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Peter Joseph - A Democratic Precondition? - United We Stand Festival 2018 (Repository)

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My name is Peter Joseph and I've been working for the past ten years in the hopes to see some meaningful long-lasting change in this world; a long ten years it's been. In 2009 I helped start a nonprofit called The Zeitgeist Movement. It's a global sustainability advocacy organization and we specifically focus on economic change because we feel it's the most important to set the stage for more viable levels of change politically, socially and so on. And as expressed in great detail in my recent book 'The New Human Rights Movement' published last year, we as a species are faced with some powerful social pathology, (I'll let that word sink in) a pathology driven in fact by our system of economic survival. A pathology if left unchecked, and uncountered, will only exacerbate wealth and income inequality and hence social instability, it's gonna ruin our habitat through the drive for economic growth and no doubt continue to undermine basic principles of equality, justice and democracy. And with this latter issue which is what brings me here today, in the free and equal event 'United We Stand,' what enables a truly democratic open free society? where a population can actually reach rational consensus on the direction it wishes to go, allowing for political egalitarianism if you will, intergroup respect, and the elimination of power-based oppression. And if I was to frame the issue I would do so in the following way. Do we have a proper "precondition" for viable democracy, not only in this country but on this planet? Now what do I mean by that? A precondition means something that comes before in order for something else to follow in causality. For example a legal precondition to driving a car of course is to obtain a driver's license. Medically a person can have a genetic precondition for a given disease, and the same can be applied towards environmental exposures such as smoking cigarettes is a precondition for lung cancer. But the context here is sociological. If we as a society are to strive for increased human rights, social equality and egalitarian democratic principles, can we conclude that the most foundational and dominant institutions, traditions, practices, root philosophies of our society, can we conclude that they foster the proper precondition to allow for more optimized democracy? Are we planting seeds in lush nutrient-rich soil? or are we planting seeds in arid, stone, nutrient-void soil with little hope of growth? To consider that, we're gonna go back in time, Roughly 12,000 years ago the human species transitioned from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies - tribes foraging and hunting with no real agricultural skills - to farm-cultivating settled societies. This has been termed the Neolithic Revolution. Before the Neolithic Revolution as corroborated by numerous anthropologists studying both existing and historical hunter-gatherer societies, social and economic life was actually very different. Small bands or tribes operated without money or markets, they were egalitarian, and they had no economic dominance hierarchy. It also is well-established they had much less violence, certainly no large-scale warfare. And while modern culture would gawk at the seemingly crude reality of hunter-gatherer life, it has been well argued in fact that there was a kind of minimalistic affluence, a happiness and simplicity. If you don't know you're poor, well, maybe you're NOT poor. A unique distinction because it challenges how we today think about social success or even "progress" itself. To highlight the contrast anthropologist Marshall Sahlins once stated "To accept that hunter-gatherers are affluent is therefore to recognize that the present condition of man's slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times. Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Inadequacy of economic means is first principle of the world's wealthiest peoples. The market industrial system institutes scarcity in a manner completely without parallel. Where production and distribution are arranged through the behavior of prices, and all livelihoods depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the explicit calculable starting point of all economic activity." I'd like you to keep this notion of scarcity in mind as it's a central understanding to our political economy as I will discuss. As far as survival, hunter-gatherers mostly had a gift economy it was called, where they shared with no direct expectation of reciprocation. Think about that. There are even modern stories of outsiders having their first visit with these cultures and they would be given things like handicrafts from the existing tribes, and the Western cultures would feel the need to give something in return as many in our market exchange culture would. And this reciprocal behavior was actually considered offensive to the tribe as they felt the exchange was a refusal of friendship. British anthropologist Tim Ingold highlights the difference between giving and exchange has to do with ... a social perception, based around autonomous companionship, versus involuntary obligation. Autonomous companionship versus involuntary obligation. He states "Clearly both hunter-gatherers and agricultural cultivators depend on their environments. But whereas for cultivators this dependency is framed within a structure of reciprocal obligation, for hunter-gatherers it rests on the recognition of personal autonomy. The contrast is between relationships based on trust and those based on domination." I want to read that part again. "The contrast is between relationships based on trust and those based on domination." This is a subtle the powerful distinction. It's not only referring to the trust of each other, but also the trust of the planet to provide. So, in short, there's a kind of trade-strategizing dominance that we've become accustomed to in our day-to-day lives since the Neolithic Revolution; a gaming process that we have to engage for survival and we take for granted and we don't really look at what it means, sociologically and psychologically. And the result has been thousands of years of in-group out-group antagonism, elitism, stratification, and of course oppression. And in the thoughtful words of neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, "Hunter-gatherers had thousands of wild sources of food to subsist on. Agriculture changed all that, generating an overwhelming reliance on a few dozen food sources. Agriculture allowed for the stockpiling of surplus resources and thus, inevitably, the unequal stockpiling of them, stratification of society and the invention of classes. Thus it has also allowed for the invention of poverty." Since the Neolithic Revolution we have had a process of economically driven cultural adaptation built upon the survival requisites of the relatively new, settled agrarian paradigm. This evolution of post-Neolithic culture was self-guided by systemic environmental pressures and survival inferences (what you do), a kind of geographical determinism in fact, common to the natural dynamics of the new mode of production: the new economy. This gave birth to dominance-oriented incentives, values and protections, evolving of course patterns of conflict, hierarchy, elitism, disproportionate allocation of physical social resources, and hence the world you see today. And to translate this into common terms, in political economy as we would hear it if we were going to college for political economy: Thus you have the basis of property (ownership), capital (means of production), labor specialization (jobs), regulation (government), and protection (law, police, military). In other words you have grounds for what is the ultimate mechanism of survival today - something we again take for granted because we're so used to it - the simple market system of economics. And what I'm getting at here ... is you can't understand anything that's happening in the world, especially politically, without relating back to the incentives and procedures of what creates survival in society: its economy. And our economy today is explicitly based upon the unnuanced assumption of scarcity and is hence Darwinistic, Malthusian. It inspires endless power antagonists between groups, fighting. Not to mention, of course, extreme and unnecessary deprivation and poverty for many. Pick up any textbook, introductory textbook on economics and you'll see it's very very clear the way the entire world apparently is to be associated: resources and means are scarce - end of story. From that premise the architecture of not only the economy but society has been derived. In the book I call it the root socioeconomic orientation of our world, and it justifies brute competition, narrow self-interest, elitist hierarchy, inequality and oppression. It's that simple. Now, that stated, what can we learn about the nature of government within all of this? Well first, we see that government actually proceeds from the economic premise of a society, not the other way around. It is this preordained economic mode of society that decides what government is to be, does, and where its loyalties rest. If you examine historical variations of social systems, say capitalism of course, communism as it existed, socialism, feudalism, mercantilism and so on, you'll realize that the governing architecture of those systems serve to protect and perpetuate the prevailing economic and class structures that ultimately define them. Feudalism for example was a structure based upon land ownership, labor and class interdependence, going from the peasant to the king. Capitalism in contrast is based upon dynamics of private property, buying and selling, ownership, and the mechanism of ownership and wealth translating of course into power and control. And to understand the specific nature of government today, specifically in the United States - the forbidden experiment of the world as far as I'm concerned - a detailed 2014 study conducted by Professor Martin Gilens at Princeton and Benjamin Page at Northwestern University concluded "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." The researchers concluded that lawmakers' policy actions tend to support - guess what - the interests of the wealthy, Wall Street, and big business. And what fascinates me, fascinates me, is that many in America - most in America - act like this is some kind of anomaly, some kind of corrupt anomaly, as though the US government and in effect, all governments in the world, haven't always prioritized economic interests since inception: business interests, with a government constituency generally composed of business powers. People act as though the society hasn't been set up in favor of the wealthy. They act as though ... elitist business freedom is some kind of corruption. And that troubles me because it means that there's a big mental block in the way people perceive reality. People love to say things like "Get money out of politics!" without really thinking about the vast contradiction inherent. While it may seem morally sound, it's actually quite silly in principle, given how our world operates. In a world where everything is for sale, in a world where gaming through trade, trade-strategizing dominance once again, is the most dominant mode of communication and action, the virtue, why would government and policy be off-limits from this behavior? In fact if we're to be consistent in society it would actually be poor form to object at all frankly; jokingly I think we should LET the Koch brothers buy and run America! Why? because it would be consistent. It would be the purest, most natural outcome in a system for the billionaires to buy and run everything. That is what the system is. And you will never stop the force of financial and business power as long as our society as a whole is based upon it. So needless to say, when it comes to the nature of our social system, as born from the geographical determinism of the Neolithic Revolution, the very idea of any kind of effective democracy becomes increasingly illusory. The system simply isn't designed to cater to the well-being and democratic control of the general majority. Rather it's designed to facilitate the affairs of business and most of all the protection of big business which are naturally the dominant interests in the revolving door of government as we know it. Hence, President Trump of course. He is not an outlier. He is EXACTLY what this system suggests should run a nation: a CEO, a businessman, the president of the United States Corporation. Put another way, the social system is fundamentally fascist by nature. And until we change the precondition of our economy there's little reason to expect much improvement. We can push the fascism back as we do here, it's always gonna keep pushing forward, and eventually based on the way things are going, it's gonna win. This is a book by Robert Brady called 'Business as a System of Power.' It was written in 1943 in the heat of the Second World War. It is a comparative study of various nations including fascist Germany, Japan, Italy and others. It links the root structure and incentive of business to the rise of fascist controls in the state. And it's frightening, because today nothing's really changed when you look at the structure, at the institutions and the mechanisms that are in play. In the forward of this text, another economist named Robert Lynd states the issue well in regard to America. He says (and this is a critical quote that really struck me when I read it) "Thus political equality under the ballot was granted on the unstated but factually double-locked assumption that the people must refrain from seeking the extension of that equality to the economic sphere. In short, the attempted harmonious marriage of democracy to capitalism doomed genuinely popular control from the start. And all down through our national life, the continuance of the Union has depended upon the unstated condition that the dominant member, capital, continue to provide returns to all elements in democratic society sufficient to disguise the underlying conflict in interest." (Sufficient to disguise the underlying conflict in interest!) "The crisis within the economic relations of capitalism was bound to precipitate a crisis in the democratic political system." Sufficient to disguise! You know what that is? That's the fact that everyone walks around with a cell phone that can make pancakes. That's the fact that people have been bought off in this society by gadgets and mindless property and associations to their identity that really are quite trivial. And just keep them in a place of subservience because they don't want to rock the boat. All of that said, my goal here was to plant these seeds of consideration (because usually my talks are a lot longer than this) and I honestly do not believe we are ever going to see an optimization of democracy, as we all hope, an optimization of democracy and equality, until we understand the forces that move against it. And it just so happens that the greatest force moving against it is the absolute foundation of our social system and the foundation of our survival as we know it. Arbitrarily so; it can be changed, but this is where we are. And that is a conversation I simply am not hearing these days. Everyone's terrified to talk about the social system. They don't want to be labeled, dismissed. "How dare you say anything negative about our beautiful market economy, and all it's done and all it's created?" Well it's created a lot of positive things, and it's created a whole lot of negative things, and those negative things are gonna start outweighing the positive if they haven't already. So I hope you can extend this discussion to your communities, food for thought. Thank you very much. [Applause]

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 37 seconds
Year: 2018
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Peter Joseph
Director: Peter Joseph
Views: 5
Posted by: ltiofficial on May 5, 2018

Peter Joseph : "A Democratic Precondition?" : United We Stand Festival 2018, Texas, April 29th 2018

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