I'm not going to attempt to summarise the documentary - if this type of content interests you, go watch it.
However, I take issue with the focus on "machines" offering a replacement system of organising society, and the lack of attention to the fact that "machines" also provide a tool for improved human-to-human communication, and citizen-to-state feedback.
It's the game-changing impact on how we all communicate brought by the internet that excites me.
In fact, given one of the first demonstrations by internet pioneers was video conferencing, in 1968(!), I could theorise that simply providing human-to-human communications was the main driving force behind the internet.
Director and writer Adam Curtis attempts to link ideals of a self-stabilising self-organising political structure radically different from today's power architecture to the invention of the technology behind the internet today. I think this assertion undermines many other academic, commercial and military interests also driving network technologies at the time.
Curtis then makes reference to communes that tested ideals of stable self-organising human "systems" based on "vegetational concepts": human-to-human interaction and feedback being the driving force for a stable system of governance, mirroring order in the plant kingdom, where each participant is free, but acts in the interests of the group through dynamics of feedback and sharing.
These communal experiments are said to have failed, wrecked by the emergence of dominant personalities, with no effective mechanism to deal with the dominance:
"Some people are more free than others - strong personalities come to dominate weaker members, but the rules of the self-organising system refused to allow any organised resistance to this oppression."I've italicised the last part of the quote because herein lies the problem. We are today, just as humans have been since forever, living in a self-organised system! UFO conspiracies aside, humans alone are responsible for creating our own systems of world governance. Throughout the last 10,000+ years, society has created the power structures we see now.
Organised power-brokering is a natural construct of human behaviour. Disallowing this important behaviour prevented a crucial feedback mechanism - the ability of several (weaker) people to group together to depose a malignant, powerful dictator.
One assertion I can agree with is that systems of governance that promote equilibrium may become subverted by those higher up the power chain to maintain the status quo - what A G Tansley described as The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts (pdf).
But this is largely irrelevant as Curtis seems to have missed the wider point: that technology - the "machines" - are redressing a feedback imbalance that started 500 years ago with the advent of mass printing. The internet has restored a degree of feedback after half a millennia of asynchronous broadcast-based communications.
"Now, in our age, we're all disillusioned with politics; and this machine-organising principle has risen up to become the ideology of our age. But what we're discovering is that, if we see ourselves as components in a system, that it is very difficult to change the world.Being disillusioned with politics as an explanation for action is a simplification that warrants deeper analysis. We're disillusioned with the instruments that allowed the current order to rise and remain dominant, and at least one of the main instruments of control was a stranglehold on one-way broadcast communications channels.
"It is a very good way of organising things, even rebellions, but it offers no ideas about what comes next; and just like in the communes, it leaves us helpless in the face of those already in power in the world.
"Next week's programme will show how we have reconciled ourselves to this voluntary sacrifice of power by coming to believe we are nothing more than machines ourselves."
Governments and religious institutions strictly controlled the early printing presses, until publishing became too accessible to regulate (although power clung on through libel action against pamphleteers).
The same was true at the advent of electronic broadcasting, when governments strictly controlled the airwaves (see early pirate radio in the UK).
Even when not under government control; broadcast TV, radio and print media doesn't provide much scope for viewer/listener/reader feedback. So the delegation of broadcast spectrum from government to "responsible" corporations did little to redress the imbalance.
And, crucially, there were no realistic alternatives to established newspapers, TV channels and radio stations.
There was none of the filtering that we see now on Twitter and Facebook, where articles rise to our attention because they are promoted by our peers. Even our consumption of broadcast media can be regulated via two-way nodes who listen to feedback about what they're sharing.
We were, for many years, messaged directly by the state and corporate interests. Now, just like in the communes, we have a direct channel to many other participants. (Who may or may not be listening!)
But, unlike in the communes referenced by Curtis, we are free to organise resistance, to present a coherent voice of dissent to governments and commercial institutions that aren't seen to be acting in the interests of the people. It's this feedback mechanism that fascinates me.
We're able to seek-out similarly interested individuals from around the country - or around the world - and discuss issues.
It's less a question of a wholesale revamp of world power structures and more a question of how the existing power structures will change and adapt to public feedback channels in the face of the democratisation of information - from one-way broadcast to two-way discussion.