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Matt Berkowitz - Updating Human Values - Vancouver Z-Day, 2012 (Repository)

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Next up we have a speaker who is part of Zeitgeist Vancouver, and he joined the chapter back in 2009 when he attended their first event: A Car Free Day. Since then he's basically become the main media spokesperson and has appeared on local radio stations such as Sea Fox, which he did with Peter yesterday amongst previous interviews, CKW and CBC, and he's also been on national television such as CTV and CBC again. Matt has written several newspaper articles and given many lectures about subject matter and issues pertaining to the Zeitgeist Movement spanning from monetary economics to sociology. So, without further ado, Matt Berkowitz. [Applause] Hello, everybody. I want to discuss some issues seldom discussed in The Zeitgeist Movement, these being certain sociological and psychological elements that directly relate to the value system inherent in a Resource-Based Economy. The overarching theme involves examining what would comprise a relevant or sustainable value system. Along the way, I’m going to be focusing on different psycho-social myths such as our society’s ideas about competition, human nature and free will. We need to understand that a society’s integrity is only as good as the values that support it; and in an inherently unsustainable economic system, we are going to witness a corresponding set of unsustainable values. In examining this issue, we must first ask [ourselves] how we would determine whether a particular value system is sustainable. By 'sustainable', I mean the system can be preserved for the benefit of all the world’s people, and by 'value' I mean simply a 'principle of preference'. Like any scientific hypothesis, we must put it to test. Does the value actually constructively contribute to society as a whole, or is it holding us back? For example, our over-consumptive society values the constant acceleration of consumption of the Earth’s resources. It doesn’t take a genius to see the invalidity of this. The world of imbalance is the result of such a value, amongst others. It is likewise unsustainable for everyone to want a 40-bedroom mansion, as this would be a tremendous waste of resources and is really a violent disposition due to the depriving effect it has on others. In the market system, people think this represents freedom. It’s not. It’s irresponsibility in regard to the intelligent management of the Earth’s resources which is what is needed to have a sustainable society. The dominant economic value of the capitalist, market system, whatever you want to call it, is essentially any activity that promotes the turning of money into more money for private money possessors. This value masquerades as 'freedom,' as semantically empty or loaded this term may be. Any proposition that obstructs this money sequence process is denounced as blasphemy in our current socioeconomic system. Religious institutions similarly preach inherently unsustainable and irrelevant values as they ignore environmental feedback in favour of faith-based, metaphysically-oriented beliefs that are void of any critical thought or scientific inquiry. Simply put, if there’s no environmental feedback that corresponds with a particular value or viewpoint, what is the point of holding a belief as such? In other words, as Aaron mentioned, there needs to be a physical referent that can be backed up for all of our claims and this includes, again as Aaron mentioned, the language we use. This leads me to a topic that might seem unorthodox to start with, but I think it’s logical to do so for the purpose of clarity and that is: Semantics, meaning the study of language and communication. I felt it important to prelude this presentation ... Sorry I felt it important to prelude this presentation with a look at our language, the problems it can pose on effective communication, and the issues it can pose on effective communication. The first thing I will mention ... is the need for a physical referent to back up all of our language. The languages we used to communicate with were developed hundreds of years ago and are subject to interpretation. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the Bible with more than 34,000 off-shoots of Christianity. The study of semantics is not something the majority of us pay attention to. As Jacque Fresco says “We talk at each other, not to each other," meaning we assume others understand the words we use in the same way we mean them. When someone claims to be a ‘spiritual’ person, does that mean that he or she invites the homeless into his or her house for food and shelter, or perhaps that they attend sanctuary once a week to engage in prayer? In our everyday discussion we often tend to disagree over the 'word' rather than the intended concepts themselves. We have no shortage of loaded and vague terminology in the English language: freedom, democracy, individuality and countless others. In an ideal language, our words would be subject to strict definition. As Alfred Korzybski explained “If we wish to understand the world and ourselves, it follows that we should use a language whose structure corresponds to physical structure.” We already have a language as such: science. When an American engineer designs the blueprints for an automobile and sends it to Japan, the same product is turned out. When a doctor writes a prescription, it is not subject to interpretation. Science is the closest approximation we have to reality that we have developed, and as such, it would be invaluable to adopt a more scientific use of our language. With this in mind, I want to move into one of the most widespread and colossally detrimental myths that is dominant worldwide: our beliefs about human nature. There are essentially two human nature myths that I've come across: The first is that certain differences amongst particular groups of humans are innate, and this has given rise to much bad science in the fields of evolutionary biology and genetics, promoting sexist and racist practices. The second is that particular characteristics are an inevitable part of being human. I do think that most people are sincere about their assertion that humans have a fixed 'human nature'. If we examine the historical record of the human species, we find an endless series of wars, power abuses and corruptions. Since we recognize the pattern in history, it is very simple to assume that it is somehow 'instinctual', or part of 'human nature', to behave in historically recurring patterns. More specifically, it is common for people to attribute human behaviour to their genetic configuration. That is, we are slaves to our genes, which predispose us and predetermine us to an inescapable set of behavioral, psychological and mental characteristics. Human nature, really though, cannot be generalized as a set of fixed, pre-programmed set of behavioral and psychological characteristics that all people share, irrespective of the environment. As Dr. Gabor Maté says in the first part of 'Zeitgeist: Moving Forward', the only way we can accurately and meaningfully speak of 'human nature' is by looking at our basic human needs. On the one hand, if our basic human needs are met (meaning the bare necessities of food, water, shelter, clothing; to the psychological support, which is really no less important) we can more so expect human beings to develop into caring, compassionate, and socially-aware individuals. On the other hand, if these basic human needs are not met, which is the overwhelming majority of cases within our present society, we get a different set of characteristics that matches this environment: greed, violence, insecurity, and countless other psychological distortions. Also, the word 'instinct' really is an empty idea, and this word essentially needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary and understanding about human behaviour. People use the word when they cannot account for the source of a behaviour or biological response. The word 'instinct' masks this ignorance, exactly the same way in which 'free will' is used to mask ignorance about the 'choices' we make or the sources of them and in which God is used to explain a lack of knowledge with how the universe operates, broadly speaking. Rather than using these words, our disposition should be to find the mechanism that's actually responsible for the behaviour. Physiologist Jacques Loeb condemned the use of the word 'instinct' back in the early 20th century, when conducting research on animal and plant tropisms, meaning biological responses to environmental stimuli. I will get back to this point later. James Gilligan, in his book 'Violence', likewise condemns the word, explaining similarly that it is a cop-out excuse to explain behaviour. The first part of 'Zeitgeist: Moving Forward' addresses this thoroughly, and we're showing parts of it tomorrow, so I will focus on a few sources not discussed in the film. Dr. Robert Sapolsky, who is featured in the film, wrote a book called 'The Trouble With Testosterone' in which he documented the essentially negligible effect that hormones have between the wide spectrum of behavioural responses that human beings elicit, including passivity vs. aggression, irrational emotion vs. logic and so forth. We cannot explain, for example, the differences between the sexes by hormonal balances. Rather, we have genes that produce proteins which can be switched on or off by triggers from the environment. In other words, neurochemicals in the brain do not instruct us how to behave. They set propensities which must be triggered by the environment. Sapolsky uses numerous case studies including [his] studies with baboon troops. There was an incident among a troop he studied where all the alpha males in a competitively-oriented troop were killed off. The result was that within a few months the competitive tendencies in the troop died off, and whenever new baboons were introduced to this troop, it took about 6 months [for them] to learn that competition was not a viable method of interaction. This simply re-affirms that it is the environmental conditions that produce behavioural tendencies like competition, which I’ll go more into later. In a fascinating lecture that examines the roles of genes and environment on our behaviour, biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton explores the newest available evidence on this classic nature/nurture debate. Since the 1950s, the view of biological determinism that genes control our behaviour and emotions has maintained dominance in many scientific circles. What this has led to is a feeling of powerlessness and lack of responsibility for changing ourselves. If you are a victim of your genes, why even bother try to change yourself. It’s inevitable, right? Then came the Human Genome Project which ran from 1990 to 2000, in an attempt to determine the DNA responsible for the complexity of human functionality. The original presumptions about genes, serving as a blueprint for our behaviour, resulted in the estimate that there is 1 gene for every protein in our body. At the time, the estimate was 100,000 proteins, so that means 100,000 genes. Then there is “Regulatory DNA” that controls other genes, estimated at a minimum of 40,000. That’s 140,000 genes. In 2001, the results were released showing there were only 34,000 genes, only 25% of the original estimate, which means the remaining genes that were expected to be found do not even exist! Biologist and Nobel Laureate in Physiology, David Baltimore, reflected on the implications of this finding: “Unless the human genome contains a lot of genes that are opaque to our computers, it is clear that we do not gain our undoubted complexity over worms and plants by using many more genes.” So, with all this research, we should ask ourselves why do these superstitious beliefs about human nature persist? To address this, we should ask another question: Who benefits? That is, who in society would want to perpetuate this dogmatic belief that humans are innately any such way? Human nature arguments are used as a way to silence dissent of the status quo. Any such criticism of the established way of doing things in society is rendered immediately invalid because it has supposedly been legislated by nature. It’s just the way it is, and we can’t do a thing to change it. This brings me to one of the most powerful myths of Western culture, our values revolving around the topic of competition. Stemming from ignorance about human behaviour, many people assume competition to somehow be an unavoidable, inescapable part of human nature. The implications of this claim are that no matter what environment we’re raised in it is somehow immutably programmed into us to compete. Let’s suppose, for a second, that this is true. If competition were somehow an innate human trait, why on Earth would we be spending so much time raising and training people to behave this way?! You would think there would be no need to do so if it were somehow genetically or otherwise imprinted in us from birth. Of course, no evidence is ever cited to support this, only conjecture and uneducated speculation. For example, people often twist and pervert the process of natural selection into the idea of 'survival of the fittest' which is wrongly assumed as a Darwinian notion. The phrase 'survival of the fittest' was later coined by a right-wing political theorist named Herbert Spencer, who tried to corrupt Darwin’s thinking to his own pre-defined political views. Darwin spoke about natural selection, which simply means the organism or species that can best adapt to a changing environment, will be more likely to survive and reproduce. However that doesn’t actually specify competition as a mechanism. On the contrary, often the avoidance of competition or the deliberate intention to pursue cooperative strategies, increases the chance that an organism or species survives. On the flip side, mountains of evidence can be uncovered that refutes our society’s myths about competition: that competition is inevitable, that it’s more productive than cooperation, that it’s more enjoyable, and that it builds character. Likely the best book I’ve found on the subject, was written in the late 1980s by sociologist Alfie Kohn who wrote a book called 'No Contest:The Case Against Competition'. I really cannot recommend this book enough, easily one of the best I've read, and I would say mandatory reading for those interested in The Zeitgeist Movement. The author’s research that reveals the social cancer that is competition is invaluable. I want to address some of the most important research described in this book, and its social implications relating it back to the idea of sustainable values. The back cover reads (of the book): “Contrary to the myths with which we have been raised, Kohn shows that competition is not an inevitable part of 'human nature'. It does not motivate us to do our best. In fact, the reason our workplaces and schools are in trouble is that they value competitiveness. Rather than building character, competition sabotages self-esteem and ruins relationships. It even warps recreation by turning the playing field into a battlefield. 'No Contest' makes a powerful case that 'healthy competition' is really a contradiction in terms. Because any win/lose arrangement is undesirable, we will have to restructure our institutions for the benefit of ourselves our children, and our society." The first myth, about competition being a part of human nature, is usually asserted by those who have not bothered to understand the environmental conditions that may be responsible for this competitive behaviour. Of course, as is nothing new to those in the Movement, competition is imposed upon us in nearly every aspect of life it seems: ... from the need to compete against our fellow classmates in school for grades; it is essentially inevitable in the labor force for the need to compete for jobs, to the playing fields, to corporations having to compete with one another for market share, to governments battling one another for economic dominance. All of it is provably destructive in one way or another. This multitude of influences can help explain why competition is so deeply ingrained within our culture, and why it may seem like it is an inescapable part of human nature to compete. What is not usually considered, is that human beings have lived in periods of great scarcity for thousands of years, reinforcing the competitive drive of society. This is essentially inevitable in a scarcity-oriented environment. The same reasoning can be applied, for example, to a pack of lions which must fight amongst themselves for the limited amount of food in their environment, not because of some immutable genetic configuration. So, logically speaking, if scarcity was eradicated, as is possible in a Resource-Based Economy, to provide access to goods and services without a price tag, we should expect a different set of behaviours and values that correspond to this environment. One that is free of competition and all other monetary-related symptoms and instead allows large scale cooperation. Sociologist Philip Slater offers an interesting insight. He says: “Scarcity is spurious. It now exists only for the purpose of maintaining the system that depends upon it, and its artificiality becomes more palpable each day.” To quote another ... anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins: “The market industrial system institutes scarcity in a manner completely unparalleled and to a degree nowhere else approximated where production and distribution are arranged through the behavior of prices and all livelihoods depend upon getting and spending. Insufficiency of material becomes the explicit calculable starting point of all economic activity.” By the end of the 'No Contest' book, Kohn has presented hundreds of scientific studies to debunk all of these age-old myths surrounding competition. The following are some examples: One research study involves taking a group of people and instructing them to perform a task. Half of them are told: “See if you can figure this task out," and the other half are told: “This is a contest with a prize awarded to whomever wins and does the job better or faster.” Study after study after study, across gender, ages and culture find that the people who compete do an inferior job. Another group of studies involved David Johnson, a professor of social psychology at the University of Minnesota. He and his colleagues reviewed all the studies they could find on the subject from 1924 to 1980. The vast majority of the studies found that children learn better when they work cooperatively as opposed to competitively, while only a few found no significant difference. The more complex the learning task, however, the worse children in a competitive environment fared. A 1983 study of 310 laboratory technicians by Dean Tjosvold here at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (and his colleagues) found that subordinates who worked for a competitive leader were largely dissatisfied with their jobs. The motivated employees were those whose bosses were cooperatively inclined. That finding nicely complements Tjosvold’s other research which has shown repeatedly that cooperation in the workplace translates into much better decision-making and higher productivity. So, why would this be? Why does competition translate into a more destructive environment for which to be creative and efficient at whatever the task might be? Firstly, competition makes us anxious, which interferes with concentration. Second, the [in]ability to share talent and resources as would be possible in a cooperative strategy, disallows us to learn from one another. And third, and maybe most importantly, trying to win distracts us from the task at hand. We’re forced to focus on beating others rather than to work together to maximize performance and achieve excellence. It is psychologically destructive in the sense that we are forced to see others as obstacles to our success. It leads to dishonesty as the goal, of course, becomes to destroy others by whatever means possible, as is what the market system has become. This makes sense obviously, as it’s irrational to trust someone who gains from your failure. Recognizing this, people shift their stance to something like “Well then, we just shouldn’t overdo competition. We should pursue it to a healthy amount.” Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is also flawed. The problem with competition is not the amount to which we pursue it, or to what avenue we apply such strategies. The problem lies with competition itself. A social poison is a social poison, no matter the quantity. The phrase 'healthy competition' then, is really, actually, just a contradiction in terms. So, enough about the destructive effects intrinsic to competition. Many people claim that competition is enjoyable and, as such, is enough to warrant this sort of recreational activity. Firstly, the problem with such a claim is that it’s not compared to anything. Another problem is that people are hardly exposed to cooperative sports or other cooperative games in our robustly competitive culture, so they can’t accurately judge competitive games against anything else. Dozens of studies have been carried out to determine whether competitive games are more enjoyable to cooperative games, assuming people are exposed to both. Overwhelmingly, in fact, most boys and essentially all girls, once exposed to cooperative games, preferred them over competitive games. A good exercise I’ve found is to simply think of cooperative games we were raised to play as children and see if we can even think of any. The fact that most of us cannot should show how deeply indoctrinated we are as a culture to this mindset. Competition is, of course, profoundly destructive in our economic system from just about every angle imaginable. This is essentially the context in which The Zeitgeist Movement has discussed its detriments, from the planned and intrinsic obsolescence, and thus waste, that is produced due to the need to create a multiplicity of products to compete for market share, to the artificial scarcity, to the ever-widening income gap, and the list goes on and on. It is, of course, claimed that competition is an incentive mechanism to get people to perform their best. As I mentioned briefly already, studies repeatedly reveal that people generally do an inferior job when working in a competitive culture, or competitive structure. If we step outside our current economic and political system and frame things from within a Resource-Based Economy, this would resemble a truly cooperative framework. If scientists got together to share knowledge and information to build the best computer possible, then it would just be done without the need for corporations to each hire a group of scientists to compete with each other, hoarding patents and unable to share ideas. Again, I’ll go more into the science of motivation soon. The implications of this understanding is that our schools, our workplaces, and in fact, our entire economic system are predicated on a motivational structure that is backward; and it, of course, walks in tandem with the monetary system’s structure. Back to competition, the research clearly suggests over and over that competition is a social cancer, always, not just a lot of the time or most of the time, and it's simply another reason we must remove the monetary-market structure for the social well-being of everyone. Going back to the issue of sustainable values, valuing competition as anything other than a wholly destructive force within society would seem an unsustainable value to hold then, as all the research clearly demonstrates. In sports, or any type of competitive game, we’re well aware of how badly it feels when you lose, but few pause to reflect on the psychological ramifications of winning. You feel a strong high, you gloat for a while, and then you come down. In fact, you crash down and you need more of it, precisely like building up a tolerance to a drug. Even sitting on the sidelines, we’re envious of the winners and feel contempt towards the losers, and we’re suspicious of everyone. The emotional needs that we attempt to meet through competition are actually exasperated by competition! They make us more dependent. They make our self-esteem more contingent on competition. Bringing this back to the topic of human nature to show that any quality is part of a fixed human nature would entail demonstrating that that particular quality is exhibited to the same degree in all environmental circumstances, which holds no ground for competition, and as far as I know has not been done for any specific human behaviour really. Quite possibly as powerful a belief that pervades the globe as human nature beliefs is the belief in 'free will', which is simply defined as the ability to make decisions free from constraints, suggesting that there is somehow an independence of the brain that is unrelated to everything around us that affects it. Now, I am aware that this an extremely contentious subject as the existence or absence of free will calls into question a myriad of other beliefs and traditions that many people cling to spanning across religious, political, and legal institutions and the entire monetary system itself. So, let’s delve into it. What do we know? We don’t usually attribute other natural phenomena like storms, tectonic plate movement, growth of trees or the ocean’s tidal movements to free will, no matter their unpredictability, since we understand they are the result of a chain of causes and effects, strictly obeying the laws of physics. So, if our desires and choices are likewise the result of natural law, then the notion of free will is to be discredited. If our minds are merely brains containing electrochemical signals, as they certainly appear to be to neuroscientists, then we have no free will. Why do we assume that our brains are exempt from these natural laws? It is likely because we are uncomfortable about not really being in control of our decisions that we’re really just biochemical social machines. There’s a fascinating BBC documentary called 'The Secret You'. The ending scene shows a fascinating experiment designed to demonstrate exactly this: That what seem like decisions or free choices to us are really governed by neuronal processes that we're not consciously aware of. Professor Marcus du Sautoy, who conducts the sequence of events in the episode, is on a quest to find the true source of our decisions. [The subject] is told to randomly decide to press either a left or right button. At the same time, his brain is hooked up to a scanner system to record the brain activity that led up to ... making the decision to press either button, and the computer records when the button was pressed. The results were quite astonishing to the professor. They could determine up to 6 seconds in advance of the decision he was going to make each time, simply by scanning the pattern of neuronal activity in his brain. So this implies that our conscious decisions are secondary things to our actual brain activity. Truly fascinating. This experiment has been performed dozens of times and the results are always the same. To reiterate, the experiment reveals that there’s a deterministic mechanism that leads up to your decision at a later point that’s inevitable. It can only go that way. Much of the time, we make the mistake about attributing certain behaviour to free will, simply because we’re ignorant about the source of behaviour. The more we understand about the sources of behaviour, including plant and animal tropisms, the less we tend to attribute behaviour to free will or instinct, which is another nothing-word that gives no information about the source of the behaviour. Jacques Loeb’s work, as I mentioned, is wonderful to look at for these issues, specifically his book 'The Mechanistic Conception of Life', which still holds much value even after all these years. All of Loeb’s work with the word 'instinct' was eventually thrown out, and he said there are certain patterns of behaviour we haven’t yet been able to decipher. Let’s hunt them out. Let’s try to find the mechanism that generates the behavior. Free will is akin to the 'god of the gaps' type arguments. You can't just squeeze 'free will' into whatever gaps we have in our understanding because you want it there. In short, your brain’s decision-making circuitry, in your frontal lobes controls your choices. When you choose between a papaya or a banana, patterns of neural activity representing these two possibilities appear in your prefrontal cortex. Copies of each pattern grow and spread at different rates depending on your past experiences and sensory impressions. Eventually, the number of copies of one pattern passes a threshold, and you pick either the papaya or the banana or buy the Honda or Toyota, or travel to Paris or Barcelona. I’ve been going through another book called 'The Myth of Free Will', compiled by Cris Evatt, which is a compilation book of about 50 academics across many fields of science, giving their take on the issue. A great point made throughout the book is that people seem to intellectually reject the idea of free will, yet they live their lives as if it exists, meaning that while we logically understand it’s an unscientific idea, we haven't yet been able to incorporate this value into our value system, which brings me back once again to the idea of sustainable values. If we were to really understand and embrace the reality of the myth of free will, there would be immense implications for society: not only in how we perceive ourselves and our fellow human beings but in the very structure of society itself, which again would suggest at the absolute need for radical reform to a Resource-Based Economy. So the implications would be as follows: We can no longer blame people or get justifiably angry at people since they are just a product of all the environmental forces they’ve been exposed to, combined with their biology. We must entirely reform how we treat aberrant behaviour. Aside from the powerful case for the need of reform of the prison system, by people like Dr. James Gilligan, the legal and prison systems operate with the assumption that 'criminals' are individually responsible for their actions, and that it is the person that must be punished, rather than the environment that created them that must be radically altered. Most importantly, this understanding invalidates many premises upon which the monetary-market system is based: such as that people who work harder deserve more fruits for their supposed contribution to society ignoring, of course, the irrelevancy of most jobs. People’s efforts can only be as good as their environments permit them to act, so why would we reward something that they cannot help? Some people get more, and some people get less, not because of any worthiness or deserving quality, but because people had unequal environments that granted some people with the ability to succeed in the market system and others without it, it's as simple as that; and this leads me to the next topic, of which is an implication of the prior two myths being understood: our beliefs about what motivates human beings. This needs to be wholly re-evaluated if our values are to be sustainable and consistent with what science has demonstrated to us. One of the most common reactions by those new to the Resource-Based Economy concept, is to assert that without the monetary system people will lack the necessary incentive that drives people to persevere in our current socioeconomic model. I want to examine the relevant evidence about what truly motivates human beings. “Do this and you’ll get that.” These six words summarize our society’s doctrine for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers. The monetary system has engraved this idea into society so deeply, that an inordinate portion of the population believes that the monetary incentive is an effective mechanism. Many claim that if there is no money humans will just lie around and be lazy. This is just sad. First of all, the most powerful contributions to society came from those who were truly interested in social progress, not detached monetary gain, such as Einstein, Galileo, Newton, the Wright Brothers and Tesla. As stated by sociologist Philip Slater “The idea that everyone wants money is propaganda circulated by wealth addicts to make themselves feel better about their addiction.” [Applause] In the mid-1990s, a Gallop poll was conducted which found that over 50% of American adults [94 million] volunteered time for social causes, at an average of 4.2 hours per week for 20.5 billion hours per year! Even with the crippling effect of the monetary system, human beings still strive to help one another. The logical deduction from this finding is that a social system that inherently supports and reinforces acts of reciprocation, would drastically increase these statistics. In a Resource-Based Economy, everyone is raised to his or her highest potential in order to become a contributor greatly enhancing our social evolution and raising everyone’s standard of living, thus changing the incentive mechanism. Such an environment would allow intrinsic motivation, liking what you do, to flourish. The use of rewards, whether it is money, grades excessive praise or other bribes, to control people’s behaviour, is a practice that is widely accepted and exercised but rarely challenged. Extrinsic motivators, controlling sources that come from outside the individual, are the preferred way to manipulate people in the classroom, at home when raising children, in the workplace, and in society at large, as the dominant work ethic. Similar to the use of punishment and threat (which I'll discuss after) to elicit mindless obedience, offering rewards may provoke temporary compliance. However, the long-term effectiveness of extrinsic motivation does not hold up under close scrutiny. To better understand the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of rewards, we must first pose a few preliminary questions. First, for whom or what are rewards effective? It is easy to see the attractiveness of rewards and punishment as it requires very little effort for the person, group or institution seeking a particular behaviour. Such a disposition ignores the understanding [of] the environment that affects the motivation. It opts for an approach that precludes working with people while instead focuses on doing things to people. Second, for how long are rewards effective, and for what are rewards effective? As sociologist Alfie Kohn explains in an article entitled 'The Risk of Rewards' “Studies over many years have found that behavior modification programs are rarely successful at producing lasting changes in attitudes or behavior. When the rewards stop, people usually return to the way they acted before the program began.” He further elaborates “Indeed, extrinsic motivators do not alter the emotional or cognitive commitments that underlie behavior, at least not in a desirable direction. A child promised a treat for learning or acting responsibly, has been given every reason to stop doing so since there is no longer a reward to be gained.” It is simple to understand why. Rewarding shifts people’s focus from the behaviour to the reward itself. It is result-oriented rather than process-oriented; a recipe that ensures disinterest, lower creativity and suboptimal efficiency. So, do rewards motivate people? Certainly. They motivate people to obtain the reward. However, this extrinsic motivation usually comes at the price of deteriorating interest and excellence at whatever is being done. Here are a few more central reasons why rewards ultimately fail, and then I'll wrap up: 1) Rewards Punish The underlying assumptions about conventional parenting, teaching and workplace management are that there are two dispositions: positive reinforcement via rewards and punitive responses. However, the research clearly demonstrates that rewards and punishments are not opposites. As Kohn denotes “They are two sides of the same coin and it is a coin that does not buy very much.” 2) Rewards Destroy Relationships Rewards connote, by their very definition the disruption of cooperative learning, and they are most destructive when made artificially scarce. When only a few children in a class are awarded gold stars everyone is turned into a competitor, an obstacle to others’ success. The same logic can be applied to classes where students are graded on a bell curve. Similarly, when collective rewards are offered a person or group is much more likely to be blamed as the person responsible for the failure to obtain that reward in question, thus rupturing relationships. Distrust and stress tend to flourish in such a system. 3) Rewards Ignore Reasons A child is 'misbehaving', a worker is performing poor quality work, a student is unmotivated to learn. These are many of the situations in which we are inclined to offer rewards in an attempt to correct what is going wrong. The problem is that the rewards do nothing to actually address the true underlying causes about why the trouble has occurred in the first place. It is simple to recognize why this approach is used though; it requires little effort on behalf of the intervener. The exact same line of reasoning can be applied to punishments. The implications of all this research is again that our schools, our workplaces and, in fact, our entire economic system are predicated on a motivational structure that is backward. It is a structure that is ineffective at best and socially crippling at worst. It is a structure that cannot disconnect from the monetary system. Instead, it necessitates the monetary incentive’s removal and is simply another reason for why the monetary system must be removed holistically. To rely on outdated, scientifically untenable methods for motivating people can only produce deleterious results in the long run, and as such, is again an unsustainable value. To wrap up, I have a few concluding points I’d like to make that encapsulates this talk’s purpose, the first being that: 1) Upholding the status quo’s prescribed values while complaining about the status quo is entirely hypocritical. Like Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see. We can’t just casually allude to it verbally, while our actions contradict. This involves promoting and fulfilling a new value system, which brings me to my second final point: 2) Advocating a new system while clinging to the establishment’s institutions is hypocritical and frustrates the needed changes. So, likewise, it is contradictory to advocate for a Resource-Based Economy, while at the same time giving credence to the institutions which are products of the monetary system. This includes political, legal, financial and religious institutions. And the final point: 3) What is needed? Complete disengagement and rejection of our social system, its associated institutions and the values foisted therein. The only way the present social system will be evolved out of is through our refusal to participate in it, while both exposing its countless social distortions and by trumpeting an entirely new value system. This is the goal of The Zeitgeist Movement: to bring these socially positive values into the public’s eyes in an attempt to reach a critical mass that can transform this collective awareness into a new social system. Thank you very much. [Applause]

Video Details

Duration: 40 minutes and 31 seconds
Year: 2012
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: TZM Vancouver
Director: TZM Vancouver
Views: 87
Posted by: ltiofficial on Mar 23, 2012

Matt Berkowitz of Zeitgeist Vancouver discusses Updating Human Values at Zeitgeist Day 2012 in Vancouver, Canada.

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