Critique of The Zeitgeist Movement: Observations and Responses; Activist Orientation Guide (turned into me not giving a shit enough to finish a formal critique)

This is one of many documents produced by (or, for) The Zeitgeist Movement. While the cinematic media spread on the internet is for merely introductory purposes, the details tend to be in various documents: FAQs, transcripts of Jacque Fesco’s lectures, and programmatic outlines such as the one I am going to be critiquing. A point I will further expand on later, but that is worth mentioning here, is how authoritarian this movement really is. In order for a registered user of their official website to create content in the forums (new topics or even comments), they must take a multiple-choice quiz until they pass. Every time the user fails the quiz they are directed to a series of documents (the one I am critiquing being one of them) from which the questions where drawn. Even after this process of testing, the content in the forums is heavily moderated. So I will begin my critique on this point of authoritarianism; conveniently, a noteworthy aspect of the preface to this document.

 

“The Zeitgeist Movement is the activist arm of The Venus Project, which constitutes the life long work of industrial designer and social engineer, Jacque Fresco.” – The Zeitgeist Movement: Observations and Responses; Activist Orientation Guide

In the first line of the Preface to what could be called “The Zeitgeist Movement Manifesto”, it is already made perfectly clear that this movement takes a hierarchical form. Like Freud, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or Chairman Bob; Jacque Fesco is the severed head of an intelligentsia, delivering his wisdom unto a subordinated class of political agents. Just as the others, he shapes the discourse of the movement: what are the problems, what are the movement’s values, and what is to be done. In order for us to transform our society (for our own good), the Preface says that we must first “understand who we are, where we are, what we have, what we want, and how we are going to obtain our goals”. Assuming that we don’t understand any of this, we can rest assured that the Manifesto will tell us. How are we to know that we aren’t being manipulated? Because “simply put, what The Venus Project represents and what The Zeitgeist Movement hence condones, could be summarized as: ‘The Application of The Scientific Method for social concern.’ Did B.F. Skinner write these lines? Or, was it Engles? Or …was it the fascist wing of the Futurist Movement?

The Activist Orientation Guide is broken into 5 parts. The first 4 parts contain two chapters each and the 5th part contains a concluding chapter. Each chapter is further broken down into subsections to neatly orientate the prospective activist.

Part 1: Monetary Economics

Part 2: What is Relevant?

Part 3: A Resource-Based Economy

Part 4: Overcoming Mythology

Part 5: Taking Action

…you know: I was going to finish writing this… but I think the following half debate in response to my last TZM/TVP related post is sufficient….

“-” prior to the quoted text indicates that this is not my writing but the portion of argument that I am responding to beneath.

I am currently in the process of writing a more detailed and coherent analysis of TZM – but I will just respond point-for-point right now since that work isn’t completed.

– “In effort to reply, need to sum up. Your anger seems to have led you off any focused point that supports this articles title… :O”

I think the title is about as unfocused and angry as the post – tbh, I don’t like this writing of mine to much myself ;P

– “To try to sum up, you’re against TZM & TVP because a relatively small number in the group of over 500K mis-associate anarcho-capitalism with anarchy? Or that they don’t fit into your narrow view of what a movement should accomplish? Something like that? Found it hard to tell from the article (might just be me).”

No – this is incorrect. One of my major concerns with TZM and TVP is that the organizational structure is authoritarian. This conflicts with some of my fundamental principals that also happen to be some of the principals of anarchism.

“The Zeitgeist Movement is the activist arm of The Venus Project, which constitutes the life long work of industrial designer and social engineer, Jacque Fresco.” – The Zeitgeist Movement: Observations and Responses; Activist Orientation Guide

In the first line of the Preface to what could be called “The Zeitgeist Movement Manifesto”, it is already made perfectly clear that this movement takes a hierarchical form. Like Freud, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or Chairman Bob; Jacque Fesco is the severed head of an intelligentsia, delivering his wisdom unto a subordinated class of political agents. Just as the others, he shapes the discourse of the movement: what are the problems, what are the movement’s values, and what is to be done. In order for us to transform our society (for our own good), the Preface says that we must first “understand who we are, where we are, what we have, what we want, and how we are going to obtain our goals”. Assuming that we don’t understand any of this, we can rest assured that the Manifesto will tell us. How are we to know that we aren’t being manipulated? Because “simply put, what The Venus Project represents and what The Zeitgeist Movement hence condones, could be summarized as: ‘The Application of The Scientific Method for social concern.’ Did B.F. Skinner write these lines? Or, was it Engles? Or …was it the fascist wing of the Futurist Movement?

– “Then you go on to suppose things that are not true, easily provable as such, make vague suggestion to connections where there are none, and make numerous calls to tired-old anarchy verbiage, without providing any supporting evidence. Hard to reply to your argument, when you don’t support it with facts. Not an insult, just a statement.”
Anyway, for the points you do succeed in making, let’s address them one by one:”

Fair Enough

– “[quote]“The Z-Movement folk seem to be terribly soft on radical issues of the State (war opposition is chump change),”[/quote]
Examples? Any number of definitions are possible here. State your terms if you want a learned reply.”

There is a long history of what could be broadly thought of as socialist, anti-authoritarian, or anti-capitalist debate and one of the major areas of disagreement in that history is on the question of the State. Considering that TZM analysis concerns itself with very similar economic issues, one would think there would also be a strong position taken on how TZM is to interact with, align itself towards, or otherwise position itself in relationship to the State (in this case, the capitalist state: the governmental apparatus or superstructure that consists of, among other institutions, the Judicial System, Compulsory Education, Police, the Military, the various electoral systems, Political Parties, Welfare, etc.). The debate over this relationship towards the State is fundamental to the divisions between Marxist-Leninists/Stalinists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, various forms of liberal parties, etc. For example, revolutionaries of the traditional Left (Communists, Anarchists, etc.) were divided on the issue of whether State power ought to be usurped and used to transform society “from above”, or abolished along with capitalism through a popular revolution “from below”. The debates between Marx and Engles, Proudhon, Bakunin, and such clearly illustrate this point. On the other hand, the Left also has a tradition of reformist (or, non-revolutionary) ideologies. Reformists on the Left (liberals, in other words) suppose that a desirable socialism can be achieved through elections. So where does TZM align itself on this question? Well, clearly they are in favor of a radical transformation of political and economic life. But, is this to be done through out-designing the ruling class, through education, through a general strike and expropriation of the means to production, etc.? Perhaps I have not looked in the proper places, but I haven’t seen anything to convince me that TVP/TZM has taken these issues very seriously. Is TZM going to form a political party and attempt to realize the ideals of TVP through political power? Is TZM going to agitate for research and development to go in the directions they idealize and hope that the technologies and such they agitate for will be realized through the market or State funding (through the University, corporate subsidies, etc.)? Is TZM an advocate of the literal abolition of private property (expropriating technology and other forms of wealth from the small percentage of the population who currently owns it and uses it for the accumulation of more wealth, to fund their political agenda, etc.)? Is TZM going to organize a militia and instead of a direct expropriation of wealth from the ruling class via factory take-overs and such, overthrow the ruling parties and install some bureaucracy to oversee the development of circular cities and other such VP designs? Basically, what is the position towards the State? Is it liberal, authoritarian, anti-authoritarian, etc.? The answer is crucial because if TZM criticizes capitalist economics and yet does not have any strategy what-so-ever for doing anything but taking advantage of private production and investment in the means of production to gear the material conditions of society towards its own visions, there are some serious questions to be raised about whether this would produce a ‘nicer capitalism’ or really lead to a radical change in the material conditions and social relations of society.

– “[quote]“on issues of social change (direct action, protest, organizational structure, and other basic points of contention amongst revolutionaries),”[/quote] & [quote]“I’ve never seen any presentation of Z-Movement anything at major demonstrations against the same institutions they claim to be against.”[/quote]
Think you might do well to better understand basic TZM & TVP’s priorities. To help, we’re not about protests or using the system to usurp the system, we’re not about hierarchical structures of relatively charming people, and we’re not about revolution for the sake of revolution (though the ideas could be called that). Your claims otherwise indicate to me that you haven’t really done your research (again, not an insult, just an observation). This is basic RBE 101 stuff really.”

Ok, so what’s the plan? Whatever TZM/TVP’s priorities are (as far as technological, social, and economic ideals are), what does the movement do or plan to do? I’ve been on the mailing list for a few years now and for the most part, I only receive e-mails about new lectures and such from TVP elite. Obviously TZM isn’t about protests, electoral politics, or a traditional revolutionary strategy …but what really separates TZM from, say Ted.com or some other cultural project of so called education, to inform me that the means of production (technology) are improving and can solve many of the problems in main stream discourse? I don’t see much of a difference. What this amounts to, in my opinion, is exactly using the system to usurp the system. It is relying on activist campaigns to educate people who then may …what, vote for different politicians, spend their money differently, etc.? On the other hand, if the concept is for TZM to be offering up possibilities for some post-capitalist/revolutionary society …why are the people who are producing the most effective propaganda alienating themselves from the revolutionary left? This is a contradiction, in my opinion. And, the emphasis on distancing themselves from the Left (revolutionary or not) in their videos, in the FAQ, etc. leaves me to conclude this is a strategic political move.

“[quote]“and when pushed on how their technological solutions would not be a technocratic solution (or some sort of global, centralized, computerized system for administrating the distribution of goods and organizing production) they seem to become even more vague by the word.”[/quote]
Do you fear hammers because they might be used to kill instead of build? The global cybernetic system is a tool to maximize efficiency in goods & production, so that’s what it does. It’s not some scary hollywood-style “terminator”, that’s going to take over or be imposed on people. That’s kid’s stuff. It’s true, such a system could be usurped if focused attention is not made, but it would be painfully obvious if it gets that far. You fail to recognize or acknowledge the simple absence of “gain” in any such attempt to usurp, probably based on some misunderstandings about human behavior.”

What are you talking about here? Of course I do not fear hammers or other technologies. A technocratic system isn’t simply a system that relies on high-level technologies. It is a system where power is accumulated into the hands of those who design technologies: in other words, people like Jacque Fresco. The concern isn’t a strange one since Jacque Fresco was a technocrat for a period of time. I’m not so sure how he has moved on. It isn’t a problem of human behavior, either. It is a problem of knowledge production (or, Knowledge-Power as Foucault would refer to it) and the nature of Design. While science informs (technological) design and technology increases the capacities for scientific investigation, there is a significant difference. Design requires planning, basically. It requires the decisions of someone (or in the case of a highly advanced cybernetic system, something). These decisions are not objective… they are heavily dependent on preferences and values. So the answer to this problem is allowing everyone to participate in this part of the design process, right? Am I wrong or isn’t that the ideal of TVP/TZM? Individuals and collectives somehow input their preferences and values into the cybernetic system and the system takes care of the rest through automation? Ok, well that isn’t technocratic but in GETTING THERE …where is power? Well, if you look at TZM itself, most of the power is in the hands of TVP: a technocratic elite. Will TVP or whoever the privileged elite are that design technology until that point of full automation be willing to give up that power? Will “the state whither away” so to speak? Or, will it be a new Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism with a TZM member in every factory, making sure that the work gets done to produce TVP’s society …death to those who revolt?

“What amazes me most about your obvious fear here, and this is a personal point, is your reaction. When you see potential deficiencies in a system that aligns itself in many ways with your own philosophy, rather than work to shore up against the deficiency & contribute, you instead rail against it.”

This shouldn’t amaze you. It was Lenin who used anarchist slogans (“all power to the free soviets”) and then murdered anarchists who tried to protect the free soviets. Anarchists were cautious about Communists but over and over again, when they allied with Communists (who shared many values and ideas with anarchists), they were used for the insurrection and killed in the terror. This is revolutionary history. In many ways, anarchists and people of TZM share similar values… sure. But those values aren’t all that rare, nor are they a good reason for alliance. If TVP is already producing propaganda against anarchists and misrepresenting them in a similar way that Marx and Engles (and Lenin and others) did, why shouldn’t I be suspicious? Further, the argument can be pointed back towards TVP/TZM – based on historical significance alone, why isn’t TVP/TZM making serious efforts to study revolutionary history and contemporary radical theory, bring up real issues with them in debate, and such? At least I’ll dignify TVP/TZM with a proper argument, even if it is a poorly informed one. Where in the world is TVP/TZM dignifying contemporary revolutionaries by taking them seriously and meeting with them in the streets, the squats, the infoshops, and all the rest to discuss commonalities and differences? I suspect practically nowhere (though it claims to be a global movement, as anarchism already is and always has been). No, instead I ought to notice the spectacular media TVP/TZM produces and then read the literature, pass a test to post in the forums, and such as though they are some established, elite, beacon of truth that has come down to save all of us revolutionaries from our ignorance?

– “Your behaviour in this is purely cultural, and I sincerely hope you get to grow to the point where you realize that helping each other is the only effective path to social change. Maybe teamwork lessons were not taught in your school? Every man for himself is better somehow? Sorry, natural & scientific data is against this thinking.”

I’m not sure what your argument is here but there is a very big difference between mutual aid in social struggle (or social change) and the criticism of ideas and organizational structures. I’m not sure what your assumptions are about my educational background, my understanding of human psychology, or my understanding of contemporary research but it doesn’t fit with the statement you are making above.

– “Maybe it’s just that you don’t tend to relate to people, have since learned to dislike people, and never really learned to work as a team, and so identify yourself strongly with your interpretation of anarchy? I don’t know
Modern expressions of anarchy, sort of reminds me of that Bill Hick’s bit about “the people who hate people party” haha:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvM-WQP7SOw

Elaborate please. I’d like to know how you come to the conclusion that whatever behavior you are referring to is an expression of anarchist theory or practice …and not modernism. This is a fallacy of false cause, imo. Please tell me how the organizations that anarchists create together are somehow outside your concept of so called team work.

– “Otherwise, hmm… ok you’re kind-of angry, we get it. You identify yourself as anarchist, ok, we get it.”

next.

“Now what? What solutions do you have?
To say, the world’s social-economic problems will not be resolved by anger, use of expletives, or “do whatever you want” philosophies that have failed to catch on for centuries.”

Two of these questions are entirely relative to the audience that one is intending to write for. Anger and the use of expletives does appeal to some people and socio-economic problems are often approached by people who are angry about them and use expletives. Your comment is a reduction to absurdity regardless. The use of expletives and angry sentiments are not presented as solutions to socio-economic problems. As far as the use of anger and expletives in a rambling criticism of TZM and TVP – I think it is appropriate. The voice, structure, and content of the post is explicitly concerned with why TZM/TVP angers me, personally and I am not going to falsify the reality of my anger by editing out expletives. The third question is a straw man and I’m not going to dignify it with a response.

“I agree we’ll eventually shift to society with less government, and indeed even identified myself as anarchist at one time, (though would never bandy it about as something fashionable as this blog seems to do), then I grew up.”

You’re still growing up (hopefully) and arguing that anarchist identity is a matter of maturity is basically worthless. I’d suggest to you one of contemporary psychology’s favorite authors, Abraham Maslow (developmental psychologist – sort of has a lot of clout on the issues of maturity, growth, and total human development). He has some rather contrary things to say about this issue in his work “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature”. To put it simply, he argues exactly the opposite: that anarchist values and principals (among other things) are about as mature as he could imagine. This is the guy who invented the hierarchy of human needs – yeah, pro-anarchist. As far as the predominance of anarchist-related material on this blog… if you didn’t notice, this blog is part of a much larger website: http://www.AnarchyPlanet.org

I don’t know if it is just me, but I’d feel somewhat foolish writing blogs that are part of an anarchist project without a predominance of anarchist-related verbiage, aesthetic, and such.

– “Without a non-exploitative equal-access system of production that empowers each and every person on this planet, we’ll kill each other.:

Sure, I agree with that statement enough …except any implication that we would cease to kill each other because the basic structure of our economic systems change.

– “I contend, Anarchy has failed to adequately make their case, or address any relevant social issues and that’s having had plenty of time (centuries?) to do so. What’s the excuse? Oh its the fault of the or it’s really the to blame!!!”

And you are measuring success and relevance by what yard-stick? I don’t need an excuse because I don’t accept the premise. Capitalism and the State-form have been status quo for a few centuries so this argument could be made against any competing ideology, interests, philosophy, etc. Anarchists haven’t accomplished what they want but they also haven’t set any time limit. The revolutions of the 20th century in total didn’t abolish economic class nor the State. Social struggle is a struggle.

– “I say, stop playing other people’s games (like protesting, or the blame-game), and instead take command of what affect you can have. Maybe instead of creatively labeling things on your path to destruction, you can instead “work” to make the-powers-that-be irrelevant and help solve our collective social resource issues? Start at your home?
No? Well clearly, it’s time for new ideas and new understandings (that encompass old ideas where they have failed) that embrace our current technological paradigm.”

You’re not familiar with what I advocate, so I forgive you for the assumptions above but they are really off base. A good example of a small part of what I consider to be legit anarchist work is the Seattle Solidarity Network. Some things I think would be effective in North America are: tenants associations and rent strikes, solidarity networks like SeaSol, the creation of public/social space and the defense of public/social spaces from privatization (like a local park being bought up by a corporation), etc. At the same time, I am only talking about North America. This would require a debate that I am not enthusiastic to have with you…

As far as “our” current technological paradigm goes, it more an issue of private ownership of this technology (and intellectual capital) than it is an issue of whether or not technological advancements are embraced. Again, my problem with TZM/TVP is not that they demonstrate how the means of production can not be used to their full capacity by the contemporary modes of production. I’d make the same argument myself. But, the current technological paradigm is not something so consistent. There are huge debates about intellectual property, free and open source software, net neutrality, and such. I’d feel much more comfortable arguing that of the multiple technological paradigms that exist today, it is important to emphasize that the same old problems of privatization and productive capitalism exist and will continue to exist because it is the capitalist class that mostly invests in the development of new technologies (because those new technologies benefit that class) – while me, and likely you …work to build, maintain, use, and provide content for these technologies. Communications tech is a great example of capitalist accumulation with the current mergers and the precarious nature of many call center jobs. As just one example, what does TZM/TVP have in mind for how to deal with the privatization and privileging of use of Comm Tech? Is Anonymous supported by TZM/TVP? Are the communications workers’ unions even supported by TZM/TVP? Talk about irrelevant…

– “A Resource Based Economy is one such path.

Thanks for reading this far :)

A good debate is always nice.

One Response to “Critique of The Zeitgeist Movement: Observations and Responses; Activist Orientation Guide (turned into me not giving a shit enough to finish a formal critique)”

  1. MindFocused says:

    Hello friends

    Good discussion. Very important that we have these debates as this to me is one of the most important aspects of TZM. It’s about ideas. It’s about not having just one persons view but an open discussion about what is real and what is true. Please check out the you tube video – Peter Joseph: Where Are We Going. This should clear up a lot of your questions about what TZM is all about. I’ll warn you now, it’s not short, but extreemly enlightening and interesting. So many possibilities to consider.

    Take care

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