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|The Trap: Episode Three|
|Date||Wednesday January 27|
|Time||7:30 PM - 9:30 PM|
|Import this event into your personal calendar.|
390 27th Street
midtown Oakland, between Telegraph and Broadway
|HumanistHall [at] Yahoo.com|
The evening begins with optional pot luck refreshments and social hour at 6:30 pm,
followed by the film at 7:30 pm, followed by a discussion at the end of the film.
Episode Three: We Force You to be Free
by Adam Curtis
This third episode focuses on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis briefly explains how negative liberty could be defined as freedom from coercion and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential. He claims that it was Berlin’s opinion that, since it lacked coercion, negative liberty was the safer of the two. He then explains how many political groups who sought their vision of freedom ended up using violence to achieve it. For example the French revolutionaries wished to overthrow a monarchical system which they viewed as antithetical to freedom, but in so doing ended up with the Reign of Terror. Similarly, the Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia, who sought to overthrow the old order and replace it with a society in which everyone was equal, ended up creating a totalitarian regime which used violence to achieve its ends.
Using violence, not simply as a means to achieve one’s goals, but also as an expression of freedom from Western bourgeois norms, was an idea developed by African revolutionary Frantz Fanon. He developed it from the Existentialist ideology of Jean-Paul Sartre who argued that terrorism was a “terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others.”
This episode also explores how economic freedom had been used in Russia and the problems this had introduced. A set of policies known as “shock therapy” were brought in mainly by outsiders, which had the effect of destroying the social safety net that existed in most other western nations and Russia. In Russia, the sudden removal of the subsidies for basic goods caused their prices to rise enormously, making them hardly affordable for ordinary people. An economic crisis escalated during the 1990s and some people were paid in goods rather than money. Yeltsin was accused by his parliamentary deputies of “economic genocide” due to the large numbers of people now too poor to eat. Yeltsin responded to this by removing parliament’s power and becoming increasingly autocratic. At the same time, many formerly state-owned industries were sold to private businesses, often at a fraction of their real value. Ordinary people, often in financial difficulties, would sell shares, which to them were worthless, for cash, without appreciating their true value. This ended up with the rise of the Oligarchs — super-rich businessmen who attributed their rise to the sell-offs of the ’90s. It resulted in a polarization of society into the poor and ultra-rich, and indirectly led to a more autocratic style of government under Vladimir Putin, which, while less free, promised to provide people with dignity and basic living requirements.
There’s a similar review of post-war Iraq, in which an even more extreme “shock therapy” was employed — the removal from government of all Ba’ath party employees and the introduction of economic models which followed the simplified economic model of human beings outlined in the first two eipsodes — this had the result of immediately disintegrating Iraqi society and the rise of two strongly autocratic insurgencies, one based on Sunni-Ba’athist ideals and another based on revolutionary Shi’a philosophies.
Adam Curtis also looks at the neo-conservative agenda of the 1980s. Like Sartre, they argue that violence would sometimes be necessary to achieve their goals, except they wish to spread what they described as democracy. Curtis argues that although the version of society espoused by the neo-conservatives made some concessions towards freedom, it did not offer true freedom. The neo-conservatives were ardent supporters of the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile which used violence to crush opponents in a virtual police state.
Curtis also examines the Western-backed government of the Shah in Iran, and how the mixing of Sartre’s positive libertarian ideals with Shia religious philosophy led to the revolution which overthrew it. Having previously been a meek philosophy of acceptance of the social order, Revolutionary Shia Islam became a meaningful force to overthrow tyranny.
This episode reviews the Blair government and its role in achieving its vision of a stable society. In fact, argues Curtis, the Blair government had created the opposite of freedom, in that the type of liberty it had engendered wholly lacked any kind of meaning. Its military intervention in Iraq had provoked terrorist actions in the U.K. and these terrorist actions were in turn used to justify restrictions of liberty.
In essence, this episode suggests that following the path of negative liberty to its logical conclusions, as governments have done in the West for the past 50 years, results in a society without meaning populated only by selfish automatons, and that there is some value in positive liberty in that it allows people to strive to better themselves.
The closing minutes directly state that if Western humans were ever to find their way out of the “trap” described in this film series, they would have to realize that Isaiah Berlin was wrong and that not all attempts at creating positive liberty necessarily end in coercion and tyranny.
Wheelchair accessible around the corner at 411 28th Street
$5 donations are accepted