I can't stop posting pictures of poop, what the fuck is wrong with me?
Zeitgeist Movement Critique (From A Former Members Perspective)
By Philip Blair
Hey everyone, this is a long overdue critique that I have been wanting to make for a few months now with regards to my current stance on The Zeitgeist Movement; and while after being an advocate for the past 4 years I unfortunately had to withdraw from officially endorsing it.
When I say 'officially' what I mean is, is that I still broadly agree with many of the concepts that TZM puts forward.
a. I still think our current social system has inherent problems and is environmentally unsustainable
b. That there are forms of social organization outside the prevailing order that are both desirable & possible
c. And I also agree that we should move towards an evidence-based method of decision making that is backed up by the best peer-reviewed evidence available.
These are all sound positions in my view.... The problem is that while TZM advocates these ideas in theory, it doesn't actually appear to promote them in practice and as a result I have become increasingly skeptical of it as an entity in being able to achieve its stated objectives. Concurrently I have also noticed more muted issues with its organizational structure as a whole which I will also be addressing in this critique.
It's funny, it's almost like many of the criticisms I have received over the past few years from naysayers have almost suddenly 'clicked' with me and I now look at the movement in a whole different light with a focused lens for the first time, seeing many of its blatant flaws. I was always aware that TZM had its problems but I always believed that as long as the we stood firmly by our principles, The Zeitgeist Movement still had something of value. This all changed for me a few months ago however when controversy erupted over a video by Matt Berkowitz posted on the official TZM Channel. It was an attempt to increase science-literacy within the movement in an attempt to disassociate TZM from many of its more dodgy foundations which were tainting the movement. It was also an opportunity to give people the intellectual tools in order to develop their critical thinking skills. Afterall, mass social change requires the
1. Matt Berkowitz | How to Know What's True: Assessing Scientific Research | The Zeitgeist Movement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Tc0_NulJx0
participation of the masses and therefore, we have to have faith in the ability of people to decide things for themselves and come to correct conclusions. Having a methodology such as science and giving people the ability of people to be able to think for themselves is what separates a successful movement from an irrational mob-rule. Unfortunately many of the topics that Matt criticized in this video such as -- Anti-GMO, Anti-Vaxxers and Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth -- didn't quite go over well with many within the movement who still dogmatically hold onto such viewpoints despite the scientific literature saying otherwise. This eventually culminated in Peter Joseph deleting the video as well as several other videos featuring Matt, overriding the decision of the General Chapters Administration which democratically decided they should stay up. The entire fiasco was disheartening and ultimately made me question my continued participation with TZM. I will now begin my criticism of the movement by addressing 3 main points about why I no longer agree with it.
#1 Flawed Foundations & Lack Of A Unified Direction
Given the roots of The Zeitgeist Movement, with the Big-Bang like explosion of Zeitgeist: The Movie and the wider internet counterculture -- there is an unfortunate propensity within the organization for it to be kind of a 'catch-em-all' for every alternative theory going. While there have been attempts by TZM to distance itself from the first film, its influence can still be felt to this day and is generally most people's first introduction to the movement as well as its main generator of interest. Despite gaping holes with the content of the film, Peter Joseph has also never fully repudiated it, lending credibility to it by default, and usually pointing to his 220 page source guide as definitive proof of its validity. In a bizarre statement on The Zeitgeist: Movie website he states....
"To debunk Zeitgeist: The Movie is to debunk this guide. This has not occurred. In fact it is technically impossible to do so in such a context....It is important to point out that many who claim to have 'debunked' this or that are really often working from the standpoint of debate for the sake of a wanted external perception. In other words, given the nature of semantics and interpretation, many can twist and manipulate points to fit what could be perceived as a viable argument or refutation while, in effect, they are really just denying data, creating a strawman or simply lying"
I would honestly like to agree with the claim that "the movies aren't the movement" but no one can deny that the association with the first film is hurting TZM, risking it to be permanently associated with it - not to mention the fact most of its core members still accept most of its claims and routinely hand out DVDs at recruiting events. The purpose of "the movies aren't
2. Why I Left The Zeitgeist Movement by Matt Berkowitz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAs47_9Rep0
3. General Q&A http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/qa.html
the movement" argument is more about turning attention away from the conspiratorial elements of TZM and attempting to minimize the role the series plays in forming the overarching worldview that TZM promotes. I find it somewhat doublespeak-esque, and in my opinion it's a bit of a weak cop-out to avoid difficult lines of questioning. Following the release of Zeitgeist: Moving Forward and the Zeitgeist Movement Defined book, there was a hope that this would diminish the influence of this tendency by bringing a focus towards a coherent understanding of what TZMs goals are in the present. However, a cursory glance on any TZM Forum will show that discussions about conspiracy theories, new-age sophistry, alternative medicine, pseudoscience and many similar topics are still a prominent feature within the movement. Of course, I think healthy debate about ideas should be welcome in any movement. Different perspectives should be encouraged, valued and a general principle established, that any angle is up for discussion, as long as the quest for knowledge is the common goal. However if TZM is to achieve its objectives there has to be some kind conceited effort to bring about a consistent message from its members regarding what TZM actually stands for. Rather than being unified under one ideological banner, TZM instead resembles a cluster of divergent movements -- even members advocating positions that are actually counterintuitive to their aims such as promoting the idea that Global Warming is an elitist plot to bring about a New World Order. As long these types of voices are allowed to roam freely within TZM there is a profound risk that they will ultimately corrupt the goals of the movement, rendering it ineffective. This is evidenced by the removal of Matt Berkowitz's video which was essentially the best representation of the movement's alleged goal of 'applying the scientific method,' yet taken down because the prevalence of pseudoscientific thinking and an inability to combat it has ultimately trumped the movements original objectives. Consequently, it also alienates the scientifically literate members of the organization and as these types of members start to dwindle, I fear TZM which will gradually start to decline into an cult of conspirituality for the politically disillusioned. If TZM wishes to stop this backwards trend, I endorse Matt Berkowitz's letter where he states....
"There needs to be more quality control: both within the administrative body of TZM (for example, the Global Chapters Administration) and within public speakers for TZM. This may be accomplished by enforcing some sort of science competency / critical thinking test as a prerequisite for participation."
People without field-specific competence are in positions to decide which projects get pursued and which tools are used. Nothing resembling a peer-reviewed process exists within the current practice of decision making in TZM.
4. Expression of concern about TZM's infrastructure and public image: pseudoscience and grand conspiracy thinking abound
This leads me to my second point of criticism...
#2 Peter Joseph & Leadership Accountability
I have a certain amount of respect for Peter Joseph. For the most part, I think he is a relatively intelligent guy and his lectures & documentaries certainly brought me a wealth of interesting information that started me on a journey to where I am today. However, there are some serious issues with him that need to be addressed.
Whether people like it or not, Peter Joseph is essentially the de-facto face of The Zeitgeist Movement and as a result people tend to use him as a benchmark of what to believe rather than applying true skepticism and critical thinking. There really is no leadership accountability as he essentially controls official TZM material and will evidently just delete things he doesn't like, even if there is a consensus that it shouldn't be. For all the talk about 'ego' and 'identity' in relation to dogmatic belief systems, PJ is also possibly the worst-case example I have seen of someone who doesn't actually like their viewpoints being challenged. He makes liberal use of the block button on facebook by silencing dissenting opinions -- both from his personal page and the official TZM page -- who give any kind of criticism to ideas he promotes. Evidently, this has been a longstanding issue since 2008 on the original TZM forums and his troublesome behaviour has influenced many to abandon the movement for similar reasons over the years. Whether intentional or not he effectively creates a 'closed ideology echo chamber' where information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by minimizing constructive criticism of various facets of TZM and Peter Joseph. It also gives the impression that Peter Joseph is incapable of being incorrect. I don't know how many times I have heard the phrase "Even Peter Joseph agrees with this..." as if this somehow counts as a legitimate argument. He is more concerned with appearing to be 'right' than actually being useful, and probably does more damage to the outside perception of the movement than he realizes.
Alongside the usual stuff like 9/11 Conspiracies he has recently been actively promoting the work of Stanislaw Burzynski as an alternative cancer cure supposedly being 'suppressed' by Big Pharma. The Burzynski treatments are not accepted by medical science, and not approved by the FDA. With no peer-reviewed literature to support his claims, Burzynski of course opted for the next best medium to show why his cure is credible in the form of two crappy documentaries made by Peter Joseph's brother, Eric Merola who also uses false DMCAs to silence anyone that criticizes the work of Burzynski. It's unfortunate that Peter Joseph has went from claiming that we should accept scientific evidence over personal opinion, to now thinking people are 'Science Nazis' when the evidence stands in stark contrast to what HE thinks, and using provocative language to foster mistrust to people who disagree with him. This contributes to the noted problem I mentioned earlier of ideological divisions within the movement in the form of promoting false understandings of how the scientific method actually works and hence justifying belief in pseudoscience and other allegedly 'suppressed' ideas under the simplistic notion that the market corrupts everything.
In relation to Matts video, people got so butt-hurt over the topics he touched upon rather than paying attention to the underlying reason he made the video in the first place -- it was to help increase critical thinking in TZM by pointing out common pitfalls people make in arriving at certain misguided conclusions. In deleting this video, Peter does the movement a great disservice by essentially getting rid of a valuable resource that could help everyone reach their own conclusions from the best evidence available, instead of just blindly trusting something "because this is what Peter Joseph thinks..." It also brings into question the idea that TZM is indeed a 'leaderless movement' and that anyone can make their own content under the Zeitgeist name. Say for the sake of argument I made a movie called "Zeitgeist IV: Total Refutation," and it was essentially a point-by-point debunking of many of the inaccuracies and dodgy sources Peter used in his first two films. Such as approvingly quoting Charles Lindberghs speech supporting US Isolationism in World War 2, when in reality he was just a pro-Nazi, Anti-Semite. Or for example, omitting the fact that the Jeremy Daly case he sourced in Zeitgeist: Addendum when opposing the Federal Reserve was actually 'nullified the next day on the grounds that Justice of the Peace did not have the power to make such a ruling.' This film would not be made as a personal attack on Peter, but rather an honest pursuit towards truth and a way of ultimately bettering the movement by making a clear distinction that TZM has indeed moved on from the film series. What do you think would happen to me? Lets be honest, I would almost immediately be excommunicated from the Zeitgeist Movement, all my admin rights removed and I would guess Peter Joseph would probably follow in his brothers footsteps to file some kind of DMCA against me for using The Zeitgeist name. There is absolutely no way that my own personal content, at odds with the official P, would be allowed to stand under that name.
#3 They Don't REALLY Do Anything
Creating a better world is not just about giving people a documentary to watch, a book to read or an expert to listen to -- it's about empowering people enough so they can affect change in the real world. The problem with The Zeitgeist Movement, is that despite efforts to educate people about the root causes of various issues, it just sort of provides people with utopian-porn
5. Charles Lindbergh: Hitler's all-American hero http://www.express.co.uk/expressyourself/201613/Charles-Lindbergh-Hitler-s-all-American-hero
First National Bank Of Montgomery v Daly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_National_Bank_of_Montgomery_v._Daly
and doesn't actually provide much of a plan of how to arrive at such a system. While the idea as a whole is firmly rooted in a kind of Anarcho-Communism, it is very much what Engles' refered to as "armchair socialism" in so far is that it will never be implemented. TZM is noticeably missing from various mass-demonstrations as it seems in many cases to actively dissuade people from fighting the same institutions it claims to be against such as encouraging people not to bother protest anything, ease problems within the current system or engage within the political system at all, due to the fact that all problems arise from the same root-cause of market capitalism, therefore what's the point? While I understand where this line of reasoning comes from, it is kind of a false dichotomy to say that we shouldn't really bother doing anything within the current paradigm until we arrive at a Resource Based Economy. We can still try to do our best to bring about incremental change that may be stepping stones towards a better society. Unfortunately, it's just not possible to wish a new society into existence; it has to be built patiently by the collective co-operation and organized resistance of the masses. We have to build towards a new society in the present, by showing people we can make concrete change in areas that affect their lives NOW and in doing so, winning them over to the more radical ideas of social revolution. Most TZM members just sort of sit around waiting for a magical utopia to be appear, something to the effect of 'waiting for the system to collapse, and then we can introduce people to a Resource Based Economy.' The problem with this strategy is that historically, system collapse has almost always lead to the rise of far-right populist groups such as was the case in Weimar Germany when extreme hyperinflation and 6 million people unemployed led to the Nazis coming into power. While they are rightly critical of institutional politics as the main driver for fundamental societal change, to dismiss 'politics' per se from the equation as they do is somewhat naive. History teaches us that the ruling class will never give up their power without a fight. They will never willingly surrender control, it needs to be taken from them via revolutionary struggle. Zeitgeist Movement fall into the trap of believing that if we just educate enough people on a resource based economy governmental institutions will eventually 'come on board' with the project and voluntarily adopt their egalitarian plans as they presented a more rational society and economic system. I believe this inactive problem was best summed up by the philosopher and political scientist Noam Chomsky, when he stated....
"I don't regard The zeitgeist Movement as an activist movement. Rather, it seems to me to be a very passive movement that is misled by doctrines that have a pleasant sound, but collapse on analysis. Among them is the idea that we should "stop supporting the system" and should not "fight it," that is seek to change and overcome it. That means that we should withdraw into passivity. Nothing could be more welcome to those with power. My feeling is that however sincere the leaders and participants may be, the movement is seriously misguided. It is not leading towards change, but is undermining it by encouraging passivity and withdrawal from engagement, and offering a false sense that some real alternative is being proposed, except in terms so abstract and divorced from reality as to be virtually meaningless."
At this point, given its dwindling popularity, declining activity worldwide, and the number of members who have left over the years; coupled with recent events which has once again caused many prominent members, including co-ordinators & people within the lecture team, to distance themselves from the movement -- I almost get the very real impression that TZM as an entity is sort of a failed experiment. This latest blow I think will really be felt, as most of the people who have distance themselves were essentially the backbone of the entire organization, keeping the whole thing together by trying to maintain the little credibility that it had left.
Zeitgiest Movement is NOT moving towards positive social change and may even be antithetical to it.
That being the case I would like to put forward the following suggestions to those who strongly believe in environmental sustainability as well as non-hierarchical forms of social organization, but who are still stuck within the Zeitgeist Movement
a. Vote For The Green Party: Now, I know there is going to be a collective sigh and rolling of eyes at those who read this, but look -- we are running out of time with regards to acting on climate-change and absent there being a revolution in the near future they may be our only political alternative at the moment that has a chance of making short term solutions. Besides, they have quite alot of sensible policies such as advocating for things like universal basic income & environmentalism.
b. Join More Established Anti-Capitalist Organizations: Libertarian Socialists, preferably.... join groups who are actually serious about challenging the status quo and have a decent enough framework of how to achieve it. I highly recommend the Anarchist FAQ http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/index.html Also, check out Libertarian Socialist Rants critique of TZM here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SZT7MZop44
c. Join Skeptic & Humanist Groups: Get a proper understanding of the scientific method and skepticism, rather than TZM shite. I also recommend sifting your way through my reading / documentary list which can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jcxWtvlEIQJhWE6q-IaHjMqqBWokonogsoycycl10Rk/edit