Adam Curtis’s Hyper Normalization

At the turn of the 17th century, Johannes Kepler  showed that planets orbiting the sun followed an elliptical path with well defined laws of motion. Newton later used these observations as proof of his theory of gravity. All this was done assuming there were only 2 bodies, the sun and a planet which exerted gravitational force on each other. The effect of other planets was considered negligible as they were much smaller than the sun. In fact, this analysis could only work as long as there remained only 2 bodies.

Johannes Kepler                                           Kepler’s Orbit for planets

In all the centuries since, nobody has been able to get a simple formula describing what happens when 3 bodies exert a force on each other. This is the famous Three Body Problem in physics. Think about it, just 3 bodies operating on each other under well-known laws and there is no way of describing what is going to happen next. The only way is to work out where they are at any instant, predict where this would lead them in the next instant and from there to the next and so on. There is no neat formula, no easy pattern, just a lot of repeated application and number crunching.

The universe is a complex place where everything acts on everything else and simplicity is rare. Yet somehow we want simple narratives. This brings me to the movie I just finished watching, HyperNormalization by Adam Curtis.


Adam Curtis

Like the 3 body problem, it is impossible to describe all that is in this film without taking up almost as much time and space as the 3 hour film itself. The central theme of the film is perception and power over the last forty years.

The phrase HyperNormalization was coined by Anton Yurchak to describe the dying days of the Soviet Union when both the government and the people acted out a farce as if they still believed in the old ideologies and that the Soviet Union was the best place on Earth even as everybody saw things falling apart around them. The drama was such a success that all the western governments, news organizations or intelligence agencies were taken by surprise when the USSR collapsed in 1991.


Soviet Economy

The chart above shows the official estimates in blue, the CIA estimates in red and the revised estimates based on current information in green. Not only are the blue and red far apart, often the CIA estimated double the actual growth. Remember this whenever anybody tries to dazzle you with secret knowledge. Nobody knows whats really going on.

The film goes on to trace the power plays between Assad and Kissinger in the 1970s to the invention of the suicide bomber, a history of perception management from Gadhafi to Putin, the reasons why online protests fail and the rise of Donald Trump. The film was made before the election, and while it does not make predictions of the outcome, it does provide a compelling narrative explaining what happened.

Like all narratives, it leaves out much and simplifies much (China and Japan don’t even get a mention). But if any of the above interests you, I recommend you see it.

At the end of this post, I realize what I have written is nothing compared to what I would like to say on this. I could write for a week just on what is here. I don’t agree with all aspects, but I need to watch it again and again, if nothing else, it shows that truth is stranger than fiction.


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