21 October 2008 | Sandsquish
Engineers and Mathematicians Spawn Hapless Technocrats
Adam Curtis' first documentary series explores the tragicomic consequences of engineers', mathematicians', scientists', and bureaucrats' attempts to apply their specialized theories to a wide range of phenomenon, creating, each time, more problems than they solve.
The Soviet Union, for instance, wanted its socialist economy to provide a better life for its people, and in "The Engineer's Plot," bureaucrats, engineers, and workers describe how their leaders believed that massive industrialization would allow them to do this. But their increasing dependence on engineering and computer-derived targets only hamstrung politicians and bewildered citizens.
Meanwhile, their foe, the United States, turned to mathematicians to help them derive a strategy for waging the Cold War. In "To the Brink of Eternity," researchers, mathematicians, politicians, and soldiers relate how game theory and mathematical modeling seemed like useful tools, but only created a world of paranoia and brutality when applied to the arms race and the war in Vietnam.
Across the Atlantic, Britain, struggling to keep its head up in a world that seemed to be passing it by, turned to economists to help it become prosperous and powerful again. In "The League of Gentlemen," economists, politicians, and businessmen reveal that their attempts to use Keynesian economics, monetarism, and, finally, laissez-faire capitalism to create wealth failed and that they, actually, have no idea how, or whether, market systems work.
Back in the U.S., chemists, entomologists, farmers, and ecologists describe, in "Goodbye, Mrs. Ant," how the chemical industry tried to change agriculture though the use of pesticides and then attempted to justify or hide the unsettling consequences of these poisons on human and environmental health.
In Africa, the Gold Coast's reliance on a new hydro-electric power plant to transform it into an industrialized nation backfired. In "Black Power," politicians and businessmen discuss how international markets and Cold-War politics transformed the project from an unlikely panacea into a corrupt poverty trap.
And across the industrialized world, physicists who felt guilty for unleashing nuclear fission on the world discussed the feasibility of nuclear power. In "A Is for Atom," they, engineers, politicians, and businessmen recall how dreams of an atomic-powered utopia blinded them to the practical, safety, and economic problems of fission-derived energy, resulting in several major radiation leaks, two core meltdowns, and tons of unstorable waste products.
Curtis' juxtaposition of archival footage with historical PR films emphasizes the futile, and frequently absurd, plight of technocrats who attempt to bludgeon the world into a shape that fits technical procedures which read more like science-fiction than science.