Idealist Societies: A Response to Zeitgeist II, Addendum


Recently, a friend recommended I watch the documentary film Zeitgeist, in which director and activist Peter Joseph details the corruption of the monetary system and outlines the usefulness and promise of a resource-based society. While the film had many interesting points, as well as explaining the financial system quite accurately, I have a few questions.

First, I wanted to ascertain the truth of the big facts laid down in the movie against a monetary society. I asked a reliable source (whom I’ll call Rooster) within the Banking/Financial Services Industry to comment, to which I received the following reply (Note: Ordinarily I won’t use large block quotes, but seeing as I have no real knowledge of the subject, I believe it is better to stick with a professional testimony):

“There is plenty of truth in the film. For example, the part about the money supply and its “creation” is basically accurate. As the film acknowledges, the Fed published a book years ago describing it. I had to learn it in college in Money and Banking 101. The film falls short of the full “truth” by failing to acknowledge the basic nature of money or any other medium of exchange beyond barter: It has no intrinsic value. Coins, beads, paper, even gold beyond its limited practical uses all have artificial value, based solely on what people will accept in exchange for them.

“The film implies that paper money and account credits, the latter representing the vast bulk of the money supply, are less “real” than other forms of exchange, and are particularly prone to instability– specifically, in the form of inflation– but they fail to mention why the US abandoned the gold standard. Yep: instability of value. Oh… and the US had a silver standard once, too. Then they hit the Mother Lode in Virginia City and BOOM, an oversupply of silver crashed the value of the currency [There may well have been other reasons for the decline of the silver standard, but for the purpose of this article, the author has chosen to keep it simple]. The government wanted to support the value, but the only way to do so was to buy up the silver supply. Problem: if you are tied to silver as the standard of value, what do you use to but it? Silver? Today’s financial system is far from perfect, but it beats those of the past. Its flexibility is its strength.

“In response to the part about money as debt… In theory, it’s true. If you look at a dollar bill, it calls itself a “federal reserve note” and all bank deposits are debts (the bank owes you an obligation to pay the money you deposit back to you, or to your order, on demand). Beyond that, credit is certainly part of any form of commerce, and credit always bears interest in one form or another. But the film’s assertion that this enslaves the world…where is the connection?”

I would respond by saying that the connection is that there is always more money owed than there is in circulation, hence ensuring that despite all efforts to eliminate the people’s debt, someone will “always get the short end of the stick” as the film said. Then again, in a capitalist society, competition ensures that there will always be a winner and a loser. It’s inevitable.

Supporters of the film will respond with the claim that this is the point of the film, to remove a capitalist society in favor of a more equal resource-focused society. However, I see the same problems coming up regardless of focus. See, the problem isn’t coming from money or capitalism or anything else that can really be fixed or eliminated. The problem comes from the basic desires of human being, which I will get into momentarily.

The Zeitgeist film had answers for most questions I had about their society, but failed to go into the depth I think is necessary for their plan to truly work. For example they said that automating everything would eventually eliminate the need for man to work. Everything would be done for us using the most efficient methods possible. My biggest question about that was then where is the incentive to improve or work hard at something? In a society that revolves around advancing technology, how can we develop better technology if no one is given the incentive to spend long hours working very hard to develop it? Unfortunately, their answer to this question was the flimsiest. They interview a man who is supposedly an authority on social engineering and founder of the Venus Project, who said that people would find other sorts of incentive, like painting a picture because it made them happy and wanting to share it with other people. They then quickly moved to another subject.

Umm…rewind here. First, that doesn’t address the technological advances necessary to keep up with a society who consumes resources at the rate necessary to survive in a Utopian society. If money and resources aren’t problems, then what’s to stop a population boom? If your number of children weren’t limited to how many you can afford or realistically care for, the population would soar, putting an immense strain on natural resources.

Second, You’re saying that the answer to the lack of creative incentive is painting each other pictures and gazing at the stars? That may be all right for the small percentage of the world’s people who love to paint or are naturally artistic, maybe, but what about people who are interested in other things, like real estate? Real estate has value beyond what we assign to it, because it is limited. I know I want to live on a decent sized portion of land with a view of the mountains and maybe a lake, someday. I don’t want to live in a condo or an apartment, I want a house. The reason I can have a house with a view is because not everyone can afford that. If they could, no one would live in North Dakota. In Zeitgeist’s world, anyone who wanted to live in beautiful parts of the world could. Meaning my house with a view would be a condo with a view of other condos on the mountain and hundreds of boats on the lake. If everyone can have anything without working for it, then nothing has value and becomes so much collected trash. Honestly, if 40% of the wealth is in the hands of 1% of the world population and they supposedly live like kings, what makes the Zeitgeist movement think that the rest of the world won’t gobble up what they can because they can if they are given the same access to resources?

Rooster continues on this point:

“Food for thought: assuming 1% of the people have 40% of the wealth (I think the concentration is higher), how much do you think each person would have if it were distributed evenly? How many would consider it sufficient to meet their needs? Then, if the people were left to their own devices, how long do you think it would take before the wealth was concentrated again? And who do you think would end up with it? As you may guess, I think it would re-concentrate very quickly… in the hands of a mixture of hard workers, risk takers, capital accumulators, savers, and, yes, fast talkers, crooks, charlatans, demagogues, warlords (politicians may encompass all of the foregoing list of miscreants) and other bad actors, just as it is now. Then those same people will proceed to struggle among themselves for larger shares. Meanwhile a small number will emerge from the masses to claim a larger piece of the pie, while the vast majority will continue to live hand to mouth.

“Utopian social engineers assume that uneven distribution of resources is inherently unfair. The premise seems to be that it is unfair to treat equal people differently. True, but that’s only half the equation: it’s just as unfair to treat different people equally. I think most social engineers are aware of the second part, but secretly believe that they and other like-minded, self-proclaimed elites are the only “different” ones. To paraphrase Orwell, ‘All are equal, only some are more equal than others.’ I don’t think they truly envision a flat society.”

Another point in the movie I took issue with is its commentary on our treatment of foreign powers. The interview with the guy who claimed to be a CIA bagman was interesting and I certainly believe there are secret espionage campaigns and assassinations going on, but to assume or imply that the people of Venezuela and Iraq were fine with Chavez and Saddam is either naive or disingenuous. Both dictators are/were demagogues and the “people” are losers either way. I also think the films suggestions that powerful governments and big corporations are somehow looting underdeveloped countries by purchasing their natural resources and labor are over-dramatizing the situation, ignoring the benefits of such open international trade in favor of making a pointed example. “Can the Venezuelan economy consume even a fraction of its own oil? Or does it make more sense to sell what they can’t use themselves to buy other ‘resources’, which their country cannot provide? What’s worse for the Malaysian peasant: toiling in the rice paddy while living in a mud hut or toiling in a tennis shoe factory while living in a slum? Let him decide. If he has a choice, he’s no slave” (Rooster).

The movie goes on to talk about alternate energy (which I actually found pretty interesting, some good ideas there) and transportation (which, if a little far-fetched, had merit). As I wrote the other day, I think that an alternate fuel source is one of the most important areas of science we should be focusing on and this film further argues that point. I agree that oil is wasteful and something we could and should do without.

Zeitgeist II, Addendum made some solid points and proposed good ideas. A society without crime, scarcity, or slums is a fantastic ideal. It’s all interesting, but it simply has too many holes in its argument to be considered a viable option.

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2 Responses to “Idealist Societies: A Response to Zeitgeist II, Addendum”
  1. David McKee says:

    Holes…

    I think before I address any statements made, you need to be willing to do as most people are not these days, and accept the humility of the phrase “I don’t know.” It implies humbleness and the intent and willingness to learn. To become more educated. I do not know MANY things, but I am able to “read” individuals that are just speaking around the fact that they do not know. You may understand what I mean as I go on…

    Today’s financial system is far from perfect, but it beats those of the past. Its flexibility is its strength.
    ———– Granted, it was a step in the right direction to move away from gold/silver, but while the world is ever evolving (in a technological sense), we should consider all concepts and go with what makes the most sense. History of man is the story of a struggle to cope with self awareness and to better ourselves. Most of the systems and tactics used to survive are not applicable years after they are invented or realized. It very well could be time for another change. Would you not agree with that after inspecting the economy under this current system? A machine that keeps working is one that is well maintained, but if a far more efficient machine is available, it should replace the old one, no?

    “and credit always bears interest in one form or another. But the film’s assertion that this enslaves the world…where is the connection?”
    —————- Why does credit require interest? The assertation that it enslaves IS the point that drives home that madness of the system for most. While we have other means to get the necessities for life (air water food) and those means are FREE, why is it that we still work long hours just to get by. And why are so many around the globe going with out?

    “My biggest question about that was then where is the incentive to improve or work hard at something?”
    ———– Have you ever been a child, or watched a child learn? A young science student, or an old science student? Learning and creating are the strongest with a willing pupil. People have hobbies because they want to, not because they have to. If we had more time on our hands we would all be much smarter.

    “In a society that revolves around advancing technology, how can we develop better technology if no one is given the incentive to spend long hours working very hard to develop it?
    ———- Most importantly, technology will advance as their is a need for it. If we have a problem in society, we will solve it. How many times has “technology” been advanced without a need, just for profit? Pharmaceuticals certainly comes to mind. Most of the american health system is just for profit, not need of wellness. And a lot of illnesses are a by-product of greed for profit. Look at McDonalds. Open a shop to make money, but pump out very unhealthy consumables.

    “They interview a man who is supposedly an authority on social engineering and founder of the Venus Project, who said that people would find other sorts of incentive, like painting a picture because it made them happy and wanting to share it with other people. They then quickly moved to another subject.”
    ———— There are hours and hours of content from Jacque Fresco, and HE has not been painting his entire life. HE has been engineering solutions (and making a living selling inventions and technologies to companies that are in need of those talents).

    “If your number of children weren’t limited to how many you can afford or realistically care for, the population would soar, putting an immense strain on natural resources.”
    ————- Sigh. Geo-thermal energy alone could power a planet with many, many times more demand than we currently need supply for. The reality is that we are not USING it. We are stuck on fossil fuels and others that ARE rather limited. Besides Geo-thermal, there is also solar, wind, water (tide) and many others, that I’m sure you’ve heard of. A combination of these, and a responsible use of the planets resources is what we need to look into a little deeper.

    “Real estate has value beyond what we assign to it, because it is limited. I know I want to live on a decent sized portion of land with a view of the mountains and maybe a lake, someday. I don’t want to live in a condo or an apartment, I want a house. The reason I can have a house with a view is because not everyone can afford that. If they could, no one would live in North Dakota. In Zeitgeist’s world, anyone who wanted to live in beautiful parts of the world could. Meaning my house with a view would be a condo with a view of other condos on the mountain and hundreds of boats on the lake.”
    ———– this is a very good argument, that I’ve not heard yet. What I will say on this, brings me back to square one: Life is always expanding and evolving. I’m willing to say “I don’t know” on behalf of the movement, but I’m also sure that Jacque Fresco has thought a great deal about it. It’s part of his 70+ years of research on this topic, and you need to read into MORE about the movement if you are interested. If you are not interested, please do not “review” the subject without more knowledge on the subjects that are discussed. YOU are not all knowledgeable, and nor am I. The difference is, as a believer in the movement, I’m learning more useful knowledge everyday.

    “assuming 1% of the people have 40% of the wealth (I think the concentration is higher), how much do you think each person would have if it were distributed evenly?”
    ——— The movement doesn’t come close to advocating this. This paragraph and the ones to follow on the same topic are irrellivent. You don’t inhale oxygen until your lungs hurt. You breathe comfortably. The reason someone would horde money, or food, or items, is because of the scarcity of that idem/food/money. With abundance of the things we NEED and an understanding of how greed is the cause for scarcity and vice versa, we could sustain.

    “but to assume or imply that the people of Venezuela and Iraq were fine with Chavez and Saddam is either naive or disingenuous. Both dictators are/were demagogues and the “people” are losers either way.”
    ————- anyone can be made to look bad. Why do you, personally believe they were bad people? Were they that different than you?

    Keep in mind that for most of the proposed ideas within the movement to work, society needs to be aware, and educated on things. They need to understand the ramifications of their actions and have considerations for others and the planet. They need not hold grudges and seek revenge.

    You know damn well that you personally know someone that acts this way. Everyone does. It’s time we get together and work towards good, be positive and be who we know we need to be to bring change.

  2. Joe Matthew says:

    Thanks for giving this some thought. Have to say your position ignores some simple facts:

    a) our current system of competition (that you describe as “inevitable”) creates more harm than good. That is a provable fact and there are myriad of reliable, unbaised resources available that indicate this without a doubt.

    b) as for “incentive”, no one is saying “eliminate incentive” but rather replace our current.

    Our current incentive system is based on scarcity where fear and poverty, mass hunger & starvation are the true “inevitable” result (winner & loser as you say), where as the system advocated in the Venus Project (via the Zeitgeist movement) proffers a different system of incentive, one based on the intelligent use of existing resources and the protection of the environment for the benefit of ALL without exception. Exceptions to this creates “more of the same” differential advantage that is killing our collective ability to live on this planet in health.

    More here: thevenusproject.com/the-venus-project-introduction/faq (#70 & #71)

    The remainder of your argument seems predicate on the idea that there must always be a “loser” and so “we” are justified causing harm elsewhere.

    However, it is not true that “any organism at war with itself is doomed”? How is our human organism any different?

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