To review Interreflections we need to understand Peter Joseph. He is a filmmaker but also the creator of the zeitgeist movement. For better or worse, Peter has played a major influence on the way I look at society. In hindsight, Peter clearly followed the spirit of the times from being an early adopter of the most popular conspiracy theories to being an early critic of the current capitalistic economic system. I hope this article provides some necessary context for people that dive into the Peter Joseph rabbit hole.
Zeitgeist: The Movie
Once upon a time, shortly after 911, the world was intrigued by a documentary, created as an art piece, called Zeitgeist: The movie. The film starts with an interesting chapter on how all religions are based on astrology and astronomy, build upon the work of Acharya S. For example, the resurrection of Jesus of three days was linked with the sun being still for three days before the sun rises again and the days get longer
However, Zeitgeist: the movie will be known in history for being at the start of the movement of conspiratorial thinking on the internet. From the collapse of WT7, molten steel on-site, and eyewitness accounts of explosions linked to historical conspiracies it makes an attractive case of 9/11 being a government-orchestrated event. Fortunately, this explanation is not correct and it fails the Occam’s razor test of an overly complicated and unlikely explanation while it can be explained. In today’s time, most claims in the movie have been explained and debunked.
Peter Joseph, the creator of the Zeitgeist movie series and Interreflections does not like to talk about 9/11 anymore but from his posts, you can see he clearly still thinks it is a government conspiracy. Furthermore, he believed there was a cure for cancer that is actively opposed by government agencies (I believe a documentary was created by his brother). Again failing the Occam’s razor test as it is much more likely that Burzynski did not found a cure for cancer, which would not be that difficult to prove scientifically.
He moved on to better topics but it is good to remember his history as there is quite a movement against Peter Joseph and the Zeitgeist: the movie. From religious people and also anti-conspiracy groups. All in all this first film resulted in Peter being an easy target, easy to label as a lunatic, and his history is likely the source of many negative reviews on his latest movie.
In Peter Joseph’s second movie, he focused on economics. He discusses real issues of today’s society like the practice of planned obsolescence because of the market need for cyclical consumption. Furthermore, this movie was one of the first to clearly explain how our money is created from debt and some of the implications this has for society.
His preferred solution is to create a new economic system with no markets based on sustainability using the latest technologies and scientific insights. He got the solution from Jacque Fresco the creator of The Venus Project. And after publishing Addendum he created the activist group The Zeitgeist Movement to promote The Venus Project. Eventually, Peter and Jacque divorced. Now Peter mostly uses Buckminster Fuller as a reference for a better society.
Zeitgeist: Moving Forward
In his third movie, the most interesting film. The role of genes and the environment are discussed and how they are related to addiction. It argues that consumerism is an addiction and that our economic and political systems are maximized for economic growth (GDP) and not real human needs. Technological unemployment because of automation is also mentioned.
Initially, the goal of Peter for this movie seemed to be to make an entertaining movie that everybody can watch and communicate the ideas from the Zeitgeist work on an emotional instead of an intellectual level.
I think Peter did not succeed in this goal because this is not a movie for everyone. Most of the dialog is written as it would be spoken by Peter Joseph and most of the scenes are discussions between two actors over fairly complicated topics like the Malthusian Trap.
For example, here is part of a random dialog from a scientist in the future looking back at today’s time:
“You can’t have ecological balance in a system that requires constant consumer activity to work. It’s one thing to consume based on need it is another to consume because the system demands it. And the market system of economics needed constant turnover of goods to keep and create jobs. Providing workers, which of course we’re also consumers, with income. To spend back into the system endlessly repeating the cycle of cyclical consumption.”
The movie has some great cinematic scenes like the intro shot of a family vanished by a nuclear bomb, hiding under a desk from a school shooter, and the struggle of working in an office. The plot is entertaining and it is great that it pictures a scenario of how we can transition peacefully to new economic systems.
Unfortunately, the end of the movie is pretty weak in where the journalist from the old society that visits the new city, based upon a resourced based economy, is convinced almost immediately to join the new city. Everybody that watches this will feel like this new city is a utopia.
The best introduction to the topics is his book: The New Human Rights Movement. If you want to continue in the Peter Joseph rabbit hole, he made a comical series called culture in decline and there are hours and hours of lectures and radio shows online. He also has a new podcast series called Revolution Now.
I agree with most of the critique of the current system but I believe the solution of a resourced based economy is not the solution and has some real dangers. It is possible to work within the system to address the shortcomings of a market economy for the benefit of people.
- Adopt a policy like a universal basic income (UBI) to address inequality, the effects of automation, and employer coercion (which is referenced more and more by Peter but he still supported Bernie Sanders over Andrew Yang in the primary!)
- Start to use human metrics based on real human values instead of GDP in politics. There are no theoretical limitations why we can not do this in a democratic capitalistic society.
- Subsidize good technologies and penalizing wasteful technologies. With a UBI there will be opportunities to subsidize automation which do not exist today.
I believe there are some fallacies with the line of thinking of being able to create a new economy on the drawing board. First, it is impossible to solve everything scientifically and technologically. There is only so much science you can do and technology you can create and it all requires loads of work so choices have to be made. There is a real scarcity of engineers and scientists that can not be solved by changing the economic system.
Humans will always create hierarchies, with our without markets. The question of how competent people reach the top of these hierarchies is not answered by a resourced based economy. An artificial intelligence sustainability filter is not the answer. Even the most popular Open Source project Linux would not function without clear hierarchies and maintainer roles and responsibilities and it seems to be no different from other cooperative projects like Wikipedia. Being at the top of a hierarchy will always give you more opportunities and status than being at the bottom, even if there is no market incentive.
Similarly, we have evolved and much of our interactions can be explained by evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS). It is naive to think we can all become doves and align our value systems by using education and reason. The systems we use have to account for bad actors and there should be incentives for everyone to do good.
Furthermore, I do not share the contempt for billionaires like Elon Musk and Bill Gates. I do believe Elon by seeing his actions when he says he is motivated to make humans an interplanetary species and I am glad he has obtained some resources to work on this goal. Similarly, the work Bill did for the Gates foundation is real and the world is a better place for it.
A better approach to reach the masses is the approach of Andrew Yang which has changed the mainstream view of a UBI. The capitalist system is clearly in a local maxima. It is productive to look at problems and solutions from a structuralism view (systems thinking) but it is not productive to propose one size fits all solutions.
I do recommend you to watch Interreflections and follow Peter Joseph. Besides the shortcomings, it is still one of the most out-of-the-box and interesting thinkers of our time. I would love to see his ideas discussed more mainly by critical alternative thinkers like Sam Harris, Lex Fridman, Joe Rogan, Eric Weinstein, and when he is back Jordan Peterson. Unfortunately, it seems Peter is comfortable in his bubble but it is most useful and entertaining when the ideas are debated and refined.