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What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom

The Trap: What Happened To Our Dream of Freedom? is a three-part series of films written and directed by BAFTA-winning producer Adam Curtis, explaining the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom.

Curtis believes that if one steps back and looks at what freedom actually means for us today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom.

The West fought the Cold War for freedom and individual freedom is the dream of our age. It’s what our leaders promise to give us and defines how we think of ourselves.

And abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to force freedom on to other people has led to bloody mayhem and the rise of an authoritarian anti-democratic Islamism.

This, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain. In response, the government has dismantled long-standing laws that were designed to protect our freedom.

Curtis argues that we have forgotten other ideas of freedom. We are in a trap of our own making, a trap that controls us, deprives us of meaning, and causes death and chaos abroad. Will the panel agree?


BBC – The Trap – What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom

In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought.

The Trap: Episode 2 : Lonely Robot

The second episode reiterated many of the ideas of the first, but developed the theme that the drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression were being used to normalise behaviour and make humans behave more predictably, like machines.

The Trap: Episode 3 : We Will Force You To Be Free

The final programme focussed on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis briefly explained how negative liberty could be defined as freedom from coercion, and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential. Tony Blair had read Berlin’s essays on the topic, and wrote to him in the late 1990s, arguing that positive and negative liberty could be mutually compatible. He never received a reply, as Berlin was on his deathbed.


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