New Civilization News: The Power of Nightmares    
 The Power of Nightmares18 comments
picture 27 Nov 2004 @ 23:59, by Flemming Funch

I just finished watching the third part of a BBC series called The Power of Nightmares: Baby It's Cold Outside, broadcast in the past three weeks. It was made by Adam Curtis. I'm sure it must have been difficult to get such a controversial thing on the air. The series makes a compelling case for concluding that the world has been seriously misled by fanatics who have painted a nightmare picture that has nothing to do with reality. And that they have done so merely to serve their own political and religious ends.

We track two movements: the U.S. Neo Conservatives and certain militant radical muslim factions. The videos do a good job at laying out their histories and philosophies and key players.

Ironically, their aims are very similar. They are groups that were horrified by the path that free societies seemed to take. What they deemed to be the moral corruption that they observed around them. Which they blamed on a society where anything goes and there were no uniform moral values. The moral decay of a liberal society. They first thought the fault was with the leaders of their societies. But they found that even when their own kind managed to seize power, it didn't change things. So they blamed the people in their regions. It was simply that everybody were too dumb and corrupted to see the truth of how they were supposed to behave. Too much freedom, and too little to guide them. So they came up with the solution. Invent a battle between good and evil. Find an enemy and paint the most nightmarish possible visions of their sinister motives and the extent of their power. Mobilize your people against the enemy, driven by the fear of what they can do to you.

But in the late 90s it wasn't really working for any of those groups. They had essentialy failed and had little public support anywhere. Until 2001 where both groups got an enormously lucky break. Somebody brought down the WTC. One group suddenly has the evil sinister enemy they had been seeking, and the other suddenly has the attention of millions of people, where before they didn't.
The Power of Nightmares began as an investigation of something else, the rise of modern American conservatism. Curtis was interested in Leo Strauss, a political philosopher at the university of Chicago in the 50s who rejected the liberalism of postwar America as amoral and who thought that the country could be rescued by a revived belief in America's unique role to battle evil in the world. Strauss's certainty and his emphasis on the use of grand myths as a higher form of political propaganda created a group of influential disciples such as Paul Wolfowitz, now the US deputy defence secretary. They came to prominence by talking up the Russian threat during the cold war and have applied a similar strategy in the war on terror.

As Curtis traced the rise of the "Straussians", he came to a conclusion that would form the basis for The Power of Nightmares. Straussian conservatism had a previously unsuspected amount in common with Islamism: from origins in the 50s, to a formative belief that liberalism was the enemy, to an actual period of Islamist-Straussian collaboration against the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan in the 80s (both movements have proved adept at finding new foes to keep them going). Although the Islamists and the Straussians have fallen out since then, as the attacks on America in 2001 graphically demonstrated, they are in another way, Curtis concludes, collaborating still: in sustaining the "fantasy" of the war on terror.

Which the film also provides quite some support for. There wasn't much of an Al-Qaida before 9/11. Bin-Ladin had to actually rent camouflage-clad gunmen for some of his videos, and tell them to bring their own guns. Because he didn't have much of a group. And there wasn't really much of an Al-Qaida after. A lot of middle-eastern looking folks have been detained for often very silly reasons. Accused of being sleeper cells because they took tourist videos in Disneyland. No fancy bunkers were found in Tora-Bora. Very few people have been charged with anything at all. Not that there aren't fanatical militant groups who'd love to attack the United States. And some of them might succeed. But the fantasy is the existence, extent and organization of one unified evil network.

You can see the series here:Or, get a more high quality bit torrent version from sites like this.


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18 comments

28 Nov 2004 @ 08:18 by fleer : Clearest perception of how this is can
be allowed to expand through the mass media is expressed by Bill Durodie in part 3 of the series. I transcribed it here : Qoute by Bill Durodie Power of Nightmares BBC

I have even days after the aftershocks of the 9/11 attacks been very opposed to mangling of our civil liberties and I am firmly opposed to restricting them.

Perhaps this is because I don´t have any TV that continously can pound me with fear messages. I think so.

But let´s try to hold on to a vision of peace like James Redfield and other spiritual figures are presenting to us instead. I believe we have far more to win than loose.  



28 Nov 2004 @ 10:51 by dang @24.242.2.189 : hmmm
i've started watching it, very interesting.

it's kind of preaching to the choir with me, as i'm a bit of a conspiratorialist to begin with. but what i don't like is how the television format necessarily simplifies so many factors-- while i agree with what this series is aiming at, i can feel the artificiality of the clear-cut conclusions that any television show must necessarily aim for-- for example, focusing on only a handful of personalities or ideologies, painting the activities of nations over the course of tens of years with very broad brushstrokes, etc.

but don't get me wrong, this is miles ahead of the sh** you see on american television these days.

i stopped watching TV about ten years ago. i'm not surprised that the medium hasn't changed very much. even for those who have the best of intentions-- not many!-- it is still very hard to convey a message without having to dumb it down and linear-ize it.

but unfortunately it is THE medium to use to connect with those who ultimately determine the mindset of a country. maybe if the Resistance bought some commercial airtime during NASCAR...

i really need to escape this continent before our collective karma is called in by the Bank!  



28 Nov 2004 @ 13:52 by ming : Power of Nightmares
I agree that things are necessarily simplified in a film like that for a mass audience. For that matter, it uses plenty of video cuts and edits that could be said to be rather manipulative. Like the repeated stock footage of cheesy magicians and godzilla monsters. Illustrates the points well, but one can't say it is exactly unbiased. Nevertheless, I think he's right about the points. And the interviews with various neo-cons kind of speak for themselves on where those guys are coming from.  


28 Nov 2004 @ 16:52 by Seb @156.34.17.24 : 1984
"both movements have proved adept at finding new foes to keep them going" - seems George Orwell was right - http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0922-07.htm  


28 Nov 2004 @ 16:57 by Seb @156.34.17.24 : Another one
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/07/28/IN244190.DTL  


29 Nov 2004 @ 17:27 by RatcliffeBlog—Mitch's Open Notebook @68.165.130.136 : Nightmare world
[trackback]: Flemming's been watching the BBC and points to what sounds like an excellent documentary series, The Power of Nightmares: Baby, It's Cold Outside. The thrust of the program is that both sides of the war between good and evil...  


29 Nov 2004 @ 18:00 by Avi Solomon @85.64.96.251 : Reading Strauss vs. Qutb
IMHO there wasn't much of 'Straussianism' before 911 either!
I wonder how many people have actually read Leo Strauss? If you read Strauss with the care he deserves then you will stay out of politics as much as possible!
Read Qutb too and see the difference for yourself.  



29 Nov 2004 @ 18:15 by ming : Strauss
Could you elaborate a bit, for those of us who don't get around to reading Strauss or Qutb? Was Strauss not really encouraging manipulation of the masses, but rather speaking out against the state of politics?  


29 Nov 2004 @ 18:16 by ming : 1984
Excellent links, Seb. I have to do a post on that. Perpetual War.  


30 Nov 2004 @ 06:42 by Avi Solomon @85.64.117.8 : Strauss vs. Qutb - take your pick!
Leo Strauss"What is Political Philosophy?":
"Philosophy strives for knowledge of the whole. The whole is the
totality of the parts. The whole eludes us, but we know parts: we
possess partial knowledge of parts. The knowledge which we possess
is characterized by a fundamental dualism which has never been
overcome. At one pole we find knowledge of homogeneity: above
all in arithmetic, but also in the other branches of mathematics,
and derivatively in all productive arts or crafts. At the opposite
pole we find knowledge of heterogeneity, and in particular of heter-
ogeneous ends; the highest form of this kind of knowledge is the
art of the statesman and of the educator. The latter kind of knowl-
edge is superior to the former for this reason. As knowledge of the
ends of human life, it is knowledge of what makes human life com-
plete or whole; it is therefore knowledge of a whole. Knowledge
of the ends of man implies knowledge of the human soul; and the
human soul is the only part of the whole which is open to the whole
and therefore more akin to the whole than anything else is. But
this knowledge-the political art in the highest sense-is not knowl-
edge of the whole. It seems that knowledge of the whole would have
to combine somehow political knowledge in the highest sense with
knowledge of homogeneity. And this combination is not at our dis-
posal. Men are therefore constantly tempted to force the issue by
imposing unity on the phenomena, by absolutizing either knowledge
of homogeneity or knowledge of ends. Men are constantly attracted
and deluded by two opposite charms: the charm of competence
which is engendered by mathematics and everything akin to mathe-
matics, and the charm of humble awe, which is engendered by medi-
tation on the human soul and its experiences. Philosophy is char-
acterized by the gentle, if firm, refusal to succumb to either charm.
It is the highest form of the mating of courage and moderation.
In spite of its highness or nobility, it could appear as Sisyphean or
ugly, when one contrasts its achievement with its goal. Yet it is
necessarily accompanied, sustained and elevated by eros. It is
graced by nature’s grace."
[link]

Qutb 'Milestones':
"Philosophy, the interpretation of history, psychology (except for those observations and experimental results which are not part of anyone's opinion) ethics, theology and comparative religion, sociology (excluding statistics and observations)-all these sciences have a direction which in the past or the present has been influenced by jahili beliefs and traditions. That is why all these sciences come into conflict, explicitly or implicitly, with the fundamentals of any religion, and especially with Islam.
The situation concerning these areas of human thought and knowledge is not the same as with physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, medicine, etc. - as long as these last- mentioned sciences limit themselves to practical experiments and their results, and do not go beyond their scope into speculative philosophy. For example, Darwinist biology goes beyond the scope of its observations, without any rhyme or reason and only for the sake of expressing an opinion, in making the assumption that to explain the beginning of life and its evolution there is no need to assume a power outside the physical world.
Concerning these matters, the true guidance from his Sustainer is sufficient for a Muslim. This guidance toward belief and complete submission to God alone is so superior to all man's speculative attempts in these affairs that they appear utterly ridiculous and absurd."
[link]  



30 Nov 2004 @ 08:37 by ming : Strauss and Qutb
Hm, none of them seem entirely unreasonable, of course. Other than that they both open the door to there being some kind of elite who'll decide what is the proper course of action, or what is God's will.

I don't entirely get Strauss's distinction there. Sounds like he's saying that the best people to know the whole are the people who don't deal with the whole, but the parts. And that he says that the highest position is to be equally conversant with all the different parts, but to use them deliberately (manipulatively) at arriving at certain ends, over the head of the folks who're just aware of the wholeness in their own endeavor. Sort of like a communistic type of hegelian dialectism, where different sides are played out against each other, in order to arrive at a third end that nobody noticed.  



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