Review of “HyperNormalisation”

British filmmaker Adam Curtis just released an epic documentary through BBC [on iPlayer] called “HyperNormalisation.” The thesis: that the world has become uncontrollable for global powers, so instead, they’ve invented a false world that gives the illusion of control. The context: politics, war, activism, technology, and economics since the 1970s. I loved it. It could not be more timely: setting the stage for the current presidential elections [and brilliantly explaining the Trump phenomena]. I’ll take the space to review a few of the themes from the film that caught my eye.


My perspective on reality is that whether or not something is “inside” or “outside” of reality is an irrelevant question. This is because reality is beyond human access, so discussions about it are purely abstract and irrelevant. We can only ever access facets or shards of reality, which we might call paradigms. Most people share at least a few common anchor points to reality in their paradigms, and this overlap allows for communication and culture. Smaller groups of people who associate often have a higher number of common anchor points.

This is not the perspective that Curtis outlines in the film, but we do have some compatability.

Paradigm Portfolio Diversification

In the film, Curtis paints a world that has grown beyond human control. It may be understood by a few people, but currently most global leaders are failing to operate in this climate of chaos.

Recently I’ve been advocating that any large organization [foundations in particular] should be hedging their bets by utilizing multiple theories of change. In other words, any large entity should span multiple [sometimes conflicting] paradigms.

One pertinent example of such failures would be in the news media’s repeated attempts to discredit Trump with the “truth.” They are firmly within the paradigm of truth and lies. Yet Trump, and his supporters, operate on a totally different frequency divorced from the “facts” and all about this “Make America Great Again” mythology that is emotional and visceral. So the news can’t touch him.

Manipulation vs. Hubris

Curtis suggests that governments are manipulating public opinion on a massive scale. He gives a stunning outline of how this occurs with his example of the US military actually propping up the UFO cults to shrowd their experimental aircraft programs in more secrecy [so that citizens would think they were seeing alians rather than military aircraft]. And yet, in many cases I think it’s less about conscious masterminding, and more about the fact that people just don’t like admitting when they’re wrong.

For example, W. Bush didn’t come across as an evil mastermind [although Cheney did]. I think his failures surrounding “weapons of mass destruction” and the War on Terror are more likely the results of a bumbling politican who would rather not own up to his mistakes.

U.S. Tenure

Curtis draws the comparison between the USSR in its twilight years and the USA today. I’d give the US a fifty/fifty chance of making it another forty years. I have no idea what might come next: a fractured state, a global government, a regime change, or total collapse. But all things come to an end, and the tell-tale signs of old-age are beginning to show over here.


Curis alleged that #OccupyWallStreet was so focused on direct democracy [process] that it failed to achieve any societal outcomes. It was more “against” than “for.” Again and again, he drives home the need for compelling vision, not just reactivity.

My mentor Carol Sanford could definitely get behind this claim, and I could too. My visions regard permaculture, friendship, and gift culture, and they are strong, even if they take awhile to communicate.

To bring things back to the 2016 Presidential Race, Bernie Sanders, in my view, was the only candidate that appealed to the public with a compelling vision. But apparently spreading confusion, as Trump has, has been more effective this time around.

Money as AI, Techno-dystopias

Finance sets the stage in HyperNormalisation, with the takeover of a failing New York City by financiers. Curtis also has a strong dislike for the Silicon Valley techno-utopians, ironically enough, born out of an earlier techno-dystopian science-fiction scene. Finance and technology are two threads throughout the film.

In my view, the intelligence of money has become more influential in the course society than human choice. Although Curtis doesn’t say it exactly in this way, he points out how BlackRock’s Aladdin algorithms manage 7% of the global economy.

Like Astra Taylor in “The People’s Platform,” Curtis’ narrative suggests that the internet has lead to an increase in wealth/power inequality rather than the conventional narrative of “democratization.”

Conspiracy Theory as Social Technology

Kirby Ferguson has a parallel, although more streamlined, discourse surrounding the social technology of the conspiracy theory. In a similar cinematic style, he explores these themes in his “This is Not a Conspiracy Theory.” His basic thesis is that the conspiracy theory, which attributes outcomes to unseen power [whether falsely or in actuality], is a result of the extreme complexity of today’s world combined with our Western idolization of control. I know Kirby appreciates the work of Curtis, and I would hope the admiration is mutual, as they are thought partners of sorts.

#BlackLivesMatter and Climate Change

Notably absent from Curtis’ grand narrative are any reference of two particularly notable social and environmental dynamics of this moment: #BlackLivesMatter and Climate Change. But then again, the films already almost three hours long. Like many engrossing in-depth explorations, I actually just felt like things were starting to warm up when the film ended.

Concluding Notes

One of my friends recommended this film strongly to me yesterday as a jumping off point in some of our collaborative discourses. Already, I’ve passed the film along to almost a dozen other friends. I find it quite useful in creating a bridge between “old paradigm” power analysis and more “new paradigm” material that is my bread and butter, such as the work of Charles Eisenstein and David Graeber. Paradoxically, Curtis illustrates the need visionary leadership while leaving his audience hanging for where we go next with all of this. I guess that’s where I [and my broader networks] come in.