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The Zeitgeist Movement: Envisioning A Sustainable Future

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"It takes a different value system if you wish to change the world," Jacque Fresco said to a sold out crowd of over 800 in New York City's Upper West Side. Though he may not need to convince these people, many his ardent followers, it will indeed take a restructuring of the mind for those unfamiliar with Fresco's work to realistically accept the ideas he proposes of a new global society that has given up money and property in favor of a shared, sustainable, technology-driven community. The caustic skepticism can already be heard, critics crying out with pointed fingers, decreeing communism, socialism, insanity! But as Fresco himself will tell you, communism is still just another system with banks and social stratification. The kind of world he imagines for the future is much different. To ease the transition, The Zeitgeist Movement provides a wealth of dizzying information detailing why a new global system is not only preferred, but necessary, and just how we can get there.

March 13th, 2010 was the second annual celebration of ZDay. Coordinated by The Zeitgeist Movement, ZDay is an educational event geared toward raising awareness of the movement. While 337 sympathetic events occurred in over 70 countries worldwide, NYC was home to the main event, a 6-hour live web cast presentation with lectures from the movement's key figures, and 30 different countries represented in the audience.

So what exactly is The Zeitgeist Movement? Not even two years old, the movement declares itself as the activist arm of The Venus Project, an organization started in the 1970s by Fresco and his partner, Roxanne Meadows. The Venus Project distributes resources promoting Fresco's vision of an improved society, with the main component being a resource-based economy, rather than a monetary-based one. In Fresco's resource-based economy, the world's resources would be considered as the equal inheritance of all the world's peoples, and would be managed as efficiently and carefully as possible through focusing on the technological potential of sustainable development. It is toward this idea that The Zeitgeist Movement works to educate and inform people.

The movement's founder, Peter Joseph, came to notoriety with his 2007 internet film sensation, Zeitgeist, and it's 2008 successor, Zeitgeist: Addendum. While many people may find it hard to digest the idea of a world without currency, Joseph's argument that our economic system is the source of our greatest social problems was supported with valuable evidence.

Describing how the margin between upper and lower classes is growing larger every day, Joseph cited that 20% of the American population controls 85% of the money. Also mentioning that the Walton family (of Wal-Mart) owns $90 billion while the lower 40% of America own $95 billion. The most startling revelations he divulged, however, were found when he graphed the amount of specific social issues in the world's richest countries against those countries' level of income inequality. The results were astounding, showing that America, a wealthy country but with a vast gap between its rich and poor, is plagued with higher homicide rates, drug use, obesity, mental illness, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, and imprisonment. On the other hand, countries with much more equal income levels, such as Japan, have better educational scores, longer life expectancies, and higher levels of trust among their populations. The strong correlation is difficult to ignore: the higher a country's income inequality, the more social problems that degrade it, regardless of its GDP.

Joseph seemed well prepared for all the naysayers. For those who argue that the free market is an open system where anyone can achieve wealth, he displayed figures showing that America is one of the most socially immobile countries in the world, meaning that those born poor are likely to stay poor, and those born rich are likely to stay rich. For the argument that the competitive nature of capitalism produces more innovation, Joseph showed statistics that the countries with higher income equality filed more patents per million people each year than the United States and similar countries of larger income gaps.

This is aside from the obvious impact on the climate that a capitalist system creates. In a monetary society, Joseph points out, obsolescence is encouraged, as the shorter lifespan a product has, the more profit it generates in the long-term. Excess waste is built into the system, which flourishes from disposability and inefficiency. In a monetary system, Joseph says, change, abundance, sustainability, and efficiency are the enemies of profit. He goes on to add, "Corporations are not in competition with other corporations but with progress itself."

The plights of today are plainly evident, but how do we solve them? Getting rid of money, ownership and even government might sound like a ludicrous fantasy, but to the over 386,000 registered members of the fast-growing Zeitgeist Movement, it is not an option, but the only chance we have at creating a peaceful society, in harmony with nature, that provides a high-standard of living for everyone. Joseph made the focus clear in his presentation: resource preservation is equal to human survival, and all the social ideologies that currently exist are inadequate because they don't address resources as a part of their fundamental principals.

Joseph emphasized that the solution begins with a remodeling of our social values, starting with education based on sustainability. The ideal society, proposed by the project, would have a worldwide automated computer system actively monitoring the levels of the world's surveyed resources and ranking them according to factors such as their potential, renewability, and pollution. This computer would intelligently make objective decisions as to the uses of these resources based on empirical fact, not biased legislation. Automated labor would be perfected on a mass scale, something frowned upon in capitalism because it is equated with job loss and unemployment. Fresco insists eliminating all mundane jobs that insult human capacity when they can instead be relegated to machines that will act more precisely and productively.

From the maximization of resources and efficiency of automated labor, Fresco imagines a world of abundance, where everything is available to everyone. As idealistic as this may sound, keep in mind that there is currently enough food to feed everyone in the world, but not enough money to pay for it. One billion people (one-sixth of the world) are starving, yet American's throw out approximately 40% of their purchased food. Fresco says that in a world where everything is supplied, the majority of today's crimes would be non-existent, as they are primarily related to obtaining money and property, or born of social inequality. The crimes that still exist would be considered symptomatic of mental aberration, and these people would be given treatment and help, not punished, as no prisons would exist. People would be rewarded with an incentive system for contributions based on social relevance.

Celebrating his 94th birthday, Fresco was lively and animated as he guided the audience through a visual presentation of his conceptual ideas and models for sustainable technology. Wowing the crowd with images that seemed of science fiction, the audience was assured that nothing was unrealistic about his designs, and if science and technology were focused on progress instead of consumption, they would all be easily realized.

The members of The Zeitgeist Movement seem to face an intimidating wall of those who decree their goals as unattainable. But with 250 international chapters forming in just one year and the membership count rapidly growing, it's undeniable that many easily identify with the message. The evidence shows that our current system is leading us on a collision course; our present model of society cannot sustain itself. While some deny this, others ignore it, and there are those who still try to profit off of it. The Zeitgeist Movement highlights that there are individuals who believe in a sustainable future where humanity is not united by religious or political ideology, but by the scientific method, venerated as the savior that can develop a system of human equality, thriving from the cooperation and balance of technology and nature.

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