Peter Joseph is an American independent filmmaker and activist. He is best known for the Zeitgeist film series, which he wrote, directed, narrated, scored, and produced. He is the founder of the related The Zeitgeist Movement. Other professional work includes directing the music video God Is Dead? for the band Black Sabbath
• Tory Belleci (Tory Belleci is a Sicilian-American filmmaker and model maker, best known for his work on the Dis...)
• Les Stroud (Les Stroud is a Canadian survival expert, filmmaker and musician best known as the creator, write...)
• Juliette Lewis (Juliette L. Lewis is an American actress and singer. She gained fame for her role in Martin Scors...)» All Filmmaker Interviews
Peter Joseph is an American-born social critic and activist who has lectured around the world on the subject of cultural sustainability. Once deemed “The Herald of Occupy Wall Street” for his tacit prediction of inevitable global uprisings against inequality and economic injustice, his extensive media work has been translated into over 130 languages and experienced by 250 million people.
First of all, thank you for being a voice of reason in a society that increasingly seems to be bent on destroying itself. Your system based approach is a breath of fresh air in a society that seems to only care about changes of leadership, rather than any fundamental changes to the system. I am about 1/3 into reading your new book, and I am really finding it inspirational in how to conceptualize the changes we need to make to the system in order to create better outcomes.
What do you think are some initial concrete steps we can take now, to start the process of changing the system? Do you think these changes will be harder or easier to implement in a Trump administration?
What do you think of Modern Monetary Theory, and the ability for us to use that theory to transition away from scarcity based economics?
Thank you for the kind comments regarding the book. It was a very challenging project in my attempt to make the ideas as simplified as possible. Your question about concrete steps are talked about in chapter 5. It is summarized as five core transition needs: access, automation, open-source, localization and digitized network feedback. (see ch 5)
As far as “modern monetary theory”, assuming you're referring to the view that government as the monopoly of its currency, etc”, I really am not big on currency or money transformation – Not because I don't think it could help – but because the degree of help would be marginal when compared to how deep the market systems problems actually go.
How do you feel about Elon Musk's recent efforts / sentiments? Thoughts? I feel like he's seen your work.
Musk is one of the few thoughtful billionaire technologists that has his thumb on the pulse of what is happening in the world. I find the richer folks get, the more detached from reality they become. HyperLoop and Tesla and his interest in advanced battery storage is critically important to developmental/ sustainable infrastructure. He is also in support of universal basic income knowing that the advancement of technological unemployment isn't stoppable. While I could certainly make suggestions to such a figure, he is certainly on the right path and hasn't been too distorted by his extreme wealth.
I'm a big fan of your work. But I'm pretty discouraged. Everything seems so difficult to change. Technological innovation seems to bring more chaos than solution. We do not know how to deal with this new reality. It seems that as soon as we realize that the problem is not immigrants, but a new technological reality, we will seek to limit technological innovation. Try to stop in time. Your new book on Human Rights brings a radical vision, but it is already difficult to convince people of the traditional and more conservative view of human rights.
Are you optimistic? Will a better world come, whether we like it or not, or do we need to fight for it? If we need to fight, can we lose?
I can identify with your frustration. Current trends are certainly not positive. I would say I am optimistic because there's no point in feeling any other way. The type of transitions needed to set a new course for humanity are radical but they're also logical and fairly obvious to those who take time to learn about a sustainable train of thought. At this time, technological innovation is a double edge sword because industry’s incentives are wrong. Most of the R&D in universities still goes to the military when it comes to innovation, for example. I’ll conclude by saying that the world is going to change one way or another. And it will not change in a polite and fluid way. The only question I ask: is how much suffering has to occur before people realize the dire need. The new human rights movement requires global galvanizing.
Russel Brand and Sam Harris both have interesting podcasts. You were the first to get me into podcasts in the early days of TZM doing your weekly updates. Any plans to start podcasting again? When the F are you finally going to release InterReflections?
I was invited on the Russell brand show years ago but due to a scheduling conflict I was unable to make it. I understand he has a new podcast so I will reach back out to him. As far as personal podcasts, I don't have time for those at the moment. And I'm sorry for the delay with IR. There have been consistent personal problems and technical issues, along with financial restrictions, that have kept the production moving slower than I want. The goal is still by the end of the year.
Please also take into consideration jumping on the joe rogan podcast. He has massive reach and your message would absolute resonate with his audience.
I await Joe Rogan's outreach, hopefully after he reads my book
I recent came across your lecture series on youtube and was blown away by the arguments and points you presented.
Aside from Buckminster Fuller, who would you recommend reading on subjects related to the destructive properties inherent to the market system as well as writing pertaining to the futuristic and automated society you present?
Also, what do you think are the specific and general failings of the movement as a whole to spread word about the movement? I know it is fairly extensive but having been interested in political and economic theory for several years it seems absurd i had only discovered your work in the last two weeks.
I hope you continue to try to change the world
Thank you for the compliment. I recommend Thorsten Veblen. He is a bit difficult but his analysis of the system holistically transcends Karl Marx by a longshot. If you want to go way back in time, a fascinating read is a work by John Etzler: “the Paradise within the reach of all men.” This was written in 1833 and of course he was dismissed as a lunatic utopian-ist. But his insight is so ahead of its time, you'll be shocked by what he writes. I also recommend Jeremy Rifkin and Jacque Fresco of course.
As far as the “failings” of the movement, we are dealing with a task of absurd proportions so it's good to be kind to oneself when it comes to thinking about progress. Far as I'm concerned, the movement hasn't even started as the public still isn't smart enough yet to understand what the core factors of social stability, public health, and environmental balance really are.
Peter, do you think there is any hope for humanity? Your work over the years has helped me to better understand the way our world functions, and has given me hope that if we all are able to wake up then we have a chance... but given the current political climate all over the world, I'm beginning to feel hopeless.
If you care about yourself and your family and society and are empathic to the whole of human civilization, there is no point thinking about whether there is hope or not. :) Being human means you care. And if everyone thought that way, the world would change virtually overnight. As stated in my prior comment, is really an issue of people arriving at a shared value system as rapidly as possible. The more problems that arise, in combination with diligent education – such as with the Zeitgeist movement’s work –the higher the probability people will wake up and see the need.
Do you think the idea of a resource based economy is progressing at a decent enough pace that we could begin to see the first part of a transition anytime soon?
As I detail in Chapter 5 of the new book, the five major trends that I see needing to be accelerated are already happening. We are slowly moving, at least in some gesture, from (1) a society obsessed with property to one increasingly interested in access. (2) from a society based on proprietary information to one that sees how open-source is proving to be more effective (3) to a society that sees how technology is replacing jobs and creating the ultimate contradiction of capitalism, along with how the application of technology is creating vast efficiency that could solve many material social problems (4) while also recognizing that localization is more sustainable than globalization and as the "more with less" phenomenon, as described by theorists like Jeremy Rifkin or buckminster fuller, globalization will slowly be less profitable than localization; (5) and then we have the Internet of things which is effectively a means to void Ludwig von Mises "price calculation argument". The real problem is that people do not understand the synergy of these new developments and how they make the market systems logic obsolete. This is again– the educational imperative required by all of us
I've been a huge fan of your work ever since watching the Zeitgeist film trilogy a couple years ago, and I'm currently in the process of reading your new book which I find to be very eye-opening as well. As someone who has believed in determinism my whole life, I didn't need very much convincing in order to accept the premises that The Zeitgeist Movement is based on. However, I have a hard time explaining some of these concepts to my peers who are very attached to the notion of "free will", and believe that something like a resource based economy would be unfairly restrictve because people should be able to make market decisions that benefit them as an individual, and they believe human wants are infinite. My question is, what do you think is the best way to get across to these people?
Another question, more related to TZM itself: Has there been any recent progress on blueprints and technical details? About a year ago in a Facebook note you mentioned launching "a series of open source, interactive design platforms to start multi-tier modeling of real dynamics" regarding how the technical application of an RBE could work, and stressed the importance of doing this if we were to be taken seriously by the scientific community. As someone who is interested in the technical aspect, I've been eagerly awaiting progress on this. Thank you so much for your incredible, mind-changing work over the last few years, and for hosting this AMA! Hopefully I will see you at the next Zeitgeist Media Festival.
Thank you and I appreciate you supporting the book release. I am glad it is coming through.
As far as free will, there is no easy answer as to how the best communication unfolds since it really depends on the person. I would suggest starting broadly in your argument speaking about how 99% of the time peoples' religious identification is regionally based. If people have open thought free will, then why are they so attached to the religion that was taught to them by their parents and is native to their community? The same goes for people’s language and the very words they use / ideas they learn. If they have free will, why can't they just snap their fingers and be just as proficient with every language on the planet? Likewise, you can ask them to recall things from high school that they clearly cannot anymore… if they have free will, they should have effectively every learned option imaginable planted in their mind. Do you see what I'm getting at?
Another angle is talking about population level phenomenon– hence sociology – that statistically correlates certain childhood experiences to probable adult disorders or behaviors. There is no question that abuse as a child can lead to drug addiction, for example. Is people have pure free will, then why this constant statistical outcome across populations due to childhood experiences? Also ask them about behavior and how people are easily manipulated when group consensus is presented. It is been found that the nervous system reacts negatively when the brain perceives being an outcast regarding a given group consensus. Basically the brain punishes you if you have an "outgroup" perspective in many cases.
The problem with the free will argument is that our consciousness is wired to assume it is singular/detached. I call this "localized thinking”. People think they are free-thinking because the brain wants them to. Baggage of our evolutionary psychology that is actually quite destructive.
As far as your Facebook noted question – I wish we had the people and money/resources/time to start certain interactive design platforms to exemplify the type of technical reorientation for a true participatory economy. The new Zeitgeist movement 501(c)(3) is working on these ideas.
Thank you for your efforts, it sparked a lot of personal development for me, in large part because of the social networks it spawned locally and online, as I'm sure it has for many others.
1) Have you read Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski, or Tyranny of Words by Stuart Chase?
2) Any books you have read lately that changed your mind significantly? Or that you think should be highlighted as worthwhile material?
3) Since 2007, how has your level of cynicism evolved?, has it increased, decreased, been stable?
Science and Sanity and Tyranny of words are two fantastic books that I certainly recommend to everyone even though the former is a bit complicated. Other books include pretty much everything by Buckminster F. and Jeremy Rifkin and even some texts that have good general data such as Abundance by Peter Diamandis…albeit in denial about the true negative ramifications of market system. I also recommend Heroes by Franco Berardo, who does a unique job thinking about the rise of Mass murderer such as the Batman or Columbine massacres - connecting them to neoliberalism. I also like the works of Alfie Kohn, regarding child education along with Gabor Mate and Robert Sapolsky as far as Neuroscience. There are many more but these are my suggestions off the top of my head.
As far as my cynicism, it has stayed the same! Just keep piping in George Carlin and Charlie Brooker and you will feel fine through catharsis ;)
Over the years I've chatted a fair few Zeit supporters/advocates who really don't (to me) understand what it is they're advocating. Do you think these people are a net positive for the movement or net negative? The more the merrier or unqualified/distracting voices harm the movement.
The Zeitgeist Movement and the film series phenomenon attracts a lot of different people with a lot of different perspectives. I think there is a learning curve for people to really get what is being presented through the course of what the movement and myself have been talking about for almost a decade. As with any counter culture organization, very fringe elements are naturally attracted. But one thing I have noticed is a lot of the noise has been reduced over the years and while people may see some decline in numbers as a problem– I really see it as a fortification of people who actually understand.
How should we respond to the growing possibility of another war?
Donald Trump's push against Syria, based on very little real evidence of the use of chemical weapons, is an extremely troubling sign. Since trump is impulsive and reactionary I would say war will probably be just as consistent if not slightly worse then would've happened if Hillary Clinton was elected. Broadly, I see global war as an inevitability as the environmental crises grow. The first two world wars were wars of geopolitical dominance, economic dominance and ideology. The next war will be about resources for real - for this is the first time in human history we are seeing a massive decline of life support systems.
Hi Peter, big fan of your work, just wanted to ask, Where do you see the world going in 20 years??
In 20 years things will get worse since there is very little reason to think that the general population has absorbed enough relevant information about our sociological condition yet. The only wild card is the consistent growth of technological innovation which could slow things down a bit – that is partly my hope. You'll notice that peak oil became a nonissue a number of years back because oil companies belligerently used advanced technology to suck more hydrocarbons out of the earth then was possible before. (which was horrible since that money and investment should've gone to renewables rather than more hydrocarbon investment) This is kind of "delay of reckoning" will probably persist in various arenas. But without structural change, things are not going to work out.
Current negative trends include: (1) ongoing loss of biodiversity and annual resource overshoot (2) increase of government debts which will limit the capacity of countries to actually afford solutions (3) pollution, including not only climate change which will be apocalyptic once we pass the 500 ppm -but also the ongoing destruction of the oceans, general air pollution and growing loss of fertile topsoil. (4) if technological unemployment isn't addressed through, at a minimum universal basic income, this will lead to vast social unrest to be sure. I could mention a few other things – but I peg around 2040 to 2050 as a period of mass social destabilization if nothing changes.
I think we should start building a community to implement and learn producing food and other necessities without much work. We should give people a chance to live outside of the market system. Do you think there is a reason for the zeitgeist movement not to support that or would it fail because of the influence of the curent system?
That very idea is integral to my communication strategy in my new film trilogy InterReflections.
As far as creating a small community, it really would have to be high tech to get the point across. And without a great deal of money I don't think such a colony would be successful in the current world at this time. I do like organizations such as ‘open source ecology’ and the kind of minimalistic/off the grid living presented -- as at least it gets the sustainability and coexistence part across… but there really is no such thing as a "resource-based economy community" in the true sense of the definition.
However, I do theorize that as time moves forward–as ephemeralization continues (more with less) I suspect some country will eventually lock off its economic borders and begin to create a completely independent economy. For example, imagine if Cuba experienced its embargoes 50 years from now– and they had the efficient technology to not even need any type of imports or exports. (This is also why I pitch "localization" as a critical transition.)
However, in a world with inevitable "empires" (also a consequence of competitive capitalist society) any country that wishes to go"off the grid" would be met with tremendous pushback, to be sure. The neoliberal order sees any country doing anything outside “free-markets” as economically sacrilegious and is very intolerant. This is even policy ultimately at the United Nations. Free markets are associated with democracy/human rights– which of course is lunacy.
Huge supporter of your work and I truly hope we start to see the radical change that is required in our lifetime. Have you ever considered going on tour throughout the world to spread your messages? I am certain that any university or conference center would sponsor you and other members of the Zeitgeist Movement. I know you shouldn't feel burdened with having to do all of this on your own and I know many people would be willing to help. However; information is only as good as the manner in which it is communicated and I have seen your lectures, read your books, and viewed your films. There's no if, ands, or buts, that you have a very unique talent for being able to communicate things in a way that resonates with people and I believe that is essential in getting people to understand and arrive at conclusions for themselves. I have yet to see someone communicate such "seemingly" elusive and complex subject matter in a way that people can understand, other than yourself. Nonetheless, thank you for all you do!
The very thought of going “on tour“ nearly inspires an aneurysm or a heart attack. ;) The beauty of the Internet is the message can move without a lecturer having to go city by city. Personally, I am very introverted and generally physically and mentally exhausted all the time. That said, I do travel to places that are open to the message and ideally have a good smart audience. Universities would be great and we have done some of that here in Los Angeles.
Thank you for the compliment. I try my best. Obviously, I will gravitate towards pretty much anyone who is listening… but physically, right now I need to try and finish larger order communication projects rather than lectures.
If you could go back in time ten years, what would you do differently? Would you make the Zeitgeist films and create the movement the same way?
That's an almost impossible question because the synergies of the time; the way my first film and the other films evolved was actually quite organic and difficult to understand as far as outcomes. Today, people criticize my first film saying it detracts from the movements message. I agree with that but at the time of the first film I had no intention of starting a movement of any kind. And with my rock-shock-documentary Zeitgeist, given the vast popularity it achieved, there might not have even been a chance to mobilize a large number of people towards a new social direction, regardless of their beliefs.
So there is really no way for me to answer that. Again, the movement was pushed on me– I didn't really start anything ;)
Information overload. Can you give any advice on your process (from ideas to screen)? I keep finding myself overwhelmed, then de-motivated...
If you're referring to the creative process in filmmaking, it starts with research and then note extraction and then category creation and then category organization. You have to find a method to distill the ideas and create form. For documentary that is fairly straightforward. For live action films with actors you're faced, of course, with taking those ideas and turning them into dialogue in symbologies etc. I would have to know little bit more about what you were working on to give better advice. If you feel overwhelmed, then you are doing too much at once!
Thank you Peter, you’re awesome. What can I do to help others progress in this way? We are all in this together and I want to help but I’m not sure how.
Started develop strategies and pools of information that appeal to different walks of life. The biggest barrier in communication are people's culturally ingrained values and general fear of rocking the boat
Peter, I see that you've heard from Michael C Rupert. You might have seen his film Collapse talk about the end of human industrial civilization. But I'm curious to know if you've seen talks by Guy McPherson, because he takes it to the next level by saying there won't be any humans on Earth by 2030 due to abrupt climate change. He says he isn't wrong about his predictions, that he's just putting the data together. Do you have thoughts on Guy and his reasoning (presuming you've heard)?
Michael C Ruppert was a friend of mine and his death/suicide was an incredible tragedy, first of all. I point that out because his fatalistic view of the fall of human industrial civilization was not fully rational and I tried to speak with him numerous times about how the growth of technological efficiency will continue to preserve capitalism overall for a good while – even though it will continue to create increased inequality, ecological decline and social destabilization. The problem isn't the collapse of society - it will be the corrosion of billions of people's well-being as the upper 1% become more affluent and the majority continue to suffer. As far as I'm concerned, with almost 1,000,000,000 people not meeting their basic nutrition requirements today, society has already "collapsed". That seems like a fair enough measured to me to say human society has failed or is failing, given our true potential.
I do not subscribe to any ideas that humanity is doomed by any particular date. We have the option to change and it would not surprise me, for example — and purely hypothetically speaking —that somebody invents a tool that can pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. Again, I'm not saying this will happen but we don't know what technology has up its sleeve as time moves forward.
However, as I pointed out before, by 2040/2050 – if current trends remain the same– we are going to see spectacular social destabilization due to the synergy of growing negative trends
What're some bands you like?
I grew up as a classical musician obsessed with complex 20th-century contemporary music. And that led me to groups like Frank Zappa and King Crimson and Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer and then eventually Tool and Primus and Confessor and Meshugahh…and many other groups that are a kind of classical progressive fusion. Like most drummers, my biggest early influence was Neil Peart, of course.
Will IR be a limited theater release, or can we hope to also see a simultaneous digital release? Also, any plans on an audiobook version of "The New Human Rights Movement?"
Audiobook will be recorded next week. And I'm doing my best to get the film in as many theaters as I can, without compromising integrity.
For me, switching to crypto currencies that represent the resource cost of a good/product (carbon, water, rare earth elements, metals, hours of labour, etc) would be a good transitional tool that's implementable today. What tools do you think would really help transition our society that could be snuck through without requiring the end goal as a motivator?
I agree that crypto currencies would be a good improvement. Because blockchains contain lots of data and have unique transparency, it would be very interesting and productive to see traditional currency or money be replaced more holistically.
But keep in mind, it doesn't change the real problem of market logic. I have been in many debates with people that think changing money and going back to a gold standard and so on would alter what is ultimately the system of control and oppression known as capitalism. I really don't think it would have that effect in terms of altering currency/money properties. But, as I think you are implying, the blockchain can be used for many other productive things in terms of feedback and economic accounting. I will be exploring this in the second of the InteReflections film trilogy where people are living differently using a kind of block chain technology to organize their society. But yes, transitionally, I think it would be a good step as well.
I want to learn more about this movement what should I read? Also is there any difference between the system you propose and communism? I proposed this idea of /r/DebateCommunism not to challenge them but just to get feedback. They all said that literally is communism.
It's unfortunate how impulsive people are, throwing the label socialism or communism on any idea that effectively is non-hierarchical and not based on markets and mediums of exchange.
Most of these folks really don't even know what they're saying. Are they referring to communism as practiced in the USSR? If so, then they are way off as that was little more then blind central planning and authoritative dictatorship. Are they referring to communism as preached by Karl Marx? If so, then they are also way off because Karl Marx never really had a true system of socialism or communism in terms of design. He spent 99.9% of his writing on theories of capitalism.
What the Zeitgeist movement & myself promote is a society based upon efficient design. Design efficiency and the intelligent use of science and technology is what underscores our real economic development in terms of increased standards of living and reduced suffering. Theorists of communism were far too ignorant of these scientific efficiency ideas when they wrote about it. Communism was really about "freeing the workers" more than any kind of design, in the majority of the rhetoric put out in the 19th/20th century.
As far as reading, you should check out “the Zeitgeist movement defined” which is a free text/book produced by the movement (see thezeitgeistmovement.com). I also finished a personal book called "the new human rights movement" which is available through various vendors and was published by BenBella books.
will you do the reading yourself?
Thoughts on cyrpto-currencies- i.e. Bitcoin?
Please see the other question above. Thanks
you must have the "I told you so" feeling so bad almost every day in this climate. Im a massive admirer of your work, bought TZM defined, and am very much shaped by the TZM movies and values. thank you for what you do, I cant wait to see interreflections.
Would you go back on the Joe Rogan Podcast? It would be great to see you around the internet again doing your thing, although I understand how busy you must be.
also, how do you feel about TVP these days? I feel they are quieter than ever in a time where you'd think they' be able to win more people over.
Thank you. It means a lot to me when people say such things. Truth be told, I really don't enjoy being an activist. It really wasn't what my life trajectory had planned.
Anyway. I would go back on the Joe Rogan podcast if he made a conscious effort to take serious issues into account. I understand he's a comedian but with his kind of following he has a social responsibility. He also bad mouthed me a while back which wasn't very cool. He did invite me back on the show a couple years ago but I was a bit disgusted by his insults and told him to get back in touch another time. Perhaps the time has come. But that ball is in his court.
As far as the Venus Project, I honestly haven't paid much attention. I'm sure they are doing what they always have but given Fresco’s age, things must be a lot harder. For the record, I have great respect for Fresco - but the partnership between the Zeitgeist movement & the Venus Project simply wasn't meant to be.
What're some of your favorite artists in the hip-hop/rap community?
The Goats were great
Social change comes down to a change in values, right?
In what concrete ways are you (we) currently trying to change our educational systems? What are actions we (the people) can take to make bottom-up changes?
Social change does come down to a changing values but it's important to recognize that our values are not necessarily an option of free will. We must structurally recognize that without a change of incentives in our social system, our/everyone’s values will still be vulnerable to destructive, unsustainable, dominance, competitive and status patterns. In other words, human society cannot change itself from the inside as a whole.
Now, some of us probably like yourself, can realize the way you wish to be without as much interference. We are the anomalies. And it still takes a great deal of education and personal reflection to reach a point where you reject the values of the mainstream culture that surrounds you, along with the procedural dynamics that are creating this prevalent distorted social psychology as well.
That stated, I stand by the sociological science that says we have to change the prevailing social/economic structure more than anything else. Our educational systems are really a result of this same structure which is why kids learn to memorize things rather than critical thought, while being organized in grade hierarchies, while also subservient to authority. They are being groomed for "jobs".
A new platform for education would be one that supports conceptual integration and synergies. If systems theory was taught to grade school children, then they would be much less likely to be racist and bigoted, while also seeing labor specialization as a drawback to wisdom, for example. Much could be said on these issues and I recommend Alfie Kohn once again, especially when it comes to removing the competitive ethic from child development.
Hi, Peter. I have over a dozen questions. I'll post separately as they're not entirely related.
Have you heard about 'The Cardboard Box Reform' that James D'Angelo and Congressional Research Institute advocate (less transparency in government to let politicians do their jobs) and if so, what's your take on it?
I'm sorry to say I have not– but since you mentioned it I will look into it. Thanks for the ref note