AcademicIamA an author, a British historian, Harvard chair, keynote speaker at the annual meeting for the American Society of International Law... AMA!
Apr 13th 2017 by OUPIntLaw • 33 Questions • 2176 Points
Peter Joseph is an American-born social critic and activist who has lectured around the world on the subject of cultural sustainability. Once deemed “The Herald of Occupy Wall Street” for his tacit prediction of inevitable global uprisings against inequality and economic injustice, his extensive media work has been translated into over 130 languages and experienced by 250 million people.
FINAL NOTE (for now): I want to thank everybody for an excellent five hour exchange. Unfortunately I have to go now but I really appreciate people's questions and I hope I could be of some service. I will try to find time to also address existing questions that I could not get to over the next week or so. Thanks again!
What is your favorite historic event/topic to teach about?
Also, are you aware of the subreddit /r/askhistorians? I feel like they'd love to see you on there.
How do you feel about Elon Musk's recent efforts / sentiments? Thoughts? I feel like he's seen your work.
Not aware of that subreddit--thanks for the headsup.
I love teaching historical ideas and arguments, but also moving into new areas: from the Atlantic world to the Pacific, from politics to international relations, from literature to law ... always something new.
Musk is one of the few thoughtful billionaire technologists that has his thumb on the pulse of what is happening in the world. I find the richer folks get, the more detached from reality they become. HyperLoop and Tesla and his interest in advanced battery storage is critically important to developmental/ sustainable infrastructure. He is also in support of universal basic income knowing that the advancement of technological unemployment isn't stoppable. While I could certainly make suggestions to such a figure, he is certainly on the right path and hasn't been too distorted by his extreme wealth.
What is a typical day like for you? How do you keep abreast of your reading while continuing to teach, do your other work, and write?
I recent came across your lecture series on youtube and was blown away by the arguments and points you presented.
Aside from Buckminster Fuller, who would you recommend reading on subjects related to the destructive properties inherent to the market system as well as writing pertaining to the futuristic and automated society you present?
Also, what do you think are the specific and general failings of the movement as a whole to spread word about the movement? I know it is fairly extensive but having been interested in political and economic theory for several years it seems absurd i had only discovered your work in the last two weeks.
I hope you continue to try to change the world
A chaotic attempt to juggle life, teaching, research and other responsibilities, amid piles of books, waves of PDFs and the waterfall of social media. And I get lots of reading done on trains and planes!
Thank you for the compliment. I recommend Thorsten Veblen. He is a bit difficult but his analysis of the system holistically transcends Karl Marx by a longshot. If you want to go way back in time, a fascinating read is a work by John Etzler: “the Paradise within the reach of all men.” This was written in 1833 and of course he was dismissed as a lunatic utopian-ist. But his insight is so ahead of its time, you'll be shocked by what he writes. I also recommend Jeremy Rifkin and Jacque Fresco of course. As far as the “failings” of the movement, we are dealing with a task of absurd proportions so it's good to be kind to oneself when it comes to thinking about progress. Far as I'm concerned, the movement hasn't even started as the public still isn't smart enough yet to understand what the core factors of social stability, public health, and environmental balance really are.
Hey, what do you think about Trump and his actions so far?
Can you discuss the reasons a person like Alex Jones has exploded in credibility and audience over the past few years? His interview with you way back in the day was the reason I woke up and realized what a scam Infowars is. I was disappointed at his emotional approach to the discussion, and I felt reverence at your bemused attitude towards his childishness.
You could ask the same question as to how Donald Trump has become President of the United States? Something has happened in culture where people are so confused and angry they are gravitating towards mentalities that simply show force/bullying/"strength" and general antisocial interests. Even Bill O'Reilly has seen an explosion in ratings since he has been exposed as a sexual harasser. Sociologically, it's a sign of fear starting to take over reason across the population, with a strong gravitation towards "in-group" preservation and xenophobia and ultimately sexism. I talk about this evolution in the book as well
What are your 3 favourite films?
Boyz in the Hood
2001 Space Odyssey
The Great Dictator
Why is it that more public figures such as Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Ray Kurzweil, Elon Musk, etc. address bandaging the symptoms of this system instead of suggesting an alternative? I feel like they must've been made aware of TZM, and if they spoke about it publicly I'm sure we might see change much more quickly..
Also, Peter, I can't begin to thank you enough for what your films and the movement have given me. When I first stumbled across your first film a couple years ago it really lifted the veil on the "dark echo of feudalism" as you have called it, and I became manic and was hospitalized a few times last year. Very long story, but much drama has occurred in my life as a result of finally being told the truth and having this information finally being presented in this very clear, logical train of thought.
I want to start an automated restaurant, and possibly a vertical farm, and eventually make them free to the public. If there's any information that you could give me (it might be in your new book) I would really appreciate it.
I'm happy you brought that up. While I'm a fan of Tyson, Musk and others, these prominent figures shy away pretty quickly from any true criticism of the market system and the society it has created. Frankly, I think it's a group-based/identity fear. They simply don't want to be associated with anything “fringe” or anything that will pollute their reputations. Even folks I've interviewed that clearly are more attuned, have their University tenure & lecture circuits… and they simply can't “afford” to rock the boat. How anyone that calls themselves a scientist cannot see that the entire capitalist order is based on consumption, linking buying to jobs and hence the inevitability of resource overshoot and endless biodiversity loss and pollution, for example — stuns me. We have now the most inefficient social order known to man and yet all of our mainstream scientists just look the other way.
Beyond that, unfortunately, there are cultures of scientific identification that are not really scientific in the sense of understanding the need for vulnerability and the true nature of falsify-ability inherent to the scientific method. I always say, don't confuse the method of science with the institutions that claim to promote it. Probably the worst offender of the economic/social status quo is known as the “Skeptics society” – which ostensibly pretend to be in the interest of scientific development and authenticity– but really serve as extended mouthpieces in support of the general normative world more than anything. Group Think.
Thank you for the compliment. I hope your health is well. And I think starting an automated restaurant would be genius! Once this pattern really gets going it is all over for the service sector because cost efficiency is clearly on the side of automation.
Peter, do you think there is any hope for humanity? Your work over the years has helped me to better understand the way our world functions, and has given me hope that if we all are able to wake up then we have a chance... but given the current political climate all over the world, I'm beginning to feel hopeless.
If you care about yourself and your family and society and are empathic to the whole of human civilization, there is no point thinking about whether there is hope or not. :) Being human means you care. And if everyone thought that way, the world would change virtually overnight. As stated in my prior comment, is really an issue of people arriving at a shared value system as rapidly as possible. The more problems that arise, in combination with diligent education – such as with the Zeitgeist movement’s work –the higher the probability people will wake up and see the need.
Hi Peter, I've been a huge fan of your work ever since watching the Zeitgeist film trilogy a couple years ago, and I'm currently in the process of reading your new book which I find to be very eye-opening as well. As someone who has believed in determinism my whole life, I didn't need very much convincing in order to accept the premises that The Zeitgeist Movement is based on. However, I have a hard time explaining some of these concepts to my peers who are very attached to the notion of "free will", and believe that something like a resource based economy would be unfairly restrictve because people should be able to make market decisions that benefit them as an individual, and they believe human wants are infinite. My question is, what do you think is the best way to get across to these people?
Another question, more related to TZM itself: Has there been any recent progress on blueprints and technical details? About a year ago in a Facebook note you mentioned launching "a series of open source, interactive design platforms to start multi-tier modeling of real dynamics" regarding how the technical application of an RBE could work, and stressed the importance of doing this if we were to be taken seriously by the scientific community. As someone who is interested in the technical aspect, I've been eagerly awaiting progress on this. Thank you so much for your incredible, mind-changing work over the last few years, and for hosting this AMA! Hopefully I will see you at the next Zeitgeist Media Festival.
Thank you and I appreciate you supporting the book release. I am glad it is coming through. As far as free will, there is no easy answer as to how the best communication unfolds since it really depends on the person. I would suggest starting broadly in your argument speaking about how 99% of the time peoples' religious identification is regionally based. If people have open thought free will, then why are they so attached to the religion that was taught to them by their parents and is native to their community? The same goes for people’s language and the very words they use / ideas they learn. If they have free will, why can't they just snap their fingers and be just as proficient with every language on the planet? Likewise, you can ask them to recall things from high school that they clearly cannot anymore… if they have free will, they should have effectively every learned option imaginable planted in their mind. Do you see what I'm getting at? Another angle is talking about population level phenomenon– hence sociology – that statistically correlates certain childhood experiences to probable adult disorders or behaviors. There is no question that abuse as a child can lead to drug addiction, for example. Is people have pure free will, then why this constant statistical outcome across populations due to childhood experiences? Also ask them about behavior and how people are easily manipulated when group consensus is presented. It is been found that the nervous system reacts negatively when the brain perceives being an outcast regarding a given group consensus. Basically the brain punishes you if you have an "outgroup" perspective in many cases. The problem with the free will argument is that our consciousness is wired to assume it is singular/detached. I call this "localized thinking”. People think they are free-thinking because the brain wants them to. Baggage of our evolutionary psychology that is actually quite destructive.
As far as your Facebook noted question – I wish we had the people and money/resources/time to start certain interactive design platforms to exemplify the type of technical reorientation for a true participatory economy. The new Zeitgeist movement 501(c)(3) is working on these ideas.
Being a structuralist, with a vision of what you'd like to progress towards, what are your views on the current crop of self proclaimed 'progressives' who still support a labor based, monetary system? Are they really progressives or just modern/informed conservatives?
I'm referring to public figures rather than general Joe down the road.
Like most terms, the word “progressive” really runs a range of values and perspectives. I certainly agree with your basic sentiment as anyone who is truly interested in the advancement of society – as the core meaning of “progressive” implies – should naturally arrive at the conclusion that we have to alter the market system into something that actually favors increased social justice as opposed to the opposite. Unfortunately, this structuralism is too unromantic for most people and everyone is caught up in a group versus group mentality. In fact, that is probably one of the most prevalent sociological flaws facing humanity today – the assumption that the problem is always “with the other group”… and not a shared imposition coming from the incentives and procedural dynamics of the shared social system–distorting behaviors
First of all, thank you for being a voice of reason in a society that increasingly seems to be bent on destroying itself. Your system based approach is a breath of fresh air in a society that seems to only care about changes of leadership, rather than any fundamental changes to the system. I am about 1/3 into reading your new book, and I am really finding it inspirational in how to conceptualize the changes we need to make to the system in order to create better outcomes.
What do you think are some initial concrete steps we can take now, to start the process of changing the system? Do you think these changes will be harder or easier to implement in a Trump administration?
What do you think of Modern Monetary Theory, and the ability for us to use that theory to transition away from scarcity based economics?
Thank you for the kind comments regarding the book. It was a very challenging project in my attempt to make the ideas as simplified as possible. Your question about concrete steps are talked about in chapter 5. It is summarized as five core transition needs: access, automation, open-source, localization and digitized network feedback. (see ch 5) As far as “modern monetary theory”, assuming you're referring to the view that government as the monopoly of its currency, etc”, I really am not big on currency or money transformation – Not because I don't think it could help – but because the degree of help would be marginal when compared to how deep the market systems problems actually go.
Do you think the idea of a resource based economy is progressing at a decent enough pace that we could begin to see the first part of a transition anytime soon?
As I detail in Chapter 5 of the new book, the five major trends that I see needing to be accelerated are already happening. We are slowly moving, at least in some gesture, from (1) a society obsessed with property to one increasingly interested in access. (2) from a society based on proprietary information to one that sees how open-source is proving to be more effective (3) to a society that sees how technology is replacing jobs and creating the ultimate contradiction of capitalism, along with how the application of technology is creating vast efficiency that could solve many material social problems (4) while also recognizing that localization is more sustainable than globalization and as the "more with less" phenomenon, as described by theorists like Jeremy Rifkin or buckminster fuller, globalization will slowly be less profitable than localization; (5) and then we have the Internet of things which is effectively a means to void Ludwig von Mises "price calculation argument". The real problem is that people do not understand the synergy of these new developments and how they make the market systems logic obsolete. This is again– the educational imperative required by all of us
Any thoughts on Syria? Ope I went there... was the 'piece now" kind of a self defense tweet, any parallels?
I commented on Syria above. The US decision to bomb is perfectly in line with the prior three administrations' Middle East/Eurasia policy and Trump is proving himself to be just another tool of ongoing Middle East destabilization. Having cross referenced the research on the use of chemical weapons by Syria's leader, there is no definitive evidence he himself actually did this. The US has been wanting to destroy Syria's Government for a long time.
Hey Peter, Since most, if not all, of the things you create and produce you also give away for free, how do you make a living?
Believe it or not, even though I give most everything out for free, support still comes in through donations and through distribution networks that target people that simply do not watch things on YouTube or the like. The Z film trilogy is currently licensed on Netflix, for example. So I get some money from that along with people that still buy it on iTunes, etc. I also still do freelance work and DP/Direction work for commercial projects here and there.
Thank you for your efforts, it sparked a lot of personal development for me, in large part because of the social networks it spawned locally and online, as I'm sure it has for many others.
1) Have you read Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski, or Tyranny of Words by Stuart Chase? 2) Any books you have read lately that changed your mind significantly? Or that you think should be highlighted as worthwhile material? 3) Since 2007, how has your level of cynicism evolved?, has it increased, decreased, been stable?
Science and Sanity and Tyranny of words are two fantastic books that I certainly recommend to everyone even though the former is a bit complicated. Other books include pretty much everything by Buckminster F. and Jeremy Rifkin and even some texts that have good general data such as Abundance by Peter Diamandis…albeit in denial about the true negative ramifications of market system. I also recommend Heroes by Franco Berardo, who does a unique job thinking about the rise of Mass murderer such as the Batman or Columbine massacres - connecting them to neoliberalism. I also like the works of Alfie Kohn, regarding child education along with Gabor Mate and Robert Sapolsky as far as Neuroscience. There are many more but these are my suggestions off the top of my head.
As far as my cynicism, it has stayed the same! Just keep piping in George Carlin and Charlie Brooker and you will feel fine through catharsis ;)
Information overload. Can you give any advice on your process (from ideas to screen)? I keep finding myself overwhelmed, then de-motivated...
If you're referring to the creative process in filmmaking, it starts with research and then note extraction and then category creation and then category organization. You have to find a method to distill the ideas and create form. For documentary that is fairly straightforward. For live action films with actors you're faced, of course, with taking those ideas and turning them into dialogue in symbologies etc. I would have to know little bit more about what you were working on to give better advice. If you feel overwhelmed, then you are doing too much at once!
Long time fan of your work. Your films were very influential to me growing up so thank you.
I know you don't regard yourself as a communist, so I'm not here to belabor that point. However I was wondering if you would agree that Marx's critique of capitalism is relevant to the present day? If not, why so?
Also have you read Peter Kropotkin's Conquest of Bread?
Thanks. Yes. It is unfortunate that Marx has become a bad word, when many of his words and ideas actually are found ubiquitously throughout mainstream market based economic literature. That is how influential he was. His work should be read. But I prefer Thorsten Veblen in terms of a more accurate diagnosis specially when it comes to government and technology. And no, sorry I have not read conquest of bread but I will added to my list!
(mostly humourous) How certain are you that you're not the head of a cult? Every now and then the thought occurs to me TZM is a cult and I re-evaluate whether it is or not (gets a bit touch & go sometimes given how far away from traditional thinking it is and so many fail to understand)
If that is really occurring in your mind you might want to familiarize yourself with what a cult is in terms of an “exploitative and detrimental organization that harms its members or exploit them”. (FYI the original definition of “cult” is actually just referring to a relatively small group of impassioned people. Only later did it become a pejorative or issue of social psychology)
TZM is a group sharing common values, supporting a train of thought to help better the world. If TZM is to be a cult, then so is the ACLU, the NAACP, Greenpeace, PETA, or any other group of socially concerned people who share common interests about the way things should be.
This TZM “cult” pejorative has sadly been around for years and was put forward by people who simply disliked TZM or myself/my early films. So they slapped that label on us to deter association and be insulting. The person who perhaps really set this in motion was writer Michelle Goldberg, who clearly used that word in the same way trolls did because she disagreed with the movement’s ideas and REALLY hated my first film…and when people don't understand things (and fear thing) they are quick to label them.
It’s really sad such people do not realize the damage they create with such statements/labels as, in all cases, the issue has to do with a disagreement with the ideas of TZM, not the nature of the group itself or its methods.
TZM has a loose structure with no formal hierarchy. Chapters are virtually autonomous, as are the “members”. I put members in parenthesis for there is no real criteria for membership as there are no forms, monetary dues or the like to be part of the community. As I often say, people are in the Zeitgeist movement whether they like it or not:-)
But to humor your point more so, the executive director of the nonprofit Cult Education Institute was bombarded by anti-Zeitgeist movement trolls in 2011, trying to get him to label the movement as cult as he is an expert, often brought into legal trials when dealing with real cults. His name is Rick Alan Ross.
This is what he concluded on March 10, 2011 08:35PM
“What seems to come across is that TZM is a fringe groups that has some controversial beliefs, but that doesn't make it a "cult" by any meaningful objective definition. For a group to be considered a "cult" according to Lifton it must be destructive, not simply objectionable due to its beliefs. It's about behavior. Lifton says, "Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie" is evident. Singer states, "imagine an inverted T. The leader is alone at the top and the followers are all at the bottom". There is little if any accountability and as Singer says, "the overriding philosophy...is that the ends justify the means, a view that allows [such groups] to establish their own brand of morality, outside normal society bounds." Thus far TZM critics have been unable to specifically articulate such points as relevant to the group. Simply because you object to a group's philosophy or quirky beliefs doesn't make it a "cult," certainly not a destructive one. Perhaps TZM can be seen as a relatively benign fringe group with a "cult following," something like Trekkies or diehard Elvis fans.”
If you could go back in time ten years, what would you do differently? Would you make the Zeitgeist films and create the movement the same way?
That's an almost impossible question because the synergies of the time; the way my first film and the other films evolved was actually quite organic and difficult to understand as far as outcomes. Today, people criticize my first film saying it detracts from the movements message. I agree with that but at the time of the first film I had no intention of starting a movement of any kind. And with my rock-shock-documentary Zeitgeist, given the vast popularity it achieved, there might not have even been a chance to mobilize a large number of people towards a new social direction, regardless of their beliefs. So there is really no way for me to answer that. Again, the movement was pushed on me– I didn't really start anything ;)
When did you discover Buckminster Fuller and how did you stumble upon him? How do you conduct research in general?
I was introduced to Buckminster Fuller probably around 2002 as a good friend of mine was big into him. In fact, many don't know that when I was developing Zeitgeist Addendum, BF was going to be the focal point of the solution section. Then I learned about the Venus Project and since Fresco was still alive and seemed to embrace the same basic ideas, I sidestepped BF for that film. Fuller does make an appearance in my new film trilogy. As as far as research, I touched upon that briefly in a prior question. In short, I read lots of books and then extract notes by hand from those books. I think it's important to write things out by hand if you really want to get them in your brain as we have evolved to use our hands in such a way. Typing doesn't create the same connection. Once I have these notes I categorized them. Then I organize the categorized items in a logical way to create the form or structure. Nothing profound. But if you do this right you can distill say 200 books into a 50 page word document. Hope that helps.