The New Human Rights Movement
Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression
by Peter Joseph
Dallas: Benbella Books, 2017; xvi + 423 pp.
IS Peter Joseph just the latest in a long line of would-be revolutionaries who excel at criticizing capitalism while failing to explain how to replace the existing system without falling into authoritarianism or totalitarianism, or is he the real deal? While not a household name, Joseph is well-known in alternative and progressive circles as an avant-garde filmmaker whose Zeitgeist titles include The Movie (2007), Addendum (2008), and Moving Forward (2011), with a fourth title, InterReflections: The Future Begins, planned for 2017.
Always interesting, unlike mainline socialist ideologues, Joseph is in the alternative tradition of the Technocracy Movement, which originated with Howard Scott in 1918-1919. This movement criticized capitalist economics, claiming that the price system was inefficient, and proposed to replace private market enterprise economics based on monetary profit with a planned, resource-based, environmentally sustainable energy economy not unlike that advocated by Jacque Fresco, who was a member of the Technocracy organization for a time.
Although it achieved some popular success, by the mid-1930s popular interest in Technocracy was waning. However, the mantle was taken up again by social theorists like R. Buckminster Fuller (Nine Chains to the Moon, 1938), Paolo Soleri (the inventor of the “arcology”), Jacques Fresco (of Venus Project fame), and Joseph himself. The great strength of Technocracy is its plan to replace business and politics with humane scientific planning, but the obvious abuses of communism and fascism brought collectivism into disrepute, and the word is now virtually synonymous with a nightmarish scenario of state-sponsored scientific terrorism, popularized in the 1927 film, Metropolis.
In order for a revolutionary ideology to prove its mettle, it must do three things. First, it must demonstrate that capitalism is an irrefragably broken system that must of necessity be replaced for the general good of the planet and humanity. Reform is not possible. Second, it must describe an alternative system that is demonstrably stable and superior to the existing and any other alternative system, including a detailed and convincing explanation of how such a system would operate without falling into its own brand of dystopia. Finally, third – it must indicate how the existing system will transition to the superior system without falling into yet another brand of dystopia. In other words, the medicine can’t be worse than the cure.
The second and third points are the great sticking points for all revolutionary projects. Marxists, for instance, opine that the new society will emerge out of the past by a process of historical determinism. Therefore, they refuse to discuss when or how the new society will be organized, denouncing any such talk as fascist. The future will organize itself. How this differs from libertarianism I do not know, and such Marxists as I have met seem to have many of the same failings as the establishment but in reverse. As a result of such wilful myopia, when they get into power Marxists have no model to guide their actions going forward, with the results that we have seen in the USSR and still see in China and elsewhere.
Even Noam Chomsky, who admits that he does not understand economics, has little to say on this point, vaguely referring to an anarcho-syndicalist takeover of the corporations by the working class, without addressing the problems of money and markets or overall social and economic organization or for that matter how to make the transition to such a system other than by catastrophic failure, which is more likely to generate a fascist than a progressive takeover (see below). Chomsky has even suggested that anarcho-syndicalism may not be established for several centuries. Like North Korea, it seems that the existing capitalist system is unassailable, at least for now.
Peter Joseph’s book, The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression, is divided into five chapters and two appendixes. The bulk of the book, represented by chapters 1 through 4, consisting of 236 pages, consists of a critique of capitalism, largely based on sociological research, showing the pathological effects of capitalism, its dystopian character, and the illusory nature of its claims regarding human progress. Joseph ominously sums up the conclusion on page 300: “to those who do outright reject these observations and proposals for whatever reason conjured, I offer a provocative prediction: The kind of change proposed in this book one way or another is going to happen. The only question is how much suffering has to occur before it does. Returning to the prophetic words of Bayard Rustin: ‘We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will find out the hard way.”
Unlike previous revolutionary thinkers, and in striking contrast to the avant-garde tone of his films, Joseph’s prose style is even, measured, intellectual, even stilted, supported by extensive and convincing research into the sociological literature in 59 pages of endnotes. Joseph is also very familiar with economics, but less so with science and technology. Unfortunately, the book lacks both a bibliography and an index.
The last chapter of the book is entitled “Designing Out: Where We Go from Here,” supported by two appendixes, “Post-scarcity Potentials” and “Economic Calculation and Broad System Conception.” This section of the book, consisting of only 104 pages, in length represents about a quarter of the entire book, yet it is the most important part, since it purports to explain how the new system may be organized to achieve the goal of a better, more humane, and more truly productive society, as distinct from the pseudo-productivity of consumer capitalism, which is becoming more and more deluded and disassociated from reality. Following the lead of his hero, R. Buckminster Fuller, and, to a lesser extent, Jacques Fresco, this section addresses how a centrally planned global economy based on scientific research and development and the application of high technology, systems theory, and efficient supercomputers can effectively solve the fundamental problems of scarcity, food production, water, energy, and sustainability.
Joseph’s grasp of these issues is at best general, but his arguments are convincing, at least on a purely theoretical level. However, the great weakness of the book lies in its relative failure to address the third point referred to above: the problem of how to get there from here. As Noam Chomsky noted ruefully in a recent YouTube interview, when he was asked about Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist movement and Jacque Fresco’s Venus Project, he said that these movements describe all sorts of very nice things but they fail to address the fundamental issue of democracy.
This problem applies especially to Jacque Fresco’s Venus Project. According to a chapter on the Venus Project by Jacque Fresco, sent to the author by Roxanne Meadows, Fresco seems to advocate a dictatorship of machines, where all social planning decisions will be made automatically, presumably by various levels of artificial intelligences. He has also referred to this on video. This perspective echoes the arrogant refusal of the original Technocracy movement to involve itself in politics, because of which it had precisely zero influence on the power structure. If you exclude people from the equation then you are a fascist or a nihilist or perhaps both.
Joseph himself seems to recognize that his book is only a prolegomenon. In the trailer to his forthcoming film, InterReflections: The Future Begins, he addresses the issue of getting there from here by proposing, perhaps speculatively, or perhaps actually advocating, a global anti-capitalist uprising, triggered by the increasing crisis of climate change, in which the existing governmental power structures are undermined and destroyed by a vanguard conspiracy of computer hackers of the type associated with Anonymous, for example, including undermining and destroying the cybernetic infrastructure that enables the military-industrial complex.
Clearly, in view of the pathological character of the elites that control society, who are apparently willing to sacrifice the planet rather than surrender their vast power and privilege, something like this would have to occur for the goals of the Zeitgeist or the Venus Project to succeed. With respect to the latter, for example, Fresco’s proposal to build a high-tech, super-efficient, self-sufficient city from scratch, while technically feasible (whole cities are now being constructed in Asia and the Middle East), will never be achieved because the existing monetary system based on profit will not permit it. Capitalists will not be willing to build systems that would undermine their own privilege and authority any more than J.P. Morgan was willing to finance the research of Nikola Tesla into free energy. Governments, as we know, are in the pockets of the corporations. Who, then, will finance it? Answer: No one. As soon as the cost of anything approaches zero in a capitalist economy there is no incentive to manufacture it, and its supply will disappear, thus reestablishing its value. Therefore, in a post-abundance world, capitalism itself is enforcing scarcity!
I agree with Joseph that the existing system is bankrupt to the core and that the political, financial, and economic systems of society are essentially self-destructive in many convergent ways and therefore they will have to be comprehensively replaced or we will perish on earth as a civilized species. Joseph’s first practical proposal in the book is for the nationalization of the banking system. This and the reform of the monetary system are also advocated by the former Minister of National Defence of Canada, Paul Hellyer, in his book, The Money Mafia. Therefore, rationally we should seek to transition to the new system as quickly and efficiently as possible, while respecting fundamental human rights, and in a way that is fundamentally democratic.
But this praxis is explicitly seditious. It openly advocates the replacement of the existing power structure with another structure that is inimical to the existing structure by means of what amounts to terrorism. Therefore, the existing power structure will do anything to obstruct the real or potential rise of any threat to its power. The more successful the latter becomes, the more fascistic society will become, as we see today.
Therefore, when the system collapses, the transition will be violent, chaotic, and self-destructive, followed by a long recovery period of decades or generations. I hope that this is not the case and that somehow the Zeitgeist, Venus Project, Occupy Movement, Anonymous, Buckminster Fuller Institute, Arcosanti, social democrats, and other human rights and democratic groups worldwide will forge an integrated global movement with such overwhelming popular support that it actually overwhelms the forces of darkness, because nothing less will be successful, and the sooner the better. R. Buckminster Fuller said that we are facing humanity’s final exam before graduating into cosmic beings, and that the alternatives are “utopia or oblivion.” I hope for the best, but I fear the worst, despite Peter Joseph’s worthy effort in the right direction.