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31 MAY 2011

Adam Curtis: the network ecology myth

"The new series, called All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, takes complicated ideas and turns them into entertainment by the use of the vertigo–inducing intellectual leaps, choppy archive material and disorienting music with which all Curtis fans are familiar. The central idea leads Curtis on a journey, taking in the chilling über–individualist novelist Ayn Rand, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, the 'new economy', hippy communes, Silicon Valley, ecology, Richard Dawkins, the wars in Congo, the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory, and the computer model of the eating habits of the pronghorn antelope.

You can see why Zoe Williams once wrote that, while watching one of Curtis's programmes, 'I kept thinking the dog was sitting on the remote. ...'

Now he has moved on to machines, but it starts with nature. 'In the 1960s, an idea penetrated deep into the public imagination that nature is a self–regulating ecosystem, there is a natural order,' Curtis says. 'The trouble is, it's not true–as many ecologists have shown, nature is never stable, it's always changing. But the idea took root and spread wider–people started to believe there is an underlying order to the entire world, to how society is structured. Everything became part of a system, like a computer; no more hierarchies, freedom for all, no class, no nation states.' What the series shows is how this idea spread into the heart of the modern world, from internet utopianism and dreams of democracy without leaders to visions of a new kind of stable global capitalism run by computers. But we have paid a price for this: without realising it we, and our leaders, have given up the old progressive dreams of changing the world and instead become like managers–seeing ourselves as components in a system, and believing our duty is to help that system balance itself. Indeed, Curtis says, 'The underlying aim of the series is to make people aware that this has happened–and to try to recapture the optimistic potential of politics to change the world.'

The counterculture of the 1960s, the Californian hippies, took up the idea of the network society because they were disillusioned with politics and believed this alternative way of ordering the world was based on some natural order. So they formed communes that were non–hierarchical and self–regulating, disdaining politics and rejecting alliances. (Many of these hippy dropouts later took these ideas mainstream: they became the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who decided that computers could liberate everyone and save the world.)...

He draws a parallel with those 1970s communes. 'The experiments with them all failed, and quickly. What tore them apart was the very thing that was supposed to have been banished: power. Some people were more free than others – strong personalities dominated the weak, but the rules didn't allow any organised opposition to the suppression because that would be politics.' As in the commune, so in the world: 'These are the limitations of the self–organising system: it cannot deal with politics and power. And now we're all disillusioned with politics, and this machine–organising principle has risen up to be the ideology of our age.'"

(Katharine Viner, 6 May 2011, Guardian)

Episode 1: 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace: Love and Power', First broadcast BBC Two, 9:00PM Mon, 23 May 2011
Episode 2: 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts', First broadcast BBC Two, 9:00PM Mon, 30 May 2011
Episode 3: 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace: The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey', First broadcast BBC Two, 9:00PM Mon, 06 June 2011

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TAGS

1960s1970sabstract modelabstractionAdam Curtis • Alan Greenspan • All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace • archive footageAyn RandBBC2Bill MurrayblogsCarmen Hermosillochange • commune • computer model • computer utopianism • confessional memoirs • control societyconvergencecounterculturecultural expressioncyberspacedemocracydigital cultureecologyemotions become commodified • Esther Rantzen • evolution • expressions of power • Facebookfreedom • Georgia • global capitalism • hierarchical structures • hierarchies • hierarchy • hippy communes • hippy dropouts • hyper-consumerismideologyideology of the timeindividualisminternet utopianism • Kyrgyzstan • Loren Carpenter • machines • Mayfair Set • mercantilist economy • modern world • natural order • network ecologynetworked societynetworksnon-hierarchical • non-hierarchical societies • orderingPongpopular culture • punchdrunk • reflexive modernisationRichard Dawkinsscientific ideasself-organising systemself-regulating • self-regulating ecosystem • selfish gene theory • Silicon Valleysocial experimentssocial mediasocialist realismsociety • Soviet realism • stability • stable order • Stakhanovites • structuresystems theorytechnology convergencetelevision documentary • TUC • TwitterUkraineunderlying orderunstable • Westminster • White House • Zoe Williams

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
30 OCTOBER 2009

So what's Rhiz.eu?

"An intercultural meeting place developed to give its members an easy and fun environment for communicating and collaborating with each other. It takes its name from a botanical term, rhizome, meaning 'a usually underground, horizontal stem of a plant that often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes' (Wikipedia): the term is used metaphorically in the social sciences and new media to describe social structures that are non–hierarchical, non–centralised, self–regulating, and formed peer–to–peer. Rhiz.eu was created by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF)"

Fig 1. Designed by Mina Žabnikar, Slovenia.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
29 DECEMBER 2008

E-learning in 'open source' education

"The open source idea is very successful in software development where there is a peer–production process of community–owned 'open source' software. The potential of this approach for education has been indicated (Staring et al, 2005; Dillon & Bacon, 2006) and this study is a qualitative review of education initiatives that embody this approach, leading to a focus group asking what can be learnt from these ideas.

Radical pedagogy is a broad term related to alternative educational approaches including critical pedagogy and popular education, and educational concepts like collaborative and constructivist learning. History and influences range through Foucault, socialism, Freire, de–schooling and anarchism to traveller culture. Major themes are non–alignment, critique of power, non–hierarchical self–organisation, political activism and critical consciousness (Smith 1996; Wright 1989 and others).

The research is evaluating the open source approach as a significant concept in education thinking and identifying pedagogical and e–learning ideas or techniques from such approaches that can be valuable for teaching and learning."
(Brent Cunningham, March 17 2008)

[This extract has been taken from a preliminary abstract posted Brent Cunningham to the Autonomous University of Lancaster forum.]

Dillon, T., Bacon, S. 2006. Opening education. The potential of open source approaches for education.

McGettigan , T. 1999. What is Radical Pedagogy? Radical Pedagogy 1 (1).

Smith, M. K. 1996. Ideas. Key concepts and theories in informal education, lifelong learning and social action.

Staring, K., Titlestad, O. & Gailis, J. 2005. Educational transformation through open source approaches.

Wright, N., 1989. Assessing radical education. Milton Keynes/Philadelphia: Open University Press.

TAGS

andragogy • Autonomous University of Lancaster • collaboration • constructivist learning • critical consciousnesscritical pedagogycritique of powerdeschoolinge-learningeducationethicslearningMichel Foucault • non-alignment • non-hierarchicalopen sourceparticipatory learningPaulo Freirepedagogypeer-productionpolitical activismradical pedagogy • self-organisation • social changesocial constructionismteaching • traveller culture

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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