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Zeitgeist, far-right conspiracy theories and Occupy Wall Street

October 27, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The global Occupy movement sparked by  Occupy Wall Street has mobilised tens of thousands of people angered at the actions of the big corporations, banks and financial institutions. Protesters rightly hit out at government bailouts of the banks and the close relationships between politicians and big business, while leaving the majority -- the "99%" -- to pay the price through austerity and attacks on their rights.

Despite the movement's overwhelmingly anti-capitalist thrust, on its margins are a number of organisations peddling conspiracy theories and right-wing ideas. In the United States, these include supporters of the right-wing libertarian Ron Paul, the far-right cult led by Lyndon LaRouche and even, according to some reprts, the US Nazi Party. In Australia, supporters of the far-right Citizens Electoral Council have also been circulating their material.

In both countries, people influenced by Zeitgeist films and its theories are also present. While apparently more benign than the groups mentioned above, the ideas about a conspiracy of a small cabal of "international bankers" popularised by Zeitgeist share much in common with the far right, as the following 2010 article from Scottish Socialist Youth explains.

[Another extensive expose of the Zeitgeist films and their far-right basis is available from Third Estate.]

* * *

By Jack Ferguson

June 23, 2010 -- Scottish Socialist Youth -- If you’re the kind of person who knows there’s a lot of problems in our society, and you’re looking for solutions for what to do about it, there’s a good chance you’ve found yourself here on our blog.

There’s also a good chance you might have come across something called the Zeitgeist Movement. If you have, and you’re attracted to the ideas it puts forward, this article is our attempt to argue that Zeitgeist offers no real solutions to the economic and ecological crises that human civilisation is facing. In fact, quite the opposite: instead of explaining to people how we can change our society for the better, many of the ideas put forward in the Zeitgeist films have their origins in far-right and racist groups, and they’re ideas which are both crazy and useless.

The reason we’re doing this is because we know that Zeitgeist has been really influential on thousands of people who’ve seen it online, and because we think that is potentially really damaging to the attempts (which we’re part of) to build a mass movement capable of bringing fundamental change to the world. Zeitgeist deliberately tries to pitch itself as an appeal to people who have a basically left-wing outlook, but the ideas it puts forward about our world as it is just now are not left wing at all.

Zeitgeist got started when a man called Peter Joseph (this apparently isn’t his real or full name, as he conceals his real identity) released a documentary called, amazingly enough, Zeitgeist (which is German for "spirit of the times") in 2007. This film was stuck up on Google video, and quickly got loads of views. This was then followed by a sequel, Zeitgeist Addendum, the following year.

The first film is an amalgamation of conspiracy theories: first of all about religion, making all kinds of claims about the origins of Christianity; then a large middle section about 9/11, asserting that there were no terror attacks and they were in fact carried out by the US government. The final section is probably the most important for us to examine as socialists, because it’s about money and finance. It argues that the world is dominated by a small elite who operate through control of international finance, the media and education. This elite deliberately enslaves the rest of the world by keeping us permanently in debt to the banks by the way they operate the money system.

The second film then goes on to build on these economic themes, and argues for an alternative: eliminating the profit system and creating what they call a "Resource Based Economy", in which everyone in the world has access to what they need to survive for free by use of advanced technology. In many ways this society they describe is what socialism or communism would really be like in the future. The problem is that Zeitgeist specifically describes itself as a non-political movement, and offers no real plans for how to create the society. However, in the absence of actually describing itself as left wing or right wing, Zeitgeist has taken on a lot of ideas from some very dodgy sources.

Racism, anti-Semitism and the modern world

To understand where some of the ideas in Zeitgeist come from, we need to have a look first at their history.

From the 15-16th centuries onwards, the world began to be rapidly transformed by the technological and social advances that allowed European peoples to expand around the world and create colonies and empires. Explorers from European powers like Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England began to move into Africa, the Americas and Asia. Through the slave trade and the exploitation of mines and plantations in these new colonies, European traders became rich.

Following this, the newly enriched classes began to use their money to kickstart the industrial revolution in Europe. They also grew tired of the fact that in European societies power was still held by people who were born into the aristocracy, when they were rich and felt they should also be powerful. This led to revolutions in France and the US, and the beginning of the modern world. Over the course of the 18th-19th centuries, the pace of change increased rapidly, with huge numbers of people leaving the land and farm work to move to massive new cities and work in the factories. Traditional sources of authority and power were undermined, and many people were left confused and angered by a world that they didn’t recognise any more.

The 19th century saw the development of a mass socialist movement, as working-class people began to realise that if economic and political power was taken out of the hands of the capitalists then society could be run for the benefit of all.

But other groups, particularly middle-class people who had no attraction to the ideas of socialism, began to seek other explanations for why the world had changed and what to do about it. Many of these people felt that they didn’t have a place in modern society, but they also didn’t want to go back to medieval times. Unable to see the reality that the world had been changed by huge economic and social forces beyond the control of any individual, they came to blame what was wrong in society on some kind of small secret elite who were controlling things for their own benefit.

Racism

People talked about secret societies like the Illuminati or the Freemasons dominating politics and government from behind the scenes. Crucially, these ideas were tied into the idea, which was hugely powerful in the late 19th and early 20th century, that the world was fundamentally divided along racial lines. Many of these people believed there was a plot to undermine the power and dominance of “the white race”.

Racism is a set of ideas that takes older prejudices, and systematically makes them into a worldview. Contrary to what most folk think, it emerged specifically in the modern world, as a way of explaining and understanding what was happening as global society began to rapidly change. Most racialised views of different peoples made their victims out to be inferior, such as the claim black people are stupid and lazy for example.

But Jews had a long history in Christian thought as being thought of as demonic enemies. They were blamed for the killing of Jesus, and in the medieval world were regarded as clever and dangerous because they took part in trade and money lending. In the modern world Jews came to be understood by many people as some kind of absolutely monstrous "Other", a huge evil threat. This was of course total nonsense, but it was a useful idea for those who couldn’t face the reality of what was going on in capitalist society, and for those in power who didn’t want people to see that reality.

Anti-Semitic ideas became to be encapsulated in the idea that there was a world Jewish conspiracy, which aimed to establish a global government under their control. They would do this by their international control of banks and money, as well as control of the media and education.

These ideas came together in a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This was an anti-Semitic forgery put together in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, which claimed to be documents of meetings and plans of the Jewish elite to dominate the world. These documents were circulated around the world, and became particularly important after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Many, who were fooled into thinking the Protocols were real, used them as evidence that the revolution was part of the Jewish conspiracy, and that the Bolsheviks aimed to advance it. This was a huge part of why Hitler hated socialists and communists so much. But the same ideas also had massive circulation in the leading government and powerful circles of US politics, and were argued by many right wing US congressmen and other political figures.

If it has ever confused you why right-wing conspiracy nutters say they hate banks and big business, and then go on to say they hate communists and socialists who run the world, this is why. For them, communism and socialism are part of a wider conspiracy by a tiny elite to control the world. The aim of this group, they think, is to create a one world government. Whether they talk about Jews openly, or whether they restrict what they’re saying to names like “international bankers”, the origins of this idea go back to the Protocols and the mad ideas of 19th century anti-Semites.

The Protocols are a straight-up work of fiction. But the ideas they put forward have surfaced again and again. Since World War II it’s been increasingly difficult for racist groups to openly advocate anti-Semitism, because these ideas saw their ultimate expression in the slaughter of the Holocaust. Even before this, many didn’t talk openly about Jews, but instead about “international bankers”, the “secret cabal” who ran the world.

The problem with all this for socialists is obvious: financial capitalists really do hold a huge amount of power and influence over government policies, and the international ruling class does coordinate its actions secretly and conspiratorially to make sure that capitalism keeps working and that profits are maximised.

However, these things aren’t the result of a plot of a small group of evil men. The fact is that capitalism is a self-sustaining economic system with a life of its own. It doesn’t really matter who is at the top as long as somebody is. People find it hard to grasp the reality of the way our economic and social system works, because it’s complex and hard to understand. Put simply, capitalists don’t want to just get rich and sit back. They want to find ways they can invest profits to create more profits and keep the economy growing. That’s the driving force, not the evil desires of a small group of men. But it’s hard to get your head round that, and many people find it much easier to blame an identifiable group they can easily conceptualise, like Jews.

The 19th century German socialist August Bebel once said that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools” because it tried to understand the causes of real problems resulting from capitalism, and instead blamed them on Jews. Throughout the 20th century, many right wingers began to see the dominance of banks and financial capital as evidence of a Jewish conspiracy. For them, this was evidence of the traditional prejudice that Jews were evil, manipulative money lenders bent on power and control.

The real reason that finance has become more and more dominant is that it’s increasingly difficult for capitalists to invest their money in something that produces stuff (like a factory) and make their money back, because after 200-odd years of capitalism the world is full of factories and stuff -- so it’s harder and harder to make new products, like cars or furniture or tools say, and make a profit from it. So instead capitalists put more of their money into banks, financial investments etc. There’s no secret to it -- it’s just about making money, and what’s the best way to go about it.

Zeitgeist and anti-Semitic ideas

In a speech on youtube, Peter Joseph says that:

If I find someone who’s in the KKK who has a great perspective on global finance, I’m not going to dismiss them just because they’re a racist and a bigot, I’m going to read what it is. I don’t dismiss anybody because of their beliefs because I understand that beliefs are a product of cultural conditioning.

I find this particular quote very revealing, because it’s absolutely clear that many of the conspiracy ideas put forward in the first film do ultimately derive from the far right and anti-Semitism. Contrary to what Peter thinks, it’s very hard to take these ideas in isolation from the overarching worldview they’re actually part of.

Zeitgeist argues that banks create fictional money in order to keep us all in debt and to allow them to manipulate the economy for their own secretive control. This is at heart a restatement of the idea that there is a group of manipulative money lenders running the world. While Zeitgeist calls this group “international bankers”, the original understanding was, of course, that these people were the Jews.

I’m sure that defenders of the film would argue that they are not anti-Semites, and that the film at no point names “the Jews” as responsible for the issues they raise, which is true. However, this defence falls down when you look at some of the people the film quotes prominently and approvingly. Several figures from the early 20th century are quoted for what they have to say about “international bankers". These people were out and out racists, and we should have no doubt about who they mean when they talk about “international bankers”.

A good example of this is Louis McFadden, a racist US congressman from 1915-23. He’s quoted at length in Zeitgeist, with his claims that “A world banking system was being set up here … a superstate controlled by international bankers acting together to enslave the world for their own pleasure…” A quote of his they don’t use “in the United States today, the Gentiles have the slips of paper while the Jews have the lawful money”. He was absolutely a product of his time, the height of scientifically and politically accepted racism, and his economic views can’t be separated from his views about Jews.

What Zeitgeist doesn’t tell you is that money is just a representation of the value created by the people that do the work in an economy. Wealth comes originally from human labour. At your work, the work you do for a part of your day makes the boss enough money to pay your wages, and the rest becomes profits. But capitalism wants to use this money to invest and make more money. The state and its economic policy isn’t a conspiracy to make a few people richer, but instead it tries to create the conditions to allow more profit to be extracted and invested. This is a part of the system we live under, and isn’t to do with a few evil individuals running things for their own benefit. In a system like ours, there will always be people at the top administering things. The point is that the system needs to be changed.

Traditional anti-Semitic accusations are given new life, this time again blamed on “international bankers” in other parts of the film as well. A prominent claim in the Protocols is that Jews deliberately start wars for their own profit. In the film, it’s argued that throughout the 20th century the US has used faked incidents, or deliberate provocations to generate excuses to enter wars, the latest being, it claims, 9/11. Now of course, there is a grain of truth in this. Some of the incidents the film talks about, like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was used as a pretext for the US to enter fully into the Vietnam War, was faked. But the film then goes on to claim that the US never intended to win the war in Vietnam, its sole interest being in the continuation of the war for profit. While wars do of course generate a lot of profit for manufacturers of weapons and war materials, the idea that the huge effort the US put into to trying to keep its own puppets in power in Vietnam was never intended to win is a joke.

'One world government'

However, these views of war fit in with what Peter Joseph thinks the ultimate aim of the elite is: a one world government. This is a time-honoured phantom fear of the conspiracy far right, that in fact all governments in the world are being controlled by a shadowy elite behind the scenes. The film argues that the Cold War was a distraction, and that the “international bankers” controlled both sides (reinventing the old myth that the Russian Revolution was just part of a Jewish plot for global domination). But in a world where China and Russia have made huge steps to build their own geopolitical power throughout Asia, and where countries like Brazil, Turkey, Iran and Venezuela are all actively engaged in trying to build their own international power at the expense of the US, the idea that we are headed for a global government any time soon is laughable. It is a crazy fantasy that can only be believed if you accept false evidence.

The film also talks about control of education and the media to keep people stupid and easily manipulated. Again, there’s clearly a grain of truth in this, but when coupled with a conspiracy worldview it becomes a re-telling of one of the most powerful anti-Semitic myths: that the Jews control the media, and fill our heads with propaganda.

The point here is that Zeitgeist deals with issues that have some substance to them. If you follow many leading conspiracy theorists, people like Alex Jones for example, it’s often the case that they identify things that have some reality to them. But because they can’t get their heads round the difficult concepts of what’s really going on in a complex, unpredictable global social and economic system, they look for individuals or groups to blame. They try to give the people responsible a face.

Peter Joseph, in making the first Zeitgeist film, has clearly used as much of his source material these kinds of people, and fails to identify the real reasons for the problems that the human race faces. But what’s worrying about this is that it’s packaged in a way to make it look left wing, to appeal to people who are looking for genuine solutions to capitalism and its problems. Instead of finding them, those attracted to Zeitgeist are actually being sold ideas that originate in racism and all the lies and myths of anti-Semitism.

Fascism

The risks of this are there for all to see if you look back at the history of fascism. Mussolini and Oswald Mosley, who founded the British Union of Fascists, both started out involved with the left. However, they were later to move away from this and become fascists. Without clear understanding of what capitalism is and what it does, it’s easy to fall back on simpler ideas that blame the wrong people. A case in point is US conspiracy theorist and far rightist Lyndon LaRouche, who also is quoted approvingly in Zeitgeist.

LaRouche is a prolific writer and several times candidate for president of the US. He’s also the leader of a violent cult which has been implicated in several deaths of people who got involved with it. Like fascists before him, LaRouche started out involved with the left, but became more and more right wing as the years went by, and now peddles anti-Semitic lies, as well as approvingly quoting Saddam Hussein in his publications. One case of how dangerous his movement can be is the mysterious death of Jeremiah Duggan who got involved, but at a conference revealed himself to be Jewish. After a panicked phone call to his mum, he was found dead the next morning. The LaRouchites claim he committed suicide.

Now to be clear, I’m not claiming that the Zeitgeist movement has killed people, or that Peter Joseph is a Hitler in waiting. What I’m saying is that if you’re looking to do something about changing society, starting off with folk who think quoting fascists, racists and anti-Semites as part of their case isn’t the way to go.

Zeitgeist 2: Star Trek solutions

If you try and engage Zeitgeist activists about these issues, in all likelihood they will say something along the lines of “Well, we don’t promote the first film anymore, we’ve moved on to new things”. Sometime between the making of the first and second films, Peter Joseph came into contact with Jacques Fresco, a designer and engineer who has a series of plans for improving society that he calls the Venus Project. Zeitgeist now describes itself as “the activist wing of the Venus Project”. Privately, some are trying to distance themselves from some of the material in the first film, but officially it is still promoted on the main page when you google Zeitgeist, and remains most people’s introduction to the movement.

The Venus Project advocates what it calls a “resource-based economy”, arguing that there are enough resources in the world to provide everyone with a decent standard of living. The problem they argue is that capitalism deliberately makes resources scarce in order to make a profit. So far this is definitely something socialists could agree with. The project goes on to present a whole series of exciting looking sci-fi style drawings of what the high-tech future they propose will look like, which are strangely retro and remind you of concept art for 60s sci-fi shows.

I absolutely support the idea of a society with no money where all your basic needs are met for free. That’s the future I’m fighting for. But the way that we go about this in Scottish Socialist Youth (SSY) and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is to try and build change in the here and now, trying to win people to socialist ideas by making concrete changes to peoples lives now. If I were to go out on the street today and start handing out leaflets that said, “We want to abolish money and make everything free”, then most people would dismiss us as crazy.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to just wish a new society into existence; it has to be built patiently by the collective cooperation and work of masses of people.

The Zeitgeist movement don’t seem to agree. It argues that all our problems can be solved by scientists, and explicitly say it rejects politics or political movements. In effect what the Zeitgeist movement argues for is a technocracy, at least at first. That means that what happens in society will be determined by a scientific elite. Jacques Fresco argues that politicians now are incapable of implementing solutions because they don’t have the right expertise and only say what they think will get them elected. But the solution to this isn’t a society run by “experts”, but the implementation of mass democracy, and the opening up of education and the media to allow people to develop themselves. I think this is probably what Zeitgeist members would eventually like to see, but the point is, to make it possible it’s necessary to struggle and win what we can.

This isn’t to say that many of the technologies advocated by the Venus Project/Zeitgeist couldn’t play a really important role in a better society. But in focusing just on technological changes, they ignore that technology is a part of society, not the root of it. If all our problems could be solved with technology, then the ancient Egyptians would have developed steam engines. They had all the knowledge necessary to do so, but they didn’t because their society was based on slavery, and as long as there were plenty of slaves and peasants to do the work, who needed steam power? More to the point, their kind of society wasn’t expanding economically in the same way capitalism does, so there was no need for a technology capable of unleashing an industrial revolution. So nobody ever followed through the theoretical knowledge into practice. Steam engines were invented when human society was ready to use them and needed them.

Similarly today, we won’t convert our energy supply to renewables or start using environmentally friendly technology exclusively, because our society is still based on economic growth and making money. For these technologies to be part of the solution, they need to be accompanied by socioeconomic changes to the way the world works, and to do that we need to politically defeat the ruling class.

The politics that Zeitgeist does promote are essentially that you boycott aspects of society they don’t like: don’t open an account with the the three biggest banks in the US (but implying that an account with another bank is in some way better?) and boycott energy companies by taking your house off the grid, for example. What this ignores is that for working-class people forced to work long hours for low pay, putting a wind turbine in your garden just isn’t something they can afford in time or money. Boyotts are individual actions, whereas socialists argue for a collective response to social problems, where we struggle for the power to make solutions like renewable energy available for everyone.

Power

Zeitgeist activists argue that they are just trying to “raise awareness” of the technical solutions available to our problems. But the fact is most people know on some instinctive level that things can be better than the way they are. They have a better understanding of power and the state than most Zeitgeist activists do. They know that if you start trying to live outside the money system and move past capitalism, then the capitalists will use their real power to try and stop you. They have money, legal authority and armed force. They’ve used all these things every time people have tried to move beyond capitalism, from the Russian Revolution to the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela today. That doesn’t mean we should give up, but it does mean we should be prepared for the very real fight we have on our hands with the people in power. “Raising awareness” will not be enough to win that fight.

Noam Chomsky has summed up the problems with Zeitgeist Addendum well when he says:

I don’t regard the Zeitgeist Movement as an activist movement. Rather, it seems to me a very passive movement that is misled by documents that have a very pleasant sound, but collapse on analysis. Among them is the idea that we should "stop supporting the system" and "not fight it", that is, seek to change and overcome it. That means we should withdraw into passivity. Nothing could be more welcome to those in power. My feeling is that however sincere the leaders and participants may be, the movement is seriously misguided. It is not leading towards change, but is undermining it by encouraging passivity and withdrawal from engagement, and offering a false sense that some real alternative is being proposed, except in terms so vague and divorced from reality as to be virtually meaningless.

Climate scepticism

Peter Joseph has expressed scepticism about the reality of climate change, arguing that Zeitgeist should not base its arguments on something that “might not be true”. If anything undermines its claim to be based on scientific ideas it’s this. But it does fit in with the relationship that Zeitgeist activists maintain with other conspiracy groups maintain like We Are Change. To most folk the idea that the entire scientific community is engaged in a gigantic fraud to lie about the climate is madness, but it seems plausible if you already believe that the US government carried out 9/11 and the world is run by “international bankers”.

The opening section of the first film, about the use of earlier myths by Christianity to create a fictional story of a historical Jesus as fact, is not that important to the political implications of the movement as a whole. But it does show up how the ideas of Zeitgeist are a mixed up mishmash of stuff from all over the place, as it’s riddled with inaccuracies about ancient religions, such as claiming the Egyptian God Horus was a Sun God, born of a Virgin on December 25 (each one of these claims is just blatantly not true).

And if all of the above hasn’t concinved you that Zeitgeist is a load of pish, then consider this. It has attracted the endorsement of someone who has made himself a bit of a laughing stock by his increasingly outlandish public claims, and who is a damaged product of the British celebrity circuit. I’m talking of course about ... Robbie Williams!

 

Comments

Comments on Zeitgeist Exposed

Maybe a good way to start is copying a comment from the linked http://thethirdestate.net/2010/03/zeitgeist-exposed/

Iva

The Zeitgeist ideology has many flaws and may have suspicious background, but this article’s theory is ridiculously over-reacted. Many paragraphs with zero argumentation.

Jews are not even mentioned in the film, and finding antisemitism in every single aspect they argue seems to me like paranoia. The film opposes to capitalistic monetary system and values, and it’s unreasonable to equal capitalism with Jews.

”Again, for the sake of trying not to appear as racist as they really are, the word Jew is replaced with “international bankers.”

Oh really?

Anti-semitism is indeed often included as an element in conspiracy theories and I have read many of those, but never one this insane.

Ideas that don't belong at Occupy

http://socialistworker.org/2011/10/26/libertarians-ideas-dont-belong

Comment: Elizabeth Schulte

Ideas that don't belong at Occupy

Elizabeth Schulte explains why libertarians are out of place in the Occupy struggle.

October 26, 2011

THE RIGHT wing is responding to the Occupy Wall Street movement as you'd expect--displaying all their contempt for ordinary people.

Tea Party Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia called the Occupy protests an "attack upon freedom." "I see people angry in my district, too, but this attack upon business, attack upon industry, attack upon freedom," he said. "I think that's what this is all about."

Republican presidential candidate and pizza mogul Herman Cain skipped right to the chase and went after the protesters themselves. "Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks," the Tea Party favorite told the Wall Street Journal. "If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself. It is not someone's fault if they succeeded, it is someone's fault if they failed."

Tea Party politicians who claimed to be populists only recently are showing that when it comes to expressions of what ordinary people really do think, they're on the other side.

Opinion polls show that about twice as many people are sympathetic toward Occupy Wall Street than the Tea Party, whose support has plummeted since it fell out of the media spotlight. According to a Time magazine poll conducted October 9-10 [1], when asked their opinion of the Tea Party, 8 percent of respondents said "very favorable" and 19 percent "somewhat favorable." When asked about Occupy Wall Street, 25 percent said "very favorable" and 29 percent "somewhat favorable."

Despite this, the Occupy protests are still treated in much of the media as a "fringe" movement--and police around the country feel perfectly justified in manhandling any demonstrator they get their hands on. When a right-winger came armed with a loaded handgun to a town hall meeting where Barack Obama was discussing health care reform in 2009, the police gave him a pass, allowing him to circulate through the crowd of protesters.

The actual fringe--the Tea Party--got the rapt attention of the corporate media, while it took weeks for them to report on the Occupy protesters.

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OF COURSE, there are exceptions to the rule. At many Occupy encampments, you'll find some right-wingers with a lot in common with Herman Cain. These are libertarians, particularly supporters of Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and contender for the Republican presidential nomination--and they claim their ideas are part of the Occupy movement.

Some people think Occupy activists should view the libertarian presence as a positive thing--that we should reach across the left-right divide and welcome Ron Paul supporters into our movement.

But does the presence of the libertarian view make our movement stronger or weaker? Does giving their ideas a place in the movement show our ability to embrace all kinds of people? Or does this give credence to an ideology that is the opposite of what Occupy stands for?

It's important to know the facts about Ron Paul. He's considered one of the fathers of the Tea Party movement, and his son Rand Paul won a Kentucky Senate seat last year against the opposition of the Republican establishment thanks to the support of the Tea Party.

Ron Paul's supporters--with their typically obsessive focus on a handful of issues like closing down the Federal Reserve--have become a fixture at some Occupy events, particularly in the South. They claim they're participating because they oppose Wall Street, the same as everyone else. And on the surface, Paul's libertarian views might seem to jibe with those of the majority of the Occupy movement.

Paul opposes the "war on drugs" and even favors legalization. He opposes the war in Iraq and the civil rights-shredding USA PATRIOT Act. But these are stances in keeping with his libertarian philosophy of "getting the government out of people's lives"--a philosophy that, when extended to other issues, translates into the complete opposite of what would help workers and the poor suffering the effects of the economic crisis.

For instance, Paul is in favor of eliminating the federal Department of Education and allowing individual states to decide what kind of education they deem appropriate for children, and how much funding to devote to it. Paul also opposes Social Security, a program that, during the decades it has been in existence, has helped tens of millions of the elderly and disabled avoid falling into poverty. Paul also supports abolishing federal welfare programs, along with the entire Department of Health and Human Services.

Instead, Ron Paul thinks that the poor should go it alone, without any government help. At a Republican candidates' debate in Tampa, Fla., in September, he was asked what should happen to a 30-year-old who decided against paying for insurance, but who goes into coma. This was his heartless answer:

Well, in a society that you accept welfarism, he expects the government to take care of him. But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy.

According to Paul's every-man-for-himself philosophy, any regulation mandating a minimum wage or safer working conditions are a part of "big government," and should be eliminated. He's against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination against workers on the basis of sexual identity, and he voted against extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks in October 2008.

So it only follows that Paul is against the organizations that have historically fought for laws to defend workers' living standards and protect their safety on the job: unions. Paul's goal is to "free Americans from the shackles of compulsory unionism" by passing a "National Right to Work Act" in Congress.

As he wrote in his book Liberty Defined:

Minimum wage laws and mandating union contracts (closed shop) are designed to help a small segment of workers gain economic advantage while actually hurting unprotected workers. Long term, even the beneficiaries suffer from the unemployment that excessive wage demands bring about. High wages are great, but if there are no jobs, they become meaningless. In a free society with free markets, workers should always negotiate for the highest wage, while businesses should always strive for maximum profits.

Paul and his supporters aren't interested in protecting the rights of workers but rather the rights of corporations to make a profit by exploiting employees free of any legal restrictions.

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MANY OF Paul's policies are just plain racist. One role for "big government" that he supports is increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Included in his "six-point plan for immigration" is ending "birthright citizenship." Paul explains on his website, "As long as illegal immigrants know their children born here will be citizens, the incentive to enter the U.S. illegally will remain strong."

Paul is well-known for opposing U.S. wars in the Middle East, but while he argues for withdrawal of U.S. troops, he also wants them to come back to patrol the border. As Paul said at a Republican debate in Ames, Iowa, in August:

I have a strong position on immigration. I don't think that we should give amnesty and they become voters. But I do think we should deal with our borders. One way that I would suggest that we could do it is pay less attention to the borders between Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan, and bring our troops home and deal with the border. But why do we pay more attention to the borders overseas and less attention to the borders here at home?

On the question of bilingual education--as with most questions--Paul says the states should decide. He also thinks that the states should decide whether women should have the legal right to obtain safe, legal abortions. Paul said in an October 1999 speech before Congress:

I am strongly pro-life. I think one of the most disastrous rulings of this century was Roe v. Wade. I do believe in the slippery-slope theory. I believe that if people are careless and casual about life at the beginning of life, we will be careless and casual about life at the end. Abortion leads to euthanasia. I believe that.

Anyone who knows the history of the civil rights movement knows what Paul's talk about "states' rights" really means--allowing racism and segregation to thrive, while pretending that is was a matter of giving states the "democratic" right to choose their own fate.

So it should be of no surprise that Ron Paul was the only member of Congress to vote against a 2004 bill honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul said:

The result [of the Civil Rights Act] was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society. The federal government has no legitimate authority to infringe on the rights of private property owners to use their property as they please and to form (or not form) contracts with terms mutually agreeable to all parties. The rights of all private property owners, even those whose actions decent people find abhorrent, must be respected if we are to maintain a free society.

It doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to envision how Paul's line of thinking would have applied to the debates about the abolition of slavery a century and a half ago.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

ANYONE WHO has been to a protest or General Assembly of the Occupy movement recognizes right away the amazing openness and welcoming atmosphere. These are places where political ideas can be discussed and debated, and where people whose ideas are ordinarily never heard are heard. This, along with its anti-corporate message, is what has attracted so many people to the Occupy movement.

This openness and respect for the right to express ideas is one of the strengths of Occupy. But debates over what kinds of ideas make the movement stronger--and which do not--also have a place. It's not just the case that political campaigns like Ron Paul's have no place in a movement that's independent of the two parties. Some ideas are actually counterproductive--because they are in disagreement with building a movement committed to opposing Wall Street greed.

Ideas like those espoused by Ron Paul and his libertarian supporters, such as opposition to government social programs, are the opposite of what the Occupy movement is about. We need more taxes on the rich and corporations, with the money devoted to helping workers and the poor, by increasing the quality of public schools or providing an effective social safety net.

Likewise, there is no place for ideas that divide us and make our movement weaker by vilifying undocumented immigrants or trade unions. We need political discussion and participation that builds solidarity and unity within the Occupy movement.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Published by the International Socialist Organization.
Material on this Web site is licensed by SocialistWorker.org, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd 3.0) [2] license, except for articles that are republished with permission. Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and SocialistWorker.org.

[1] http://swampland.time.com/full-results-of-oct-9-10-2011-time-poll/
[2] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0

Hmmm...

Hi Jack.

Interesting article. Have some questions, taking quotes from above:

"Zeitgeist got started when a man called Peter Joseph (this apparently isn’t his real or full name, as he conceals his real identity)..."
Hmm, even a cursory investigation into this makes it clear the author chose to go by his first & middle names as pre-caution and has even publicly stated the same. Just as Mark Twain, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Lewis Caroll, & Woody Allen.

Were they all working to "conceal" their real identities too? Find your vague allusion here as petty; if you want to say something, be an adult & just say it, don't allude to it like it's some sort of secret-handshake / character judgement. Wink wink.

"Zeitgeist deliberately tries to pitch itself as an appeal to people who have a basically left-wing outlook, but the ideas it puts forward about our world as it is just now are not left wing at all."
Do you have evidence of this? From what I understood, Zeitgeist isn't about class warfare, nor is it about left or right. Did you not understand that? How is such a misunderstanding possible?

"The first film..." && "...remains most people’s introduction to the movement."

Did you miss the part where it is stated plainly and factually that the 1st film has little to do with the movement. It was made as an art piece long before the movement solidified. Causality negates your supposition.

Also, please provide evidence of your claim about "most people"; in my experience, it's about 30/70 those who heard about the movement from the first film, vs those who learned about it with the 2nd film or later.

"In many ways this society they describe is what socialism or communism would really be like in the future. "
Let's see, Oxford dictionary defines communism as follows:

A political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs. See also Marxism.

Let's see, Zeitgeist doesn't advocate class war (whatsoever), doesn't support ownership public or private, doesn't support any monetary system, especially one where "each is paid to their abilities"...

So the question is: how is it like communism as you suggest? Please be specific, thanks!

"offers no real plans for how to create the society"
Actually, from what I understood, the movement doesn't assume arrogance thinking that society can be planned outright. The opposite actually; that a new society forms naturally out of the shift in values resulting from updated understanding & new accepted knowledge. Combine that with modern tools and you have the early stages of the "resource based economy". How is that a bad thing that society form organically?

"People find it hard to grasp the reality of the way our economic and social system works, because it’s complex and hard to understand. Put simply, capitalists don’t want to just get rich and sit back. They want to find ways they can invest profits to create more profits and keep the economy growing. That’s the driving force, not the evil desires of a small group of men. But it’s hard to get your head round that, and many people find it much easier to blame an identifiable group they can easily conceptualise, like Jews."
The Zeitgeist Movement doesn't believe or support that the world is run by an elite cabal of self-interested men, even a cursory introduction to the movement's tenets would reveal that. Rather it supports that the current machinations of monied interests are simply a tendency born out of the environment of artificial scarcity and extremely anti-social values.

Otherwise, please provide evidence to the contrary; without that, it looks that you're just making connections where there are none.

"While Zeitgeist calls this group “international bankers”, the original understanding was, of course, that these people were the Jews."
Come again? This is pure fantasy Jack, sorry.

The quote you put forward is real, but it is completely out of context, and I think you know this to be true. The context was specifically that someone's ideas has priority over their cultural background; that prejudice is a two-way street and it should be on the merit of ideas that someone is considered. A point you try painfully to overlook. Reference to Louis McFadden's other statements only show how hard you're trying to ignore the context of the quote.

For example, if I write the word "nigger" does that make me racist by default? What if I'm writing an article on the history of prejudice in America? Am I still racist? By your reasoning, any mention of a word or idea automatically means support for that idea? Pure folly Jack!

"What Zeitgeist doesn’t tell you is that money is just a representation of the value created by the people that do the work in an economy. "
On what basis do you make this claim? Please be specific.

Your allusions towards "it's all for the better of society" are not backed by reality Jack. Look around you. Look at the foreclosures, the slave labor (slavery is more prominent today than from any time in history, look it up), the mass global unrest, the glaring divide between those who have and have not.

Money is no longer tied to any intrinsic value, the recent derivative scams are evidence of that; and they represent the leading edge by the most "adept" of our financial caretakers, the sum result of all that has come before & the most advanced form of commerce the world has ever known. And it is ONE BIG SCAM, designed to further the divide. This is what systems of artificial scarcity and differential advantage produces; it doesn't matter what words you use to describe it, the result is the same.

And really, you should know that if you're going to be writing articles on the topic.

"The point here is that Zeitgeist deals with issues that have some substance to them. If you follow many leading conspiracy theorists, people like Alex Jones for example, it’s often the case that they identify things that have some reality to them. "
It's funny you say that, because Alex Jones doesn't support the movement. He makes the same fear-based claims that you do, similarly using an obvious cursory understanding of these inherit ideas. To put it more simply: you see the color blue and assume it's a piece of the sky! Nonsense!

"But because they can’t get their heads round the difficult concepts of what’s really going on in a complex, unpredictable global social and economic system, they look for individuals or groups to blame. They try to give the people responsible a face.
"

This old chestnut; "they're wrong because they don't understand it!" Ok, when you refute the mountain of scientific evidence in support of the direction of the Zeitgeist Movement. You can start with studies of the effects of inequality on nations. Next suggest you tackle behavior studies on how environment shapes our behavior.

Once you've done that, then we can discuss the topic in a learned way. Until then, it's just lazy supposition on your part.

""
"What I’m saying is that if you’re looking to do something about changing society, starting off with folk who think quoting fascists, racists and anti-Semites as part of their case isn’t the way to go."
Please provide evidence to where Zeitgeist supports fascism, racism, and anti-semitism, thanks! Find your straw man connections here as quite lacking, sorry.

"Unfortunately, it’s not possible to just wish a new society into existence; it has to be built patiently by the collective cooperation and work of masses of people."
From what I can see the Zeitgeist Movement supports this also. Why would you suggest otherwise?

"The Zeitgeist movement don’t seem to agree. It argues that all our problems can be solved by scientists, and explicitly say it rejects politics or political movements. In effect what the Zeitgeist movement argues for is a technocracy, at least at first."
Making this claim only shows how little you understand about the Zeitgeist Movement (see that trick works both ways!).

In all seriousness, no one in the Zeitgeist movement is advocating technocracy. It does advocate using the tools available for the betterment of society. Just like how many of us do not own horse carriages anymore; we've evolved beyond the technology in a practical way, Zeitgeist makes call to modern tools, as we have evolved beyond our current societal structures. Nothing more, no scary boogy man, sorry.

You don't use an fountain pen to send email do you? Then why would you rely on social structures that are hundreds of years old to try to solve modern social & provably "technical" issues? Simple question for you Jack!

Yes, you either seem to be ignoring that most of our modern social problems are technical in nature. How effective are we by trying to solve them with non-technical methods?

"But in focusing just on technological changes, they ignore that technology is a part of society, not the root of it."
Jack jack jack... again you show how little research you did before writing this article! It is almost amazing!

From what I've understood, Zeitgeist sees technology as it is; a tool designed to empower us. That's all. No one is supposing technology take place for more human concerns... just a tool to empower us to address those concerns. How did you not understand that?

"I absolutely support the idea of a society with no money where all your basic needs are met for free. That’s the future I’m fighting for."
Then you should have already realized that outdated ideas like your Scottish Socialism need to evolve; otherwise they would have taken hold by now. Why do you think it hasn't? Because of essentially lack of promotion? Wow... how long have you been supporting these ideas and that's the best you got? I'm sorry, but that is surprising and really a little sad.

The reason your ideas haven't take hold isn't because of poor communication, it's because you're fighting empty class battles and missing the point entirely; class warfare isn't the issue AT ALL.

Most people don't care about the class struggle, and rightly so; it is not the root of the issues we face and has little to do with our humanity. Our environment, our culture of differential advantage and artificial scarcity is, and many MANY people are waking up to that fact.

What more Socialism has failed to progress our understanding of ourselves. It is no surprise you obviously ignore the tenets of Zeitgeist that support a more modern understanding of ourselves, on topics of human behavior vs human nature, the impact environment has on our culture, and so much more. You ignore all that, because you it conflicts with your investment in Socialism.

What more, Socialism doesn't have anything to offer other than outdated ideas, more "cult of personality" structures, where you deem it required more corruptible leaders are put in positions of power and authority. You claim Zeitgeist is technocracy, then ignore the fact Socialism is just another form of elitism "but better" somehow, in some ill defined way. Meanwhile people just see it for what it is "more of the same".

With Zeitgeist, we recognize that society has evolved beyond such obvious failures as socialism, capitalism, and any other ism you have to throw around, and are working to "design out" such frail concepts.

They are no longer needed, and thus no longer relevant. Sorry that is hard for you to grasp; but since it doesn't agree with the investment you've made in Socialism, honestly your harsh rejection, and this obvious hit / disinformation piece of an article, is to be expected.

Hope you see your way out of it. The future is not old Socialism; it's something new, something you have barely begun to understand. You're defending cobwebs; why not open yourself to new thinking for the better of your species?

Lastly, think the black and white view that this article espouses does more harm to the compassionate ideas suggested by socialism than any free-thinking, progressive social movement (such as The Zeitgeist Movement) would or could.

I don't mean to belittle, but seriously, writing so much on something you obviously understand very little of, almost makes it humorous.

It'd be funny if these ideas were not so important to our future as a species.

You say "racism", then provide no evidence, only vague allusion and statements taken out of context. You make inferences to connections where none exist (not without painfully obvious distortions) and you suppose having answers, when your own ideology has failed to take any tangible hold over any serious number of people.

Zeitgeist Movement is over 500k strong after only a few years; how many people support Scottish Socialism after +100 years? I'll wait while you try to answer...

Zeitgeisters continue to avoid the plain facts

Zeitgeisters continue to avoid the the plain facts. The films that form the basis of the "movement" recycle the views of anti-Semites and racists -- that is a fact -- but attempt to conceal their origins.

Jack Ferguson has done a brilliant job revealing this, which is why hardcore Zeitgeisters like Joseph above need to write pages feigning ignorance of this and demanding "proof"! But the proof is in the very films that define Zetgeistism.

Can you deny the fact that the film quotes Louis McFadden, a racist, anti-Semitic US Congressman, without once informing viewers of the origin of his views?

Can you deny that the film approvingly quotes the fascist cult leader Lyndon LaRouche, again without providing the vital information that this guy is an extreme rightwinger.

Zeitgeisters defend the "borrowing" of these wacky theories by claiming that it is "new thinking" and "open minded" to take ideas "on their merits". Jack has revealed their actual "merits" and that this "new thinking" is simply recycled far-right, anti-Semitic (and a hodge podge of other) conspiracy theories -- and that the Zeitgeist films their defenders have consciously concealed that fact -- and continue to deny this fact.

Joseph above at least reveals his real agenda -- vicious anti-socialism.

It's clear that Zetigeist has set out to dupe well-meaning, left-leaning people seeking ways to change the world. The Zeitgeist films and thier franchise holders have set out to create a Trojan Horse to win Occupy over to discredited racist conspiracy theories, and to divert their energies away from activism that can really defeat the capitalist system, which is the real source of the problems engulfing the world.

One more thing...

The first video was made by Peter J when he was in college and has nothing to do with the Zeitgeist Movement. It was just a video with his personal views on it. He put it out and thousands of people wanted something more that works on the world level to try to find solutions. So the Zeitgeist Movement came into being. Since then the Movement has grown to half a million members, which include all 'races', all 'religions', and has little to nothing to do with the first video.

But the Movement is not a hierarchy with a 'CEO' at the 'helm' that can say 'that will not be included'... so the movie, which is in the public domain now, is still seen as a Zeitgeist video although it has nothing to do with the Movement. The Zeitgeist Movement is not an 'organization' although in it's quick growth there are many in the movement who do not understand the ideas being presented in the three videos tha have been put out since the Movement started, who do think they are part of an 'organization'... but they will figure it out over time. Peter J. is not a leader of the Movement, just another person who is a spokesman but not a leader. Without coercion, no hierarchy can exist, and there is no coercion in the ZM.

ZM passes the buck

O come on, give us a break!

Did Zeitgeist central issue a circular advising followers how to avoid dealing with criticism.

Zietgeist continues to promote the film that spreads right-wing propaganda and dodgy conspiracy theories, but when challenged, all chant "It's got nothing to do with us!"

Take some resposibility for what you create and promote -- or repudiate it and remove it from your websites.

Zeitgeist — beyond the hype

Zeitgeist — beyond the hype
Friday, April 24, 2009 - 10:00
By Tom Cameron & Trent Hawkins

Two years ago the film Zeitgeist made its way onto the internet scene, receiving millions of views on YouTube. Last year a new film was released called Zeitgeist Addendum, which sparked the "Zeitgeist movement".

So what is it that makes Zeitgeist so popular? And what is it that the Zeitgeist films actually deal with?

Zeitgeist producer Peter Joseph has said, "it is my hope that people will not take what is said in the film as the truth, but find out for themselves, for truth is not told, it is realised …"

Yet the reality is that both films try to offer an alternative to the current corrupt social system.

The first edition of the film begins with a critique of Christianity. We are told it is "an instrument of the ruling classes keeping the masses occupied" and from knowing their real condition.

The film also promotes some pretty off-the-wall conspiracy theories. It says the world is ruled by a small wealthy ruling elite who are responsible for incidents like the 9/11 terror attacks.

Zeitgest also suggests the Great Depression was a conspiracy organised by an elite group of bankers to consolidate capital and that the World Wars were planned for a similar purpose.

The elites, the film says, are intent on microchipping humans and plan to form a one world government.

The second film, Zeitgeist Addendum, has become more prominent with the global economic crisis. It attempts to explain how the world financial system works.

The film enlists the help of John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, to explain the role of economic bodies like the IMF and World Bank.

Despite some generally correct points about the role of these bodies, the film simply reduces the cause of poverty and injustice to the existence of money, debt and interest.

The film says "people are forced to compete for labour in order to pool enough money out of the money supply to cover their costs of living".

Communism, socialism, fascism and free-market capitalism are, therefore, all variations of the same system. None of them abolished money.

These arguments are very similar to those raised by the far-right neo-fascist Citizen's Electoral Council.

An alternative form of society, the "resource based economy", is the Zeitgeist ideal.

This ignores the real basis of the current system — private ownership and control of resources, their exploitation, production into commodities and sale of these commodities for profit.

The "resource based economy" is based on 100% renewable energy. Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains are used for long distance transport. Machines, rather than people, do all the work. Money and debt is abolished completely.

The film offers the following actions for achieving "social transformation": boycott the banks, boycott the media (only use internet); boycott the military; boycott the energy companies; reject the political system; and join the Zeitgeist movement.

But these are really just lifestyle changes. They amount to "dropping out" of society, not fighting to change it.

Furthermore, Zeitgeist fails to provide any explanation for how human beings can actually challenge the power of the elites.

As socialists, we recognise that the elites are really the capitalist class who own and control the resources and means of producing wealth in society.

Ordinary people are forced to sell their labour power to the capitalists in return for a wage in order to survive.

No change to the status quo can be achieved until ordinary people can organise a revolutionary mass (not individualist) political movement — a movement with the aim of removing the capitalists from power and allowing working people to run society to meet the needs of people and planet.

The Zeitgeist Movement is not organising for this kind of social change.

Instead, people who want to challenge the corruption of today's society should help build the real movements which exist, and lay the groundwork for a real alternative — democratic socialism.

Logical fallacies abound...

@Lex
I appreciate your contrary view, but I wish you didn't leave it to me to tell you that your claim is simply not based in fact.

What you're expressing is a known cognitive bias, specifically the Attentional Bias. You're basically ignoring my comment on how this thinking is the same as saying "how anyone who says the word "nigger" in any context is a racist." It's a fallacy, and reflects simplistic thinking that leads the thinker to errant conclusions.

Such as the ones you make here.

re: "brilliant job" & "revealed"
I don't see there is any evidence to support this. Yes, Jack has made some claims based on spurious connections, and I with others have addressed them specifically, but neither you nor Jack have addressed any of our rebuttal.

How this qualifies as 'brilliant job" is beyond me; but I suspect that your investment in an outdated political structure is overshadowing your capacity for factual, logical reasoning. Please do your part to see this reality.

re: McFadden LaRouche quotes
See above re: "Attentional Bias". It's like saying anyone quoting George Washington on democracy is a racist, because Washington was a known slave owner. Pure folly Lex! You should know that huh? Why persist in this irrational logic? Is that all you have?

re: conspiracy theory
Please provide evidence where the Zeitgeist Movement has supported any conspiracy theories? (read this sentence carefully, thanks). This should be easy if it is so obvious as you claim, but something tells me you won't be able to do it.

re: your unsubstantiated claim about duping & diverting
I'm sorry that is all you're able to see in this. The saddest part is that you think it's "either or" or you apparently do not possess the faculty to see how we're stronger together, and instead think "more conflict" is somehow going to lead to positive change. Yours is a dying ideology, borne out of old ideas, long since proven as ineffective.

No, from here, it is obvious you and the author have simply cherry picked the ideas represented in Zeitgiest, isolating the ones that conflict with your investment in the failed social structure of Socialism, and are seeking to paint them in a negative light using the flimsiest of logic. You really must not think much of your readers; why be the one to hold back the future?

This article and you both have failed to even grasp what this Zeitgeist movement is about, instead clinging to old irrational thinking; which I admit is somewhat a failing of the movement in it's current form, however, the movement is working on making the information more accessible to people with obvious conflicts of interest towards a better world for all, without differential advantage, and without exception.

Don't you think it is time we do better than Socialism?

NOT okay to quote anti-semites

Something that really bothers me about Zeitgeist members’ refusal to accept that it is NOT okay to quote anti-semites in their political material (and it IS political material whether you admit it or not) is that you act like you have no responsibility to refute racist arguments.

You can’t just say ‘it matters not whether someone is racist or not-racist, they’re all human beings and we just want everyone to be provided for and opinions don’t matter and it’ll all just be solved by creating a resource-based economy with no politics’.

Zeitgeist goes out of its way to recruit left-leaning people and then attempts to strip them of their (still developing) political analysis. Anyone who is against racism has a duty to speak out against it when they encounter it. Zeitgeist, if it cares about human beings, has a responsibility to not approvingly quote dangerous anti-semitic opinions and then claim that it doesn’t matter what the origins of that opinion are.

Context is extremely important, but you seem to believe that it is irrelevant. It is not. The reason that the first section of this article is given over to explaining the origins of anti-semitic opinions and why ‘international bankers’ is known to be a euphemism for ‘cabal of Jews’ is because when SSY makes claims about Zeitgeist we actually feel we have a duty to provide a context so that our claims are not wild accusations but are based in fact.

You clearly feel you have no such responsibility, hence why you approve of quoting Louis McFadden and Lyndon LaRouche in your political material, noted anti-semites who could not and would not separate their racist worldview from their claims about ‘international bankers’.

Against conspiracy theories

The text of a talk given at Occupy Wellington, New Zealand, on October 27 2011. The talk was organised to try to counter the prevalence of conspiracy theories amongst the local wing of the Occupy movement.

Kia ora kotou, thanks everyone for coming. Firstly, a brief run-down of how this workshop will work: first, I'm going to give a brief talk, followed by an open discussion which anyone can contribute to. I also want to make it clear that I'm not here today to debunk or debate any specific conspiracy theory. I've got no interest in doing that, I don't think its particularly productive. What I want to be doing is talking about the title of the workshop is – why our activism must be based in reality. So we'll be talking about the whole conspiracy world-view, we'll be talking about what I think is a much better alternative to that, but I'm not going to sit here and argue with you over whether the Government is secretly poisoning us from the skies, or whether shape-shifting reptilian lizards are controlling our lives, or whether or not you can cure cancer with baking soda.
[Straw man, meet earnest activist. Who will win?]

First up, who am I? For those of you who don't know me my name is Asher, I'm born and bred in Wellington, though I have also spent a few years recently living in Christchurch. I've been involved in activism and radical politics for around about 7 years, in a variety of different campaigns and struggles.

If we're going to talk about conspiracy theories, the first important question is obvious: what is a conspiracy theory?

Now, if you go by a dictionary definition, a conspiracy is just a group of people who get together to plan something, and don't tell others about it. If I'm organising a surprise birthday party for my friend, then I am conspiring with others. But that's not a particularly useful definition for the purposes of a discussion like this.

So, for this discussion, the way I'm defining a conspiracy theory is thus: a conspiracy theory is a theory based in supposition, one that flies in the face of evidence or science, often one that claims its correctness can be shown by the paucity of evidence in favour of it, in the sense that 'this conspiracy goes so far that they've even buried all the evidence that proves it!' Conspiracy theories often encourages an 'us few enlightened folk versus everyone else' world view. This creates an atmosphere where conspiracy theorists look down on people, or sheeple as they are often called, and ignores the fact that people, by and large, are actually pretty intelligent. In and of itself this world-view is hugely problematic for as I will discuss later, mass social change requires the participation of the masses and therefore, we have to have faith in the ability of people to decide things for themselves, to come to correct conclusions and ultimately to change the world.

Why am I interested in conspiracy theories, or at least arguing against them? Firstly, because I'm passionate about science and rationality, and I find it fascinating how and when these things are ignored.

Secondly, because I'm Jewish, and many conspiracy theories are antisemitic – whether directly and obviously (eg: Jews run the world, or the media, or the banks). Sometimes its more subtle – people might not talk about Jews explicitly but they may use Zionist as a code word, or talk about the Rothschilds, or an elite cabal of shadowy bankers who all coincidentally have Jewish surnames.

Lastly, I'm interested in conspiracy theories because I want radical social change, and to have radical social change, we need to have an understanding of how society actually works.

We are here at Occupy because we want to see change. What we want differs: some want new regulations on the financial sector, others want to change taxes or the minimum wage, while others still want to destroy capitalism and bring in a new form of production and distribution. Regardless of which of these boxes you fit in, if you fit in any of them at all, we all want change.

We're also here because we know we can't simply rely on Government to benevolently grant us the changes we desire. If we believed that, we'd sit at home and wait for the Government to give us these gifts. We're here because we know that those with power won't give it up lightly, and that it is only through our collective strength that we can win reforms, or create revolution.

But what do I mean when I say 'our collective strength'? I think it's important to clarify who is contained within the word 'our'. While people involved in the Occupy movements around the globe frequently refer to it as the 99%, I actually think that's a really imprecise term. So, instead, I refer to the working class. When they hear the term working class, some people think simply of male factory workers, but this is not what I mean. The working class is not limited to blue collar workers in factories, but instead it includes all of us who are forced to sell our labour power to survive. This includes people who are in paid employment, whether in a factory, office, café or retail store. It also includes those who are unable to find paid employment, or have chosen to refuse the drudgery of paid work in order to attempt to live on the meagre benefits supplied by the state, and who provide a vast potential pool of labour that enables the ruling class to further keep wages down. The working class includes stay at home parents, doing vital unpaid work to raise the next generation of human beings. It includes people who are too sick or unable to work for other reasons. In short, if you don´t own a business, if you aren't part of the Government, if you aren't independently wealthy (such as from an inheritance), then chances are you are a part of the working class that I'm talking about, this collective 'our'.

If we agree that we can't simply rely on Government to benevolently grant us gifts, and that we need to fight for it using our numbers and our power, then it becomes necessary to understand how society is structured and how capitalism actually functions, in order to know where our collective strength comes from, where we have the most power, and where we need to apply the metaphorical blowtorch.

So, why are conspiracy theories not helpful here? Why are conspiracy theories not useful for developing that understanding? There's a variety of reasons.

Some conspiracy theories, such as those around 9/11, even if they were true, which I don't believe they are, would only tell us “Governments do bad things”. That's not actually news to anyone. We know that the British Crown & the New Zealand Government stole vast tracts of land from Maori. We know that the Crown and the Australian Government engaged in genocidal acts against Australian aborigines. We know that Governments the world over have repeatedly sent people overseas to fight, kill and die in wars. There's so, so much more, but to cut a long story short, everybody knows that sometimes Governments do bad things. So theories that only serve to prove that, even if they were true, aren't actually particularly useful.

Some conspiracy theories are simply bizarre and the logical conclusions from them, don't fit with what their believers do. If you actually believed that the majority of people in power around the world was a blood-sucking shape-shifting reptilians from another solar system, then you wouldn't limit your activity to promoting one guy's book tours around the globe and chatting with other believers on the internet.

Conspiracy theories often feed on people's mistrust and their fear. They claim to provide simple answers to complicated questions, but actually when you examine them in detail they're highly complex themselves. For example, with 9/11, it seems like a simple solution to say 'it was an inside job by the US Government'. But actually, when you look into what would be required for this to be true, the thousands upon thousands of people who would need to be lying, it becomes incredibly implausible.

Some conspiracy theories, such as many of the shadowy financial cabal conspiracies, only serve to mystify capitalism and falsely suggest a level of control that doesn't actually exist. Additionally, they remove any sense of our own power, whether real or potential. A theory which suggests such overwhelming power and control over the entire way we live our lives is actually a catalyst for inaction – if a group has such a high level of control over everything, then there's not really anything we can do about it. On the contrary, capitalism is not a static system, it is dynamic and changing and constantly adapts in response to threats. The threat of working class power has resulted in a number of changes to the functioning of capitalism over time, including the introduction of Keynesian and Neoliberal economics in the late 1930s and 1970s respectively.

Even if conspiracy theories can sometimes seem relatively harmless on the surface, they play a role of absorbing us into a fictional world, somewhat like a dungeons and dragons enthusiast. Once you are in this fictional world, it becomes really easy to get lost in it and to be defensive when challenged, even when challenged on a logical, rational basis.

I'll quote British political blogger Jack Ray:
Quote:

The trouble with conspiracy theories is that they're all rendered pointless by one fundamental, unarguable element of capitalism. That it is, whatever else you have to say about, positive or negative, a system of elites. It has elitism coded into it´s DNA, from the smallest company, to the largest multinational, from the political system to the culture. It's purpose is to promote elites. It does this legitimately within the logic of the system. It does this publicly, lording super-capitalists like Bill Gates or even for a time, Enron boss Ken Lay. It lays its theories of elitism out for all to see, in policy projects, in university research, through political theorists.

It has no interest in secret cabals, or conspiracies. It has no need for them. It is a system openly, and publicly, run by elites. They might go home at night and secretly dine with their illuminati, lizard-jew, Bilderberg Group friends, and laugh about how they've taken over the world. It doesn't matter to me or you whether they do or not. They are the elite, and we can see who they are and how they live their lives. People know that we live in a system of elites, that acts in its own interests, according to the logic of the society they dominate. Everyone who looks around know this. We don't need internet documentaries to tell us that we're dominated, we just need to go to work, or walk through a posh neighbourhood or have a run-in with any politicians, big businessman or even a celebrity to know that. What we need are weapons, ways of challenging that domination, so maybe we don't have to live under it forever.

So what is the alternative to this conspiracist world-view? For that, we need to look at history. The history of how social change comes about is not always easy to find. It suits those in power to downplay the role of mass movements, so the dominant narrative is often one that ignores the long term grassroots organising that has happened, and simply focuses on legislative change enacted by the Government of the day. But a people's history is out there – often in the form of first hand accounts by those who took part in these movements, such as those for homosexual law reform, of the 1970s strike wave across New Zealand, of the movement against native forest logging and so on.

One thing, from looking at this history, is abundantly clear. Mass action is vital for mass change. If you look through history, time and time again, it is when large groups of people have got together and shown themselves to be a threat to those in power that concessions have been granted. This happens on a small scale as well as a big one – when all 10 employees at a small business go on strike and refuse to work until their boss gives them a pay rise, the boss is forced to listen.

From this example, it becomes obvious that it isn't simply numbers alone that allow us to exercise power. It is also using those numbers strategically to hit those in power where it hurts. As workers, we create wealth for the bosses each and every day at our jobs. Some of this wealth is returned to us in the form of wages, but much is stolen. This stolen wealth is often called ¨surplus value¨. It is the accumulation of surplus value, stolen by our bosses, that forms the wealth of the ruling class. But because the goods and services that create this surplus value ultimately come from our hands and our brains, through collectively withdrawing our labour, we can force the bosses to give in to our demands.

So taking collective action the workplace is one way we can impose our power on the bosses to help us better meet our needs and desires. And if we extrapolate this to larger numbers of work-sites, to larger numbers of people both employed and unemployed, then we can begin to see how we can make changes to the functioning of society as a whole.

I don't have all the answers, though I do have plenty more to say than I've had time to touch on in this talk. But I want to open things up to discussion soon, because I think that's one thing that is really important about this Occupy Wellington space, that we can talk through things, together, to come to new ways of thinking and working politically.

To finish things off, I want to emphasise that while it is important to have an open mind, this must be tempered with a commitment to rationality and the examining of evidence. Or, to quote Australian sceptic and comedian Tim Minchin, “If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out”.

Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what next?

Eric Hobsbawm
The Guardian, Thursday 9 April 2009

Whatever ideological logo we adopt, the shift from free market to public action needs to be bigger than politicians grasp

Article history
The 20th century is well behind us, but we have not yet learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a way that fits it. That should not be as difficult as it seems, because the basic idea that dominated economics and politics in the last century has patently disappeared down the plughole of history. This was the way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because the globalisation of the economy was not then as far advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don't yet know how grave and lasting the consequences of the present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that captured the world and its governments in the years since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.

Impotence therefore faces both those who believe in what amounts to a pure, stateless, market capitalism, a sort of international bourgeois anarchism, and those who believe in a planned socialism uncontaminated by private profit-seeking. Both are bankrupt. The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another. But how? That is the problem for everybody today, but especially for people on the left.

Nobody seriously thinks of returning to the socialist systems of the Soviet type - not only because of their political faults, but also because of the increasing sluggishness and inefficiency of their economies - though this should not lead us to underestimate their impressive social and educational achievements. On the other hand, until the global free market imploded last year, even the social-democratic or other moderate left parties in the rich countries of northern capitalism and Australasia had committed themselves more and more to the success of free-market capitalism. Indeed, between the fall of the USSR and now I can think of no such party or leader denouncing capitalism as unacceptable. None were more committed to it than New Labour. In their economic policies both Tony Blair and (until October 2008) Gordon Brown could be described without real exaggeration as Thatcher in trousers. The same is true of the Democratic party in the US.

The basic Labour idea since the 1950s was that socialism was unnecessary, because a capitalist system could be relied on to flourish and to generate more wealth than any other. All socialists had to do was to ensure its equitable distribution. But since the 1970s the accelerating surge of globalisation made it more and more difficult and fatally undermined the traditional basis of the Labour party's, and indeed any social-democratic party's, support and policies. Many in the 1980s agreed that if the ship of Labour was not to founder, which was a real possibility at the time, it would have to be refitted.

But it was not refitted. Under the impact of what it saw as the Thatcherite economic revival, New Labour since 1997 swallowed the ideology, or rather the theology, of global free-market fundamentalism whole. Britain deregulated its markets, sold its industries to the highest bidder, stopped making things to export (unlike Germany, France and Switzerland) and put its money on becoming the global centre of financial services and therefore a paradise for zillionaire money-launderers. That is why the impact of the world crisis on the pound and the British economy today is likely to be more catastrophic than on any other major western economy - and full recovery may well be harder.

You may say that's all over now. We're free to return to the mixed economy. The old toolbox of Labour is available again - everything up to nationalisation - so let's just go and use the tools once again, which Labour should never have put away. But that suggests we know what to do with them. We don't. For one thing, we don't know how to overcome the present crisis. None of the world's governments, central banks or international financial institutions know: they are all like a blind man trying to get out of a maze by tapping the walls with different kinds of sticks in the hope of finding the way out. For another, we underestimate how addicted governments and decision-makers still are to the free-market snorts that have made them feel so good for decades. Have we really got away from the assumption that private profit-making enterprise is always a better, because more efficient, way of doing things? That business organisation and accountancy should be the model even for public service, education and research? That the growing chasm between the super-rich and the rest doesn't matter that much, so long as everybody else (except the minority of the poor) is getting a bit better off? That what a country needs is under all circumstances maximum economic growth and commercial competitiveness? I don't think so.

But a progressive policy needs more than just a bigger break with the economic and moral assumptions of the past 30 years. It needs a return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people. Look at London. Of course it matters to all of us that London's economy flourishes. But the test of the enormous wealth generated in patches of the capital is not that it contributed 20%-30% to Britain's GDP but how it affects the lives of the millions who live and work there. What kind of lives are available to them? Can they afford to live there? If they can't, it is not compensation that London is also a paradise for the ultra-rich. Can they get decently paid jobs or jobs at all? If they can't, don't brag about all those Michelin-starred restaurants and their self-dramatising chefs. Or schooling for children? Inadequate schools are not offset by the fact that London universities could field a football team of Nobel prize winners.

The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the "capabilities" of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing private accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy - not maximising economic growth and personal incomes. Nowhere will this be more important than in tackling the greatest problem facing us this century, the environmental crisis. Whatever ideological logo we choose for it, it will mean a major shift away from the free market and towards public action, a bigger shift than the British government has yet envisaged. And, given the acuteness of the economic crisis, probably a fairly rapid shift. Time is not on our side.

Zeitgeist

Much has been said on the subject of Zeitgeist, with interpretations on what political agenda the movies and the movement really stand for. I would urgently recommend that if you haven't done so, you need to watch Zeitgeist:Moving forward before settling on a final opinion. The overwhelming message in this film is that humankind must harmonise with this planet and itself in the most intelligent way it can in order to survive, and in the process leave behind the now obsolete debates between Socialism and capitalism, recognising that both these constructs were temporary fixes made necessary by our reliance on a flawed economic model based on money.
The zeitgeist movement itself is providing a fabric of grand unification, bringing together the 'Ying and yang' of socialist and conservative belief systems, and freeing its followers from all the artificial barriers by which they were bound under the old paradigm.

Is Ron Paul the fresh air in a polluted political environment?

I have met quite a few young workers who are attracted in some way or another to the ideas of Ron Paul, the Libertarian Republican politician. Politics in the US is a barren landscape with only about 40% of the electorate turning out for last year's elections, so those who do feel compelled to participate in the process can be drawn even to right wing anti-Union candidates like Paul. Continued

the Zeitgeist Movement, a milieu to work in

The first political ideas I ever came across were those of Jacque Fresco - The Venus Project. I advocated a Resource Based Economy for some years and I'm now an active revolutionary socialist. Understanding a RBE (aka communism) and TZM's understandings of human nature, a critique on capitalism, etc made it very easy to understand Socialism. I've had some success discussing Marxism with people from TZM locally and internationally. I have a blog (which is certainly rushed, unmaintained and insufficient http://www.zeitgeistworker.wordpress.com) which helps explain some of the errors of their ways. It shows, in their own terms, how Marxism is the "transition method" to a Resource Based Economy.

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