Pandora’s Box

Pandora’s Box (1992)
Director: Adam Curtis
Runtime: 6 x 45 min

A six-part documentary series dealing with the effects and irrational consequences of political and scientific rationalism. The focus of the story is how the engineers and scientists inappropriately interfered in economy and politics, while on the other hand, economists and politicians equally inappropriately interfered in science and technology. The narrow and one-sided education of specialists denied them the ability to correctly perceive the complexity of society and social processes.

The authority of experts is largely based on ignorance of the masses, so the scientists and engineers are seen as the new wizards who have the answer to every question, and too often they actually were charlatans, concealing self-interest and chance under the guise of science and technological rationality. Where the scientists and engineers had the opportunity to give substantial contribution to social progress, politicians and corporations interfered insisting on the cheapest solutions, which were usually the most dangerous. The result was that scientists, politicians, engineers and economists have lied and misled the public,  lied to each other on many issues, and even lied to themselves, caught up in complex web of rationalizations.

Each episode has a specific topic. Starting from the Soviet technocrats who saw the individual and the society from a purely technical point, acting as if they were managing machines, and didn’t see the gap between the level of technological development and the methods they used, which eventually resulted in not being able to satisfy the basic needs of the citizens. Proponents of game theory and systems analysis in the U.S. who were playing with the possibility of the outbreak of a nuclear war and calculated the “values” of particular cities, planning “limited nuclear exchange” as an acceptable option. British economists applied a variety of economic theories, but were unable to control the economy, so they finally declared that the economy can’t be controlled. Chemical corporations funded films with giant insect monsters, at the same time hiding the data on the hazards of pesticides and justifying the destruction of ecosystem with the theory that it is time for man to “wrest power away from evolution” – and were supported by scientists who believed that environmental balance isn’t important and that man can control nature. Then, the story of Ghana, the first independent African state, which liberated itself politically from British colonialism only to be economically subjugated by U.S. imperialism and destroyed by international debt and corruption. Finally, the history of the civilian use of nuclear energy where quick and cheap solutions were forced through at the expense of safety of the workers and society overall. Safety mostly wasn’t even considered as an issue, profit and efficiency were placed above everything else, leading to nuclear accidents including the incident at Three Mile Island in the U.S. and Chernobyl, the most famous nuclear disaster.

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