I have just spent a few hours looking at videos of Peter Joseph, the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project and it has sparked some thoughts.. and a bit of a rant, but bear with me!
Listening to Peter Joseph talking about himself..
After sitting through 50mins of Peter’s views on life, politics, history, economics and science etc I was a bit agitated as (and I really don’t mean to be negative here) he was coming across to me as a bit, well .. let’s just say not very well.
We are both advocating that people embrace the idea of a society without money and like all great social movements, it can be prone to infighting and we need to all rise above that. I just wanted to say a few things that got me motivated to respond because for others like me the messenger can sometimes put people of the message.
His approach is appropriate in a lot of ways for an American audience but others might not necessarily have the same reactions, it’s a question of style to be sure, but no matter what your cultural leanings, there are some things that he said that seemed just plain wrong to me. If I am taking him out of context then I am welcome to be put straight, but here is my honest opinion on what I saw.
His entire take on this idea features a huge emphasis on science. Why? I mean I don’t undervalue science, in fact technology is important however human societal glue, and value of life is more important and more fundamental than technology. Science is a tool, an enabler for something – not the be all and end all. It’s rather reductionist and mechanistic view to focus on it so heavily I think and – frankly it seems to overlook the fact that science is just ‘organised doubt’ anyway, it’s a method not a position.
In his talk he also dismisses all philosophy, religion and different schools of thought as verbal hobbies and nothing more. Well in that case, to be fair, what exactly is his movement but a verbal hobby? He goes on (in discussing history), to confuse the advent of agriculture with commercialism and commoditisation – ie that agriculture is apparently synonymous with mass agri-business for profit, or feudal wealth and power distribution models. This is clearly not so. Not only is this historically inaccurate, but it is not logically so either. Permaculture principles (for example) allow you to have what can be termed agriculture in a fully sustainable way – it’s just not done intensively, for profit, or involving mono-crops. He then talks about the concept of property emerging with agriculture as well.. which is also completely unfounded. Nobody knows for sure exactly when this concept first came about but I am pretty confident that someone once said “this flint axe is mine and not yours, now get out of my cave” – I can’t prove it, but I wouldn’t be so confident making any other kind of assertion about the origins of property ownership either.
Peter talks of Religion as a tool given to control the masses.. I sympathise with his point, and it can easily be demonstrated that it’s been used this way throughout history, however I disagree – not with the sentiment, but with the analysis. I would say that organised religion emerged as disorganised faith and was subsequently co-opted by power structures in order to maintain power. It wasn’t invented as a whip to flog people with in some deliberate conspiracy – which is how he comes across.
He also goes on to say that he doesn’t see any form of spirituality as actually relevant.. uh oh. Then go goes on to imply he understands the ways the laws of nature work. “God is in the laws of nature and nothing more”.
Firstly, the laws of nature may not actually be laws, they may prove to be more like habits that evolve. (More of that debate in another post). Secondly, maybe that is exactly what ‘god’ is? So what’s the point of refuting it? Thirdly, putting oneself forwards (even casually) as an authority on something like the nature of god is skirting pretty close to the kinds of thinking I know we are both opposed to.
I get what he means by rejecting religion (organised, institutionalised, superstition-based, the abandonment of rational logical thought etc) but to dismiss all spirituality this way is (frankly) a bit arrogant, naive and – apart from offensive to most people around the world – ridiculously narrow minded if I am being brutally honest.
Religion, faith and spirituality are not the same thing, and humans are – by their very nature – spiritual creatures. Regardless of what they believe, all humans are capable of and disposed to spirituality. It is in fact the cradle of scientific thought and practising one does not preclude the other. What this view alludes to is a very post-enlightenment, reductionist, mechanistic view of science (one that science is actually gradually overturning these days). It’s very 19th century. It is spirituality that first started humans looking at the heavens and asking why things happen. Spirituality is not the antithesis of logic or rationalism but is another facet to it. Some of the best scientists have been spiritualist in fact.
Why is it narrow minded? Because one has to presume that one knows the extent to which the universe operates, and to understand the nature of it, the nuances of nature in full to be able to reject things from it. Let me explain – you can’t claim that this particular piece of the puzzle doesn’t belong in the picture unless you can see the whole picture. Only the very arrogant, naive or stupid would claim that.
Even people with the most reductionist, mechanistic view of the world wouldn’t go that far and in fact the more you know about science the more fascinating it becomes precisely because of what we don’t know. It’s genuinely NOT a kind of mapped out picture that’s broadly understood with just a few details remaining to fill in. If you read up on it more and more you come to realise that we don’t know even some of the most basic things about our world and the more we learn, the more fascinating, intriguing and indeed wondrous it becomes. Science begins, actually, to encompass and resemble things once sectioned off as belonging to more philosophical or even theological thought. It’s very exciting.
To dismiss spirituality in such a wave of one’s hand is very sad to see. The spiritual awakening he goes on to mention is a social one.. the adoption of good civic manners essentially. I wholeheartedly agree of course.. but let’s not confuse the terms Peter.
Ok, I am starting to feel a bit bad.. I don’t want to be negative or criticise him (honestly – I’m not a hater!) but when people start to make all kinds of statements like this they begin to sound like someone talking about things they don’t fully understand, or at least they haven’t thought through properly. It becomes a bit ‘pop psychology’ and there are risks to that when people start to take an interest and either a) throw the baby out with the bath water once they discover inconsistencies or b) idolise figureheads and cease to question what comes out of their mouth (this applies to the figureheads themselves who start believing their own press).
Now, to disclaim.. I also am not a ‘specialist‘ in history, economics, science or any of these topics specifically, and I do like to go off on a bit of a rant myself from time to time – making bold statements and so on.. who doesn’t!? But I do try to study the basis for my beliefs first and try to be as correct as I can manage in one short lifetime. I don’t pretend to know things I know I don’t, and after a while I was beginning to wonder in this interview.
A little later he goes on to dust off the “I couldn’t bear to bring another life into this world” chestnut. I mean really? I know he’s just talking about his personal views and that’s fine.. but as a self appointed spokesperson for a ‘movement’ it betrays a kind of personality that makes me wonder. Besides how that sounds just by itself, it needs to be born in mind that he talks a lot about the natural order of things, looking to nature. What about our most basic nature? What about procreation, our biological imperative? If he is indeed an optimist, and believes in sustainability, then why not have kids? At least one? His argument is (in essence) that he would only have kids if the world was perfect for it – or at least you know, ‘suitable’ for it.. I wrote and deleted a lot of responses to that point but let me just say that I think people having a child or two is perfectly sustainable and that without a future generation, we a) have no future obviously and b) who is there to do the evolving? How do we spread the message and instil sustainable principles to if not our kids?
I REALLY don’t want to seem like I am attacking him but when he says things like this, how can I resist? He said that Socrates, Plato and Karl Marx were all locked in an established paradigm – all thinking in the box. He then humbly admits that he probably might be too. No.. surely not!? The inference that really made me uncomfortable was that he is (by this remark) the greatest political philosopher of all time. He also goes to compare himself (indirectly) to Ghandi and Martin Luther King. I had to laugh and be just a little bit outraged. I’m not being mean, I promise. He said he hates to sound condescending and negative.. so I suspect he was aware of it on some level.. but then why be like that then?
He’s doing a good thing and I am sure he means well, but when you are so publicly grooming yourself for the job of figurehead you got to expect that intelligent people out there (a group I would like to consider myself, and you too dear reader, a part of) will call him on it. Especially as I feel like he is being seen as someone pushing an ideal that I believe in strongly.
So I think the ideas he’s putting out there are on the whole really good – and they clearly match my own as expressed here in this blog. I am however just not completely at ease with the grandiose comparisons between himself, his organisation and the great figures and icons of history.. I worry that the message might start to get coloured by the messenger – dripping with ego, self importance and self promotion.. which sadly might put some people off adopting these important ideas.
He starts to get a bit ‘ranty’ as well in this clip – going on about industrialisation and unsustainable fossil fuel use and how “no one is thinking about this’. What? Millions of people are thinking about this.. it’s called the environmental movement isn’t it? People have made films about it, written books, changed laws etc.. several of each in fact. What I would agree with is that no one is talking about addressing the root cause – a monetary system – and perhaps that is what he means. If so, I agree that we need to plant the seed of this idea around the globe.
Thankfully, he emphatically admits that he isn’t the first to have had these ideas, (which we know came in his case from Jacque Fresco) but it rings a little of a kind of false modesty don’t you think? I mean I had this concept myself independently and have just in the last few weeks discovered Peter Kropotkin’s work – which is awesome – and no doubt where Fresco got his ideas from I’d wager, and it’s great that more people are getting exposed to it and hopefully contributing to it.
I wonder if he has read Kropotkin? You’d hope so.. as it turns out to underpin the basis for the ideals we all share and are talking about here.. but I’m not sure. I hadn’t started until just very recently.
Peter Joseph says abandon the pre constructs of capitalism, fascism, communism etc but these ideas are essentially Anarcho-Communism! He says to abandon previous constructs but then he goes on to says that his philosophy is based on the ideas of the Venus project. You see, there is a bit of confusion here and I think that it shouldn’t be a critique of the man’s character, but rather a point about how there are different ‘flavours’ of these central concepts that are all valid and all worthy of consideration and – if like me – you were left a bit unsure after hearing from Mr Joseph, then remember that the ideas are still extremely valid – no matter who is speaking about them.
Look, the truth is that he might be a great guy, I don’t know him personally but he comes across a bit poorly here I think.. [Peter if you read this, I mean no disrespect and I am happy to have a dialogue if I have misrepresented you or your views in any way]. It’s just how it seems to me.
I have to also confess to feeling a little apprehensive about ‘the movement’ though.
I want to see change, but I have a natural suspicion of cults, sects, groups, movements etc. I do recognise the value in joining together but being a bit anarchistic by nature I don’t like figurehead’s or power structures that place one person (and their views, opinions, agenda etc) over another – and so I have to think hard about whether to sign up to that one or not. I do naturally agree with 95% of their ethos of course.
Both The Zeitgeist Project (TZP) and the Venus Project (VP) (which it advocates on behalf of) talk of global resource accountancy as a key principle to achieving a fully sustainable world via a money-free resource economy.
Interesting approach, but how can you have that without centralised organisation? – I can’t see it really – and with that comes centralised power and then you’re back to square one. Even if you can find a way to de-centralise it with a technological solution.. it necessitates some form of central admin no?
I completely agree with the sentiment.. I think understanding what the carrying capacity of the planet is would be helpful in many ways. It does rely on a centralised view though.. you need one global perspective, a kind of command and control approach to directing production and labour.. which I disagree with and think leads to an unacceptable concentration of power and encourages social stratification again.
But putting that to one side for one second, conducting a global inventory has a couple of drawbacks:
- It could very well encourage people to set their minds on a fixed idea as to what is their ‘share’. A fixed amount in a dynamic system is a distraction – an abstraction in fact that is unhelpful and unnecessary to living sustainably to my view. I think psychology could help us here more than economics.
- It’s a very transactional way to look at things. It assumes that you know everything you need to make such an assessment if you just had the data and I would argue that it’s a big assumption to make, and ultimately redundant because you only need to know what each particular area, ecosystem, or resource can yield sustainably under the current conditions and through the current practices. That ‘amount’ will shift with climate change, season, population and various other factors. Forget absolutes, keep your eye on the prize.. sustainability is the only thing you need to worry about, if you have that sorted, the rest takes care of itself in principle.
I agree that we need to respond to our environment to design our way of life, completely. I am not so sure about this centralised view of things though – taking an inventory of all resources around the world and then deciding what to do with them. Who decides? How? A Global resource management system? Who manages this? Who makes the final decisions? Who polices it? If you are going to have rules (which it sounds like) then you need to have a system of incentives and punishments/enforcement no?
It reeks of more authority controlling resources.. Now that’s not to say that it couldn’t be done in a way that avoids this but I can’t see it yet. (Please feel free to comment if you can see how).
Their view is about placing efficiency over all other things, which seems to me a bit too low to set the bar. Why do we need to keep track of everything as a whole? Can’t each of us manage our own communities sustainably? With money out of the picture, the incentive for everyone involved is cooperation and mutual benefit – not exploitation – so the apparent need for a centralised oversight seems to disappear. We can grow our own food, make the things we wish and need to make and exchange them with others making different things from their area etc. It is this precise difference of devolved organisation that makes it work – otherwise you essentially end up (money or no money) with a soviet style autocratic state controlling mass production for all – and we all saw how that went. It wasn’t actually communism (as we all know) but nevertheless it was warped by placing control for everything at the top – providing the incentive to accumulate and abuse power – no doubt at first for the ‘common good’, then just the ‘good’ and then just because they ‘could’.
Almost every community has the ability to sustain itself – grow food, produce energy, recycle waste etc – but there are benefits to be had between communities, and regions of the planet – I can see that. High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) energy grids for example or the sharing of location specific resources to other areas.. but I still don’t yet see the need for any sort of centralised power structure to be invoked here. Can’t the need for things be sufficient incentive to produce? (While bearing in mind sustainable principles).
I don’t know all the answers yet, but I am sure that together we could work it out so that it functioned without need of centralised control.
TZM & VP also advocate Manufacturing things in a “standardised, universally interchangeable” way. Removing all human opinions and putting everything into a computer to give us an answer on what is the most efficient way to do things. Is this the best way for humans to live? Is this our dream world? It sounds a bit like we’re going to far. Like we are adopting capitalist principles of market efficiencies or something like that and trying to slot them into a different world where they are less necessary (if at all).
They talk with a huge emphasis on efficiency as an underlying principle in resource economy.. but I am not sure that this is the right fulcrum. Surely sustainability is the ultimate principle no? You might try and argue that sustainability is (like nature) by definition an efficient system – but you can’t say it works the other way. Efficiency is not be definition sustainable, hence the principle (if followed too blindly) can lead us astray.
Also, de-humanising human society is not a step forwards.. I agree with the sentiment once again, that human opinions and flaws and desires etc makes for messy organisation and that coming to judgement too quickly and/or admitting one doesn’t know is a valuable human trait and an underappreciated sign of integrity.. however I want to live in a world of diversity – just like in nature – not a globalised efficiency machine where the only things that are allowed are the most efficient ones. Sure, a washing machine or a toaster that is energy efficient or a vehicle that uses the least amount of fuel is great.. but the principle to run a whole society on is not that.
Compassion, liberty, respect, trust – sure – but efficiency? It makes us sound like robots – or that we should aspire on some level to run things like robots or be run by robots. And I am not easy with that. Any society we build is one that we must control and be true to the best aspects of our own nature, it’s the only way for us to be sustainably the best humans we can be.