It seems constant throughout all the Zeitgeist films that I enthusiastically agree with almost exactly half of Peter Joseph's message, and could not disagree with the other half more vociferously. This new installment is no different it seems.
The first segment of the film examined human nature as a series of experts explained quite eloquently that the popular dichotomy of nature vs. nurture is not only an oversimplification, but also a total cop out. They explain how the argument that negative traits are genetically predetermined has been used in a subtle way to say that the problems of society are inevitable, and therefor can not be solved. The genetic argument also fuels racism, eugenics and class hierarchy, but in reality the process is more complex. For example they show that in addition to explicit memory, where we actually recall events, there is an implicit memory, or what might be called emotional memory, which goes back to the womb. In other words, much of our emotional response to the world is due to imprinting that took place before we have any explicit memory. They focus on something called “Epigenetic Features, ” characteristics for which there is a genetic predisposition, but are triggered by environmental stimuli at key developmental phases in a child’s experience. What they essentially show is that most human traits attributed to nature require a corresponding component of nurture to manifest, and virtually no traits are completely predetermined.
The most important fruit of this research is the discovery that childhood trauma and abuse fundamentally changes the structure of a developing brain, ultimately producing a violent and abusive adult. For more on this phenomena I highly recommend the series The Bomb in the Brain from Freedomain Radio (Thanks Greg).
To be perfectly honest I was somewhat disappointed with the rest of the film.
Apparently what is meant by a “resource-based economy” in the film is not a medium of exchange based on a commodity of intrinsic value. It means a system in which no currency exists at all, in which technology produces such abundance that everything is free and everything man-made is 100% environmentally friendly because scientific calculation makes all economic decisions. It was somewhat reminiscent of George Carlin as Rufus describing the future in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the musical stylings of a garage band bring, “an end to war and poverty, align the planets and bring them into universal harmony allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life, from extraterrestrial beings to common household pets.”
In the film Joseph criticises those who would call him Utopian... so I will refrain.
As usual Joseph brilliantly identifies and articulates the problem with our current monetary system, from the culture of consumerism, to planned obsolescence, to manufactured scarcity, but completely flies off the rails when he starts advocating a solution.
The problem in brief is that paper currency has no intrinsic value. A dollar is not a promissory note, but a record of debt. The Federal Government issues treasury bonds to the Federal Reserve in exchange for dollars. The problem is that Federal Reserve charges interest on that debt, which means that the amount owed to the Federal Reserve is greater than the total money in existence. A system like this can continue through inflation only until a tipping point is reached when the population can no longer be taxed enough to pay the interest on the debt. At this point the entire system must collapse, but not before all manner of tyrannical state interventions are attempted to push that inevitable tipping point out just one more term. Though it is impossible to know when exactly, we are quickly approaching that tipping point.
This kind of malfeasance is not possible when the medium of exchange is a commodity because the currency is not a record of debt, but a resourse. But instead the film completely conflates the two, treating all mediums of exchange as identical when they are not. The film attacks free-market Austrian economists like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek who were arguing against paper currency, and it completely ignores the the role of state coercion in sheltering monopolistic contractors from liability for their actions.
The rest of the film was a kind of thought experiment called “Project Earth” in which it was hypothesized what the world would look like if we could start over from scratch. This was primarily the vision of Jacque Fresco, who also appeared briefly in the second film.
In Fresco’s vision there is no currency and no market. Instead society is structured entirely in order to allocate resources efficiently. He imagines cities as circular wonderlands of science and technology where all labor is replaced by automated robotics. All demand is calculated based on surveys that people fill out describing their needs. You would basically vote for everything you wanted from essential food and shelter, to recreation and relaxation.
Again he completely ignored the role of state coercion.
To do away with currency completely you must of course do away ownership itself, otherwise people would barter, and an accepted medium of exchange would naturally develop in the market. He embraces this completely saying that exclusive ownership of property would be replaced with communal “access” to property. He imagines that all stores would be operated like public libraries where you would check out the items you needed and return them when you’re done. The vehicle you used to commute to work would be reallocated to another commuter while you were at work. This raises that age-old bugbear of a question, “If there’s no private property do I own myself, or is my body communal property?”
What he is advocating, though he did not say so explicitly, is a centrally planned economy. And he imagines that he has solved the problem of corruption in central planning by seeding decision making authority to a scientific process instead of a human leader. In his animation, as Matrix like tumbles of numbers allegedly calculate supply and demand in elegant efficiency, bold red letters flash across the screen saying “NO OPINIONS!” While I’m certain he intended this as some kind of a virtue of his system, to me it is the worst of tyrants who adopts that as his slogan. In the film he praises a system built on the laws of nature because they are not arbitrary like human law, but then he says blatantly, “like it or not, nature is a dictatorship.”
Scientific calculation does not solve the problem of human corruption because someone has to input the data, someone has to report the results, someone has to give the order how to act upon the results and in a centrally planned economy someone has to punish those who would not follow those orders.
The essential question is, if a scientifically efficient program determines my needs for me, what If my subjective sense of my own needs is different? Am I free to disagree? But he doesn’t seem too concerned with freedom. In fact, he mocks those who would speak of liberty as closed minded, jingoistic misanthropes. And asserts that freewill is an illusion.
Behind all the technobabble is the simple fact that a centrally planned economy is enforced through the threat of violence. Although he does at one point speculate that his idea is so brilliant that people will volunteer in droves. Some will. But if you don’t do your job, if you don’t play along, if you don’t do what the central planning computer tells you is most efficient there must be consequences, or you don’t have central planning anymore. You have a free market.
They say from the beginning that it is essential to raise children without violence. But violence is the final arrow in the quiver of a centrally planned economy. So, if raising children in a violent environment produces violent adults, an authoritarian sociopath will eventually ascend the halls of power in any system predicated on coercion. Such a system, engineered entirely to maximize efficiency, will eventually fall into the hands of dictator. As any good physician will tell you, if you treat the symptom without addressing the underlying cause, the symptom will reemerge.