Monday, 31 January 2011

Zeitgeist and other stories

Re-blogging of something I wrote in 2009 on Zeitgeist / The Venus Project:

A friend of mine recently excitedly pointed me in the direction of Zeitgeist: The Movie, a viral internet phenomenon that has conspiracy-hungry internauts all excited and dropping spam-like links like a little spider-bot army.I missed the first part, which apparently focuses on the fact that the Christian religion is a bunch of lies (fabricated from bits and pieces from preceding religions), and that therefore our current system is also based on lies.

I ended up watching the ´meatier´ Zeitgeist addendum which deals with how the system enslaves us all and what we can do about it. Now, credit to the film-makers, though referencing them, they´ve avoided the major banking conspiracy pitfalls, that is, attributing things to the Jews, the lizards, the illuminati or the Bilderberg Group.Their principal target is the major banking institutions like Citibank and JP Morgan.

It´s good that they´ve avoided this, because the idea that the enslavement of humanity is the result of banks making money out of thin air, putting us all in debt and meaning we all have to work to service debts, is a staple of conspiraloon anti-semite, ufologists. Rather than put on my amateur economists hat, I´ll let other people, just as opposed to capitalism as these Zeitgeist fellas, explain why it´s nonsense:

The booklet explains that US banks are required by law to keep a “fraction” of deposits as “reserves” in its vaults and/or a balance with the Fed, and says:

“For example, if reserves of 20 percent were required, deposits could expand only until they were five times as large as reserves. Reserves of $10 million could support deposits of $50 million” (p. 4).

This is a very misleading way of putting as it could suggest that if banks receive total new deposits of $10 million they can immediately proceed to make loans of four times this. This is not so, and not really what the booklet meant to suggest. What it means is that the banks can immediately lend out only four-fifths of $10 million, or $8 million, and that this circulates throughout the banking system leading in theory to new loans totalling in the end $40 million, bringing total “bank deposits” up to $50 million.

Please note. I´m not citing a pro-capitalist source. These people have no vested interest in the status-quo, nor in preserving the rule of elites. They aren't brainwashed by capitaism, quite the opposite in fact. It's just that they understand economics better than the Zeitgeist people (read it, in full, it´s a really good explanation). Fractional Reserve Banking, far from enslaving is, is simply a limit on the amount of loans that a bank can issue from any given deposits. It's actually a good thing that regulates the banking system.

This is really the crux of the film´s case. From the Federal Reserve fraud conspiracy (a staple of Paulianism too), we move onto IMF loans and coup d´etats in Latin America, and how the secret cabal organised those to maintain control for the bankers (who obviously control the government through campaign contributions). There´s a mixture of the true and the misunderstood in there, which gets us smoothly into the station at SECRET-CABAL-RUNNING-THE-WORLD-UNDER-LYME.

After that we throw in the ´planned-obsolescence´conspiracy that must have been doing the rounds since the beginning of the 20th century at least (coming as the EU bans old-style lightbulbs), and contains the absolutely true idea that we could do more about climate change and scarcity if humanity as a collective actually wanted to, rather than just focusing our efforts on getting by / enriching the minority.

This all ends by advocating utopian technocracy The Venus Project or as they call it a Resource Economy. Then some ideas for joining groups, spreading the word, making converts and boycotting stuff.

Fine. It´s one of the least offensive conspiracy theories I've heard. They've avoided anti-semitism or any of the more ludicrous ideas people have come up with over the years to explain who runs the world.

We are though, still stuck on several points. Firstly, not to the dredge the old man up but, "philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it", it's all very well identifying the evil cabal running the world, but if you´ve no analysis of how social relationships work in society, then you're no closer to breaking them. Your research isn't (as Harry Cleaver says) putting a weapon in people's hands.

Secondly, even if the monetarist conspiracy was true (which it's not), it doesn't explain the historical presence of hierarchy and domination in human society that predates the existence of the banking firms. Feudal domination was a social relationship, just as early capitalism was, and, in reality, modern capitalism is. It's not a trick devised by a small cabal, but how our lives interact with each other, the contested relationships of power between us. Imagine we shut down the federal reserve (and I presume, though the film doesn't make it explicit, the equivalent institutions around the world). What would change? If the principle of private property persisted, we would still be divided into classes. The people who own the things we need to produce, and the ways in which you distribute them, would still be in charge. So, I would still wake up, needing to earn money to survive, which I could only obtain by working for a capitalist.

The trouble with conspiracy theories is that they're all rendered pointless by one fundamental, unarguable element of capitalism. That it is, whatever else you have to say about, positive or negative, a system of elites. It has elitism coded into it´s DNA, from the smallest company, to the largest multinational, from the political system to the culture. It's purpose is to promote elites. It does this legitimately within the logic of the system. It does this publicly, lording super-capitalists like Bill Gates or even for a time, Enron boss Ken Lay. It lays its theories of elitism out for all to see, in policy projects, in university research, through political theorists.

It has no interest in secret cabals, or conspiracies. It has no need for them. It is a system openly, and publicly, run by elites. They might go home at night and secretly dine with their illuminati, lizard-jew, Bilderberg Group friends, and laugh about how they've taken over the world. It doesn't matter to me or you whether they do or not. They are the elite, and we can see who they are and how they live their lives. People know that we live in a system of elites, that acts in its own interests, according to the logic of the society they dominate. Everyone who looks around know this. We don't need internet documentaries to tell us that we're dominated, we just need to go to work, or walk through a posh neighbourhood or have a run-in with any politicians, big businessman or even a celebrity to know that. What we need are weapons, ways of challenging that domination, so maybe we don't have to live under it forever.

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