Aaron Franz, “The Age of Transitions” (2008)
Interesting documentaries about power and control of human societies seem to be falling into my lap like there are no tomorrows to watch them all and Aaron Franz’s “The Age of Transitions”, which looks at past trends in the ideology of science, how they will shape future scientific, cultural and technological developments and what these mean for human freedom, is a very intriguing one. The film’s title is borrowed from a coinage made by US politician Newt Gingrich at a conference for futuristic developments aimed at enhancing human capabilities, mental and physical. Franz predicts that these innovations will serve a political agenda aimed at reducing the bulk of humanity (the so-called 99%) into a slave-state hive society to serve an elite (the so-called 1%): the innovations include transhumanism (the creation of post-humans), virtual escape, socio-tech and forms of mind control.
The film starts by explaining the goals of transhumanism (prolonging life, enhancing the brain and intelligence with technology) and reveals the origins of transhumanism in eugenics as conceived by British scientist Francis Galton in the 19th century; the ideology was adopted by British political and cultural elites since it jibed with Britain’s imperial colonialist project and the remaking and packaging of the British monarchy as a semi-divine institution. Eugenicist belief travelled to the United States in the late 1800s where it found ready fertile soil recovering from the trauma of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed. Sterilising prisoners and other “degenerates” was one consequence of eugenics; unusually perhaps, birth control and family planning were milder results (the proponent of birth control in the US, Margaret Sanger, was a eugenicist). Social Darwinism, the bastard child of eugenics and Darwinist evolution itself, eventually acquired a dirty name thanks to Nazi Germany’s enthusiastic adoption of racial hygiene theories which were put into practice during the Second World War. Renamed transhumanism, the ideology now has as its aim the improvement of humanity done in a way that eliminates “undesirable” characteristics and retains and refines “ideal” characteristics with modern Chinese society, based on a large bureaucracy, a network of Communist party loyalists and a huge, mostly compliant worker-bee proletariat, seen as a model for a future society.
The film’s second half-hour flows into virtual reality, socio-tech (the capability to predict the behaviours of individuals and groups to interdict undesirable thinking and behaviours and eliminate them before they occur) and forms of mind control such as television. Socio-tech and the use of television to mould thinking, deflate people’s self-esteem and encourage cut-throat competition so as to divide and rule the populace and enable the elites to remain top dogs receive particular attention. The film concludes by challenging viewers to be aware of the hidden trends in scientific and technological advances and to resist them; in the end credits, a list of references Franz consulted in the film’s making is provided to encourage and enable viewers to do their own research.
Presentation is straightforward with a mix of newsreels, stills, various forms of animation, diagrams and models, recordings of lectures and talks, and title cards to emphasise key points: the subject matter can be quite dense and involved and viewers are presumed to be curious and intelligent but not to have very much knowledge or experience of the concepts and ideas discussed. The narration is delivered in a slightly sardonic style and viewers may be thrown off by the narrator and wonder whether or not he actually supports the technologies discussed. If there is a criticism to be made about the program, it is that personalities like Nick Bostrom and Michio Kaku among others featured on the program are quoted in such a way that they appear to support the transhumanism project when in fact they themselves may be ambivalent about its aims or aspects of it.
The really interesting and sinister aspect of “The Age …” is the use of reality TV shows, game shows and similar shows – competitive cooking shows like “Masterchef Australia” and “My Kitchen Rules” come to mind – to encourage personal insecurity, low self-esteem and a competitive frame of mind that posits outdoing and beating everyone else as a worthy goal and condones manipulation, conniving behaviour and cheating. This has the ultimate goal of dividing people and setting them against one another in a classic “divide-and-rule” strategy that entrenches support for a hierarchy based on competition and enables the true elites to remain top dog. German-American philosopher Leo Strauss surely would approve of such a societal structure based on such outrageous and manipulative lies were he still alive. Still, even here the documentary doesn’t go far enough: we could talk for days on end on how Hollywood encourages hyper-individualism and competition and acts as a recruiter for the US armed forces, for favouring the military option over diplomacy and other alternatives, and for casting problems of living and getting on with people in ways that celebrate conflict and violence. Nothing about the pernicious influence of Hollywood on people’s thinking and private fantasies appears in the documentary.
Franz makes no apologies about being biased against the transhumanism project, seeing in it the ultimate attempt to make over humanity in ways that reduce people to the level of insects to serve a small elite. In its own way, the film is a passionate plea for greater awareness of the insidious agenda current in the world today to reduce democracy and freedom.