I stumble upon artifacts, small information packets from the past and wonder why I’d not seen this, thought of this, or whether everyone else except me had reached that milestone years ago. A case in point is the BBC series titled The Trap. The series aired in 2007. I didn’t see it in 2007. Six years later a good friend (thank you, John) said The Trap was something that I had to see. He was right.
The Trap is also something you should see. You owe it to yourself to watch all three parts. Unless, of course, you saw it six years ago, and have a six-year head start on assimilating what it means.
I am just starting out on that journey. Forgive me if I am taking you down paths that are old and familiar.
Our emotions and the range in which those emotions are allowed to express themselves are cultural. The past couple of months I’ve been investigating ‘fear’ and ‘anger’ the evil twins that kidnap us, forcing us to do and say things we later regret. What The Trap brilliantly does is provide the ideological framework erected during the Cold War. Once the Cold War ended in a victory for the Americans, the battle turned inward.
What emerged from that struggle was the notion of Game Theory. Developed by Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, Game Theory assumed that all people were by nature selfish, self-centered-interested, and highly suspicious of other people and acted rationally to maximize their advantages against others. This is the amoral landscape where each person tries to outwit the other and will betray the other to obtain an advantage. It is a bleak, paranoid vision of humanity. John Nash was treated for mental illness, and later pulled back from the nature of humanity assumed in the Game Theory he had created. His struggle with paranoid schizophrenia was dramatized in the Hollywood movie A Beautiful Mind.
Never mind that the theoretical framework of Game Theory was woven by a mentally unbalanced mind, the dose of insanity did not prevent others from embracing this noir vision of humanity.
This vision of humanity spread like a virus from the geo-political contest between the Cold War superpowers infecting psychology and economics. The role of the State was to get out of the way. There was no belief in ‘public interest’ as a guide. This position was taken up by Reagan, Blair and Thatcher in the 80s and 90s as the basis for downsizing the State and outsourcing to private company functions traditionally performed by state officials.
The first in the series titled “F**k You Buddy“ (11 March 2007)
We are thirty-years into the Neo-Noir Era. The Trap illustrates how our political, economic, cultural and social institutions have fallen like dominos under the weight of Game Theory.
The second in the series: The Lonely Robot (18 March 2007)
Last week I wrote about Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma and how the 600 Billion dollar pharma industry has been able to establish the new ‘norm’ or new ‘standard’ for acceptable behavior, attitudes and conduct. Game Theory was a natural ally with its bleak view of the human condition, Pharma promised to bring medical relief to those who were ‘abnormal’ and who better but Pharma to rewrite normality. If Game Theory predicts humans as highly rational and deliberate in their actions, drugs like Prozac could take the edge off irrational feelings or emotions that get in the way of the robot-like approach to life.
In the Neo-Noir Era populations are seen as anxious or depressed. Big Pharma has made a hugely profitable industry in exploiting the Game Theory exponents desire to ‘improve’ the rational mind, and to neutralize the irrational thoughts. Doctors have redefined mental health in a way as to narrow the margins of where emotions are allowed a role. Outside the narrow bands, drugs are prescribed for people whose emotions fall outside the diagnostic register that has been put in place in the last 30 years. This isn’t about medical necessity; it is about political necessity to control the emotional lives of people.
The elite of the rationalist sit on a mountain where the people below are feared for their emotions. Big Pharma could not have re-engineered our notion of mental health and brought in a new vision of normal without the consent of the ruling class that saw major benefits in a sedated population.
In the Neo-Noir Era Big Pharma has prescribed Soma. It is being swallowed around the world to cure the anxiety of living inside the Walmartization of both the local and international political, cultural and economic systems. It is the remedy for discontent, frustration and anger as the master game theory players pick the flesh from the bones of society.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World predicted a world in which a drug called Soma is administered to the general population. The soma of fiction and the real life new soma like drugs expand mental health intervention, making citizen patients who are docile, malleable and useful tools. In Huxley’s 1932 novel he foresaw an American in the early twentieth century where the State provided a drug induced comfort to self-medicating citizens.
The other visionary in literature who saw decades ahead was Stanislaw Lem. In The Futurologists Congress, which was published in 1972 (forty years after Brave New World) mind-altering drugs our hero finds drugs have been in the tap hotel water. He drinks it without knowing he’s being drugged. In this future utopia, money and lending lose all meaning. Banks lend whatever amount you request and no one bothers to seek repayment.
The State uses multiple kinds of psychological drugs to create all kinds of mental states, some bring transcendence, others pride and high status, and other bliss. Everyone in the delusionary condition can win a Nobel Prize, owns Renoir or two, drives a Rolls Royce, wins millions in Las Vegas at blackjack, and plays the piano like Mozart. The fact it is all illusion doesn’t matter because the mind reads it as real. Life inside Lem’s Psych-Chemical State is all in the mind controlled by drugs. A movie based on Lem’s classic novel is in the works for 2013.
Third in The Trap Series is: We will Force You to Be Free.
In the last segment in the series, The Trap explores the meaning of freedom, and how forcing people to be ‘free’ became the new mantra of the neocons. The Orwellian notion that freedom can only exist as a by product of a cleansing, a tyranny of ‘freedom fighters’ who wipe the slate of those with incompatible ideas of freedom. Freedom requires a certain mental state. Big Pharma has eased people into this space and the government assures them that now they are ‘free.’ Freedom is an abstract state of mind that is imposed by force or chemical substance, and the newly freed people are happy with their condition and place in life. Having achieved freedom they want for nothing else.
Only it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
In The Trap we confront directly the idea that the State has been quietly dismantled; better metaphor—dismembered and reassembled as a private enterprise tool of in the interest of the ruling elites.
In the Neo-Noir Era governments have given way to private interests. Before that can be successful there needs to be a pacification program as citizens–deprived of the safety nets, falling down infrastructure, dysfunctional health, safety, and educational system–rely on the assistance of Big Pharma to keep them pacified. In the BBC special The Trap visits a landscape made popular by a number of novelists. Fiction has been our early warning system, the canary in the mine.
In the area of crime fiction, the Neo-Noir Era—while Lem and Huxley left their notes in the bottle and threw them into the river of time, they are finally drifting to shore. Go back and read Brave New World and The Futurologists Congress. Both of these two novels could have been written today.
In our time, science fiction has a new ally in this attempt to call attention to the realization of prophecies—it’s called noir crime fiction. The main difference is that we are gradually entering the world foretold by Lem and Huxley.
In Missing in Rangoon, I have a look inside the brave new world of Burma. A place of magic, illusions, and cascading greed as private corporate interest have fond a virgin market to apply Game Theory and to bring ‘Freedom’. It takes loads of Soma widely distributed before there is transition from one political/economic system to another. Freedom is on the lips of people. A word they once knew and thought they understood. It has gone muster color, opaque, and tattered. The last of the free men and women exist here and there, isolated, dwindling in numbers, knowing they have reached an intellectual and cultural dead end. In time the memory of them will be extinguished. As people who lived inside a dream before Big Pharma acquired the exclusive monopoly. Be mindful of the hotel drinking water in Rangoon. Like the good professor in The Futurologists Congress, you may find that you wake up in a different time and age.