One state, two state, red state, blue state. Partisan divide. Republicans. Democrats. Tea Partiers. Dictators. War on terror, war on drugs. Spending cuts. Health care. Tax hikes. Birthers. Oil. Privatization. Credit rating. Scorched earth. Political intransigence. How do we save the world?
The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM) believes the solution lies in a resource-based economy in a modern global society. Peter Joseph — The Zeitgeist Movement founder whose controversial films have spawned a revolution — is calling for a top-to-bottom global makeover of society.
So is an enormous worldwide following that continues to multiply.
I met with Joseph at a coffee shop in Venice Beach, as arranged by a member of the Ventura County Chapter of The Zeitgeist Movement. A man dressed in black with a slightly unkempt goatee and eyes curious and clear, Joseph is startling yet approachable. And for a man whose confident revelations seem to spin as fast as Superman can fly, he is easy to speak with. So I asked him a question thousands of people have already asked him since he released a series of controversial, anti-establishment Zeitgeist films and founded The Zeitgeist Movement in 2009.
Can the world we live in really be re-imagined into something more sustainable, something mirroring near-Utopia?
And so he began presenting the idea that the economic system we live in is a sick paradigm for self-destruction, where the main problem is not the flaws in the system but the entirety of the system. He began throwing around a number of ways for the transition to occur, most hinging on the elimination of the monetary-based economy that makes the world go round and establishing an automated work force to replace menial labor.
Backed by credible examples and hard data, the essential message in Joseph’s three films and the movement’s charter can be summed up as this: Our greatest social problems are the direct results of our economic system. The monetary-based system on which the world operates is a broken and corrupt scheme that promotes obsolescence for the sake of profit. Sustainability and resourcefulness only hinder that idea in a monetary-based economy. If there is not a radical global shift toward a sustainable, tech-driven and, yes, a moneyless society, class division will dramatically increase as the world’s resources are depleted. Humans cannot escape nature’s dictatorship, and without a system that centers on resources as the vital principle, human quality of life will systematically deteriorate.
The goal of a resource-based economy is to create a unified systems approach to global management based on what the earth’s resources are needed for and then applied in the most strategic and scientific way.
Danette Wallace, founder and director of the TZM Ventura County chapter said when she first watched Zeitgeist: Addendum, she was struck by the concept of a resource-based economy. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was something I never heard of before. I had been researching the money system for years, and I knew it was a non-sustainable system. Nobody had ever offered a solution for it, just temporary fixes here and there. But when he was talking about this concept, I sat straight up and thought it was so amazing. I’ve never been an activist before. It never appealed to me. But this is something that can help everything.”
A filmmaker and musician, 31-year-old Joseph was raised in North Carolina, the son of a mail carrier and social worker. An avid percussionist, he attended a prestigious conservancy for college, but dropped out when he realized the debt he was accruing was leading him headfirst into the workforce where he would toil to clear his name from debt as another cog in the system. So he worked sporadically as a musician and film editor, but on account of his twisted fascination with the economic system, he began working as a day trader. As Joseph began studying and investigating the money-based system that fuels economies, he finally had enough. He drew from his creative background to craft Zeitgeist: The Movie, which he launched online to address his frustrations with the system.
His life was never the same.
Along came the viewers, then the need for a website, a DVD, a noncommercial release and eventually inclusion in film festivals. Though Joseph has since admitted that some of the radical claims made in that first movie are not associated with current Zeitgeist rhetoric since the movement itself was established after the second film, its appeal was global and it became obvious to him that the citizens of the world craved a radical systemic shift, and sought answers.
Joseph didn’t know it, but his ideas were directly in line with those of renowned 95-year-old futurist Jacque Fresco and his organization The Venus Project. Fresco’s Venus Project is a “comprehensive plan for social reclamation in which human beings, technology, and nature will be able to coexist in a long-term, sustainable state of dynamic equilibrium,” according to the website.
After Fresco viewed the Zeitgeist film online, he reached out to Joseph and turned him on to some of his books that center on the idea of a resource-based economy, which Fresco is widely credited for developing. Within that idea alone, Joseph felt he had the ability to answer the questions his film posited. He soon thereafter released Zeitgeist: Addendum, featuring Fresco and his Venus Project, at which point the project grew into a full scale movement.
When Joseph released the movement’s third and most recent film, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, earlier this year, people throughout the world tuned into the premiere: 340 theaters, 60 countries, 295 cities and 30 different languages.
Having amassed an estimated 500,000 members worldwide since its inception in 2009, TZM may be the largest, most rapidly expanding global grassroots movement in the continuum of social change.
“Basically, we’re just trying to point out that what society is doing is not sustainable,” said Joseph. “We’re talking about a complete physical reconstruction of society so it can be sustainable. So, public awareness is the first step, and we’re still not even remotely close to that.”
“The idea is basing all decisions initially on resources and learning to maximize their efficiency,” Joseph elaborated.
“You begin to realize you can create a world where people have access to things they would never have access to in their lives. Instead of ownership, which in most contexts is very wasteful, you create a system of sharing for certain things…. It’s a totally different comprehension of society where we need maturity to understand a world where people actually share the world and respect each other’s activities instead of it all being about property.”
For as much momentum and awareness as TZM has generated, its startling proclamations have obviously attracted the naysayers who decry TZM as an arm of communism, conspiracy theorists, anarchy, or just wide-eyed dissidents dreaming of an unattainable Utopia.
But Joseph welcomes such dialogue and calmly dismisses such claims made against him and TZM, using such opportunities to further expand the ideas of values, resource economics and sustainability in a global system.
“They call it a Utopia and say it can’t happen,” said Joseph. “They can’t fathom it because they are so used to the deprived, neurotic, twisted world where people are trying to screw each other over as fast as possible for their own self-interest, which is essentially what this system is based on.
“It’s not about getting mad and breaking windows. That doesn’t do anything but reinforce power and lead to more police, more military, and that can lead to a police-state. Ultimately, we want concentrated nonviolent action, not against the U.S. but against the entire global manifold, saying ‘you can’t do anything if we don’t participate.’ The fabric of the system is based on participation in it.”
Joseph isn’t exempt from the system in any way, nor does he claim to be. As he consistently reiterates, society is far from being aware and capable of such a dramatic shift and it will takes years of outreach to slow-burn into the reality he and many have imagined.
Formed in June 2010, the Ventura County Chapter of TZM boasts a membership of about 50, with approximately a dozen regulars attending biweekly meetings. Members discuss ways to canvass for mass awareness, distribute TZM films and discuss ideas and technology that support a resource-based economy.
“This is something that literally includes every human on the planet,” said Wallace, who also co-hosts a weekly Zeigeist Internet radio address. “I feel really fulfilled, and the people I come into contact with have the same feelings and goals.”
TZM chapters continue popping up in far reaches of the world, surpassing any expectation Joseph ever had. It’s undeniable that the ideas presented by TZM have a global appeal, helping quench a thirst for an alternative operating system of reality and satisfy the desire for a sustainable future. TZM is not a threat of any kind, though Joseph admits to having received plenty of death threats for challenging the status quo. Instead, it aims at being more of a wake-up call to the reality that if collective human thought and behavior continue to function solely as a self-serving financial mechanism, a social breakdown is imminent.
Joseph, Wallace and fellow TZM members across the world know there will never be a religion or ideology that unites humanity. But critically thinking and sharing ideas about a sustainable future, as presented by TZM, has them believing that this may be the best shot the world has.