Zeitgeist: Moving Forward – It’s the system, stupid

24.02.2011, demonetize.it

The Third Zeitgeist Movie: still a few flaws, but really moves forward in understanding the mess we are in.

“Moving forward” stretches the limits of the visual medium to the extreme. In his 161 minutes long movie, film maker Peter Joseph strives to convince his audience that it is necessary to surpass the capitalist mode of production soon and and makes an effort to outline a system alternative to the current societal (dis)order. It takes the movie nearly three hours to cover a gigantic range of topics. Actually those are the topics that filled whole libraries over the course of centuries – written by those who engage in deep criticism of capitalism. Its by no way an easy job to unfold the interplay of the various factors that make capitalism so successful, lest to indicate how we can truly get rid of it after quite a lot of failed attempts. But yes: the result is impressive.

“Zeitgeist: Moving forward” had its world premiere on 15th january 2011, with 340 shows in over 60 countries the most successful start of an independent film project in the history of cinema. The movie can be watched for free in the internet, for example on youtube, from 25th january on.

US-film maker and activist Peter Joseph produced three movies since 2007 – with steadily growing resonance – which still are widely seen by the Left at best as examples for a misguided critic of capitalism. This reputation of Peter Josephs films draws from quite strange conspiracy theories that were in the centre of his debut feature “Zeitgeist: The Movie”.

There, Joseph for instance saw some of the wars of the twentieth century to be caused by a conspiracy of bankers and the US-Fed, that have pushed the US-government into those conficts for the sake of profit. In the final instance, all the staggering visualizations of upheavels, contradictions and conflicts were reduced to the machinations of a group greedy for power, while the structure and inner dynamics of the capitalist system remained a blind spot.

The current Zeitgeist-movie radically breaks with this personalizing and reductionist way of criticising capitalism.

In a key scene it becomes clear that for the actual global and all-encompassing crisis “not corrupt governements, not sinister corporations and trusts, not a deficient human nature, not a secret, covert intrigue” are the cause, but “the fundamental structure of the socio-economic system” itself. And precisely this analysis makes up the fascinating radicalism of the movie – it tries to clarify the very socio-economic structures and that it is necessary to abolish them.

„Zeitgeist: Moving Forward“ is almost disarmingly naive because of its strictly logical approach and thus more radical than all the critique of capitalism that people like Michael Moore have ever done. Peter Joseph really wants to reach the root of the system with his critique and in doing this, he attacks the fundamentals of capitalism head-on: money, market, commodity production and financial capital.

In the first three chapters, the movie makes ever bigger thematic circles, from the individual and the society to the planet.

The first part of the film, laying its focus on the ideological construct of “human nature”, is the best one. There, a couple of scientists destroy the widely held myths of genetic determinism as the cause of personal character traits or criminal behaviour as well as the whole idea of a human nature rooted in genetic predisposition. The ideological function of this genetic determinism as a “way of saying how things are without endangering the social order” is clearly stated. Taking the case of addictions – which are interpreted as a reaction on traumatic childhood experiences – it is explained how the individual is being formed in a mutual relation with its environment from its early childhood on and how societal and economic factors influence even the most intimate human relations. “The experience of adults, how easy or hard life is, is transmitted to the children. … Early life gives you a taste of the world within you will live.” A “human nature” as such does not exist, it only makes sense to talk of a “human nature” in conjunction with human needs. “Our nature is not to be limited by nature”, humans are formed by society, as neurobiologist and ethologist Robert Sapolsky says.

The perspective of the individual and the loop back to human needs also constitute the framework when the „social pathology“ that subsumes our society is discussed. Just as impressive are all sequences where the steadily rising competitive struggle – the endless rat race that pits each one against all others – is confronted with the public health impact. The genesis of the capitalist image of the human being, treating her/him as a wolf to man (“homo homini lupus”), is put from the head on its feet by tracing back this ideology to the structures of domination and exploitation of capitalism.

Yet the following chapters that deal with the devastating social and ecological consequences of the capitalist market system are deficient because they lack a conception of capital. This does not mean that in the second part of the film there are not interesting passages that radically adress the capitalist misery.

However, those – partly contradictory – passages suffer from a lack of a common denominator, which only could relate the disparate phenomena described to each other. The film illustrates the coercion to consume and grow, the resulting ecological wastefulness, the crisis of labour looming since decades and the global dynamic of debt – but the common ground of these phenomena, the crisis-prone process of capital accumulation, that reaches inner and outer limits, is not denoted explicitely.

Peter Joseph manages to grasp certain moments of the process of capital valorization, that consists in capital changing its form from money to commodities to more money (M-C-M’). Yet this very process of valorization, a self-serving limitless movement of accumulation that must be understood in order to understand capital, is seemingly not grasped by the producers of “Zeitgeist: Moving Forward”, despite all its radical approach. Instead of a correct understanding of capital, the film fabulates on “money sequences”, with market subjects that try to keep pace.

Due to these gaps serious deficits of the monumental movie result. For instance when money is equalled with debts and those are described as being of no value – which might be true from a naturalist perspective, but ignores the societal function of money being the general equivalent. Generally, those parts of the movie that deal with the financial system go wrong, they mislead the audience. This is even more deplorable since the movie in many other parts succeeds to keep up a radicality that has never be seen in this medium and which also becomes manifest when a social alternative to capitalism is conceived.

Under the headline of a „global resource-based economy“ a counter model is presented by a series of logical steps. This kind of economy consists of the sustainable extraction, distribution and manufacture of global resources in correspondance with the basic human needs and with the support of the most progressive informatics and maximally efficient and resource-conserving automatisation. The market, money, social hierarchies and private property of the means of production should be abolished. However, the radical intellectual step that is implied looses much of its impact as soon as the argumentation – without any objective necessity – goes into a whole range of details and promotes the urban plans of US-architect and futurist Jacques Fresco as authoritative and absolutely “logical” models for a future urbanism. Here, Joseph propagates the sterile urban visions of his mentor claiming scientific objectivity, that will make many viewers shiver. In these moments, the film drifts into ideology.

Just as problematique is the naïve belief in science that haunts the producers of the film as well as the Zeitgeist-movement that has formed around Joseph and Fresco, which aims at a realisation of the social transformation outlined. Joseph and Fresco should better ask themselves why the science they adore has served so much with so much success to cementize and optimize exploitation and domination since it was established during the enforcement of the capitalist mode of production.

However, with „Zeitgeist: Moving Forward“, Peter Joseph makes progress in the right direction. The movie indeed meets a Zeitgeist – capitalism actually looses the ideological veil of a naturally occurring and natural societal order. The speed at which its popularity is growing is unprecedented: on youtube alone, the epos had a good 2.5 million views after hardly two weeks. It seems that the totalitarian background noise of cultural industry – similar to the initial sequence of the film – becomes visible and that its omnipresent souvereignty of the interpretation of reality wanes.

Ever more people awaken from their sleep induced by mass media, captured by the cultural industry in the spectacular society, and realize in what a broken-up world, negating their most fundamental needs, they live. It is the all-encompassing process of crisis of the capitalist social formation, which is shown so strikingly in the fourth part of the movie, which enables the collapse of the ideological matrix of capitalism.

Despite of the deficits listed above, it is the merit of the film that it enormously accelerated this process of a massive arrival in the “desert of reality”, in a world that turns into a desert due to the self-serving dynamics of capital valorization.

Translation by Andreas Exner and modifications by Franz Nahrada

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