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|The Trap: Episode One|
|Date||Wednesday January 13|
|Time||7:30 PM - 9:30 PM|
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390 27th Street
midtown Oakland, between Telegraph and Broadway
|HumanistHall [at] Yahoo.com|
The evening begins with an optional social hour and pot luck supper at 6:30 pm,
followed by the film at 7:30 pm, followed by a discussion at the end of the film.
by Adam Curtis
Episode One: Fuck You Buddy!
In this first episode, Adam Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behavior filter into economic thought. This episode traces the development of game theory with particular reference to the work of John Nash who believed that all humans are inherently suspicious and selfish creatures that stratagized constantly. Using this as his first premise, Nash constructed logically consistent and mathematically verifiable models, for which he won the most prestigious prize in economics. He invented system games reflecting his beliefs about human behavior, including one he called “Fuck You Buddy” in which the only way to win was to betray your playing partner. These games were internally coherent and worked correctly as long as the players obeyed the ground rules that they should behave selfishly and outwit their opponents.
What was not known at the time was that Nash was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and, as a result, was deeply suspicious of everyone around him — including his colleagues — and was convinced that many were involved in conspiracies against him. It was this mistaken belief that led to his view of people as a whole that formed the basis for his theories.
A separate strand in the documentary is the work of R. D. Laing, whose work in psychiatry led him to model familial interactions using game theory. His conclusion was that humans are inherently selfish, shrewd, and spontaneously generate stratagems during everyday interactions. Laing’s theories became more developed when he concluded that some forms of mental illness were merely artificial labels, used by the state to suppress individual suffering. This belief became a staple tenet of counterculture during the 1960s.
These theories tended to support the beliefs of what were then fringe economists such as Friedrich von Hayek whose economic models left no room for altruism, but depended purely on self-interest, leading to the formation of public choice theory. James M. Buchanan proposes that organizations employ managers motivated only by money.
As the 1960s became the 1970s, the theories of Laing and the models of Nash began to converge, producing a widespread popular belief that the state (a surrogate family) was purely and simply a mechanism of social control which calculatedly kept power out of the hands of the public. Adam Curtis shows that it was this belief that allowed the theories of Hayek to look credible, and underpinned the free-market beliefs of Margaret Thatcher who sincerely believed that by dismantling as much of the British state as possible a form of social equilibrium would be reached. This was a return to Nash’s work, in which he proved mathematically that if everyone was pursuing their own interests, a stable, yet perpetually dynamic, society could result.
The episode ends with the suggestion that this mathematically modeled society is run on data — performance targets, quotas, statistics — and that it’s these figures combined with the exaggerated belief in human selfishness that has created “a cage” for Western humans. The precise nature of the “cage” is to be discussed in the next episode.
Wheelchair accessible around the corner at 411 28th Street
$5 donations are accepted