The Trap

Anyone who has watched Adam Curtis‘ The Power of Nightmares will have looked forward to his latest piece of work, “The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom?”, which started its run of three on BBC2 in the UK on March 11. It doesn’t disappoint.

It manages to put a bomb under a great deal of the current seeming obsession with targets and performance indicators that has permeated all levels of our society. In particular, it managed to rubbish the whole concept of both NHS and school league tables with an elegance that is difficult to surpass.

The root of Curtis’ thesis is the Cold War. He argues that the advent of Game Theory and its use in Cold War strategy modelling encouraged a highly reductionist view of the population, reducing them to “rational actors” in the scenarios they constructed. Unfortunately, even after the Cold War finished this model has persisted, treating us all like the lovely dumb, unthinking consumers that some would wish us to be. Further, it is counter-productive because, especially in the last ten years, our society has become more polarised and stratified as a result of the target-led culture so many embrace.

Even worse, behaviours which were now part of normal human experience were re-labelled as “abnormal” and so we have seen the rise of Prozac and Seroxat to make us “normal” (and predictable) again. Aldous Huxley would have found that interesting no doubt.

What made me write this however, has been the discussion about “performance targets” for children. Notice that the government have been quick to point out that this is for the benefit of child-carers to see “what kind of progress children are making”. Unfortunately, in the end it all just smacks of the worst kind of social engineering. No two kids ever do anything at the same pace and, worse yet, the timings for these “milestones” are so vague and hand-waving as to be nearly (or even totally) useless. Worse yet, if your child is not hitting these milestones, what then? Are they classified as some kind of cretin? Will they need “readjustment”?

Why have the damn things at all?

Well, it’s easy really. It’s all about targets. Targets give the illusion of control and that “something is being done”. Targets give control-freaks the warm reassuring glow that everything is in hand, even when we know that humans are notoriously unpredictable, children especially so. Targets give a whole middle rank of bureaucracy a reason to exist (to collate statistics no one actually needs or wants) The whole thing is simply idiotic.

other linked information about The Trap (


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