Why the Zeitgeist movement is doomed to fail (for now at least)

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I have been watching several debates between Peter Joseph and other political ideologues such as Stefan Molyneux and Alex Jones, and I’ve come to the conclusion that although technically, Peter is correct in his conclusions, his argumentation style does a great disservice to his overall project.

Solely examining statistical or even scientific facts and figures, especially those that concern human behaviour, as a means to justify your political project is methodologically untenable.

The observed conclusions about human behaviour cannot be dissociated from the social conditioning and other forms of determinism caused by the present environment. For these studies to hold true, you would need to simultaneously create several parallel universes where a certain number of individuals perfectly identical in every sense to one another were raised from birth and conditioned to behave according to principles in accordance with a pre-determined ideology (free market capitalism, socialism, communism, anarchy, anarcho-capitalism, resource based management…) and check whether, according to some more or less neutral indicators, you could rank them in order of suitability (for instance, life expectancy, crime rates, reported stress levels, consumption of certain types of drugs, relationship stability, technological advancement and innovation,…) So in essence, there is no way to “prove” or “disprove” that in a parallel universe where there is no State, anarchy would not function. Peter’s argument against this is that the ideology itself (free market anarcho capitalism) carries a social conditioning which would inevitably lead to a predetermined result (ultimately, a private monopoly of a select few elites which oppress all other humans via wage slavery). However, this claim is not scientific since it has not been tested in the conditions set above. It has only been tested with humans more or less socially conditioned in a controlled environment (like simulating a game of monopoly and how children or adults behave in such a game).

Another issue with trying to reconcile empiricism with ideology and political projects is the clash it creates inside the human mind between rationality and imagination/creativity. The contradictions between the two can be illustrated by the following. What makes us enjoy reading science fiction: the realism of the story or the pleasure of imagining a new world where everything is possible, assuming that some basic underlying technology is available? I’m pretty sure that any science fiction book which would first include a 200 page preamble explaining scientifically how the technologies are possible or realistic would make a total flop, except maybe for a small minority of Uber-Nerds.

Take some of the most popular political philosophers and economists such as Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes or Nicolo Machiavelli. If you asked any average person what they remember from their ideas it would most probably be: the invisible hand, the Leviathan and the Prince, all of which rely heavily on story telling techniques, appealing to the imagination of the human mind rather than pure reason. Who cared, really, whether they were scientifically and empirically correct? They persuaded humans to act as if they were, which produced it’s own effects, for better or for worse, and more or less in conformity with their original intent. I wrote an essay which explores this further, “Theory creates facts”, which I would encourage you to read.

In this light, Anarcho capitalism isn’t thinking in a little box, it’s precisely thinking outside of the little narrow box that represents our reality! Who wouldn’t dream of a world where no one would ever suffer from aggression, where everyone could fully benefit from the fruits of his/her work, where no one would ever steal from each other anymore…

Or conversely, who wouldn’t dream of a world where there would be no rich or poor, simply people who collectively join forces to produce whatever people need, embracing the entire humanity as one family and sharing everything around a giant metaphorical round table spanning across the entire Planet?

Being grounded in empiricism shuts down people’s imaginations, aspirations and dreams and activates their scientific mind, scrutinizing every statistic, every conclusion, every study for an ounce of falsehood or vagueness. Everyone knows that studies have their limitations, that things are not black or white, good or bad. And suddenly the world Zeitgeist promotes is bleak, imperfect, either crumbling under the strain of puzzling together the heap of empirically gathered evidence, impossible to assimilate and grasp, or shaking via the inevitable generalizations and simplifications stemming from inconclusive conclusions of the studies amassed.

Peter Joseph often claims that he “lives in the real world”. Perhaps he is a bit too real. Every major idea and ideology was sold through a well concocted dream: the glamour and riches of Capitalism, freedom from Kings for Democracy, freedom from the State for Anarchy, freedom from poverty and exploitation for Communism… And it is when these dreams fail to inspire that systems shake. The Soviet Union polluted the idea and dream of Communism for the foreseeable future and Democracy is starting to follow a similar fate. In the discussions around the dinner table, millions of families all around the world speak of it in cynical terms “yeah sure, Democracy, the politicians are all a bunch of corrupted pricks, why bother voting…”

The “real world” is that it is the dream that will inspire the majority of people, what they will remember and fight for, while a handful of select elites or intellectuals figure out the nitty gritty details, away from the public’s eye, either betraying the dream at the outset or working hard to iron out the inevitable imperfections which will always manifest in any human society. This has nearly always been the case. While the Soviet political elite was issuing its dictatorial orders and decrees, people were dreaming of equality and solidarity. While the “bourgeois” were decapitating aristocrats and busy setting up a fake democracy, people were dreaming of freedom and self-determination.

Note: a real democracy, as Aristotle pointed out, would be based on sortition to ensure that government representatives would be representative of the class structure in society. Check how many of your elected representatives are from a poor socio-economic background: the answer is virtually none. Most of them grew up in rich families which cultivated their elitist mentality and their disgust towards the “idiotic masses”.

A word of friendly advice to Peter and the Zeitgeist movement: spend more time making your project appealing, building the simple, honest and candid dream that will inspire people to follow you beyond reason alone. Identify the core assumptions underlying your project which people can identify with and easily accept regardless of whether those assumptions are likely to manifest every time in reality (an equivalent to the infamous “non aggression principle”, which of course, is impossible to enforce in practice without a central authority). In essence, sell your project like any other popular ideology sells itself: depict an ideal world based on some core assumptions and principles and discuss whether the utopian life that you imagine people would experience in such a world would be more or less appealing than the ideal world of a competing ideology. It is only after people have been convinced by the dream that they will start assessing it’s likelihood based on facts.

Long story short, you already have the facts, now focus on presenting the dream in such a way which will give people the motivation to delve into the facts, or rather, I would say provocatively, to start acting in accordance with your dream, creating the facts along the way which will gradually and retrospectively justify their actions.