Adam Curtis — Real Change

WILL MENAKER: What would it look like to imagine a different world? Do you have a vision of it How would we know if we were beginning to imagine a different world? Even within this hyper-real one?

ADAM CURTIS: You ask what real change might look like, and I think that’s a really interesting question for liberals and radicals, because there is a hunger for change, out there — millions of people who feel sort of insecure, uncertain about the future who DO want something to change. I think that change only comes though a big imaginative idea. A sort of picture of another kind of future which gives people — which connects with that fearfulness in the back of people’s minds. And offers them a release from it. That’s the key thing. But I think the question for liberals and radicals is — they are always suspicious of big ideas. That’s what lurks underneath the liberal mindset. And the reason is — and they are quite right in a way — is look what happened last time when millions of people got swept up in a big idea! Look up the last hundred years — what happened in Russia, and then in Germany. The point is , Is that Political change is frightening. It’s scary — it’s thrilling because it is dynamic and is doing something to change the world but it is scary because it can change things in ways where nothing to secure. Its like being in an earthquake. Even the solid ground beneath you begins to move. And things dissolve that you think are solid and real. And I think the question liberals are left have to face at the moment is a really sort of difficult question which is: “do you really want change? do you really want it?” Because if you do many of them might find themselves in a very uncertain world where they might lose all sorts of things. What we were talking about, in many cases, is people who are at the center of society at the moment, they are not out in the margins. They would have a lot to lose from real political change because it really would change things in the structure of power.

Or — and this is the brutal question: Do you just want things to change a little bit? Do you just want the banks to be a little bit nicer, or for people to be a little more respectful of each other’s identities — All of which is good — but basically you carry on living in a nice world where you tinker with it.

That’s the key question. But you can’t just sit there forever worrying about big ideas because there are millions of people out there who do you want Change. And the key thing is: they feel they’ve got nothing to lose. You might have lots to lose, but they feel they’ve got absolute nothing to lose. But at the moment they’re being led by the Right. So things won’t remain the same. But society may go off in ways you really don’t want.

SO in answer to your question, what you need is a powerful vision of the future. With all its dangers. But it is also quite thrilling. It will be an escape from the staticness of the world we have today. And to do that, you’ve got to engage with the giant forces of power that now run the world, at the moment. And the key thing is that in confronting those powers, and trying to transform the world you might lose a lot. This is a sort of forgotten idea. Is that actually you surrender yourself up to a big idea and in the the process you might lose something but you’d actually gain a bigger sense, because you change the world for the better. I know it sounds soppy, But this is the forgotten thing about politics. Is that you give up some of your individualism to something bigger than yourself. You surrender yourself — and it’s a lost idea. And I think really in answer to your question: You can spot real change happening when you see people from the liberal middle classes, beginning to give themselves up to something. Surrender themselves for something bigger. And at the moment, there is nothing like that in the liberal imagination.

What are you willing to lose?

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