I'm a great believer in unintended consequences
May 16, 2007 2:06 AM   Subscribe

Mentioned here previously. Also, Errol Morris and Adam Curtis talk about conspiracies and politics (title).
posted by acro at 2:07 AM on May 16, 2007

Tools can be misused. Obviously, this is a fault of the tools.
posted by Malor at 2:37 AM on May 16, 2007

I watched the Nkrumah film recently, excellent and thought-provoking.
I've seen criticism of Curtis' editing techniques (those montages), but I for one am grateful to have a film-maker addressing the issues he does.
posted by Abiezer at 2:44 AM on May 16, 2007

It's all a masterful conspiracy.
posted by jouke at 2:44 AM on May 16, 2007

I was trying to parse that FPP as a sentence and going "Huh?" (It's early here.)
posted by pax digita at 3:34 AM on May 16, 2007

It wasn't just you, pax digita...
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:59 AM on May 16, 2007

(OK, how do I get Firefox to show the entire rollover text? I get maddening stuff like "Thirty years ago, a group of economists managed to convince British politicians that...")
posted by pracowity at 4:05 AM on May 16, 2007

I was trying to parse that FPP as a sentence and going "Huh?"

This will not vronsky.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:19 AM on May 16, 2007

Oh, they're 45 minutes each? Don't click at work -- unless you don't actually have work.
posted by pracowity at 4:28 AM on May 16, 2007

From Wikipedia:
The Engineer's Plot

"The revolutionaries who toppled the Tsar in 1917 thought science held the key to their new world. In fact, it ended up creating a bewildering world for millions of Soviet people. In this light-hearted investigation, one industrial planner tells how she decided the people wanted platform shoes, only to discover that they had gone out of fashion by the time that the factory to manufacture them had been built.

To The Brink of Eternity

Focusing on the men of the Cold War on whom Dr Strangelove was based. These were people who believed that the world could be controlled by the scientific manipulation of fear - mathematical geniuses employed by the American Rand Corporation. In the end, their visions were the stuff of science fiction fantasy.

The League of Gentlemen

Thirty years ago, a group of economists managed to convince British politicians that they had foolproof technical means to make Britain great again. Pandora's Box tells the saga of how their experiments have led the country deeper into economic decline, and asks - is their game finally up?

Goodbye Mrs Ant

A modern fable about science and society, focusing on our attitude to nature. Should we let scientists be the prime movers of social or political change when, for instance, DDT made post-war heroes of American scientists only to be put on trial by other scientists in 1968? What kind of in-fighting goes on between rival camps before one scientific truth emerges, and when it does emerge, just how true is it?

Black Power

A look at how former Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah set Africa ablaze with his vision of a new industrial and scientific age. At the heart of his dream was to be the huge Volta dam, generating enough power to transform West Africa into an advanced utopia. But as his grand experiment took shape, it brought with it dangerous forces Nkrumah couldn't control, and he slowly watched his metropolis of science sink into corruption and debt."

A is For Atom

An insight into the history of nuclear power. In the 1950s scientists and politicians thought they could create a different world with a limitless source of nuclear energy. But things began to go wrong. Scientists in America and the Soviet Union were duped into building dozens of potentially dangerous plants. Then came the disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl which changed views on the safety of this new technology.

This episode was named after a 1953 GEC propaganda film explaining nuclear power and features artfully chosen footage from this film.
posted by pracowity at 4:31 AM on May 16, 2007


Great links, thanks!
posted by WPW at 5:54 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Long Titles extension.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:17 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm a great believer in punctuation and/or the enter key.
posted by GuyZero at 6:58 AM on May 16, 2007

I'm a great believer in punctuation and/or the enter key.


An artist with a negative take on technology? And in the 20th Century no less. Do I even need to drag out the film at 11, sky blue, grass green references here?

The only group of artist with any remotely positive view on technology were science fiction related, and even they would often drag out the ol' "OH WHAT HAVE WE WROUGHT?" underscoring of their stories at some point. How many times and different ways can we retell Frankenstein anyway?
posted by smallerdemon at 7:10 AM on May 16, 2007

How many times and different ways can we retell Frankenstein anyway?

It's essentially a re-telling of the story of Prometheus - far older than Frankenstein, as old as Humankind. Part of the human experience. As long as there has been progress, there has been fear and suspicion of progress. The Tower of Babel legend, for instance, or the tale of Icarus. There are many more, from all ages and civilisations.
posted by WPW at 7:29 AM on May 16, 2007

I should have mentioned this earlier, but I watched this series avidly when it was first broadcast on the Beeb.
posted by WPW at 7:30 AM on May 16, 2007

How many times and different ways can we retell Frankenstein anyway?

I always read it as a story about coming to terms with being raised without a mother. I don't see what that has to do with technological progress or lack thereof.

But then again, I was an engineer and not an english major, so I think there were some finer points of how one is supposed to interpret literature that I missed.
posted by GuyZero at 8:09 AM on May 16, 2007

I guess I've always viewed Prometheus and Frankenstein stories as slightly different. Prometheus never struck me as a story about man's technological hubris. The "Man struck down by his own creation. HE SHOULD HAVE NEVER PLAYED GOD." Prometheus is just a little step above humanity, feeling sympathy for the humans, but not actually being on of them. The stories are just... different to me.

Frankenstein never drags gods or immortals into the story directly, although they talk about God plenty. The supernatural never actually make an appearance, though. Man's punishment for his hubris is that he loses control of the technology he thought he knew everything about. Frankenstein has an easy way to do that, by also making the result of the technological progress have volition and self awareness. Reality rarely has that result, of course, as these documentaries point out so well. (And successes rarely make good literature or documentaries. Sure, every once in a while we get a trip to the moon story, but technological success isn't as interesting as technological failure and rarely as spectacular).

I admit, I actually love and appreciate these good examinations of technology in history, even the ones that have a dim view of technology, and the story about the platform shoes is great. Still, I watch them with a skeptical eye that they don't tilt over into "Technology always bad! Nature always good!" claims.

I regret my earlier snarky comment. :) But it's a knee jerk reaction. Perhaps technology can solve my problem. I need a "Reply" and a "Kneejerk Reply" button here. Reply forces you to review your reply you typed and then postpones it posting for 30 minutes and you can always stop it before it happens. Kneejerk Reply just lets you, you know, post immediately and say "LOL! TECHNOLOGY SUCKS!" or in my case "LOL! ARTISTS SUCK!"
posted by smallerdemon at 10:00 AM on May 16, 2007

Prometheus gave fire to mortals out of pity for his creations, then he taught them to make offerings to appease Zeus for the crime. Zeus was at first angry about the crime, then mollified by the smell of the sweet smoke.

Then Prometheus taught mortals to cheat on the offerings by wrapping offal in layers of fat and save the good meat for their own use.

Zeus became very angry indeed and chained Prometheus to a high mountain. Zeus decreed that he be tormented by sending an eagle to eat his liver each day. Because Prometheus was an immortal, one of the Titans, his liver would regrow each night.

Are we equating overly ambitious scientists and intellectuals with Prometheus? If so, do they end up suffering for their hubris as he did?
posted by Araucaria at 4:47 PM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

WPW, I should have read that wikipedia link first, I was writing from memory. I got some of the events out of order. But my point remains, namely that the Promethean figure should suffer some form of punishment for the consequences of his cleverness.

Interesting that Prometheus escaped his punishment after about 300 years. I like the idea of Zeus turning his rock into a ring in order to fulfill the letter of the punishment of "being bound to the rock for all eternity" without requiring him to suffer any further.
posted by Araucaria at 4:57 PM on May 16, 2007

Watching "The Engineers' Plot" I was struck how many times I recalled watching Commanding Heights (based on the book), a history of the 20th century from an economics point of view. Also, the holiness ascribed to "cybernetics" made me remember that Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko (now Yumashev), his closest adviser, was trained as a computer scientist. Not so strange to make the leap to running the country. Her ex-husband became an oligarch, her husband is an economist, and her husband's son-in-law may be the richest oligarch in Russia today. I don't believe, after watching this, that's coincidence.
posted by dhartung at 10:18 PM on May 16, 2007

dhartung... you're saying that it was the knowledge of mathematics and access to computers that gave the early oligarchs the advantage? In Russia in the late '90s the kind of computers that ran the massive data sets useful for economic analysis were probably found only in state intelligence agencies and in universities... didn't several of the oligarchs originally come from physics, geology or other science backgrounds? Sounds plausible.
posted by acro at 11:14 PM on May 16, 2007

If you're interested in Errol Morris: A Brief History of Errol Morris. Included interviews with Werner Herzog.
posted by acro at 11:39 PM on May 16, 2007

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