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Cyberwar, the Power of Nightmares

Summary: Today’s post by Marcus Ranum discusses Adam Curtis’ brilliant BBC documentary series “The Power of Nightmares”. Cutris deconstructs the dynamic of government as protector against unknown threats. His analysis of how generalized fears of terrorism manipulate the public apply exactly to cyberwar, as well.

“Both [the Islamists and Neoconservatives] were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. And both had a very similar explanation for what caused that failure. These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way that either intended. Together, they created today’s nightmare vision of a secret, organized evil that threatens the world. A fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. And those with the darkest fears became the most powerful.

The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, a BBC documentary film series written and produced by Adam Curtis in 2004.  Download here.

Contents

  1. The power of Nightmares
  2. The Man Who Was Thursday (A Nightmare)
  3. Anatomy of a Tail-spin
  4. Curtis’ Words
  5. For More Information

(1) The Power of Nightmares

Adam Curtis’ brillant documentary series offers a view of the present as a consequence of the search for meaning of the political class. In short: they need something to do, to justify their existence. After all, if everyone were simply happy and comfortable, sooner or later we might wake up and wonder, “what are we giving you guys so much power, for, anyway?” Curtis’ series describes an entirely plausible scenario of what I call an “emergent conspiracy” – a conspiracy that was not planned by a secret committee wearing black velvet capes and meeting in dimly lit corridors of power, but rather a conspiracy that happens and snowballs because it’s convenient and spares the conspirator’s having to deal with the truth.

We can think of emergent conspiracies as a result of co-evolution or co-dependency: all of the parties involved want something, and they stumble around creating a great big whopping lie in order to get it. Then they tell that lie to themselves, and believe it. They act on the lie, and are surprised by the consequences they must, thereafter, live with.

(2) The Man Who Was Thursday (A Nightmare)

“We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them.
— G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

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