On Advancing The Zeitgeist Movement
A large criticism of The Zeitgeist Movement is one of practicality. This is demonstrated in the general public broadly in two different ways – the first, a criticism of the movement being impossible to implement is an expression of what could be considered learned helplessness.
This expression implies that even with the knowledge that people are starving to death and are selling one another out in pointless and contrived zero-sum games, on some level they know things could be better, but to overhaul an entire system is simply too much for one person. And in a way, this attitude is entirely correct.
The second criticism of The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM) is that of 'utopianism'. Some readers will shudder to hear this same criticism as not unlike the mythical hydra; as one head is decapitated, two sprout in its place. Curiously enough, this criticism could also be considered an expression of learned helplessness. In contrast to the first criticism, in this case it is one of resignation to the fact that it is impossible to achieve great things.
This thinking is known as cognitive dissonance. Thoughts like this become very interesting under further examination. The nature of the first criticism is one which is the negative expression of desire to see the principles of TZM in practice. The second is a negative expression of the desire to change the current system. People may even oscillate between each criticism through a discussion on TZM. By the use of the term 'negative expression' here, I mean to show that this mindset is working under the pre-assumed knowledge that this system is impossible.
Curiously, each of these criticisms are diametrically opposed in such a way that one is asking for the philosophy and theory of TZM, and the other is asking about practicalities. One can easily criticize a philosophy for being impractical, and a movement for lacking in philosophical grounding if one continually changes the context being discussed.
If TZM advocated violent revolution, it would satisfy the practicalities of changing systems but it would be ethically deplorable. In the same way, a non-violent Fabian-esque movement is considered ethically acceptable, but it seems incapable of achieving anything under a system which is heavily skewed toward maintaining the status quo.
This mental state encountered in critics can be paralleled to a person suffering chronic depression. The person will most likely say that it seems impossible for them to be happy (utopianism), and that it will be too hard to achieve the goals required to lift oneself out of their current circumstances (impossible practicalities). By no coincidence, depression co-occurs with a state of alienation, disenfranchisement and powerlessness, or a lack of agency. Even if a person is sympathetic to the ideals of TZM, their cynicism perverts the hopefulness and opportunity to ever-increasing despondence and powerlessness.
In a broad sense, there currently exist three problems which serve to frustrate TZM:
- That the people who would be advocates of the system are paradoxically disenfranchised by it
- That there exists a paradox of which it is impossible to provide adequate response to both major criticisms of TZM
- That the current system by its design is heavily biased toward maintaining itself both actively and passively
Upon closer inspection, these problems may be leveraged to strengthen the movement. This informs my proposal to not only create a robust global TZM movement but to make it a part of natural growth from the current system.
For the problem of the paradoxically disenfranchised, it is important that there exists a large enough group of centralized, organised and active TZM advocates. Proselytism for the cause often achieves little more than to raise awareness in the public, and often serves to strengthen resistance to it – this can be seen in the history of many social movements, most notably second-wave feminism.
While it is important to have a strong base of members and people sympathetic to the TZM cause, this will occur naturally if the right steps are taken. However, taking the wrong approach could prove catastrophic. To take the cues from religious indoctrination for building a 'flock' – that of degradation ceremonies coupled with a rebuilding of adherents' psyches based on a system of guilt, internalized self-surveillance, and cognitive dissonance supplemented by socially enforced compliance and normalcy is in clear violation of the rights of the individual as well as enforcing uncritical thinking and making the individual susceptible to further imprinting by stronger ideological groups. The effects of this behavior can be observed in those who radically and spontaneously shift from belief in one ideology to its opposing ideology. It scarcely deserves to be mentioned, but the fact is that this indoctrination is utterly ethically unacceptable.
In light of this, I propose that using the sole strategy of awareness raising and 'converting' people is essentially futile in the attempt to build a sustainable, well-founded movement.
For the problem of the paradox of practicalities vs philosophy, this is simply a matter of having proof of concept. This is seemingly impossible to achieve without a global movement, and to this I would recommend that the following steps be taken in order to demonstrate the viability of TZM.
Initially, a small communal land could be acquired by a group of interested parties. This would require incorporation and the creation of bylaws to ensure that the values of the movement are maintained and that the room for exploitation and subversion of the philosophy of TZM is reduced.
Ideally, this land would be enough to provide sufficient basic resources to sustain itself. This must include food production, renewable energy and housing as a core. The production of surplus resources, or 'consumer' style goods would be beneficial, but as this would occur over time given appropriate guidance and a clear direction, it is not to be considered necessary in a nascent state of development.
Many environmental and communal living organisations can serve to provide insight and knowledge of the ways in which to establish a commune. It would be well advised to seek support from local communes who have ideological similarities, both due to the fact that solidarity and support would prove to be mutually beneficial and that people living in communes for environmental and social reasons would be most likely to identify and support TZM.
The land should begin from a position of achieving all practicable goals in line with the values of TZM, however, as the system it will develop under is totalitarian by its nature, it will require some acquiescence and compromise. This should not serve as discouragement, rather as a raison d'être for the cause, as it will be an exercise in demonstrating the enforced conformity of the current systems even whilst actively resisting them.
As the current system demands the use of money almost absolutely, it would be necessary for people living in this commune to continue to earn income to pay for goods which cannot be bartered for or produced independently. This is also important as TZM may well be cast as an isolationist group with the commune being used as contributing evidence.
It must be remembered that this is the first step in a transitional stage toward the realization of the goals of TZM, and therefore any criticism of the establishment of the commune should be recognized as idealistic and unfounded, and more importantly, any criticism leveled at the community should be used as demonstration of the flaws in the current system and the culture it fosters.
Ideally, the first established commune should serve as a prototype. People within the commune should work toward the creation and sharing of knowledge, skills, planning and vision for further creation of communes and for the inclusion of the greater community. This would work best if the original commune with its inhabitants served as a cultural nexus, and as it is deemed fit, nodes could be created from this nexus to increase the number of communes. The nexus should on all levels (cultural, societal, communal, attitudinal, physical etc.) be considered in the terms of a meme, a self-replicating system which adapts to suit its environments and conditions. By establishing nodes from a centralized nexus, there would exist strong binding connectedness between all parts that will be vitally important in all efforts.
It should be remembered that all recommendations are for the transitional phase in order to achieve the goals of TZM, and that they are in no way goals in and of themselves.
As for the problem of the current system being skewed, it should be observed that two expanding societal trends will converge to provide a suitable landscape for the establishment of this transitional expression of TZM.
The first social trend is that of the concentration of wealth. Within this trend is embodied the increasing enslavement of the majority of people, along with the abject dependence on the current system for support which will be continually reduced as the end-game of capitalist value extraction draws closer. No greater requirement for abundance, self-sufficiency, stability and sustainability would there be than in these places. Indeed, even today in certain countries in Africa, as well as some regional Aboriginal Australian communities, the requirement for these necessities coupled with the negative effects of being the most marginalized, alienated and exploited populations is clearly demonstrated, and it is not difficult to imagine the vast benefits of TZM more than for these people.
Those who find themselves in such situations serve as an ideal population base with which to grow TZM as they will be the most eager to achieve self-sufficiency and equity. With a local TZM node-commune providing a viable and demonstrable alternative to the current system, it is natural that these people would be naturally drawn to the benefits of a different system. The inclusion and empowerment of these people to join, and perhaps to establish their own commune, will occur organically within the culture of the commune.
Once this has occurred, it would be a matter of continuing the spread of, and mutual support within, TZM until a point of critical mass has occurred. This may take place serially in a wave across countries, much like the current Arab Spring movement, or it may first take place gradually in one country as it slowly becomes aware of the importance of a new system.
At this point it will become important to achieve three goals:
- The closest adherence to non-violent principles as practicable
- The preventing of the movement from falling into a totalitarian state or reverting to the previous system
- The protection of the TZM society from the various types of cultural violence to which it will be subjected to, particularly once it has established itself as a state or competitive ideology
For the first problem, most revolutions occur with violence and bloodshed. This is to be avoided by establishing a strong culture of non-violent resistance (NVR). There exist sufficient resources to foster a strong culture of not only non-violence, but of non-violent resistance (particularly those of Gene Sharp), which will become crucial as TZM gains the attention of the state and its doctrine of enforced compliance.
With a strong leadership advocating and demonstrating NVR, it should not come to pass that a violent reactionary schismatic element emerges within the movement. Self defense may be required for preservation of TZM; however, the implications and the long-term impacts should be considered before resorting to violence in any form.
As for the problem of preventing the movement from falling to totalitarianism or reverting to its previous system, it is necessary that the leadership within TZM and the greater communities closely study the failed and subverted revolutions of the past, of which there are many examples. It will be evident that the formation of super-structures (and sub-structures in the case of ressentiment and religion) within the system serve to undermine it. This is beyond the scope of this article and it will become necessary that this issue is addressed in a clear way so as to be accessible to all members of the movement to ensure that they are inured to cultural subversion.
Finally, there is the problem of a society based on TZM ideals being subjected to various types of cultural violence. This will also require further investigations into previous and current modes of violence directed toward anti-imperialist establishments in history. The colonization of The New World, the imperialist campaigns of the US against South America and The Cold War would serve as crucial precedents, while almost any war, and religious or ideological suppression techniques, would provide further knowledge of tactics employed and means to address them.
One of the strongest factors that serve to insulate against the propaganda, subversion, economic or resource warfare, and the rallying of people against an established movement is to have strong ties to the communities which exist under the belligerent states. Isolationism should be entirely avoided. As Shaw once said “Cruelty must be whitewashed by a moral excuse, and pretense of reluctance,” through close partnership and connection to potentially hostile states and peoples, it becomes virtually impossible to be demonized or vilified. A third work is necessary to fully explore the issues of cultural violence to sufficient depth.
To conclude this piece, regardless of the multifarious obstacles TZM will face as it grows, within it lies the capacity to transform the world from a culture of mindless development, exploitation, scarcity, alienation, dis-empowerment and systemic destruction, into a culture of responsibility, sustainability, abundance, connectedness, empowerment and equity.
The sooner this path is adopted, the more hopeful the outlook for the future of our world will be. It is time.
This has been written in the hope to generate further discussion on the vision and direction for TZM. This was not written to be the ultimate guide for change, rather a set of points for advice and debate.