I gave the following talk at Z-Day Massachusetts, 2013. Unfortunately, the camera shut off after two minutes, so the rest of the talk is transcribed after the jump.
Thank you all for coming out. In each person that’s here, I see a piece of the whole solution to our global problems. I see a new system slowly forming to affect real change, not through any political system, not through violence, not through division or protest, but through education, creativity and design. We are diagnosing the world’s problems and we are offering solutions. You are the reason the subject I am talking about today is valid, and you’ll see why.
The Zeitgeist Movement is an explicitly non-violent social movement with the core focus on educating the public about the true root sources of many common personal, social and ecological problems today. Human ingenuity has developed and continues to develop problem solving technologies that as yet go unapplied on a large sca;e due to barriers inherent in the current, established social system.
The movement’s purpose is to set in motion a train of thought that is logically self-realizing when the causal considerations of “sustainability” and “public health” are referenced from a scientific perspective.
Basically, our societal structure needs a technological, systems-theory-based update. The massive human tragedy, massive waste, massive destruction, massive poverty, pollution, and wars we are experiencing today have one root cause – an outdated societal structure based on an inherently unsustainable monetary system that rewards greed and competition and has debt pressure built into it’s very structure, in the form of interest. This system stifles innovation and ingenuity if it cannot be made into profit, and often solutions are overlooked because of a perceived notion of “that’s just not the way it works.” Structural violence and classism are built-in and we are fed the line that there is no better way of doing things.
The word zeitgeist means “spirit of the times.” The explosion in scientific information, technology and all the ways we have to share it are all a result of the current exponential growth in connections that the computer revolution has created. A member of the LA chapter gave a talk noting that the zeitgeist of our age is the information age. We have so much information at our fingertips because of the internet and technology. My talk is about what many, including myself, are choosing to do with this information, to rectify the global catastrophe we are heading towards and are in fact already immersed in.
After being involved with the movement for a while, I’ve realized what most interests me about the train of thought is that we are finally realizing, through scientific studies, that human nature is not inherently to be selfish and greedy, but that this is a learned behavior due to what the current social structure rewards and how it operates. I know most of my family and friends have a hard time buying this, because I’ve asked them point blank. The inherently selfish nature of humans is literally hammered into our psyches, by Judeo-Christianity, by society, by the media. And I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that basic assumption but I wasn’t sure why.
The Free World Charter, an initiative I’ll come back to, posted the following status update on Facebook: “Greed is just human nature? Human nature has just one function: to survive. This survival instinct drives all our behaviours. So when we are faced with scarcity, we automatically become greedy, because it is good for survival. Today, money is scarce and we need it to live, so we try and get as much as we can. It’s a perfectly natural response to a world where people who don’t have money die.” And so we must adjust our behavior to survive in a sick society.
What makes money scarce right now is the concept of interest, and the fact that the system is rigged to favor the ones who start out with more. I’ll quote from Charles Eisenstein’s book, Sacred Economics, “Because interest-bearing debt accompanies all new money, at any given time the amount of debt exceeds the amount of money in existence. The insufficiency of money drives us into competition with each other and consigns us to a constant, built-in state of scarcity. It’s like a game of musical chairs, with never enough room for anyone to be secure. Debt pressure is endemic to the system.” I strongly suggested watching Zeitgeist: Addendum if this concept is unfamiliar to you.
Greedy, selfish behavior is also magnified a thousand-fold because of what kind of behavior our society rewards. Humans are born with tendencies, and maybe some personality traits, but not “good” or “bad.” Whatever behaviors get reinforced as a child is making it’s way in the world are going to be the ones he keeps performing. We reward competitive, success driven behaviors. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are unfathomably wealthy, have enormous material goods, and never seem to get punished for anything their companies do, whether it be dumping toxic waste, using slave labor, or worse. What kind of behavior can we expect when these people are at the pinnacle of our society?
But that’s all theory. How do we prove to people that evil, selfishness and greed are not “built-in” human behaviors? By looking at the mountains of psychological, neurological, and behavioral studies that are coming out now that prove this.
In one article I found from 2011 in the NY Times Op Ed section, author David Brooks mentions several of these studies. Quote: “Jonathan Haidt joins others who argue that natural selection takes place not only when individuals compete with other individuals, but also when groups compete with other groups. Both competitions are examples of the survival of the fittest, but when groups compete, it’s the cohesive, cooperative, internally altruistic groups that win and pass on their genes. The idea of “group selection” was heresy a few years ago, but there is momentum behind it now.”
That may sound counterintuitive, considering how society is functioning right now and who seems to be running the show, but consider how long Homo sapiens sapiens have been around—300,000 years. The fact that we currently live in a paradigm that enforces greed and classism doesn’t really mean much on a long, evolutionary scale. Modern history was written by “the winners” and the winners were the few that were greedy and wanted power, so now we are taught everyone is like that, when it is really only a few that usurped power with violence.
Brooks next discusses a study where Dr. Michael Tomasello “devised a series of tests that he could give to chimps and toddlers in nearly identical form. An infant of 12 months will inform others about something by pointing. Chimpanzees and other apes do not helpfully inform each other about things. Infants share food readily with strangers. Chimpanzees rarely even offer food to their own offspring. If a 14-month-old child sees an adult having difficulty — like being unable to open a door because her hands are full — the child will try to help.
Tomasello’s point is that the human mind veered away from that of the other primates. We are born ready to cooperate, and then we build cultures to magnify this trait.”
In yet another study mentioned just in this article, Emory University neuroscientists found that the act of helping another person triggers activity in the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate cortex regions of the brain, the parts involved in pleasure and reward. That is, serving others may produce the same sort of pleasure as gratifying a personal desire.”
We want to help when we are young. And then it is beat out of us by our society. We are told it might be dangerous to help someone, and then we are shown a news story where some “psychopath” preys on a woman offering help.
We are encouraged to keep to ourselves, protect our families from outsiders, protect ourselves from the savages that live down in the projects, or that do drugs, or that commit violence. The crazy thing is, in some cultures, violent criminals are actually nurtured by their community because it is obvious to them that they need love and help. That sounds foreign and laughable to most Western ears.
To reinforce this idea of the other, the separate, the bad guys, the 24/7 news and reality media plays and replays fearful, terrible news. How many times did you watch the towers collapse in Sept 2001. How many times did you see the fleeing children at Sandyhook? What is the ratio of bad stories to good stories on the news? 10 to 1? Worse? It should be called the bad news. The corporate owned media sears these events into our brains, to keep us in fear, fear of each other. Fear of a stranger, fear of anyone outside our tiny nuclear family household. Reality tv is no better, purposely scripting stupid, shallow, drama-filled scenes that make us believe there are all these crazy people in the world and we are the only normal ones left. But then the same corporate owned media plays ads for security equipment to “keep your family safe” and clothes ads so you can dress as nice as those reality tv stars. The media creates a need so it can fill it with a product. That’s what happens in a perpetual growth society. Needs be must be manufactured so products can be sold.
Thinker and author Echkart Tolle says what you focus on expands. If you keep watching these human dramas, keep watching the 24/7 news cycle that burns awful images into our minds, that reality will expand for you. If you want to see good things in the world, you have to make the effort to look away from the mainstream media. It takes a little bit more effort, but if you want to prove to yourself there is good in the world, you must look where you weren’t looking before. We now have that possibility with the ubiquity of the internet and the independent groups, people and news sources that are available to us.
I personally see so many good things now happening in the world, and that’s what the focus of my talk is. The frequency and the awesomeness of them is picking up as well. I want to share the things I see happening, the sentiments I see being extended, the ideas for helping people that are gaining momentum. I want you to be inspired to look for them as well.
First are a few snippets of ideas and projects that are just forming, from people who identify and have taken a cue from the train of thought promoted by the zeitgeist movement.
Pieter from South Africa is working on something that he has coined a VIAAC – virtual intentional abundance access communities. In his own words, this project is is a community-based, non-profit initiative aimed at uniting communities economically and technologically and applying sustainability measures to improve living standards for the entire participating community. His group of 250 have secured land, growing tunnels, aquaponic systems, and have begun over 400 compost bins. The long term plan should see a fully functional VIAAC within 5 years.
Dominique, who lives in the projects of New York, is working on an initiative to get a group of volunteer specialists to come into the projects and teach the residents all aspects of everything, for free. A nutritionist to help them pick out better foods that still taste good. An economist to teach them how to buy in bulk. A mediator and social worker to help resolve disputes and help build self esteem. An engineer or technician to teach them how to repair an broken phone or tablet. She says, everyone looks down on these people as the bottom-feeders. They just need someone to understand, care, and teach them. It would spark public interest, in a place that people can’t ignore.
A man named Berret in Swedan makes visual media that connects movies and video games to the ideas promoted by TZM. He says “a theme I seek to create in my visual media is that of general positivity and hope. It is my intention to focus on the potentially awesome and positive possibilities of what the human species can accomplish should they change their outlook.
Now I’ll move on to some bigger, more established projects done by TZM members
The Free World Charter is a statement of principles that has the potential to optimise life on Earth for all species, eradicate poverty and greed, and advance progress.
Neither political nor religious, these ten short principles could form the foundation of a new, advanced society that uses no money, is free, fair and sustainable. They are based solely on nature, common sense and survival.
1. The highest concern of humanity is the combined common good of all living species and biosphere.
2. Life is precious in all its forms, and free to flourish in the combined common good.
3. Earth’s natural resources are the birthright of all its inhabitants, and free to share in the combined common good.
4. Every human being is an equal part of a worldwide community of humans, and a free citizen of Earth.
5. Our community is founded on the spirit of cooperation and an understanding of nature, provided through basic education.
6. Our community provides for all its members the necessities of a healthy, fulfilling and sustainable life, freely and without obligation.
7. Our community respects the limits of nature and its resources, ensuring minimal consumption and waste.
8. Our community derives its solutions and advances progress primarily through the application of logic and best available knowledge.
9. Our community acknowledges its duty of care and compassion for members who are unable to contribute.
10. Our community acknowledges its responsibility to maintain a diverse and sustainable biosphere for all future life to enjoy.
You can go and sign the charter online. It has almost 34,000 signature so far.
The documentary “The Reality of Me” tries to present, in a simplistic way, the world as discovered so far, not some idea or personal choice of how the world is believed to be. It tries to present alternative solutions to current problems, taking our future into account
The former Italian chapter coordinator, Federico Pistono, wrote a book called “Robots will steal your job, but that’s okay: How to survive the economic collapse and be happy.” It’s about technological unemployment and the possibly wonderful effect massive automaton could have on our future, if we utilize it appropriately.
Other members of this movement, half a million strong at least, are making podcasts, designing new inventions, thinking no where near the box. It inspires me so much. I have never been so impressed with a group of people.
Next I want to share some stories, organizations and technologies that aren’t from TZM members, but the thinking and methods are all emergent and follow the train of thought of logical solutions to problems that only exist because we haven’t thought outside the box.
There are lots of ideas out there for alternative ways of structuring an economy and most are based on resource economics. That is, real things that people use and need, not money and interest. The Venus Project, started by futurist and social engineer Jacque Fresco, envisions a world where every piece of information about what we have on the planet is fed into an open source computer program and the resources are allocated as needed, keeping in mind the ultimate public health and well being of all of Earth’s people and the planet. Humans would “do work” not “have jobs” and the work would pertain to fulfilling a resource need, like food production, engineering, art, and emotional well-being. We would each do our part and everything produced would be available to us, for free.
Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein discusses new money systems, based on the ideas of gift economies and that reject the idea of interest. I’m only halfway through so that’s all I can tell you about this one!
Time banking is another form of resource-economics, based on the resource of time. The equalizer is that each person’s time is worth the same amount. We have Carol Moses from the Cambridge Time Trade Circle doing an orientation at 7 if you are interested. The Cambridge Time Trade Circle is the biggest in the country, with over 800 members.
This is a billboard for the University of Engineering and Technology in Peru. Many people in Lima have limited access to clean drinking water. The air there is incredibly humid, and this billboard uses that humidity to produce drinking water from thin air.
The Documentary Escape Fire
I was pleasantly shocked to see this movie about the healthcare system on last Sunday night on CNN. It exposes our “disease-care system” where GDP goes up the sicker we are and the more services we use. It exposes how our system says next to nothing about nutrition and preventative care. It’s full of interviews with many doctors, clinicians and experts that are trying to change the way the system works.
The TED Talk A Barefoot Movement by Bunker Roy
This TED talk discusses how rural, illiterate women are learning to be solar engineers and bringing light and electricity to their villages.
A food forest is going up within 2 miles of Seattle, in Jefferson park. This food is to be completely free for the public. It will have nut and fruit trees, dwarf fruit trees, herbs, and root vegetables. Based on the concepts of permaculture, it will eventually maintain itself, as a natural ecosystem.
Food is Free
The Food is Free Project, based in Austin, TX, grows community and food, while helping gain independence from a broken agricultural system. They teach people how to connect with their neighbors and line their street with front yard community gardens which provide free harvests to anyone.
From cars to vacationing, people are peer to peer sharing resources, thinking outside the box of ownership and still getting what they need. This is green, it is cheap and it builds trust between individuals and within a society.
GOOD is a site promoting….good! Users can post good things in the categories of Living, Health, Business, Education and Technology
These are popping up everywhere. What an obvious solution to food scarcity, especially in urban areas.
The TED talk Freeing Energy from the Grid by Justin Hall-Tipping
In yet another awesome TED talk, Hall-Tipping discusses using carbon nanotubes to print paper thin solar cells that could be applied to almost any surface, freeing us from the corporate energy grid.
Panera Cares are in 5 location so far across the US, one in Government Center in Boston. Panera Cares will feed anyone. They will offer a dignified dining experience in an uplifting environment – without judgment – whether or not a person can pay. The cafes are meant to raise the level of awareness about food insecurity in this country, while also being a catalyst for change in our communities.
And now for how I have been inspired by this movement. For one, I was compelled to give this talk and I am petrified of public speaking. I write a lot in my blog and voraciously devour books on relevant topics. And, I have been particularly inspired by the idea that food is a human right and we have the technology and know how to have enough food to feed the world, free for all. The amount of food that gets wasted in developed countries is appalling. The amount of money the government gives to the hard corn industry just to produce high fructose corn syrup and feed cattle so we can gorge ourselves on beef because the market supposedly demands it literally tears at my soul. And if you are a person that doesn’t happen to have a job right now, you may be on food stamps, “raking it in” at the average sum $159/month. You either live on that, beg, steal, or starve..
I have toyed with ideas of trying to start a food forest in Boston, and that is a lofty goal that will take a lot of planning. For now, I’m learning what I can about cooking and growing my own food so I can share it with others. I plan to have a front yard garden as soon as I have a front yard. I am starting container gardens for the first time in my life this spring. When I have an abundant harvest, I will put a basket of vegetables outside with a FREE sign on it. I bought a hydroponic WindowFarm and am growing lettuce, cabbage, basil and cilantro. I’ve discovered I love cooking healthy foods, especially soups. Material things do not hold my attention like they used to. Living, growing systems do. I smile at people, at strangers. I help them if I can because I would want them to help me. I try to be a better person because I want better people around me. And this behavior has a way of spreading.
My latest brain-child combines all of the above. I’m hesitant to share it, but sharing ideas often has a way of making them happen. I want to create a pay what you can enterprise selling healthy, nutrition-packed vegetarian and vegan soups. My ultimate goal is to have a very large garden and harvest many the ingredients myself, and also hopefully utilize the generosity of others with gardens, because they always produce even more than you can give away. I would also give my recipes out to anyone who wanted them, and maybe there will be some kind of garden co-op involved as well. I want to make soup for people who want my soups, no matter if they can pay or not. I want people who are hungry to be able to eat. I really just want people to have what I have. Why shouldn’t they?
In closing, when you think about it, you and me and everyone else doing the kinds of things I mentioned are the reason my talk has any merit. The very fact that you are here flies in the face of the logic that human nature is to be selfish. You are attending an event about global sustainability in the hopes to affect the entire world. This is a completely selfless act. You have chosen to look at the bigger picture, the global family. We are all of these little pieces of hope and ideas coming together, looking for truth—a truth that applies to the whole planet, not just your family, school, church, business or country.
You are not inherently evil, greedy or selfish. Once you’ve realized this about yourself, it will seem most natural that a better world, a selfless, connected world is possible. After all, how you see the world is a reflection of how you see yourself. An economy that serves everyone isn’t a pipe dream, and we are not wide-eyed idealists. We are scientists, logicians, thinkers and creators, and we have a plan.