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Indybay Feature

The Trap: Episode Two

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Event Type:
Location Details:
Humanist Hall
390 27th Street
midtown Oakland, between Telegraph and Broadway

The evening begins with an optional social hour and potluck refreshments at 6:30 pm,
followed by the film at 7:30 pm, followed by a discussion at the end of the film.

Episode Two: The Lonely Robot
by Adam Curtis

This second episode develops the theme that drugs such as Prozac were being used to normalize behavior and make humans more predictable, like machines. People with standard mood fluctuations diagnosed themselves as abnormal. They then presented themselves at psychiatrist’s offices, fulfilled the diagnostic criteria without offering personal histories, and were medicated. The alleged result was that vast numbers of Western people have had their behavior and mentation modified by SSRI drugs without any strict medical necessity.

Adam Curtis shows Richard Dawkins propounding his ultra-strict “selfish gene” with archive clips emphasizing how the severely reductionist ideas of programmed behavior have been absorbed by mainstream culture. This brought Curtis back to the economic models of Hayek and the game theories of the Cold War. He explains how, with the robotic description of humankind apparently validated by geneticists, the game theory systems gained even more hold over society’s engineers.

This episode describes how the Clinton administration gave in to market theorists in the U.S. and how New Labour in the U.K. decided to measure everything it could, the better to improve it. In industry and public services, this way of thinking led to a plethora of targets, quotas, and plans. It was meant to set workers free to achieve these targets in any way they chose. What these game-theory schemes did not predict was that the players, faced with impossible demands, would cheat.

Then Curtis describes how the theory of the free market was applied to education. With league tables of school performance published, the richest parents moved to new homes to get their children into better schools. This caused house prices in the appropriate catchment areas to rise dramatically — thus excluding poorer parents who were left with the worst-performing schools. This is just one aspect of a more rigidly stratified society, which Curtis identifies in the way in which the incomes of the poorest (working class) Americans have actually fallen in real terms since the 1970s, while the incomes of the average (middle class) have increased slightly and those of the highest earners (upper class) have quadrupled. Similarly, babies in poorer areas in the U.K. are twice as likely to die in their first year as children from prosperous areas.

Curtis concludes that the game theory/free market model is now undergoing interrogation by economists who suspect a more irrational model of behavior is appropriate and useful. In fact, in formal experiments the only people who behaved exactly according to the mathematical models created by game theory are economists themselves or psychopaths.

Wheelchair accessible around the corner at 411 28th Street

$5 donations are accepted
Added to the calendar on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 2:29PM
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