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  • The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann

  • As runaway global warming continues to accelerate

  • along with the gap between the rich and poor,

  • there's a sense among many that our civilization is in crisis.

  • What could be causing this crisis and how do we

  • move beyond the broken status quo

  • and literally design a better future?

  • Those big questions

  • are at the heart of social critic and activist Peter Joseph's new book

  • 'The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression.'

  • Peter is also a filmmaker and the founder of The Zeitgeist Movement.

  • He joins us now from our Los Angeles studios.

  • Peter Joseph, welcome to the program.

  • - Thank you Thom, I appreciate you having me.

  • - Great to have you with us. First off,

  • what kind of questions are you trying to answer in this book?

  • - I guess the core activist questions of why the world is the way it is,

  • why we've been banging our heads against civil and human rights

  • for many centuries now if not millennia,

  • why we end up with 48 million slaves still in the world today

  • by UN standards - more slaves at any time in human history -

  • and while we're on a collision course with nature

  • which nobody seems to be actively trying to really detour.

  • We have little policy adjustments here and there,

  • the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Accord,

  • but are we really going to see an end to this negative trajectory

  • that we've been seeing on multiple levels?

  • So, the book attempts to do just that.

  • - So why do we have these situations Peter?

  • - Okay, well fair enough.

  • At the heart of it all it comes to our economy.

  • We have an economic system that was birthed in the Malthusian period.

  • That's the period of time between

  • the Neolithic Revolution up until the Industrial Revolution

  • around the 18th century.

  • So you go back about 12,000 years ago and

  • we had a kind of geographical determinism if your people are familiar with

  • cultural anthropology, it's a very unique field.

  • And when we started agrarian society

  • we developed property and ownership,

  • we developed capital and the means of production,

  • labor specialization,

  • regulation and government, law enforcement,

  • and eventually we gave birth to what we know today as the market system of economics,

  • which has been fluid throughout this entire period of time.

  • We call capitalism today something separate as though

  • Adam Smith invented this in the Enlightenment

  • but really it's just another kind of variation on the same theme

  • of a society based upon scarcity,

  • based upon competition between parties and groups,

  • based upon exploitation,

  • which leads to dominance and oppression.

  • And as we found out in the 21st century and the mid-20th century

  • starting this trajectory, we are now in complete ecological crisis

  • because our entire economy is based on consumption.

  • So long story short, we have an economic mode that's entirely outdated.

  • And I really appreciate your introduction where you mentioned the word design,

  • because at the heart of our progress as a civilization is design.

  • It's our ingenuity,

  • it's our ability to do more and more with less and less and less.

  • Efficiency and design, that's the true wealth:

  • our strategic use of the environment

  • in order to make an amiable culture that isn't constantly at war with itself,

  • where it gets what it needs, it doesn't exist in deprivation and so on,

  • and that's what the book attempts to arc through.

  • So I walk through the history of economics, I walk through

  • to where we are today and why the

  • general activist community, the libertarian community,

  • the false dualities between the state and government need to be moved past.

  • There's a great deal of mythology; people talk about

  • crony capitalism as though that's kind of a real thing,

  • as though we should focus on corruption,

  • when in truth the whole system is foundationally corrupt!

  • It's foundationally opposition-against-opposition type of structure

  • and a consumer-based structure.

  • Those two things put together is a completely caustic reality,

  • and until we override this system and start to design out all of these problems,

  • focusing and amplifying what has actually improved our lives,

  • we're not going to get very far as a civilization,

  • as the trajectories show.

  • - You talk about cultural anthropology.

  • Peter Farb was probably one of the most brilliant cultural anthropologists

  • certainly in my lifetime. He's passed away now

  • but his book 'Man's Rise to Civilization,' which

  • chronicled 34 first contacts with Native American groups back in the 1600s,

  • points out that with one exception, one single exception,

  • none of those societies were organized the way that you're describing.

  • In fact in all of those societies, the people with the greatest,

  • the most highly elevated position, had the lowest amount of power.

  • The Potlatch society: that you gained status by giving things away

  • rather than accumulating. - Absolutely.

  • - People who acquired more and more and more were viewed as mentally ill

  • and ultimately expelled from societies.

  • - Yeah.

  • - And there's theories about how those evolved

  • but how do we get from here to there, if that's desirable?

  • - Well I'm glad you brought that up, that there are pockets of civilization that have lived differently.

  • Native American cultures, aboriginal cultures,

  • that have basically been weeded out over time unfortunately due to

  • the power system that we know as capitalism.

  • And I want to just point that out before we move on

  • that it's a great testament to the variability of human nature.

  • We've been peddling this argument, at least mainstream academia,

  • has peddled this argument that this system that we have now is a representative of us,

  • in our most core state, and we compete and we fight

  • and some win and some lose.

  • And that's completely debunked by examples that you just said

  • not to mention advancements

  • in neuropsychology and other things that complement all of that.

  • Now, in terms of how we actually move forward

  • there are five major transitions that need to occur

  • to take this from where we are today to a new system that actually respects itself,

  • that doesn't thrive on competition and oppression.

  • First we have automation.

  • The rise of automation is extremely powerful and it's not

  • something that should be belittled or looked at as some kind of sci-fi fantasy.

  • We should look at this for what it really is and that's the alleviation

  • of the core attribute of the civil rights battle

  • going back to Egyptian slavery, going back to union busters.

  • Labor has always been the core edifice of oppression and exploitation.

  • That is a well-established phenomenon.

  • And with automation we're able to now move past this.

  • We're able to now realize that we're not only more efficient with the application of automation

  • but we can actually alleviate this core woe that has kept people,

  • this group-istic problem at hand, kept people at odds with each other,

  • the haves and the have-nots.

  • So labor, human labor to automation, is the first step

  • which is again being implied through our society right now

  • if you read modern social study on the advancement of technology.

  • Then you have a property-to-access system.

  • We see this new phenomenon having to do with

  • sharing systems, library systems,

  • car systems, house systems.

  • People are beginning to collaboratively share

  • and that's a very interesting phenomenon.

  • And what it implies is that people are less interested in ownership

  • and they're more interested in access.

  • And in truth if you have an access society

  • where people are getting what they need through access as opposed to property and hoarding,

  • you enabled more stuff to be available to more people

  • with less ecological footprint.

  • Less cars being driven around.

  • Obviously that's not good for the market economy.

  • The market economy assumes that there should be one person owning one of everything,

  • that's the highest optimization, and repeat purchases.

  • Create more efficiency, you create more egalitarian structure.

  • The third thing - I'm just going to go through these really quickly -

  • is your proprietary neuroses.

  • We have boardroom people sitting together and they're hoarding

  • their intellectual property, not sharing it,

  • and at the root of course of all of our development is sharing.

  • Whether it's sharing historically from

  • the development of science over the course of time or sharing horizontally.

  • The fact that

  • we invariably are a civilization that is based upon

  • people eventually sharing, through market dynamics.

  • That's what markets actually do. The competitive mechanism

  • eventually leads to sharing, interestingly enough,

  • so that leads to open source. So if we can open source our sectors,

  • open source all major industries, that would be a tremendous step,

  • build in the emphasis of a collaborative system, incredible step.

  • And the fourth one, globalization to localization.

  • We have globalization, the average American meal

  • travels about 1400 miles

  • before it gets to the individual's plate; that's lunacy.

  • We can localize, we can use the advancement of technology

  • to do things in the most efficient way possible

  • in that manner.

  • And the fifth issue has to do with this old idea that you can't have ...

  • can't have an economy without market dynamics and money being exchanged.

  • The idea of Ludwig von Mises:

  • you have to have an economic calculation

  • with this constant preference-assuming exchange,

  • and that's no longer feasible. We have digital feedback

  • that can be stretched across the world to know exactly what we have,

  • again without that kind of proprietary neuroses where people are hoarding their data.

  • And then this is how we can actually create a sustainable civilization:

  • when we can look at all the resources, look at the behavior,

  • and begin to work around this behavior

  • and that would be the fifth and final step.

  • And all of this is detailed extensively

  • far beyond what I'm saying right now in the book,

  • specifically chapter 5 which is the solution chapter.

  • - Yeah. Absolutely.

  • Peter, talk about the Zeitgeist Movement that you started.

  • What is it, or was it, and how does it fit into what you're talking about in this book?

  • - The Zeitgeist Movement was started about 10 years ago,

  • it's a global sustainability advocacy group.

  • It promotes exactly more or less what I've just talked about.

  • The New Human Rights Movement book takes a different angle to it

  • because I'm always trying to use communication in different ways.

  • But it supports a natural law resource-based economy

  • and this is effectively embodiment of that train of thought that I just described,

  • where you're moving from

  • a system that's basically the antithesis of sustainability,

  • the antithesis of preservation, the antithesis of collaboration,

  • to one that supports those values in a design approach.

  • I want to give an example of this because when

  • to talk about this, people- their heads spin, they think you're a Marxist and so on.

  • They think that there's going to be some boardroom

  • that sits around and makes all these decisions.

  • You can have CAD, computer-aided design, computer-aided engineering,

  • through open source connected to metrics across the world

  • that is gauging what people are doing,

  • and people can actively design anything at their computers.

  • And through this collaborative Commons that can be established through modern technology

  • you no longer even NEED corporations,

  • because the open-source mechanism, the ability

  • to actually democratically participate and I emphasize that word democracy.

  • It's very hard to hear people talk about democracy and capitalism in the same sentence

  • because they're completely antithetical.

  • But this is the kind of phenomenon of interaction that we're speaking of:

  • a very autonomous but yet unified global consciousness.

  • So the Zeitgeist Movement promotes that, we've been doing events for about 10 years,

  • and we will continue to do events and hopefully grow that train of thought.

  • I often joke that everyone's in the Zeitgeist Movement whether they know it or not,

  • because as the term "zeitgeist" defined,

  • it's basically the ethic of a species,

  • it's the defining characteristics and values of a species,

  • and we're all contributing to that with our everyday behavior

  • one way or another.

  • But yeah, people should look into the Zeitgeist Movement as well.

  • - Yeah, the spirit of the times. We have just 30 seconds Peter.

  • We're seeing the rise of democratic socialism around the world as a real force.

  • How do you interpret that in light of what you talk about the book?

  • It's a great step forward but I don't think it's enough because

  • rarely do people that speak of democratic socialism

  • actually get to the heart of the root structural problems

  • that I just spoke of: a society based explicitly on scarcity,

  • an infrastructure that's still oriented around competition.

  • You know we can have cooperatives, I'm all for all these

  • different things we could do to revise the financial system:

  • complementary currencies, again cooperative corporations and so on.

  • But until we realize that the system is fundamentally unsustainable,

  • it's fundamentally competitive and oppressive.

  • It's like a river Thom.

  • And we can put up barricades, we can put up dams to try and hold

  • the natural flow, the natural logic back of what this system is,

  • or we can work to change direction and create an entirely new system,