Africa’s Hidden History

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace*

Directed by Adam Curtis

BBC (2011)

Part 3

Film Review

The basic theme of the final video is this series is a bit unclear. Curtis seems to imply, based on flimsy and subjective evidence, that western liberals who provide humanitarian and developmental assistance to third world countries only make their living situation worse.

The main focus of Part 3 is the civil wars in Congo and Rwanda over valuable mineral resources coveted by multinational corporations. There’s a particular emphasis on coltan, a rare earth mineral essential in the manufacture of computers, play stations and smartphones.

The CIA Coup Against Lamumba

The film traces the history of the Congo back to 1960 when it first gained independence from Belgium. In 1961, after the Congo’s first president Patrice Lamumba allied himself with the USSR, the US and Belgium instigated a coup to remove him from power and had him murdered. Fearful that Congo’s rich mineral wealth would fall into Soviet hands, they replaced him with the brutal pro-western dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

The Belgian Role in Rwanda Genocide

Curtis traces Rwandan history from their first episode of genocide, engineered by their Belgian rulers in 1959. Fearful that the Rwandans, like other colonized Africans, would demand independence, the Belgians deliberately instigated ethnic conflict by issuing mandatory race cards and promoting the myth that the Tutsis (which Belgium made colonial administrators) were a superior race that had migrated to Rwanda from ancient Egypt. Meanwhile Belgian aid workers encouraged oppressed Hutus (who comprised 85% of the population) to revolt. After three years of bloody civil war, Belgium granted Rwanda independence in 1962.

In 1994, the Hutus seized control of the Rwandan government and deliberately exterminated nearly a million Tsutsis. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled across the border into Congo, where the UN and western aid agencies set up refugee camps. Curtis maintains it was a mistake to set up refugee camps because there were Hutu assassins hiding among the refugees. Armed conflict between Tsutsis and Hutus spread to rebel armies seeking to overthrow Mobutu. Hoping to win a piece of Congo’s mineral wealth, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Namibia, Uganda and Libya all dispatched troops to support the rebels. Leaving more than five million dead, the civil war would continue until 2003.

I find it a bit puzzling that Curtis blames the UN and humanitarian organizations for fanning the flames of the Congo’s civil war. Surely most, if not all of the blame lies with the multinationals behind Mobotu’s dictatorship.

The Selfish Gene

Curtis interweaves his discussion of Congo and Rwandan history with relevant scientific research that endeavored to prove that humans are complex computer-like machines.

In 1967, population geneticist George Price allegedly proved that human beings were soft machines run by on board computers (i.e. DNA). A corollary of this hypothesis was that human beings commit murder and genocide because of a “selfish gene” which genetically programs us to hate a kill people who are genetically unrelated to us.

Price worked closely with evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton who, based on his research, argued against providing medical treatment when people get sick because this causes genetically inferior people to survive and reproduce.

Dian Fossey’s Mountain Gorillas

A third narrative describes the work of primate ethnologist Dian Fossey who was studying Congo’s mountain gorillas during the decade-long civil war. My favorite scene depicts British naturalist David Attenborough stretched out on top of one of Fossey’s gorillas as they share a moment of relaxed contemplation.

*Title of 1967 monograph distributed free by California cybernetics enthusiast Richard Brautigan. Available for $400 from Abe Books

Ecosystems, Cybernetics and the Club of Rome

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace*

Adam Curtis

BBC (2011)

Part 2

Film Review

Part 2 in this series discusses how utopian ideas about computers led the scientific community to promote a totally erroneous model of natural ecosystems.

The term ecosystem was first defined by ecologist Arthur Tansley. He mistakenly believed that ecosystems work just like computers – that all of nature is linked through organized networks that self-regulate by means of feedback loops. As ecology became the predominant scientific discipline of the early seventies, he and his colleagues went so far as to portray these interconnected networks as electrical circuits. Meanwhile Silicon Valley computer engineers, heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s radical individualism (earlier post), as well as this erroneous view of ecosystems, made a deliberate decision in 1968 to focus on personal computer technology rather than mainframe computers.

The work of Tansley and his colleagues would be totally discredited by new data that would emerge demonstrating were chaotic and unpredictable and tended towards wild fluctuations that never returned to an equilibrium point. Like many scientists, the early ecologists had oversimplified and distorted the data they collected to fit their model of nature as a self regulating system.

The Rise of Cybernetics

Meanwhile the scientific community’s fascination with computers would also give rise to the field of cybernetics, which looks at society as if human beings were a vast interconnected system of machines. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, was a strong proponent of this systems-oriented view of both nature and society. A strong egalitarian, Bucky envisioned a society (which he referred to as Spaceship Earth) that did away with authoritarian hierarchies and allowed people to live together as equal members of a closed system that would self-regulate – as a spacecraft does.

In the early seventies, disillusioned by the failure of the anti-Vietnam War, a half million young Americans left the cities to start experimental non-hierarchical communes in the countryside. It would be the largest mass migration in US history. Their goal was to create egalitarian communities in which people sacrificed their individuality for the benefit of the system.

Most of these communes would fail. Curtis blames their failure, without any real evidence, on a rigid absence of structure that allowed stronger and more dominant personalities to dominate and bully weaker ones. He likens the failure of the commune movement to the failed Color Revolutions* of the 1990s – which left Eastern European countries even more corrupt and unequal.

He seems to be making the case that egalitarian societies are impossible, which I strongly question. In my view the Color Revolutions failed for the same reason as the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions: because they were instigated, organized and funded by the CIA, State Department (and George Soros in the case of Eastern Europe) for the purpose of installing new governments favorable to US corporate interests.**

Enter the Club of Rome***

Two additional outcomes of the new field of ecology would be the formation, in 1968, of the elite roundtable group the Club of Rome and the first international environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972.

In 1972 the Club of Rome commissioned a study based on the theory that all human and natural activity was merely a vast interconnected system of feedback loops. The MIT computer scientists they hired developed a complex computer model based on the best population, resource, industrial production, agricultural production and pollution data. Their modeling, which the Club of Rome published in their 1973 bestseller The End of Growth, predicted major economic and environmental collapse in the first decade of the 21st century. The book maintained that the only way to prevent environmental and economic collapse was for western societies to give up their fixation with continuous economic growth.

The European left became extremely concerned that growth restriction would lock the ruling elite (who ran the Club of Rome) into their existing positions of privilege and power. They launched major protests against The End of Growth. They argued the proper role of the environmental movement should be to end the greed of political elites. That being said, the computer modeling on which the book is based predicted the 2008 economic collapse.


* Title of 1967 monograph distributed free by California cybernetics enthusiast Richard Brautigan. Available for $400 from Abe Books

**Serbia Otpor (Resistance) Revolution (2000), Georgia Rose Revolution (2003), Ukraine Orange Revolution (2004) and Kirghizistan Cotton Revolution (2005) – see The CIA Role in the Arab Spring

***The early Club of Rome was financed by corporate oligarch David Rockefeller, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (see  and the Ford Foundation. The two latter entities are well known conduits for CIA funding (see CIA-funded Foundations)