Recently I got two independent recommendations about the Zeitgeist movie series – which I had completely missed – and therefore decided to watch the whole series. I actually also watched some extra material and took a closer look at the Venus Project whose creator Jacque Fresco is heavily featured in the films.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movies I can really recommend them since they contain an intriguing mix of our history, the present and – perhaps most interestingly – one possible future. Everything is presented in a very convincing way that makes you really want to believe the messages which are communicated.
The films are basically a critique of our current economical (and political) system, but also presents fascinating theories about such diverese topics as the origins of religion (especially Christianity) and the 9/11 incident. Unlike a lot of other critique, these movies also offers possible solutions for the problems addressed.
I’m going to reflect on two of the main subjects of the movies:
1) Our current economic system based on fractional-reserve banking is seriously flawed and is slowing down our (technological) development.
The first part of this subject – fractional-reserve banking – is indeed truly fascinating and a bit mind boggling when you begin to fathom the implications of it.
I try to use the following model for understanding it. Say that there is no money in the world to begin with. A bank “creates” 100 coins and lends them to you under the premise that you will pay it back after a year with 5% interest. That is, a year from now you have to pay the bank 105 coins. Seems pretty reasonable, right?
There’s only one small problem here. The bank has, so far, only created 100 coins. That’s all the money that exists in the whole world right now. So how can they ask you to pay them back 105 coins when they know that there only exists 100 coins in the whole world?
Well, the bank has an easy solution to this problem – just create more coins and lend them to someone else, or hey, why not lend these new coins to you again so that you can pay the interest on the loan?
A system like this requires that more money is created all the time to make it work. Another thing worth observing is that since only banks can create money and they always lend it to someone (with an attached interest), all money is debt. All the money in the world has been lended to someone by some bank. Quite absurd when you think about it….
What about the second part of this statement, that our current economic system slows down (technological) development?
This statement is especially interesting to me since I have suggested something similar in a previous post. The reasoning in the movie more or less suggests that since most ideas today are evaluated from a profit making perspective instead of a “whats good for humanity” perspective, a lot of good ideas will never be realized.
Using profitability as a way to value an idea is indeed a problem, but I also think it can be a blessing since some kind of selection needs to be applied to the ideas that people come up with. Optimally, some kind of natural selection should be at work so that the “best suited” ideas automatically would be realized.
If people (how many? who?) should select which ideas that should be realized, I’m afraid “politics” would soon start seeping into the system again.
2) All the people on planet Earth could live much better lives than any of us does today. All that is required, is that we switch from a scarcity based economy to a resource based economy where all the resources in the world are shared among all the people in the world using a complex resource management system (a computer program). We would also need to introduce a very efficient transportation and recycling system.
This is a very nice idea, but when I watched the movie I immediately felt that one big problem needs to be solved to make this work: how many people should be allowed to live on planet Earth and for how many years do we want our civilisation (or even species) to survive?
If we want to build wonderful cities with top class infrastructure, nice homes and food for everyone and all the high tech tools we can dream of, how long will Earth’s resources last if we are 10 billion people? Perhaps there really is abundance of resources, but how do we know?
I’m a afraid a resource based economy could result in a society very similar to a lot of futurist (post apocalyptic) movies where everyone is walking around in identical clothing (grey overalls?) and eats some very uninspiring but very nutritious food. Something along the lines of the conditions of the “resistance movement” in Matrix.
This is where I think this wonderful dream starts to come apart. A lot of humans like to express their individuality and this is something we have done for a very long time, by choosing what to wear, which tattoos to adorn our bodies with, etc.
I don’t know if there were individualistic expressions during the “stone age”, but I actually suspect there were. I also suspect that individualism strongly have contributed to the consumer society we live in today. People want freedom to choose what to wear, what to eat and how to live.
I’m not sure everyone would be happy to live in identical homes in identical cities. And I think that happiness is a very important factor if we want to create a better world.