Running time: 1 hour
I have previously posted links to almost all of Adam Curtis’ superlative documentary series apart from this, which examines how the memory of the Second World War was manipulated and changed during the Cold War, in various countries and to suit political ends.
Curtis’ documentaries are always worth watching, they fulfill the instinctive craving that humans have for conspiratorial drama while remaining intelligent, a patently difficult task considering the paucity of other examples. To be fair, Curtis’ pieces are less about secretive cabals than unabashed manipulation through political spin, in an era of manufactured consent.
Despite being a fan of Curtis’ films, I have a problem with the core intellectual premise than envelopes almost everything that he has done. Not only are there few of the secret cabals of the conspiracy theorists that Curtis outshines, which would be like trying to herd tigers (its difficult enough to organize ordinary people, let alone powerful ones with large egos), there is no need for manufactured consent on the scale of what Curtis alleges.
Curtis’ argument is by design, that people are manipulated deliberately. This is something that I would argue is an example of teleological illusion, the hardwiring of human brains to see a creator in everything. If we turn the chain of cause and effect around the other way, then consent isn’t so much fabricated by others, but self-emergent, fabricated by personal desire. Since this requires far less effort, it is more likely to happen most of the time.
The counter argument is that manipulation clearly exists in the real word, from totalitarian propaganda to the seemingly banal world of advertising. The rebuttal is therefore a bit more subtle: that the evolutionary niche that allows for the survival of such things as advertising in a society, and the subsequent manipulation of instinct and desire is actually a product of that desire and driven by it.
This has different implications. Unlike undesirable political manipulation, if the marketplace for distortion of reality is created by us, and if we overcome our irrational desires through reason, it will go away.
We create a fiction to feed our desires and this is a more powerful force than the standalone manipulation comprising manufactured consent, which in turn is more likely than active conspiracy.
In other words, the real world is controlled by Self-delusional Consent.