All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace*
Directed by Adam Curtis
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