The Zeitgeist Movement Essays – by Peter Joseph
A summary by Will Sutherland
TZM is A Sustainability Advocacy Group which operates through a network of Regional Chapters, Project Teams, Public Events, Media Expressions and Charity Operations.
Non violent, educational and against all forms of inequality especially “structural violence” from outdated cultural institutions (memes). Aims to discover true systemic roots of current problems and wants to use an objective scientific method to produce a truly sustainable society.
The aim is that once people see the “truth” they will find their own ways of dealing with it. But the broad aim of TZM itself is to empower personal freedom by changing the social system. This cannot happen until the majority of the human population understand the basic “train of thought” promoted by TZM.
TZM attempts to envision how a new social system could be created based on Optimum Economic Efficiency. The movement tries to follow this “train of thought” rather than the ideas and ideologies of particular individuals. TZM notes that existing cultural institutions are programmed to resist change rather than evolve. They are unlikely to change unless human values change to reflect the unbreakable and close connection between humans and other life systems of Earth – we are not independent living entities although our current culture likes to pretend so.
Roots of the Problem
TZM sees an important dichotomy between the current dominant belief system (the Monetary-Market economy) and the scientific alternative (Natural Law/science based economy). The challenge is how to move away from the first and make use of the scientific alternative to allocate resources for the long term benefit of civilisation (and the Earth). We have a blind faith on the old systems just like the (now ridiculous) beliefs of those who thought the Earth was flat. In the future the outdated institutions of debt based money and electoral democracy will seem just as crazy as the absolute power of the church in the middle ages.
Opponents of TZM may often be affected by what can be called “Mind Lock”. Their conditioning to, and acceptance of, existing institutions is so deep that they simply have to defend them to protect their own version of “reality”. The education system constantly reinforces this tendency. Others say that TZM is repeating Marxist dogma. But TZM does not oppose social stratification for ideological reasons but rather because it always creates human suffering which is, in the end, destabilizing. TZM advocates “shared access” to property simply as a sensible way to save resources.
Many opponents actually mis-represent the TZM arguments or in fact do not understand them.
TZM believes the concept of nation states needs to be revised as it leads to competition rather than co-operation and the sharing of resources. Nation states and huge corporations are false and arbitrary entities which do not correspond to technical efficiency. The relationship between such entities is based on competition. In fact there is technically only one race - the Human Race; there is only one basic habitat - Earth; and there is only one working manner of operational thought - Scientific.
TZM believes that the so-called “invisible hand” of self-interest is completely outdated as a system for sustainable living on a finite planet. The competitive element leads to war which is a crazy destructive act made even more undesirable because of the horrific power of modern technology.
Nations should share resources rather than compete for them.
The improvements that TZM seeks can only come about through cultural change. The question is whether this is possible given the hard wired aspects of human nature. TZM believes the answer is “yes”. We can see that historically humans have in fact proved extremely adaptive to cope with evolutionary pressures – this surely remains the case today.
Public Health – Research shows that “structural violence” (inequality and poverty) is the main source of preventable deaths, mental illness and behavioural violence on planet Earth. Bad diet and stressed lifestyle are now responsible for the huge incidence of coronary hearth disease which is the single biggest cause of early death. All these problems stem from the competitive and profit driven systems which are central to modern culture.
Economics – The main arguments centre around whether economies should be “laissez faire” or controlled centrally by the state. TZM takes neither point of view but sees three major problems in the traditional approaches:
· inequalities are seen as a necessary feature of all economic societies
· traditional economics takes no account of externalities like the environment
· no account is taken of the “costs” of social disruption/crime caused by inequalities
The philosophy of Locke and Adam Smith are described as well as the thoughts of Malthus and Ricardo. These are the essential foundations of modern capitalism.
In all cases the driving force for action is seen as the desire of humans to better themselves financially (obviously a very limited way to explain behaviour).
Socialism has been the historical alternative to capitalism. The ideas of Thompson, Marx and Veblen are discussed. The latter particularly is very clear that present system of government exists mainly to protect the rich against the interests of the poor.
Quite separate from these arguments, it is now clear that money itself has become entirely a means of making `'profit” with no regard to provision of necessary goods and services. We have also reached a point where current levels of national debt cannot be sustained in a finite world.
TZM concludes that reliance on the Market Economy is a totally disastrous way to run the world. It creates a socio-economic structure which is completely separate and unrelated to the vital “life support” structure which planet Earth requires. Indeed the whole concept of “freedom” is a nonsense when it is obvious that we are not “free” to do what we want if the planetary life support system is to continue to function. A new system needs to be created from first principles to take account of our real situation – balancing such factors as public health and social equality against the needs of the living environment.
Debt and Growth
Both businesses and government are constantly seeking economic growth but this does not relate the human wellbeing. One consequence is a constant increase in the money supply which is based on debt – and without growth there can never be enough money to pay the interest on this debt. Any technical developments which create greater efficiency are a potential threat to the market. Greater profits are made by using cheaper materials thus reducing quality. Planned obsolescence is also very beneficial for profits. All these factors make it impossible to achieve technical perfection within the current market system.
We also have great waste because people do not share products and many products (particularly food) are transported for large distances before being consumed.
The existence of patents and industrial secrecy slows down technical development when sharing knowledge would be much more sensible.
The saving in labour achieved by modern technology now poses important questions for society. Unemployed labour has no ready income to keep the wheels of consumerism turning. This is a serious limitation for current capitalism. In fact keeping people in debt so they have to have employment is a key feature of our current money economy. As our money is created by debt there is always more debt than money in circulation.
Nature doesn’t care about our vast monetary economic ideas with its theories of “value”, sophisticated financial models or detailed equations regarding how we think human behavior manifests and why. The technical reality is simple – we must learn, adapt and align to the governing laws of nature, or suffer the consequences.
Despite the proliferation of new “green” businesses, it remains the case that the basic dynamic of the current market system will always limit the real progress that can be made towards sustainable and socially just living.
Methods of Cultural Change
Culture can only evolve through education and the selective adoption of new ideas (or memes). At present education operates almost exclusively to perpetuate current materialistic and consumer values. These values and the institutions which relate to them have become firmly established and we have to constantly remind ourselves that these ideas were created by humans and can be changed by them. Our society is largely composed of big vested interests who have seek to defend these institutions by whatever means they can.
TZM believes that the integrity of our values and beliefs is only as good as how aligned they are with the natural world. This is the common ground which we all share. Structures which evolved to fulfil a particular role in the past are now outdated and positively dangerous to life.
The Pathology of Fear
Fear of loss of livelihood makes ordinary people do many things which they know are wrong in terms of social justice and the environment. Those who achieve “success” in this system lose empathy with the majority of “losers” - indeed they like to flaunt their success in conspicuous consumption. Those most successful are often the most selfish and ruthless. Our current social system is what Veblen called a “predatory” culture.
In the modern world personal “freedom” is primarily a function of wealth. But trading labour for income is one of the most unfree systems you could imagine. It is estimated that 27 million people are involved in human trafficking and slavery as a direct result of the present economic system. The only real freedom in our modern economy is actually the freedom to dominate, suppress and beat other businesses by whatever competitive means possible. Worse still the “market” system does not include protection of the environment and humans are not “free” to ignore this essential requirement for life.
Both imperial and class war are fuelled by the intrinsic dynamic of the modern socio-economic system. As soon as centralised power structures became the norm (about 3000 years ago) the mechanisms of large scale war became possible. State standing armies have existed since that time. Wars are invariably initiated by the (corporate) state for economic reasons although the public is usually “groomed” to support them for supposedly ideological reasons.
If there is some form of emotional provocation this is very helpful to the state. Often these state wars are based on the fear of losing power.
Wars and honour are formalised by elaborate ceremony. War is a natural extension of the competitive nature of the current capitalist ideology. The existence of 'class' war simply reflects the inbuilt tendency of the current system to protect the privileged position of those with the most wealth. Four structural features achieve this result:
Debt – the poor are trapped into the wage economy by the debts they raise to buy houses etc.
Interest – because of the debt based nature of modern money, there is never enough money in circulation to pay the interest on all debt. This means some cannot pay – their property is then repossessed (stolen) by the wealthy.
Inflation – hits any savings the poor may make proportionately more than the rich
Income disparities – this feature of the capitalist system is reinforced by the capital gains available to the rich – those with capital acquire more capital. A similar problem affects relative income between nations because of the work of the IMF and World Bank.