Adam Curtis on ecology 

I am really getting the strong sense in part 2 of "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace" that Adam Curtis loathes and despises the science of ecology and everyone involved in it.

I don't know why he has such strong negative feelings about a field of study that seems to me basically about saving the planet, and his attitude gives me kind of far-right vibes.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

Like I'm figuring so far that he probably thinks that ecology is just a mask for powerful technocrats to try to control people? And he probably thinks that climate change is a conspiracy as well?

I don't get what he's saying and the part he's not saying really bugs me.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

It will be interesting to see if that's really where he's headed or not.

My feeling has always been that ecologists, cyberneticists and systems thinkers are much *less* machine-like in their thinking than the theorists who came before them; Curtis seems to believe the opposite, which really startles me.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

Basically, I think I would classify Curtis as "anti-globalist" (with all that that phrase implies) in his thinking - not anti-capitalist or anti-authoritarian. Wouldn't be at all surprised if he voted for Trump.

I could be wrong but he's giving me those vibes.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

What annoys me about the "Cloud" of 2022 is not that it's "Cybernetic self-organization gone wrong" but rather that it's explicitly NOT cybernetic self-organization; it's top-down centric, again, like we had in the 1980s.

There's a story there about how we lost the cybernetic vision through taking it for granted, first by deregulating too fast and then by panicking and consolidating/controlling all the things.

But I don't think that's the story Curtis is telling.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

You can't have BOTH cybernetics AND "tech unicorns" with a "founder" cult. They are two opposite visions. Self-organization should not be creating huge centralised behemoths. If it is, it's failed.

Somehow Silicon Valley hasn't put A and B together and is still trying to do - and praise - both.

THAT'S the contradiction in "the Californian Ideology" that interests me.

Curtis is bagging on the cybernetics part and I don't think he understands what he's looking at.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

OH YEAH HERE IT IS

"The Club of Rome", "Limits to Growth " and WORLD2.

This was was a major far-right bogeyman back in the 1980s. This was a key part of the "omg an evil globalist cabal is secretly trying to Social Engineer us all".

And the words Curtis uses to describe Limits to Growth: "bureaucrats" "rich businessmen" "the world Needed to be Managed"

Curtis isn't on the Left. He's repeating far-right memes.

That's my strong feeling based on half-way through AWOBMOLG.

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Adam Curtis on ecology 

He really doesn't like the idea of "equilibrium" -- which I assume means that he thinks that perpetual economic growth is sustainable on a finite planet.

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Adam Curtis on ecology 

He doesn't seem to like modelling/simulation either.

I can understand that modelling and simulation must be taken always as an approximation, that you can only get out of a model what you put into it, and that's going to include your prejudices.

But he seems just viscerally angry against the very *idea* of both Ecology and Modelling, and I can't figure out why he's so angry.

And I don't like his style one bit. It's total Youtube Conspiracy Theorist style.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

He briefly mentions the failure of the communes of the Back to the Land Movement (Stewart Brand's old stomping ground), and the role that both Encounter Group psychology and self-organizing models had in that social failure, which would be a much more interesting subject to explore in full.

I think something similar happened to Douglas Engelbart and the Augmentation Research Center, with EST(much like Encounter Group theory) breaking things.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull

World3 got an update after 30 years. systemdynamics.org/product/aff Dennis Meadows carried on the work after the leader of the team, his wife Donella died. The 30-year update was published more than 10 years ago now, and although they didn't publish a 40 year update recently, Dennis did however go on the podcast touring circuit. He said oh, look, the decline has begun - just as the model predicted 40 years ago. They are pretty easy to find.

Anyway, System Dynamics models aren't strictly meant for forecasting. The model was never intended to try to predict exact dates of when the system would begin to tip into decline. Forecasting isn't what SD models are meant for. What they are incredibly useful for, is to model the resilience of the system to perturbations, and for redesigning the system to be more (or less) resilient to perturbations, and for identifying weak-points, fulcrums, intervention points - where a small change in one element of the system can make a huge change in the overall behaviour of the total system. That is the primary, (indeed the only) intended purpose of System Dynamics modelling.

Oh, and not many know this - but Meadows' client - the Club of Rome was a cohort of the world's biggest polluters who somehow wanted to know exactly how much they were fucking up the planet.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull good soundtracks though

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull I don't think that's a fair assumption. It's been a while since I saw it, considering it came out in 2011, but as I recall, I took that much more to argue against "steady-state" managed solution that try to artificially suppress existing movements and changes instead of reacting to and flowing with them. Imposing a static view of the world instead of embracing change.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@pettter

" took that much more to argue against "steady-state" managed solution that try to artificially suppress existing movements and changes"

And is a "managed solution" that "artificially suppresses" changes in fact what the extreme laissez-faire non-interventionist capitalist economics advocated by Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan, introduced in Episode 1, that was shown as leading to economic crisis, was actually about?

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull Basically yes.

"Laissez-faire" capitalism basically isn't, and has never been. It's always been about transplanting power from the state into the hands of individual capitalists and companies, who are then expected to manage and extract resources as far as possible.

All the various arguments in favour of such systems already _assume_ an unperturbable steady-state on top of which The Market can do its thing.

Neoliberalism is about creating that steady state.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@pettter

"transplanting power from the state into the hands of individual capitalists and companies"

The "transplanting power" part would be the laissez-faire part - deliberately removing the agency of government to interfere in what capitalists think is their business.

In my opinion, power is power and acts the same regardless of who wields it, so I don't give much credence to anarchist critiques of "the state". Except that a democratic state votes; corporations don't.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@pettter

(Of course you can have corporations with an internally democratic structure, and those are really interesting! And a potential way toward a better future. They often tend to not be competitive in the marketplace against more ruthless autocratic corps though, which is a problem.)

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull I agree 'the market' is a problem.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@pettter @natecull I've not seen AWOBMOLG but I've watched Hypernormalization in which he certainly seems to be drawing attention to and criticizing the concept of neoliberalism and the steady-state concept from the crux that the steady-state abandons any ideology in preference of having control over the present moment by giving up any particular direction of the future. I do wonder if that underlying thrust would extrapolate on to criticism of any other simulation or modelling on the basis of distrust of its *use* rather than its *validity*, but that's totally a supposition from a point of not having watched the material you're pointing out.

I certainly have my own suspicions of Curtis - I feel his work has a *lot* of value based on what he draws attention to and the type of systematic thinking, but I reserve judgement on any implied conclusion. Mostly chiming in here because it's interesting so don't see what I wrote as a defense or an attack :)

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

Basically my problem with Adam Curtis so far (two episodes of Machines of Loving Grace) is that he takes forever to say very little, it's not structured, he doesn't cite sources, *and does it with a dark menacing emotional overtone of music and images* which is utterly unrelated to his actual subject matter or argument.

He walks and talks like a propagandist slinging fear and despair and I just don't care for that style of communication.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull I think the causality is kind of the other way around, honestly. Curtis has been doing this kind of stuff since the early nineties. But yes, it's a fair criticism. I take my Curtis with rather large helpings of salt, so to speak. @grimmware

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

Like, his thoughts are just *so half-formed and confused* and he's seething with anger and cynicism, and he keeps half-making suggestions of allegations but not following through. It's a pattern I'm familiar with from the right-wing conspiracy materials I grew up with.

The germ of a point he seems to have so far is "systems/ecology thinking circa 1960s assumed a steady state; Ayn Rand thought similarly; unknown later ecological thinking disagrees".

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull It's definitely more "CAUTION: this thing" than "hey this thing is Good and Cool".

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

But there's multiple separate takes on ecology and systems thinking! *Which particular* ecological models does he disagree with? What sub-field is this guy he's got on screen talking about "we now know natural systems aren't steady state" from? How did the field change over time? Lay out your arguments, man! Explain! Be precise! But he doesn't. He just insinuates and moves on.

He's the very definition of the Gish Gallop.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

I mean... homeostasis is a real thing, isn't it? There exist biological systems which DO self-regulate. At least within some bounds; once outside of those bounds, they stop regulating, sure. Nothing is 100%.

And he slings the word "system" around like it's an insult; like it was a mistaken idea, like phlogiston. Yet systems exist! But he seems to think the very concept of a system, and all forms of system theory, is laughable.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull My take is that "systems" aren't self-contained. They always exist as parts of some larger context, and in relation to smaller parts that any systemic models will generally fail to model properly. The only true simulation of a system is not only just the system itself, but, in fact, the entire universe in which it exists.

All models are wrong, but some are useful. But all are wrong.
@grimmware

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull I think I also would agree in the "systems-scepticism" of Curtis insofar that "systems thinking" tends to also _impose_ those systems in various ways. By categorising, datafying, incorporating, studiying things in particular ways, certain politics and actions relating to those things become possible, desirable and even obligatory.

It's important to interrogate that impulse. Keep in mind the grid of the mind and so on. @grimmware

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@pettter @natecull yeah but I mean to shit on the idea at all is to essentially give up on the idea of humans ever seeking toward the idea of understanding *anyway*. Model-based thinking is simply a way to hone in on the truth by bridging the gap between human-based allegorical and categorical thinking and what's *actually* happening. It's the lens of understanding and ultimately just a tool, so a critique of the tool is, in my mind, misplaced versus a critique of the use of the tool.

I mean I'm getting out of my depth here anyway having not watched the same specific documentary so I should probably bow out on that front, but I'd certainly argue here that the limits on how we approach systems are on observability and conceptualization which are ultimately human limits. Those are the bounds we have to work within.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

If you do want to watch the documentary, it's on Vimeo. Part 1 is here:

vimeo.com/515004292

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

I suppose I have to watch Part 3 just to make sure whether Curtis ever "angles toward" *anything* coherent at all in this documentary other than "ecology plus computers = BAD".

I won't enjoy it, but I guess I have to as a sort of misguided ethical duty.

There's a lot that I *should* agree with Curtis about (I feel that individualism/selfishness isn't much of a philosophy and that markets don't self-correct) but somehow I don't seem to like him.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull Nothing is mandatory. Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law.

As far as I recall (again I haven't seen it in quite a while) part 3 does pull together a bunch of threads left dangling in parts 1 and 2 though.
@grimmware

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull @pettter

"I won't enjoy it, but I guess I have to as a sort of misguided ethical duty."

Just don't feel obligated to try to understand somebody who's not really gone out of their way to be understood - sometimes people get the hot takes they deserve, not because the hot takes match them but because of the variance of interpretation they invite!

I've learned the hard way that I hold myself to a higher standard of self-correction than most people and largely all that gets you is burned out on trying to be well informed and correct in a world that only pretends to value it and will in no way reward anyone proportionately for your efforts.

Just my 2c, I read "misguided ethical duty" and I'm in this picture and I don't like it ;)

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

It's more that so many people in the STEM field or online seem to have been so deeply influenced by this one Adam Curtis documentary in particular, that I feel like I have a duty to watch it in order to understand what my generation (and the next two) are thinking.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull @pettter yeah legit, there's some pretty strong Dunning-Kruger when it comes to STEM types approaching subjects outside of their area of expertise when the information is presented in such a way that seems to credit them with intelligence. We're very susceptible to flattery when it comes to our intelligence :P

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware This is entirely accurate, except when it's instead "I am an idiot who don't even know my own field. Everything is super complicated and nothing is knowable stop bothering me" @natecull

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

Similarly, there's a lot I should agree with him about: models of systems not being the systems themselves, humans not actually being machines, a sense of the 1990s-2010s being a kind of sleepwalk toward social disaster, a collective "not fully conscious" state, knowing something is very wrong but feeling powerless to know or act to improve it.

But. Cybernetics isn't a new villain either; many artists/musicians in the early 1980s were obsessed by it.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull @grimmware @pettter

In case you hadn’t already come across it, this podcast seems very much up your alley. Their project is a response to the thing I think you’re getting at here re: trying to integrate anti capitalism and cybernetics theory. But they also have a mini series reflecting on AWOBMOLG specifically.

generalintellectunit.net/e/010

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull @pettter Yeah that's particularly interesting because the assertion relies heavily on the semantics of what you consider a steady-state system - like is he talking on the chaos theory level in which the suggestion that the appearance of a steady state is just an island of calm in a larger chaotic system, that the chaos inherent in the system on a microscopic scale is masked by the averages on the larger scale? And more to the point, without qualifying whether that knowledge is theoretical (i.e. we know that newton's laws are not correct given relativity) or functional (relativity doesn't matter in most mundane cases because we're not approaching the speed of light).

Really reminds you that the world is just full of people walking in to rooms and making assertions and largely being faced with credulity...

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull @pettter That's interesting, I'd be tempted to reapproach the stuff that I've watched so far with that perspective (uncited, propagandist) in mind but it's a time investment and I feel like I've been staring into the sun afterwards hah.

I'm finding your cynicism and critique of it refreshing to be honest, it adds another dimensionality to view the whole thing from. I think that's the thing with Curtis that I've never put my finger on before - what does he *want*?

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @pettter

"What does Curtis want" is a very good question. I wish I knew myself, because then if I understood his motives I'd feel a bit safer around him.

Maybe he doesn't want anything? Maybe he's just generally burned out on society? He's a Baby Boomer; maybe he just represents a sizeable, very confused segment of that demographic who were idealistic but never really got their thoughts into focus and now just feel generally conspired-against and betrayed.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@natecull @pettter I bet that any disagreements that arise in this discussion thread will hinge entirely on different speculations on what Curtis is angling towards.

Adam Curtis on ecology 

@grimmware @natecull @pettter I had watched Bitter Lake, HyperBormalization, The Century of the Self, and AWOBMOLG, and especially the last one seemed to be a scathing rebuke of Ayn Rand. Which I sure appreciated.

He does talk about his politics, in a very disjointed, Adam-Curtisy kind of way:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Cur

Anyway, oblig. youtube.com/watch?v=x1bX3F7uTr

(I appreciate Curtis very much, but this parody is so on-point!)

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