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Peter Joseph is Peter Joseph Merola, born into a working/middle class family, attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and dropped out of the Mannes Conservatory of Music in NYC. He had hoped to be a professional marimba player, but instead went into video production and Wall Street day trading. He currently lives and works in New York City as a freelance film editor/composer/producer and is the creator of the Zeitgeist film trilogy and the founder of the Zeitgeist Movement.
What began as a self-described vaudeville performance piece, was then placed on YouTube, gleaned broad interest among conspiracy buffs and became the 2007 documentary Zeitgeist: The Movie, which begins with a deconstruction of the Christ myth and all institutional religion, segues into 9/11 theories and concludes with the manipulation of the international monetary system and the media by the power elites.
While the film has been praised by some for being "compellingly edited", it has also been criticized for factual inaccuracies, and the quality of its arguments, with critics describing it as "agitprop" and "propaganda". A sequel, Zeitgeist: Addendum, focuses further on the monetary system and advocates a resource-based social system influenced by the ideas of Jacque Fresco and the Venus Project (from whom Peter Joseph has apparently lately fallen out in mutual acrimony). Following the release of Zeitgeist: Addendum, Peter Joseph created an organization called the Zeitgeist Movement to promote the ideas of Fresco's Venus Project. Joseph also produced an updated 2010 version of the original film in order to address dated material and improve its accuracy. A third film called Zeitgeist: Moving Forward was released theatrically on 15 January 2011 and online on 25 January 2011.
While "the movies are not the movement" is an oft-repeated mantra of Peter Joseph, he also states that it has been the primary recruitment tool, though it has also generated a fair amount of highly critical response. Ironically, though the movie and movement vision is one of an entirely rational world which shuns spirituality, emotion, personal perception and intuition, the movies are all highly emotionally-charged and visually suggestive while being factually suspect, similar to any well-made propaganda film.
"The idea, though it is not new, (but is packaged in hypnotising emotional propaganda movies) sounds lovely. Lets give up our power to machines. In one generation we lose every skill we ever had at managing the earth, growing food, existing as a family unit, forget how to exercise, work at anything and become so dependant on the system that should an error occur the engineers become the new elite, the rulers of the technocratic communist sci-fi dystopia."
- The Sovereign Independent, Peter Joseph, Jacque Fresco and the Zeitgeist Movement: Venus Flytrap or Final Solution? http://www.sovereignindependent.com/?p=13193
"The film is an interesting object lesson on how conspiracy theories get to be so popular.... It's a driven, if uneven, piece of propaganda, a marvel of tight editing and fuzzy thinking. Its on-camera sources are mostly conspiracy theorists, co-mingled with selective eyewitness accounts, drawn from archival footage and often taken out of context. It derides the media as a pawn of the International Bankers, but produces media reports for credibility when convenient. The film ignores expert opinion, except the handful of experts who agree with it. And yet, it's compelling. It shamelessly ploughs forward, connecting dots with an earnest certainty that makes you want to give it an A for effort."
- Ivor Tossell, the Globe and Mail, August 17, 2007, "Conspiracy theorists yelling in the echo chamber"
Jane Chapman, a film producer and reader in media studies at the University of Lincoln, called Zeitgeist "a fast-paced assemblage of agitprop", an example of unethical film-making. She accuses Joseph of "implicit deception" through the use of unreferenced and undated assertions, and standard film-making propaganda techniques. While parts of the film are, she says, "comically" self-defeating, the nature of “twisted evidence” and use of Madrid bomb footage to imply it is of the London bombings (she approvingly cites a student journalist who calls it an "out and out lie") amount to ethical abuse in sourcing (in later versions of the movie, a subtitle is added to this footage identifying it as from the Madrid bombings). She finishes her analysis with the comment:
"Thus legitimate questions about what happened on 9/11, and about corruption in religious and financial organizations, are all undermined by the film’s determined effort to maximize an emotional response at the expense of reasoned argument."
- Chapman, Jane (2009), Issues in Contemporary Documentary. Polity Press. pp. 171–173
Regarding the origins of Christianity in The Movie, Part I:
Skeptic magazine's Tim Callahan criticizing the first part of the film (on the origins of Christianity) wrote that "some of what it asserts is true. Unfortunately, this material is liberally – and sloppily – mixed with material that is only partially true and much that is plainly and simply bogus… Zeitgeist is The Da Vinci Code on steroids."
- Callahan, Tim (2009). "The Greatest Story Ever Garbled". Skeptic 28
Chris Forbes, Senior lecturer in Ancient History of Macquarie University and member of the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney, severely criticized Part I of the movie, asserting that it has no basis in serious scholarship or ancient sources, and that it relies on amateur sources that recycle frivolous ideas from one another, rather than serious academic sources, commenting, "It is extraordinary how many claims it makes which are simply not true." Similar conclusions were reached by Dr. Mark Foreman of Liberty University.
- "Zeitgeist: Time to discard the Christian story?". Interview at the Centre for Public Christianity, Sydney, Australia.
"Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie: Alleged Parallels between Jesus and Ancient Pagan Religions". 2011, Evangelical Philosophical Society.
According to the Zeitgeist Movement website, its mission is "the installation of a new socioeconomic model based upon technically responsible Resource Management, Allocation and Distribution through what would be considered The Scientific Method of reasoning problems and finding optimized solutions."
"This Resource-Based Economic Model is about taking a direct technical approach to social management. It is about updating the workings of society to the most advanced and proven methods Science has to offer."
While claiming to offer a social model that is a revolutionary readjustment from today's hierarchical political economy, it is organized in a surprisingly top-down hierarchical way.
Chapters of the Zeitgeist Movement are organized in Tiers.
From "Top to Bottom", including:
The Movement, it claims, is governed by what they call "rational consensus".
"Rational Consensus is not to be confused with the historically failed traditional Mob Rule Democratic Process of one person - one vote. TZM does not condone total, open mob rule democracy as it is based on the faulty assumption that each participating party is educated enough to make the most intellectually appropriate, unbiased decision. Proper Decision Making has nothing to do with the interests of a group of people, nor the interests of a single person. Proper Decision Making is a purely technical process of logical assessment of a given set of variables and hence can only be based on upon tangible, technical referents - not abject, unsupported mass value opinion, which is what the pure democratic theory erroneously assumes holds integrity. In other words, each argument of a given member must be logically supported by an external referent/set of external referents – clearly reasoned in communication to support the conclusion given. The manifestation of this reasoning could be called a Case. If the argument cannot be quantified in some manner - it isn't valid as an argument."
In other words, the Movement rejects Jeffersonian democracy and his belief in the ability of common people to rule themselves, and substitutes a technological and rational meritocracy in which the only credible voices will be those who can make cogent quantitative and empirical arguments – the Oligopoly of the Nerds.
In the third of the trilogy, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, which was meant to be a manifesto for the Movement (though Peter Joseph now denies this), the rational, science and technology-based model is fleshed out.
Zeitgeist: Moving Forward
A global resource, production and distribution management system will include
"Because these mechanisms are purely technical considerations, devoid of any human opinion or bias, we simply program these strategies into a computer which can weigh and calculate all the relevant variables, allowing us ALWAYS to arrive at the absolute best method for sustainable production based on current understandings – just a glorified calculator, a global management machine."
This distorted vision ignores the fact that a computer must be programmed by biased and agenda-driven people. This a vision not unlike that of HAL, the self-aware computer, running (and then taking over) the Starship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also somewhat resembles the Matrix, with a benevolent bent, George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The Machine will serve humanity's needs and we merely need to serve the machine. The result, of course, will be utopian abundance. And it's the only way to heaven.
"This logical, empirical approach can ONLY define human sustainability on this planet, and yield abundance for the global human population."
Peter Joseph, like so many science idolators before him, perceives the natural world as based on absolute recognizable laws and the social world as a clockwork machine that can be tinkered with to improve its function. He also suffers from the misunderstanding that science can prove anything as true, when its only function is develop hypotheses and theorems to approximate perceived reality or disprove them by contradictory evidence. Science can empirically disprove but never prove (other than mathematically) and, according to Gödel's 1931 Incompleteness Theorum (which has never been disproved), any purely logical (computational) system can never prove its own validity nor be completely self-consistent.
"Society is a technical invention. A resource-based economy is science applied to social concern. Nature is a dictatorship and we can either learn and fall in line with its natural laws and conduct yourself accordingly or go against the current and suffer the adverse consequences. A resource-based economy is nothing more than a set of proven life-support understandings where all decisions are based on optimized human and environmental sustainability. It is based on an empirical life ground, which every human being shares – there is no cultural relativism to this approach. A resource-based economy is based on a set of true economic mechanisms or strategies which guarantee efficiency and sustainability in every area of the economy."
He also rejects the notion of individual or cultural diversity and proposes a one-size-fits-all model of global economy and governance. And he paints the same kind of technological utopia that so many other false prophets of the modern age have done, decoupling humanity from the very soil of its beginnings and its earthly sustenance.
"Food can be grown industrially without soil in vertical production facilities. All consumer goods can be manufactured by automated mechanization without human labor by machines that can even reproduce themselves."
"With the elimination of the money system, we would see a global reduction in crime of almost 95% immediately."
"Making homes with hammers and nails and wood, with the state of our technology today, is really absurd," says Roxanne Meadows of the Venus Project, "and will go the way of our labor class in manufacturing in the United States. Our middle class is obsolete"
No more physical labor, no more hand crafts. All things provided by perfect machines.
"80% of the US workforce is in the service sector today, and 75% of the global workforce can be replaced by mechanization tomorrow."
"A Resource-Based Economy accepts the efficiency of mechanization and accepts it for what it offers, because it's irresponsible not to. The Resource-Based Economy city will be one big machine. While people will be needed to oversee the machine and respond to problems, that number will diminish over time to perhaps 3% of the city's population."
The ever-growing, ever-urbanized human population will be reduced to permanent leisure and voluntary assistance for the betterment of society, which Peter Joseph is certain will be guaranteed in this work-free society, since there will be no incentive to do anything else. By technological magic, all the shadow side of human nature will evaporate and we will all gratefully accept this dystopian construct as the right way to live.
Of course, as with every such charismatic-led cult movement, the primary corruption is in the leader. Just as excess money corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – whether begun in an idealistic and altruistic spirit or out of pure ego and self-aggrandizement, when there's one person at the head of a social movement, everything revolves around him.
The Zeitgeist Movement - A Critical Review
Edward L Winston, June 13, 2010
Peter Joseph, the leader of TZM is far more damaging to his own movement than I imagine many of the hardcore members want to believe:
"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 from talking to outsiders and bans members who post on our forums that aren't glorifying him."
Some excerpts from a letter to Peter Joseph Merola from 38 members of TZM development group:
"Only a few individuals currently exert global control over the movement, and decide who can remain a member and who cannot. In addition, nothing resembling a peer-review process exists within the current practice of decision making."
"The express exclusion of certain community tools and discussion mediums is counterproductive, prohibitive and ultimately unsustainable. It also leads directly to the perception of a dictatorship by many active members."
"As a result of these issues and more, we are witnessing an increasing number of users, contributors and moderators suddenly deciding to throw in the towel and walk away from the movement."
This group of active website developers were summarily banned from the movement.
The most common attributes of any cult movement are a promised utopia, an almost fanatical following, authoritarian control by a core elite, a relentless and brutal attack on any outside critics, and quick and decisive elimination of any inside dissenters. This is the wake that the Zeitgeist Movement has left behind.
There is also evidence that Peter Joseph's insistence on attracting 50 million members before actually manifesting anything on the ground, and a complete dearth of any actual service to the world suggests that his primary purpose is to sell himself, sell DVDs and attract some considerable multiple of the 12 disciples he simplistically denies to Jesus. If ever a man had a messiah complex, Peter Joseph (Merola) is one stunning example. The likelihood is that he will end up crucifying himself (or sold out by a disgruntled disciple for 30 pieces or resource economy scrip).