The essay below is an excerpt from The Zeitgeist Movement Defined (Essay 6).
The Only Argument Remaining
The “train of thought” and “application-set” presented in TZM's materials are technical by nature, expressing the interest of applying the method and merit of scientific causality to the social system as a whole.
The benefits of this approach are not only to be taken on their own merit but should also be considered in contrast to today's established, traditional methods and their consequences. It will likely then be noticed that our current societal methods are not only grossly outdated and inefficient by comparison - they are increasingly dangerous and inhumane - with the necessity for large scale social change becoming ever more important. This isn't about “utopia”. It is
about truly practical improvements.
The overall basis of the market concept has to do fundamentally with assumptions related to human behaviour, traditional values and an intuitive view of history - not emergent reasoning, actual public health measures, technical capacity or ecological responsibility. It is a non-technical, philosophical approach, which merely assumes that human decisions made through its internal logic (and incentive system), will produce a responsible, sustainable and humane outcome, driven by the illusive notion of “freedom of choice” which, on the scale of societal functionality, appears tantamount to organizational anarchy.92
This is why the monetary-market model of economics is often considered religious by nature in TZM materials as the causal mechanism is really based on virtually superstitious assumptions of
the human condition with little linkage to emerging scientific understandings about ourselves and the rigid symbiotic/synergistic relationship of our habitat and its governing natural laws. When presenting TZM's solution-oriented train of thought to those unfamiliar, it is usually just a matter of time before, at a minimum, the basic scientific premise is understood and accepted in abstraction. For example, the isolated technical reality that we have the resources and industrial methods to easily feed everyone on the planet earth, so no one has to starve,93 rarely finds argument in and of
itself. If you were to ask an average person today if they would like to see an end to the over one billion people in currently in chronic starvation on the planet,94 they would most likely agree.
However, it is when the logic runs its course and starts to depict the type of large-scale social and economic reformations needed to facilitate true system support for those 1+ billion people that many find contempt and objection. Apart from stubborn, temporal “value” associations, where people essentially refuse to change anything they have become used to in their lives, even if that change clearly supports a better outcome in the long term, there is one argument so common that it warrants a preliminary discussion in and of itself. That is the argument of “human nature”. This argument might also be said to be the only real objection left, if you think about it, outside again of the near arbitrary cultural lifestyle practices people are afraid to change due to their identity associations and conditioned comforts. Are humans compatible with a truly sustainable, scientific
socioeconomic system or are we doomed to the world we have now due to our genetics?
Everything is Technical
The case for a new social system based directly on a scientific view for understanding and maximizing sustainability and prosperity, technically, really cannot be contradicted by another approach, as bold as such a statement may seem. Why? Because there simply isn't one when the unifying, natural law logic of the scientific method is accepted as the root mechanism of physical causality and interrelationship.
For example, great surface variation (ornament) might exist with the design of an airplane, but the mechanics which enable flight are bound by physical laws and hence so must the overall physical design of the airplane in order to function properly. Constructing such a machine to perform a job with the goal of optimized performance, safety and efficiency is not a matter of opinion, just as no matter how many ornaments we may place around our homes, the physical structure of the building must adhere to the rigid laws of physics and natural dynamics of the habitat for safety and endurance and hence can have little respective variation in a technical sense.
The organization of human society can be no different if the intention is integrity and optimization. To think of the functional nature of a working society is to think about a mechanistic schematic, if you will. Just as we would design an airplane to work in the best way possible, technically, so should our approach be to the social system, which is equally as technical in its needed functionality. Unfortunately, this general perspective has never been given a real chance in history and today our world is still run in an incongruous manner where the principal incentive is more about detached, immediate, shortsighted personal gain and differential advantage than it is about proper, strategic industrial methods, ecological alignment, social stability, public health considerations and generational sustainability. This is all pointed out, again, because the “human nature” argument against such an approach is really the only seemingly technical argument that can possibly defend the old system we have today; it is really the only argument left when people who wish to uphold this system realize that nothing else they logically argue can possibly be viable given the irrationality inherent to every other claim against a natural law based social model.
Boiling it down, this challenge can be considered in one question: “Is the human species able to adapt and thrive in a technically organized system, where our values and practices align with the known laws of nature in practice, or are we confined by our genes, biology and evolutionary psychology to operate in only the way we know today?”
While many today argue the specifics of the nature vs. nurture debate - from “blank slate” behaviorism95 to genetic determinism96 - it has become clear, at a minimum, that our biology, our psychology and our sociological condition are inexorably linked to the environment we inhabit, both from the standpoint of generational evolutionary adaptation (biological evolution), to short-term biases and values we absorb from our environment (cultural evolution). So, before we go into detail on this issue, it is well worth noting that our very definition as human beings in the long and short term view is based upon a process of adaptation to existing conditions, including the genes themselves.97 This is not to discount the per-case genetic relevance itself but to highlight the process to which we are a part, for the gene-environment relationship can only be considered as an ongoing interaction, with the outcomes largely a result of the environmental conditions in the long and short term. If this wasn't the case, there is little doubt the human species would have likely perished long ago due to a failure to adapt.
Moreover, while it is clear we humans still appear to maintain “hardwired”, predictable reactions for raw, personal survival,98 we have also proven the ability to evolve our behaviors through thought, awareness and education,99 allowing us to, in fact, control/overcome those impulsive, primitive reactions, if the conditions for such are supported and reinforced. This is an extremely important distinction and is what separates the variance of human beings from their lesser evolved primate family in many ways.100 A quick glance at the diversity in historical human conduct we see throughout time, contrasted with the relatively slow pace of larger structural changes of our brains and DNA101 over the past couple of thousand years, shows that our adaptive capacity (via thought/education) is enormous on the cultural level. It appears that we are capable of many possible behaviors and that a fixed “human nature”, as an unalterable, universal set of behavioral traits/reactions shared by all humans without exception cannot be held as valid. Rather, there appears to be a spectrum of possible behaviors and predictable reactions, all more or less contingent upon the type of development, education, stimuli & conditions we experience.
The social imperative in this respect cannot be emphasized enough for environmental influence is a massive factor that grooms not only our decision-making preferences in both the long and short
term, but the overall environmental interaction with our biology in general also has powerful effects on personal well-being and hence broad public health in many specific ways.
It has been found that environmental conditions, including factors such as nutritional input,102 emotional security,103 social association,104 and all forms of stress in general can influence the human being in many more ways than previously thought. This process begins in utero, through the sensitive post-natal and childhood “planned learning” adaption periods,105 and carries on throughout life on all physiological and psychological levels.
For example, while there is evidence that depression as a psychological disorder can have a genetic predisposition, it is the environment that really triggers it or not.106 Again, this is not to downplay the influence of biology on our personalities but to show the critical importance of understanding these realities and adapting our social system and macro influences to support the most positive outcome we can.
Changing The Condition
The idea of changing society's influences/pressures to bring out the best of the human condition rather than the worst is at the core of the social imperative of TZM and this idea is sadly lost in the culture's social considerations today. Enormous evidence exists to support how the influence of our environment is what essentially creates our values and biases and while genetic and physiological influences can set propensities and accentuations for certain behaviors, the most active influence regarding our variability is the life experience and condition of the human being, hence the manner of interaction between the “internal” (physiological) and “external” (environmental).
In the end, the most relevant issue is stress. Our genes, biology and evolutionary psychology might have some hang-ups, but they are nothing compared to the environmental disorder we have
created in our culture. The enormity of now unnecessary stress in the world today – debt, job insecurity, increasing health risks both mental and physiological - and many other issues have created a climate of unease that has been increasingly making people sick and upset. If we were faced with an option to adapt our society in a way that could provably better public health, increase social stability, generate abundance and help sustainability, would we not just do it? To think human beings are simply incompatible with methods that can increase their standard of living and health is extremely unlikely.
So, in conclusion to this section, let it be stated that the subject of “human nature” is one of the most complex issues there is when it comes to specifics. However, the broad and viable awareness with respect to basic public health improvement via reducing stress, increasing quality nutrition and stabilizing society by working toward abundance and ease rather than strife and complexity – is not susceptible to much debate.
We now have some refined truths about the human condition that give enough evidence to see that we are not only generating poor reactions and habits due to the influence of the current socioeconomic order, we are also greatly disrespecting the habitat as well, creating not only a lack of sustainability in an ecological sense, but, again, in a cultural sense as well. Once again, to think humans are simply incompatible with these resolutions, even if it means changing our world greatly, defies the long history of adaptation we have proven to be capable of.
This essay is an excerpt from The Zeitgeist Movement Defined (Essay 6).
The video below Dispels Every "Nature VS Nurture" Myth You've Ever Heard. The Implications are Profound.
90 Why Socialism?, Albert Einstein, 1949 (http://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism)
91 The “train of thought” has to do with the underlying reasoning that arrives at the conclusions of TZM's advocation - while the “application-set” is simply the current state of applied technology today. The difference between the two is that the former is near empirical while the latter is transient since technological tools are always undergoing change.
92 Much can be said on the subject of economic organization and mechanisms for industrial production and more will be described in part III. However, let it be stated here that the “price mechanism”, which is the central catalyst for economic unfolding today, is inherently anarchistic due to the lack of efficient system relationships within macro-industrial practices. Production, distribution and resource allocation is not “strategic” in a technical, physical sense by any stretch of the imagination – the only strategy employed, which is the defining context of “efficiency” in the market economy, has to do with the profit and loss/labor cost/expense type monetary parameters which have no relationship to physical efficiency at all.
93 The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme have confirmed this. This site is recommend for reference: (http://overpopulationisamyth.com/food-theres-lots-it#header-1)
94 Source: 1.02 billion starving people worldwide, U.N. Says (http://www.news-medical.net/news/20090623/102-billion-starving-peopleworldwide-UN-says.aspx)
95 The notion of the “Blank Slate” was made popular by Thomas Hobbes but can be linked back to the writings of Aristotle. This is the idea that, in short, individuals are born without built-in mental orientation and everything is learned. Now largely debunked as a broad view due to proven “programmed learning” and humans' inherent “evolutionary psychology”, the idea still persists in general.
96 The view that human beings are substantially more affected by Genes and Biology than environmental conditioning with respect to human behavior is still a heated debate, not to mention a frequent intuitive reaction by many to certain human patterns. The phrase “it's just human nature” is all too often tossed out by the layman. Authors such as Steven Pinker are notable for promoting the dominance of evolutionary psychology over environmental conditioning.
97 An “adaptation” in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of 'natural selection'. In short, this occurs due to pressures existing on the organism in the environment. Likewise, “epigenetics” is a fairly new awareness and study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence. In short, it is a shorter-term “expression” adaptation influenced by the environment as well. As far as culture, this is simpler to understand. For instance, the language you speak is an adaptation to the existing cultural group, just like the religion you might be taught and hence many of the values you hold are directly a result of the cultural conditions you are within.
98 The notion of an “instinctual reaction” could be applied here. However, the differentiation of what is or isn't instinctual has become increasingly ambiguous in the study of human behavior. Yet, it is clear in a fundamental sense that there are very specific patterns in common regarding the human species, especially in the context of survival and stress influence. Faced with pressing danger, very common biological/endocrinological reactions occur almost universally and these often generate behavioral propensities which are also predictable consistently across the species as a whole.
99 The term “behavioral plasticity” can be applied here as an extension of “neuroplasticity” which refers to active changes in neural pathways and synapses. Just as the brain used to be considered a static organ, human behavior – the expression of brain activity – clearly also undergoes change. As complex a subject as “free-will” and decision processes are to the psychological sciences, the nature of the human mind shows clear adaptability and vulnerability to input conditions. Unlike our primate ancestors, our advanced Neocortex appears to be a center for conscious thought and in the words of Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Neuroscientist from Stanford University: “On a certain level, the nature of our nature is not to be particularly constrained by our nature.” (from 2011 film Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, Peter Joseph)
100 Reference: Evolution of the neocortex: a perspective from developmental biology, Nature Review, 2009 (http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v10/n10/abs/nrn2719.html)
101 DNA mutation rates vary from species to species and have historically been very difficult to estimate. Today, with Direct Sequencing it is now possible to isolate exact changes. In a study performed in 2009, two distant maleline relatives - separated by thirteen generations - whose common ancestor lived two hundred years ago, were sequenced, finding only 12 differences among all the DNA letters examined. “The two Y chromosomes were still identical at 10,149,073 of the 10,149,085 letters examined. Of the 12 differences...only four were true mutations that had occurred naturally through the generations.” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090827123210.htm) As far as the human genome, it is estimated that the genome might undergo only a few 100 changes over tens of thousands of years.
102 A classical example is the “Dutch Hunger Winter”. A study tracking people who suffered severe malnutrition as fetuses during World War II found that in their adult life they suffered from various metabolic syndromes and metabolism problems due to the “programming” which occurred during that In Utero period. Reference: Famine and Human development: The Dutch hunger winter of 1944-1945. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
103 Dr. Gabor Maté in his work “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” (North Atlantic Books, 2012) presents an enormous amount of research regarding how 'emotional loss' occurring at young ages affects behavior in later life, specifically the propensity for addictions.
104 The relevance of the nature of social interaction is more profound than once thought. The correlation between different macro-societal factors and public health issues such as life expectancy, mental disorder, obesity, heart disease, violence and many other sociological issues were well summarized in the book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Penguin,
105 A unique study of premature infants in incubators found that by simply stimulating them during that time (or showing “affection” by simple touch) their longer term physiological health was greatly improved compared to those untouched. Reference: Tactile/kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates, Pediatrics, 1986
106 Reference: The Structure of Genetic and Environmental Risk Factors for Common Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders in Men and Women, Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60