girard on mimetic desire. I think it’s quite interesting. Because actually, if you ever wander around a bookshop, everyone else is looking at what everyone else is buying, you understand what mimetic desire really is — it’s that if you’re on your own, how do you know what identity you want? That’s why everyone is curtain-twitching at the moment on the internet, because they don’t know what they want to be.”

Curtis’s films are, in essence, works of intellectual history, which outline how the ideological fixations of elites, particularly their quest for constructing political utopias, break apart on contact with the messiness and ambiguity of the real world, often creating dystopias for the people who have to live with the consequences. But in constructing his own all-encompassing theories of everything, which draw links and parallels between widely different events with an often hallucinatory clarity, is he constructing his own counter-mythology? Is Curtis, in fact, a conspiracy theorist himself?

“I do think there’s something very interesting that has happened in the last 20 or 30 years
 in this country and America, the political parties have become increasingly homogenised,” he told me. “Despite all the rhetoric and the squealing, there is actually very little difference, and you can see this with the election that’s coming up here. What, then, has happened is that the word “conspiracy”, I’ve noticed, has changed its meaning
 It’s also increasingly used by people deep within that narrow bandwidth as a criticism of people who are outside the bandwidth, who may actually have a reasonable, alternative attitude to the world.”

“So sometimes I get accused of being a conspiracy theorist. What I would say to that, is that it often comes from the sort of people who used to go on about how there were weapons of mass destruction out in the deserts of Iraq, and the very fact that you couldn’t find them proved they existed. And those people who for years went on about how Cambridge Analytica or Vladimir Putin and various other evil people gave you Brexit and Trump. Well, that’s a bit rich, excuse me, because the one thing I have never done in any film is allege anything like that. What I’m intrigued by is going outside that bandwidth because I think it’s so narrow
”

“I’ve been shouted at by sort of nice, sweet liberal people at dinner parties, saying, ‘Well, I’ve read the Mueller report
’ Within the bandwidth it leads to that madness. It is madness. It’s sort of dying away now, but they went mad. And this goes back to my thing about ‘What have we just been through?’ A really odd time. And then we come out of it, and we press buttons to try and make things better, and none of them work. It makes me think, what’s the solution to that?”

What is the solution, in a world where we have lost faith in the organising myths of our society, but there is no obvious successor ideology? Perhaps the clearest insight into Curtis’s own sense of political futures can be drawn from the concluding sequence of 2021’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, whose psychedelic bricolage of themes from 20th-century history provided an alternative cultural hinterland to the angry populisms of the 2010s. In it, Curtis ends on the suggestion that not just the West but also its autocratic rivals China and Russia are “exhausted, empty of any new ideas”, and that “all of them have corruption that is burrowing deeper into their institutions, corruption that the politicians seem powerless to stop”. Yet the series ends on a surprisingly optimistic note, concluding with the famous quote from the anarchist anthropologist and political theorist that “the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently”.

Graeber “was a really, really interesting person”, Curtis told me, “because he wasn’t just an anarchist, he was a bit like Murray Bookchin. They’re the anarchists that [PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan knew, he was sort of almost a libertarian socialist, which is a thing that I’m really fascinated by, because I do think that individualism isn’t going to go back into the box. But if you want to change the world, you’ve got to come together in some kind of way, because that’s the only way you’re ever going to be powerful. Because if you’re on your own, it’s lonely, frightening, and you’re not powerful. And no one’s managed to square that circle. And I’ve always thought libertarian socialism is sort of trying to get to that point. And I really, really liked the quote I used, which is that actually, we made this society, it’s not like it came out of nothing, it was just imposed on us, and that does mean we can remake it if we want to.”

And yet, Curtis’s films make clear we are locked in an iron cage of ideology, enforced by increasingly shrill and hysterical political taboos, where any attempt at exploring alternative futures is cast as a one-way journey to the horrors of the 20th century. We are trapped in a failing system, whose morbid symptoms become ever more grotesque, yet in which popular attempts to correct its failing course are pathologised as merely the devious machinations of shadowy elites, who have hypnotised the dull-witted masses to do their bidding for them. Yes, things are bad, say the defenders of the current order as it collapses around them, but the only alternatives are far worse.

“What I’m so fascinated by in our time,” Curtis tells me, “is the ideology, and I think it’s okay to call it an ideology, that prevents us doing that. It’s a really interesting ideology, because it isn’t like other older ideologies, which would say ‘No, this is fantastic, this is the dream world’ — which is what they did in the Soviet Union, right up to the end. In this society, the press, the think tanks, all the wonks, have this sort of view that ‘We know it’s crap. We know it’s not ideal, we know it’s not wonderful. We know there’s corruption, but we can’t do anything about it. We know there’s injustice, we know there are inequalities, but we can’t do anything about that. But you’ve got to accept it. Because the rest is so horrible. The rest is much worse.’

“And what they mean by that is the alternatives are terrifying. They’re like the terrifying autocracy that Vladimir Putin has created in Russia. They’re like the technocratic, brutal surveillance system that Xi Jinping is running in China, or even worse and darker than that, there is radical modern Islamism, which you see in Iran, and also, if you take the New York Times as your Bible, the terrible fascism that Donald Trump and his followers are going to bring to America.

“What I find so fascinating about now is that all those things have proven to be much more fragile, much weaker than the established view said. Putin would seem to be a transitional figure in a yet fully collapsing empire, who probably will lose power in some way or another. I have a friend in China, whose parents are quite high up in the Communist Party. They are quite frightened about what’s happening in the protests. They know there’s a real problem. And also, that there is an enormous amount of debt in China, far more than we had in 2008. Iran
 I think what might happen in Iran in the future might be extraordinarily important.

“And quite frankly, despite all the efforts of the New York Times, Donald Trump is beginning to be seen as what he probably was — as some weird grifter, who managed to occupy a space that we’d left open, because we were attending to something else, and just occupied that space and touched on something in America.”

For Curtis, it seems, the looming failures of the West’s rival autocracies, for all that they are held up by liberals as justification for preserving our own failing system, and by some radical conservatives as models to be emulated, open up a strange and unlikely moment of possibility. At the other end of the present global crisis, perhaps, lies the opportunity to finally transcend the long 20th century. Things may seem bad, but a better future may already be straining to be born.

“They’re all fading away,” he says, “which makes me — I mean, this is a really weird thing to say at this present moment in time — quite optimistic, because it’s like the way is open now to actually start thinking in quite a radical way
 and that actually, maybe that’s the kind of journalism we should be doing.”

***

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Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
1 year ago

Adam Curtis’s documentaries are unwieldy, at times disorientating, and often opinionated (not necessarily a bad thing).

Personally I think they’re great, offering a perspective of our contemporary world well outside the ‘bandwidth ‘ or Overton Window ‘ of the establishment Narrative.

I think they’re obviously far fetched, but encourage you to revise your own worldview. One central theme in them (well before March 2020) is of the existence of the opaque corporate blob, mysterious pulling the policy strings in the background.

It was Curtis that introduced me to this concept. Nowadays it is the only way of making any sense of what has happened globally in the last three years.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

All hail Adam Curtis! Incredibly, he is the only free thinking intellectual we have. The only one. Name another who sparkles and teases like him? He has brilliantly deconstructed power and ideology here and abroad. I am sure he is right about the fall of the Chinese and Russian tyrants. Optimism! Yah! But I am eager to know what he makes of the state credos, governance, politics and culture here and now – in a traumatized, post Covid, post end of Zero interest regime UK. He was the first to explain how Blairism saw the expansion of an unelected Technocracy. But this Blob and State is now buckling under the weight of the mega Bailouts & QE. The demon inflation is unleashed and Net Zero insanity is further propelling us into a very dark recession and near collapse maybe. As the elite battle in vain to preserve their self enriching Propetocracy and the labour market disintegrates, the situation looks as bleak as that portrayed in his superb Russia series. Never mind interviewing him. Ask Adam to write a series of articles on the Crisis here and now!!

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Personally, I love Curtis’ films, but I think of them as films and not documentaries. He calls them films, too.

Robert Quark
Robert Quark
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Agreed. I think they’re great, but hardly anything in his docs stands up to much critical scrutiny. Take his opinions on Tupac, as some kind of radical, in his life and politically. But that only works if you essentially take what he said in a few early interviews entirely at face value and don’t bother to check how he actually lived his life, even three minutes on Tupac’s Wikipedia page essentially debunks that whole theory. There are numerous examples of this, that just happens to be one that I had personal background knowledge of. So yes they are (or can be) great entertainment, but I do not treat anything in there as Gospel and all of it with a heavy pinch of salt.

Robert Quark
Robert Quark
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Agreed. I think they’re great, but hardly anything in his docs stands up to much critical scrutiny. Take his opinions on Tupac, as some kind of radical, in his life and politically. But that only works if you essentially take what he said in a few early interviews entirely at face value and don’t bother to check how he actually lived his life, even three minutes on Tupac’s Wikipedia page essentially debunks that whole theory. There are numerous examples of this, that just happens to be one that I had personal background knowledge of. So yes they are (or can be) great entertainment, but I do not treat anything in there as Gospel and all of it with a heavy pinch of salt.

Bill Viall
Bill Viall
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Well said Adam. I was almost completely unaware of Bernays prior to watching, Century of The Self. So I’m bemused to read Adam Curtis waxing optimistic here, speaking of ‘we,’ when for many people he brought to light Bernays who wrote in Propaganda,
“We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.“
As with Claus Schwab, I think Bernays lived close to power, knew what spoke of, and was surprisingly forthright in his public pronouncements.
Until recently people grew tetchy if you mentioned, “They,” regarding the world order. In light of the work of Bernays, Cas Sustein, etc., and the recent Twitter/State revelations, I see “They” as the proper pronoun and “We” as the suspicious one. I believe Claus Schwab when he declares Xi’s China as the ideal. Particularly post-COVID, I see no such grounds for optimism. So-called mass formation is here and now, and it is not a bug, it’s a feature. I see us as slowly, yet inexorably sliding into a techno-authoritarian global system, supported blindly, wholeheartedly by the well educated laptop class. I’m quite often wrong, and hope I am again here.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Viall

I share your pessimism.
I’d never considered the similarities between Bernays and Schwab before and now you have me thinking about episodes of Curtis’ early work Pandora’s Box, particularly The Engineer’s Plot.

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Viall

“So-called mass formation is here and now, and it is not a bug, it’s a feature.” :-/

P Branagan
P Branagan
1 year ago
Reply to  Su Mac

Maybe the quote should have been: ‘mass formation was always there, is here now, and will always be with us. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature’.

P Branagan
P Branagan
1 year ago
Reply to  Su Mac

Maybe the quote should have been: ‘mass formation was always there, is here now, and will always be with us. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature’.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Viall

I share your pessimism.
I’d never considered the similarities between Bernays and Schwab before and now you have me thinking about episodes of Curtis’ early work Pandora’s Box, particularly The Engineer’s Plot.

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Viall

“So-called mass formation is here and now, and it is not a bug, it’s a feature.” :-/

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

All hail Adam Curtis! Incredibly, he is the only free thinking intellectual we have. The only one. Name another who sparkles and teases like him? He has brilliantly deconstructed power and ideology here and abroad. I am sure he is right about the fall of the Chinese and Russian tyrants. Optimism! Yah! But I am eager to know what he makes of the state credos, governance, politics and culture here and now – in a traumatized, post Covid, post end of Zero interest regime UK. He was the first to explain how Blairism saw the expansion of an unelected Technocracy. But this Blob and State is now buckling under the weight of the mega Bailouts & QE. The demon inflation is unleashed and Net Zero insanity is further propelling us into a very dark recession and near collapse maybe. As the elite battle in vain to preserve their self enriching Propetocracy and the labour market disintegrates, the situation looks as bleak as that portrayed in his superb Russia series. Never mind interviewing him. Ask Adam to write a series of articles on the Crisis here and now!!

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Personally, I love Curtis’ films, but I think of them as films and not documentaries. He calls them films, too.

Bill Viall
Bill Viall
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

Well said Adam. I was almost completely unaware of Bernays prior to watching, Century of The Self. So I’m bemused to read Adam Curtis waxing optimistic here, speaking of ‘we,’ when for many people he brought to light Bernays who wrote in Propaganda,
“We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.“
As with Claus Schwab, I think Bernays lived close to power, knew what spoke of, and was surprisingly forthright in his public pronouncements.
Until recently people grew tetchy if you mentioned, “They,” regarding the world order. In light of the work of Bernays, Cas Sustein, etc., and the recent Twitter/State revelations, I see “They” as the proper pronoun and “We” as the suspicious one. I believe Claus Schwab when he declares Xi’s China as the ideal. Particularly post-COVID, I see no such grounds for optimism. So-called mass formation is here and now, and it is not a bug, it’s a feature. I see us as slowly, yet inexorably sliding into a techno-authoritarian global system, supported blindly, wholeheartedly by the well educated laptop class. I’m quite often wrong, and hope I am again here.

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
1 year ago

Adam Curtis’s documentaries are unwieldy, at times disorientating, and often opinionated (not necessarily a bad thing).

Personally I think they’re great, offering a perspective of our contemporary world well outside the ‘bandwidth ‘ or Overton Window ‘ of the establishment Narrative.

I think they’re obviously far fetched, but encourage you to revise your own worldview. One central theme in them (well before March 2020) is of the existence of the opaque corporate blob, mysterious pulling the policy strings in the background.

It was Curtis that introduced me to this concept. Nowadays it is the only way of making any sense of what has happened globally in the last three years.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago

”Nineties Third-Way consensus back through the midcentury advertising industry to the birth of psychoanalysis, could be interpreted as “a crystal perfect piece of neoconservative ideology, domestic neoconservatism,”

I do not see that at all. Critical Theory, Frankfurt School, were the basis of Post-Modernism, and thus most of the Ills in the modern world and are Liberal/Left

It was a blending of Marxism, Freud, and existentialism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School

Really, 1960s – Hippies were the Modernist individualist, Left/Liberal

Wile the Politics were Neo-Con. military Industrial, Right wing, Conservative rather than individualistic.

But then I want to de-construct a lot of things in this piece – but go on too long in all my comments… so off to bed.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

“to sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep

.”

Benjamin David Steele
Benjamin David Steele
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

The Frankfurt school never had much influence. Even on the left, the cultural turn of Marxism never caught on. Also, Marxists and Postmodernists were mortal enemies. During the Cold War, the CIA promoted Postmodernists in literary magazines and such, precisely to suck the oxygen out of the room to silence Marxists. Some Postmodernists were even drawn to right-wing politics, such as fascism. It’s beyond imagining how all of that somehow as the basis of “most of the ills in the modern world and are Liberal/Left.”

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

“to sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep

.”

Benjamin David Steele
Benjamin David Steele
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

The Frankfurt school never had much influence. Even on the left, the cultural turn of Marxism never caught on. Also, Marxists and Postmodernists were mortal enemies. During the Cold War, the CIA promoted Postmodernists in literary magazines and such, precisely to suck the oxygen out of the room to silence Marxists. Some Postmodernists were even drawn to right-wing politics, such as fascism. It’s beyond imagining how all of that somehow as the basis of “most of the ills in the modern world and are Liberal/Left.”

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago

”Nineties Third-Way consensus back through the midcentury advertising industry to the birth of psychoanalysis, could be interpreted as “a crystal perfect piece of neoconservative ideology, domestic neoconservatism,”

I do not see that at all. Critical Theory, Frankfurt School, were the basis of Post-Modernism, and thus most of the Ills in the modern world and are Liberal/Left

It was a blending of Marxism, Freud, and existentialism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School

Really, 1960s – Hippies were the Modernist individualist, Left/Liberal

Wile the Politics were Neo-Con. military Industrial, Right wing, Conservative rather than individualistic.

But then I want to de-construct a lot of things in this piece – but go on too long in all my comments… so off to bed.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

Gosh, 11 comments (so far) and no use of that ridiculous, overused and now meaningless word ‘woke’! Am I alone in thinking that ‘left’ and ‘right’ are becoming somewhat pointless, with the ‘hard right’ calling the BBC ‘left’ while the ‘hard left’ call the BBC ‘right wing’; and the ‘right’ in the US call the Democrats ‘radical left’ (wow – how is that?). Also I was brought up (very middle class conventional) to think of ‘progress’ as a good thing, but ‘progressive’ (and ‘woke’) is now an insult flung about by the ‘right’, while ‘nazi’ is an insult flung about by the ‘left’. Here I am, thinking of myself somewhere in the middle batting off the dingbats as they fly overhead, some crashing down like a stray missile in Poland.
Please folks, have some thought for the real meaning of the words you use and lift your head up to at least consider that the ‘other’ side might have some justification in what they think, believe and say.

Benjamin David Steele
Benjamin David Steele
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

There is what is to the left and right of the media, economic, and political elite. Then there is what is to the left and right of the general public. But the most important point is that the center of the ruling elite is far to the right of the center of the general public, at least in the Anglo-American world, specifically the United States.
American Leftist Supermajority
Polarization Between the Majority and Minority
Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

Benjamin David Steele
Benjamin David Steele
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

There is what is to the left and right of the media, economic, and political elite. Then there is what is to the left and right of the general public. But the most important point is that the center of the ruling elite is far to the right of the center of the general public, at least in the Anglo-American world, specifically the United States.
American Leftist Supermajority
Polarization Between the Majority and Minority
Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

Gosh, 11 comments (so far) and no use of that ridiculous, overused and now meaningless word ‘woke’! Am I alone in thinking that ‘left’ and ‘right’ are becoming somewhat pointless, with the ‘hard right’ calling the BBC ‘left’ while the ‘hard left’ call the BBC ‘right wing’; and the ‘right’ in the US call the Democrats ‘radical left’ (wow – how is that?). Also I was brought up (very middle class conventional) to think of ‘progress’ as a good thing, but ‘progressive’ (and ‘woke’) is now an insult flung about by the ‘right’, while ‘nazi’ is an insult flung about by the ‘left’. Here I am, thinking of myself somewhere in the middle batting off the dingbats as they fly overhead, some crashing down like a stray missile in Poland.
Please folks, have some thought for the real meaning of the words you use and lift your head up to at least consider that the ‘other’ side might have some justification in what they think, believe and say.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“This period of change will be tough but something new and better is being birthed.” Really?
Life is simply a sequence of random events that is beyond our control. I appreciate that journalists have to make a living, and that whilst just telling us what happened to whom, and maybe why, no longers pays the rent, that is not a good reason to pay attention when they start “thinking in quite a radical way
.” or hogging the joint as we used to say.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I have a huge fear of AI and transhumanism…..and so seeing your first line, ï»ż Yeats came to mind…

”And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I have a huge fear of AI and transhumanism…..and so seeing your first line, ï»ż Yeats came to mind…

”And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“This period of change will be tough but something new and better is being birthed.” Really?
Life is simply a sequence of random events that is beyond our control. I appreciate that journalists have to make a living, and that whilst just telling us what happened to whom, and maybe why, no longers pays the rent, that is not a good reason to pay attention when they start “thinking in quite a radical way
.” or hogging the joint as we used to say.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago

Given what we’ve continually seen in past history, I very much doubt that Curtis’ hope for a “better” future will ever bear fruit. Seems just warmed over Marxism.
Mankind doesn’t fundamentally change. There may be blips like the Reformation, Marxism and post-Modernism. But on a macro level, things always revert to the mean.
The best we can hope for is a renewal of current institutions, or creation of new institutions that accomplish the same goals.
We see how humanity across both space and time still settles on certain similar things. Been doing that since the Paleolithic period.
And that won’t change.

Benjamin David Steele
Benjamin David Steele
1 year ago
Reply to  martin logan

Curtis seems rather un-Marxist, maybe even anti-Marxist. He has more of a conservative-style postmodern feel to his skepticism. What he entirely lacks is a Marxist or Marxist-like analysis of material structures and systems.

Benjamin David Steele
Benjamin David Steele
1 year ago
Reply to  martin logan

Curtis seems rather un-Marxist, maybe even anti-Marxist. He has more of a conservative-style postmodern feel to his skepticism. What he entirely lacks is a Marxist or Marxist-like analysis of material structures and systems.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago

Given what we’ve continually seen in past history, I very much doubt that Curtis’ hope for a “better” future will ever bear fruit. Seems just warmed over Marxism.
Mankind doesn’t fundamentally change. There may be blips like the Reformation, Marxism and post-Modernism. But on a macro level, things always revert to the mean.
The best we can hope for is a renewal of current institutions, or creation of new institutions that accomplish the same goals.
We see how humanity across both space and time still settles on certain similar things. Been doing that since the Paleolithic period.
And that won’t change.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

This article reminds me of George Friedman’s “The Storm Before the Calm” which proposes that US history proceeds in institutional cycles and socioeconomic cycles. We are now living through an unusual period when, according to Friedman, these two cycles are synchronized and the socioeconomic structure of the US is changing along with the nature of the institutions that run the country, especially the federal government which is now too cumbersome to serve its function.
Both Friedman and the current article end on an optimistic note: this period of change will be tough but something new and better is being birthed. In the US, Friedman expects this process will likely take a decade, perhaps longer before the new reality stabilizes.
Aris R. quotes Curtis as saying, “the way is open now to actually start thinking in quite a radical way
 and that actually, maybe that’s the kind of journalism we should be doing.” Many writers have described the problems that afflict the world, especially the West, but few propose solutions. Perhaps the task is too daunting. If we can’t have solutions, then perhaps we can have imaginative writers who try to imagine a more positive future suited to the needs of humanity in the 21st century.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“Many writers have described the problems that afflict the world, especially the West, but few propose solutions.”
Maybe, first, we have to decide on what we want. Otherwise a solution to what?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

`ÂŹÂŹ

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“Many writers have described the problems that afflict the world, especially the West, but few propose solutions.”
Maybe, first, we have to decide on what we want. Otherwise a solution to what?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

`ÂŹÂŹ

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

This article reminds me of George Friedman’s “The Storm Before the Calm” which proposes that US history proceeds in institutional cycles and socioeconomic cycles. We are now living through an unusual period when, according to Friedman, these two cycles are synchronized and the socioeconomic structure of the US is changing along with the nature of the institutions that run the country, especially the federal government which is now too cumbersome to serve its function.
Both Friedman and the current article end on an optimistic note: this period of change will be tough but something new and better is being birthed. In the US, Friedman expects this process will likely take a decade, perhaps longer before the new reality stabilizes.
Aris R. quotes Curtis as saying, “the way is open now to actually start thinking in quite a radical way
 and that actually, maybe that’s the kind of journalism we should be doing.” Many writers have described the problems that afflict the world, especially the West, but few propose solutions. Perhaps the task is too daunting. If we can’t have solutions, then perhaps we can have imaginative writers who try to imagine a more positive future suited to the needs of humanity in the 21st century.