Whilst I am intending to watch Adam Curtis’ All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace again, this is more of a sketchy blog expanding some of my initial thoughts (now about a month ago) on what was a truly inspiring and captivating documentary.
Essential to the documentary, for me, was the discussion of systems – how it relates to the way social, political and economic life is ordered and shapes interactions, opportunities and resources. Sociologically speaking, the idea of systems can be either progressively or regressively utilised for political action. For instance, Functionalism utilised system theories to argue everything, even the high levels of income discrepancy, has a function to support the interdependent compartments of the system.
Another type of system conception is Norbert Elias’s work on interdependence, which incidentally formed the backdrop to my dissertation. He illustrates the ways society’s interdependent relations, especially the development of the state, are connected and influence psychological processes. This has strong links with Murray Bookchin’s work on the ways in which bottom up, non-authoritarian/hierarchical organisations enable democratic community control over areas such as energy.
Theories (namely, by realists) based on the ‘circulation of elites’, eventually manipulated by fascists such as Mussolini, shows the power of system theories for political praxis. Many elite theorists were for the cherry picking of ‘talent’ from the ‘bottom’ of society to undermine the potential of revolutionary forces. On a related note, Curtis shows how activists campaigning against the World Commission on Environmental Development believed those at the top were using concepts without constructing real change (which I tend to agree with). The documentary also discussed the profound influence of Ayn Rand upon neoliberal ideas, something that is clear when we have ‘leaders’ who feel that it isn’t damn right offensive to unveil a statue in London of a man, Regan, who screwed people over for fun with his sidekick Thatcher. The sheer amoralistic, egotistical and ‘rational’ conception of people and life, prevalent within Rand’s work, has clear connections to the profit-making motive enshrined in capitalist ventures.
The global political economy and the restraints it places upon institutions such as the European Union is something I have discussed (with others) before. This is again something Adam Curtis discusses in line with the recent revolutions occurring through the Arab Spring. The problems of revolutionary situations often issuing in new types of oppression are common; and for me, are part of a wider neoliberal system undermining the level of change possible (Venezuela, for me, is another good example of this). However, this doesn’t mean that people can’t work with potential in mind, even if it is never entirely met; working with goals, ideals and aspirations is important.
There is no real central argument, as such, to this blog; more a blurb regarding the significance of theories and views on political and economic systems. It’s clear that there are many different systems, and there is the potential for counter-hegemonic systems (what Bookchin advocates, for instance), to counteract the dominant global political economic neoliberal system – but this will take time, effort, and compromise.