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The Zeitgeist Movement - A Critical Review

Author: Edward L Winston
Added: June 13, 2010
Discuss: Discuss this article.

Over the last couple of months, mainly since Zeitgeist Movement (TZM) members began trekking to our forums, I've gotten a lot of emails from TZM members asking me various questions. This post is to outline the topics covered in my correspondence with said members.

I'll likely update this page as I get feedback from people.

Table of Contents

  1. Peter Joseph
  2. Movies Aren't the Movement
  3. Fuck Everyone Else
    1. What are YOU doing?
  4. General Problems
  5. Future of TZM
  6. What I Would Change
  7. Further Reading

Primarily the issues discussed are why I believe TZM will fail and why I think it's impossible to find common ground with TZM. I want to be clear that, given a different set of circumstances which I will discuss, maybe TZM could be successful and we could find common ground, but if things don't change, neither will my stance.

Peter Joseph

The leader of TZM, Peter Joseph, is far more damaging to his own movement than I imagine many of the hardcore members want to believe:

He's a conspiracy theorist.
His movies are fairly clear about that, but also his rantings on other web sites as well. The most common response to this from members is the phrase the movies aren't the movement, but I'll get into that later. He isn't stupid, however, because he knows that being an open truther is a detriment, he rarely talks about about 9/11, but he will ban members for debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, but not ban members for promoting them -- but meanwhile claiming that the reason the debunker was banned was because the movement isn't about 9/11 [ read more ]
He's smug, arrogant, and not even close to charming.
Success in social movements, especially ones that are fringe, need someone who is perceivably in touch with the average person, but Peter Joseph is not -- this is why the Tea Party movement is much more successful. He's closed off from the rest of the world for the most part, and until recently barely showed his face outside of ZDay. He goes out of his way to attack his perceived enemies, rather than one-upping them. When he's called a hero, which occurred twice in this thread alone, he does not deny it, instead he talks about how much time and effort he's sacrificed for the "movement." It's not sexy and it's not impressive, especially when the movement has never done a single thing to help another human being. He also refers to people, even ones older than himself, as "kid" as a way to seem superior.
He has the inability to be wrong
Peter Joseph will often hang on to a belief that has no purpose and is detrimental to him, simply because he does not want to be perceived as being incorrect. He's never admitted to being incorrect about anything outside of a typo, or some vague reference. He used both Alex Jones and Helena Blavatsky as sources, then later on claimed he never had heard of Alex Jones or had read anything by Helena Blavatsky, because they're both quacks.
He censors dissenting opinion
After this article was published a TZM member posted about it on their forums, a user named peterpan had a slightly dissenting opinion, his post was deleted and the topic locked, and then he was banned [ read more ].

More could be said about Peter Joseph, and is said in later sections, but our forums are full of former TZM members who shed even more light on the emerging cult of personality around him.

The most important issue here is that Peter Joseph is the leader of TZM and his word is law, despite claiming that he doesn't consider himself the leader, he acts unilaterally to forbid members for talking to outsiders, for example banning members who post on our forums that aren't glorifying him.

Movies Aren't the Movement

Something that I never stop hearing is the phrase the movies aren't the movement. This referring to the fact that the movies promote conspiracy theories, but TZM is something else entirely, and exists separately from the movement. I would believe that if not for the following issues:

  1. The movement originated out of the movies, and has the same name. Whether or not you desire for people to equate them, they always will.
  2. Peter Joseph uses the movement to attack people, such as myself and others, who disagree with his films -- if they were truly separate, he wouldn't do this.
  3. Members at meetings still show the films, the films are passed out to promote the movement, and even Peter Joseph himself says that the movies are the primary way they recruit new members.
  4. The Zeitgeist movie web site links to The Zeitgeist Movement on the Activism page.
  5. Most hardcore members are conspiracy theorists, a search on the forums alone shows hundreds of references to the earthquake in Haiti being "man made."
  6. Once you have to start explaining to people that the movies and movement aren't the same, the battle is lost, you're already a laughing stock. Just like how the Communist Party has to explain how the Soviet Union/China/etc isn't what they had in mind either.

Fuck Everyone Else

A lot of people don't like that I use foul language, but I needed to display the utter lack of compassion for other human beings TZM leadership seems to have, as well as some hardcore members. The situation in Haiti, again, is a great example of this -- reading many posts on the forums from members, it's quite clear that unless The Venus Project (TVP) is going to be the solution to the problems in Haiti, there's no use in helping them after the earthquake there.

What are YOU doing?

I get asked "well, what are YOU doing to improve the world?" by TZM members a lot. I constantly bring up that I volunteer pretty much every weekend and I donate 10% of my income to charity, and a lot of time I will donate more than that. Most come back with the fact "charity doesn't fix the problem." While they're right that charity doesn't fix the problem permanently, sitting on a forum doesn't either -- though some members have the audacity to claim that TZM is a charity, despite never lifting a finger for anyone else.

The example I use when talking to TZM members about this is:

If you saw a starving/dying man in the street, would you do something to help him, or would you say "once our movement gets to 50 million members, I'll be able to help you, but until then, see you later!"?

That's essentially the logic behind the leadership of TZM and what many members parrot to me, just in a much nicer way. They love talking about how many children are starving to death today, but they refuse to help them today, and instead speak of some far off future that they can't figure out how to get to.

I know and understand that not all TZM members are like this. I've seen some wonderful generosity and so forth coming from members, but more often than not, these members also don't follow Peter Joseph blindly, because the ones that do refuse to help anyone else.

General Problems

Here's a list of problems that I believe TZM has:

  1. There's no leadership accountability. Peter Joseph is the de facto leader of TZM, there's absolutely no democratic, technocratic, or meritocratic way for anyone else to effect change within the movement. If there was, I imagine that the movies and conspiracy theories would be pushed even further away, and Peter Joseph would no longer be center stage -- which is why it won't happen.
  2. The members are perceived as conspiracy theorists and the movement a conspiracy movement, despite all of the effort members put into claiming this isn't the case -- just because you say the movies aren't the movement, doesn't mean that people will buy it.
  3. They make no effort to actively help anyone. If they want people to trust that they can improve the world, they need to show that they are capable of it, until then they're just a forum on the Internet like any other. I often talk about how the single mother with two kids in daycare and three jobs has no reason to listen to them, so why should she? Until they can actively provide a reason for her to, she won't give a shit, and neither will anyone else.
  4. The movement is primarily idealistic young people, not qualified engineers, scientists, and so forth. Despite the fact that the movement promotes anti-credentialism (attacking people with credentials, and trusting those that have none) they still desire to have members that do have credentials to make themselves look credible.
  5. No one cares about ZDay. This is the yearly big meeting of TZM, and in 2009 Peter Joseph said that if things kept growing at the current rate by 2010 they would be in Madison Square Garden. Well, they weren't and ZDay was a flop outside of a few big cities with a terrible turn out. The main motive, media attention, failed to work as well, because outside of member-written articles, there was essentially no mention of it at all.
  6. The movement is perceived as anti-religious, this is in part due to the first film, but also because Peter Joseph and hardcore members still promote Acharya S as some kind of super-scholar. Anti-religion didn't work for the Communist Party in the United States, and it sure as hell isn't going to work for TZM.
  7. Criticism, even constructive criticism, is taboo within TZM and often leads to members (even ones that have been around since the beginning and are very useful to the movement) to be banned.
  8. Peter Joseph is more concerned with being right, than being useful -- discussed in his section above. Despite making claims like "11 = 12" he claims his critics, such as myself, are actually the ones who are "intellectually inhibited" and are thus "mentally ill." Calling your critics mentally ill isn't a great way to succeed, again this is a situation where one-upping them by showing you mean what you say would work better, but he'd rather just hurl insults.
  9. Peter Joseph claims that the people on the TZM mailing list are active members, when in reality about 1/10th the amount even signed up for the forums. He's a long way off from 50 million members, a number which he's mentioned should be reached before anything useful can happen with the movement.
  10. Many of the defenders of the movies (usually the ones who are also screaming the movies aren't the movement) actually believe them, not only that on the forums countless members promote pseudoscience.

There could be more added here later.

Future of TZM

I don't really see a future for TZM outside of degrading to hardcore members. Peter Joseph talks about a new movie coming out in October of 2010 that's going to get "millions" of new members, so essentially nearly 2 years of doing nothing but waiting for yet another film are what TZM has to show for.

I think it's all a shame, however, because getting all of those people together could have done something, could have lead to actual success in some way, but it's not even close to that. This hasn't stopped members from discussing the transition to the Resource Based Economy, despite the fact they're discussing step 10,000 when they haven't even reached step 1 and don't seem to want to.

At this point is essentially a way to stroke Peter Joseph's ego rather than accomplish any goals.

What I Would Change

Sometimes I'm asked what I'd change about TZM, in order to make it more acceptable. Well, while I don't think most of these changes are possible due to the way TZM is run, I usually humor those who ask:

  1. Make leadership accountable to members: a mix of democratic and technocratic hierarchy.
  2. Create a criticisms forum: even I have a corrections forum and don't ban people for claiming I'm wrong.
  3. Actually listen to what members have to say.
  4. Ditch the movies and shut down the movie site, create a video saying the movies have seriously nothing to do with the movement and tell members not to hand them out anymore.
  5. Change the name, it's already the butt of ridicule.

So, essentially my "5 point plan" is completely incompatible with a movement where Peter Joseph is the overlord.

Further Reading

Would you like to know more?