The Zeitgeist Movement…

A little while ago, in response to my blog piece on the camp at St Paul’s, an old school friend sent me a link to something by The Zeitgeist Movement.

Specifically, Carol suggested I watch the clip below. It is quite long, but makes for rather interesting watching.

I had not heard of this movement before, so spent some time researching what I could about what they are about, their core beliefs and campaigning aims. At first I was pretty suspicious to be honest- there is something about their website that made me instantly uncomfortable- it is a little too slick, too shiny.

TZM is another one of these internet generation organisations that grows not along the lines of corporations that are led and controlled from the centre, but rather grows virally by a network of connections, and a set of common evolving principles. It has vague, fuzzy edges, and slightly non specific goals. Rather than ‘leaders’ who are appointed and recognised, there appear to be some key voices, but the structure is deliberately local.

This is a familiar organisational structure to me- as it reminds me very much of the ‘Emerging church’ movement. Such organisations are always difficult to get your head around from the outside- as they appear to lack structure and substance. There is more about these kinds of organisations here.

But back to the specifics of what BenMcLeish had to say above-

I liked much of what he had to say- particularly his analysis/critique of the state of our current economic/political/environmental situation, which I find myself largely in agreement with. I might also echo some of his concerns about religion- although unlike him,  I remain a believer.

I think the importance of a strong critical voice against the excess and over consumption of our wider culture is vital. I have been wondering for a while where this will come from, and where we might see examples of people living lives that are different- people that break from the flock and show a better way to live. I have been excited by these possibilities all my life, and so wherever I see these things being talked about, I am interested.

Unlike what Ben had to say above however, I have seen most of this kind of thing within faith based organisations. Sure, there are a lot of people within our churches and mosques and synagogues who are as sheep like as the rest of society, but there are also many whose beliefs lead them to aspire to something more. Within my own faith, I would point to the  New Monastic movement, towards which my own little community makes a slight nod.

CS Lewis used to talk about Communism being a ‘Christian heresy’- in the sense that the impulse towards good things was in many ways Jesus-like. I think you could perhaps say the same about TZM. I have described previously my belief that the job of Christians is to watch out for wherever there is truth and beauty, then to seek to shine light on it, and to salt it to bring out the flavours. On this basis alone, I intend to keep an eye on TZM.

Which makes what is happening in front of St Paul’s Cathedral all the more interesting. The grand old Church of England have got themselves in a bit of a cafuddle- they want to be ‘nice’ to the young activists, but can’t quite deal with the mess of it all.

Having said all that- TZM seems to espouse some macro economic and political solutions to our current woes- these I find myself less inspired or convinced by. A futurist perspective like this, with grand predictions of the fragmentation of the current mechanisms of state and society, seems to me to be highly speculative. The grand idea of a money-less society, with resources allocated according to need (and administrated by think tank and committee) just seems to be rather fanciful on a national scale.

But not necessarily so on a local small community scale. This is where my interests lie. Ben speaks at the end about what individuals and families might do to look at their own patterns of consumption and life choices- a list of things that are very familiar to the aspirations of my faith community.

Does this organisation offer a real alternatives to our Capitalist consumer economy? Not yet. What it does do however, is to push back– to offer a visible critical analysis of what we are.


2 thoughts on “The Zeitgeist Movement…

  1. Hi Chris,
    You’ve sparked me off; I’ve started looking into TZM and there’s a lot there! Like you I think that the ideals they present are just that – a goal perhaps to strive for, but not quite attainable. However the whole movement could at the moment be just about learning and talking and philosophising and the ideals may (and perhaps should) change during this process. Just the idea that there is a different way and we should think about it is probably what we need now.

    Having said that I am focussing my attention on 2 things: a) Education/fostering discussion and b) Transition.

    This stage is where we are at the moment. TZM is starting to educate the children of today that there is another way which is all about SHARING rather than the dash for personal gain. Then hopefully the younger generation will put into practice this new ethos. Meanwhile the academics theorize about how a sharing/loving economy might work in practice.

    I’m eager! I can’t wait for theoreticians to come up with the ideal answer, I can’t wait for a new generation to grow up, I need to do something now! So apart from protesting and educating what can I do to help the change? I am hopeful that there might be a way to start a sort of ‘provisional’ new society, or perhaps it could be called a ‘virtual’ new society. I don’t mean one which runs like a game on a computer, I mean one which is actually lived, but in this stage which I call the Transition Phase it runs on top of the current monetary system.

    On TZM websites I can’t find discussion of transition it all seems to be talk of futuristic idealised replacements for the current system with no path in between. With no route specified to a new world the solution would appear to be education then revolution (at some point in the future following growing disillusionment of the general population with the current system). This of course doesn’t quite fit with the TZM philosophy of peace and sharing, so how will it happen?

    I like to think that the transition will be peaceful and gradual. I like to think that there is a way (for small groups) to start it now and live and operate in the TZM way, but with many compromises to the current system. With time these small groups will grow and spread. With time the compromises will get less as cooperation and sharing grows and reliance on old-system stuff begins to be needed less. Eventually the TZM society will just find itself there, de-facto with no revolution!

    I am putting some serious thought into this and have an ambition of getting some sort of straw-man plan together for friends and people to discuss. The plan will be real. Benefits though they may be (very) small initially will be real. But the biggest benefit will be as a model for future communities.

    Something that seems to be missing from TZM seems to be the social aspect. I see TZM working through communities of similar culture people. I see it building through cooperating sets of communities whose size never exceeds some sort of manageable number. Another serious flaw is of course the aspect of G-d. The movement seems to have the ethos that religion is for the weak-minded and that science and the scientific method can now replace this (anachronistic) crutch. I see things differently of course. I see that this foundational idea that TZM has, is in fact one of the ‘assumptions’ that they strive to question so much with their favour of the scientific method. As you know I actually see that science will discover G-d and perhaps during the same timescales that we see the TZM develop. So I see the movement as no idealogical or fundamental threat to religion. In fact I see it as part of a new growth in understanding of man’s place and obligations in a social, scientific and G-dly universe. And I see its precepts as entirely compatible with the Christian ones of love.

    I would love to hear that you might be interested in the ‘virtual’ TZM I’m thinking about.

    G-d bless

    • Hey Carl- good thoughts…

      I think you are bang on about the transition- I too have seen nothing that really describes how we get there from here. I suspect you are right too about the science-as-everything idea, even if in this instance it seems that small science is the big idea, rather than science owned by the corporations. In this instance however, knowledge will be power- and I am not sure how TZM proposed a mediation/sharing of power. How do you share this without an overarching political structure that enforces it?

      Not sure whether the social aspect IS missing as you suggest though- there appear to be lots of local TZM groups?

      As for how we might work for change, I wonder if we are not just back to the the familiar stuff of the Kingdom of God- living to a simpler, more deep rule of life- where we seek to be agents of grace rather than acquisition? I wonder if it is not really just very simple- live for each other, and hold what you have in common as far as you are able to, accepting that the world we live in (and ourselves within it) will always be far from perfect.

      That is not to say that there should never be a time to overturn some temple tables though…



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